Gretchen Fletcher 


On the 100th Birthday of Poet Stanley Kunitz


After we sang the standard song into the night air of the Sierras,
hoping it would reach him somewhere, and he’d know,

the poets rose one by one to recite the words of peers
and predecessors. Galway set the tone with his own poem -

something about a birthday cake and his young son
and how love eases remembered pain.

Then Sharon and Lucille, Robert, Brenda, each offered
a gift of words, and lesser poets, emboldened, stood

to recite Chaucer, Donne, Plath, and Carroll.
All joined in on parts they knew, as flowing wine

released the lines they’d memorized - how long ago? - 
some lines reduced to a cadence of da dum’s.

Then Kevin added the fun-sad sound of blues
and finally someone led us and we sang, “Amazing Grace,

how sweet the sound…,” poets singing those old words
thinking about Stanley being a hundred.

When our memories were exhausted and the wine was gone,
we went out into the dark to see our words sparkling

in the Milky Way. Silhouetted lodge pole pines pointed the way
for them to fly through the night air of the Sierras to Stanley.



In the Moment                                                               

I came at him from the back on my walk
through a passageway I’d always hurried along
from Old Masters and Impressionists
to the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.
I’d passed him many times and never stopped –
just one in a room full of Buddhas –
larger-than-life granite ones,
tiny gold ones in glass cases.

It was his back that stopped me this time. Something
about the solid wall of it.
No musculature carved into the stolid stone,
no sculpted backbone to hold him so erect.

I walked around to face him, surprised
by his flat stomach. His crossed knees
wore the patina usually polished
on a fat belly by years of caresses.

On his pedestal I read

Buddha Seated in Meditation
India 12th Century

For nine centuries he had lived in the moment.
I wanted to stop tourists hurrying through his passageway
mentally checking off “must-sees”
Nighthawks, American Gothic,
and the Lichtenstein Retrospective.

“Stop!” I wanted to tell them.
“Don’t think ahead to what is in the next room
or look back at what you missed in the galleries upstairs.
Be aware only of
the now
in this passage
with me
and my straight-backed                                                                      



Transfiguration at Tanglewood


Ozawa’s mighty arms spread out like wings
to bring a symphony across the lawn.
The orchestra’s broad brass and sustained strings
fling out gold stars that light the sky like dawn.
Mahler echoes out across the hills
and drops like rain from Berkshires’ massive pines
down on my ears until my whole soul fills
and makes me feel as drunk as though from wine.
Our picnics packed so carefully lie shut
lest opening them would break the music’s spell,
and stop the train of Mahler’s powerful thought.
While in my heart the music starts to swell
like a balloon too large for me to hold.
It bursts and I become those stars of gold.





One of Gretchen's poems won the Poetry Society of America’s Bright Lights, Big Verse competition, and she was projected on the Jumbotron as she read it in Times Square. She frequently travels to poetry readings and book signings and leads writing workshops for Florida Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress.