Robert Frost |
Her teacher's certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, "Maple—
Maple is right.
"But teacher told the school
There's no such name.
"Teachers don't know as much
As fathers about children, you tell teacher.
You tell her that it's M-A-P-L-E.
You ask her if she knows a maple tree.
Well, you were named after a maple tree.
Your mother named you.
You and she just saw
Each other in passing in the room upstairs,
One coming this way into life, and one
Going the other out of life—you know?
So you can't have much recollection of her.
She had been having a long look at you.
She put her finger in your cheek so hard
It must have made your dimple there, and said,
' I said it too: 'Yes, for her name.
So we're sure there's no mistake.
I don't know what she wanted it to mean,
But it seems like some word she left to bid you
Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.
How like a maple tree's for us to guess.
Or for a little girl to guess sometime.
Not now—at least I shouldn't try too hard now.
By and by I will tell you all I know
About the different trees, and something, too,
About your mother that perhaps may help.
Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.
Luckily all she wanted of her name then
Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,
And give the teacher a scare as from her father.
Anything further had been wasted on her,
Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.
She would forget it.
She all but forgot it.
What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,
And came so near death in the dark of years,
That when it woke and came to life again
The flower was different from the parent seed.
It carne back vaguely at the glass one day,
As she stood saying her name over aloud,
Striking it gently across her lowered eyes
To make it go well with the way she looked.
What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay
In having too much meaning.
As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,
Rose could have a meaning,
But hadn't as it went.
(She knew a Rose.
This difference from other names it was
Made people notice it—and notice her.
(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.
Her problem was to find out what it asked
In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.
If she could form some notion of her mother—
What she bad thought was lovely, and what good.
This was her mother's childhood home;
The house one story high in front, three stories
On the end it presented to the road.
(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.
Her mother's bedroom was her father's still,
Where she could watch her mother's picture fading.
Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible
A maple leaf she thought must have been laid
In wait for her there.
She read every word
Of the two pages it was pressed between,
As if it was her mother speaking to her.
But forgot to put the leaf back in closing
And lost the place never to read again.
She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.
So she looked for herself, as everyone
Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.
And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,
May still have been what led her on to read,
And think a little, and get some city schooling.
She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may
Have had to do with it--she sometimes wondered.
So, till she found herself in a strange place
For the name Maple to have brought her to,
Taking dictation on a paper pad
And, in the pauses when she raised her eyes,
Watching out of a nineteenth story window
An airship laboring with unshiplike motion
And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river
Beyond the highest city built with hands.
Someone was saying in such natural tones
She almost wrote the words down on her knee,
"Do you know you remind me of a tree--
A maple tree?"
"Because my name is Maple?"
"Isn't it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel.
"No doubt you've heard the office call me Mabel.
I have to let them call me what they like.
They were both stirred that he should have divined
Without the name her personal mystery.
It made it seem as if there must be something
She must have missed herself.
So they were married,
And took the fancy home with them to live by.
They went on pilgrimage once to her father's
(The house one story high in front, three stories
On the side it presented to the road)
To see if there was not some special tree
She might have overlooked.
They could find none,
Not so much as a single tree for shade,
Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.
She told him of the bookmark maple leaf
In the big Bible, and all she remembered
of the place marked with it—"Wave offering,
Something about wave offering, it said.
"You've never asked your father outright, have you?"
"I have, and been Put off sometime, I think.
(This was her faded memory of the way
Once long ago her father had put himself off.
"Because no telling but it may have been
Something between your father and your mother
Not meant for us at all.
"Not meant for me?
Where would the fairness be in giving me
A name to carry for life and never know
The secret of?"
"And then it may have been
Something a father couldn't tell a daughter
As well as could a mother.
It may have been their one lapse into fancy
'Twould be too bad to make him sorry for
By bringing it up to him when be was too old.
Your father feels us round him with our questing,
And holds us off unnecessarily,
As if he didn't know what little thing
Might lead us on to a discovery.
It was as personal as be could be
About the way he saw it was with you
To say your mother, bad she lived, would be
As far again as from being born to bearing.
"Just one look more with what you say in mind,
And I give up"; which last look came to nothing.
But though they now gave up the search forever,
They clung to what one had seen in the other
It proved there was something.
They kept their thoughts away from when the maples
Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam
Of sap and snow rolled off the sugarhouse.
When they made her related to the maples,
It was the tree the autumn fire ran through
And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark
Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.
They always took their holidays in autumn.
