Tag Archives: transtromer

eulogy for mom

On November 14, 2017 I delivered the family remembrance at my mother’s mass of Christian burial at St Jude Church in Lincoln, RI. After the ceremony a few people asked me to post the text of my remarks; those words can be found below. They may be of interest to anyone who’s had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, or anyone who’s had a mother who, like my mom Doris, was both the practical and spiritual heart of our family for most of our lives.


We grow up wanting our mothers to be proud of us.

We mostly don’t realize until we’re parents ourselves that a loving mother is always proud of her children, supportive of their varying wishes and dreams, proud of the struggle and fight regardless of the achievement. Mom was like this. Now comes the struggle, long foreseen, of being here without her.

The Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer describes the effect of a person’s death like this:

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long pale glimmering comet’s tail.
It contains us. It blurs TV images.
It deposits itself as cold drops on the power lines.

Here we are, today, still feeling the blurring impact of that comet’s tail at a wonderful life’s end. That disorientation that the poet describes can leave us feeling lost. I have felt this, in fact, for almost a decade as the family watched Alzheimer’s disease ravage the brain and body of this wife, this mother, this individual with her own life and love of God that began before any of us even knew her. Yet, time and again, when Mom smiled, you could recognize the person who in so many other ways seemed missing from our lives.

Over the last ten years, we felt the loss of her quick humor, her positive spin on even the worst days. What she missed in those years was not only the present but the past as well. Yet she recognized us as people she loved — beyond names and memory, and we recognized her, the Doris who would be there to the end, throughout that slow pulling away.

But bigger than that comet’s tail of distress is the invisible trail of lives made better by her everyday work and play. She was the mom who made our St Patrick’s day mashed potatoes a crazy bright green; the seamstress who designed and sewed us all matching pajamas one Christmas.

Floating across that long trail are her many acts of faith — as the CCD teacher, den mother, the neighborhood mom who drove us to elementary school on rainy days — in that time before seat-belts — squeezing as many of the local kids as she could fit into her gold Rambler, which she called “Goldilocks,” by having us sit alternately forward and back, like a rolling container of sardine scholars.

That invisible trail of works stretches ahead even into her retirement on Cape Cod, where she volunteered for literacy programs both for adults, at the local senior center, and for kids at Ezra Baker Elementary school. One boy was so excited to see her each week he began waking his mom up on those mornings, instead of the other way around, to make sure he got to school on time.

The invisible trail flows on, in all directions, past, present, and even drifting like stardust into the future. It’s a trail of enduring faith, in God, in love. In us.

We wanted our mom to be proud of us. As a dad now, I realize that what I want most is for my children to be proud of me, to grow up confident that they are loved. I’m sure that’s how Mom really felt, too, after all. Well, we’re proud of you.

As we wait these days out, as that shorter comet’s tail of confusion passes over us, as we may grow sad or even angry for what has been taken, it’s good to recall words from William Penn’s prayer for the deceased:

We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us. You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you. Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die. So death is only a horizon, and a horizon is only the limit of our sight.

We’ll be looking for you, Mom. Long after our blurred vision of this life and this death clears, we’ll see you even more clearly, like constellations in our mind’s night sky, brightest on the darkest evenings, navigation points for us above the horizon. Like the stars, giving light long after you’ve returned to your loving source.




Pausing while reading ‘Brief Pause in the Organ Recital’

Pausing while reading ‘Brief Pause in the Organ Recital’



The cloud is caught between worlds. Hovering over the man-made
Lake, tiny people gliding across it in boats and rafts like bugs,

well below other fair weather clouds drifting slowly by
Like a certain type of movie on an old TV in the background

you do not need to watch. It holds a flat gray shadow.
That kind of late arriving family looking for a place to drop

Its giant blanket on the grass leading to the shore


Tomas Transtromer, both adult and child, sits in an old church
in his poem “Brief Pause in the Organ Recital” and also in a churchyard

in a dream where he is waiting for someone. The three Transtromers,
One adrift in glowing heather, two sitting in sky blue church pews,

separate into being as the massive church organ pauses and the rumble
of traffic beyond the ancient stone walls fills in the silence. Here they wait

for some additional comprehension, an overheard whisper of an elder
Or a word in permanently capital letters like on a graveyard tombstone, only nothing

so definite as DIED, more like PERHAPS. Death is about to turn up the lights
beneath the heather– I know because I have been here before myself —

but before it can I have to pause to let a small bug wandering across page 163
find its way to the book’s bottom edge. Its legs are so small

I cannot see them but it steps over important words with no effort, doing what it does.
When it is safe I turn the page, though I know death is on the other side.



The cloud and the bug. Which is the shadow of the other?
The cloud, hanging around as if it had something to say

But kept changing so the words kept changing?
Or the bug, whose intricate pattern too small for me to see

Was the shape of a new, moving punctuation mark that means pause
While reading a poem about a brief pause that lasts two pages?

A few inches down the next page I walk a snow-covered island
with Transtromer who points out deer tracks, the imprint’s detail

lost in shadow like a blue church pew on Sunday,
like the cloud that comes closer on an overcast day.

0805bugclose up

Interview with St Brigid Press


“Much of our experience takes place in an interior landscape. But … the most mindful way to access that seems to be through the external landscape.”

Emily Hancock of St Brigid Press interviewed me May 20 at the SBP printshop in Afton, Virginia. You can hear the interview and read the transcript here.

St Brigid Press will be publishing a chapbook of my work, Wind Intervals, in the late summer.

