Where The River Flows, Unrestrained   Sunday, December 03, 2006

Most every picture you ever see of the San Antonio River is of the Riverwalk. Nice, but not in any sense "real." So I decided, for no particular reason, to start this "Here and Now" issue number I.xxv. with a photo (above) of the San Antonio River as it probably looked several hundred years ago, before there was a Riverwalk or a San Antonio.


We begin this month with a couple of acrostics from frequent contributor, California short story writer and poet Alice Folkart. For some who may not know, an acrostic is a poem in which the first letter of each line spell out a particular word or phrase. Alice is a whiz at doing them.


Just as I was getting comfortable,
along comes a brutish beast, a monster,
not your ordinary under-the-bed bogey man,
unless you're counting heads, claws and snouts.
Alas, he was so terrifying that he scared himself
right into my dreams, lending them an acrid taste.
You know the rest.

Mice in the Mattress

Drat the little darlings
eating every feather in the pillow,
chewing holes in the bolsters,
engineering new tunnels in the
mattress, mousies need housies I know,
but couldn't they live in the sofa,
every night I have to reconfigure myself,
rewind myself and the clock to fit.


Yes, it's true. Like the crackerjax box, there's a prize in this week's "Here and Now."

And here it is. I will send a free book (Seven Beats a Second of course) and a free CD (chimeras, ideals, errors! by the Ray-Guhn Show Choir, of course) to the first six (6) "Here and Now" readers who e-mail me at allen.itz@gmail.com before December 15th, with my best wishes for a merry holiday of your choice.


Speaking of the book

Here's a poem from the Seven Beats a Second. It also appeared in Poems Neiderngasse in 2002.

did you ever watch a pigeon walk

notice the way its head thrusts
forward then back with each step

I think at first
of the advice often given that
to get ahead
you have to stick your head out

then a closer look reveals that
though they walk with such purpose
they don't really go anywhere
but in circles, which makes me wonder
about the whole concept of risk and reward

perhaps better to be the jay
who sits in the tree and shits on my car

he goes nowhere
but still leaves his mark on the world

What is poetry?

Perhaps it's a good time, after the pigeon piece, to ask this question. This is what John Ashbery has to say about it.

What is poetry

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow

That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful Images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believe it. In school
All the thoughts got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us - what? - some flowers soon?

Curses, foiled again!

There are people who know how to curse and there are people who know how to curse. One of them, for sure, was Achilochus a Greek poet from about 650 B.C. Look at this, and be glad he's not one of your enemies.

May He Lose His Way On The Cold Sea

May he lose his way on the cold sea
And swim to the heathen Salmydessos,
May the ungodly Thracians with their hair
Done up in a fright on the top of their heads
Grab him, that he know what it is to be alone
Without friend or family. May he eat slave's bread
Laced about with the nasty trash of the sea.
May his teeth knock the top on the bottom
As he lies on his face, spitting brine,
At the edge of the cold sea, like a dog.
And all this it would be a privilege to watch,
Giving me great satisfaction as it would,
For he took back the word he gave in honor,
Over the salt and table of a friendly meal.

(Translated by Guy Davenport)

Apparently Mr. Achilocus also had a firm fix on the important things in life.


I don't give a damn if some Thracian ape strut
Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got.
Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot
I kept my hide intact. Good shields can be bought.

(Translated by Stuart Silverman)

And, from a different war


A woman visiting her son remembers what she has
read on the front page of her newspaper the week
before, a conversation between a bomber, in flames
over Germany, and one of the fighters protecting it.
Randall Jarrell

Little Friend

"Then I heard the bomber call me in:
'Little Friend, Little Friend,
I got two engines on fire.
Can you see me, Little Friend?'
I said, 'I'm crossing right over you.
Let's go home.'"


We had our first real touch of winter here last week, with the overnight temps falling to the high twenties.

To appreciate that, you have to understand that people in South Texas get out their woolies anytime the temps go below fifty-five. When it gets into twenties, people build fires in their backyards, then race out on the crosstown expressway to find any ice patch larger than an ice cube so that they can run into each other.

It's a South Texas thing, not totally such a bad thing, since it brings some excitement to town, building up to the Stock Show and Rodeo in January.

But, as that north wind blows over the cedar covered hills to the north of San Antonio, all the little cedar pollens get picked up and blown right straight up the noses of people like me. Locally, it's called cedar fever. At this moment, for example, my eyes are watering so badly, I can hardly see what I typing.

