Sunday Poem – The Paper Nautilus

The Paper Nautilus
by Marianne Moore

For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
Writers entrapped by
teatime fame and by
commuters’ comforts? Not for these
the paper nautilus
constructs her thin glass shell.

Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
white outside and smooth-edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
maker of it guards it
day and night; she scarcely

eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
arms, for she is in
a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram’shorn-cradled freight
is hid but is not crushed;
as Hercules, bitten

by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
the intensively
watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed, —
leaving its wasp-nest flaws
of white on white, and close-
laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the man of
a Parthenon horse,
round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they know love
is the only fortress
strong enough to trust to



Sunday Poem – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Since Calgary woke up to snow this morning for the first time this season , I thought it was time for a winter poem — and who better than Robert Frost?


Snowshoeing in Kananaskis. Credit: Neil Griffin

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness  bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.

Featured photo by Neil Griffin.


Sunday Poem – The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

by Robinson Jeffers

I followed the narrow cliffside trail half way up the mountain
Above the deep river-canyon. There was a little cataract crossed the path,
flinging itself
Over tree roots and rocks, shaking the jeweled fern-fronds, bright
bubbling water
Pure from the mountain, but a bad smell came up. Wondering at it I
clambered down the steep stream
Some forty feet, and found in the midst of bush-oak and laurel,
Hung like a bird’s nest on the precipice bank a small hidden clearing,
Grass and a shallow pool. But all about there were bones lying in the
grass, clean bones and stinking bones,
Antlers and bones: I understood that the place was a refuge for wounded
deer; there are so many
Hurt ones escape the hunters and limp away to lie hidden; here they have
water for the awful thirst
And peace to die in; dense green laurel and grim cliff
Make sanctuary, and a sweet wind blows upward from the deep gorge. —
I wish my bones were with theirs.
But that’s a foolish thing to confess, and a little cowardly. We know that
Is on the whole quite equally good and bad, mostly gray netural, and can
be endured
To the dim end, no matter what magic  of grass, water and precipice, and
pain of wounds,
Makes death look dear We have been given life and have used it — not a
great gift perhaps — but in honesty
Shoud use it all. Mine’s empty since my love died — Empty? The flame-
haired grandchild with great blue eyes
That look like hers? — What can I do for the child? I gaze at her and
wonder what sort of man
In the fall of the world…I am growing old, that is the trouble. My
children and little grandchildren
Will find their way, and why should I wait ten years yet, having lived
sixty-seven, ten years more or less,
Before I crawl out on a ledge of rock and die snapping, like a wolf
Who has lost his mate? — I am bound by my own thirty-year-decision:
who drinks the wine
Should take the dregs; even in the bitter lees and sediment
New discovery may lie. The deer in that beautiful place lay down their
bones: I must wear mine.

Featured photo by Suzette A Paduano

Found in “The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers: Volume Three, 1939-1962”.


Sunday Poem: Fall, Sierra Nevada

Fall, Sierra Nevada

by Kenneth Rexroth

excerpted from “Toward an Organic Philosophy”

This morning the hermit thrush was absent at breakfast,
His place was taken by a family of chickadees;
At noon a flock of hummingbirds passed south,
Whirling in the wind up over the saddle between
Ritter and Banner, following the migration lane
Of the Sierra crest southward to Guatemala.
All day cloud shadows have moved over the face of the mountain,
The shadow of a golden eagle weaving between them
Over the face of the glacier.
At sunset the half-moon rides on the bent back of the Scorpion,
The Great Bear kneels on the mountain.
Ten degrees below the moon
Venus sets in the haze arising from the Great Valley.
Jupiter, in opposition to the sun, rises in the alpenglow
Between the burnt peaks. The ventriloquial belling
Of an owl mingles with the bells of the waterfall.
Now there is distant thunder on the east wind.
The east face of the mountain above me
Is lit with far off lightnings and the sky
Above the pass blazes momentarily like an aurora.
Is is storming in the White Mountains,
On the arid fourteen-thousand-foot peaks;
Rain is falling on the narrow gray ranges
And dark sedge meadows and white salt flats of Nevada.
Just before moonset a small dense cumulus cloud,
Gleaming like a grape cluster of metal,
Moves over the Sierra crest and grows down the westward slope.
Frost, the color and quality of the cloud,
Lies over all the marsh below my campsite.
The wiry clumps of dwarfed whitebark pines
Are smoky and indistinct in the moonlight,
Only their shadows are really visible.
The lake is immobile and holds the stars
And the peaks deep in itself without a quiver.
In the shallows the geometrical tendrils of ice
Spread their wonderful mathematics in silence.
All night the eyes of deer shine for an instant
As they cross the radius of my firelight.
In the morning the trail will look like a sheep driveway,
All the tracks will point down to the lower canyon.
“Thus”, says Tyndall, “the concerns of this little place
Are changed and fashioned by the obliquity of the earth’s axis,
The chain of dependence which runs through creation,
And links the roll of a planet alike with the interests
Of marmots and of men.”


