Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gaudeamus Igitur by John Stone

For this is the day of joy
      which has been fourteen hundred and sixty days in coming
      and fourteen hundred and fifty-nine nights
For today in the breathing name of Brahms
      and the cat of Christopher Smart
      through the unbroken line of language and all the nouns
      stored in the angular gyrus
      today is a commencing
For this is the day you know too little
      against the day when you will know too much
For you will be invincible
      and vulnerable in the same breath
      which is the breath of your patients
For their breath is our breathing and our reason
For the patient will know the answer
      and you will ask him
      ask her
For the family may know the answer
For there may be no answer
      and you will know too little again
      or there will be an answer and you will know too much
For you will look smart and feel ignorant
      and the patient will not know which day it is for you
      and you will pretend to be smart out of ignorance
For you must fear ignorance more than cyanosis
For whole days will move in the direction of rain
For you will cry and there will be no one to talk to
      or no one but yourself
For you will be lonely
For you will be alone
For there is a difference
For there is no seriousness like joy
For there is no joy like seriousness
For the days will run together in gallops and the years
      go by as fast as the speed of thought
      which is faster than the speed of light
      or Superman
      or Superwoman
For you will not be Superman
For you will not be Superwoman
For you will not be Solomon
      but you will be asked the question nevertheless *
For after you learn what to do, how and when to do it
      the question will be whether
For there will be addictions: whiskey, tobacco, love
For they will be difficult to cure
For you yourself will pass the kidney stone of pain
      and be joyful
For this is the end of examinations
For this is the beginning of testing
For Death will give the final examination
      and everyone will pass
For the sun is always right on time
      and even that may be reason for a kind of joy
For there are all kinds of
      all degrees of joy
For love is the highest joy
For which reason the best hospital is a house of joy
      even with rooms of pain and loss
      exits of misunderstanding
For there is the mortar of faith
For it helps to believe
For Mozart can heal and no one knows where he is buried
For penicillin can heal
      and the word
      and the knife
For the placebo will work and you will think you know why
For the placebo will have side effects and you will know
      you do not know why
For none of these may heal
For joy is nothing if not mysterious
For your patients will test you for spleen
      and for the four humors
For they will know the answer
For they have the disease
For disease will peer up over the hedge
      of health, with only its eyes showing
For the T waves will be peaked and you will not know why
For there will be computers
For there will be hard data and they will be hard
      to understand
For the trivial will trap you and the important escape you
For the Committee will be unable to resolve the question
For there will be the arts
      and some will call them
      soft data
      whereas in fact they are the hard data
      by which our lives are lived
For everyone comes to the arts too late
For you can be trained to listen only for the oboe
      out of the whole orchestra
For you may need to strain to hear the voice of the patient
      in the thin reed of his crying
For you will learn to see most acutely out of
      the corner of your eye
      to hear best with your inner ear
For there are late signs and early signs
For the patient's story will come to you
      like hunger, like thirst
For you will know the answer
      like second nature, like first
For the patient will live
      and you will try to understand
For you will be amazed
      or the patient will not live
      and you will try to understand
For you will be baffled
For you will try to explain both, either, to the family
For there will be laying on of hands
      and the letting go
For love is what death would always intend if it had the choice
For the fever will drop, the bone remold along
its lines of force
      the speech return
      the mind remember itself
For there will be days of joy
For there will be elevators of elation
      and you will walk triumphantly
      in purest joy
      along the halls of the hospital
      and say Yes to all the dark corners
      where no one is listening
For the heart will lead
For the head will explain
      but the final common pathway is the heart
      whatever kingdom may come
For what matters finally is how the human spirit is spent
For this is the day of joy
For this is the morning to rejoice
For this is the beginning
      Therefore, let us rejoice
      Gaudeamus igitur.

 *1 Kings 3:16-27

Published on Tuesday Poem with permission of John Stone’s widow, Mae Nelson Stone. Gaudeamus Igitur appeared in his last book of poems, "Music from Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems" published in 2004 by LSU Press.

                                                                   Editor, Renee Liang

I first came across this thought-provoking poem when an extract was read at a gathering of doctors, before finding it again on Nancy Simpson’s informative blog. When I found that its author, John Stone, came (like me) from the dual worlds of poetry and medicine, I was hooked. I started tracking down his books.

