I’m back in Vermont today. One thing I don’t miss about city life is the noise. Most of Berlin’s streets are off the main arteries and offer truly beautiful neighborhoods, villages within the city with streets shaded by trees, full of cafés and singing birds. The birds will almost perch on your plate if you let them. And these streets can be right around the corner from major thoroughfares like the Kudamm or Karl-Marx-Allee and you’d never guess it, but walking along any of the main arteries is real punishment for the ears—the tire noise of automobiles and the furious snarl of trucks. You would think that a car or truck’s exhaust system or engine would be the main producers of noise but they’re not—not remotely. The single most problematic noise is tire noise and the decibel level of that noise is dramatic even at lower speeds. Tires are largely what make city streets loud and it’s predominantly harmful to ones hearing.
Traveling on the trains, the S-Bahn and U-Bahn, isn’t any better.
The newest S-Bahn is a drastic improvement, quiet as a cathedral, but I only rode one of these. The rest of the above and below ground trains are god-awful. They have no air-conditioning and so Berliners open the windows and by the time the trains have screeched their way through curving tracks, metal grinding against metal, and traveling through the angry echo chambers of the tunnels, it will be a wonder if all Berliners aren’t deaf by their fifties. Between the busier streets and the public transportation the assault on hearing is non-stop. I’m particularly bothered by it having tinnitus. I remember stepping into the underground parking garage beneath the flat where we stayed and thinking I wanted to live there. There was no noise. It was pure silence. Most of Europe has really got to get it’s car-centric cities under control.
The field out back of my house, deep in Vermont, was blissful with the sound of crickets and tree frogs. The air was moist and August-sweet.
Anyway, I wrote this latest on the flight back, 37,000 feet on Aer Lingus.
What has the snake to do with malice
Who never once harmed me?
She takes my garden for her palace
And grants me tenancy.
She wears a robe from tongue to tail
That glitters in the sun—
A turquoise rippling through the swale
Surveying what I've done.
I think that if she could she'd choose
To demonstrate her wit.
She'd have me read to her the news
And let the weeding sit.
But then again perhaps snakes know
Where all our monsters dwell—
The gardens where our foibles grow
(She knows them all too well).
But I don't mean to be untoward
(We're both the other's guest).
If nothing else then going forward,
Let each by each be blessed.
Hymn #17 The Garden
August 17th 2022
Because I still sketch all my poetry by hand in sketchbooks. This was written while visiting the Botanical Garden. Written for the book but also a touch personal.
Forgive me if I'm worse for wear. There's nothing I've to show For writing poetry here and there. I should take care, I know— The ant instructs us patiently— The winter will be long— But where would summer's evenings be Without the cricket's song?
This was largely written on the M10 Straßenbahn and the 200 bus going to the Zoologischer Garten; and was, believe it or not, inspired by a woman actually sitting next to me at a café who was discussing French fashion (though in German). The words in Italic are pronounced the way the French would pronounce them (read with the meter), otherwise the rhymes and meter are a mess.
There sat a woman next to me Who praised Paris and Haute Couture! How fashionable—Mais oui!— Their personages of note.
I almost butted in to say We have our 'noted' too Sometimes they visit the café Doing what they do—
The firefly's unmatched attire, Radiantly on trend, Ensembles few to none acquire (I tell you as a friend);
Regard the swank and rakish crow, The black accoutrement— The perfect compliment to snow Too timeless not to flaunt;
As well I hardly need explain The glamor of September, The catwalk of an Autumn lane, The season's boho splendor—
The chic sangfroid of Maple trees (Decidedly iconic). But rest assured, my dear (do please!), I drank my gin and tonic.
The U2 must like me. I wrote this poem in one sitting, getting on the U-Bahn at Schönhauser Allee and getting out at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz. That doesn’t happen very often, but I can see how Emily Dickinson wrote so many poems in so short a time. The ballad hymns almost write themselves. The short lines, 8s and 6s, don’t give much scope for over-thinking, especially if one rhymes. One goes where the rhymes lead. The trick is to make them seem wholly coincidental—as if the poet had no idea, none at all, that the poem was rhyming. And if the reader doesn’t notice, all the better.
I otherwise would hardly write (These poems are hit or miss) But here I sit, alone tonight, Still thinking of your kiss.
