Rejecting the Busyness of Life

At this moment, I am sitting on the back porch of our rental looking out over Lake Chautauqua as the sun sets. (I’ll include a photo at the end of the post.) My dearest love of 25 years sits by my side, quietly reading. WE HAVE ESCAPED! For four days and three nights we have set apart this time to deepen. No schedules, no specific plans; just the rare luxury of unencumbered time.

We spent the morning kayaking on the lake before chasing antique stores around the area. We had dinner at a local restaurant and I ate a single scoop of salted caramel brownie ice cream the size of a grapefruit! We bought artisan cheese and crackers for an evening snack. We just finished a 500 piece puzzle. These are rare gifts indeed.

Earlier today I read the following poem from Mary Oliver’s Devotions. It is the echo of my heart and the reason I’m here. It’s a reminder of the China that once was, and in many ways, life itself as it once was. This is just another reason why I love poetry. Oliver says do much in so little! Take the time to seek the old poets in the mountains and reject the busyness!

The Old Poets of China – Mary Oliver

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 178)

Lake Chautauqua at Sunset 8/2/21

Battling the Gorgons of Deceit & Fear

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Just over a year ago, I intended to post this poem. Tonight, it felt fitting. How easily I allow deceit to choke my peace! How easily I simply give up, rather than fight on despite the odds, frustrations, or fears. It’s just easier to believe the lie or kneel to fear.

The Greco-Roman myths, full of flawed humans and atrocious divine beings, can still provide us with inspiration. As I’ve said before, I would never wish to worship these so-called gods, but I have been drawn to the stories of some of the great heroes such as Odysseus (see Tennyson’s Ulysses, for example) and Perseus. It’s why I’ve spent the past few years writing songs about many of the most recognized constellations, which you can find under the “Songs” tab at the top of the page.

Here, it is Perseus who emboldens me to rise above my own propensity to cave to lies and fear. If you are familiar with the myth, one look at Medusa (a gorgon) turned the gazer to stone. Perseus, armed with a mirrored shield from Athena, beheads Medusa, and from her decapitated body spring Pegasus and Chrysaor. For me, it is a reminder that I need to see things more clearly so that I may battle my own gorgons and from the subtle serpents of fear and deception, release hope and purpose.

Battling Gorgons

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2015

Pernicious the root
that chokes this peace;
persistent deceit
that probes beneath

All ploddingly tread
beneath the curse;
the penance we pay
from empty purse

Dim-mirrored the hope
shadowed unknown,
the terror still turns
all hearts to stone

Oh, Perseus rise
with polished shield
that venomous lies
may be revealed

and loose from her neck
both head and horse
that winged we may fly
a truer course

Stormy Cathedrals

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When we were children, storms tended to frighten us. I’m not sure when the switch happened, but for me, they inspire reverence. Over the past week, we’ve had our share of storms where I live. This took me back to a poem I wrote almost two years ago, birthed out of a similar storm-gazing experience.

I know that Gerard Manley Hopkins doesn’t directly reference a storm in his immortal poem, God’s Grandeur, but his opening line – “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” – clearly suggests his agreement with my poetic conclusion. Nature constantly points us back to the Creator. In fact, just this week, we watched a movie called Brothers of the Wind, a beautiful story of a boy and an eagle. As an avid lover of hawks and eagles, I was easily hooked. But then the backdrop of the Austrian Alps drew me into a posture of praise as I entered behind the veil into that natural holy place.

Here then, is a simple moment of awe inspired by a less magnificent sight – a summer storm in Western Pennsylvania.

Summer Storm

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2019

There's nothing like a raw storm
to stir up the mother of wonder
gazing heavenward
where pregnant polarized clouds
birth luminous offspring
with ancient groanings
that reverberate in my soul;
and in that evanescent moment
when the world is truly charged
with the grandeur of God,
I drink deep of fermented awe
and celebrate each fulgurous child.

Ursa Major – Constellations Vol. 2

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I’ve returned to the series of constellation songs I began working on a few years ago. I had stalled out on Ursa Major, finding the Greek myth less than inspiring. There’s only so much of Zeus being a lusty deity one can stomach. On revisiting the constellation itself, I found the fact that the two stars named Dubhe and Merak can serve as a navigational pointer to Polaris in Ursa Minor far more intriguing. What if the purpose of Ursa Major is really only to point to Ursa Minor? How could that apply to my life?

