Category Archives: Richard Wilbur

Saying Yes To The Universe

Took a voicemail from a woman named “Olga” the other day.

One more item crossed off the Life To Do List!


 Life’s To Do List has been moderately lengthy of late, which leads to the no-updating of the blog. If I had my druthers, Life’s To Do List would be handled by a crack team of cheerful Boy Scouts named “Skippy” and “Royal”–there would be whole merit badges to be gained via the organization of my desk, regarding which the phrase “nuclear winter” comes to mind–but as matters stand, it’s just me. Nose to the grindstone, that’s what.

That saying has always discomfited me. “Nose to the grindstone!”

ME: Ow!





A random list of  available Boy Scout merit badges:

Composite Materials
Home Repairs

A random list of available Girl Scout merit badges:

A Healthier You
Art In the Home
Being My Best
Celebrating People
Camp Together
Doing Hobbies
Healthy Relationships
Ms. Fix-It

Do I need to go on? I needn’t, need I?


“Ms. Fix-It”! Bwahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa gender roles.


Also “Doing Hobbies”.


Kimbo and I took a last-minute trip to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, last weekend.


 We brought snacks. Kimbo cut up a pepper.


Also, there was a ferris wheel.


Kimbo bought a small wooden bird from a wood-carving man at a craft fair. He was grizzled and kindly.


He told us that the color of each bird was the exact color of the wood from which they were carved.  They are unpainted, but lacquered–“umpteen coats” worth, as I overheard him telling a prospective customer.

He does not have a website. Kimbo got a business card.

We walked by this painting. It’s the one on the bottom that caught our hearteyes.


 I had to eat a bratwurst immediately to regain control of myself.


Whatever the universe asked of us that day, we said “Yes!” or “Yes, we will!”

UNIVERSE: Stop by this vaguely unnerving farmhouse yard sale and examine old pots!
KIMBO AND ME: Aye aye!

They were selling–what, like Mason jars?–for some serious dollars. Those farmhouse yard salers! Give them an inch, and they’ll thresh a mile on their combine! Ha ha! Whew.


The “m” key isn’t working very well on my laptop right now. I’ll be clacking away, and then suddenly realize that the sentence I’ve just typed reads “The rain in Spain falls ainly on the plain” or “I don’t like ja on y bread” or “Holy ackerel!”  It’s like typing with a head cold. One of these days, some kind of chaos is going to erupt over this “m” issue. Mark my words.

ME: I’ sorry.


The House
Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.
What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.
Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

Richard Wilbur


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O summer, my summer, o captain my captain

On Sunday night I had a long, long phone call with my dearest Kimbo; there was much to talk about, and we talked about it until our phones were magma-hot and our batteries were threatening self-combustion. [“Hey!” they said to us, in their tiny lithium ion-based voices. “Get the lead out. We’re supposed to operate at room temperature.”]  Among other topics, Kimbo and I discussed the painfulness of the weekend’s-end in the summertime. In the summertime, Monday morning dawns in my heart as cold and hard-scrabble as a mining town, I’ll tell you what. This summer is not yet greatly advanced; and yet I feel that I have been more wildly appreciative of it thus far than any summer in my recent memory. I have latched on hard and fast to every happy summer moment. I’m pretty much like a hummingbird who has flung itself into a barrel of molasses. Note: as I wrote that sentence, I re-remembered something that I once saw in the Nature Walk at the Field Museum [my favorite thing in the ENTIRE CITY OF CHICAGO AND ITS OUTLYING AREAS], which indicated that the human equivalent of a hummingbird’s sugar intake would come out to something like 4 gallons of ice cream every day, or “diabetes.” Then I googled “hummingbirds”. Then I went on “”. From their FAQ page:

Q: Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
A: In a word, no.

Well! Bob’s your uncle.


On Saturday I was walking with my friend Margaret down Damen Avenue, and telling her a tale, and we came to the intersection where we had decided to part. “O no! I am not done tale-telling,” said I, and we walked on, and on, until we came to where Margaret was going, which was a place called Sprout Home. For Margaret was plant-buying, which is a serious business indeed.

Imagine that you have been walking and walking and walking, and tale-telling, and that it is easily 80,000 degrees outside. Imagine that you walk into Sprout Home, and that it is very dear, if hip, with small potted plants and infectious hip hop music, the sort that makes you want to dance in the store, more and more until the fact that you are not dancing becomes physically uncomfortable; and then you walk outside, and there, by God, you are confronted with an absolute riot of plant life, flowers and leaves and everything beautiful and good and colorful and green, right in the middle of the city–if you turned your head you would see a McDonald’s across the street–and you wish that you could just put your face into the leaves and cry for joy, were it not for the bumblebees, who are pollinating left, right, and center, and might mistake your eyeball for a stamen. That is what happened to me.

ME: If I do not buy a plant right now I might as well FLING MYSELF INTO A BARREL OF MOLASSES.

I seized a salesperson, and she was incredibly kind, and had clearly sprung from the forehead of some gardening god at her birth, ala Athena. I explained that my bedroom, which is north-facing, gets very little direct sunlight, and thusly my plant could not require a great deal of it.

SALESPERSON: Here. This one is impossible to kill.
ME: Hot dog!

“This one” was a small potted plant called a philodendron, which sort of looks like this:

Over the course of the weekend, I would have the following conversation with my roommate–who is much more well-versed in plant life than myself–upwards of 5 times:

ME: How do you pronounce this again?
JESSICA: Phi-lo-den-dron.
ME: Philly dee do?
JESSICA: Philodendron.
ME: Pancake.

