Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Scent of Roses

Tuesday was a half-day of horrendous traffic across what seemed like most of central Florida, and by the end of it I was ready to swear off driving and seclude myself in a cloister of quiet calm. My houseguest returned to Tokyo today and halfway to the airport we encountered a crash on the interstate that slowed everything to a crawl before detouring all traffic in a wide loop that had us worrying about reaching the airport in time. Avoiding the interstate on the return trip I ran into the same thing on an alternate route back to the beach. Those several hours of fractious driving among tailgating madmen left me eager to park the car, put my feet up and with a quiet view of the ocean read something of a soothing nature. And that’s just the way it turned out.

Robert Bly is the author of twenty-two collections of poetry and has translated thirteen books of poetry as well as one novel. The translations are from Swedish, Norwegian, German, Spanish, Persian and Urdu. He is also the author of nine non-fiction books. Mr Bly won a National Book Award for Poetry with his 1967 collection, The Light Around the Body. He describes his writing as a wish to describe modern American life through powerful metaphors and intense imagery. In 2006 the University of Minnesota purchased Mr Bly’s archive, more than 80,000 pages of handwritten manuscript, his journal spanning nearly fifty years and his correspondence. The university paid a price of $775,000 to acquire this archive. The poem below is from a collection to be published in May, Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey.


I don't know why so much sweetness hovers around us.
Nor why the wind blows the curtains in the afternoons,
Nor why the earth mutters so much about its children.

We'll never know why the snow falls through the night,
Nor how the heron stretches her long legs,
Nor why we feel so abandoned in the morning.

We have never understood how birds manage to fly,
Nor who the genius is who makes up dreams,
Nor how heaven and earth can appear in a poem.

We don't know why the rain falls so long.
The ditchdigger turns up one shovel after another.
The herons go on stitching the heavens together.

We've never heard about the day we were conceived
Nor the doctor who helped us to be born,
Nor that blind old man who decides when we will die.

It's hard to understand why the sun rises,
And why our children are mostly fond of us,
And why the wind blows the curtains in the afternoon.

A highly regarded poet, Ted Kooser was the US Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. For his book of poems, Delights and Shadows (2004) he won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Mr Kooser is the Presidential Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the author of twelve full-length collections of poetry. In reviewing his 1994 collection, Weather Central, from which “A Ghost Story” is taken, The Bloomsbury Review described Kooser this way: ‘He sits on his porch, uninterested in academic cant or the fashions of poetic schools, and takes in the world around, praising its quiet beauty…’


Her life was plain, her death
a common death—a girl
sewn into the watery shroud
of pneumonia. She was only
another Mary, there
in Illinois, and it was only
another April—the buds
of the honeysuckle folded
in prayer. Forgotten eyes,
forgotten smile, the cowlick
in her hair forgotten;
everything gone. Yet for
seventy years her grave
gave off the scent of roses.


  1. Especially like the Kooser poem. Absolutely wonderful. Love the "a girl sewn into the watery shroud of pneumonia" line. Perfect description of the disease done in a brilliant literary manner.

  2. Sorry you had such a horrendous day, but happy that it ended calmly and in a place you love. The poems are lovely - so beautifully expressed. I really enjoyed them both.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America