Reading and hearing this poem, written for the 1982 commencement ceremony of Emory University’s School of Medicine, I have little explosions of recognition.  At the time I graduated from medical school, I wouldn’t have understood lines like “For whole days will move in the direction of rain” and “For joy is nothing if not mysterious.”  But now I do. 

John Stone understood the closeness of medicine to poetry. He uses poetry to express the world of the doctor – an uncertain human being, called to show certainty and strength to the sick. One of the hardest – and easiest -- things about becoming a doctor is learning to doubt yourself. Experienced clinicians will say that doubt is often what saves them.  To the young, it’s the thing they most want to avoid.

This is where learning in the arts helps me.  In the arts, I think, we often work by instinct – moving in a direction that feels right. Of course we take care to do our research and hone our technical skills – but how often have we found a solution by ‘feel’? I think this is what Stone means when he writes,

For you can be trained to listen only for the oboe
      out of the whole orchestra

- there’s an instinct which can be honed, not through textbooks, but only through experience. There’s always that doubt – will we find anything to ‘hear’ at all? - but we keep going anyway.  And when we find it, there’s often still that ambivalence of meaning, the same ambivalence that brings us so much pleasure in reading and writing poetry.  Doubt can be a strength, after all.

John Stone (1936-2008), physician-poet, was an emeritus professor of medicine in cardiology at Emory University.  He also taught English Literature and Medicine at Emory and at Oxford University, England. He won numerous awards in both medicine and poetry.

Stone’s poetry collections include The Smell of Matches (1972), In All This Rain (1980), Renaming the Streets (1985), Where Water Begins: New Poems and Prose (1998), and Music From Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems (2004). In 1990 Dell published In the Country of Hearts: Journeys in the Art of Medicine, a collection of essays about the human heart, both as a physiological organ and a metaphorical symbol of life and emotion.
This week's Tuesday Poem editor Renee Liang is an Auckland poet, playwright and paediatrician. She writes and tours plays, with 'The First Asian AB' performed in Hamilton this year. Her poetry and other writing can be found on her blog Chinglish

After you've read this post, check out the poems in the sidebar from the 30 Tuesday Poets who post poems by themselves or others they admire every Tuesday.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Talking Mean by Paul Hunter

Set out along that dark porch they would talk
about which was meaner a rooster
dairy bull coon hound or rattlesnake
one would say leastways a rooster will warn you
the way he crows and struts likewise a rattler
if he don’t get stepped on sound asleep
unlike your copperhead or cottonmouth

another allowed he’d worked around one bull
ol Twitch that once he got his growth
and a taste of what he was after
was mean clear through sundown to sunup
laying to get you don’t come anywhere close
took three bullets to drop him had to grind
every bit for hamburger talk about tough

though we had that one sneaky rooster
would jump you out of the blue
if he’d been the size of ol Twitch
woulda been nothing left alive around for miles

well what about coon hounds that one Lacey has
he calls the Prince of Darkness
had to keep him chained up once he treed his first
else he’d hunt every night to exhaustion
bite anything walked past even Lacey himself

finally the storekeep who needed his rest
chimed in to try and end it said
when old Hennemeyer got word he had
the cancer tried to drink himself to death
then woke up still alive he went to check
himself in the mirror what do you think
he saw there staring back
meaner than him by a long shot

Editor: T Clear

I know few poets who can deliver a poem with more eloquence and presence than Paul Hunter. When he takes out his "come to Jesus" voice, there's nothing to be done but to submit to listening.

Paul has the kind of voice where I often don't know where the conversation ends and the poem begins. When I met with him recently, we were standing in his study, and he showed me a Farm Journal periodical where he was a featured poet, and all of a sudden I realized he was several lines into his poem, standing close enough so that I could hear the poem itself breathe. And we were no longer in his built-in-1912 Seattle house -- surrounded by stacks of books, guitars and mandolins, windows looking west to the Olympic Mountains -- but on a hillside in rural Indiana, years earlier in the 20th century, surrounded by cows.