Once they came on a maple in a glade,
Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,
And every leaf of foliage she'd worn
Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.
But its age kept them from considering this one.
Twenty-five years ago at Maple's naming
It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling
The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.
Could it have been another maple like it?
They hovered for a moment near discovery,
Figurative enough to see the symbol,
But lacking faith in anything to mean
The same at different times to different people.
Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them
From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.
And anyway it came too late for Maple.
She used her hands to cover up her eyes.
"We would not see the secret if we could now:
We are not looking for it any more.
Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,
Made a girl's marriage, and ruled in her life.
No matter that the meaning was not clear.
A name with meaning could bring up a child,
Taking the child out of the parents' hands.
Better a meaningless name, I should say,
As leaving more to nature and happy chance.
Name children some names and see what you do.
Ezra Pound |
I was in love with anatomy
the symmetry of my body
poised for flight,
the heights it would take
over parents, lovers, a keen
riding over truth and detail.
I thought growing up would be
this rising from everything
old and earthly,
not these faltering steps out the door
every day, then back again.
John Donne |
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame nor loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we are met,
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Curel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thy self nor me the weaker now;
'Tis true; then learn how false, fears be;
Just so much honor, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.
Mark Doty |
Today the Masons are auctioning
their discarded pomp: a trunk of turbans,
gemmed and ostrich-plumed, and operetta costumes
labeled inside the collar "Potentate"
" Here their chairs, blazoned
with the Masons' sign, huddled
like convalescents, lean against one another
on the grass.
In a casket are rhinestoned poles
the hierophants carried in parades;
here's a splendid golden staff some ranking officer waved,
topped with a golden pyramid and a tiny,
No one's worn this stuff
for years, and it doesn't seem worth buying;
where would we put it? Still,
I want that staff.
I used to love
to go to the library -- the smalltown brick refuge
of those with nothing to do, really,
'Carnegie' chiseled on the pediment
above columns that dwarfed an inconsequential street.
Embarrassed to carry the same book past
the water fountain's plaster centaurs
up to the desk again, I'd take
The Wonders of the World to the Reading Room
where Art and Industry met in the mural
on the dome.
The room smelled like two decades
before I was born, when the name
carved over the door meant something.
I never read the second section,
"Wonders of the Modern World";
I loved the promise of my father's blueprints,
the unfulfilled turquoise schemes,
but in the real structures
you could hardly imagine a future.
I wanted the density of history,
which I confused with the smell of the book:
Babylon's ziggurat tropical with ferns,
engraved watercourses rippling;
the Colossus of Rhodes balanced
over the harbormouth on his immense ankles.
Athena filled one end of the Parthenon,
in an "artist's reconstruction",
like an adult in a dollhouse.
At Halicarnassus, Mausolus remembered himself
immensely, though in the book
there wasn't even a sketch,
only a picture of huge fragments.
In the pyramid's deep clockworks,
did the narrow tunnels mount toward
the eye of God? That was the year
photos were beamed back from space;
falling asleep I used to repeat a new word
to myself, telemetry, liking the way
it seemed to allude to something storied.
The earth was whorled marble,
at that distance.
Even the stuck-on porticoes
and collonades downtown were narrative,
somehow, but the buildings my father engineered
were without stories.
All I wanted
was something larger than our ordinary sadness --
greater not in scale but in context,
memorable, true to a proportioned,
Last year I knew a student,
a half mad boy who finally opened his arms
with a razor, not because he wanted to die
but because he wanted to design something grand
on his own body.
Once he said, When a child
realizes his parents aren't enough,
he turns to architecture.
I think I know what he meant.
Imagine the Masons parading,
one of them, in his splendid get-up,
striding forward with the golden staff,
above his head Cheops' beautiful shape --
a form we cannot separate
from the stories about the form,
even if we hardly know them,
even if it no longer signifies, if it only shines.
Ogden Nash |
In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.
David Lehman |
Some people find out they are Jews.
They can't believe it.
Thy had always hated Jews.
As children they had roamed in gangs on winter nights in the old
neighborhood, looking for Jews.
They were not Jewish, they were Irish.
They brandished broken bottles, tough guys with blood on their
lips, looking for Jews.
They intercepted Jewish boys walking alone and beat them up.
Sometimes they were content to chase a Jew and he could elude
them by running away.
They were happy just to see him run
The coward! All Jews were yellow.
They spelled Jew with a small j jew.
And now they find out they are Jews themselves.
It happened at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
To escape persecution, they pretended to convert to Christianity.
