Sweet joy

Just in case you missed the news…The most beautiful baby girl in the world was born July 24 to my daughter Laura and her husband Harold. Here’s Abigail Rose:

Here’s what William Blake had to say about it:

Pretty joy! Sweet joy, but two days old.

Sweet Joy I call thee: Thou dost smile,

I sing the while; Sweet joy befall thee!

And Bob Dylan chimed in:

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young


Reason to believe

Something made me hear this song this morning. These lines kept repeating:

Losing love /Is like a window in your heart/Everybody sees you’re blown apart/Everybody sees the wind blow

The gift (or the blessing, or the luck) is when someone helps find what seems hopelessly lost, spies it through the window, reaches through the shattered pane, then with healing hands reassembles the pieces, then with a word turns the gale into a breeze, and so the song’s refrain vibrates in your humming heart:

I have reason to believe/We all will be received/In Graceland.

The culture of sculpture

The photo above? I call it “Large Head of Woman Appears to Float in the Mist in Replica of Japanese Garden Near Lovely But Expensive Restaurant.” The location? I took it yesterday at the Grounds for Sculpture located in Hamilton Township, N.J.

Don’t get me wrong. The Grounds for Sculpture is a stunning place, with hundreds of striking and creative outdoor sculptures, beautiful landscaping and pathways that beckon with a mantra hum …like the one in this photo, also taken yesterday:

It’s a place filled with wit and wisdom and wonder, with the beauty of spirit and the spirit of beauty. I intend to go back some glorious morning in spring and I want to walk there in silent winter snow and I want to hear the soft crackle of leaves beneath my feet as I get lost in autmn on the perfectly unpredictable paths.

Yesterday was a hot day, with thunderstorms rumbling and dark clouds looking so biblical that the experience was nearly humbling…but not enough to resist the temptation to say “Visit the Grounds for Sculpture. But don’t bother sitting through the introductory film  in which someone rambles very seriously about experiencing the wonder of art and making it one’s own and other very pretentious prattle that the narrator with her very British accent manages to read without even one little proper giggle.

Here’s the link to the Grounds for Sculpture.

Get past the fact that these folks take themselves just a little too seriously and definitely need a new scriptwriter — and you’ll find it to be a place you’ll want to visit again and again.

P.S. At the entrance to one of the indoor exhibits I found a plaque bearing the best poem I’ve ever read or heard about the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001. It was written by my friend BJ Ward just days after the tragedy. BJ read this powerful poem just a few weeks later at one of the readings in the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival series I’d started just a few years before. I remember saying to people at the time that the poets and I had discussed whether it was right to hold the reading series that awful autumn. BJ’s stunning poem made it clear that proceeding with the event wasn’t just right – it was necessary:

For the Children of the World Trade Center Victims

Nothing could have prepared you—

Note: Every poem I have ever written

is not as important as this one.

Note: This poem says nothing important.

Clarification of last note:

This poem cannot save 3,000 lives.

Note: This poem is attempting to pull your father

out of the rubble, still living and glowing

and enjoying football on Sunday.

Note: This poem is trying to reach your mother

in her business skirt, and get her home

to Ridgewood where she can change

to her robe and sip Chamomile tea

as she looks through the bay window at the old,

untouched New York City skyline.

Note: This poem is aiming its guns at the sky

to shoot down the terrorists and might

hit God if He let this happen.

Note: This poem is trying to turn

that blooming of orange and black

of the impact into nothing

more than a sudden tiger-lily

whose petals your mother and father

could use as parachutes, float down

to the streets below, a million

dandelion seeds drifting off

to the untrafficked sky above them.

Note: This poem is still doing nothing.

Note: Somewhere in this poem there may be people alive,

and I’m trying like mad to reach them.

Note: I need to get back to writing the poem to reach them

instead of dwelling on these matters, but how

can any of us get back to writing poems?

Note: The sound of this poem: the sound

of a scream in 200 different languages

that outshouts the sounds of sirens and

airliners and glass shattering and

concrete crumbling as steel is bending and

the orchestral tympani of our American hearts

when the second plane hit.

Note: The sound of a scream in 200 languages

is the same sound.

It is the sound of a scream.

Note: In New Jersey over the next four days,

over thirty people asked me

if I knew anyone in the catastrophe.

Yes, I said.

I knew every single one of them.

BJ Ward

from Gravedigger’s Birthday(North Atlantic Books)

Yer darn tootin’!

I  am addicted to Fig Newtons. It’s an addiction I cannot explain. I have no particular childhood memory associated with the eating of a Fig Newton. For example, despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not true that one year my poor parents couldn’t afford to buy me a birthday cake so instead put a single Fig Newton on a paper plate and stuck a candle in it and sang “Happy Birthday” while I blew out the candle and made a wish for more Fig Newtons..