The overall result is as described in this little poem, written during this season several years ago.

winter winds

winter winds
the north hills
the city
with cedar pollen
that leaves me
like a blowfish
on a stroll down Grand Avenue

But there's another side to those winds, as with this second poem, written about the same time as the first.

first frost

first frost
and leaves fall
soft and slow
like red and yellow
drifting in the sun

We don't often get real snow here, so we have to settle for what we can get.

Except when.....

This is the sixth in the 10 commandments series by Gary Blankenship. This is the one everyone agrees on, except when this or except when that. As is often the case with Gary's work, we are led to think in this poem in ways we might have avoided before.

Commandment VI

You shall not murder.

Does it count when you destroy yourself
in a myriad of miniscule ways
over a decade of lifetimes -

drugs of every color
eating disorders
mental addictions
sins left unsaid

but to let a slight fester
for twenty
thirty years

and then explode
in a Lancaster schoolroom
with the blood of teenage girls

no more aware slight
or the true sin
than you were

Does it count when you
murder yourself
after you have slaughtered

as if a Twenty-first century pharaoh

And, as is often the case, Gary's poem reminds me of one of my own

This poem was first published in 2003 in Poems Neiderngasse and was later included in my book Seven Beats a Second

anti-war poems are easy

the heart of the matter
is that
the heart of the matter
doesn't matter much

anti-war poems are easy
since, in our hearts,
we all know the logic of war
that says I will kill strangers
until a stranger kills me
is insane

and who can deny
that in our hearts
we all know
a human fetus,
no matter how small
and misshapen
and incomplete,
is a human-in-waiting,
holding within is tiny bounds
all the capacity for love and laughter
as any of us

and who,
among even the most aggrieved
of us, could, without tremor
of hand and heart,
push the button
that drops the cyanide pellet
ending the life
of even the bloodiest
of our murdering kind

yet we kill those strangers
who might have someday
been our friend

we erase from the future
the love and laughter
of those who we decide will never be

and we murder the murderers
with prescribed writ and ceremony

all these terrible things we do
because our hearts cannot guide us
in choosing the lesser of evils

it is our lizard brain
we must turn to
when the heart of the matter
does not matter enough

A modern Chinese poet

I need to make an index or something to help me remember what poems I've used here. I've considered this poem, I know, but I don't think I've used it. In case someone recognizes it as a rerun, I apologize.

Duo Duo is the pen name of Li Shizheng. He was born in 1951 and, as a journalist for the Peasant Daily, witnessed the Tianamen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. Like many Chinese writers, he chose after that to leave China and stay in the West.

He began writing poetry during the Cultural Revolution, assuming that, because of the political climate, he would never be a published writer. Despite that, he began to achieve some public acceptance in the 1980's, only to find himself, in the end, a writer in exile. His books have appeared in English in two collections, Looking Out From Death and The Boy Who Catches Wasps: Selected Poems of Duo Duo.

Bell Sound

No bell had sounded to awaken memory
but today I heard
it strike nine times
and wondered how many more times.
I heard it while coming out of the stables.
I walked a mile
and again I heard:
      "At what point in the struggle for better conditions
      will you succeed in increasing your servility?"

Just then, I began to envy the horse left behind in the stables.
Just then, the man riding me struck my face.

(Translated by John Cayley)

A Chinese poet from the first millennium

Not much is known of Zhang Ruoxu except that he lived in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. He became in modern times a famous poet on the basis of this one poem, one of only two of his works to survive the thousand-plus years since he wrote them.

Spring, River, and Flowers on a Moonlit Night

The tide in the spring river meets the flat ocean.
On the sea a bright moon is born from the tide
and shimmers waves for the thousands of miles.
Nowhere on the spring river is without bright moon.

The river meanders through fragrant fields
and in the flowering woods moon makes everything snow,
until even frost flowing in space is invisible
and on the shores white sands disappear in light.

River and sky merge in one dustless color.
Bright, bright sky, with only the moon's wheel.
Who first saw the moon on this riverbank?
What year did this river moon first shine on men?

Generations keep passing without end,
but the river moon looks the same year after year.
I don't know for whom the river moon is waiting;
I only see the long river seeing off the flowing water.

One scarf of white cloud fades into distance,
leaving unbearable sorrow in the estuary's green maples.
Whose husband is drifting away in a flatboat tonight?
Who is missing her lover in a moonlit tower?

