Sippo Lake

Our view  at sunrise
from 107 Ocean St.
The biggest hole left in my life by leaving the North Shore of Massachusetts was...the North Shore of Massachusetts-- that is, our particular piece of the second largest ocean in the world, the Atlantic: the beach a block from our door,with its waves we could hear and smell in summer, could see in winter when our view, was clear of leaves.

On arriving here in Northeast Ohio, I have found that hole filled by one of the world’s smallest bodies of water, Sippo Lake, which I once described as "no bigger than a tiddleywink." When I was a child, it anchored my world, the woods across the street where I played, either alone or with the next door neighbor, Richard Barrick. Together, we stumbled upon a stone foundation of a deserted farm. We picked huckleberries and wild blackberries. We found a street sign that someone had stolen, and we proudly reported it to the roads department, which said these signs were very expensive, and they appreciated our assistance.  In winter, Richard (who is now an architect), along with the Schott boys, built a ramp on the hillside in the field directly across the street from our house, and we all flew our sleds over it, sailing into the air, back onto the snow, crashing into the brush, or, on some long, lucky rides, coasting almost to the edge of the lake.

Sippo Lake from the library lot
Recently mentioning Sippo on Facebook, I learned from Steve Carter, a high school acquaintance who now lives and works as an actor in NYC, that he and a friend had been adventuring on the other side of the lake at the same time. Steve wrote:

Sippo Lake and around it were very major in my childhood. From age 5 to jr high I lived at 322 Westland Ave on the Sippo side of Lincoln. I had a friend, Alan, about a block away. There was a big apple orchard behind his house, beyond that lots if woods and Sippo. Be assured it was explored extensively, parents and school far from sight.
But if Sippo Lake in its wild state was a childhood blessing for Steve and I, it also held dangers. Steve recalls nearly falling into the lake in winter, on a day when it seemed solider than it was. I recall walking on the ice along the edge in my skates, only to sink into slush. And on our side of the lake, a neighbor boy was drowned there ice skating one winter. I wrote about that very early on in my writing life, and the poem was only recently published in a wonderful on-line journal called qarrtsiluni. You can hear it read by Beth Adams, who recorded it for me, here, along with their edit of the poem. Mine is below. 
Steve provided this map of Sippo. (He lived on the Genoa Road side. I lived on Perry, near Second Street)  If you look very closely at the map , you can see a light gray line that goes from Tyner Road, edges fairly close to Arrowbrook, and ends up in a parking lot. It's the path that I walk nearly every day these days.
What has happened to Sippo is both wonderful and sad and began happening sometime in the early 1970s. My sister Daun  and I were home from college when we heard, coming from across the street….bulldozers. We ran to the living room window to see the tall oak tree there go crashing and crunching to the ground. It must have been the weekend because Dad was home, and we turned on him shrieking like sirens, feeling betrayed by our resident Zoning Board member.
“Kids,” Dad began his defense, and using the collective noun he still uses for his gang of four: “It was going to happen. People were going to build. What we have managed to do is see that the houses they build are good ones, no crap. And we have managed to keep Sippo Lake public. There will someday be a park there."

And there is. A park I love almost as much as I loved those wild acres I roamed. The paths are curated and measured and their distance posted for people who walk 100 miles from May to October and then get together to celebrate their fitness. This fall, the walk through woods and field have been gorgeous. 
 And for school children who arrive in busloads at the “Exploration Gateway” where there is a library and a nature center, with park rangers. At the closer end of that path, just a half mile from my door is a marina that sells bait and rents small boats. And the little dock and boathouse that my dad and Orion Evans built has been replaced with two big docks, a clubhouse, two picnic shelters. In winter, signs are posted when skating is not safe.
The houses across the street from me are nice enough. Much bigger than ours. They face the lake and not our street, so it’s not like having neighbors… and the few times I have walked there, I haven’t encountered much neighborliness either. They had large, expensive Halloween decorations, so I can only imagine what the Christmas lights are going to be like, but I have light-blocking blinds. The sledding hill is gone, too, leveled in the process of erecting these houses.
Still, Dad was right: we did get something for the trade. We traded our wilderness for some homes, some nature, a library, and a woods with paths. The library has a big picture window that overlooks the lake, and free wifi for a fair number of people who don't have their own. Ditto computers. And Steve will be glad to know that occasionally, when I am walking, kids come crashing out onto the path from wherever they have been roaming, as do deer and rabbits and feral cats, clearly from places where there are no paths. So, while there may not be as much wilderness for them as there was for us, there is enough for them to get away from parents and school. And, I would add, from the computer and the mall. For that, I remain grateful, for them and for me.