In this short video, he's standing out on the hillside of his back yard, on a March afternoon that began with snow and ended in brilliant sunshine and this poem — Paul Hunter indeed "talking mean" —

Paul Hunter has lent a hand where it was needed—as teacher, performer, grassroots arts activist, worker on the land, and shade-tree mechanic. For the past 18 years he has published fine letterpress poetry under the imprint of Wood Works, currently including 26 books and over 60 broadsides.

His poems have appeared in Alaska Fisherman's Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Bloomsbury Review, Iowa Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Raven Chronicles, The Small Farmer's Journal, The Southern Review and Spoon River Poetry Review, as well as in six full-length books and three chapbooks His first collection of farming poems, Breaking Ground, 2004, from Silverfish Review Press, was reviewed in The New York Times and received the 2004 Washington State Book Award. A second volume of farming poems, Ripening, was published in 2007, and a third companion volume, Come the Harvest, appeared in 2008. He has been a featured poem on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. His recent prose book, One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming, was published by the Small Farmer's Journal in 2010. A fourth collection of faring poems, Stubble Field, is due out from Silverfish Review Press, in May 2012.


This week's editor T. Clear is a Seattle poet whose work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry Northwest, Atlanta Review, Seattle Review, Slipstream, Calyx and Hobble Creek Review. Her poem "Holy Goose" is forthcoming in the new anthology Pacific Poetry Project, and she is a founding board member of Floating Bridge Press. She works overseeing production and shipping for a Seattle glass artist, and can be found online here.

Please do check the right-hand sidebar for other Tuesday Poems selected by our line-up of 30 poets from NZ, Australia, US and UK!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Return to the Ferry Hotel by Ross Donlon

I got news of his death around five. He was at the Ferry Hotel. He’d been there on and off 
for a year. The rest of the time you wouldn’t know where he was. Likely you’d see him an alley next to a restaurant. Or on a park bench, looking at the grass with a pint in his pocket. Destitute is a nice word for where Red had got. His red hair had about turned white. He’d been a medium built man with a thick strong neck and set of shoulders that would fill a uniform. Lately he’d had trouble holding up a suit. 

I wondered where he got the money for lodgings. Maybe he panhandled or got some welfare. He was an enlisted man. He was particular about that. Not drafted. He hadn’t 
waited to be called from the motor production line. But at thirty four he was eligible for nothing. Truth is I don’t know how he lived those last years. I only know he had been in Vets’ hospital for liver damage. Jaundiced is nice word for the yellow tinge that had seeped into his skin and made abrasions hard to heal. 

I hailed a cab and when I said Ferry Hotel, Embarcadero Street, the cabbie shot me a sideways look. The Ferry is down the end of the Embaracadero. The deep end. It’s a long street that curves the length of the dock. In the centre is the Y.M.C.A. with flags on top. It was built in the twenties before the crash. It looks like a bank. Red stayed there when he first came from Louisville. But the rooms still cost, even for an ex serviceman, and there was no work, or not enough to live on, straight after the war 

The Ferry Hotel goes back to an older time in San Francisco, a three story box 
of rat traps with a fire escape out back. A ferry still took short trip commuters 
to work from across the bay but most ferries used the main terminal across from the Y. 

The Ferry had been a squat red brick building but now it was black. Windows once picked out in white were grey. On the front the windows were the opaque bubble type that makes what happens on the other side look like it’s underwater. 

This would have suited anyone looking in or out. Over the street there was a set of medium sized buildings like broken teeth. A post war recession in property meant the wrecking ball hadn’t got to them yet. But it was swinging. Inside, most denizens of the Ferry Hotel would have been happy not to be seen there. Occasionally an out of towner would book by mistake for a few days. Or a salesman would cut budget on a quick trip. Otherwise the Ferry catered for short-timers or men who had managed to get a break from streets, parks and alleys. 

During the post-war recession all big cities hosted a small colony of ex-servicemen who had made it back from war but not made it into civilian life. You felt both sorry and scared if you saw one. They were usually alone as they rifled through a garbage bin, or came towards you with everything they owned on their back. 