What a pity, the moon wandering through the tower;
it should light the mirror stand of the traveler.
She cannot roll it up in the jade door's blinds,
or wipe it from the rock where she beats clothing clean.

At this moment, they see the same moon, but cannot hear each
She wishes she could flow with the moonlight onto him.
The wild goose flying off cannot escape this light.
When fish and dragons leap and dive I read patterns in the waves.

Last night she dreamed of fallen petals in a still pool;
what sorrow with spring half over, the man hasn't returned.
The current has almost washed the spring away
and the setting moon tilts west again in the river pool.

The slanting moon sinks deep, deep into the sea fog.
Between Brown Rock and Xiang River is a long way
and I don't know how many people ride the moonlight home.
The setting moon fills the river trees with shivering emotion.

(Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping)

Shall we count the days?

Philip Larkin asks the question


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.

They are to be happy in;
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

How to spot a reader

C. K. Williams suggests one way

Reading: Winter

He's not sure how to get the jack on - he must have recently
    bought the car, although it's an ancient
impossibly decrepit, barely holding-together Chevy; he has to
    figure out how each part works,
the base plate, the pillar, the thing that hooks to the bumper,
    even the four armed wrench,
before he can get it all together, knock the hubcap off and
    wrestle free the partly rusted nuts.
This all happens on a bed of sheet ice; it's five below, the
    coldest January in a century.
Cars slip and skid a yard away from him, the flimsy jack is
    desperately, precariously balanced,
and meanwhile, when he goes into the trunk to get the spare, a
    page of an old newspaper catches his attention
and he pause, rubbing his hands together, shoulders hunched,
    for a full half minute, reading.

Hands on

Portuguese poet Eugenio De Andrade considers his tools

Labors of the Hand

I begin to notice the hand
that writes these lines
has aged. It no longer loves the sands
of the dunes, afternoons of drizzling
rain, morning dew
on thistles. It now prefers the syllables
of its own suffering.
It's always worked harder than its mate,
a bit spoiled, a bit
lazy, but lovelier.
The hardest tasks
always fell to it: to sow, to reap,
to stitch, to scour. But also
to caress, that's true. Exigence,
rigor, finally exhausted it.
The end cannot be long now: please god
is nobleness be counted

(Translated by Alexis Levitin)

Come on feets.....

Here's a short piece from "Here and Now" friend Dave Ruslander found in his book Voices In My Head.

Down the Road

My straw hat tipped back,
suit jacket slung over my
the sun persuades me from the
but I'm just following my feet

Serenity is a good thing

Shel Silverstein does not like noisy children

Screamin' Millie

Millie McDeevit screamed a scream
So loud it made her eyebrows steam.
She screamed so loud her jawbone broke,
Her tongue caught fire, her nostrils smoked,
Her eyeballs b oiled and then popped out,
Her ears flew north, her nose went south,
Her teeth flew out, her voice was wrecked,
Her head went sailing off her neck -
Over the hillside, 'cross the stream,
Into the skies it chased the scream.
And that's what happened to Millie McDeevit
(At least I hope all you screamers believe it).


Some poems are just for the fun of throwing words around to see where they stick and what kind of images result. Like this...written earlier this year.

erectile dysfunction


one-eyed cat
scratching on a cedar post rail

and yowling
and calling for rain
like a dog pissing
on a three dollar bill


ducks in a row
fish in a barrel and
that same damm cat
on a hot tin roof

and scrowling
like a fat man
in a skinny man's
cardboard suit

hearts afire
and ante up
or pee in the pot
with one-eyed
jacks yowling
and growling
like a calico cat
scratching on a cedar post rail


That's all for this time out, but do want to close with a reminder that this next Friday is the second Friday of the month, which means the Poetry Table at Casa Chiapas will be in session. If you write, bring some of your stuff to read and discuss. If you don't write, bring something from one of your favorite poets to read and discuss. If you don't write and don't want to read either, but have opinions about poetry, there's room at the table for you, too.

So come on down. We'll start somewhere in the vicinity of 7:30 at Casa Chiapas and 928 South Alamo. That's in Southtown/King Williams, south of Durango and half a block south of Rosarios.

And don't forget, the first six "Here and Now" readers to email me at allen.itz@gmail.com before December 15th will be sent a free book and CD.



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