The Tardy Times

         Left With the Wonder
         and other poetry

                        Left with the wonder of the night's debris,
                               the dreamer stirs uneasily;
                               empties shadows,
                               pokes stuff,
                           Takes time to shift an aberration

                           But now enough! To dig beneath
                             might bring
                             another dream!

                                                                        MSL: 1976



POEMS in this online chapbook were composed by Melda Irene Schwab Ludlow (1919-2005).
After her brilliant mind was addled and then shut down by dementia, the poems were retrieved from jumbled files in her hillside home above a redwood grove in Mill Valley, Calif.  Several  light-hearted poems were given to family and friends, but she never showed her serious work to anybody. Only a few are dated. A perfectionist, she rewrote and rewrote "The Redwood Grove," "Come Rain" and many others. The different versions, each with its own charm or power, are included in this collection. Most were typewritten between 1955 and 1990, but some were found in notebooks dated as early as 1930.

      In one of the world's most succinct poems, Melda wrote about herself:

                       I let the days
                         obliterate me 
     The daughter of pioneer Montana families, Melda  grew up in the Bitterroot Valley and studied writing with Harold Merriam at the University of Montana. In 1932, she married pianist John Ludlow. In Caldwell, Idaho,  she began a long association as editor and later as book consultant for Caxton Printers Ltd. World War II sent the family to San Francisco and then to suburban Mill Valley, where she reared her sons, Lynn, Conrad and Roger, and founded the Tamalpais Writers Workshop. John died in 1991 at their summer home in Kenwood, Calif.
    Disabled by a memory-killing stroke in May 2002, Melda became a patient in a nursing home and died three years later at age 95. (Her newspaper obituary is reprinted on a sister page, Melda: Secret Poet.)  Her family wishes to offer her poetry to the world.

                        Lynn Ludlow        Conrad Ludlow        Roger Ludlow

                                        By way of a Foreword

                                                   Every sky is blue and sunny.
                                          Every face you see is glad.
                                          There's no greed or need for money
                                             Or a synonym for "bad."  

                                          Here each man is each man's brother.
                                          Here we sleep untroubled sleep.
                                            Every day is like the other.
                                            Even children never weep.

                                         Here each man is each man's brother
                                         Here the cows give golden cream.
                                           Every day is like the other.
                                           If we don't soon leave, I'll scream.


          I.       Poems Secreted in Her
                 Scrambled Files

       II.     Poems for Family,
                Friends and Fun

      III.    Scribblings 

        IV.     Haiku 
      V.      Postscript: "Grief"

                                                                                            Melda in Caldwell, Idaho:  1938  

I.  Poems secreted in her scrambled files


Here is a lament
for the poem I wrote.
with words whirling about
in a cave of thought
whiter than frost.

It sparked and pirouetted,
winked and went out.,
burning to embers,
sizzled and left a dark spot.



There is an evening
  coming in
Across the fields, one
  never seen before.
That lights no lamps.

Silken, it seems at a
   distance, yet
When it is drawn up
   over the knees and breast
   it brings no comfort.

Where has the tree gone,
   that locked Earth to the sky?
That is under my hands,
   that I cannot feel?
What holds my hands down?

On the Rim of the Hill

Come with me. We'll walk
Today on the rim of the hill.
We'll go slowly, single file,
And let the longing to roll
Down this golden slope
Pass as a dangerous hope.

See, I push a rock.
Watch how it teeters,
Tipping rhymically before
It wobbles, races, hurtles
Bang! against a barricade
Of trees and tangles
In a swag of fallen leaves.

Let us dream on this dry grass
Away from the wind
Beside a giant boulder.

If you could come with me
In early May, wildflowers
Will stand to see us pass by,
And caterpillars wave.

We'll see miniature canyons,
Ferns (fronds combed) grow tall.
See how they bend,
Staring into their water mirror.        

The path we follow dips, yes, up
And then down below the hill's crown.
The view  deceives me.
See how it appears to be
A child's Crayon drawing
Of the edge of the sky,
Meeting the sea.    


The Princess in the Spell

Give me moonlight, not the sun.
How long each day –– a year?
How many years do I lie here
in my cobwebbed dungeon?

The princess in the spell am I,
locked in another time.
I have passed it pleasantly!
My mind has wings, and I am free
to wander where I will, invisibly.

Why should I wish for the prince
to kiss me wide awake,
and break the castle's spell?
If his prisoner I'm to be,
    what will he be to me?



More subtle in imagination,
desire remains in the
curious mind!
Should we leap
to shadowed cliffs
to share in the storm's
recovery by
shifting clouds?
Or should we long
for tardy restoration,
leaving riddles long sought
to be solved again?


Melda, often reluctant to sign off on a poem, wrote several versions of  the death of her mother, Lillian Hull Schwab, stricken by appendicitis in Oregon while on a camping holiday in 1914. 

Death of a Mother (I)

I was four years old
when my mother died.
They did not tell me
so I did not know
why Grandma did not talk,
why she rocked back and forth,
creak crock,
in her rocking chair.

