I keep the poets close
alive though most of them are dead

their names on spines arranged
in rows along the wooden shelves
just one large sleeping dog away
from where I lie abed

no rhyme or reason serves
to order them no alphabet
corrals their works— I know
them by their colors and their heft

Bashō is there and Emily
a little to his left—

I could not list them all
by heart but when I see them there

waiting to come forward
to be read and heard and savored
opened again to breathe from my
delight a fresh new air

I know them as my home—
a surety as exquisite
as anything on earth—
though I suspect they”ll end up closed

and likely tossed out on their own
when I turn up my toes



74 responses »

    • I am overwhelmed by your laudatory adjectives, Prospero. I shall have to memorize them so on gloomier days I may don a silken-fringed shawl— or better yet an ostrich feather boa— and parade before my cheval mirror intoning them over and over to the image in the glass….

      • Since the cheval-glass in my mind’s eye is rather long (its reflection only partially obscured by a cranberry-red boa), you will need more adjectives: benignant, alchemic, fatiloquent, sun-drenched, plumbaginous (when writing about the bluest of skies)…

        • I had to consult my lexicon for “fatiloquent,”— to make sure it was about fate and not a rebarbative corpulence— but I do think its soothsayerness applies more readily to you than to me, dear Prospero. Of course, once I got to the dictionary, I lost track of time, as I always do when reading that wonderful book, and when I emerged hungry and tired the thought occurred to me that it would be fun to play Scrabble with you…..but then the thought occurred that the game board and tiles would have to be redesigned and enlarged to accommodate words of more than seven letters and….oh well, I think I’ll go and have lunch now. Thank you so much for all the adjectives!

          • Having a modest vocabulary is a prerequisite for winning at Scrabble, but it’s my consistent, computer-like deployment of high value tiles on double and triple letter scores–further compounded by the mercenary identification of double and triple word avenues–that would be your undoing.

              • I have managed to distill another poem from our mirror-gazing hostess! There’s now more scintillating verse for your readers to enjoy.

                But I should point out, in the margins, that when I lose (which is never), I never blame the tiles.

                • But I hope you are not burying me before my time (by my latest calculation, I am not due to expire (toes pointing up at Venus) till the year 2278 (give or take a few weeks of confusion).
                  Reply: πŸ™‚

      • I love this poem, Cyn, and it brings to mind a documentary that I saw recently about this very theme of the artist cherishing and then what happens when “toes turn up”? Try to borrow from Library the film on the life and work of the street photographer, Vivian Maier, not sure of the title.. It is quite remarkable and showed me that even if I do not plan all the future disposition of treasured objects, there is something mysterious at work that may surprise us, indeed stun us, wherever “we” are…….

        • Yes!! “Finding Vivian Maier” is the documentary, and it was nominated for an Academy Award this year. She was a nanny who took photographs of cities…principally NY and Chicago….in her spare time, but never published and sometimes didn’t even develop them into prints. They were all discovered since her death and are now quite famously exhibited and sought after. The story reminds me of Emily Dickinson too.

          I agree there is something mysterious at work, even when I look at some of my belongings that have come from family or friends now dead—even things that were once in Mary’s family—and have traveled with me through life, here and there, to get to where we are now. And where will any of us go next? πŸ™‚ merci, mon amie!

        • I think we’ve all been there, Frank, at least those of us who have lost loved ones. You hate to get rid of things, because that feels like getting rid of the person, and yet the person is gone and the things are really just things. Your picture albums make me think it’s probably good that most of our photos today are digital, and people for the most part, don’t bother with prints!

  1. This is wonderful! I, too, have a lot of poetry books. I still buy the works of young poets who might end up as strange bedfellows with Alexander Pope or Rupert Brooke. And even though I am tidying up my house so that my death won’t be an inconvenience to whoever has to clean up after me, the poetry books stay. Who knows what their fate will be? This poem reminds me of Emily D. very much, although it is utterly original.

    I love the way good poets converse with poets from the past–the way that T.S. Eliot influenced Shakespeare, for example. And your book stands with all the rest at my house too.

    • Funny isn’t it, Natalie, this urge to tidy so others won’t be burdened by our stuff after we’re gone. I find myself doing it too, and like you, I say the poets stay. All of them. What would I do without them? I have a lot of poetry committed to memory—just because I have that kind of head, but also because we were made to memorize poetry in the bad old days in school. But the books themselves, lordy do I have a lot of them!

      That this poem reminds you of Emily D. is a wonderful compliment, and I chuckle at your remark about the poets influencing each other. “Listen to the lovely language,” I say to the dog on the rug and the cat on the bed. And as I lie back and contemplate those books, I could swear I sometimes hear it. ❀

    • I went to the site and read R.A.K. Mason’s poetry. There was also a link to R.D. Fairburn. Add to that the fact that I am on the third volume of Janet Frame’s autobiography, and before I know it, Bruce, I will be on my way to being well schooled in New Zealand authors, thanks to your tutelage!

    • That’s a favorite line of mine, too, Sylvie….and it’s really just a statement of fact! As to the choice of poets, it would of course have been too cumbersome to name the hundreds in my collection, so I just picked two of my favorites from the top shelf. Thank you for your visit and your comment! πŸ™‚

  2. This recalled to mind for me On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer–Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken–the idea that poetry can take you places, fill you with wild surmise or just be good company–so well and freshly put!

    • For me it is indeed the best company. And that other poem you refer to earlier,( in a comment response to Bruce) “Lament for a Maker”… really is interesting for the point of view. Timor mortis conturbat me is not my own lament; I guess that’s because my beliefs about sin and hell are quite unlike those of William Dunbar, the author. As another commenter has said here, what will happen after I die is not so much a worry as a wonder. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Lisa!

