Friday Night Lights
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Welcome to "Here and Now" number II.2.1.
I'm back in the ranks of the downtrodden employed for a couple of weeks, so the next few issues might seem a bit abreviated. Lots of typing involved here, especially the way I type (and retype and retype - thank you all relevant gods for word processors, the greatest thing to happen to writers since we were allowed to put our stone tablets and chisels away.)
We begin this week with a prose poem from Portuguese poet Eugenio de Andrade.
Walt Whitman and the Birds
On waking up, I remembered Peter Doyle. It must have been six o'clock, and in the mimosa tree across the way a bird was singing. I won't swear it was singing in English, only Virginia Woolf's birds have such privileges, but the jubilation of my bullfinch led me to remember the sky lark of American meadows and the chilled face of the young Irishman whom Walt Whitman loved that winter, seated at the back of the tavern, rubbing his hands, close to the heat of the stove.
I opened the window and, in the first thin light that was approaching searched in vain for the spotless joy that had awakened me to a puff of feathers one could scarcely tell from the leaves. Then, invoking ancient metaphors of song, I turned to the venerated book in my hand, and, stanza by stanza, opened the floodgates to the waters of being, like one who prepares himself for flight.
(Translation by Alexis Levitin)
Gary Blankenship concludes his Ten Commandment series with this, an Eleventh Commandment, surely the most important of all commandments for us all and especially timely now, with the release within the past days of the latest global warming report.
The Eleventh Commandment
Honor your Earth, and all that resides on her, everything that crawls, swims, runs and flies, everything that grows upon and in the Earth.
As you erect your cities in the dead places,
only fit for cacti and scorpion
where water grows with great difficulty
and asphalt reeks of what it once was
As your cities climb across jungle and forest,
spread over lands meant for harvest,
sink beneath the waves
Remember even dead places
have a purpose
and rich land
overgrown with weed and vine
cannot be recovered
with your machines
From the book The Jazz Poetry Anthology, a poem by Langston Hughes.
Oh, silver tree!
Oh, shining rivers of the soul.
In a Harlem cabaret
Six long-headed jazzers play.
A dancing girl whose eyes are bold
Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
Oh, singing tree!
Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
Were Eve's eyes
In the first garden
Just a bit too bold?
Was Cleopatra gorgeous
In a gown of gold?
Oh, singing tree!
Oh, silver rivers of the soul!
In whirling cabaret
Six long-headed jazzers play.
I wrote this poem four years ago to describe an actual event. It was only after I finished writing and started thinking about a title that I realized I had created another in my on-again, off-again series of poems with female names in the title.
It's never been published.
dancing with Dorothy
I don't hear the roar
that's always talked about,
the sound of a hundred freight trains
echoing in a dark tunnel,
none of that,
nothing, in fact,
the pounding of the rain
on the metal roof overhead
gone, absorbed by a cottony silence,
like my ears have been stopped somehow,
leaving me dislocated and off-balance
I see it though
I see the dark deluge of rain,
so much rain, like a gray curtain
around me, the buildings next door like shadows,
and within the gray deluge,
black rain, swirling in counterclockwise rotation,
and within the swirling black rain,
debris, bits of brush, tree limbs,
a large piece of tin roofing,
rising within the swirling black rain,
the long flat tin roofing sailing in the vortex
like Aladdin's carpet, then discarded,
thrown to the side, crashing to the ground
as the swirling black cloud passes
and the gray pounding rain subsides and,
from all around me, the different pitches
of a hundred car alarms shrieking
This a poem was written by Frank Horne in the early days of an awful war. Horne, in addition to his work as a poet, was a Doctor of Optometry, a college professor and, after a long career in government, recognized as a leading authority on housing. I pulled the poem from the book American Negro Poetry.
The wise guys
is Kid Stuff....
Maybe they've got
something there -
Two thousand years ago
three wise guys
chased a star
across a continent
frankincense and myrrh
to a Kid
born in a manger
with an idea in his head....
And as the bombs
all over the world
the real wise guys
know that we've all
got to go chasing stars
in the hope
that we can get back
some of that
born two thousand years ago.
We introduced S. Thomas Summers' Civil War series two weeks ago with two poems. Now here's a third, with the hope we'll see more in the future, either before or after his chapbook is published.
Anyone who remembers the movie Glory will recognize the story here.
Niggers: The 54th Massachusetts Storms Fort Wagner
I figured they'd be fightin'
like a troop of African monkeys,
flailin' their rifles above their heads,
rollin' in the sand, scootin'
from the ocean as it slid up
on the beach like a silver tongue,
but they came straight
at us, pieces of night,
screamin' hell and spittin' lead.
I seen one take three bullets
'fore he fell. Each time
blood puffed from his belly
like a red cloud at sunset.
And the one clutchin'
the flag made certain them stripes
never scraped the ground.
I swear them niggers be men.
By God, they be men.
We featured Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti last week with one kind of poem. Here he is again with something that seems to me completely different from what we might expect after reading him last week.
Where the Light
Like the undulant lark
In glad wind above young fields
My arms know you are light, come
Let us forget all about down there
And about evil and heaven
And my blood quickly towards war,
And of footsteps in the shadow of memory
In the red colors of new morning.
Where the leaf moves light no longer,
Dreams and angers have crossed the river
Where evening is spread
I shall carry you
To the hill of gold
That unchangeable, ageless gold
In its lost nimbus
Shall be our winding-sheet.
