Snow on the Daffodils/Invicta


After so many years in New England: you would think

I would know by now. Spring begins, flowers bloom,

The sun comes out, then runs away. Snow falls.


A flower that has spent its whole life pushing

Up through the soil, toward sun, toward itself,

Toward its own flower-ness: it didn’t do the work


Only to be frozen out, wilted. Who wants to stand

In the cold damp, waiting for something warmer?

Who wants icicles drizzled on one’s finery?


But the blossoms you can see are only the top

Third of the plant. The bottom third is root,

Deep in the hard, cold soil, holding on, taking in


Sustenance, the stuff of life. The middle, compressed

At the soil line, invisible: that is the tough mind and soul

Of the flower: resistance, resilience, hard unyielding patience.

Getting Lost, Getting Found


So I was reading Robert Frost’s poem, “Directive,” about getting lost in a small, old town. He mentions Panther Mountain, so it is probably set in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It is full of Frost’s individualistic syntax, starting out:

“Back out of all this now too much for us

Back in a time made simple by the loss

Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off

Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather…”

My college freshmen would probably oversimplify this to “back in the day” but then we would lose the photographic detail and the lovely iambic pentameter (five feet of unstressed/stressed syllables) that is at the heart of much great poetry in English. He goes on to say:

“The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you

Who only has at heart your getting lost,

May seem as if it should have been a quarry—“

And this reminds me of the irony of anyone who has ever given directions and insisted, “You can’t miss it!” when we all know that is almost never true. Also, it reminds me of dreams I have often had about places I have lived, Middlebury, Vermont, Matsuyama, Japan, used bookstores in Boston long defunct, and small, hilly towns in New England and New York, when you are on the way to someplace else and slow down to drive by the statue to the men of the town who served during the Civil War. Often there is a small Congregational church, white wooden clapboard and a tall pointed steeple. And then, in a moment, the village is left behind and once more you are on a road from somewhere to somewhere else, and a forest of a hundred greens lining either side of your road.

“As for the woods’ excitement over you

That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,

Charge that to upstart inexperience.”

The urban soul hungers for green upon green: sprint, mint, old oak, malachite, jade, evergreen. The leaves overlap like Earth’s eyelashes, the whole forest flirting with you as you let the road drive you through and away, content to let it take more time than travel takes in even your small city.

“And if you’re lost enough to find yourself

By now, pull in your ladder road behind you

And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

Then make yourself at home.”

We think we travel to get to another place, to achieve something: to participate in a conference, a wedding, a family meal, a family fight, a game, a job. But such things are simply the excuse for being on the road, seeing the unfamiliar multitudes of green, the all-too-familiar tarmac stretching out before and behind. Ideally, if you let it, even such simple travel can change you.

“Here are your waters and your watering place.

Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”


Frost, Robert. “Directive.” Beginning with Poems. Ed. Reuben A. Brower, Anne D. Ferry and David Kalstone. New York: Norton, 1966. 330-331.

Landscape and Identity

It’s hard to believe it has been fourteen years since the events of 9/11. The college freshmen I was teaching that semester are now in their early thirties, and one can only wonder if that event was formative for them. Certainly for the kids from New York and New Jersey, I imagine they were. I remember one student describing looking out her window at home, over the river to see Manhattan’s high rises, and then going home for Columbus Day weekend and her crucial landmarks were just gone.

It is unnerving when our landscape just disappears. It robs us of our anchors, the margins of our world that tell us which way is up and down and left and right. Perhaps that is one reason the Budweiser tribute to the victims of 9/11 from five years ago is so affecting.

An even more powerful example of this is the Japanese tsunami four years ago, when the sea rose up and ate whole towns and villages, leaving over 15,000 people dead, 340,000 people displaced and 24-25 million tons of rubble and debris. I cannot imagine returning home to see only barren broken land, shorn of natural and built environment, stranded in rubble and mud.

The flip side of all this loss are the barely visible landmarks by which we make our way through our familiar environments. I remember coming home to New England after spending more than two years in Japan and being amazed at all the church steeples everywhere I looked (or so it seemed). Although I started out Roman Catholic, the ubiquitous white wooden Congregational church steeples were like architectural punctuation telling me that this geography is a sentence I understand how to read.

And now, working at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after my time in Japan many years ago, I cannot pass under an apparently nameless concrete gate next to the Wiesner Building without thinking of all the torii gates I saw in Japan, particularly the most famous on out on the water near Miyajima. You can leave a place, but it doesn’t always leave you.