Revisiting “For Tomas Transtromer” (in Swedish!)

stones A few stones shine like full moons. –Tomas Tranströmer The name of this site is based on the idea that even the poems we write in our native language are translations of a kind, coming to us through a process which must transform source material from a language with no words, to borrow a phrase from the poet Tomas Tranströmer, into the words of our own language. I’m happy to report that the site now will actually include an actual “translation from the English”—what follows is a translation of my poem “For Tomas Tranströmer,” written on January 14th, rendered thoughtfully and also somewhat spontaneously into Swedish by James Wine—as he was showing the poem to Tranströmer himself, just twelve days after its composition… Plenty of back-story below, but first here’s the poem in Wine’s Swedish translation, followed by the work in its original English:

For Tomas Tranströmer

Isen på vägen ser oss med våra egna ögon och det är inte bättre än vad vi är på att hjälpa oss själva som riktningsändringar. På vinter långt söder om här, vaktas den stilla vattnets kanten fortfarande av cypresser knän, som en trött armé som låg på ryggen och tog en tupplur utan att hitta en anledning för att stiga upp. Långt borta hörde jag vrål av en tjur alligator som hävdar världen. Genom en kall vår majsfält tusen mil bort, stirrande på stormens vind springa förbi innan den kunde höras eller kännas, jag vet att allt kan begäras, som dessa minnen–är de oändliga chanser att säga hej bara ett rop över slumrande? Kan vindens våld äntligen höra oss med våra öron? Jag kommer att sitta här med dig ett tag och se vad som kommer. * The ice on the road sees us with our own eyes and is no better than we are at helping ourselves as direction changes. In a winter far south of here, the edge of still water is guarded by cypress knees, like a tired army that lay on their backs for a nap and never found a reason to get up. Beyond them I heard the bellow of a bull alligator claiming the world. By a cold spring corn field a thousand miles away, watching the storm’s wind sprint across before it could be heard or felt, I know everything can be claimed, like these memories—are the endless chances to say hello merely a shout over the slumbering? Is the wind with its violence finally hearing us with our ears? I will sit here with you for a while and see what comes. (If you go to Google translate you can hear the sound of the Swedish, at least as well as the Translate robot can figure out free verse poetry… you can also see that the translation, re-translated into English, renders pretty faithfully.)

The Astor-Piazzolla-like Nature of Time

Readers of this site know that I’m an admirer of the poetry of Tomas Transtromer. You see a line of his on the site’s banner, and I have also posted an appreciation for his work here. I’ve been reading Transtromer for over twenty-five years; I first encountered his work in 1989 in the Cambridge Public Library, stumbling across the Ecco Press collection of his work edited by Robert Hass and including translations by a nearly a dozen different translators. I can still remember standing in the stacks and reading the opening lines of “Prelude,” the first poem in TT’s first book from 1954, and thinking how that poem had waited 35 years from its first publication to reach me but flowered immediately in my mind as if it were being written while I stood there, somewhat dumbfounded, that such a great poet could exist without me knowing about him (as someone fresh from a university tends to think), and read it again and again. Twenty five years later and exactly a month ago from this evening, film-maker James Wine wrote me to let me know that he was releasing a film of Transtromer’s poem “Baltics,” read by the author himself in 1990. The film never usurps the author’s voice, instead furnishes images of the landscape of the poem without intruding on the marvelous effect of the writing itself (subtitles in English are the translation of Mr Wine and a group of friends). Mr Wine contacted me because he’d found this site while searching the web for traces of Transtromer’s global following, which is indeed large, to help pass on news about the film. I viewed the film and wrote about it here, and have since watched the film a few more times—there seem to be more wonderful lines in that one poem than many poets find in a lifetime, and the film provides local context for some of the imagery in the poem while at the same time managing not to diminish anything; rather than explaining, it amplifies the wonders of the poem. Seeing the film inspired me to write the poem, although I did not send it to Mr Wine. It was discovered by one of his colleagues, and he wrote to me a week later, saying he’d like to show it to the poet himself. You can imagine, given the above, how excited I was (and still am) to know that this poem reached the poet himself, and in such short order. In fact, I felt the accordion-like nature of time contracting in a whirligig musical crescendo which might be comparable to finding oneself thrown into a scene in a Thomas Pynchon novel, re-created in a film by Fellini, with a soundtrack by Astor Piazzolla: thirty-five years between when Transtromer wrote “Prelude” and when an awkward American grad student first encountered it; twenty-five years of avid reading followed; then, after an out-of-the-internet-blue email from Mr Wine, a mere twelve days between when I composed a poem honoring my favorite poet and when the poet himself saw it in English, and heard it in Swedish thanks to the work of Mr Wine. As he wrote to me later, “We had a good time with the translating!” *

So, Translate this poem!

That line from Mr Wine gave me an idea. I know many of this site’s readers are also writers and poets; and many of you visit here from lands quite far-away from the Blue Ridge mountains here in Virginia—from China, from Turkey, from Manila, from Spain and Italy and even from Boston, where I know from experience the English language is just a little bit different… So why don’t you take a shot at translating this poem into your own native language? If it creates one more reader of Tranströmer as a result, you’ll have done a great deed. And I’m curious, from a somewhat philosophical perspective as a writer, what the problems and rewards are of translating one of my own works into another language.  I’ll put up a new page on the site’s banner where any new translations can be posted and compiled, and would like to hear from any intrepid souls who attempt this exactly what the experience was like. I know the poem itself, as well-meaning as it is, is much more a stone than a full moon; but seeing it translated into Swedish, and knowing that it reached its intended audience, made it shine a little bit brighter to me. My great thanks and appreciation to James Wine, not only for bringing this poem to Mr Tranströmer’s attention, but also for providing his translation for me to post here.