Poems For The 'Season Of Mellow Fruitfulness' By Robert Cording

This month's featured poet, Robert Cording, lives in Woodstock, having recently retired as professor of English and Barrett Professor of creative writing at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Both there and at the Frost Place in New Hampshire where he was poet-in-residence, he has been an inspiration to untold numbers of writers. He has published eight poetry collections and has received many honors for his work, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. No one's poetry touches the heart and enriches the spirit more than Cording's.

– Rennie McQuilkin, CT poet laureate

Walking with Ruskin

Each day I walk for an hour or two,

what started as exercise now a matter

of devotion. Or, less grandly:

walking gives me something to do,

a kind of discipline since I don't know

how to move towards any of those

big intangible goals—wholeness, God,

forgiveness, justice—but I know how

to walk. Sometimes I bring Ruskin along.

Despite his holy striving and cloying

superlatives ("the greatest thing

a human soul does in the world is

to see something," or "art springs from

the most profound admiration"),

I like the way he forgets himself

in his concern for what is particular

about an eagle's beak or the green-brown

coppery iridescence of a pheasant's feather.

He's teaching me a kind of readiness

for what comes along as it pleases:

a line of ants carrying the remains

of a red emerald butterfly, or

a brook in winter moving under ice

like the one-celled life found in a drop

of water under a microscope.

I like to compare notes with him,

to count the shades of blue

on a kingfisher's back or the three

different kinds of wing feathers,

but I'm still learning to look at things

with Ruskin's respect for fact

and his love for what's being seen—

this beetle, say, that's crossed our path,

its two topside eyes ringed in white,

the lacquer of its shell a depth

of black and darkest greens.

Today, the late July pond water looks

like used car oil, and the roadside grass

is a pointillist study of greens

and the bright white coffee cups of

Americans who run on Dunkin'.

Ruskin and I are looking at clouds,

a kind of medicine. Ruskin says,

they calm and purify, if only because

the sky is large and we are not.

And if I'm always half-thinking of

my credit card debt, or if I'm seven

to ten years of mortgaged life

away from retirement, I go on

crouching down for a beetle

that doesn't care if it's seen, though

my seeing it makes the day more real

to me. Nothing much, but something

I'm always thanking Ruskin for.

Lake George

(July 4th, 2014)

The air cool and fresh, the lake's a dazzle of

whitecaps and gray-blue waves, the sun

breaking out in applause between a rhapsody

of wind-driven cumulus. Flags snap

on decks and boathouses and fly straight out

on the boats that skip up and down the lake.

I've put down the newspaper's infernal sadness,

and I'm enjoying a group of teenagers trying to tie

two of those rented pontoon boats together.

They're already half-drunk, laughing, happy

in their incompetency, a Marx Brothers' movie

of a rope thrown from one boat to the other.

In the foreground, a trio of kayaks, red, yellow,

and blue, and the glint of paddles making

figure eights in air and water. A backdrop

of mountains looks down like gods who have

seen it all a million times, but, stretched out

in the sun, are as yet too lazy to exert their whimsy.

In their shade, five seemingly still sailboats give

the speedboats their speed; their distant sails tilt

white triangles into the wind as in a child's drawing.

The Minne-Ha-Ha steams down the far side

of the lake and the Lac du Saint-Sacrement huffs

and puffs up this side, each of them packed tight

with people reveling in the mindless freedom

of a perfect day off, waving to all of us on our docks,

as the two boats blow greetings to one another.

Everything shimmers in the sun, and I'm imagining

the whole scene as one of those Impressionist paintings,

a beach scene of people dressed in gay colors

and holding color-coordinated umbrellas, happy to be

exactly where they are, or so it always seems.

And since I'm looking again at the ongoing comedy

on those pontoon boats, I might as well prescribe

a dose of that teenage idea of freedom without obligation

for myself and forget about finding some meaning

I'd only force on this rapturous day anyhow—

I'll just sip my gin and tonic, and enjoy

my unpursued happiness on this freighted day.

Necessary Fool

She was what she was—a golden,

with a golden's therapeutic capacity

to please, always drooling love,

at any moment ready to roll over basely,

legs up in the air when I'd lean down to pet her.

A dog with an empty thought balloon

above a head tilted into the air, all attention

concentrated in her nose.

On walks, one of us was always trying

to work out the day's poem or compose tomorrow's

lecture; and one of us always close-reading

turds and peed-upon twigs and grass,

stopping now and again for what

seemed like nothing at all.

And sometimes I'd see it, a deer

mid-woods or a grouse I'd nearly stepped on.

A hermeneutist of dead leaves,

sometimes she'd lift up a vole and hold it

in her soft mouth as if to say,

The world's alive all around you.

I suppose it's just another bauble of imagination

that wants to see a dog (who, by her very nature

could not help but show me things

I could not see myself) as a kind of necessary fool

to my kingly self-absorption, but sometimes,

Nellie chewing grass she was destined to throw-up,

then lying down, the two of us pausing

on the hillside above the pond,

goldfinches flashing, a mallard floating by,

there'd come a moment when I'd grow

as thoughtless as my dog, my guide

it now seems, to something like a paradise.

All poems copyright © 2016 by Robert Cording.

CT Poet Laureate Rennie McQuilkin selects work for CT Poets Corner by invitation.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
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