They came to this country and settled in the Southwest.
At some point oral tradition failed the family, and their
secret faith died.
No one would ever have known if not for the bones that turned up
on the dig.
How could it have happened to them?
They are in a state of panic--at first.
Then they realize that it is the answer to their prayers.
They hasten to the synagogue or build new ones.
They are Jews at last!
They are free to marry other Jews, and divorce them, and intermarry
with Gentiles, God forbid.
They are model citizens, clever and thrifty.
They debate the issues.
They fire off earnest letters to the editor.
They are resented for being clever and thrifty.
They buy houses in the suburbs and agree not to talk so loud.
They look like everyone else, drive the same cars as everyone else,
yet in their hearts they know they're different.
In every minyan there are always two or three, hated by
the others, who give life to one ugly stereotype or another:
The grasping Jew with the hooked nose or the Ivy League Bolshevik
who thinks he is the agent of world history.
But most of them are neither ostentatiously pious nor
How I envy them! They believe.
How I envy them their annual family reunion on Passover,
anniversary of the Exodus, when all the uncles and aunts and
cousins get together.
They wonder about the heritage of Judaism they are passing along
to their children.
Have they done as much as they could to keep the old embers
Others lead more dramatic lives.
A few go to Israel.
One of them calls Israel "the ultimate concentration camp.
He tells Jewish jokes.
On the plane he gets tipsy, tries to seduce the stewardess.
People in the Midwest keep telling him reminds them of Woody
He wonders what that means.
I'm funny? A sort of nervous
intellectual type from New York? A Jew?
Around this time somebody accuses him of not being Jewish enough.
It is said by resentful colleagues that his parents changed their
name from something that sounded more Jewish.
Everything he publishes is scrutinized with reference to "the
It is no longer clear what is meant by that phrase.
He has already forgotten all the Yiddish he used to know, and
the people of that era are dying out one after another.
The number of witnesses keeps diminishing.
Soon there will be no one left to remind the others and their
That is why he came to this dry place where the bones have come
To live in a state of perpetual war puts a tremendous burden on the
As a visitor he felt he had to share that burden.
With his gift for codes and ciphers, he joined the counter-
terrorism unit of army intelligence.
Contrary to what the spook novels say, he found it possible to
avoid betraying either his country or his lover.
This was the life: strange bedrooms, the perfume of other men's
As a spy he has a unique mission: to get his name on the front
page of the nation's newspaper of record.
Only by doing that
would he get the message through to his immediate superior.
If he goes to jail, he will do so proudly; if they're going to
hang him anyway, he'll do something worth hanging for.
In time he may get used to being the center of attention, but
this was incredible:
To talk his way into being the chief suspect in the most
flamboyant murder case in years!
And he was innocent!
He could prove it!
And what a book he would write when they free him from this prison:
A novel, obliquely autobiographical, set in Vienna in the twilight
of the Hapsburg Empire, in the year that his mother was born.
Shel Silverstein |
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I'm dumb in school?
Whatif they've closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there's poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don't grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won't bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!
Robert William Service |
"Let's make him a sailor," said Father,
"And he will adventure the sea.
"A soldier," said Mother, "is rather
What I would prefer him to be.
"A lawyer," said Father, "would please me,
For then he could draw up my will.
"A doctor," said Mother, "would ease me;
Maybe he could give me a pill.
Said Father: "Lt's make him a curate,
A Bishop in gaiters to be.
Said Mother: "I couldn't endure it
To have Willie preaching to me.
Said Father: ""Let him be a poet;
So often he's gathering wool.
Said Mother with temper: "Oh stow it!
You know it, a poet's a fool.
Said Farther: "Your son is a duffer,
A stupid and mischievous elf.
Said Mother, who's rather a huffer:
"That's right - he takes after yourself.
Controlling parental emotion
They turned to me, seeking a cue,
And sudden conceived the bright notion
To ask what I wanted to do.
Said I: "my ambition is modest:
A clown in a circus I'd be,
And turn somersaults in the sawdust
With audience laughing at me.
Poor parents! they're dead and decaying,
But I am a clown as you see;
And though in no circus I'm playing,
How people are laughing at me!
Jane Austen |
My dearest Frank, I wish you joy
Of Mary's safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents' Love!--
Endow'd with Art's and Nature's Good,
Thy Name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis WIlliam see!--
Thy infant days may he inherit,
THey warmth, nay insolence of spirit;--
We would not with one foult dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With 'Bet, my be not come to bide.
Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten'd very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neigbouring Donkey's aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words and fiery ways
In early Childhood's pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father's mind
Like him, considerate and Kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And anger only not to wound.
Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggles just,
Feel his Deserts with honest Glow,
And all his self-improvement know.
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious Worth.
As for ourselves we're very well;
As unaffected prose will tell.
Cassandra's pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
The ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You'll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles and Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over-right us.
Mark Twain |
On the Erie Canal, it was,
All on a summer's day,
I sailed forth with my parents
Far away to Albany.
From out the clouds at noon that day
There came a dreadful storm,
That piled the billows high about,
And filled us with alarm.
A man came rushing from a house,
Saying, "Snub up your boat I pray,
Snub up your boat, snub up, alas,
Snub up while yet you may.
Our captain cast one glance astern,
Then forward glanced he,
And said, "My wife and little ones
I never more shall see.
Said Dollinger the pilot man,
In noble words, but few,--
"Fear not, but lean on Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.
The boat drove on, the frightened mules
Tore through the rain and wind,
And bravely still, in danger's post,
The whip-boy strode behind.
"Come 'board, come 'board," the captain cried,
"Nor tempt so wild a storm;"
But still the raging mules advanced,
And still the boy strode on.
Then said the captain to us all,
"Alas, 'tis plain to me,
The greater danger is not there,
But here upon the sea.
So let us strive, while life remains,
To save all souls on board,
And then if die at last we must,
I cannot speak the word!"
Said Dollinger the pilot man,
Tow'ring above the crew,
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.
"Low bridge! low bridge!" all heads went down,
The laboring bark sped on;
A mill we passed, we passed church,
Hamlets, and fields of corn;
And all the world came out to see,
And chased along the shore
Crying, "Alas, alas, the sheeted rain,
The wind, the tempest's roar!
Alas, the gallant ship and crew,
Can nothing help them more?"
And from our deck sad eyes looked out
Across the stormy scene:
The tossing wake of billows aft,
The bending forests green,
The chickens sheltered under carts
In lee of barn the cows,
The skurrying swine with straw in mouth,
The wild spray from our bows!
Now let her go about!
If she misses stays and broaches to,
We're all"--then with a shout,]
Take in more sail!
Lord, what a gale!
Ho, boy, haul taut on the hind mule's tail!"
"Ho! lighten ship! ho! man the pump!
Ho, hostler, heave the lead!
"A quarter-three!--'tis shoaling fast!
Three feet large!--t-h-r-e-e feet!--
Three feet scant!" I cried in fright
"Oh, is there no retreat?"
Said Dollinger, the pilot man,
As on the vessel flew,
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
And he will fetch you through.
A panic struck the bravest hearts,
The boldest cheek turned pale;
For plain to all, this shoaling said
A leak had burst the ditch's bed!
And, straight as bolt from crossbow sped,
Our ship swept on, with shoaling lead,
Before the fearful gale!
"Sever the tow-line! Cripple the mules!"
Too late! There comes a shock!
Another length, and the fated craft
Would have swum in the saving lock!
Then gathered together the shipwrecked crew
And took one last embrace,
While sorrowful tears from despairing eyes
Ran down each hopeless face;
And some did think of their little ones
Whom they never more might see,
And others of waiting wives at home,
And mothers that grieved would be.
But of all the children of misery there
On that poor sinking frame,
But one spake words of hope and faith,
And I worshipped as they came:
Said Dollinger the pilot man,--
(O brave heart, strong and true!)--
"Fear not, but trust in Dollinger,
For he will fetch you through.
Lo! scarce the words have passed his lips
The dauntless prophet say'th,
When every soul about him seeth
A wonder crown his faith!
And count ye all, both great and small,
As numbered with the dead:
For mariner for forty year,
On Erie, boy and man,
I never yet saw such a storm,
Or one't with it began!"
So overboard a keg of nails
And anvils three we threw,
Likewise four bales of gunny-sacks,
Two hundred pounds of glue,
Two sacks of corn, four ditto wheat,
A box of books, a cow,
A violin, Lord Byron's works,
A rip-saw and a sow.
A curve! a curve! the dangers grow!
Haw the head mule!--the aft one gee!
Luff!--bring her to the wind!"
For straight a farmer brought a plank,--
And laying it unto the ship,
In silent awe retired.
Then every sufferer stood amazed
That pilot man before;
A moment stood.
Then wondering turned,
And speechless walked ashore.