“I Wonder…..”

Over the past few weeks I have been doing little except reading.  I have been reading, or trying to read, Wallace Steven’s “The Collected Poems” and  selected poems of William Stafford.

I have to say Stevens is the more convoluted poet, and I am not sitting easily in the reading of him; it’s a challenge but something I am dedicating time to do. I’ve ordered a couple of books of critique, or at least an ‘entrance’ into the mind of Stevens because he is far and away more difficult (to me)  than most poets of his time.  Some of his poems are absolutely  enchanting. Some I haven’t a clue as to what they mean.  But this is probably the way of most poets.

William Stafford is of a different cut. In an introduction by Robert Bly,he states that Stafford belongs in that catagory of artists the Japanese have named “national treasures”.  He also has this ‘theme’ of a golden thread: He believes whenever you set a detail down in language, it becomes the end of a thread…it will lead you to amazing poetic riches.  But don’t pull too hard on that thread, or it will break. (paraphrase of Robert Bly’s introduction in “The Darkness Around Us is Deep”)

I get that.  I can feel it in my bones.  Perhaps there is something so fundamentally ‘human’ about Stafford that he sings a universal song, or writes the universal poem.  I do know that his relationships with his parents, in poetic verse, hit me between the eyes.  It was very much a liberating experience to read.  It compelled me to dip  deeper and be more honest in my own attempts at understanding these two fundamental influences, not only in my life in general, but my poetry. “I Wonder….” is influenced by his own honesty, and his throwing out a particular golden thread.

Lady Nyo


I Wonder…..

I wonder about myself,

The mourning, the sorrow,

A low flame inside

Flaring with memory

Burrowing deep,

A shadow of flame

Intruding upon the day

Throwing me back

Into a murky past

Where I am rattled by its force

Its grip–

An unwelcome visitation.

I cover the sadness

With a silk blouse,

A mask for a face,

An unsteady smile.

Order for the outside

Hiding chaos within.

My father’s death had me

Travel from hatred to love

Finally understanding this old man

Who could not say “I love you”,

But did.

When he was close to death

I washed his body

Bathed this feeble old man,

Emptied of power, rage

Returned to innocence

Now forgivably human.

When my mother is dead, finally dead

Will I travel this same path

From hatred to love?

Will I rewrite history

Me to forget anger,

Her with an ember of love,

To end the remorse

To make more of a ‘mother’

To bury her with love?

I started out from love

And it grew to hate.

Life can do these things,

And when I aged

It started to reverse

Half way back.

But it never really makes the full circle

For the wounds are deep

And memories hurt like hell.

Perhaps only time will tell

In this fugue of life.

Perhaps it will come to be

A dull blanket of forgetfulness

Thrown over the past

That segues to forgiveness –

….in time.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

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18 Responses to ““I Wonder…..””

  1. Steve E Says:

    Jane, these lines mean so much to me.

    “I cover the sadness
    With a silk blouse,
    A mask for a face,
    An unsteady smile.
    Order for the outside
    Hiding chaos within.

    Do we humans REALLY live lives so similar to one another–same Prides, Hurts, seeking to hide from others–what we already have lived, and KNOW?

    When my mother is dead, finally dead
    Will I travel this same path
    From hatred to love?

    If that is a question, the answer is “YESSS!” In fact, you are already “on that road again”……

    –A secret admirer
    (Of course, of course, I am anonymous, right?!!)


  2. ladynyo Says:

    When I wrote this poem, Steve, you were constantly in the back of my mind. Perhaps not so back there. After what we have shared together, about our parents, our past and our personal challenges, of course, you would be in there.

    Do we humans REALLY live lives so similar to one another–same Prides, Hurts, seeking to hide from others–what we already have lived, and KNOW?

    I think the answer is Yes, Steve. There aren’t too many deviations on this theme of life….not if we are not psychopaths, unable to feel, our wiring totally twisted…and thankfully, we aren’t.

    “From love to hatred and half-way back again”…well, that is the course of life, neh?

    I found it possible with my father. He was a sweet, tender person. As for my mother? Well, like Stafford’s mother….she was cut from a different cloth.

    What I have (belatedly) realized is this: children don’t grow well on a gruel of sarcasm. They need love, unconditional, not conditional. Perhaps that is the hardest thing for a parent to do?

