E. Markham portraits

When I saw photographs in an old book of the poet Edwin Markham, I had a sudden urge to try the “barbaric yawp” scene from Dead Poets Society. Teacher John Keating challenges student Todd Anderson to create a poem on the spot, after glancing at a photo of Walt Whitman on the wall. So, I stared at the pictures of Markham and wrote the exact words that came to me, without allowing myself to edit. Below are my two poems based on two portraits, and below that is the Whitman-inspired poem from the film.

Edwin Markham portrait from the The Man with the Hoe with Notes by the Author

“Side Portrait of Edwin Markham”
hair like roaming waves of the sea
eyes reflecting the light of heaven—
studious, compassionate, soulful—
pythagorean shiny nose
laugh lines loved into place
a beard that let the cat in
face aglow with manly health,
honesty and freedom
—Terri Guillemets

Edwin Markham portrait from Gates of Paradise

“Markham Portrait with Book”
a thinking eye
but jolly cheek
a furrowed brow
but kindly stance;
the hair of a hippie
and student & master—
the burden of life
and love of wife—but
something perpetually
unsettled within him;
button-up coat over
raw, naked soul—
a book in his hand
and ten in his pen
—Terri Guillemets

Walt Whitman

“I close my eyes, and
his image floats beside me—
a sweaty-toothed madman
with a stare that pounds my brain.
His hands reach out and choke me
and all the time he’s mumbling—
mumbling truth, like a blanket
that always leaves your feet cold.
You push it, stretch it,
it will never be enough;
you kick at it, beat it,
it’ll never cover any of us.
From the moment we enter crying
to the moment we leave dying,
it’ll just cover your face
as you wail and cry and scream.”
—Tom Schulman, “Sweaty-Toothed Madman,” Dead Poets Society, 1989, spoken by the character Todd Anderson

“The past and present wilt — I have filled them,
      emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.”

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes.”

“I too am not a bit tamed — I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1856 edition

Ossifight

Somehow, I got old
before really learning to be young
the old in my bones is calcified
the young in my soul is still growing

—Terri Guillemets

Arise thankful

a new day doesn’t mean
forgetting yesterday
but simply letting it go
not to dwell in memories
but to cherish each one
as it pops up and surprises us
and then release it with a smile
the birds are singing of now
our hearts are beating the present
the past is a muted background
enhancing our right-now seize-it life
dawn is painting the picture of today
she invites us to live beautifully —
be the artist of your own soul

—Terri Guillemets

A lesson

Death teaches us meaning
      of the word sudden —
one minute there, one minute
            not —
the blackness, the blankness,
the emptiness, the silence, the void —
the most palpable, oppressing nothing
      there ever was.

—Terri Guillemets

Couch

I long to be close to
where your beating heart
was among its last beats.
I sit on the couch where
we spent your last night —
but cannot bring myself
to sit on the cushion where
life was fading from you
and you laid against me.
I didn’t sleep, for vigilance
you didn’t sleep, for pain —
so tired, so dazed, so lucid,
so knowing, so loved, —
            so gone.

—Terri Guillemets

Lost in thought

We’ve lost, we’re losing,
it’s so much loss, too much.
But the clouds are rolling
and the breeze is blowing
and nature is so beautiful
and the dried delicate leaves
are doing their dance of balance
between hanging on and falling away
amidst their wintry shiverings —
they love the wind
for helping them let go —
they fall to the ground
and the gentle rain comes
and helps them nourish the earth.
A gray bird lands on a bare gray branch
both unadorned, yet so, so beautiful.
And the leaves are drifting
and our lives are drifting
and loss is just another form of beauty.

—Terri Guillemets

Afloat on hope

A viral magic act —
making all disappear
but essentials
and our souls are tore down,
emotions tested
communities spread thin
but never so together —
fear and negative mindsets
purpose and positive actions
our generosity unmasked
inspiration is contagious.
We live, we die;
we survive, but barely —
It’s been so long,
we are getting sick of this, but
it’s gotten us closer to ourselves
even as we distance from others.
A year of stern warning from
mother nature that some won’t heed
suffering, separation, and need
a year of gratitude and pain
a year of disorder, loss and gain
yes, many gifts too — science, love,
veiled blessings, principle, perspective;
months were lost but not the lessons.
We have homework: wrest the energy
to begin our rock-bottom rebuilding.

—Terri Guillemets
#covid-19  #coronavirus  #2020