No larger than a tiddly wink,
and pushed to its end,
it would leave only a mist,
land empty in the smallest cup.
Still, it claims our attention.
One winter a neighbor boy drowned
under the shrunken flat white disk;
often summers when nightfall
renders the sky all colors,
mirrors two worlds from one,
sun running over
I can still hear his mother say
she lives by that light.

(first published qarrtsiluni, copyright Diane Kendig 2008)

Charity Come Home/Begin: W.S. Merwin Reading at Kent, Oct. 10th

In a 2008 in an essay for Larry Smith’s anthology, The Cleveland Poetry Scene, I wrote from Boston that “for me, these days it is the books and news of my fellow Clevelanders that keep me company, some quite far-flung, some deceased…[i]t was always about the words of that company, which we kept, which we keep, across the miles, despite the years.”
HUMPH, I am here to say that while all that is well and good and true enough, there is nothing quite like meeting again in the flesh, which is what I was able to do last week when W.S Merwin read at Kent State University.
There in the flesh would be Merwin, whom I remember incarnate at readings in Ohio in the early 1980s right about the time when the Naropa Poetry Wars was published and James Wright had died, and a group of us took him and his companion out to eat at the Greek restaurant near CSU. Still, the moment that stands out clearest from that visit was his reading of his poem on the recent death of Wright, a poem so true in its tiny five lines, that it both hurt and consoled. When he read that poem, I could not breathe. I have never heard an audience so quiet. I also remember Merwin as my hero during a week at a translation workshop in the late 1980s when I felt the academics terrorized the creative writers until Merwin’s arrival. But that is another blog. NOW,  he is returning as the Poet Laureate. Not that that made that much difference to those of us who have loved him all along for his poems and not for his position.
Before Merwin, KSU Provost Tim Chandler gave a welcome. I have heard administrators give both knuckle-headed and self-serving intros (a UMASS intro to Russell Banks a year ago springs to mind in the latter category), but I have never heard an administrator give such a warm, insightful, meaningful welcome to an event. Chandler was followed by poet and Wick Poetry Center Director David Hassler, who was as insightful and meaningful in the intro and conclusion to the event as I have always known him to be both in speech and on the page.
The Merwin that stood before me last week was definitely older and more loquacious than in the 80s, but disciplined in his loquaciousness. When he rambled, he was definitely rambling down three themes he had chosen for the evening.  One concerned his ongoing debate with Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, about which he notes, “If you have a voice, it will come through the influence.”  (Take that all you beginning poets who don’t want to read because you don’t want to be influenced—sheesh, do visual artists ever say they aren’t going to look at other people’s paintings?) He began with “Grace Note,” a poem which was printed as a broadside for the evening as the latest of Kent’s “Traveling Stanzas” broadside project. The poem ends with the image of a bird flying in and out, “leaving me/believing what I do not see.”
That poem also introduced his second theme for the evening, animals, leading him to read “Fly” and “Vixen,” two of my favorite Merwin poems, as well as “Air,” one of the last he read, one of the first of his poems I ever read, back in 1975 in Alberta Turner’s Contemporary Poetry class at CSU. That poem was a link to his third theme, song. It was a long, rich, thoughtful reading. I felt afterward like the Seamus Heaney lines: “and we all knew one thing by being there,/The space we stood around had been emptied/Into us to keep….” Immediately after the reading I felt that way, that is, because long after the reading, Merwin stayed quite late to sign for the throng that stayed to ask him to sign, and the special mood did dissipate a bit.
Before lining up, I said good-bye to my seatmates, Larry Smith and Joel Ruddinger, the first two editors who ever published a poem of mine, back in 1973 in Firelands Mixer. In the meantime, Larry has generously published my work many times. Now, nearly forty years later, I had met Joel for the first time. I gave them the seats I had been saving for Kate Fox, just in case she needed them as several hours previously she had posted to Facebook that she had gotten a flat tire on the long road from Athens, Ohio. I never found Kate until the next morning on Facebook, when I learned she was probably just a few feet ahead of me in the signing line.
Before I made it there, I stopped to buy the “Grace Note” broadside and heard a voice behind me say, “Oh my gosh, here is Diane,” and there was Zena Zipporah, who said, “Diane, I was just telling my friend that you and I went to Breadloaf together.” “Yes, and did an OAC residency with eight graders together,” I said, and we could  have gone on about the poetry things we had done together,  not to mention the eating things (Zena’s all-garlic dinner) and the parties and meeting things we had lived through when I lived in Cleveland.
By the time I made it to the line, I was the end. Fortunately, so was my long-time (I no longer say “old”) poet friend and new colleague, Robert Miltner. He didn’t make the line go any faster but the talk grew richer as he posed the question, “Who would you like to hear give a reading that you haven’t heard yet?” And we all laughed as the first response was “Neruda” to which we added Dickinson, Whitman, and a host of greats no longer around. My living choice is Wislawa Symborska, so please everyone, keep your eyes open for her this side of the Atlantic and let me know. Robert had a great Copper Canyon broadside to be signed by Merwin, who was amazed to see it and suddenly wondering if he himself had ever gotten a copy of it. I had Merwin’s poem “Canso,” open to sign in The First Four Books of Poems, which seemed to mystify him, even when I told him that my husband chose it to have read on our wedding day, and we are about to celebrate our 25th anniversary. But he signed, and now I am wavering in my plan to remove it from the book and frame it.
By then it was past 10:00 p.m., and the large ballroom was emptying out, cooling down. I had a long drive home and had to be up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. I managed to say hail and farewell to David Hassler, who was still rushing around. I had missed saying hello to Maj Ragain and any number of favorite Ohio poets who were there and gone already, including Kate Fox, who had sent a message from Facebook that she had a flat tire. She made it, but I never saw her. However, I know I will see her and Maj soon. Meanwhile, what a great literary homecoming. Or, as Merwin’s poem dedicated to his friend Galway Kinnell puts it: “Charity come home/Begin.”


