I’m grateful for the opportunity to praise and draw some attention to the poetry of Catherine Abbey Hodges. While she is and has been well-known in California and the west she is a poet who deserves a much wider appreciation nationally. Catherine is the author of the poetry collections Instead of Sadness, selected by Dan Gerber for the 2015 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize from Gunpowder Press; Raft of Days (Gunpowder Press, 2017); and In a Rind of Light (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2020). Her chapbook All the While (Finishing Line Press, 2006) was a finalist in the New Women’s Voices contest, and a letterpress chapbook, A Spell for What Comes Next, came out from Miramar Editions in 2018. Individual poems have appeared widely in Southern Review, Tar River Poetry, Chicago Quarterly Review, I-70 review, Cider Press Review and she has had her work featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily. I love her clarity and deep humanity, her almost spiritual appreciation of nature. My own poems take a longer breath, often work symphonically, and so I deeply admire (if not envy) Hodges’ talent for concision, her ability to embed such a range of emotion and understanding in precise imagery and luminous detail.
It turns out that we are both from Santa Barbara, though I never knew her here. For many years she taught at Porterville College in east central California. My dear friend and mentor, Peter Everwine mentioned the poems of Instead of Sadness to me back in 2014, said he thought I would like the book. For all of my writing life I’ve admired Peter’s poetry, poetic intelligence, and eloquence. It makes a great deal of sense to me to quote Peter on the accomplishment, range, and depth of Catherine’s work rather than ramble further on myself.
“One can’t rush through these poems; they’re not built for speed. . . . Calm and meditative, lyrical, structured more by the shift of images than events, her poems carry a human and spiritual resonance of what is ‘signed and wondrous’ long after they close.
I was and am grateful that Peter put me on to Catherine’s poetry, it’s singular voice and craft, the modesty, reverence, and insight the poems carry for the world around us, for our struggle toward the light.
Catherine Abbey Hodges
NOW IT OCCURS TO ME
that I will always, from here
on out, be a little melancholy.
That in fact this is nothing
new. Since childhood, mine
what we call a happy one
notwithstanding, my face
in repose an old airfield
in the rain. It’s not a sad thing,
perhaps, to be always a bit sad.
It’s a nod to what has earned,
will earn, the sadness, to so much
of what we call this life. A nod,
a long gaze, three deep bows.
English Professor Emeritus at Porterville College, Catherine Abbey Hodges writes, edits, teaches privately, and collaborates with musician Rob Hodges in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada. www.catherineabbeyhodges.com
Ozio / Idleness—Beginning with a Line from Pavese Christopher Buckley
Stupefato del mondo mi giunse un’eta—Cesare Pavese
Stunned by the world, I reached an age
when all there’s left to do is drift
with the trade winds around the earth. . . .
You know, the planet is not exactly round,
but bulges at the equator, flatter at the poles—
facts from 6th grade Geography—another
lost world. . . .
But if you get to Ecuador
and measure from the center of the globe,
Mt. Chimborazo sticks out 7,000 feet
farther into space than the highest
I learned just enough
to plead ignorance of the presumed
outcomes once the books were closed
and we’d put our heads down on our desks,
once Mondays began to arrive with
their drudgeries and sorrowful decades
of work, which—though I don’t do much
of it anymore—amounts to what becomes
of our lives . . . the leavings interstellar winds
will collect regardless of what we thought
we’d ever be.
Still, for a time, I thought
if one day I climbed Chimborazo, I might
feel that high, thin light sing through my skin
and know we were meant for something
beyond hard labor. But time’s absolved us
of nothing, miscalculating our sufferings
into the equation, into the longing
in the evening sky, beneath which
I’d been making it up as I went along,
never feeling there was enough time
to finish the job.
So I’m sitting here,
contemplating the assorted knots and infinities
of air, the indefinite assemblies of clouds,
as if there were something to be proved.
If I stepped into the square and shouted
that our days are just recycled shifts in wind—
undirected cosmic grit—where would that get me?
I’d be taken for another street crazy
and everyone would turn away.
I wrap a scarf around my neck and walk out
in morning fog as if on some essential task . . .
I put on a hat like any bald-headed banker
on his way to meet investors. But no one’s
fooled and the newspapers pile up unread
on the porch—the same historical menu
posted in the windows for centuries
as we pass by.
It did no good to
acknowledge cause and effect between
holes in my shoes and the roadside paths
I walked home on, because, just as they planned,
it took 40 years to work out from under
installment plans for Vacuum cleaners,
Life Insurance policies, a full set of
Encyclopedia Britannica, and a Fiat
that blew its timing belt and bent
every valve only days after the warrantee
The only explanation ever given
was that we were all guilty of something,
karma we’d have to pay back with our lives
as we got on and off the bus. Who remembers
how long ago you lost count of summer stars
and thus most aspects of hope?
in a white uniform shirt with silver stars
pasted on my collar for resonant recitations
in French, I never imagined I’d be greeting
the remains of my days on a bench in the park,
a rumpled antecedent of dust blown seaward
off the cliffs, day-dreaming of Menorca or Marseilles.
But after rubbing a few sticks of philosophy together
in my mind, wasting time on the unsubstantiated
relics of belief, there was no other conclusion
to come to.
Accordingly, I settled for idleness,
any unused idea of what’s waiting for us
out there between those stars, and invited it
to pull up a seat by the fire and consult
with me and the moon-flecked wisteria,
watch the past float by on smoke . . .
as good a place as any to pick up
Mockingbirds are content
with 100 variations on the theme, believing
each branch will last, unlike everything
we know of our bodies failing to be us
anymore as we try to avoid the ineluctable
return to leptons and quarks, star cinders
swept into the dark.
So what’s available
to us beyond autumn’s closing arguments,
time traveling off with the last appeals
of thistles and oat straw, sprays brilliant and
blinding as the entire expanding spindrift
and galactic spread?
The soul, Szymborska says,
is a kind of fog that outlasts our flesh and bones—
but if I have a soul, evidence thus far points
to it being lazy, or altogether misplaced?
I see no reason to think we’re coming back,
going further than the here and now
where I find little to do but nod in and out
on the chaise longue, even though memory
wants to go over everything again as if
more effort, more elbow grease might
produce the desired result.
Still, it doesn’t
look like eternity’s going to arrive—though
the main thing about doing nothing is
you’re never sure when you’re finished.