“Toward an Organic Philosophy” from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth.

Featured photo by Neil Griffin


Sunday Poem – The Book of the Dead Man (Fungi)

The Book of the Dead Man (Fungi)

by  Marvin Bell

Live as if you were already dead – Zen admonition

I. The Dead Man and Fungi

The dead man has changed his mind about the moss and mold.
About mildew and yeast.
About rust and smut, about soot and ash.
Whereas once he turned from the sour and the decomposed, now he
breathes deeply in the underbelly of the earth.
Of mushrooms, baker’s yeast, fungi of wood decay, and the dogs
preceding their masters to the burnt acre of morels.
And the little seasonals themselves, stuck on their wobbly pin stems.
For in the pan they float without crisping.
For they are not without the hint of the sublime, nor the curl of a hand.
These are the caps and hairdos, the mini-umbrellas, the zeppelins of a
world in which human beings are heavy-footed mammoths.
Puffballs and saucers, recurrent, recumbent, they fill the encyclopedia.
Not wrought for the pressed eternity of flowers or butterflies.
Loners and armies alike appearing overnight at the point of return.
They live fast, they die young, they will be back.

2. More About the Dead Man and Fungi

Fruit of the fungi, a mushroom’s birthing is an arrow from below.
It is because of Zeno’s Paradox that one cannot get there by half-measures.
It is the fault of having anything else to do.
The dead man prefers the mushroom of the gatherer to that of the farmer.
Gilled or ungilled, stemmed or stemless, woody or leathery, the mushroom is secretive, yes, by
Each mushroom was a button, each a flowering, some glow in the dark.
Medicinal or toxic, each was lopped from the stump of eternity.
The dead man has seen them take the shapes of cups and saucers, of sponges, logs and bird nests.
The dead man probes the shadows, he fingers the crannies and undersides, he spots the mushroom
underfoot just in time.
When the dead man saw a mushrooming cloud above Hiroshima, he knew.
He saw that death was beautiful from afar.
He saw that nature is equidistant from the nourishing and the poisonous, the good and the bad,
the beginning and the end.
He knew the littlest mushroom, shivering on its first day, was a signal.


Featured photo by Emily Mitic.

Copyright © 2009 by Marvin Bell.


Sunday Poem – Wild Geese

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

“Wild Geese”, from Wild Geese: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1993 by Mary Oliver.

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Sunday Poem – The Red Sleep of Beasts

I confess a strange love of bison. They’re not the most charismatic or beautiful animal; they’re surly and they smell terrible. But they’re North America’s largest land mammal (which must count for something), and are an enduring symbol of the West. For tens of thousands of year, all across the Great Plains, September would be the month of one final buffalo hunt by First Nations people, to stock up on the meat and furs needed for winter. One last hunt, before the great summer mating herds dispersed into their small family groups to weather the difficult winters (while the people did the same). But eventually, the ‘hide hunters’ came, with their ‘long-eyes’, backed by the insatiable European desire for buffalo fur. And then there were no more great bison hunts, and no more great bison herds. To see bison today, you have to go to a private ranch, to Yellowstone Park, or to Northern Canada. I suspect it does not create quite the same emotion as sunny autumn prairie, teeming with shaggy brown beasts.


Bison in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta. Credit: Laura Kaupas.

The Red Sleep of Beasts

by Louise Erdrich

We heard them when they left the hills,
Low hills where they used to winter and bear their young.
Blue hills of oak and birch that broke the wind.
They swung their heavy muzzles, wet with steam
And broke their beards of breath to breathe.