I paid the cabbie and booked him to come back in twenty minutes. That would be long enough for what I had to do. The foyer had once had a piece of light patterned carpet down to the door, but that was long ago. Green linoleum slid from what was left. The desk was empty. The sound of a blues song was coming from the office behind a half closed door. It could have been Billie and I Cover the Waterfront. That would have been cute, but I didn’t wait to hear. 

I knew where he was. 

I took the stairs. They’re faster than the lifts in these joints, and probably safer. On each 
floor a john and bathroom waited on one end of the hall, fire escape on the other. On the 
third floor I turned right. 

I wanted to check on Fred Lovell who had the room next to Red. Lovell had called Emergency that morning but Emergency hadn’t come for another sick rheumy at the Ferry. Lovell must have been a good egg because he had called in later to see how Red had been getting along when he came home. By then Red was too late for Emergency. Lovell told the clerk and called help again. They were still in no hurry to get to the Ferry. 

Then it occurred to me he might be waiting down in the office now with the clerk, taking a shot or two while he waited. He’d have a few questions to answer when they arrived, not 
that he done anything but try to be a Samaritan. 

In some ways, this made it easier. I knew Red had the next door room. Forty-five. Old locks like these don’t need a science degree to get in. I could leave the door open and hear the elevator crank up the floors and be on the stairs before it arrived. 

The room was on a corner and the first thing I noticed was the light. There were windows back and side with the bed head on the back wall. He had pulled all the curtains back hard, one even rucked up on itself to let more light in. It had been a cool day in August, blue, cold and still. An early autumn after a hot summer. But the room was flooded with late afternoon light. A window was open. You could hear the sounds of the waterfront. Gulls and shipping. A horn echoed, warning someone. Seagulls propped on windowsills like trapeze artists waiting to fly.

The room was neat. I thought it might be the way a soldier had been trained to keep his kit and bed in the barracks. 

And there he was. 

In a sitting position, as I’d been told, fully dressed with his back against a dresser, looking, more or less, toward the window. He’d taken some care. His shirt and pants were clean and so was his light jacket. He had a loafer on one foot. The other shoe was nearby, as though he’d been trying to get it on when he fell. There was an abrasion on his forehead and some other marks on his face, as though he’d had trouble shaving. His face was a Van Gogh yellow. 

I stood in front for him for a few minutes, then crouched down and looked closely at his 
face. I smelt a musky odour coming both from him and his clothing. Stale booze, maybe. 
But something else. From the liver, probably. If he weren’t dead you would say he was in a kind of trance, as though Death had hypnotized him before making final arrangements. 

I got up and walked over to the windows. One looked into the damp brick wall of the warehouse next door. The few windows were barred. The window looking out back was a different story. From there you could see a slab of San Francisco Bay and spans of the Golden Gate Bridge. It looked the way it does in some stamps, from an angle underneath. Now, nearing nightfall, a parade of coloured lights was heading out of the city. I suspected that he’d stayed in the shadow of the Bridge, drinking, as the ships he could never take pulled out. 

I didn’t touch him. I could see all I needed to. I felt the way you do sometimes do when you see a statue you want to touch, but something makes you stop. He was the man I’d seen in photographs; his wedding with Peg, skylarking with army buddies and the last one, taken when he left Louisville for San Francisco. 

He had changed a lot since then. The red hair that gave him his nickname, thinning, almost white, his body wasted, as though he’d disappeared into himself in the five years he’d been in ‘Frisco. 

I wondered if he’d kept photographs of us, Peg and me. I knew she’d sent them from 
Sydney. His mother and seen them and commented on how healthy I was. But there was nothing on the bureau. Maybe somewhere else.

I’d seen what I came to see. It wasn’t making peace. There’d been no war between us. I couldn’t blame him for something I didn’t know. And I didn’t know a lot of things. Why 
didn’t he go home to Kentucky? Was he sick with something else he brought home from New Guinea? Had he fought it? The last question was important. 

The elevator started clanking, like something out of a horror movie. But it wasn’t like that. Although he’d been dead for sixty years and I’d thought a bit about it, I’d never tried to see him face to face before and this was the closest I was going to get. 