In this song, which will serve as a prelude to the song I intend to write for Ursa Minor, the entire message centers around the idea that like the constellation points to something greater, we too who claim to follow Christ should be pointing to something greater. We have flipped the paradigm, seeing our own lives as the “major” focus, and our faith as something “minor,” when it should be the exact opposite. My life should pale in comparison to my Polaris, or pole star. In reality, my life should simply point to that nearly fixed star around which all others should revolve, the perfect navigational point for life itself.

Below is a rough demo of what the song will eventually be. I envision cello, percussion, and possibly some additional instrumentation if I ever get the time to complete the song professionally. As the lyrics emphasize in final line, in living and in dying, may we ever point to True North.

“Ursa Major” Track 1 from Constellations: Volume 2 by Vincent H. Anastasi 2021

Ursa Major

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

Time is my pursuer;
His weapon is my death.
He hunts me through the hours;
He comes to steal my breath.
Wounded, I am bleeding;
The autumn's turning red,
And only in the heavens will I ever find a bed,
And only in the heavens will I ever find a bed.

Ever in my dying
I light the way to life,
A blazing asterism
Most vivid in the night.
I have no other purpose
Than revealing who you are,
Plowing through the darkness, I point to the North Star,
Plowing through the darkness, I point to the North Star.

Fix your eyes upon me,
I'm a blazing double star,
An earthen constellation
That maps the human heart.
I am the horse and rider,
The evening bear that ambles forth;
In living and in dying, ever pointing to true North,
In living and in dying, ever pointing to true North,
In living and in dying, ever pointing to true North.

Lessons from the Redbreast

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A little over a week ago, a dead branch I was cutting knocked me off my extension ladder, causing me to fall seventeen feet to the lawn below. By the grace of God, I broke nothing. Once I got my breath back, I reset the ladder, climbed back up, and finished the cut. I even finished hanging the tree swing that I was working on in the first place.

Still, I was sore. When I fell, I landed on my right shoulder, and my neck ached like I had whiplash. Coughing or sneezing was a painful experience. Four days later, I was able to get in to my chiropractor. He verified that I broke nothing and gave me an adjustment. That evening, I felt like I had gone nine rounds in the boxing ring. Despite the beautiful weather, I couldn’t make myself go outside. I sat in the rocker in the large room of our addition (The Observatory) and stared out the window as I began making a to-do list for this summer.

That’s when I noticed the robin preening on my neighbor’s back porch.

I had been gifted a moment of deepening. I watched the robin clean its breast, wings, back, and tail feathers, and the seeds of this poem were planted. I was practicing Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life. May this poem echo her sentiments and invite you into the intimate, simple moments of life as well.

Redbreast Reverie

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

Sitting before sunset
held in robin reverie,
I watch the redbreast preening,
expert contortionist
whose semaphore wings
signal from my neighbor's porch:
     Pay attention.
     Be astonished.
     Tell about it.
Ritual of minutes in frozen time:
dipping beak probes wings,
dents the perfect red breast,
scratches the miraculously accessible back,
combs fanned tail feathers,
repeating the cycle again
     and again
until fluffed clean,
each feather optimally oiled and aligned,
     he waits
in no rush to abandon his perch.

I stare out my window,
then fragments of this poem
sneak onto the page
beneath the imposing to-do list.
If only my behaviors
were as simple and profound,
as pointed and delicate.
Rather, my attempts to groom life
leave me ruffled and ragged,
precariously balanced on a shifting stage.

Down by Wolf Creek
my youngest son slowly pendulates
on the tree swing
over the gently flowing waters
where earlier today
a man passed, walking upstream
looking for antique bottles
amid the silt, stones, and crayfish.

Meanwhile, the robin has flown.

I return to the unfinished poem before me,
dip my pen, probing my thoughts,
denting the perfect still of a summer's evening
to scratch the inscrutable itch,
combing memories
until each word and line
optimally placed,
     I wait
     attentive,
     astonished,
     and ready to sing!

“Most Likely to Succeed” – The Weight of a Senior Superlative

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Before June completely escapes me, let me share one of the many things rumbling about my brain over the past few weeks. I know that as a teacher, summer is supposed to start once school lets out in early June (at least here in Western Pennsylvania). But June brims over with national speech and debate tournaments, homeschool evaluations, and, this year, serving as an AP English Literature reader. I have yet to take a breath.