(I should say, before I get to my real point, that these snack-food musings were inspired by my discovery just today that Fig Newtons were invented in NEWTON, Massachusetts, which isn’t far from where I currently reside. It’s kind of like a diehard baseball fan living in the vicinity of Cooperstown or a space-exploration buff living right near Cape Canaveral or….you get the idea…)

My point? For some reason, I have no problems with the cupcake people who messed around with Yankee Doodles and created a new yerllow-cake version Sunny Doodles. Likewise, I think Honey Nut Cheerios are a perfectly fine deviation from the classic cereal.

But where I start having problems is when I’m strolling along the supermarket cereal aisle and I spot something like Chocolate Chex. There’s Rice Chex, there’s Wheat Chex and there’s Corn Chex. That’s the holy trinity of Chex. Multigrain Chex I can live with, since I assume it’s a blend of the three classic Chex. But Chocolate Chex?

Carrying this thought a bit further — and finally getting to the point: Fig Newtons should be made from figs. Strawberry Newtons? Cherry Newtons? Grape Newtons? Blueberry Newtons? Apple Newtons? LOW-FAT Newtons?

This is still America, right?  I propose that all of us Fig Newton addicts/lovers gather in Newton, Mass., to demand that Nabisco return to its roots, eliminate all of these fancy flavored Newtons, and focus entirely on the manufacture of plain old perfect original Fig Newtons. Here’s what I propose we call our protest movement: Occupy Newton.Yes, I know Fig Newtons are no longer made in Newton. I also know that when I was kid watching Saturday morning cartoons there were commercials for Fig Newtons with this slogan:  “Yer darn tootin’, I like Fig Newtons.” And I know that nearly $15 million was spent last year to advertise Fig Newtons, according to the Fig Newtons entry on Wikipedia.

So…here’s how we can end this standoff.

If Nabisco agrees to set aside, say, just 1 percent of their $15 million advertising budget to put me on their payroll, I’ll call off the Occupy Newton protests and write something nice EVERY SINGLE DAY about Fig Newtons, especially if the Nabisco folks find it in their hearts to inspire me by sending me the occasional box of complimentary free samples of Fig Newtons.

Am I a reasonable person?  Yer darn tootin’!

From the cradle (of American literature) to the grave

I love visiting the place, even though it’s always really dead. I’m talking about the venerable Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., and specifically the section called Author’s Ridge.

Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Alcotts (including Bronson and Louisa May) are all buried in graves so close to each other (Hawthorne’s right across the path from Henry; the Alcotts are a few steps down from the Thoreaus; Emerson’s a little farther down the lane but still nearby) that they can chat to their transcendent hearts’  content without ever having to raise their voices (Keep it down, Alcott and Emerson…your neighbors are trying to get some eternal sleep!).

Here’s (Ralph) Waldo (Emerson):

And here are the graves of Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott:

It still absolutely amazes me — I’m filled with awe, truly — to realize that the earthly remains of the authors of “The Scarlet Letter,” “Walden” and “The American Scholar” are all within a few hundred feet of each other. Even more thought-provoking for me: Emerson and Thoreau themselves trod that shady path when they were among the quick, Emerson to speak at the dedication of the cemetery when it opened and Thoreau for the burials of his parents. I stand there and I’m quite possibly standing in the very footprints of two literary gods.

A final note about these grave matters: Thoreau and Emerson are both buried in family plots. Henry’s modest marker is small and low to the ground. The inscription says “Henry.” Emerson’s grave is marked by that huge marble boulder, with his name in big letters and a quotation from one of his poems:


A further sea…

Here’s what it looked like last week as I gazed out over my toes at the waters off Narragansett Beach in Rhode Island:

Robert Frost noted that the thoughts of a boy are long, long thoughts. So are mine, at least when I’m near the ocean. I dream, wonder, think, marvel, ponder, admire and savor, all without the effort usually required for such activities.  It all washes over me in waves….like the lines in John Lennon’s song, “Across the Universe:”

Pools of sorrow waves of joy

Are drifting through my opened mind

Possessing and caressing me.


Jai Guru Deva. Om

To which I add “Amen” and “Please pass the sunscreen.”

But a more exact hint at what I feel in the presence of the ocean might be found in this wonderful poem by Emily Dickinson…who somehow got it, even though she never actually saw the ocean:

As if the Sea should part /And show a further Sea –/And that — a further — and the Three /But a presumption be — Of Periods of Seas — /Unvisited of Shores — /Themselves the Verge of Seas to be — Eternity — is Those —