The clock was loud
in the quiet room:
tick-tock, tick-tock,
Papa bowed his head
over white papers
on the table
in the lamplight's glare.
"Where's my doll?" I said.
But Grandma said,
"It must be time
for you to go to bed."

 tick tock.
Papa hugged me.
Grandma took my hand
and led me to the stair.
"No," I said. "I'll wait for Mama."
I went to sleep
on Grandma's lap.          

To forget the night she died,
the ticking clock,
the dark behind the door,
I  remember a summer day,
the yard overgrown with dandelions,
the grass thick where we sat,
and the way she lifted out
small sandwiches from a wicker basket
before she poured the lemonade
into thin glasses.
And the cake (a surprise)!
I watched while she cut small slices
after the sun moved behind the trees.

Death of a Mother  (II)

The day my mother died
our house was filled with people.
Aunt Daisy hugged me.
"You've lost your mother," she said.

She did not say my mother was dead.
She said instead, "You'll understand
someday when you are older."

Papa, Grandma and I stay
in a circle of light,
a lamp that keeps the dark away,
the dark that shines through windows,
in the dark behind the doors.

The clock tick-tocks.
Grandma's chair crick-crocks,
crick-crocks, crick-crocks.
No one talks.
The doll with no hair
rocks in my chair.
Crick-crock, crick-crock.
Papa says: "Stop"!


     At the camp, a final family photo
Death of a Mother  (III)

The clock tick tocks.
Grandma's chair crick-crocks.
The doll with no hair
Lies under my chair.
Papa strikes a match
To light the lamp
To take away the dark.


And the wolf at my door
Will come bearing garlands
And again . . . Again –– yes
He will bring more
With headless stems.                


The Soul

I asked: "What is the soul?
Is it round? Is it small?
Could it be one and one-half by one,
And three-fourth inches
In a cubical dimension?
Could we keep it in a bowl
Of silver, or of gold,
Or squash it in a roll?"

"It is most remarkable,"
People said to me.
"Very remarkable.
But the soul you'll never see."

"Does it rise like a moth,
Then flutter helplessly?"
Does it change,
Does it grow?"

"Don't ask," they said.
"We do not know."   


At the Auction

What am I offered
for this dish of green enamel?
Do you see the vines
entwined with lotus blossoms?

In the center
glistens a topaz
in a circle of pearls
said to bring wisdom.

Historical records
speculate that here occurred
the immaculate conception
of the Queen of Babylon
(herself a virgin!)

Her egg mingled
in a cloud of murky ecstasy
with the sperm
of unidentified kings
thus perpetuating
a race of virgin maidens
resembling birds!



Wandering in a dark garden
Between the moon and sea,
    I walk among ruins of statues.
And stone eyes stare at me.


Melda worked and reworked several poems, including "The Redwood Grove."  This may be the earliest version, written on foolscap after the family moved in 1943 to a Mill Valley house overlooking the redwoods of Old Mill Park. 

The Redwood Grove (I)

At midnight in the Redwood Grove,
shadows lounge
over trees with ancient boles
where silver lichen glows.

Floating mist will cover all
these carpets of leaves.

The witches' children play
with cones and bark.
By the light of the moon
it is no longer dark.

When the midnight theater's
doors are closed,
the mothers know
it's time to say,
"Come now children,
you must go to sleep.
It is almost day!"
The Redwood Grove (II)

Sunlight, glinting through pale mist,
flicks upon redwood trees
through breeze-swayed branches,
glancing at blackened roots,
piercing the waving fans of boughs.
The midnight theater has closed its doors.
There will be no matinee.  

The Redwood Grove (III)

When dawn's light streaks into the shapeless dark
    of the Redwood Park,
    no one is listening to breezes.
No one is waiting to watch
    the sun spreading carpets of gold
    over needles and cones
    or know when the midnight theater
    closed its doors.
There will be no matinee.

             Melda: Never satisfied.                

The Redwood Grove (IV)

Through thinning gauze, shadows lounge
    on trunks of trees.
In hollow boles of ancient stumps,
    pale lichen glows.

While drifting veils of mist
    hover over shriveling vines
    that, dying, climbed and changed
to withered husks.

The sun is coming up, streaking light
    into the shapeless dark
    and, falling, flips spots
    of shimmering dots
    into the redwood park,
    sprinkling beams through needle fringe,
    tossing a carpet of golden color
on the forest floor.

The midnight revels  are over.

The theater is closed.
There will be no matinee.    

The Redwood Grove (V)

It moves when I'm not looking.
Sunlight slices night's leftover dark
with shimmering veils
of thinning fog in the redwood park.

Haze hovers over gnarled roots
and hollow boles lichen-trimmed
by witches amused to see their children
play house at midnight
with cones and bark
in the fairy tale woods.

A tireless hiker until her mid-80s, Melda loved the Steep Ravine Trail from Pan Toll in Mt. Tamalpais State Park down a canyon to Stinson Beach.

  On the Trail to the Sea

Early morning in spring
we walk down the Steep Ravine,  
stepping through floating shadows
of sea birds' wings!
Sun streaks splatter over
dark fern meadows.
On wet moss a splatch of light:
The sun? Or the petal of a trillium?


"Come Rain" was first composed in 1930, when Melda was a student of Prof. Harold Merriam at the University of Montana. The first version appears in a notebook probably written in the summer of 1932. As with "The Redwood Grove," Melda would rewrite "Come Rain" many times in the next half century.