From The Blue Dressing Gown & Other Poems by Ross Donlon published by Profile Poetry

                                                                                          Editor: Jennifer Compton

Ross Donlon is an Australian and he lives in Castlemaine in Victoria. He convenes the wonderful Castlemaine Readings in the Guildford Hotel. The title poem of his collection was a winner of the Arvon International Poetry Competition (the Wenlock Poetry Festival category.) 

The cover photo on the book shows a picture of Ross’s American father whom he never met, and who died while he was a baby. Return To The Ferry Hotel is a very powerful imagining of a strange meeting.

You can find more about Ross Donlon at http://www.rossdonlon.com/  
Remember to check out the poets and poems in the sidebar. 

Jennifer Compton is an award-winning New Zealand-born playwright and poet who lives in Australia but has had two recent writers' residencies in New Zealand at the Randell Cottage in Wellington and Massey University, Palmerston North. Jen also won the Kathleen Grattan Prize (2010) in NZ for an unpublished collection, which was published as 'This City' (OUP 2011). 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Five Quartets by John Tranter

All might have been speculation.
What might have been opened?
I do not inhabit the garden.
There they were dignified, invisible,
over the dead bird, in response to
the flowers that are our guests,
in the drained pool.
Dry water, bird children,
garlic and mud in the blood
dance along the sodden floor.
Below, the practical "Erhebung" without
elimination, its partial ecstasy,
its horror. Yet the body cannot
allow a little dim light: neither
rotation nor strained fancies
with no men. Bits of wind in unwholesome
eructation, the torpid gloomy hills of Putney,
twittering into inoperancy and the other.
Abstention from its metalled bell
carries the cling wing.


Words move the Chinese violin, while
the words between the foliage
waste a factory, or a by-pass.
There is a time for the wind to break
and to shake the field-mouse with a silent motto.
You lean against a van
and the deep village, the sultry dahlias,
wait for the early pipe. 


And the little man and woman
round and round the fire
leaping through the laughter
lifting the milking and the coupling
of man and woman of dung and wrinkles.
I am here in heat, and writhing high
into grey roses filled with thunder.
The rolling cars weep and hunt the ice.
That was not very worn-out.
Poetical fashion, wrestle with poetry.
Calm and wisdom deceived us, the dead secrets
into which they turned their every moment
and shocking monsters, fancy old men,
can hope to acquire houses under the Stock Exchange. 


The Directory of cold lost the funeral.
I said to the dark, the lights are hollow,
with a bold rolled train in the tube
and the conversation fades into the mental ether,
the mind is in the garden, pointing and repeating
‘there is no ecstasy!’ The wounded steel,
the fever chart, is the disease,
the dying nurse our hospital.
The millionaire ascends from feet to mental wires.
I must quake in our only drink, blood.
Trying to use a failure, because one has
shabby equipment in the mess of emotion,
and to conquer men, is no competition.
Home is older, stranger, intense.
But the old lamplight is nearly here,
with the explorers. 


I think that the patient is forgotten.
Men choose the machine, but the nursery bedroom
in the winter gaslight is within us,
also, the algae and the dead men.
The sea has the water,
the groaner and the women.
Where is there an end of it?
Where is the end of the wastage?
We have to think of them,
while the money is ineffable:
we appreciate the agony of others,
covered by dead negroes.

Editor: Belinda Hollyer

John Tranter says, “This poem is T.S. Eliot's Five Quartets with most of the words removed,” so you can tell he has a good sense of humour as well as of poetry. I love this poem's wit, intelligence and structure, and the way it forms a dance with Eliot's poem: that reminds me of Leonard Cohen's line about 'our steps will always rhyme'.

John Tranter is an Australian poet who has published more than twenty collections of verse. His collection Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected won a number of major prizes. His latest book is Starlight: 150 Poems published by the University of Queensland Press in 2010, from which this poem is taken. Recently he also edited The Best Australian Poems 2011, published by Black Inc. He is the founding editor of the free Internet magazine Jacket, and has a homepage at http://johntranter.net

Do check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar.

This week’s Tuesday Poem editor is Belinda Hollyer, a New Zealand writer and anthologist living in London. She doesn’t write poetry – she thinks it’s far too difficult – but details of her other publications can be found on her website, and also on her blog (where her Tuesday Poems reside.)