Just so you know, a storm came through; The garden is a mess. You ought to see the honeydew. They're floating more or less.
The mellons drift from row to row, And peas are here and there. Don't bother asking if I know Which vegetables are where.
But I can tell you either way The mellons are delicious, The flesh— so cool, so sweet. To say Much more would be seditious.
I washed the dirt from some tomatoes; Diced and tossed them in With several waterlogged potatoes— (The soup's a little thin).
The weather teaches us, I guess, What is and isn't ours— But have I mentioned, nonetheless, How beautiful the stars?
Thursday's Letter Written on the U2 on August 31 by Me
I’ve extended my stay in Berlin until the middle of August. The weather in the poem was inspired by weather, not in Berlin, but back home in Vermont. Something like a small tornado or wind sheer came through and dropped trees across roads, on top of cars and rooftops. That got me thinking about the garden and raspberries in our backyard.
I’m writing this on my smartphone—a new trick for me. Not sure what it’s going to look like when I publish it. I’m in Berlin again. My father died earlier in the month. I knew he was in poor health and had hoped to see him before he died. In the meantime, my daughter has taken up temporary employment with Germany’s NASA—the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft and Raumfahrt, or DLR for short. Also in Berlin. So here I am. I haven’t had time or the place to continue writing North of Autumn. I have had time to continue working on the poems. I just finished this one while riding the U2, the U-Bahn line between Ruhleben and Pankow, stopping at Sophie-Charlotte-Platz.
Whatever rakes the attic floor, There won't be any ghost; And if there's scratching at your door, A gust of leaves at most.
Though I may whisper my good-byes, Who hears the Thrush's song, Who's seen which way the Raven flies Will never stay for long.
I'll have crossed the fresh-laid snow And left no trace behind; The summers that I used to know Will since have slipped my mind.
Life is itself enough to scare The living half to death, No need for supernatural fare To steal away our breath.
Finished on the U2 July 28th 2022 by Me
The hymn steals lines from a sonnet I wrote many years ago but was never satisfied with. I don’t think I ever posted or otherwise published it. Also, a little something from Berlin:
This is a longer narrative poem I wrote specifically for my novel. I also mentioned a while back that I wanted to write a poem in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. You could almost call this poem a Mid-Autumn Night’s Dream. I was tempted to call it that. The verse form is Blank Verse and, in some choice moments, I made use of internal rhyme. I’ve included an audio. I misread the verse in a couple places, but it takes a good eleven minutes to read, so I didn’t feel too perfectionist about it. I also wasn’t sure if I should capitalize the names of plants. I couldn’t be bothered to research so I did. As far as I know, you won’t find poetry written like this by anybody anywhere else in the world. Enjoy!
Into the Woods
I’m told they finally closed the bridge.
It’s for the season. I don’t mind it closed.
Autumn is the time of year a tree
Will make her apron from the leaves she scatters;
And neat and tidy as a pin she’ll strew
The self-same skirt with fruits and nuts. The shame
Is when her labor’s swept into a ditch
Her summer lost to all the traffic’s coming
Were the brook to drown the bridge
As she’s been threatening to for forty years
I’d be as pleased to see it gone. And sure
I’d have to go by Hodge’s into town.
Old Hodge! Such stories as he liked to tell!
He’s since long gone but I remember how
My mother scolded him from time to time.
She’d ask him. ‘Stealing berries from your neighbor?
No fields of your own?’
‘Too shaded,’ he’d say.
And then she’d answer, ‘Cut down all those Hemlocks!
And why not plant your berries there?
He’d answer with a wink my ways. ‘Someday
They’ll up and go all by themselves. You’ll see.’
And I being just a little girl saw how
They could and straightaway that night I dreamt
Just past midnight came a gust
That shook the windowpanes. I sat upright
Or dreamt I did. When one’s so young life’s anyhow
A half-remembered dream.
I looked straight out
The window where I saw the further ridge
And Hodge’s Hemlocks quaking top to bottom.
I slipped from bed and tip-toed to the sill
And leaned with nose and elbows. There was not
The slightest breeze and yet the Hemlocks teetered
And tottered down the ridge the way we used to
Before electric came—when all we had
Was balancing a candle in one hand
And the other out before us all the same.
They slipped into the hollow; not just Hemlock,
But birch and Sugar Maple followed.
They swayed into my dooryard just as though
They’d been there all along. Next there was a tapping
As of a bony finger at the window
As might a neighbor come by casually
To say ‘Hello’. And what with all their reeling
And almost almost falling down, there were everywhere
Acorns, pine cones, twigs and whirligigs
And apples that swung like rusty bells whose tongues
Had since gone dry and shriveled.
What was I?
Six? Seven? I thought nothing more than straight
Undo the latch and open up the window.
I meant to let them in and in they came—
The sprung and rickety articulation,
The lean, long-fingered limbs. They combed and lifted
My hair, and poked and plucked and pinched my nightgown
(And by my nightgown picked me up). I held
My blanket sailing round me as I spun
From limb to limb. Their plaint timbers groaned
And popped as though the ocean rolled beneath them.
Their roots like prying thumbs dismantled obstacles:
They sent the stones from stone walls tumbling down
And knocked the stooks out of their rows and columns.
Sure as I stand and talk to you today
I still can feel the ribbing tips of sticks
Like fingertips, the sticking scent of pine,
The papery slough of the birch and wild vine
Against the skin. They took me from the dooryard
Into the wooded valley where the brook
Runs leisurely; where oftentimes I’d look
For Marigold and Summersweet. You might say
The child taking home the buds of May—
The firstlings of the season—was no different
Than were the woods returned to take the child
Straight from her house into the wild. By rights
It’s just the same.
They set me barefoot
On the leaf and needle covered floor.
I turned a little circle as I pulled
My blanket into something like a hood
(As if to hide). The scent of petrichore
Was in the air. I peeked; they gawked at me.
They stood like giants stooping low as if
To better see the girl they’d snatched away
(Tiny as I was). And then it seemed
That they’d decided. First to do was take
My blanket. You would hardly think a Thornapple
Could be so delicate and yet it was.
And then the others took to prodding me
Until I’d lifted up my arms and stretched them straight
To either side. They circled me like tailors,
I in their fitting room.
You’ll want to know
Just what the forest wanted. To tell the truth,
I know as little now as then. The best
I ever do is simply tell the story—
How if there were a spider’s web between
The aspen’s limbs, a birch would twirl it away:
She’d wind a yarn to weave into my braids
With Fleabane’s petals at my shoulder blades;
How when the Willow brought the cattail’s leaf
The Popple made me wristlets and a sash;
And as I waited came the Cherry Tree
To daub my lips with Hobble Bush (Witch-Hobble
Its hereabouts called). To think that they would stain
A girl’s lips with that!
You might have thought
The late September’s wind had riled them—splayed
A hundred limbs into a thousand fingers
Grasping at their leaves before they fell,
But this was no haphazard storm or season
For soon as they had daubed my lips and cheeks
They made me sandals for my feet—tied with cords
Of knotted grass—and lastly wove a crown
Of honeysuckle vine and the silk of Thistledown.
A train of dragonflies attended me
With ruby wings and emerald eyes—they circled
As if I were the Fearie Queen and they
My courtiers. Then the forest made no sound
Apart from here and there the leaf, the stick or fruit
That fell or struck the ground.
I’ve since been told
That old marble, the moon, went tumbling down;
Hodge’s jenny jumped the neighbor’s fence
And quarreled with the goose. The wind went nibbling
At every door and window so bedeviling
The weather vane that wakened ghosts ran riot
Knowing neither which way to heaven nor which
To hell. Their cold and bristling exhalations
Struck all they touched with frost, and passing by
Turned raincoats inside out. Shutters banged
And barn doors howled on swung and worried hinges;
Roof shingles clamored for a hold. The owl
Swallowed the mouse—the whiskers first and then
The whip of tail. Its yellow eyes surveyed
The farm yard’s squalor as the cat went dripping
Like licorice through the split and missing teeth
Of hemlock planks. That was the night to close
The bulkhead lest the cellar’s belly fill
With leaves and rain. Some thought the dish and spoon
Might finally run away and others, with
The mortise cracking in the attic, thought
The house elves, who steal from our kitchens,
Tapped back in place the oaken pegs worked loose
By the wind and weather. They’re the elves who snatch
A tea-leaf from the cupboard, so little
That you or I would never notice, steeped
Where dewdrops gather on the rosebud’s lip—
So slight a cup!—a hummingbird in turn
Might rob the petal if they’re quick enough.