Come Rain
 ("very early draft")

Wind sing white songs
Come rain, play cloud songs.
Tall aspen trees play,
The leaves with silvery shakings,
Frilly in pianissimo!
When will I know
Their inner-circled gladness?

Come Rain (I)

Come rain, with windy songs
And play purple-tipped cloud songs.
Over and over, one song.

The trees, back and forth with madness,
Sway in swooning delight
For their pale green music.

And laughing aspens
Play with silver shakings,
Frilly things that turn backwards,

And I in poor distress bend hysterically,
Trying puffingly to sing and sway
And know this inner-circled gladness.

The dim tips of the trees
Through the sun and the rain
Shine mistily.

And pale shadows float through the canyons
In white mystery.

The cool-round notes descend
Through the tall flat
Always over lakes and ponds,
Dark sounds in the rustling stillness
Become from mournful throats
A separate beauty,


Come Rain (II)

Come rain with windy songs
and play purple-tipped cloud songs
over and over.
One song.
Water, dancing blue,
sing in white tips.

The trees, back and forth
with madness,
sway in swooning delight,
groping for their pale green music.
And laughing aspens play
with silver shakings,
frilly things that turn backwards

And I in poor distress
bend hysterically,
to sing and sway and know
this inner-circled gladness.

Come Rain (III)

Puffling, whuffling,
the wind blows from the lake,
ripping through treetops
near the shore,
carrying wind music,
fluttering the aspen trees
with silvery shakings,
frilly in pianissimo.

I sing and sway
and know
this inner-circled gladness.


The Chilly Knees of Nuns

Beneath the cross of gold,
     the cupola, the tower,
     the flying pigeons
     and the tolling bells,

Behind a row of dormer windows,
     the chilly knees of nuns
     find hollows in the floor.

O, knees that flinch
     shake, grow numb
     at orison though
     ignorant of sin
     may search for ease.

To know at benediction
     upon receiving grace
     their chilly knees, like Jesus'
     lambs, may now
     their trembling cease.


In Love With Love

I told my mother one day in spring:
I am in love with love.
She said, "That can't be true!"
I replied:
     "On a walk today,
     Flowers stood as I passed by,
     A caterpillar waved,
     Hummingbirds flew over ferns,
     I dropped clichés on a violet bed.
     I heard a meadowlark beside
        the creek.
     I followed a winding trail
     Up the sloping side of a hill.
     I stared at the skimming milky
     And birds above I heard
     Repeating three notes over and
        over. . . "

"That is all very well, "
       my mother said,
"But you didn't make your bed,
You didn't clean your room.
And where is the bread
You said you'd bring
When you came home?"


I Dreamed

Six hens from one coven
Flew away in the night.
They left a useful map
Scratched quite clearly in the sand.
The tide may wash it off by noon.
Will we ever get it right?
Did they fly east of the sun?
Or west of the moon?


(early draft)

His pale blue eyes,
watering from a yawn,        
surveyed the room,
discovered hers –– brown, shining.

Behind his eyes,
a landscape desolate,
bleak with jutting precipice
and wind-worn carapace,
A spring appeared, a rivulet,
broadening to a pool.
Slowly a blade or two of grass
became a mossy carpet.
A tree's dead branches
budded quickly and blossomed.

She, secure in her paradise
of ferns and violets,
returned his gaze.

           Encounter (I)

              His eyes survey
              the crowded
              discover hers
              appraising him
              as she returns
              his gaze.
Encounter (II)

A spring appeared.
A rivulet, broadening to a pool.
A blade or two of grass
became a mossy carpet.
A tree's branches budded,
quickly leafed and blossomed.
She, secure in her paradise
of ferns and violets,
her inner habitation
flower-filled, returned his gaze.


Mill Valley's streets are lined with elderly plum trees

A Season of Abundance

Surprised by mist,
plum trees bloomed
popcorn white.
Ignored by wind,
green knobs turned red,
ripened, fell,
to be picked up
by boys in need
of ammunition,
littering sidewalks,
stepped on,
become a feast
for hungry birds,
seeds for bees and wasps.

At season's end,
a mobile hangs
on a broken limb
where seven plums
move languorously
in perfect balance.
Mr. Grant's boy
sketched it twice.
His mother said, "How nice!"
But he lost it
on his way to school.



The way is illumined
by myth and dream
locked in cabinets of night.
The truth is found
as stars find dark
and foam finds rock.
Yet splintered visions
shimmer ever shimmer.


Midnight Dream

Why do they come
     at midnight
     or at dawn
to repeat the command,
     "Turn, stand, and pass."

Everyone marches out
     and away.
But you are told
     to stay
in the closet
     forever and ever.

Will you pound
     on the door?
Wipe tears from your sleeve
     or dream?

The dream. Why does it come
    at midnight
    or at dawn,

Repeating the words,
    again and again,
    "Turn, stand, and pass"?

The teacher told you to stay.
     When the bell rings.
     everybody goes.    

You stay,  locked in the closet,

Designers' Choice

This gown, number 733267 eleven 542,
 is our designers' choice for fall.
The material is a novel weave
 of spider webs and bees' nests
with a finishing fringe
of moth wings shimmering
under the autumn moon.

