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Wednesday, 8 May 2013


File:Lathyrus odoratus and Gypsophila elegans.jpg

Lathyrus odoratus (Sweet pea) and Gypsophila elegans (Showy baby's-breath), Kyoto, Japan: photo by Juni, 25 January 2005

The sweet peas, pale diapers
Of pink and powder blue, are flags
Of a water color republic.
The soft bed, turned back,
Is a dish to bathe in them.
This early in the morning
We are small birds, lying
In it.  We have soft eyes,
Too soft to separate the parts
Of flowers from the water, or
The angels from their garments.

from TC: Air, 1970

File:Lathyrus odoratus5.jpg

Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus), Osaka-fu, Japan
: photo by Kenpei, 2 May 2007
Think Pink III: photo by Marie Wintzer, 4 September 2010
Very pink Ema (small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes) at the Hetsunomiya Shrine in Enoshima, a small island South of Tokyo.
A love shrine, obviously!
Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus): photo by Peter Karlsson, 24 August 1997


TC said...

This in gratitude to our brilliant friends Marie and Vizma of the Sweat Pee Combine.

And speaking of pee...(!) back in the days when this ditty was composed, we had a little baby in nappies, no washer or dryer so the hand-washed nappies were hung out on the fence, in amongst the sweet peas, to dry. The cottage was perched on the edge of a mesa stuck out above the north Pacific Ocean, so there was never a shortage of wind-power for nappy-drying.

Marie W said...

Tom, Tom, you truly are the Sweatiest of all. The Sweat Pee Combine! This will no doubt make Vizma's heart melt away just like mine did right now. The Sweat Pee combine got a TC blog and a TC poem! That airplane has been delivering many, many parcels, making eyes soft, very soft. I think those eyes need nappies now....



Sweet poem, the air we breathed back then -- are still breathing here. . .


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, birds calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

relation to it, which hides
itself and disappears

into the painting, thinking
in the same way, some

blue white of sky reflected in channel,
cormorant flapping across toward point

TC said...

Marie, awww...

That Shinto prayer shrine made me think of a similar shrine, with great unsent deliveries of mail art hanging in the winter air of Hokkaido, in a scene in the Hou Hsiao Hsien film Millennium Mambo.

Steve, Oh for a breath of that fresh ocean air.

Here it's currently just a memory, caught between old yellowing boards...

Maureen said...


TC said...

Thanks very much, Maureen.

Wooden Boy said...

We have soft eyes,
Too soft to separate the parts
Of flowers from the water

The limits of our looking letting a beauty take shape.

I'm reminded of the times spent painting from life at art school, squinting to look past the categories of things. Never quite got there.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

We have a small, winter garden right across the street from our house; have been enjoying--oh taste and see!--our sweet-pea patch on and off since March. Alas, the heat has finally shriveled it. But it was glorious while it lasted.

Nora said...

Such a wonderful snapshot.

Marie W said...

Air caught between old yellowing boards. You can't see that anywhere else. The kind of book bad-mooded shop keepers of Booktown would refuse to sell. It looks great!

vizma b said...

In gratitude? Gosh, I'm flattered, dear, sweat Tom! Flattened even! To be featured in a post here...that people actually read! Ha ha ha! And this poem, written in 1970, when I, myself was also wearing nappies.. and the Pee wasn't yet born!!
Thank you Tom, for thinking of us in your "Air" post!

De Villo Sloan said...

Vizma & Marie, my point of entry into the poetry of TC was "When Things Get Tough on Easy Street" (1978), a monumental collection, IMHO, yet still only a beginning. At this foggy, rushed hour here in Upstate NY, I am trying to think if "Air" was absorbed into the larger work.



Ah, that beautiful cover -- blue of air (in this predawn fog).


grey blackness of fog against invisible
plane of ridge, shape of black branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

matter considered as system,
which motion of stars

is still in the sense of as,
right side, condition

grey white clouds reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge above it

TC said...

Vassilis, any time that withering heat gets to be too much for you, just stick a stamp on it, turn it into mail art and send it over our way. We'll know how to appreciate it.

I've been trying to sort away the cobwebs so as to figure out where those soft eyes came from, WB. Quite possibly the sense was meant to be something like "blurry" (which would have been accurate enough, back then, and even more so now in the case of this rheumy-eyed old codger), but in that event of course it would have been more accurate simply to say "I" rather than attempting to spread the blame for this ocular softness. Boys don't cry, and all that. In fact this poem became the piece round which a whole book was built, and that book has a quality to it which I find in none other of my books, as I look back. It is a quality of lightness and airiness and I might almost go so far as to say happiness. It was, indeed, largely a very happy time, despite the sundry difficulties that would be expected to come with material impoverishment. We had taken a "step away from them" (that is, from the society at large, a society then as now knee deep in its own inequities, self deceptions and big and little war crimes), and in that escape mode were quite content, the three of us, to keep to ourselves on that little dirt road at the edge of the known world. The flowers were certainly real enough. Separating the angel from her garments was meanwhile an ongoing project, as I recall, apparently, if this poem be taken as evidence, made all the more challenging by those peculiar vision issues.

After that time, things did indeed get a little bit more Tough on Easy Street. And De Villo, this poem did in fact appear a second time in that book.

Most of the poems from Air, however, didn't survive the cut. Of history, that is. It's hard to know how to "place" them now, in any sort of history of anything. They've been officially dismissed from the imperially-administered Postmodern Canon by the Dwarf Potentates and Powers. But then, on the other hand, the poems don't really have the hidebound "traditionalist" flavour that's supposed to accompany Reaction, Lyric Quietude, or any of those other bogus categories invented by the latterday Canon Builders to provide conveniently defenseless straw opposition, in the course of the construction of their own self-interested Dwarf Tower of Babble.

I think I am going to take these generous comments as popular demand (flattery will get you somewhere, people!), and provide now another poem from Air... one which did not appear in Easy Street, or for that matter, as best I am able to recall, anywhere else. This one also dates from our Country Pie period.

It has been selected with the Sweat Pea Combine once again in mind.

Blue Heaven

Oh, and that lovely airy blue-and-white Mediterranean w.c. cover was done by our good friend the artist Joe Brainard.

Those were, I believe, the Days.


flowers glowing preternaturally this week
hard not to take it personally
the wind that dries the nappies
drives everyone crazy
like daisies
hard not
to take it personally

Marie W said...

Content apart, I like old editions of books just for the way they look and feel in one's hands. And thinking of the hands that were holding them before and the way they read the story. Those books are not easy to find. I couldn't believe my luck when (I hope it's OK to mention) had a few available second hand "When things get tough.." at very affordable price. It's in the basket now and I can't wait! Another example of small things that can make a day infinitely better.

Lally said...

Sweet to see the old poetry holds up (better than us), a terrific poem then and still to those who notice, thanks for making that happen for me Tom.

TC said...

Vincent, a well-pollinated ditty, that. Tickled my fancy a-choo!!

Michael, know what you mean. One or two old things hold up. Everything else either falls apart completely or must have been left in the other pair of pants.

Marie, that sense of handmadeness and handle-ability in old books -- and in any books made by hand at anytime -- is something I've always found appealing. As you say, it's the touch of the thing that's so direct and so intimate, a kind of pleasure that seems to affect or sometimes even constitute the central experience of the book. I'd never been quite so conscious of this until for physical reasons I was no longer making things by hand as much, or finally at all. Seeing your handmade books posted on your Mail Box has been a revelation for me, reawakening the old itch to start making things by hand.