Grace Notes
…leaving me
believing what I do not see.
Coast of Maine
---“Poets aren’t prophets, but if the prophets aren’ts saying these things, the poets have to try.”
Dusk in Winter
Nomad Flute
Departure’s Girlfriend
The Black Jewel
Fly: …I who have always believed too much in words.
Love for October
Blind Seer of Ambon: …I continue to arrive at words.
Unknown Soldier
Late Spring
Convenience:  ...All we have to pay for it is ourselves.
A Step at a Time
A Chain to Her Leg
A Messae to Po Chi
To Myself
Laughing Thrush: if there is a future/ here is where they all sing the first daylight/
                                  whether or not there is anyone listening


Family Funerals and Nesting Rhymes

Whew. Here is another topic I didn’t plan to write about, but I spent most of Friday at the funeral, followed by what we hereabouts call the “bereavement dinner,” of my cousin Donna Mae Rohr, who died this week at age 78. I have missed a lot of these in my past 40 years away from home.
I missed the funeral of Donna’s mother, Aunt Ollie, the cheeriest and most fun of aunts, who played in the 1940s women’s baseball leagues, made famous by the movie, A League of Their Own. I did make it to the funeral of Donna’s father, Uncle Carl, clearly the wryest and funniest of uncles—or at least in the top three funniest, along with my Uncle Les—who was the coach of Aunt Ollie’s league, and from what I have heard, a prototype for the Tom Hanks’s character in A League. Along with my sister, I sobbed and sobbed at the calling hours for Uncle Carl, and Donna Mae, who should have been receiving consolations from us, put her arms around us and said, “Girls, don’t cry. Dad had a wonderful life.”
That was a point that Donna’s granddaughter, Taylor, made in her remarks at the funeral: that Donna had had 79 good years and three rough weeks at the end, when she struggled under the effects of a brain lesion. “Seventy-nine good years and three hard weeks is what I call a good life,” said Taylor. And I’d agree, except that I’d add that Donna spent several of those years as caretaker for both her husband, Glenn, who died after a long difficult cancer, and later her mother, who spent her last years in a cheerful dementia but finally in days of pain before she died. My dad showed up and spent some time with Donna during Aunt Ollie’s last hours, but Donna was there to the end, as she was with Glenn.  Having now spent the last 24 hours alone with two of my family members that died, I know what hard work it is, and what important work. Maybe it isn’t work. It is definitely important.
But Donna was never actually a Kendig in name. Her father’s surname was Herman, and most of her life, she was a Rohr, having married Glen Rohr. And though my cousin, she was nearly a generation older than me, closer to my dad, who thought of her as a little sister. He is holding her in his arms in a photo of the family taken shortly before he left for World War II.
Still, if you are a Kendig, one thing you do is you show up for things, especially funerals and weddings, and since I haven’t been showing up during my past eleven years in Boston, I wanted to show up, especially for Donna’s oldest daughter, Patty, who is closer to my age than her mom. Six other Kendig cousins were there on this Friday afternoon, as were four aunts and uncles, all  octo- or nona-generians.
The only thing that Kendigs do as well as showing up is eating, and since the dinner was provided by the VFW members of Canal Fulton, Ohio, there was a lot of very good Midwest cooking to eat: ham and cheese sandwiches, tossed salads with sweet dressing, lots of casseroles, including lasagna, and desserts—many homemade pies, including elderberry, and cheesecake, and that dessert with graham cracker crumbs and canned cherries and Dream Whip, which I know is a petroleum by-product I make fun of and love despite myself and did eat yesterday.