You may also wish
to order raindrops
set in circling webs,
sparkling as you dance
at the Harvest Ball.

On this rack is your cloak
of sackcloth and ashes
to wear with this crown of thorns.
(We are pleased to inform you
that our staff will keep them
at no extra cost.)



Are you suffering
In darkness and despair?
No longer dread the thing,
Become your pain!
Untie the knot.
The pain unraveled
will be a silken skein.


The eyes of the birds closed
     flocks floated
        on lakes, rivers, seas,
           a strange flotilla
                no longer in the sky.
Birds fell
  onto the streets,
   lawns, fields, canyons,
    groves, parks, mountain tops.
     They fell from trees and cliffs
        out of the skies of China, Uganda,
           Australia, Germany (East and
             West)  and Tennessee, U.S.A.  Some birds hopped about before their
 claws curled up.  Gone now are the
  singing birds
    the squawking birds
      (such as the hawk), gulls,
        sand cranes, plovers, finches,
          robins and larks.
Never will they run along the sand or sing
 from a bush,
   never fly to North or South
    in properly aligned migrations,
      or one by one at fountains
        come to sip.
Did we fear the birds,
   flinch at eagle's wrath,
     shudder at the calumny of gulls,
      the squawk of parrots,
        sneer at mourning dove's despair?
 Why was the pupillary measure
   of God's high precision eye
     only set to watch for fallen sparrows
        in the sweet bye and bye?   


Space Is Not Empty (I)

Space is not empty
  but filled with sound.
The voice alone and multiplied
In shout, hoorays, and song.
Sirens, whistles, bells,
  cat-calls, scoldings, yells;
Whispers and howls,
  crashes and blasts,
A ticking clock
  the sound of the sea;
Chimes and gongs,
  bugles and horns;
The tinkle of glasses,
  the rustle of grasses.
The cry of a hawk,
  a button that buzzes,
The clamor of presses,
  the splash of a rock,
And the fall of a tree.

Space is not empty
  but filled with smells,
Of fumes and gasses,
  and in the country,
  ferns, moldering leaves,
And eucalyptus trees.
In sunny valleys,
  the smell of grapes,
  apple scent,
And the clean, sweet smell
  of golden wheat.         

Yes, there are odors
   from bathhouses,
   laundries, and farms
   where cattle and horses
   remain in barns.
Just think of odors
   from breweries, canneries
   and chocolate factories!

Space is filled with smells
   of fish in markets,
Or fresh from the sea,
   of apples baking,
Steaks broiling,
   and chicken fricassee.
Of baking bread,
   and Chinese rice,
Cinnamon and cookie spice.

Of course, sometimes,
one smell combines
With curry and ducks,
   boiling fudge,
And diesel trucks.

Space is not empty
  but filled with thoughts
Coming in waves,
   emotional shocks
That stagger the brain.
Yes, clouds of thoughts,
   crowds of thoughts,
Agitate, churn, and burn
   with schemes, designs, escapes.


The Dark (I)

Beneath my deep beneath
It is very dark.
I cannot find a circle.
I cannot find a dot
In the dark beyond the dark.
Nothing is zero,
Zero is naught.                 

The Dark (II)

Underneath the dark,
What is here?
A hole in the wall,
A bud on the belly?
The center of a circle,
The middle of a splash,
The fulcrum of a universe?
A pinprick in a cave,
The point of pointless dreams?
Left alone to dally
in an undirected search,
To go beyond the dark
To another universe?



Out of his cage,
a green parrot strays
into a garden
where he stays
five ecstatic hours,
enjoying the sweet perfume
of a variety of flowers.

How sad it is that soon
he falls into a swoon
and then, alas, he's caught
to wake up in the zoo.

Asked (as he was taught)
to squawk out words
of "cracker talk,"
his reply is, "Why?
I will, of course,
but when, pray tell,
are you at tell me
what to say?


The Creek (I)

The creek was heard talking
last night
after the rain.

I heard water
in strange tongues,
blurting out secrets,

What had it said?
"Rush, hush."
I strained my ears,
listening to words change.
I heard giggling, babbling,
the water switching consonants
and oh, the cascade of verbs
until the crash of boom after boom!

The Creek (II)

After the storm,
Dogs did not bark, rain stopped,
   Wind did not blow.

I woke up.
The creek was talking.
I went to the door.
Waters murmured,
   slide-slipping mirthfully
Over under.
Verbs babbled.
Torrents fell.
Consonants were glissading.
I shut the door,
   afraid to hear secrets
   from strange tongues?

November Moon (I)

I remember the moon
softly shining on summer lawns.
I dream of a woman
reading a letter under the blossoming pear.

I remember the moon,
brilliant in Montana skies,
and the time I climbed out the window
to dance with bare feet
on the grass wet with dew,
not caring if anyone knew.

Now I seldom see the moon.
It takes too long to rise
above the redwood trees,
especially in autumn.
Tonight after remembrances
of moon-viewing have left me,
the moon is shining on my pillow.

I must go outside to see
withered leaves wind-lifted,
dancing with ink blots.
Vines on stone walls ripple
in unfamiliar ways.
The moon slashes through patterns,
cutting dark from light.

The moon does not cover me.
I cannot dance with shadows.
This is the November moon.                   

