If Shakespeare had edited Robert Frost

If Shakespeare had been Robert Frost’s editor, perhaps “Mending Wall” might have been published in iambic pentameter.

SOMETHING there is that loveth not a wall,
That sendeth frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spilleth upper boulders shoulders tall;
And maketh gaps so two can pass asunder it.
The work of hunters, others must atone:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have scarcely left not stone on stone,
But they would have the fox out of his lair
To please the yelping curs. The gaps, I fear:
Eye hath not seen nor ear heard thusly made,
But at spring mending-time they thus appear.
I let my neighbor know beyond the glade;
And on a day we meet to walk the field
And set the wall between us then once more.
We keep the wall betwixt us as we yield
To each the boulders that did fall before.
And some are loaves and some so nearly round
We must needs use a spell to make them stand:
“Stay where you are until our backs are bound!”
We wear our fingers rough with stones of sand.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-fame.
My apple trees no doubt will never soar
And eat the cones under his pines, I wager.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is mischief in me, and still I wager,
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why is it that they make so good a neighbor?
Is it not where the cows do graze instead?
But here there are no grazing cows to rout.”
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And with whom I was like to have a row.

“Something there is that loveth not a wall,
That wants it down!” I could say “Elves,” but no,
Not elves exactly, and I’d rather stall,
That he might say himself. I hear him crow,
Bringing stones grasped firmly by the face
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness, as our human race,
Not just of woods and stone fields stately farmed.
He will not go behind his father’s word,
He likes to have the thought of it, to savor:
There would have been a time for such word;
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

"Crumbling Foundation" 2011©Brian T. Maurer

“Crumbling Foundation” 2011©Brian T. Maurer

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A woodland walk

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”

—Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I stood at the edge of the wood near the bottom of the rise, leaning against my walking stick. Directly ahead the trail continued to ascend the rocky slope along the ridge, while below, off to the left, branches and debris from last October’s winter storm blocked the leaf-strewn path.  After a moment’s reflection I took up the walking stick in hand and tramped down through the leaves.

At the bottom I found the blue blaze marks and proceeded west along the path parallel to the ridge trail. Many of the fallen limbs had been cut up and kicked off to the side. In a few spots new trail had been blazed around extensive clusters of debris. Eventually, I stepped out of the woods onto the dirt road at the power line cut.

Here I had another decision to make: continue on into the woods or follow the dirt road to the crest. Moments later I stepped into the woods again and continued along the path.

At the bottom of the hollow I found the remnant of a trail that crossed the stream and led directly up the rise. Many times I had followed this straight stretch of trail, striding up the natural stone steps. It soon became apparent that the former trail was impassable: a jungle of fallen trunks and contorted branches blocked the way.

I turned right and followed an improvised path across the slope to where it doubled back through the forest. Back and forth I followed the switchbacks, crisscrossing the old straight trail.

Near the top of the rise, off to the right, a vernal pool lay frozen in the forest. I paused at its edge and stared down into the black ice. Patches of blue sky silhouetted the wispy tops of stark trees in this cracked icy mirror.

It was a short ascent to the ridge. I stood on the rocky outcropping and looked out over the expansive valley at my feet, shading my eyes from the intense afternoon sun. A cold wind cut my cheek.

Shortly, I turned and disappeared back into the forest.

Something there is that loves a wall

After a morning’s work of seeing patients in the office and several hours editing a manuscript previously accepted for publication, I decided I needed to take a break.

I reached for my heavy winter jacket and stocking cap and stepped outside into the cold. It was a short walk down the street to the old house that my daughter and son-in-law recently purchased.

I could hear muffled buzzing as I approached the front walk. It became appreciably louder when I opened the door to the kitchen and stepped inside.

Remnants of past snacks covered the table. Cleaned paint brushes lay in the dish drainer on the old cast iron sink. A cache of paint cans, scrapers and stirring sticks hovered in the corner by the refrigerator.

I pushed the door to the dining room open and stuck my head in to admire the freshly finished oak floors and maroon walls trimmed in white. Lace curtains hung at the windows. Newly painted cast iron radiators guarded the far corners.

I retraced my steps to the bottom of the stairs and ascended the chocolate-brown steps to the second floor landing. The door to the master bedroom stood open a crack. The buzzing sound rose to a deafening crescendo as I eased it open.

The room was fogged with grey dust. I could make out the forms of two young women—my grown up daughters—on step stools, masks in place over their noses and mouths, as they passed handheld sanders back and forth across freshly spackled walls. A thick coat of dust covered the floor.

Neither one heard me enter over the roar of the sanders. I stood still for a minute or two before my youngest daughter saw me. She turned off her sander and stepped down from the stool.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up?”

My married daughter turned off her sander and raised her mask. “We didn’t hear you come in.”

“I guess not. Those sanders make quite a racket. Looks like things are coming along.” I rubbed my hand over the smooth surface of the wall. “Have you decided what to do with the ceiling yet?”

“We bought some textured wallpaper for it. It should look nice when it’s done.”

“You’ll have to seal and size it beforehand. I can give you a hand when you’re ready.”

“Did you see the bathroom? It’s gutted. The plumber was here yesterday to replace the pipes.”

I walked across the dusty floor and stuck my head into the bathroom. You could see knob-and-tube wiring running between the bare studs above the bathtub. Strips of old lathe were visible where part of the plaster had been broken away during the demolition.

“It’s a shame you didn’t give Norm Abram a call before you started. He and his crew could have made a segment for ‘This Old House’.”

“You can see the new drainage pipes in the pantry downstairs.”

“I did. It looks like he did a good job. Well, I’ll let you get back to work. Let me know when you want to start in on the ceiling.”

“We will. Thanks, Dad.”

I turned to go, then stopped at the doorway. “You guys are doing a good job. Redoing an old house is a lot of work, but it makes you appreciate what you’ve got. You invest more than just your money and your time. You put some of your soul in it, too.”

I remember when they were little girls, sharing a bedroom in our old house. As they grew up, at some point each one of them decided to personalize the walls that I had worked so hard to restore. Some of the remnants of their redecorating were still visible. Now here they were, the two of them, working to beautify the walls of another old house.

Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” notwithstanding, something there is that loves a wall after all—particularly old plaster ones.

Sitting at Desk on a Winter Evening

Whose post this is I scarcely know,
It’s housed inside some server, though;
I scroll it down, so sharp and clear,
To survey it before I go.

My little muse must think it queer
To interact from year to year
Within the realm of cyberspace—
Which knows no pain and knows no fear.

She shakes her head, regards my face
As if all this were some disgrace;
I fight to keep her goads at bay,
Then carry on in frenzied pace.

These days we all have much to say,
We bide our time in just that way;
We twitter, tweet and post a look
As hours tick by day to day.

The virtual world, one cosmic book,
Has snagged us all with one great hook,
While time itself, that clever crook,
Has robbed us that which we forsook.

(Apologies to Robert Frost,
Who did not live to count the cost.)

Copyright 2011 © by Brian T. Maurer