      • Oh, that was Bruce’s link! The poem there has the same rhythm and rhyme scheme as Dunbar’s and uses modern poets. It’s a nice take off–that was something different. In fact, yours seemed more to be about the company and comfort of literature–in this case poetry–which is why I thought of Chapman’s Homer. The Dunbar is about the loss of friends and contemporaries (in my mind), which is something other than keeping the poetry books close…

          • Oh, I see–That poem has always seemed, in spite of the repetition of the phrase ‘thoughts of death disturb me,’ to be to be less about death and more overwhelmingly about loss and the poet gathering himself together to go on. In any event, thanks for the discussion! So good to be able to toss ideas about poems around (and learn about new ones, credit Bruce).

  3. Ah, yes, the peculiar beauty of the books we love and keep.

    My grandmother gave me a number of her books, including the complete works of Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, a few years before she died because I had expressed an interest in them. My husband and I have itemised in our will certain things, even if not of any monetary value, that we know certain members of our family will appreciate, so they don’t just get tossed out or put up at a generic estate auction.

    Schools in impoverished areas are always good candidates for book donations, too.

    But here’s hoping you do not go toes up any time soon, Cynthia! πŸ˜€

    • That itemizing heirlooms in a will is a good idea. In my case I have no heirs who give a fig about poetry so my books will go wherever fate dictates.

      This is probably the reason I was moved to collect and publish some of my own poems in a book—at least I know where some of them have gone (not immediately in the trash) and can enjoy the thought of that before the turning up of the toes!

  4. Hi Cynthia,

    I can’t help a chuckle over this one! I’ve just spent a fortnight recreating my library from Cheshire in the wee flat in Wales where I live with my new partner Maureen (a poet). A bit of a cram, about a third of my books having to go, which has meant some tough decisions on which to take down to the charity shop. Oh well, there are still plenty known by their colours and heft waiting to be read and savoured afresh, so I’m happy. Very happy!

    A lovely poem – cheers.


    • Having moved lock, stock and barrel not too long ago, I sympathize with the dilemmas of down-sizing. But you do sound very happy in your new circumstances, Paul. Good for you!

  5. An arrow to the gold. Mine are in the first shelves my husband made, at my right shoulder in my workroom. They are lightly ordered, but like yours all are friends, recognisable by many visual clues; some are in pieces, some new and crisp… This comment has taken nearly an hour – due to the distraction of the shelves (and a failed attempt to buy your book, see comment under My Book)!

    • I had a good laugh about getting sidetracked there….it happens to me all the time!

      I have left you a message on the My Book page….I hope my suggestion there will be convenient and thank you very much for buying three copies of the book…I autograph them, so do let me know how you would like them signed (the two besides your own.)

  6. Another evocative poem with a glimpse into the essence of Cynthia. Over recent years I’ve developed an affiliation to my I-pad because you can carry a whole library around in your purse. My husband is of the school that maintains that a book has to be held, and he’d say especially a poetry book, which has become an old friend to whom one returns over and over. However, the immediacy and easy readability (you can make the print any size that you want) of the electronic version seduces me. It is amazing how much you can cram into an I-pad!. I expect that when the Grim Reaper arrives my I-pad’s store will become history. Thank you for this lovely thought-provoking poem.

    • I am more of your husband’s persuasion, as you might guess. Electronic readers feel tyrannical to me (as if some third party is insinuating itself between me and the writer) and hurt my eyes after a while, because I am the kind of reader who savours and pauses to muse into the distance, flips back and re-reads. But at least, as you say, you can travel light with all your favorites at your fingertips. And the things on your I-pad won’t be a burden to your heirs! Thank you, Jane, for your excellent contribution to the conversation!

  7. I’ve been living with this poem since you posted it. As all good poetry and well made wine does, it ferments and expands its flavour over time and makes you want more. I am a terrible purger of stuff and about 2 years ago got rid of 1/2 dozen boxes of books to make room for growing children and their stuff. I don’t regret letting them go (the books, not the children) as I hung on to everything that I have a strong attachment to. But they’ll go one day, too.

    • The happy thing that has happened–for me, anyway—is that I get less attached to things, with age, and have a much clearer view than ever of what to keep and what to let go. I’m keeping the poetry books, for the duration, and no longer futzing about most other things.

    • Oh yes, Jalal, the poets are very important to me. I read them all the time. Thank you for your comment. I was glad to see your photos; it looked like you had a wonderful time visiting some of the really beautiful places in this country.

      • In college we had to study English poets,Milton .Byron,.l do read Persian poets specially Omar El Khayam,Turkish and Arabic poets too.Hilda and l love to travel ,This trip was exceptional .The Beauty we saw no word can justify it.Real West.Thank you for your thoughts.Hilda and jalal

  8. ….somehow a couple have slipped past me, but now I’ve found you again, cynthia…. and the sentiment here plucks so many strings–especially seeing emily’s thin spine in a row of worthys, knowing that’s precisely where she’d have placed herself were she shelved: almost not there, yet so there that she is forever breathing in the evening of the picket-fenced garden just before the sun completely gives way to stars–that place we all go to, that she could never leave.

    • Your very poetic comment suggests to me that you approve of Emily’s gift to the canon of poetry in English, as so very many do. I hope, In that crepuscular light you have summoned here, her spirit enjoys that we enjoy her work as she apparently could not know on this earth.

    • So…when I finally do turn up my toes
      They will be perched upon by ten poetic crows…..
      Which of my poems they’ll bring back, nobody knows…..
      But Cindy Knoke says that’s how it goes….. πŸ™‚

  9. If the tomes, in which the poets are kept alive, could, by some strange power, speak, they would have said, “Thank you, Cynthia, for providing us the shelter you did.”

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