            November Moon  (II)

            Moon, mottled pebble, rises high
            beyond  redwood trees,
            changes them to screens,
            splatting light on the terrace.
            Its silver streaks cut up the dark
            while bay leaves, wind-lifted,
            dance with ink blots.


The April Dream
of Sister Mary Teresa

   in a dream
I saw myself
   pasted upon the lemon sky.
Above my left shoulder
   was a gold-ringed cloud.
Above my right shoulder
   the moon-rind and a star.

At my feet were seashells.

Yet I did not know this "I"
   who stood there
   mounted upon the sea,
   pinned upon the air,
Until the observer became the observed.

O   then ––
   I felt the wet sand bruise my feet,
   and gloried in the salty foam
   upon my unbound hair!

To Wanderers in a Tone Poem

Through shimmering aisles, follow bravely
While spiraling  terraces taper
Into trembling light,
Past tall halls where echoes ring
Down vast unknown corridors
Where a forgotten candle gleams
Shadowing grotesquely our giant movings.

Follow bravely and hear not lost cries
Of fettered souls chained and moaning.
Hark! The chorale swells, and vast choruses
Kneel to each other and gleamingly beckon.
But listen not to the spawning torrent
Where roaring water falls over a deep abyss
And an Evil Eye flickeringly winks.
Blind your eyes and ears to this torment.

  What Gods will guide us
  To our flowering ecstasy?
  To cloistered mystery?
  To pearled promise?

Float on wings of sound
While crystal strikes crystal,
Shattering prismatic existence,
To fade, submerged in heavenly sighs,
And dreamily dies.   


Have You Heard ?  (I) 

      Have you heard
cool round notes
among tall reeds
         by a lonely pond?

Dark sounds
     small sounds
           round sounds
whispering "Soon," "Soon"?

Have you heard
    when the wind
          whispers to
    tall flat reeds
          in a lonely pond?

Have You Heard ?  (II)

Have you heard,
as you wander
by shores of lakes and ponds
(where a small stream's passage ends),
a sad legato music
diminishing to whispers
at the rims of lakes and ponds?

Have You Heard ?  (III)

The wind whispers songs
over lakes and ponds
and descends
to whisper a cool round
through a tall green reed.


The Aster Bed

The Countess Condini,
looking through the slit
in her velvet draperies,
observed the curling heaps
of maple leaves
that the night wind had blown
upon the withering stalk
of the aster bed.

Only one aster, which appeared
to be a wig dyed by mistake
in faded purple streaks,
remained on the sloping greensward.

Frost patches spotted
the shriveled grass.



Birth and Death of an Hour

Whirl the coiled leaf
     gently, let it now uncurl.
See, underneath the silver sheath
     are gossamer threads
     the silky seed
     of milkweed.

Look how these trembling webs
     unwind –– unwind!
We cannot wait till dusk
     to ravel out
     the darling hour
     and scissor-slash
     the gleaming husk!



                Should I shun
                a wallow of words
                of ancient tongues
                juxtaposed to celebrate
                the prose and poetry
                of ancient men,
                their days long gone?



II. Poems for family, friends and fun

    Well! Just suppose He came
    To change our water into wine.
    How difficult to explain
    We'd rather have champagne!

The Giant Letter Dream

      I dreamed I wore a giant letter
         on the top of my head,
         and other people in my dream,
         walked with me to and fro,
         all holding giant letters
    on shoulders, arms, and heads.

    And then we put them on the floor
         to play with A's and B's,
         slide easily down V's
    stroll under T's.

    Was it an accident, a rule broken,  
         when four letters made a word?
         Well! Everyone left it
         where it stood,
    and stiffly walked away.


The Salutary Effect of Doggerel

Oh, the Spondees and the Dactyls
Kicked up their Pyrrhic Feet
At the Trochees in Iambic
Because they were not neat!

Above their end-stopped lines
The Heroic Quatrain clung,
Intercepted, rhythm-sprung!

Still unstressed was Doggerel.
My syllables will not retreat,"
He said to Hudibras.
"A left-hand pass will win the meet."

Melda corresponded for half a century with her college friend, Cornelia Francis, a teacher who lived on a ranch near Arlee, Montana.   Cornelia and Melda in the 1970s


Still Life   

"The way is
   not by thread through labyrinth,
   and not through time,
   O  children.

"The truth is not found huddled
   in the dark-crotched wood,
   nor searched for with a candle
   in the rain of tears
   again to rain.

"O  children, the way is
   not by raft across the river
   (where the saints will gather
   by the beautiful river).

"The truth is here
   where all the walls are whirling
   and the vortex is a prayer,
   and the way is,
   the way is,
   the way is illumined
   you will find.

"Yet splintered visions shimmer ever,
   ever shimmer
   in the mirror
   of the mind."

            Still Life  (II)

The way is not by thread through labyrinth
    and not through time.
The truth is not found huddled
    in the dark-crotched wood,
    nor searched by candle flame
    in a rain of tears
    again to rain.

Where all the walls are whirling,
    the heart, a plumb-bob,
    slowly is unwound.
These splintered visions
    do not shimmer.
The mirror turns around.
                 For Cornelia:  1970


Unnoticed under cracks and stones,
Seeds fell, grew  green leaves
And flowered shyly.
Vines clambered,
Spraying leaves upon a naked wall.
Violets, daffodils, tulips, roses.

