Who Else? Roethke


You may know I work with elderly people at a larger assisted living facility.  There is so much knowledge there among the residents!  I have met 2 women, one in her 80’s, the other in her 90’s who were clinical psychologists.  Another woman is a politician.  There are quite a few teachers and principals.  There are also several librarians.

There’s a former US Marshall, and 2 of our residents (that I know of) have published their autobiographies.  Nothing is greater than plumbing the brains of these wise sages.

One of them, a former librarian, manages our library.  A month or so ago, I spotted a book-old, but in perfect condition.  It was Roethke: collected poems.  I thought, surely, there are not many people here who would be interested in this book.  It was sitting on a table with other new additions, which are always donations.  I was very curious who donated it!

I sort of forgot about it until I was in the library a week or 2 later.  The librarian just happened to be there.  I couldn’t even remember what book had attracted my attention, but I mentioned to her I had seen one that looked very interesting.  I couldn’t find it on the shelf.  Later I saw the book in a pile in a corner.  I took it and went to the librarian’s room and asked her if she was keeping the book.

We had a wonderful conversation.  There is limited space in our library, and the librarian thought she wasn’t going to keep this treasure, and gave it to me!  We also talked about her church, Bon Air Christian.  She has 3 paintings of this lovely church in her apartment/condo.  I’ve wanted to go back to church, and I like Disciples of Christ.  They are not as conservative as a lot of other churches.  She was such a wonderful steward of her church, it made me want to visit.  I pass it on my way to work, and it’s quite close to my house.

Plus, my friend’s grandfather, A. Dale Fiers, was very active in this faith.  He was one of the kindest, wisest people I ever met in my life.  When we were little “Grandpa & Grandma Fiers” used to make cassette tapes and play music and talk on them to my friend.  They were incredible.  So warm and kind.  Once we visited them in FL and had the best time.  We were silly teenagers at the time, and Grandma Fiers indulged us in our silliness.  I’ll have to write it all down so I don’t forget.  It was, after all, over 30 years ago!

Back to Roethke.  He was tortured in many ways, but his writing was, I don’t even know how to describe it.  He lost his father when he was 15, and I will leave you with a poem he wrote.  It is called ‘My Papa’s Waltz’.  For an analysis of this poem, you can click here.

My Papa’s Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

You can listen to a lovely reading of this poem here.  And there we are.  Here is a pic of Roethke.  I got it from Wikipedia.  Poor man.


Here’s a lovely one about adolescence.  I found it here.

Pickle Belt  
by Theodore Roethke
The fruit rolled by all day.
They prayed the cogs would creep;
They thought about Saturday pay,
And Sunday sleep.

Whatever he smelled was good:
The fruit and flesh smells mixed.
There beside him she stood,--
And he, perplexed;

He, in his shrunken britches,
Eyes rimmed with pickle dust,
Prickling with all the itches
Of sixteen-year-old lust.

My muse


has been quite elusive.  I’ve been rather preoccupied with my job hunt, though.  I did finally start something else.  It’s called Bringing Down the House.  It reads quickly, and is very interesting.  I’ve wanted to read it for years.  It will be a quick read, then I can go back to the other book.  Perhaps.  I might move on to something new.

I think I’m needing some literary sustenance, poetry.  I’m liking Mary Oliver.  And I like Billy Collins and I love Theodore Roethke, even if he was a maybe pedophile.  I don’t think he was physically.  But he did love–who was it-Sarah?  He wrote of her.

Well, I’m getting to bed.  Will be spending Mother’s Day with my Mum.  Going to church w/ her in am.  Tim & Barrett are going to Tim’s parents’ in Williamsburg.  Makes me a little sad not to be w/ my boys this day, but it’s okay.  I need to be w/ Mama.

I love this!!!!  I found it here.  By Theodore Roethke, a master poet  He is, perhaps, my favorite.  I think I identify w/ his melancholy & elegies. 

When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine–
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she’d lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)
The things she endured!–
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me–
And that was scary–
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely. 

despair like Roethke.  I found it here.

In A Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or a winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke

He was born the same year as my Granny!  One of the characters on NCIS-LA (an eccentric played by the always lovely Linda Hunt) mentioned a Roethke and one of his poems on the show last week.  I was impressed.

I’m going to link to where I found the poem, and I want to comment on the site.  It is for the Kingfisher, A Journal of Northwest Art and Literature.  I found the writer’s introduction about Roethke refreshing.  The site is full of beautiful art, literature and some other genres of the creative realm.

I found this interesting poem here:

Open House 
My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.

My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I’m naked to the bone.
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear.
I keep the spirit spare.

The anger will endure.
The deed will speak the truth.
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth:
Rage warps my clearest cry
To witless agony.