Once again I offer a guest poet. This is an antediluvian poem, that is, it was written long before the flood, or current deluge, of cyber emotion and virtual living and received opinion that threatens to drown us all.

From William Stafford:

How far friends are! They forget you,
most days. They have to, I know; but still,
it’s lonely just being far and a friend.
I put my hand out—this chair, this table—
So near: touch, that’s how to live.
Call up a friend? All right, but the phone
itself is what loves you, warm on your ear,
on your hand. Or, you lift a pen
to write—it’s not that far person
but this familiar pen that comforts.
Near things: Friend, here’s my hand.

52 responses »

    • I love those lines from “Ask Me.” Here’s another Stafford poem, just for you.

      Choosing A Dog

      “It’s love,” they say. You touch
      the right one and a whole half of the universe
      wakes up, a new half.

      Some people never find
      that half, or they neglect it or trade it
      for money or success and it dies.

      The faces of big dogs tell, over the years,
      that size is a burden: you enjoy it for awhile
      but then maintenance gets to you.

      When I get old I think I’ll keep, not a little
      dog, but a serious dog,
      for the casual, drop-in criminal —

      My kind of dog, unimpressed by
      dress or manner, just knowing
      what’s really there by the smell.

      Your good dogs, some things that they hear
      they don’t really want you to know —
      it’s too grim or ethereal.

      And sometimes when they look in the fire
      they see time going on and someone alone,
      but they don’t say anything.

      • Thank you, Cynthia – it’s far too early in the morning for me to burst into tears! I thought partly of the new dog (yet to arrive) but mainly of our dog gone staring into the fire – which indeed she did! (And that phrase “dog gone” needs to be said aloud as a mild curse!)

    • What is a friend? A question seeking a definition…of which there have been many…usually a list of qualities that will be used to judge the people in our lives for how they measure up.

      WHO is a friend? is a question I prefer, because the answer may be a particular person, rather than a definition, and as variable as moving, living things are—beyond definition. We simply know who they are.

      Many wise persons have said that true friends are rare, and we are lucky to find even a few such in a lifetime.

  1. Such a great response to Frank, Cynthia. I have many friends from years past and present, but few I would label as real and steadfast those that I would call true friends. My true friendships, no matter the miles or years, have a sort of mental connection that run deep and full from our experiences and when we talk, there is nothing that separates us from that core of true friendship. Having experienced nine major moves during my lifetime, I’ve had to expect that distance and life gets in the way of communicating, but it’s when we have the rare chance – feels like an old worn sweater on a cold night. Friends are rare and treasured ~

    • “No matter the miles or years…” does strike a chord, Mary. Re-connecting with certain friends, even after a long silence or absence, is like picking up on a conversation left in the air just yesterday. A good, rare thing! I think I have moved almost as often as you have, and far away from familiar people. In an odd way, that clarifies the question of who, really, is a friend, as casual acquaintances based on frequent encounter fall away. I like your metaphor of a worn sweater on a cold night. Stafford’s poem, above, makes a case for being able to actually reach out and touch…but I do believe it is possible to do that in the spirit as well as the flesh.

      • So perfectly stated Cynthia. You’d be surprised how much can be gotten in a conversation that you have no choice but to listen, as it’s long distance. It is the art of picking up from yesterday and enjoying every minute of the time together.

      • “No matter the miles or years…” indeed…. and over the bumps on the road and through the storms and all the differences and the missed calls, etc……you are one of those forever friends I love with my deepest heart and always will.
        Only this evening do I have the courage to go back and read the postings of the last 6 weeks and read all the conversational exchanges with you and join in….like jump rope it feels. I just hope I don’t trip and fall on my face…but if I do, my tears will not be surprising.

  2. Cynthia, I’ve been thinking of all my American friends these last couple of days. And as for friends, I’m not being cynical, but I’ve seen some where the adage ” with friends like these, who needs enemies”, has been appropriate. A dog is a man’s best friend they say, these days, a blog of a certain “little old lady” has become a close friend. It tells me so much, amuses me, comforts me and then then there’s “read one get a few free” ….I love reading your blog, the comments of your readers and your responses to all of them….thank you so much Cynthia for being a “far away” friend.