Amy left her study of arrogant queens,
And irregular verbs (in French, of course),
Also, biological development of worms and frogs
In a very dull book.

Skipping on a lawn of grass,
She surprised a butterfly
On her long yellow hair.
                             For Amy: 1978


In August 1958, Melda  turned into poetry a letter from her son Conrad, today a professor of dance at the University of Utah.  He was then an Army draftee languishing in Korea. Although he would go on to a distinguished career with the New York City Ballet, in his letter he looks back to his youth with the San Francisco Ballet's director, Lew Christensen, as "the happiest times."

                       Conrad at 18


These are the times
        that I remember,
        the happiest times!

A morning class in ballet.
Lew, the master teacher
with the slow ritual
of the beginning plies,
the body's knowledge
slowly slowly heightened

with the clean pure exercises!

The mind absorbed in complex
    swift movement,
    the body-mind prepared,
    warmed by a master-teacher,
    then a jigsaw pattern
    to the dance puzzle,
    swept up by music,
    becoming laced
    in energy and movement
    and so be it, the dance
    that whorls, whorls you
    into itself!        

(It is that moment, I suppose, that
the "spirit is free in beauty,"
and the body cleansed
in the abstraction of pure dance.)

And in the performance
    concentration of time
    and energy and life
    squeezed into a capsule
    is like a gambler's
    exhilarated coolness
    (everything is happening now!)

In the performance,
    omnipotence rises
    and the surging blood
    is the master speedometer!


Conrad  and Violette Verdy, then principal dancers with the New York City Ballet, performed  Balanchine's "Tschaikovsky Pas de deux" –  and inspired Melda to write a fantasy libretto.

'Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux'

In sadness I was walking,
In sadness I was walking
Looking for anemones,
Looking for anemones
In the melting snow.

In sadness I was walking,
In sadness I was walking
Snow-clouds hid the hills
And the town below.

I dreamed I saw a glade
Where dazzling sun
Shone brightly down
Through the forest shade.

Behold! A maid.
     If she is flower,
         He is sun
     Who suddenly through
         Clouds may come.
      If he is music,
         She is lyre,
      If she is jewel,
         He is fire!

     As light as summer
         Laughter, she runs;
     Is caught; lifted,
         Lowered, swings,
         Is whirled!
    He lifts her high,
        And higher
     Did they vanish
        Over the Maytime hill?

In sadness I was walking,
In sadness I was walking
Looking for anemones,
Looking for anemones
In the melting snow.


Melda was entranced by the first space flights.

The Astronauts (I) 

At the count-down, the count-up, the count-down,
     the rocket waits, surrounded by hum and glow
     of myrmidons shifting to and fro.

Now he slides into his pearly pod (the astronaut).
     They know him (the people of Earth).

They know his muscles, his twitches, his pain,
     his fatigue, endurance, his strain.
They know the measure of his brain,
     his temperature, his blood-count,
But they cannot know his pain
     at the count-down, the count-up, the count-down.

Voices can reach him of love and
     Will he burn into cinders, the astronaut man?

Will he orbit forever and ever, caught in an unplanned span,
     or dissolving, becoming thinner and thinner
     while people on Earth are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
O Astronaut!  Astronaut-man!

There it is, the count-down, the count-up, the count-down!
He is shot from the pad, hurled through time and through space
  (a good boy who stays in his place!)

Will the rocket break and drop like a comet?
     Fall the flaring fire of twisted chars?
     Now look, the astronaut shoots to the stars!                                      

  The Astronauts  (II)

Sunrise, moon, and sundown: A  god
     in his chariot is riding over the world
     over and over, around and around.
A god in a pod, a pearly pod,
     now weightless, whirls into night.

"He will be lonely," said people of Perth,
     "This one man only who left the earth."

So they turned on the lights in the city of Perth
     to cheer him (poor astronaut)
     as he twisted and twirled
     around and around the world.               
Astronauts (III)

Our sun is red;
Our moon is silver;
Our world is blue.

Now two little men,
crawling on a crater
Named Copernicus,
Are laughing at you.

"It looks good, Pete!
     "Looks good!
     "Looks good!
     "Hee, hee, hee!"

"Repeat that," says Dean.
     "Fantastic, Pete.
     "Fantastic, Bean."

"Hee-hee! "Hah-Hah!"
"The sky is black,
O Houston, see, how black.
We're digging under all
that rock and guff."

"Hee-hee! "Hah-Hah!"

"But what's this other stuff?"
"Glass? Glass! Glass!"           

"Our moon is round,
And made of glass.
Our moon is old;
O, Very very old."

O yeah? Indians say
it was thrown into the sky
by Coyote in a rage.

People believe our moon is a mirror.
By its light the jungle
sparkles, and the sea moves.
Other people say
our moon is a cliché
for poets and lovers
and therefore metaphorically
unstable for Japanese ladies,
or Camp Fire Girls who see
it reflected in the waters
of Lake O-Kee-Chee-Wah-Mee.

Have you heard?
Our sun is red;
our moon is glass
(really, only a bubble),
and inside the bubble
there's nothing but gas!

O Fly as a Cloud

"Who are these that fly as a cloud,
and as the doves to the windows?"

                               Isaiah 60:8

O fly as a cloud
    as a dove to your window!

And drowse where lions browze with lambs
     in zephyr-burdened clover,

To hum while butterflies laze wings
     and hover over
     the green unironed hills.

Do you remember the dream?
     Bluebells and bitterroots,
     Shooting stars.

Do you remember?
     The doves, the clouds,
     the amaranthine sky,
     the silken hills you walked over,
     up and down, across the sky.


Melda's youngest son, Roger, today a building inspector in San Jose, California, studied sculpture in Italy in his youth.

The Sculptor
He saw within the stone the symmetry enclosed, questioned the unknown;
fever touched him –– lust, almost ––
to find within the stone the mystery enclosed!

Workmen roped it, jeering,
called it "lump"!
And, cursing the heavy load,
tossed it in the dump
among many shards and chunks
chiseled by his work.

How to measure –– perceive –– shifts in weight, to follow the tracery of rift and vein, soon to be consumed by frenzy and desire;
could he attack the marble?
Desire drives each stroke, the sculptor's chisel slices.

His starving body unremembered
humbly accepted the solitude of nights and days.

Doubt opens crevices; fear perforates sanctuary.

Frail hope is shattered by despair.
His dreams became narrowing passages too thin,  cracking as he explores zones unknown.
In sleep, a dream narrowing danger,
a passage through interstices
cracks a zone unknown.

Will he ever see the light-encircled stone in the shape he knows is there,
resting on shards in the sunbeamed dust, emerging blurred,  yet whole, into the light and air?
                   To Roger Daniel Ludlow :  1968

Melda  wrote these verses in the 1970s to her daughters-in-law. The former Linda Wakefield, a California deputy attorney general when married to Lynn, is now the wife of retired Judge Charles James in San Francisco.  The former Joy Feldman, married to Conrad, was a dancer with the New York City Ballet before beginning a career as a ballet teacher.


For Linda, dearest friend,
"she who has all the makings
of a queen,"  I sing with praise,
remembering the days we shared
when the voices of children
were heard on the green
and laughing was heard
on the hill.


What's in a name?
The question Shakespeare
Asked is answered here.
Joy is her name,
and joy she gives
To everyone she knows.
The measure of our joy
Overflows when we speak her name.


Melda was married nearly 60 years to pianist and music teacher John Ludlow {1909-1991}, whom she met  when they were students at the University of Montana.    

Blue Egg

What did I want to say
about the blue egg
I found  on the leaf pile?
I have forgotten. . . .
But I remember
the yellow yolk
smearing your thumb.
         For John English Ludlow: 1988

Conrad, drafted in the Army and sent to Korea, consequently described himself as "a human unit."

Human Unit

No. US56292365  lights his dream.
He is an emigrant from rainbows,
A clown who leaps as light as down,
Skimming like a water spider
On the surface of the water.

The space within his shaven head
Is a hundred thousand miles
From incoherent cries,
And stern commands to rise!

O, No. US 56292365,
Displaced in space and time,
Wishes he were dead,
And burrows under quilts
To hide a hairless head.

In 1971, a young man named Neil was the sweetheart of Melda's granddaughter Amy.

Words Played With Her Like Butterflies

Words played with her like butterflies
   she saw but could not catch.
Twinkling shamelessly, they often
   in a Bacchic dance.
And all were free to mate or match.

One day while feigning loss, pretense
   became obsession where words
Nestled in her hair; snuggly words slid
   on her ear, and others, skiing,
Tumbled carelessly in flocks.

Up, and down upon her golden locks.
Twirled in clusters, tribes, and troupes in groups,
   Perfume, plume, presume,
Doom, gloom, groom, fume and

"Terrestrial" paired with "celestial;
   "galactic" with "ecstatic,"
   "eglantine" with "asinine,"
   mocked her despair,
   played hide and seek in her hair.
But the word she wished for stayed away.

She paced the floor while scribbling "Why?"
   in her book, when suddenly,
Like Psyche, with her lamp held high
   above her lover, she beheld him
.  .  .  with a cry: "Anneal! Anneal!"
"Oh, dear one, do not leave!   You are
  the one I need to rhyme
With "heel," she blushed. "And, oh,
   "appeal,"  or maybe, "kneel"!

Anneal bowed, but with disdain:
   "I fain would be your lover,
   Not your slave." Ashamed, she cried:
   "I'll put you in another time, another
'Pray then, but do not kneel."

"You will not pair me.  Demeaning
   rhymes you'll kindly spare me."
In tears, she hid her face,
   and tried to say good-bye, but said,
Instead, "Farewell, Your Grace!"
                                For Amy:  1971


When she was a child in Mill Valley, Amy Elizabeth (Ludlow) Grigsby, now a San Francisco attorney, often stayed after school with her grandmother at 5 Cascade Way.

The Perfect Word

The invisible snail
left a silver trail
on the geranium leaves.

Amy the Fair
has the Perfect Word
(yanked from a string
of rejected possibilities)
for light, love, and life!


The Perfect Word (II)

On the evening of the day
   of the Twenty-Fourth of May,
   when the clock strikes six,
   fat angels will split
   their robes of silk.