Kendigs really aren’t drinkers, but when the VFW announced we could get drinks downstairs, most went down and got a glass of white zinfandel and nearly passed out from surprise to find it was free. I know in a lot of families that might lead to a second glass of wine, but not among this clan.   
Oh, and the other thing you do if you are a Kendig is talk, which is really why we were the last ones left at the VFW and not because we ate all that much. We are now caught up on nearly everyone and everything, the ten of us who were there. The rest of you need to catch up. Isn’t it about time for a reunion without a funeral or wedding?
While I don’t intend to make a habit of posting poems here, I do have one about the Kendigs whose form poets might be interested in and one I invented based on an exercise by Susan Mitchell in The Practice of Poetry. Mitchell’s exercise was to write a 6-stanza poem with stanzas of three lines, ending in nesting rhymes, also called “diminishing rhyme,” and the example Mitchell gives is of ocean/motion/emotion. (This being English, they need have exact spelling but sound, and in some cases, I have stretched even that.) I expanded on Mitchell’s exercised in two ways. First, in some poems, instead of putting the nesting rhymes in diminishing order, I put then in what I call “augmenting rhymes:” emotion, motion, ocean. Second, I made the lines lengths mirror the diminishment or augmentation, growing longer if I was using augmenting rhyme, shorter if using diminishing rhymes. This poem moves both ways and takes liberty with rhyme by using slant rhyme. Two other poems of this type have been published at Poemeleon, and you can find them here:

Setting out Aunt Ollie's chicken, Uncle Les's melon basket, iced tea,
noodle dishes and some Italian in-law's tortellini, we cease all this mobility
to pay attention to the eight remaining oldest Kendigs, their dear indomitability.

"The Thirteen," as we still call the siblings, had a lifetime
of difficulty.  "The Great Depression?  Whew!  A time
you don't want to hear about, but since I'm

started now...."  Friends that I have brought in
have laughed how, when they call for photo-taking, the eldest kin
are "kids." We're grand and our kids are great.  We mean that under the skin

we have the stuff of Bess and Harry, a well-wed pair with manifold
capacity to reproduce and rear.  The four youngest of their fold
are World War II vets, but don't call them old,

and don't expect star-spangled frou-farrah, group games or anybody's speech.
We talk and eat, this repository of recipes, these mound-builders of peach
and strawberry and chocolate heaped desserts.  We speak to each

aunt and uncle; despite three who after the factory work no longer hear,
one oxygen tank, six canes, a Chemo-damaged appetite, both mild and severe
Alzheimer's. They meet here yearly on this date to do as they have always
                                                                                      done: they persevere.

Coming Home, indeed

I had imagined this blog to be all prose, but a poem is what came to me, whole cloth, a draft at least. Arriving home in summer, sleeping in what we used to call "The Front Bedroom," which gets all the noise of Perry Drive and then some, especially at night, I was struck by the sound of the Drop Forge plant still in operation, and it brought back other sounds, both still present, and one that's changed. It brought back the Plath poem that I always assumed was about a similar noise, a poem that now seems a bit too operatic to me. I wouldn't say my poem is done yet, but it's what I have as I launch out here this morning.

A final draft was published on About Place, and you can read it here: