What Loves a Wall


From the stacks of gouache, pencils, ink, and mixed media on paper I made last spring-summer, largely illustrating poems in my next book, and still haven’t photographed to properly put online. 

For a long time I’ve struggled to situate Robert Frost’s brilliant poem “Mending Wall” in the context of Trump’s America—responding to harsh anger and intentional ugliness with this beautiful, rambling softness of a story. In spite of its limitations there is something powerful and human about arguing this way—as a creative human being rather than a fighter or a machine. Something worth the work.

So I made some poem-paintings riffing on it, recorded the poem, tried setting it in my own lyrics riffing on it on top of my favorite Chopin Nocturne, apologized to Chopin, used the music to edit my poem anyway, and continued to feel there is a song here but I haven’t sung it. Frost’s most haunting line here has innate melody.

But the rest has yet to spin out for me, if it ever does. Often music is like this for me. I feel I have a job to show up to, but I show up and the flow gets stuck. The same thing happens with speaking sometimes, but I manage. Someday I hope to get through a few Berklee music theory and practice books that have been sitting on top of my beloved piano forever, to retrain my 20+ year old rusty classical music mind to compose and play more pop-y stuff, so that I can finally write, learn, and perform proper accompaniment for the poems that have melodies.

Poems have always had melodies in my mind—to the extent that I used to assume they do to everyone. It still seems strange to me when it’s this pronounced, that it’s only me. Can’t you hear it? “The thing with feathers” that doesn’t love a wall…

Your Daughter’s Voice (U.Va. Serpentine Wall),” oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas, 2014 (sold).


“What Loves a Wall”

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”—Robert Frost

Faith doesn’t love a wall,
but releases its wings
to the winds in a sprawl,
letting go of direction-like things.

Hope doesn’t love a wall,
loves looking up and around in thrall,
wants to see the neighbors and all,
likes to be seen by one and all.

Love can’t not love—yet with walls,
stays to herself, silenced, feeling the cold
creep into her gardens and halls.
Love within walls doesn’t live to grow old at all.

Peace might seem at first to love a wall—
to be left alone, quiet at home, with no visitors.
But people are animals—need contributors,
friends and fellow-travelers, and inquisitors.

Trust doesn’t love a wall at all.
Nor understanding, its cozy nest and catchall.
Trust and understanding don’t love a wall.
And what loves a wall, doesn’t love them at all.

What loves a wall is fear.
What loves a wall is degradation.
What loves a wall is panic and its blindness that makes more blindness.
What loves a wall, loves the shame of a nation.

What loves a wall is wrongdoing.
What loves a wall is wealth that has no mercy on the suffering.
What loves a wall is shame.
What loves a wall, loves pain.

But what loves a wall most of all is the sea,
making modern sea walls crumble
with post-modern holes and speed.
Or maybe it’s the falling-apart of the plates’ shifting rumble.
Or the new life—trees and bushes, animals, mosses, and things—
the new life that follows destruction so quickly,
it can seem like rotting makes a bird sing
when it’s only the rising sun,
only the unwalled wordly one,
only the same, impossible will to keep on
that drives on everyone.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That something is a part of us all.

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