We used to to hunt theme in our red-wheeled carts.
Frenchmen gone sauvage, how the women burned
In scarlet sashes, black wool skirts.
For miles you heard the ungreased wood.
Groan as the load turned.

Thunder was the last good hunt.
Great bales of skins and meats in iron cauldrons
Boiling through the night. We made our feast
All night, but still we could not rest.

We lived headlong, taking what we could
But left no scraps behind, not like the other
Hide hunters, hidden on a rise,
Their long-eyes brought herds one by one
To earth. They took but tongues, and you could walk
For mile across the strange hulks.

We wintered in the hills. Low huts of log
And trampled dirt, the spaces tamped with mud.
At night we touched each other in our dreams
Hearing, on the wind, their slow hooves stumbling

South, we said at first, the old ones knew
They would not come again to the low hills.
We heard them traveling, heard the frozen birches
Break before their long retreat
Into red sleep.

Louise Erdrich, “The Red Sleep of Beasts”, from Original Fire: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 1984, 2003 by Louise Erdrich.

Photo credit: Laura Kaupas


Sunday Poem – The Monkey

Returned, from a successful conference in Belgium. Since I’ve spent the last week thinking (and drinking) and talking about nonhuman primates, and how to protect them in a changing world, here’s a poem about monkeys by the 1996 Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska.


The Monkey

by Wislawa Szymborska

Evicted from the Garden long before
the humans: he had such infectious eyes
that just one  glance around old Paradise
made even angels’ hearts feel sad and sore,
emotions hitherto unknown to them.
Without a chance to say “I disagree,”
he had to launch his earthly pedigree.
Today, still nimble, he retains his charme
with a primeval “e” after the “m.”

Worshipped in Egypt, pleiades of fleas
spangling his sacred and silvery mane,
he’d sit and listen in archsilent peace:
What do you want? A life that never ends?
He’d turn his ruddy rump as if to say
such life he neither bans or recommends.

In Europe they deprived him of his soul
but they forgot to take his hands away;
there was a painter-monk who dared portray
a saint with palms so thin, they could be simian.
The holy woman prayed for heaven’s favor
as if she wanted for a nut to fall.

Warm as a newborn, with an old man’s tremor,
imported to king’s courts across the seas,
he whined while swinging on his golden chain,
dressed in the garish coat of a marquis.
Prophet of doom. The court is laughing? Please.

Considered edible in China, he makes boiled
or roasted faces when laid upon a salver.
Ironic as a gem set in sham gold.
His brain is famous for its subtle flavor,
though it’s no good for tricky endeavors,
for instance, thinking up gunpowder.

In fables, lonely, not sure what to do,
he fills up his mirrors with his indiscreet
self-mockery (a lesson for us, too):
the poor relation, who knows all about us,
though we don’t greet each other when we meet.

From Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska

Featured Photo Credit: Neil Griffin


Sunday Poem – Goldeye, Vole

Summer is almost over on the prairies, so here’s a poem for anyone who will miss those long days spent under endless blue skies. I’m in Belgium this week for a conference, so updates might be dependent on the availability of free Belgian wi-fi (and coherent updates will be dependent on the availability of cheap Belgian beer). 

Goldeye, Vole

by Tami Haaland


I say sweep of prairie

or curve or sandstone

but it doesn’t come close

to this language of dry wind

and deer prints, blue racer

and sage, its punctuation

white quartz and bone.

I learned mounds of

mayflowers, needle grass

on ankles, the occasional

sweet pea before I knew

words like perspective or

travesty or the permanence

of loss. My tongue spoke

obsidian, red agate,

arrowhead. I stepped

through tipi rings, leaped

buffalo grass and puff ball

to petrified clam.

Jawbone of fox, flint,

blue lichen, gayfeather,

goldeye, vole — speak to me

my prairie darling, sing me

that song you know.


“Goldeye, Vole”. Copyright © 2001 by Tami Haaland. 

Featured image credit: Laura Kaupas 


Sunday Poem – Blackberry-Picking

In honour of Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate who passed away earlier this week (and one of the first poets I ever tried to read seriously), here is the first Sunday poem, part of what I hope will become a weekly feature.


by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

“Blackberry-Picking,” from OPENED GROUND: SELECTED POEMS 1966 -1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.

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