    • Hello, again, and thank you, my far away friend. I had to chuckle at “read one, get a few free…” I am blessed with some wonderful commenters–including yourself— and am so glad you enjoy them. Now, you’ve probably already heard the old jokes about a dog being man’s best friend, but I recently told my favorite one, yet again, on Bruce’s blog; it never ceases to make me laugh:

      Outside of a dog, a man’s best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

      (This is usually attributed to the comedian Groucho Marx, but there’s some doubt.) ❤

    • I like that one…for all his loose screws, he had a way of really nailing it at times….Although I think sometimes we can have undeserved enemies simply by being ourselves, but friends seem truly an occasion of grace. And since I am always in danger of waxing philosophical I’ll just stop here and express my appreciation for your gift of that quotation with this one:

      “This isn’t my head I’ve got on now. I think this is something that used to belong to Walt Whitman.”
      ― Dorothy Parker

      • Well, you know how much I enjoy DP’s wit, so I will take that as a sign of friendship.

        Now, a mutual friend of ours says:

        True friends stab you in the front. Oscar Wilde

          • Just seeing this now…been having computer problems ever since dt was elected–just a coincidence, I’m sure.

            Nevertheless, I’m wondering when Oscar and Dorothy will be guest posting together. It’s a good combo. I’m also trying to get Dorothy Lamour and Frédéric Chopin on the same bill. I’m thinking of a one hour spot where they’d discuss wind turbines.

            • I don’t know how you’ll ever get Dorothy Lamour and Frédéric Chopin to discuss turbines. Does Chopin even speak English? And at this stage of the game, I doubt Lamour gives a care about which way the wind is blowing. You’d probably have a better chance proposing that they make a movie together…say, “The Road To Gdansk,” (assuming Hope and Crosby don’t claim plagiarism) where he can compose a little dansk music and she…oh, my…is it too chilly in Poland to wear a sarong?

              • Didn’t Fred and Dorothy already star in On the Road to Auschwitz? As I recall, Fred wrote a mazurka for the opening. Dorothy sang and danced later on, when they realized there was no plot (it doesn’t take that much to entertain the masses). Fred was brooding most of the time, as usual.

                Anyhow, it’s sure to push The Girl On The Train right off the track.

                • The Girl on the Train? Sitting through that might be like going to watch the group primal scream at Yale last week…or maybe the group crying together in another university “safe space” so psychologically, emotionally wounded by the recent election. One wouldn’t know whether to laugh or smack somebody.

                • Of course I have not seen, read, or even acquainted myself with a synopsis of The Girl on The Train. Satirizing current trends and tastes seems to work better done blindly, as I have little time for popular entertainment and even the tiniest sample of such fare gives me hives. But ‘On the Road to Auschwitz and then onto Gdansk” is a classic and due for a revival. It will easily knock Train off its pedestal.

  3. I first encountered Wm. Stafford when some of my light verse was published in LIGHT QUARTERLY, in which his work appeared with some frequency, as I recall. Here is one of his that you may like:

    There is a question I would like to ask
    the world. But I don’t think I will ever ask it.

    Strange to think — I have thought too far
    and now must hide a discovery.

    I couldn’t make the world, or even change it,
    but I can find something here and keep it before I go.

    Friends, if you knew what I’m talking about
    you would be glad that I didn’t tell you.

    • What fun that you and he were published in the same quarterly! I am a huge fan of Stafford. His work, deceptively simple as it is, exudes a kind of truth and beauty I have not yet found in any other poet. I own several collections of his poetry and re-read them on a regular basis, but I don’t recall ever seeing the one you’ve offered here. Thank you for contributing it, mistermuse!

  4. Stafford is always so human and concrete and feeling. I remember first reading him in the New Yorker. Goodness, like a lot of other poets. He is unmistakeable. Thanks for reminding me of him, Cynthia.

    • He was a prolific writer and used to have something like 100 poems sent out to periodicals in any given month. There’s probably not a literary venue, large or small, that hasn’t published at least one of his poems. And you’re right….he is unmistakeable— the mark of a certain kind of genius, I suspect.

  5. I hadn’t heard of Stafford, but I am glad to make his acquaintance. There is a great sadness in the poem, but there is comfort, too. Maybe I’m projecting a little, being an ex-pat whose friends are indeed far… it’s got me thinking of old friends, but that is not a bad thing.
    Anyway, I like the poet’s voice very much – it is very distinct, as you and some others have said above.

    • Hi Andy….

