Saturday At The Mall, A Week Before Christmas
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Actually it's about three weeks before Christmas, but the picture reminded me of a crush of christmas shoppers crowding into Macy's the day after Thanksgiving. Whatever's going on at the mall, welcome to "Here and Now" number I.xxvi. anyway.
For the past year or so, as I bounce around the various on-line poetry forums, I've been seeing a lot of Frank Miller's work. I'm pleased that he is letting me use one of his poems here.
In describing himself, Frank says that if there's any thing interesting about him it must be in the poems he writes. He was born in Scotland and educated both there and in the US. He says he works in sales management way too many hours and writes when he can. He is an oft-published poet and is justifiably proud of a piece of his that was nominated for a Push Cart Award.
Last night I stepped upon a stool
to draw a sail on the steamy mirror
which mocks me in the morning
lifting up a freckled hand
as I lift mine to shave a stranger's face.
Done, I draw my boat in the misted mirror
turn away out beyond the safe bustle
of the harbor walls where I can see
the headland's stony straggle -
and the sea.
I'm not sure I've got this right, but.....
According to the Bards of the Hala gotra, king Shalvahan, the son of Gaj founded his capital at Sorath in present-day Gujarat, where the descendants of Sri Krishna had ruled for several generations.
In the tenth generation, there came a powerful king named Hala. For twenty-two generations thereafter, this country up to Nasik was ruled by this dynasty and was called Halar. The empire included Bengal, Karnataka, Gujarat, Sindh and Kashmir.
King Hala and his descendants are said to have been supporters of literature and the arts. There is/are a clay sanskrit volume or volumes of poems said to be from the Sattasai (collection) of King Hala.
Whatever the story (and it's confused the heck out of me), these short poems are from that collection.
Even He was Abashed
Even he was abashed and I laughed
and held him close
when he went for the knot
of my underclothes
and I'd already untied it.
who can see their lovers
but without him,
sleep won't come
so who can dream?
in the clearing
eyes him with such
in the trees the hunter
seeing his own girl
lets the bow drop.
The Newly Wed Girl
The newly wed girl, pregnant already,
asked what she liked about the honeymoon,
cast a glance at her husband,
but not at his face.
You Love Her
You love her, while I love you,
and yet she hates you, and says so.
Love ties us in knots,
keeps us in hell.
These Women Plunder My Husband
These women plunder my husband
as if he were plums
in the bowl of a blind man.
But I can see them, clear as a cobra
(Poems translated by Martha Ann Selby, Andrew Schelling, and David Ray)
Usually a poem leads me to an image
But, in this case, the image led me to, not one, but two poems. They are very similar, so similar, in fact that I couldn't decide which to use. Exercising my prerogative as the boss of me, I'm using both.
The two poems were written a couple of years apart. The second poem seems considerably darker than the first, perhaps due to the additional accumulation of cynicism and existential despair that comes with the passage of two more years and a 60th birthday.
The first poem was published in Planet Magazine in 2002 and the second in Poems Niederngasse in 2004. Both are included in my book Seven Beats a Second.
blood and gristle
forged from trash
of exploding stars,
fragile, short-lived, prone
to sag and corruption,
helpless at birth,
pitiful in unremitting decay
such a poor use our body seems
of the eternal elements of creation
but lightening strikes within
tiny electric jabs that jump
from receptor to receptor,
creating art, imagining love,
finding courage, honor, theories
of our own origin, joy and laughter
to mock the truth of our condition
so much more than we appear to be
offspring of unimaginable light
seeking an antidote to dark
our place in the story of space and time
we are of the same stuff as stars,
made in the spasm of creation
that began all space and time,
static of the expanding universe,
positive and negative in influences
that form a thing we call matter
arranged in a manner we call me
not the end,
but another reformation,
a recycling of the stuff that made us
so that we might become again
a star or a tree or another babe in arms
or just a speck of universal element
drifting for as long as there is time
until it will finally come
that all the pieces find their rest
and slowly fade away in the darkness
of never-light, never-time, never-space
never was and never will be again
from nothing came all
and to nothing it will all return
Here's another one we've all read.....
but e.e. cummings is always fun to read again.
what if a much of a which of a wind
what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer's lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars away?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend blow space to time)
- when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man
what if a keen of a lean wind flays
screaming hills with sleet and snow:
strangles valleys by ropes of thing
and stifles forests in white ago?
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
- whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
it's they shall cry hello to the spring
what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
Blow soon to never and never to twice
(blow life to isn't; blow death to was)
- all nothing's only our hugest home;
the most who die, the more we live
I didn't know he was a poet
I've always been interested in history. Almost as soon as I could read, I was in the encyclopedia reading about all the English kings and Roman emperors. (When I was a kid, I loved memorizing that kind of stuff, useless lists that time has mostly erased from the hard drive. At one point I could list all the books of the St. James version Old Testament. These days I can't get past Ruth, except that I know it's the first and second books of somebody.) As a twelve-thirteen year-old, I loved historical novels. I did a whole month, I think, with the Hornblower series, was always ready for anything with pirates and buccaneers of the Spanish Main and loved historical fiction based on the French Revolution.