    With LOVE and PEACE! Always…and we comfort each other…



  3. brian miller Says:

    My father’s death had me

    Travel from hatred to love

    Finally understanding this old man

    Who could not say “I love you”,

    But did.

    and i his death bed becoming frail and forgivably human…these parts caught me jane…there are some that we just dont understand but in their frailty do become that…such an emotional poem…i dont claim to know your past but feel it a bit in this…


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian,

    Some have wondered ‘how’ I could publish such a poem….a too-close look at parental behavior, etc…

    One thing I have learned in turning poet: We have the responsibility and the power of being honest..If only to ourselves. It is something I believe in poets is deeper to the bone, because of the medium of poetry…to me poetry is like the universe condensed into a small gift. It can be dense with a brutal honesty.

    My mother, at 92, is still a control freak…a narcissist. There would be NO artistry from me at all had I not (through therapy in part) bucked her demands and developed whatever ‘artistry’ I have. I read William Stafford’s poetry and that part hit me between the eyes. It was a realization that we won’t ‘die’ if we write honest poems. We just have to make sure that they are honest and reflect our passages. To hell with others who would shake their fingers!

    To me, this is the fundamental creative issue.

    Like tanka and haiku, our free verse has the power to tell condensed truths: about ourselves, those around us, and our society. I have lived in fear of doing this for too many years. Poetry (as apart from writing novels…) has been this vehicle that has allowed me to rip the veils of convention, tradition and lies from relationships.

    It has given me a voice, as it does all of us. How we use it to clarify our lives is up to us. How it has purpose to ‘infect’ our poetry with something progressive, is up to us.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Brian.

    As ever,


  5. Gay Reiser Cannon Says:

    I understand the concept of fugue – as poetry, as music and as life. I understand that omissions are lies, and truths are hurtful. I understand not wanting to channel a parent and doing it all the same. I know the depth of pain, and the platitudes that paper it. I know the South and all its deep great shame and shames. I know that some things take root and some things decay, rot and pass into forgetfulness and then into nothingness. Hints of this lie in your ghosts and are seen through the veils of this poem. This is not only personal but a universal exploration in the tradition of all great poets. Beautifully written and heartfelt, dear Jane.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Whoa…that’s more weighty praise than this poem deserves, Gay…but I will take it.

    I was raised in the North….the countryside outside of Princeton, New Jersey..so I guess these things are not placed by geography.

    Channeling a parent. Yes, and fighting it when you become aware of it’s effects on your own children and life. But it takes a lot of energy to step back and realize the insanity. And that is exactly what life can bring to us on a platter.

    Thank you, Gay. You give me more insight into my own poetry than i ever have.



  7. Chazinator Says:

    There are words here and thoughts that Imwould hope I could say someday at my own father’s death. Perhaps so. My mom’s death is still sinking in, believe it or not, after three years and I am only now hearing faint echoes of words that might render the reality of her in some measure of reality. Your words strike close to home, and I thank you for having the courage and craft to bring them to life.


  8. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Charles.

    Well, the point of poetry for me…at a certain time…is to speak ‘truth to power’…regardless what that power may be. Courage? I was tired of living behind a smile, a veil for ‘decency’ sake, and when things have not changed, regardless of your efforts….you have to come face to face with what you are dealing with.

    I really mean this: any ‘artistry’ (as she called it) wouldn’t have developed had I continued to be part of her supply line. I had to break free, and mostly I had to break free from concepts that I had practiced so long, and were so deep that they had me in a throat hold. I was strangling on some very unhealthy behavior.

    Now, you can imagine that none of this sits well with any of my birth family, but I have had to look beyond that. They are trapped in illusions about parental love: and so was I. My help to escape all this was that I had a son where I was repeating the same abusive behavior (emotionally) and he didn’t deserve any of it. No child does. When we do these things we are acting out our anger at our own impotence…I would guess, in part.

    Three years is not a long time, Charles, to come to terms with the reality of a person after death…especially a parent. It was 22 for me with my father. it’s a struggle to come to the surface and dispel the hopes and illusions. But using our craft as poets certainly is as effective as any therapy. In fact…I read my poems to my very tolerant therapist each session, and she has as much to do with pushing me towards some honesty here as my own growth away from painful things.

    My thoughts are with you, Charles, as you struggle to find the words to a piece of reality about people in your life. It is something that never ends, but we come to some peace….perhaps.



  9. ManicDdaily Says:

    Hi Jane — well, I think we do travel back, if we let ourselves. Especially with an aging parent when for me at least I realize not just their current frailty but their forever frailty. What I mean is seeing their childishness at times, lack of intentionality–that things that may have hurt us were perhaps out of their control. (Pehaps should have been, but werent. ) Anyway, it is an interesting journey. K.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi K…yes, and interesting journey. The point of it all, depending upon the mental issues of our parents, and how they impacted us, the siblings…is how much damage we caught and how much we pass it along to our own children.

