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Marilyn Shelton


Past a sagging gate
Of stars, the city takes long
sips of the cool moon

I teach English and Creative Writing at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, and I live in Baldwinsville. So every morning, I commute through the city. And thereís one point in the drive east on I-690 when Onondaga Lake is on my left, the city lights are across the horizon in front of me, and the road cuts through the middle of the lights. Especially in late fall and winter, when itís dark, that point seems to be a gate to a jeweled city.

Because I find a rich poetic subject in the relationship of city to nature, my imagination connected the lake to the moon, and I imagined that the city and the moon have a kind of relationship where they take refreshment from each other. The image for the poem came into my head all at once: the lake, the moon, the lights, the stars, the city.

In the circle of
The street light, a spotted dog
Looks for companions

I was reflecting on an experience in Armory Square. I was supposed to meet some friends at a bar, and I hadnít been downtown to meet friends for a long time, so it was kind of a new experience.

It was interesting: they stood me up. It was evening, and Armory Square was jammed with people. So I wandered around. As evening wore on, it got louder and louder, because everyone was in the streets, walking and milling about.

In crowds or in cities, when we have high expectations that something will happen, thereís an excitement in the air, a heightened desire. So I felt that. And it was fun, but it was sad, too.

Corner vendor shouts
Flowers! Flowers! Flowers! Makes
City women smile

I didnít want to write poems that just had a certain number of syllables. I really wanted to get into the spirit of haiku. And I think, in large part, that spirit has to do with the meeting of civilization and natureóman and nature.

So this poem has to do with a proverb I like, that says, ďIf I had two loaves of bread, I would sell one to buy hyacinths to feed my soul.Ē

Cities are places of commerce. And thereís something missing in all the asphalt and the horns blaring. We lose touch with nature. When Iím hustling and bustling, I see it in my mindís eyeóthatís the corner where the flower vendor should be. I need some flowers right now.

silver drops of rain
suddenly, a bright garden
of umbrellas blooms

This has a very specific Syracuse connection. I was at the Civic Center, and I was up on the second or third floor, up high, and I was looking out the windows, those gorgeous magnificent windows. And it was drab and gray, and it started to drizzle, and people were milling around, and suddenly umbrellas started popping open. And from where I was looking down, it was just a big, well, like a garden of flowers. Suddenly there was color everywhere. And it was really pretty and just visually striking.

Snow melts to lilies
Of the sweet valley, reborn
In sensuous spring

I wrote this haiku many years ago, during the deepest part of the year, the winter solstice. To me, the lily of the valley is such a tiny thing to have strength, even when hibernating, to overcome harsh winters to be reborn. During the short days and cold nights, I think I hear their bells and detect in the air their delicate scent. The lily of the valley holds the full sensual promise of the approaching spring.

Here and then gone, you have to be careful and quick to find these tiny flowers hiding under trees and hedgerows.

I can never own the essence of the lily of the valley, but on special nights when I can just see them shining in the moonlight, or imagine I do, I feel the love of the universeógentle but mighty indeed.


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