One of my most favorite writers of this kind of fiction was Frank Yerby.
Yerby was born in Augusta, Georgia and was originally noted for writing romance novels set in the Antebellum South. In mid-century he began a series of best-selling historical novels (my favorites) ranging from the Athens of Pericles to Europe in the Dark Ages. In all he wrote 33 novels. In 1946 he became the first African-American to publish a bestseller with The Foxes of Harrow. That same year he also became the first African-American to have a book purchased for screen adaptation by a Hollywood studio, when 20th Century Fox optioned Foxes. Ultimately the book became a 1947 Oscar-nominated film starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara.
It wasn't until many years later that I learned he was also a well known and respected poet.
Yerby left the United States in 1955 in protest against racial discrimination, moving to Spain where he remained for the rest of his life.
The Fishes and the Poet's Hands
They say that when they burned young Shelley's corpse
(For he was drowned, you know, and washed ashore
With hands and face quite gone - the fishes had,
It seems, but small respect for Genius which
Came clothed in common flesh) the noise his brains
Made as they boiled and seethed within his skull
Could well be heard five yards away. At least
No one an hear mine as they boil; but then
He could not feel his burn; and so I think
He had the best of it at that. Don't you?
Now all the hungry broken men stand here
Beside my bed like ghosts and cry: "Why don't
You shout our wrong aloud? Why are you not
Our voice, our sword? For you are of our blood:
You've seen us beaten, lynched, degraded, starved;
Men must be taught that other men are not
Mere pawns in some gigantic game in which
The winner takes the gold, the land, the work,
The breath, the heart, and soul of him who loses!"
I watch them standing there until my brain
Begins to burn within my head again -
(As Shelley's burned - poor, young dead Shelley whom
The fishes ate) then I get up and write
A very pretty sonnet, nicely rhymed
About my latest love affair, how sad
I am because some dear has thrown me for
A total loss. (But Shelley had me there,
All his affairs turned out quite well indeed;
Harriet in the river drowned for love
Of him; and Mary leaving Godwin's house
To follow where he led - quite well - indeed!)
You see this is ironical and light
Because I am so sick, so hurt inside,
I-m tired of pretty rhyming words when all
The land where I was born is soaked in tears
And blood, and black and utter hopelessness.
Now I would make a new, strong, bitter song,
And hurl it in the teeth of those I hate -
I would stand tall and proud against their blows,
Knowing I could not win, I would go down
Grandly as an oak goes down, and leave
An echo of the crash, at least, behind.
(So Shelley lived - and so at last, he died.
The fishes ate his glorious hands; and all
That mighty bulk of brain boiled when they burned him!)
I've been working, nonstop, since mid-September. For a guy twice retired, that's a lot of work. But the tunnel has a light and it is that there's only five more days to project completion. Having worked now more than I want to for a while, that's exciting.
I look forward to a few days like the one described in this poem, written about this time last year when I was a poorer but wiser man.
back in the flow
through a cool
under a clear sky
pierced here and there
by bits and pieces of city skyline,
gray buildings reaching into the blue
the flow of time has broken here
trees, even in mid-December
still hold tight to most of their leaves
those few that have fallen are blown into the air
by heavy traffic on South Alamo,
an old street bustling with last minute hustle,
each shiny car with its flume of red and gold leaves
like in a bubble of harried time passing through
the drift of this afternoon's syrup-slow hours
but time is life, it's passage like the flowing blood,
a pulse we can slow but cannot stop if we want to live
so I finish my coffee and hand the cup to pretty little Allie,
keeper of the quiet afternoon, and slip like a repentant thief
back into the flow, another bubble now in time's passing
Playing a cold hand
Jude Goodwin and I have been bumping into each other on a number of poetry forums for several years. I've always liked her work.
Her poems can be found in various print and online journals. She lives in BC, Canada and makes a living as editor and designer for websites and small magazines. More of Jude's poetry can be found on her new website at www.judegoodwin.com
The Flat Hand of Winter
A passing neighbor waves his white hand
as if lifting a fish. The roadways are thick
with the scales of death, and shine
beneath a gutterless moon. The windows
weep and freeze, weep and freeze.
Even the cottonwoods
hiss as they rise from the river ice,
scrape the ceiling of night
with their brittle combs. November sulks
in a dark room with the TV flickering.
December is drinking scotch
and rubs his lips with rough fingers.
I know this feeling
But, unlike Bukowski, I keep the stuff and make believe.
a simple kindness
every now and then
towards 3 a.m.
and well into the second
a poem will arrive
and I'll read it
and immediately attach to it
that dirty word -
well, we all know that
in this world now
immortality can be a very
in the long run:
still, it's nice to play with
and I set the poem aside in a
go on with the
- to find that poem again
in the morning
it was nowhere near
- just a drunken piece
the best thing about self-
is that it
saves that obnoxious duty
The wife of a traveling man
Bukowski was a great admirer and kindred soul of Li Po, the great 8th century Chinese poet and lover of liquor who is said to have died by drowning when he fell out of his boat trying to embrace the moon's reflection in the water.
