A Poem with the Word “Chrysalis” in it

UD returned to her Garrett Park garden from a week at the beach to discover, on a long curved strand of one of her grasses, the white husk left by a dethroned monarch. A facsimile is on the far right of this image; and

though UD missed the moment when the butterfly twisted out of it and flew off, she felt privileged anyway to have seen in the first season of her garden the beginnings of this metamorphosis, the eggs and caterpillars and pupa, and then to have collected yesterday and held up to the light the thin discarded shell.

She found a very good poem with the word chrysalis in it; in the first line! It’s by John Unterecker. Title: …Within, Into, Inside, Under, Within…

UD will interrupt each of its five parts (each word of its five-word title corresponds to a form of movement in each part) to comment in brackets.


Beginnings: a chrysalis improvisation
in the wings, roles
taking on flesh before a role begins…

as light begins in the elm,
pushing the long elm branches into night,
a ghost light pressing sky…

or actors, swollen with strange selves,
distended to the edges of tight skin,
a brightness under moth-wing fingertips.

White arms stretch out toward truth.
The stage is full of light.
Your brightness gloves my skin.

[Soooo – Here you have a poet considering the mysterious elasticity of identity — in particular, the way an actor can become, can embody, an entirely other identity from her own. A bizarre human metamorphosis, getting inside another skin, goes on, and no one, including the actor, has much of an idea how it’s accomplished. She waits in the wing (wonderful pun!), improvising this new role before she even steps on the stage to perform it. And it’s like – how does the tree become rooted and become a tree and grow into a full-bodied elm under the influence of the sun? How does that start, that ghost light casting existence on something that’s still nothing? … Grappling here, in other words, with nothing less than the mystery of creation as well as the mystery of multiple identities — the question of why and how there’s something rather than nothing, how a ghost takes from the light in some way and stops being a ghost and assumes not merely existence, but several forms and attributes of existence.

How? Haven’t a ghost of an idea. As in a more famous formulation of this problem —

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

(Unterecker wrote a guide to Yeats.)

But – yes – we do have a ghost of an idea, which somehow in Unterecker’s poem successfully becomes a fully formed idea. This poem has an idea. An idea which, as the poem proceeds, branches out like an enormous elm.

In embodying that new role, that new identity, the actor conveys to the audience the mystery and excitement and illumination of being and becoming: Your brightness gloves my skin.]


Alice, grown huge, swollen to fit of the tunnels,
tiny, unable to reach a gold key,
knew what gardens were for—

yet never knelt in tunnels of rough sunlight
to will flamboyance from green buds.
The swollen poppy twists within its cap,

a pink invention wrestling light.
How often I think of tunneling roots,
curtains of roots, white ropes

that stroked our hair when we entered tunnels.
Here, we are rubbed on gold.
This wedge of pink beginnings troubles gardens.

[Well, he would think of Alice, wouldn’t he? Her surreal metamorphoses in wonderland amplify in vivid dream the dreams of all of us — to be human is to sleep and watch oneself in dream contort to the dimensions of various spectral tunnels and rooms and lakes and caves and bridges. A reassuring exercise, perhaps, in the business of possibility, enterprise, strategy, reincarnation, foxiness. Alice understands that gardens stage the impossible overabundance of being, and she floats around in them throughout the adventures; the poet, however, is a material, sublunary sort who gets his knees dirty as he plants pink poppy seeds in a mood of desperate hope that these lowly tiny dark nothings will somehow morph into flamboyant color, insanely infused being. Let’s make this happen, people!

And now a tendril of Roethke appears as the poet goes deeper, recalling the creepy/delightful feel of dangling roots against your skin in the dark, in tunnels (UD, a snorkeler, thinks of the skin-crawling/fantastic feel of seagrass) — all that dark life suddenly welling up out of the dark and fingering you.]


A robin listens to darkness.
I think of worms, grubs, moles,
the slow ballet of rootlets twisting down,

of cave fish, blacksnakes,
and, asleep at Nieux, the great black bulls
that thunder on dark walls.

When we wear another self,
do our souls darken? On a bright stage,
do we enter darkest places?

[Robins feed by listening for worms underground; UD watches them do this every day. So an expansion of the poet’s theme – life lurks, crawls, twists, unaccountably begins, in darkness, and we listen for it. A beautiful line occurs in this part of the poem:

the slow ballet of rootlets twisting down

All those L‘s – their gentle insinuating liquidity – somehow enact the strange grace (ballet) of organic processes… Yet the poet is after not merely passive, natural, coming to life; the reference to ballet reminds us that he’s keeping going at the same time a meditation on art as the active, deliberate, human instance of this earthy alchemy. Think of the palaeolithic caves at Niaux (the poet has incorrectly rendered the town Nieux). You can burrow down there and think you’re simply getting deeper into the earth; but we’ve taken our animating and transformative energies even there, and made of dead walls immortal, thundering art.

So is the actor who assumes new being in fact consorting with – listening like the robin to – these deeply rooted, mysterious, even insidious places? The question, for those who think about the incomparable, enigmatic, transformative power of art, welling up from our depths, answers itself.]


There is darkness clinging to the undersides of leaves.

For we are entering darkness. It skuffs along cave walls,
stumbling and skuffing fingertips.
At Mycenae, it is a heavy must,
a musty heavy breath in the hundred-step cistern.

They wait, dark passageways in old houses, their worn
silence frayed under a blur
of footsteps. Our stretched-out hands
manipulate evasive cellar shadows.

Within the garden, silence darkens windblown leaves.

[The eggs of the butterfly cling to the undersides of leaves. We can’t see them, they rest in darkness, but they live a vivid life in that shade. So too the long-resting-in-darkness ruins at Mycenae, whose deep cistern the poet visits, thinking as he moves along its walls of all the life – the generations of human breath – hidden in it. See here, also, this poem; and this one.]


Oh I think of Alice gone down, down
under groundcover dreams,
a man’s tunneled night.

Who are these actors? On dream stages, I forget
lines. My tongue-tied
silence foundering…     Stage props
mumble rigidities.        The audience…

I think of silences at Nieux,
at Mycenae, the tourists
gone, guides returned
to wives, houses….

And those silences of capricious light.
The calex splits, an abrupt pink flame.
Orpheus’ torch descends and still descends through
    arias of reddest blossom.

[And how does the poet conclude? He brings all his images and allusions together (Alice, dream, theater, ancient caves with paintings of bulls in them, the Mycenae cistern, the poppy) and gets personal, takes us into his own not at all Carrollian dreamlife, where his all-too-human, pre-aesthetic reality is just a blurry mess: Who are these people I’m seeing in this dream? What was I supposed to say in this dream? Why are the objects around me silent and dead rather than expressive and figurative?

Hopeless. Niaux and Mycenae, left to themselves alone, are also silent…

Yet even abandoned by tourists and guides, they breathe the bright aura of all those artists and audiences along the walls; the dark poppy’s calyx suddenly falls off and out flashes bright pink… And yes, art is the torch that takes us down there, Orpheus in the underworld scoping out amid the dreadful chaos high-builded arias.]

Yeats called. He wants his inspirational quote back.

[Goldie Hawn] took to Instagram to share a photo of Ken [Robinson], which had been edited with one of his inspirational quotes. It read: “Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams under our feet. We should tread softly because we tread on their dreams. – Sir Ken Robinson.”


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

There are two nonsense poems in Reading Claudius…

… the memoir about UD’s Northwestern University professor, Erich Heller. I’ll have more to say today about the book and the memories it stirred, but the nonsense poems inspired me to try one of my own.


Every black pit bull speaks some Lithuanian. 
If you try to engage them in Lett, or Ukrainian 
They’ll look at you rudely, as if you’re insanian. 

The custom’s quite different among Pomeranians: 
With them it is Latvian during their trainian. 
Polish? Or German? They claim it’s arcanian. 

With lhasas it’s loopy because they’re Lacanian. 
They’ll mirror your speech act whatever you’re sayingin – 
A curious feature too hard to explainian. 

Whatever the tongue of your canine campanian 
Conversing with them will transcend entertainingian 
And move straight to the realm of the supermundanian.
For the Fourth, a beautiful American poem by a poet who is “is actually the reason loyalty oaths are illegal in the United States. When the State University of New York-Buffalo fired him in 1963 for refusing to sign one, he fought the university all the way to the Supreme Court and prevailed.”

UD never takes her freedom of speech and conscience for granted.

She has people like George Starbuck to thank for them.

A brave and principled man, he wrote some of America’s most impressive poems. Here’s one, published in 1965.


For An American Burial

Slowly out of the dusk-bedeviled air,

and off the passing blades of the gang plow,

and suddenly in state, as here and now,

the earth gathers the earth. The earth is fair;

all that the earth demands is the earth’s share;

all we pervade, and revel in, and vow

never to lose, always to hold somehow,

we hold of earth, in temporary care.

Baby the sun goes up the sun goes down,

the roads turn into rivers under your wheels,

houses go spinning by, the lights of town

scatter and close, a galaxy unreels,

this endlessness, this readiness to drown,

this is the death he stood off, how it feels.


Baby, this is the way an American poem, of our time, takes on the big D – modestly, marking death’s descent upon the oblivious fully grounded farmer who suddenly shifts from in deep harness to in state. So you know big deal it’s like that what goes up must go down but now Starbuck surprisingly steps on the cosmic gas, describes an American apocalypse – roads turn into rivers under your wheels… and, best of all after all this earthbound domesticity, a galaxy unreels! Unreal. Our automatically spooling life, our daily round and round, suddenly goes off the rails and we’re hurled galactically head over heels, and we’re not going to be able to invoke spiritually or romantically or classically how this vortex feels – we’re going to have our modest sublunary idiom for this insane thing happening to us: endlessless; readiness to drown; rivers under your wheels – that beloved familiar hardscrabble earth suddenly liquifying… All your life deliberately tending the earth and not a thought beyond the earth and bam. Turns out you too are earth and the earth demands its share. Who knew? This American poem marks an American burial simply by imagining hard and empathically what it maybe feels like to die.