Jessica is getting her PhD in sociology. Last week she attended a seminar on statistics called:

Applied Longitudinal Analysis

Though it might as well have been called

Why I Will Never Be the Recipient of a PhD

She showed me the booklet the instructor–whose name was GARRETT FITZMAURICE–gave the attendees to work with as he lectured. Sample sentence:

“The inclusion of random slopes of random trajectories induces a random effects covariance structure for Yi1…, Yini, where the variances and correlations are a function of the times of measurement.” 

She understands what this means.

When I try to think about what this means, I hear the sound that a choo-choo makes reverberating in my head!


Anyway: summer. In summer I learn things. So do you. Perhaps because I’m not consistently contemplating my body temperature; perhaps because everything in the universe seems to move itself aside, graciously, to allow you room to think things through under a big green tree.  I was at the Printer’s Row Book Fair on Sunday afternoon, and I did not buy a single book. I wandered from tent to tent, and ran my fingers down book-bindings, and looked and looked, but did not buy. And then I left. I think I learned that I do not have to buy a book. I do not have to throw two dollars at a Grace Paley novel I may not read; why hurry to obtain? Why not wait a little, until I really want it?

This morning, a man I work with–an older gentleman, who fills me with delight–said to me, when I bemoaned the back and forth of the weather, the hot and cold, my inability to dress myself of a morning, to make a decision:

“Whether it’s cold or whether it’s hot, we’ll always have weather, whether or not.”

[Let the record state that I chose this poem before he said that to me.]


Winter Spring

A script of trees before the hill
Spells cold, with laden serifs; all the walls
Are battlemented still;
But winter spring in winnowing the air
Of chill, and crawls
Wet-sparkling on the gutters;
Walls wince, and there’s the steal of waters.

Now all this proud royaume
Is Veniced. Through the drift’s mined dome
One sees the rowdy rusted grass,
And we’re amazed as windows stricken bright.
This too-soon spring will pass
Perhaps tonight,
And doubtless it is dangerous to love
This somersault of seasons;
But I am weary of
The winter way of loving things for reasons.

Richard Wilbur



Filed under Poetry, Richard Wilbur

“How can I tell you everything that is in my heart?”

One of my closest friends, Katie, recently stopped working where I work, and began working elsewhere. For a time, I felt as though my heart had been removed from my chest, and fed to panthers. No more “Good morning!” e-mail in the old Outlook inbox; no one with whom I could exchange an eloquent glance in the copyroom, when things were getting live [those durned fool misfeeds!]; no one to call up and say, “Hey, there’s a pile of doughnuts in the kitchen over here the size of Zeus!” Most importantly, no one to take long walks with, at any other points in time when one or both of our hearts felt as though they had been removed from our chests and fed to panthers.

Slowly, however, I’ve started to feel better. This is largely because another terrific person I work with, Laura, now works mere feet away from my desk. Her sparkling presence has essentially meant the difference, for me, between “life” and “death.” We have developed a series of pictures, she and I, which we silently send to each other as our need requires, with no further comment.

This is our most commonly used picture:

This is our second most commonly used picture:

[Laura has a real antipathy for squids and whales, so she uses this picture far more frequently than I.]

“Come look at this piece of hilariousness from my personal life!” we also say, sometimes, and then we do. Last week I was summoned to her desk to view the following e-mail, verbatim:

“I know! We’ll get into more, but he called from a random number–said he moved back to Cleveland, but he was at a neighbor’s house because he doesn’t have POWER!!! And I heard what sounded like a pinball machine in the background.”



I had intended to discuss the experience I had yesterday, hair modeling, but I know now that I’m too close to what happened, and I need to engage in a little more mental parsing before I can do it justice. For now, I’ll just say that the haircut I was given makes me both happy and terrified. This haircut has to be lived up to. People with this haircut rappel down Mt. Everest while playing the electric guitar.  Do I have to learn how to play the electric guitar? Perhaps.

So next week. Plus, by then, there’ll be pictures of me posing in a parking lot!

I’ll take this time, instead, to mention my addition of what they call a “blogroll” and what I call “I don’t want to call it a blogroll” and would rather call “Things I Like And Want to Call Attention To”. Doubtless I shall add to this as time marches on; for now, herewith:

1. Poetry Foundation: I lay in you like a canoe on a great big sea.

2. Cortland Review: so, so much good.

3. Poetry Center of Chicago: the Poetry Center of Chicago.

4. Peter McCready: the Large Hadron Collider. Pictures. Sound.

5. 52 Teeth: my friend Abraham. He makes music. He writes about it. It’s so great it makes my head fall off.

6. 10 Ways: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

So there you have it!

This week’s blog has been real disjointed, I know. I’m sorry.

I just haven’t been waking up on the thematic side of the bed.

Hamlen Brook

At the alder-darkened brink
Where the stream slows to a lucid jet
I lean to the water, dinting its top with sweat,
And see, before I can drink,

A startled inchling trout
Of spotted near-transparency,
Trawling a shadow soldier than he.
He swerves now, darting out

To where, in a flicked slew
Of sparks and glittering silt, he weaves
Through stream-bed rocks, disturbing foundered leaves,
And butts then out of view

Beneath a sliding glass
Crazed by the skimming of a brace
Of burnished dragon-flies across its face,
In which deep cloudlets pass

And a white precipice
Of mirrored birch-trees plunges down
Towards where the azures of the zenith drown.
How shall I drink all this?

Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.

Richard Wilbur


Filed under Poetry, Richard Wilbur