As the class of 2021 graduated earlier this month, I thought back to a phrase that has haunted me for nearly three decades: most likely to succeed. This evening, I quickly thumbed through my own yearbook, and though I couldn’t find it immediately, I distinctly remember being voted “Most Likely to Succeed” as my senior superlative. That’s been a heavy yoke.

I’ve read alumni magazines and heard about what others have accomplished over the years, and in that moment of measuring, I’ve felt the failure. But I don’t stay there. In fact, as I came back to that phrase this year, having heard the senior superlatives for the class of 2021 where I teach, I felt more in line with the sentiments found in the following quote best attributed to Bessie A. Stanley (not Ralph Waldo Emerson). You’ll also find the greatest testimony to fulfilling that superlative in a short documentary filmed by a former student that tells the story of the band Treebeard Brown, a band I formed with a few colleagues years ago to support a fellow colleague and his family in a difficult season of life.

I’m no longer haunted by that superlative, rather humbled by fresh perspective. And I’m brimming with gratitude.

What is Success? – Bessie A. Stanley

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others;
To give of one's self;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived -
This is to have succeeded.

Heart Throbs, Volume Two, [ed. Joseph Mitchell Chapple] (Boston: Chapple Publishing Company, 1911), pp. ii, 1-2.


The Story of Treebeard Brown

The Story of Treebeard Brown – A Reminder of What is Means to Be Successful

Elegy and Legacy: A Poem for Father’s Day

Photo from Ryland V. Anastasi – “The Anastasi Brothers”

I have been waiting all year to post this one! Although I wrote this poem three years ago, I’ve had it lingering in the digital wings for a variety of reasons. I had big dreams of this being published elsewhere, in some “reputable magazine,” but a few rejection letters later, and I’ve put that thought to rest. And it’s fitting that it should find its place of first publication here as a testament to my father and grandfather as we celebrate Fathers Day.

The poem was inspired by artifacts of my grandfather, Vincenzo Anastasi (seated on the left in the photograph), which my father sent me in the mail back in 2018. (Yes, I was named after him!) My grandfather passed away when my dad was only eight, so I never met my namesake. However, his name, which is also my father’s middle name, will continue on in the Anastasi family tree as it is one of the middle names for my second youngest son, Samuel. (Yes, he has two middle names.) I’ve told him he MUST name one of his sons Vincent to keep the streak alive!

Touching those artifacts that my grandfather held, that my father then touched as he placed them in the envelope, which I then held in my hands, felt like a bona fide wrinkle in time, a portal that linked me to my father and grandfather (and the many lives those documents represent). One day, I’ll pass those mementos on to my children and the story will continue, a reminder of where we’ve come from, an elegy and a legacy.

Elegy & Legacy

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2018

For Vincenzo Anastasi

If fingerprints like record grooves
could be played by second touch
then, oh, what songs would these pages share
whose fading ink and well-creased folds
hold the dreams of a century past:

Hear the bow waves breaking,
spreading out defining the wake you made
linking Randazzo and the Upper New York Bay
in the one-hundred-forty-third year of our Independence,
the first of yours;

Hear the toddling English, Italian-tinged
in robust voice of a ruddy, brown-eyed,
black-haired twenty-three-year-old bricklayer
who never partook in the percussion
of machine guns on battle’s stage
but sailed to serve in France
in the Great War of Civilization;

Hear the orchestration
of trowel and mortar, brick and stone,
a song of brothers
in the City of Brotherly Love,
“estimates cheerfully given,”
the ’54 Ford pulling up to Tyson Avenue
where grape crates populate the alley
behind the row houses,
and a mail order bride and five-year-old son wait.

Forty years abridged in paper and cardstock,
memorial stones
tucked neatly in an envelope
by my father,
the five-year-old approaching seventy,
a wave of my grandfather’s
every widening wake
as am I and my children, surname-linked.
I am a verse in that song,
an echo of his words –
the fingerprints on this page.

Stranger by Thomas Merton

In this busy season for me serving as an AP English Literature Reader while still being the husband, father, son, musician, and everything else I am to someone in my life, I needed this. Not only is the Merton poem wonderful, but don’t miss the Mary Oliver quote in the reflection as well!