Twenty-First Century Robert Herrick.

Delight in Deletion

A sweet deletion of excess
Kindles in me a wantonness;
A bomb upon the inbox thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring text, which here and there
Excites the inner editor;
A noun neglectful, and thereby
Words to flow confusedly;
A massive wave, deserving frowns,
Of mad, tempestuous ‘moticons;
An email-string’s infinity
Creating incivility:
Do more amuse me, than when art
Is too correct in every part.

I sought an excerpt and sought for it in vain…

… (to paraphrase Yeats), as I looked around for language about tea in order to honor the first International Tea Day,

I finally remembered “Lament” by Thom Gunn. One of the most beautiful AIDS-era poems, it recalls the long sad death of a friend, and among its lines are these:

… Your cough grew thick and rich, its strength increased.   
Four nights, and on the fifth we drove you down   
To the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown:   
I’d never seen such rage in you before
As when they wheeled you through the swinging door.   
For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you from   
Those normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdom   
The hedonistic body basks within
And takes for granted—summer on the skin,   
Sleep without break, the moderate taste of tea   
In a dry mouth.

Lyrics for a Stay-at-Home Order

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
And catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slow when you’re lost in a dream

Once I had a sweetheart, he was fine and good-lookin’
We sat in the kitchen while his mama was cookin’
And stared out the window to the stars high above
Time passes slow when you’re searchin’ for love

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slow and then fades away

Lyrics for Self-Isolation

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

Walking Around in Rehoboth Beach

Dedalus in the diaphane; Dalloway downtown:

This is the currency pols call walking around

Consciousness afoot in freak-time,

The modern viral mariner’s rime.

So, thinking, along the extra sand

Piped in to make the beach expand,

How brilliantly we domesticate

Beaches and dogs… Impatiently we await

Our next trick: The all-clear! probe

Of the fatal microbe.

Bright mild sun and cloudless slate

And just enough wind to exhilarate

Make it a world well worth coming back to

After the coronal tide that terrifies you

Dissolves like the faintest reed

And our wildest fears recede.

“To Helen,” for a New…
... world.
Safeguard, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a lathered sea,
The worried-well hygienic bore
To their own healthy shore.

When quarantined I feel a rale
Thy hybrid structure virus shreds.
Thy micelle bubbles now we hail:
Thy hydrophilic head
And thy hydrophobic tail.
Valentine’s Day Poem

Valentine's Day: Jordan Peterson Interview at 9:45

It's intolerable to be the beau of the broken,
The dearly beloved to whom their woe is spoken.

Yet how in hell did that start?
When did I become Miss Lonelyheart?
I'll tell you what I'd really like:
Let's have you think of me as Shrike.
Cynical, cold, and all-obscene,
Indifferent to pain and just plain mean.
Because then you'll all go far away.
You won't press up against me in a panic and say
'Save me from the fact of being me.'

I haven't any shields! Can't you see?
Can't you see what it betokens?
What a murderous, nasty love you've woken.
Crossing Bill Barr

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear tweet for me!
And may there be no moaning from Bill Barr
      When I’ve destroyed judiciary

   But such support from apparatchiks
      For my love Roger Stone
Who after all his dirty tricks
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the golf!
And may there be no discontent to quell
      When I absolve.



The cost of clarity is cold weather.
 Fog kept the beach mild;
It clouded over the quadrantids.

 New Year’s dinner, the four of us together,
 I toasted: “Bewildered, and beguiled!
But when I raise my lids

No need to question whether
Four hearts are reconciled.”
Meanwhile, January rids

The beach of fog, and there’s never
A chance of warm retreat.  It’s wild:
All softened unknowing forbid…

So we breast the chill, the clear-eyed pressure,
The sharp-horizoned world to which we are unreconciled,
But which strands us here, shivering, unhid.

Seven Stanford Coaches, Six Fake Test Takers…

… Five Briberies! Four Bogus Apps…

How do you solve a problem like McMansions?
How do you solve a problem like McMansions?
Cavernous shells impossible to sell?
Rent them all out for huge illegal parties
Making the life of those around them hell

Price is eight hundred daily for the trashing
Don't give a thought to local rules and regs
Jam all the folks and weaponry you want to
Plenty of room for super jumbo kegs

Everyone lies, the owner and the renter
Neighbors complain but town officials suck:
"We won't do shit, but here's a little wisdom:
When bullets start flying the best thing to do is duck."
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