Tears will salt their wine.

While draping the stars
   with shredded silk,
   they might foolishly let
   cherubims shoot arrows
   at the moon.

The Perfect Word (III)

Was it Amy the Fair
   who caused the ruckus up there
   when the angels heard
   that Amy sorted out
   the Perfect Word,
   the word that opens the door
   to possibilities unlimited?

She was wearing it tonight
   tied with the golden thread
   of light and life and  beauty.


The late Dorothy Tolpegin, a writer and poet, was among Melda's closest friends.


At dawn the rain
   of early autumn
wilts the fuchsia blossoms
   and all the young
   geraniums droop.
Wind-blown petals float
   in rain-filled pools.

I remember
    the beautiful face,
    the spiritual grace
of Dorothy, my friend
    who paints leaves red
    and, occasionally, gold.

Dorothy (II)

You gave to me a crystal box,
A crystal box of clearest light!
A poem I found therein
So blinding bright,
I left a tear within
The crystal box. . . .


June Day at Birch Lake

Look at these dragonflies!
They move as if their orange wings,
Translucent in the sunny
Glare of noon,
Could chart their darting
Flight to anywhere ––
Along this pond's
Ringed water-lily shore.

Yet like my thoughts,
They sometimes pause,
Make sudden stops,
Pretend to feed on dried
And broken tops of cat-tail stalks.


The Rainmakers' Song

Sing the song of the Rainmakers' making!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Sing  the song of the Rainmakers' making!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

The rain from heaven is falling
In the dark the rain is falling
On vine leaves the rain is falling
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Through mist and rain the hills are
On dry plowed fields the loam is
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

The Rainmakers are dancing, singing,
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

On rooftops the rain is drumming
Hear it dripping, plopping, plunking
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Falls the rain on rivers, lakes and pools
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Falls the rain on wise men and on fools
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!
Warm the winds westerly blowing
Billowing clouds growing growing
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Hear the thunder crashing
Whirling winds the boats are lashing
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Old Mill Creek merrily rushing
Water sports are gushing
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Sing  the song of the Rainmakers' making!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Sing  the song of the Rainmakers' making!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Rain glistens now on the redwood's bough
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Slugs and snails are out on trails
Rabbits and moles snuggle in holes
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!

Sing  the song of the Rainmakers' making!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!
Hi Yu! Hi Yee!



III. Scribblings

(Verse found on Melda's scrap paper.)
Running over rocks
    and ledges
And over fallen timber,
The mountain goat,
   braced against space,
   appears again
   on higher slopes.

Racing down mountain trails
we rest in the tall thin stems
  of meadow grass.
On far-off hills, a caravan appears,
moving slowly through patches
of shadow and sun,
descending until it sinks
into the shimmering waters
of the sunlit bay.

While we sleep.
Spiders spin, vines creep,
Rain falls on festivals in autumn.
Deer come here to eat and drink.
While on the roof, acorns drop.
Wake up!

Why do you sleep
While spiders spin
And green vines creep?

"But get you, Girl
You can't fool me ––
I know –– you can't deny
What's in your eyes.
It put me wise.
You don't saay ––
Well, Girl,
You're gay.

In the beginning,
How did it happen?
   A plan?
   A design?
   Or chance?
Flicker or fail,
Fall or rise,
Float or bloat? 

 A row of raindrops
On a plum branch in the sun
Glittered, one by one!
Raindrops, two or three,
Splinter, suddenly glitter
On the sunlit tree!
See, on the plum bough
Drops from noon rain;
Each glitters, turns sun again!

I let the days
  obliterate me.

Twelve china cows, yes,
are on the top shelf of the cabinet,
and here's the thirteenth.
Notice one horn is missing.
You could be sure
it was Aunt Maggie
who would spill the beans.
Claribel, Dorothy's turtle,
was last seen on the balcony railing.
The secret was out.
It must have been Aunt Kate
who spilled the beans.
Madcap pursuits became a hobby.
She pushed Lester
into the nettle patch
and ran.


             IV.  HAIKU

The hummingbird plucks
    cat fur from the mossy walls
        to line her nest.

The acacia tree
    in bloom before spring is here!
        Before spring.? How bold!

                      For Dorothy Tolpegin: 1978

Listen to the rain!
    Remember the summer noons?
        We rested under leaves.

Puff! The fairy seeds
    of one last dandelion
        float beyond your breath!


Again the seashell
    borrows lavender and rose
        from the evening sky.

The flying squirrel curls
    his tail, and sleeps in hollow trees
        when it's raining.

Fairer than lilies
    Stars  clouds of daffydillies.
        Lovely Linda laughs

                     (For Linda James:  1978)

See petals flying
    from trees to ground, white drifts
        we cannot step around!

To say good-bye now
   while plum buds open – how can
        we share the blossoms?


V. Postscript . . .


Llewellyn said to me,
the Humpback Whale
won't play games with me
in the caverns of the sea.

Oh do not grieve
for the Humpback Whale
but save your grief
for me!

"By Melda Ludlow"
Updated: 2008



N.B.  Found amid the wreckage of Melda's once-meticulous files are untitled copies of work by poets she admired. It's remotely possible, although unlikely, that one or two may have been inadvertently included in this collection.


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