Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sonnets for Julia

My friend Julia Budenz, a wonderful poet whose epic The Gardens of Flora Baum will be published soon, was once so taken with Petrarch's Sonnet 107, she wrote 15 sonnets in response to it, using his rhyme scheme and line endings. In honor of her, after she died last December, I decided to compose fifteen myself, in honor of her, using the same rhyme scheme and rhymes as she had used. Hers are to be found here:

Mine all derive from one day, that of her memorial service, March 7th, 2011, when all her friends and colleagues met at Harvard to remember her. Among these friends of Julia is Frederick Turner, to whom many of my sonnets are addressed, as her death precluded the three of us having met together for the first time, our friendship having been based in large part on correspondence alone.

Julia was a great classicist, scholar, and poet, and had once been a nun and whose forays into considerations of atheism, all in poetry, ought to be considered by theologians. She was an authority of the highest order on the letters of Cicero and Julius Caesar, she translated Newton for Harvard's Science department, and she always read Homer and Virgil, and all other classical authors in the original. Her father was Louis Budenz, once editor of the Daily Worker who re-embraced Catholicism in the 50s.

She is greatly missed, and I wish she could have read these sonnets of mine, because she was an exceptionally perceptive reader as well as writer, and she would have learned not only more about me (mine are autobiographical to a large degree), but also about how much I revered her in every way.



If I begin my sentence with a sigh,
Recalling I am one who also ran
Against another woman, or a man;
Who keeps her secrets deep where none may pry,

Yet once I lay as any girl may lie,
Her back to earth before the marriage ban,
And stroked the eyes on peacock feather fans:
In dreams I’d carry others when I’d fly

And dared to fire the try works of my heart.
I could have conned a lion with my rage;
I would have had to love the one I’d choose.

But mateless procreation’s left me sage,
And I have turned my passion into art,
And all my seaside chanties into blues.


I ran into a closet in the door
Into the pub:  my errant molecule,
The gene for error, jesting to be cruel,
Had come upon the scene to prep me for

An aftershock of truth, fate I could pour
Into a glass of cider, barren mule
Of fertile aptitude, my genes all pooled;
And yet my poetry, you said, could soar.

Time passed in paradise pub oh, so slow:
It was so very long since I had sung;
I’d had to pour the curds out from the whey;

So long, so long ago the lowest rung
Of that long ladder first had felt my toe.
This day you brought your bellows into play.

III Part A

Deny the throaty wooing frog its croak
And swells the sacred lake with fetid air;
All swallows turn to creeping vile things there,
Each tiny mushroom boasts it is an oak.

The prescient tenure of an inside joke
Belies the jokester’s sigh of pure despair;
And last year’s straw man, smoldering at fair
Bursts into flame in clouds of golden smoke.

Love stoked my fire but briefly, darkly,
Then piled my tender parts in one vast pie,
Just as the fair-ground’s buds were flowering.

I was a girl and never questioned why.
High arching fireworks smelled fragrant, sparkly,
Their spiraling embers arcing and showering.

III Part B

When Dylan asks, ‘Is this some kind of joke?’
When Daniel stands inside the lion’s lair—
These two I use, the better to compare
The fool and hero, thereby to invoke

Unlikely kinship with the common doke.
Around a hero burns a sheen of air
That seems uncommon stuff, unique and rare—
You knew the man was special when he spoke.

But I allude to features figured darkly
Against an ancient Fifties drive-in sky.
Across the screen lights flicker—towering,

Stalking or being stalked until he dies,
My weary cowboy hero stands out starkly:
Others, heads down, are talking, cowering.


Inside my coat my ten was ready, stowed.
I reached, while subway wheels, shrill shrieks and grinds
Behind my back with jostling shoves combined:
The screen before me blinked with squares that glowed.

It was my ancient subway line I rode,
With tendered tokens of the current kind,
If I could make the slot and ten align.
Outside the exit (Harvard/Church) it snowed.

The ticket charged, its change came on its way;
Five dollars fell into the trough, glass-grooved,
And I was filled with poignant, sudden longing

For childhood’s free change:  so my hand had moved
Inside the phone booth well on summer days,
Its nickels, dimes, quarters endlessly thronging.


Sure you’d take me for a red-hot hottie:
I wrote, “You’ll have to stoke me for a while:”
The play on words sufficed to make me smile.
Yes, I know I’m your own paparazzi

For your daffy grin and cool karate.
But I’m a sprinter, and you demand the mile;
Our letters are locked away in our files,
And the cane I sent you, not quite knotty

Enough for you to really take to bed.
For all my ardent prayer, paraffin
Of early light, necessity recruits

The best of me, meek harbinger of sin,
Oil of wee hours, votive for the dead:
Children we are, of beauty and the brute.


George Harrison’s Sun, and Dylan’s Blue Moon
Played soft at our reverie’s midnight ball,
Played loud in memory’s total recall,
The day we met at the pub at high noon.

Twenty-two years to remember a tune;
Twenty-four years to give birth to them all;
The house at auction, the auctioneer’s call;
Divorce to decipher marriage’s rune:

Time it takes to learn and to know,
Before the glory finally trumps duty,
Before the trusted turns complicitous.

Before new order from chaos may grow,
Before the blanch of love blushes beauty,
The face of God must show ubiquitous.


A river flowed through Cambridge streets, its glow
Endowed us all with Julia’s second sight,
For Julia’s ghost had joined us in the night:
Like Marley’s chain, Fred’s briefcase slid on snow,

His steps first hurrying, then going slow;
It was the dark phase of the moon--no light
Was shining down, yet all around was bright.
Then Ruby asked how her poem should go.

But Charon nee Ruby had taken the helm
When Julia embarked upon his boat; all
Heard Charon’s voice in the shimmering air.

Who but the dying may enter that realm?
Julia herself heard the dire query fall;
She told Ruby how it would end, and where.


There is a lift you reach the top floor with—
Its rise is vertical, not like the sun,
But rather like a cartridge in a gun:
It’s how you quickly climb the monolith.

I might have stayed and got a goodnight kiss
Goodbye, from my best friend’s hero’s son—
What was I thinking, after so much fun?
Either way, kiss or lift, I somehow missed

The chance to spend a minute more with you,
To speak of missing Joe and share the shame
Of misread rites, and murmur low “the horror!”

I drifted off in space the way ghosts do,
And hobbled up the stairs a little lame,
Glad to know my escort up was Flora.


She brought us to a table in the round—
I borrowed and wore my daughter’s black boots;
You wore, as promised, your asbestos suit;
For all who needed one, a chair was found.

The restaurant itself was underground,
Where Julia surely would look for tree roots,
Or from a fistful of good friends recruit
Those who would welcome her ghost to sit down.

We failed, it seems, at quiet devotion;
Our egos intact, we stood and took bows;
Malbec was ordered; we filled our glasses.

We talked, we waked, just short of commotion;
We did all, in fact, but curse and carouse—
Then silence fell, as when a ghost passes.


The Harvard dons sang Julia’s last chorus;
They plucked the ancient strings of her city,
Her Cambridge, Rome—but none sang of Clytie,
A sort of Grecian Isis or Horus.

But Julia kept the tale in Flora’s trust.
The words she wrote, devoid of self pity,
Those words of ironic nobility,
Those not sent to Joe—she kept just for us.

Golden Apollo made Clytie’s heart ache.
Her ever abundant throes of pure love
Left unrequited, she soon learned the part

The heliotropic blue flowers take,
Turning their heads to Apollo above,
Giving her passion and love to her art.


In this repository, nave of bone,
This fabled Roman catacomb, we three
Have vowed to meet, just Julia, you, and me;
The reason why is ken to us alone.

In youth we grappled with a common koan
In which our god was named in trinity,
Or else in none, or else humanity.
In separate search, each for Rosetta stones,

We found each other, staring at the wall
Of Plato’s cave, where truth is shadow-plied;
And in our poetry, our form of choice,

We formed a holy order named “The Fall;”
Then vowed to meet again, again rejoice
Our koan’s lost root on love alone relied.

What binds us in its universal arc?
Humanity, if not identity:
We all, in shells, hear sounds of rushing sea.
Though some must bear the indelible mark

Of angels; or beasts, gotten in the dark,
Avoiding touch in common apathy,
Exchanging boon of love for sympathy.
Yet all from watery birth must still embark

On travels tempered in their joy or ire;
And this—the kiss— the pounding of the heart,
The sound of its summoning, lyrical.

What is in ashes, long-remembered fire,
Is in the young love, and in the old art,
And in each others’eyes, lost heaven’s hell.


My eyes were open. There your Paradise
Confirmed what listening ears could barely hear:
Each morning when I lift my blinds and peer
Out east--those trees, that sky, all greet my eyes.

Ama, vide, veni oh! God replies.
Slide down my banister, run up my stairs:
Thank me for what the good greb cycle bears?
It bears for all an astonishing prize.

All the passed moments like porters bore fruit:
You gave me O’Brien—oh, with such joy!
Until you spoke of synchronicity,

Stunned me with lessons you’d learned as a boy,
Shook me with envy right down to my root:
You and Mei Lin, Survival, felicity.


In principio I have been a nun,
Though I have given birth to nine in all;
And Julia, Sister too—we heard the call
Alike, and felt our other selves undone

In presence of Homer, Yeats, Rilke, and Donne;
Found stained glass windows inside our cell wall
Time travel machines to Avon and Gaul;
In Ovid’s own prelapsarian sun,

Followed the road to the edge of the West.
The photos we took, all a bit grainy--
Especially that one, that still life of God.

We captured that image, we thought, the best
Inside our children’s smiles; else in brainy,
Zany poetry; or else in the sod.


You watched the faithful soldiers of our state
File off to war: you saw a Rome unending;
In roses’ pale demise glimpsed yours impending,
Sought shelter inside Flora’s garden gate.

There life in running rills did not abate,
But filled with teeming rivers, tree trunks bending,
Alive with wind of yours and Flora’s rending.
You bore these wondrous things without a mate,

Without your lover’s soft caress--the tree
Where you could carve your runes inside its core,
Would rise above the temple he had razed.

You sang a solemn, clear-voiced liturgy
Against your stained glassed panes, where rain still pours,
And left us with your poetry, amazed.

No comments:

Post a Comment