My Pastoral Ponderings

Be still, and know that I am God!

Psalm 46:10

Stranger | Thomas Merton

When no one listens 
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.
Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune
The surrender
Of no less marvelous prize!

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws…

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Figure Drawing and Freewrite Fridays: 2D Art and Poetry

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Two years ago, one of the art teachers where I work approached me about getting a group of students together on Fridays during lunch for a bit of creative synergy we affectionately dubbed Figure Drawing and Freewrite Fridays. Students came after lunch (or during, in some cases) and sketched charcoal drawings of student or teacher models for approximately thirty minutes. Then I would give the students a writing prompt they would use to connect to one of the drawings they created.

I enjoyed the opportunity to sketch a bit myself, returning to my childhood love of drawing. At one point, I had even considered going into art before high school. I’ve included a few photos of pieces I created with the poems typed out (and slightly revised) for ease of reading. My sketching leaves something to be desired, but the short poems/creative pieces that came out of the experience were highly rewarding. A fitting way to end the school year for me as summer opens up like a blank canvas waiting to be filled!

It’s Soporific

Vincent H. Anastasi – 2019
* A poem that had to use the words Snickers, Stand, Shock, Suddenly, and Soporific

It’s Soporific by Vincent H. Anastasi 2019
It’s the rain.
I can muscle my way
through just about anything,
especially with the aid
of my Snickers mocha
with a shot of espresso.
I can stand up
under the weight
of the world’s burdens,
bear the shock
of great disappointment,
the surprises that suddenly
pop upon you.

But the rain…
it’s soporific.

Leap

Vincent H. Anastasi – 2019

Leap by Vincent H. Anastasi 2019
You know why.
You know the perpetual defeat,
the beating your head against the wall,
the failure to ever achieve
anything better than mediocrity.

The table’s worn smooth,
an eroded elbow rest.
You’ve been here before.
And you’ll be here again.

But you’ll be here.
And one day,
the stool will only temporarily
support your weight
as you step up
onto that smooth desk
and leap
and never
come
down

again.

Sometimes

Vincent H. Anastasi – 2019

Sometimes by Vincent H. Anastasi 2019
Sometimes life just feels right:
that simple contentment,
the stillness of a crisp Fall morning,
warm coffee, mug in hand.

Sometimes it’s as if every planet aligned:
the job promotion,
the raise,
the extra chicken nugget in your box.

Yes … sometimes it seems nothing can go wrong -
the world is just one perfect Disney resolution.

And sometimes I’m left watching a catastrophe -
sitting helpless - all appearances cool and collect -
like a crisp Fall morning
while the scoreboard reminds me
nothing is farther from the truth.

Violet: Poems Inspired by Color

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Finally! Of all the color poems I’ve written for this series, violet was the most challenging. Admittedly, part of the issue was simply a matter of time. As I’m sure you’ve realized, there never seems to be enough of it! If only Jim Croce could have put time in a bottle

Writer’s block, or that pesky hobgoblin – the internal critic, was the larger issue. Where do I go with violet? I know the color’s symbolic weight or the simple beauty of the flower, but both of those options felt like unbaited hooks. Nothing’s biting. So what do I do with violet?

That led to the thought, violet is the last color of the rainbow. A rainbow starts with red and ends in violet, as does this poem series. So the end is violet. I got a bite! From there it was simply a matter of imagining and refuting the many proposed ends. The first stanza came quickly, revisiting the previous six colors of the rainbow. The second stanza only came together today. Violet is the end, and that is my greatest hope and joy!

The End is Violet

Vincent H. Anastasi - 2021

The end is violet.
Not an expunging turbulent cerulean flood
nor an apocalyptic conflagration
of ashen extinction,
no rotting gangrene
devouring yellowed flesh
nor ever-expanding dark
swallowing light,
enslaving all in indigo chains.
This is not the end.

Rather, royalty-robed,
the end culminates in a wedding feast
encircling an eternal throne,
color confounding gloom
and restoring surrendered hope
wrapped about blood-stained beams.
On rolling hills of lavender
where purple hearts find awaited rest,
death yields resurrection:
Violet is the end.

Check out this beautiful song by Gungor to see how my soul responds musically to the theme of this poem!