A Gate In Cupertino

There was so much going on yesterday at the Cupertino Library’s 10th Anniversary Fair! I will post a separate post with all my photos, observations, and special superhero sightings. Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion, slightly altered from the way I read it during the ceremony for the Teen Advisory Board’s time capsule internment. I was honored to be asked to read during that special event.

A Gate in Cupertino

In Cupertino, there is a rickety gate in a redwood fence.
It hides recycle bins and drying laundry.
Cats sit on the gate in the morning
waiting to be fed.

For dreamers in Ancient Greece,
there was a gate of ‘sawn ivory,’
and a gate of ‘polished horn.’
Penelope asked the old stranger
if her dreams of her wandering husband
were false or true.

High in the mountains of Hunan province,
there is a gate on the Yellow River
where a strong carp, who perseveres,
who swims with courage and leaps up,
becomes a dragon.

We live in a modern city
without stone walls, without iron fortifications.
The gates to our city are freeways and wide boulevards.
Here, there is a gateway to learning—
shining with glass and flanked by
trees of fire, the library gates are made of fountains.

Enter these gates today.
You don’t need a magic key.
Enter these gates today to dream,
enter to be transformed.
(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown
for the Cupertino Library 10th Anniversary
October 18, 2014

Notes on the poem

The theme for the Cupertino Library’s Anniversary was “Gateway to Learning.”  I spent some time researching famous gates in literature, and the symbology of gates in different cultures and dreams. I found gates mentioned prominently in Milton’s poem “L’Allegro” (1645) and in Book 19 of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. I also discovered a lovely Chinese legend of the Dragon’s Gate, about carp that leap up through waterfalls high in Hunan province, on the Yellow River, and become dragons. There is a proverb that goes like this: 鲤鱼跳龙门. Learning all of this history and culture was great, but I needed an image to start the poem. I’d promised to write one for the anniversary and I was getting nervous. Sitting at my kitchen table Saturday morning, I spotted my cat, perched on the gate outside the kitchen door. Some gates are grand, some are humble. I had my poem.

Right against the Eastern gate,
Wher the great Sun begins his state,
Rob’d in flames, and Amber light,
The clouds in thousand Liveries dight.

Milton, L’Allegro (1645)

“Two gates there are for our evanescent dreams,
one is made of ivory, the other made or horn.
Those that pass through the ivory cleanly carved
are will-o’-the-wisps, their message bears no fruit.
The dreams that pass through the gates of polished horn
are fraught with trugh, for the dreamer who can see them.”

Homer, The Odyssey (19:630-640) Fagles trans.

Poems for Palms

I always enjoy Palm Sunday, even now when I no longer attend church, and I think partly it’s because I grew up in California and palm trees have been ubiquitous and beloved for many years. When I was younger, Palm Sunday meant a day in church when children has a special job, taking all the palm leaves to the altar. Now, palm trees are mostly things I wonder at and walk or drive under — along Palm Drive at Stanford University, Palm Avenue in Cupertino, palm trees and their messy falling fronds in my own back yard.

PalmDrive

I’m writing a poem today about palm trees, calling it “Palm Tree Sunday” but I wondered if there were poems about Palm Sunday — religious poetry that I could share here. And, of course, there are.

G. K. Chesterton wrote a beautiful poem about a mournful donkey, and only mentions Palm Sunday in passing, without naming the day. You have to be familiar with the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to catch the allusion. Chesterton was an English poet, art critic and Christian apologist. He converted to Roman Catholicism from the Church of England and spent much of his time and energy as a writer with spiritual work. The poem here, “The Donkey” is a delightful poem on so many levels, and no matter what you believe about Jesus, the donkey’s sad, disrespected voice is familiar to anyone who has ever felt less than loved.

The Donkey

by G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

The next poem I want to share is a contemporary verse about Palm Sunday written to delight children learning about the day in their church school. Andrew King has a wonderful blog full of his own poetry, much of it in response to the week’s lectionary. (Click through to his blog for an explanation.)

This poem, called “The Story of Palm Sunday (as told for the young)” is absolutely charming. What is not to love about a poem that rhymes “anointed” with “pointed” and remembers the glory of historical Jerusalem as “quite a blast” — I mean, this poet must have had a great time writing this. The rhythm is strong, the language alive. I love it. Here are several stanzas from the middle of the poem.

“He’s coming straight to Jerusalem’s gate,”
the folks were excitedly saying;
“Let’s get out there in the open air
and show the Romans for what we’ve been praying.”

They cut branches down and handed them round,
a symbol of joy and praising.
And they lined the way for Jesus that day,
palms and voices ready for raising.

Jesus, meantime, had his followers find
a young donkey on which he could ride.
He’d come to that place to show God’s saving grace,
that God’s on the sufferer’s side.

These photos are the closest I could find to what I remember.

palm-sunday1 galleryImage.php

So, Happy Palm Sunday. Be you a believer in Jesus or not, I hope that you can believe in poetry with me today.

The painting at the top of the post is Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. Entering the city on a donkey symbolizes Jesus’ arrival in peace rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse.

Dog Park Rules

To honor the opening of Cupertino’s Mary Avenue Dog Park, I’ve written a little villanelle. They’ve posted the poem at their website, but I offer it here, too. I read this on Tuesday at my April Fool’s Day reading, and it seemed to appeal to the people there. I hope dogs like it too.

Especially for my dog-loving friends, Michelle, Cristina, and Alice.

Dog Park Rules (A Villanelle)

Watch out for balls and feel the winter sun.
Remember who you came with, when you came.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

The most important rule is to have fun.
Smell all the smells, then smell them all again.
Watch out for balls and feel the spring-time sun.

Spin your body, spin and when you’ve spun
yourself into a puddle, change the game.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

Sniff the spots that human noses shun.
Pee and pee and all good places claim.
Watch out for balls and feel the autumn sun.

Stay with that stick until the chewing’s done.
Leap and wiggle your small body like a flame.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

And now the Dog Park rules are almost done,
and you will learn them as you learned your name.
Watch out for balls and feel the summer sun.
Run and run and don’t forget to run.

For more dog poems, check out Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, fans of dogs and fine poets.

Those of you interested in more information about villanelles, check this out and this.