    At least this is the issue for me. However, the greatest lesson for me i all of this…is this issue of unconditional love. Children, adults, animals….etc.

    It may skip a generation, but I think it is generally a pretty good principle to apply to life.

    Live and learn and thank you for reading and your comment. Mileage of this poem applies with variables



  11. ManicDdaily Says:

    Yes, you are right. Unconditional love is the goal. I am extremely lucky to have experienced it on a very palpable level. I wish all could say the same. k.


  12. hedgewitch Says:

    This is a very personal poem for me, Jane. I hope you are able to at least forgive yourself–I don’t know if that other larger forgiveness of others is necessary for that or not. I’m glad you were able to find some closure with your father, and I do agree Stevens is difficult–but rewarding. I’m very grateful to you for turning me on to Stafford. I’ve also been reading a lot of Jack Gilbert and W.S Merwin lately–they’re both amazing. Kudos for writing this stuff out–it’s hard.


  13. ladynyo Says:

    Yep, K…you are a very lucky woman. However, that some of us didn’t, IF we understand this far-reach of unconditional love, we can certainly adopt it and pass it along to our own children and surroundings.

    thank you, K. for reading and your comment.\



  14. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Joy! I figured that this poem would not be a ‘good’ one for many to read. It probably makes some uncomfortable. But I am very glad it doesn’t for you, as I thought it wouldn’t.

    No, I don’t have to ask for any forgiveness..no child should. However, I forgive myself for allowing someone important in my life to convince me (for decades) that I would never be a writer, and I certainly would never be a poet. LOL! This is just mind control and it’s fucked up to say the least.

    But that is what I am learning about being a poet..And William Stafford leads in this. He was the first poet I read that didn’t cover the tragedies of childhood, parents, etc. He made poems of these things and in this he revealed the power of personal poetry. There are no veils with Stafford. I think you will really love him. Some of his poems I like better than others, some do nothing for me…but then again, I probably don’t understand the origin.

    Stevens is the same for me…and I am making the attempt to read him and understand him. I think he is a gold mine and I think most of us poets also can be. But I think it hinges on a rawness, a raw honesty perhaps first…to understand and get over these things that have happened….and then we can soar.

    I haven’t come across Gilbert much and Merwin at all, but I will go to amazon.com used books!!! I love that site! Thank you, Joy.

    And thank you for reading and your heartfelt comment.



  15. claudia Says:

    isn’t it strange how our emotions sometimes change after someone died…brought me back to when my own father died..i was seventeen..my father was drinking and really, i hated him…over the years, i understood some of the things and chose to forgive which makes a big difference…awesome write as always and lines like..I cover the sadness
    With a silk blouse….remind me why i love reading your poetry so much


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Claudia…I think this poem is one that makes some readers uncomfortable, probably because they don’t have the relevant experience. But many of us do. Your own example says that you do understand these things.

    I hated my father for years, and then I undertood why he drank. He was a far better man, tender and kind, but of a culture (Hungarian) that had no ‘words’ to express love to children. Or at least this was the excuse I believed from my mother. Once I was able to divide things up for myself, I started to realize how really precious he was to me…and to so many others.

    You were so young when your father died. You barely had a chance to really know him. The teenage years are so full of our own angst we can’t see that of others around us. Or perhaps you could.

    I forgave him, before his death, because I stated to see where the issues lay. I am glad I did…and I just wish I had been wiser at an earlier age.

    Thank you, Claudia, for reading and your insightful comment. It helps to know the lives of others. We are really never alone.



  17. Shawna Says:

    I love Robert Bly. I will check out the poets you mentioned. I’m sure I’ve read them before but will revisit their works.

    This is a thought-provoking poem, Jane. I also wonder how I will grieve the loss of my parents having held both love and hatred close for many years.


  18. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Shawna…

    I don’t know…but I think William Stafford gave me the courage to face this ‘raw’ issue in this poem…this honesty issue again, that makes many uncomfortable, including some poets….and gives some answers.

    I think that we all fall down in the middle of the issue…we all hold hate and love close for many years. Perhaps with our own aging we develop a different perspective?

    I think the ‘meat’ of the poem is this: we start out in love, travel to hatred, and then, it reverses, but not always completely around. But then again, this poem is open to individual interpretations I would suppose.

    Robert Bly, the poets Hedgewitch mentioned, Gilbert and Merwin, but certainly Stafford. I think he is an important voice in American poetry…that has a universal peel.

    Thanks for reading, Shawna and your comment.



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