I’ve seen it done. But none went out that night
Who needn’t go. There was only just
Myself, a wide-eyed girl, who danced with Dogwood,
Larch and Sugar Maple. I was passed
From each to each with little pirouettes.
They lightly held my hand above my head;
And while I spun I lifted up the hem
Of my pajamas just the way a Lady
Might hold the corner of her gown while dancing.
It airily tumbled as I hopped and skipped.
My heels made spirals, my toes made ringlets, round
And round I went. How grown and ladylike
I felt! I nodded graciously and bowed
And curtsied. They kept their rugged rhythm.
They thumped their hollow trunks and clapped their sticks
And with their sticks made melodies.
Had there been anyone to wander by,
Would have seemed to them to bend and sway
According to the weather. A gale
Of leaves and then another just before
The lightning crackled in the understory
And stood my hair on end. The dancing faltered.
I lifted my pajamas to my knees
And scurried to my blanket. Here and there
A raindrop stamped the earth with a flowering splash
Of dust and water. Then, as if decided
To pay no mind, a Honey-locust nudged me
To dance some more. But just like that the lightning
Struck like a thistle’s lash across the sky
And turned the bowl of water upside down.
The rain fell down in sheets.
'No!’ I cried.
‘No! Take me home!’ The forest pricked and pinched me.
‘Let me go!’ I cried.
I tried to hide.
I pulled my blanket tightly round my shoulders
And would have run away but stumbled—
The rolling acorns bruised my heels and needles
Poked between my toes. ‘I want to go—!“
But then stopped short of crying ‘—home!’. An Oak tree
Appeared, its hollow like a yawning mouth,
The vines of wild grape among its roots
As though the old Oak trailed an ancient beard.
The woods made way until the great tree stood giant-like
Above me. I held my blanket to my eyes
When with the thumb and finger of its branches
It picked me up by my pajamas (pinched
Between my shoulder blades). I kicked and flailed
Above its gaping hollow when straightaway
It dropped me. Down I fell into the maw
And down into the endless dark, falling and falling—
Myself a piece of autumn.
I closed my eyes
At first; but feeling only weightlessness
I slowly opened them again. I saw
The tiniest light that seemed both far away
And close enough to touch. All else forgotten,
I reached. I almost touched before a moth
Took flight. It fluttered round me, through my fingers,
Flew away and back again before
I’d cupped my hands. And just as moths will do
It zigzagged fitfully until it landed.
How beautiful it was! The moth shown through
And through with light. Another fluttered round me
And then another. If I fell or floated
I couldn’t say. I turned and tumbled slowly
And held my hands out as the moths glittered, faery-like,
Between my fingers and then dragonflies
And even leaves, all lighted like the moths,
Joined me. I was like a little planet
And they the stars accompanying me through darkness—
The endless night.
And then I cried aloud!
I landed on my bed! The comforter
And pillows burst. The air above was filled
With feathers just as if the moths, the dragonflies
And leaves had all along been angels. They’d scattered,
As suddenly perplexed as I was.
By little I began to hear again
The household sounds of open windows.
The pop and stutter of their hinges. The storm
Had passed me by. I watched the ghostly curtains
That neither came nor went. They moved in moonlight
And moonlight glittered on the floor. I went
Barefooted where the rainfall pooled and drew
A chair behind me.
Still not tall enough,
I stood on tip-toes once again to reach
The window latch. A trailing gusts of rain
Confused the glass. I thought I saw the Hemlocks,
If only through the momentary blur.
I thought they bobbed and sunk into the earth
Needles were between my toes
And there were acorns in my bed. I picked
A cocklebur out of my sheets and here
And there were petals slipping from my hair.
By me, Patrick Gillespie | July 11th 2022
I’ve been a long time quiet. I’ve been either writing or carpentering. My writing is spent out in the fields, in the cabin I built for my daughter. She’s off in Canada now. I’ve found that getting out of the house and working in the cabin really does help me focus. I wouldn’t have expected that. Don’t know why. Guess I’ve always needed a writer’s cabin.
The last time I posted I was writing 888 words a day. About a month ago I was two thirds of the way through the novel, North of Autumn, and decided there was complexity I didn’t want to force my way through. I wanted to slow down, do some rewriting, editing, and revising—such that the earlier portions would agree with the new direction I was taking. Carpentry also picked up considerably and I’m not the kind who likes to carpenter all day, then come home and sequester myself writing.
So, as it is, I’m very close to finishing my second novel. I’m still sending out my first novel, but no agents are responding. I only have another 10,000 words and I’ll have met my 80,000 word goal. This last week, though, I’ve wanted the poetry to catch up with the prose (poems I’m writing for the novel). As a reminder, the main character’s deceased mother left behind a sketchbook in which she wrote poems in the manner of Emily Dickinson, hence the title: Hymn #3 (the third poem in the sketchbook). Dickinson’s poems were all written in Hymn Meter.
I've seen the threadbare eyes of women
Their longing turned to doubt.
They pass me by like shrouds, these women,
Who've looked too deeply out.
I've watched the speechless men go by;
Their loose and tattered frames.
I've watched—beyond repair—these men
With their forgotten names.
If nothing else then know there's some,
Depending where they dwell,
Would trade all heaven's angels singing
For just one kiss in hell.
This poems was inspired, in tone, by two other poems that end in ‘hell’. Emily Dickinson’s Parting and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129. I mean and hope to write again soon.
I’ve now written just over 50 percent of my novel. I’ve renamed it North of Autumn. I’ve fallen behind the last few days, around a thousand words short of where I should be. This is partly because the novel is transitioning and I haven’t fully worked out what should happen or how. Also, the short little fable that follows got me all snarled up. Not often I throw a fit when writing, but after the sixth revision I was losing patience. Part of the challenge is not just writing a fable, but a fable that makes sense within the context of the narrative. I didn’t set out to write a novel full of smaller tales, fables and short stories, but writing the novel at speed makes the writing spontaneous—as though the whole novel is more of an improvisation. The novel reminds me a little of a musical. Instead of the characters bursting into song, they burst into stories. Readers are either going to love it or hate it but then, given all the magical realism, one won’t be reading this book for its gritty authenticity.
Sean dangled the phone over his forehead. “I’m in Vermont.” “Well,” said Louis, with a light French accent, “the house will be okay until you are there. Do you know when you will arrive?” Sean exhaled. “Zoē is fighting me every step of the way.” “Ah, I see.” “And I may have been a guest at a house where I may have caused the catastrophic collapse of a floor and I may have promised to fix it.” “I see. Then it is a good thing you are an engineer, Sean.” This was followed by a momentary silence, and Sean added, “I don’t know when we’ll be getting there.” “I’m sure you have heard the joke. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” “Yes.” “I can tell you,” Louis’ voice continued, “where I am now is never where I expected to be. One makes plans and to what effect? My father loved to tell me a story when I was little. I think it must be a common story. “A poor farmer considers himself the unluckiest man alive. “A cohort of soldiers with oxcarts has come to his fields. They bring the stones of a bridge, its viossuers and keystones, the stones of its spandrel and parapet, and the cobblestones that paved it. They strew his fields with these stones and the farmer can no longer plow. “Years go by and the farmer is very poor. Then one day the mayor of a nearby town announces that a new bridge must be built before the arrival of the King. Seeing that the farmer has all the stones he needs, the mayor orders that the stones be collected and the farmer rewarded. This makes the farmer rich beyond his wildest dreams. “Meanwhile, the bridge is built and the King arrives. He walks across the bridge. He gives a sharp cry of recognition and, in the very next moment, he drops dead. Many years before, you see, he had been told that so long as he never crossed the bridge, death would never find him; and so he ordered that the bridge be dismantled and all its stones scattered. “The King, you know, considered himself the luckiest man alive.”
As I wrote before, while describing my new novel, Stopping by Autumn, the deceased mother of the main character left behind some sketchbooks and loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry—and wrote poems in Dickinson’s style. To that effect, each chapter is headed with a poem like Dickinson’s—the Ballad Meter, the off-rhymes, the flexible meter.
Each element best mends itself
When human beings have erred—
Metal is with metal welded
And clay with clay repaired
But tell me when the last word's spoken—
If this is how we end it—
Tell me when the heart is broken
What element will mend it?