Unlike Bukowski, he was a rich man who traveled extensively. In his poem he imagines the wife of a traveling man like himself.
The Ballad of Long Bank
I remember when I was a single girl
And knew nothing of the smoke and dust of the world.
But now having married a Long Bank man,
I'm at Sandy Point to check on the wind.
In the Fifth Month when the south wind rises,
I think of you coming down from Pa-ling.
In the Eighth Month when the west wind starts,
I worry about you departing from Yang-tzu.
With this coming and going, what is my heartache?
There is little of seeing and too much of parting.
You'll be reaching Hsiang-t'an in how many days?
In my dreams I leap over the wind and the waves.
Last night, a wild wind went by;
It blew down trees by the riverside.
Everything dark and water without edges.
Where was a place for a traveler to be?
Visitors from the north have included real nobles,
And the whole of the river was filled with red robes.
Evenings they came along shore for their lodging,
And wouldn't move eastward for several days.
I pity myself at fifteen or so,
I had a pink face with peach blossom skin.
Who would be the wife of a merchant man,
To grieve about water and grieve about wind?
(Translated by Elling O. Eide)
Just as much fun as cummings.....
is the quirky world of William Carlos Williams
the red wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
Which reminds me of this.....
It seems to me William's red wheel barrow must have been stirring in some back corner of my mind as I was writing this.
is what I need
so it's time
to play the
What I like about the Casa Chiapas Poetry Table idea.....
.....is that it is interactive. Rather than reading in a formal setting, it allows poets and others to sit around a table and respond to each other, to feed off each other so that one poem leads to another, not from some set reading list, but organically, as one poet's poem reminds another poet of one of theirs, just as Williams' red wheel barrow led me to my red balloon which led me to a poem by Don Schaeffer written in response to a reader's response to an earlier poem.
Don is from Winnipeg, Canada and identifies himself as a chronic contributor to the internet forum communities. I have been reading him for a couple of years now on several of those communities and enjoyed his work, usually short and often enigmatic.
I have the answers to these questions.
I know the answers as facts.
I mean with all my perversity
I am a sensible guy and
I live in the world.
But I'm not happy with the answers.
I wish they were not so.
And I wonder anyway.
Country nights in China
Bei Dao is the pen name of Zhao Zhenkai, born 1949 in Beijing. He took the alias to hide his identity while publishing an underground magazine. He joined the Red Guard when he was seventeen and, upon becoming disillusioned with the Cultural Revolution, was sent to the countryside to work as a construction worker from 1969 to 1980 while being reeducated (what a scary word, with all its implications, that word has always seemed to me). Upon his return his name and poetry became closely associated with the Democracy Movement, with his early poems a source of inspiration to the young people involved in that movement. At the time of the Tianamen Square massacre, he was out of the country at a writers' conference. He has remained in exile since, teaching at several major American universities.
Ironically,his education and literary influences came from books stolen from intellectuals while raiding their homes as a member of the Red Guard.
The sunset and distant mountains
innerleaf a crescent moon
moving in the elm woods
an empty bird nest
a small trail encircles the pond
chasing a dog with dirty coat
then runs into the mud wall at the end of the village
hanging bucket swaying lazily over a well
a bell as silent
as the stone roller in the yard
scattered uneasy wheat stalks
the chewing noise in a horse stall
is redolent with threat
someone's long shadow
slips across the stone doorsteps
firelight from a kitchen range
casts a red glow on a woman's arms
and a chipped earthenware basin
(Translated by Tony Barnstone and Nwn Lim)
Continuing with this mellow mood, I close this issue with this poem
I wrote the poem in 2001 and it was published d in Eclectica in 2002. It's one of the poems I included in Seven Beats a Second
in the dim light
at end of day
I watch you sleep
from the shower
curled on your side
in white linen
like the center
of a fresh sliced peach
in a bowl of sweet cream
your foot moves
brushes softly against mine
with a quiet rush
of warm air
the sweet breath
of cinnamon dreams
I haven't been sending much of my stuff out, been too busy. But, one of the pieces I sent out earlier this year is in the new Hiss Quarterly at http://www.hissquarterly.com/. The title of the poem is "invisible" and it's in the Rear View Mirror section.
Hold the presses, the rant beast is knocking
It being the season of good cheer, I wasn't planning to include any kind of rant this time around, but the news of SoonTo-Be-Former Defense Secretary Rumsflake's junket to Iraq to say farewell to the troops he and his criminal bosses haven't killed yet, is more than I can accept, even this close to Christmas.
How much is this going to cost us (taxpayers, all)? Transportation, security, in-flight koolaide, and all has to be in the $5 to $10 million range. All this, paid by you and me, so this arrogant, dumb-ass fool can stoke his ego by going to the one place in the world where everyone he meets will be required by their oath of service to pretend he is not, in fact, the arrogant, dumb-ass fool they all know him to be.
Merry Christmas, Donnie boy.