      William Stafford (1914-1993) was a teacher, as well as a poet. He refused to fight in WWII and spent time in a conscientious objector’s concentration camp, working every kind of manual labor imaginable. Then he married, had kids, eventually went for a master’s degree in English. All of his life, he rose at four in the morning–a habit acquired in his camp years—to write whatever came into his mind. He submitted his poems tirelessly to periodicals and published small chapbooks on his own. In old age he did win some significant American awards, but was never an insider promoted by the academic poetry world. In 1992, when he was 78 and had won a Western States Book Award they wrote this:

      “His way of writing and of offering his work stands in silent rebuke to all that is loud, strident, assertive and shallow. Yet close readers of Stafford’s poetry know that there is a wildness at its center, by turns as gentle or tough as an undomesticated animal in an indifferent wilderness. He, of course, presents his poems and himself as if they should be taken for granted. We would like to say on this occasion that we do not.”

      There are also three books I’ve read by Stafford about the vocation of writing: “Writing the Australian Crawl,” “The Answer is Inside the Mountains,” and “Crossing Unmarked Snow.”

      I agree that “Friends” is sadness and comfort all at the same time. Though age and national cultures separate you, I think you, in particular, would like a lot of his work.

      • Hi Cynthia,

        Thanks for filling me in on Stafford – and sorry for the late reply, I just didn’t check my mails for a couple of days. Still, Stafford’s poem has been at the back of my mind, and it is nice to hear a bit about the man behind the poem. I think I will like him, and I will look up more of his poems. It’s nice hearing about writers who get recognition after a lifetime of quiet hard work…

    • I was just thinking, and laughing to myself about Facebook and how they changed the word “friend” from a noun into a verb. You friend people (and unfriend) them over there. It’s all a competition to see how many “likes” you can get…phony as a three-dollar bill and.downright pitiful.

      I like your frankness, Inese. What it says to me is this: you have cut through the fog, you know who you are, and you are at home in your own skin. One can have many friends who are very pleasant acquaintances, but true friends are quite rare, I think.

  6. This is new to me and goes right to the spot. I love how it has made me reinterpret my relationships both to objects and people (and following a thought, I have now found my 3rd and original copy of Holub’s poems, which I bought in Florence in 1967).

    • Stafford is quirky, but a nice kind of quirky; I’m glad this one hit the spot. Since our chat about Holub, I took out my copy of of his poems (bought much later than 1967!) and put it on the pile of poetry books I keep near my favorite chair for dipping in and out of….

    • Prescience is something that happens to us, I think, more than we happen to it. I especially love that one about the dog—is there any truer friend?– and I didn’t realize its power to make me weep again, for the recent loss of my own dog, when I posted it the other day.. I’m sure you know Stafford’s work, but I’m glad that finding it here, it was able to work its wonder for you today. Thank you, my friend.

  7. Hi Cynthia,

    How easily Stafford lands us a big subject to ponder: here, the nature of true friendship.
    Steadfastness is important in my book: that sticking with it through thick and thin, adapting to changes of circumstance on either side.

    Stafford hankers for the comfort of a friend’s hand, and this will beat the familiar feel of inanimate objects every time, of course. But for most of us, surely, so does that longed for voice on the phone, those sentiments expressed, just so, in an email from a dear friend afar.

    I really must read more Stafford!

    Have a nice Sunday.


    • I agree, Paul…the voice on the phone, an email, have their own power to express friendship, which really is as much a thing of the spirit as of physical presence.
      Stafford is a great favorite of mine, discovered a few years ago when his kind of work was exactly the inspiration I needed. The simplicity of his diction and the ordinariness of his subjects and images are a wonderful vehicle for the unique outlooks and insights they surprise us with. I suspect you would like his poetry very much.

  8. It is an intense, thought-provoking poem. I liked the adjective with which you introduced the poem: antediluvian. The poet has established the supremacy of corporeal warmth by referring to commonplace objects like a chair and a table, and importantly, a telephone and a pen. Absences and distances intensify the void, exacerbate the longing. The lack of touch induces oblivion.

    The current deluge, of cyber emotion and virtual living and received opinion makes friends all the more unreal.

    • We tend to forget, or deny, or place in inferior value, our bodies in favor of our ego driven preference for the realm of thought. Probably to our ultimate dismay, I’m afraid. Like the ouroboros the “I” doesn’t recognize that the “me” it wants to devour is really part of itself.

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