(Translated by Dennis Devlin)
We're having another touch of winter here in San Antonio this weekend, so here’s another little winter poem. This one was written seven years ago and published in 2001 in The Horsethief's Journal.
For me, a poem is never finished.
I think that's true for most of us. Tastes change or we mature as writers, and a poem that looked fine when first done seems completely different. Mistakes are noted. bad habits are uncovered, like in this poem which, when first written and published suffered greatly from the beginning poet's bad habit of trying to make images by piling adjective upon adjective before every noun. In preparing the poem to post here I eliminated most of those adjectives and made it, I think, a much better poem.
At least, I hope.
when winter finally came
when winter finally came,
it came hard,
like a great white bear
from the furthest northern night
ravenous and cruel, it came
sweeping with cold ferocity
across the Laguna Madre, swirling
artic mists over fishing camps
and salt flats and shallow inlets
that run along the coast
from Matagorda to Mansfield Bay
it brought snow that day to deep South Texas,
dusting cactus already set to bloom,
coating mesquite and yellow huisache,
covering the coastal prairie grasses,
as cattle, left on their own to graze,
turned their back to the wind
and huddled close to the warmth
of their own steaming breath
and snakes curled tighter
in their winter dens
and hawks soared the frigid air,
watching for prey slowed by
the unaccustomed cold
in the city, foam splashed up
by the tide left a treacherous glaze
on steep seawall steps, iced-over algae
green in the muted light of the overcast day
and the people, the thin-blooded people of the city
huddled like the cattle, drinking coffee,
talking, finding warmth in the companionship
of an unusual day, stories
for a generation in the making
When we've talked about Li Bai before, we've paid most attention to his persona as a hard-living, hard-drinking Norman Mailerish figure and selected poems that reflected that persona. But there's much more to him than the drunk who spends the night drinking with his shadow as company or drowns by falling into a lake trying to embrace the moon's reflection. Here's that other side.
Seeing a Friend Off at Jingmen Ferry
When you sail far past Jingmen
you enter the land of Chu
where mountains end and flat plains begin
and the river pours into a huge wilderness.
Above, the moon sails, sky mirror,
and clouds weave nd swell into a sea mirage of terraces.
Below your wandering boat, water from the home you love
still sees you off after ten thousand miles.
Watching the Waterfall at Lu Mountain
Sunlight streams off purple mist from Incense Peak.
Far off, the waterfall is a long hanging river
flying straight down three thousand feet
like the milky river of stars pouring from heaven.
Magnolia oars. A spicewood boat.
Jade flutes and gold pipes fill the air at bow and stern.
We have a thousand jugs of tart wine
and singing girls who drift with us on the waves.
Like a Daoist immortal floating off a yellow crane,
my wandering mind empties and soars with white gulls.
Qu Yuan's poems hang overhead with sun and moon
but the Chu king's palace is an empty mountain.
Inspired, each stroke of my brush shades the five mountains.
The poem done, I laugh proudly over the hermit's land.
If fame and money could last forever
the Han River would flow backward.
I Listen to Jun, a Monk from Shu, Play His Lute
The Shu monk carries a green silk lute,
west down Omei Mountain
and each sweep of his hand
is the song of a thousand pines in the valley.
Flowing water cleans my wanderer's heart
and the sound lingers like a frost bell
till I forget the mountain soaking in green dusk,
autumn clouds darkly folding in.
Seeing a Friend Off
Blue mountains past the north wall,
white water snaking eastward.
Here we say good-bye for the last time.
You will fade like a hayseed blowing ten thousand miles away.
Floating clouds are the way of the wanderer.
The sun sets like the hearts of old friends.
We wave good-bye as you leave. Horses neigh and neigh.
(Translations by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping)
Here are a few untitled winter moments from Alan Addotto, a much more restrained and contemplative "Splinter" than we've seen before.
The day, coldgray, hard
sparrows out in the back yard
land on the bird bath.
Stand on the rim, sip water
but none of them go in.
Inside....the dogs sleep
curled up beside each other
dreaming doggy dreams.
Outside....past the window screens
our fruit trees wrapped in burlap.
The concrete....rain drop speckled.
Kwan Yin's car's at her work place
leaving her parking space unprotected
and expectantly waiting.
Cedar Waxwings flocks
of hundreds maybe thousands
shaken from the hackberries
Yuan Haowen was a Chinese poet of the late 12th and mid-13th centuries. He wrote and served as a public official during times of repeated Mongol attack and invasion.
from In May of 1233, I Ferried Across to the North
Countless captives are lying stiff by the roadside
as Mongol wagons pass and pass like flowing water.
You rouged women walking weeping behind Mongolian horses,
for whom are you still looking back at each step?
White bones lie in a tangled mess like hemp fiber.
In a few years mulberry trees have withered to a dragon's desert.
It seems to me like life in Heshu has utterly ceased.
But look! Smoke rises from these broken houses.
Cyra S. Dumiru is a San Antonio area poet who I don't know but would love to meet. She is a former theology student who moved to San Antonio from Ohio.
Her second book of poetry Listening to Light, which I am reading now, reflects that theological background, featuring short poems about biblical figures and Egyptian and other myths. In writing of these people we are mostly all familiar with, she takes them out of their usual context and treats them as contemporary human beings, almost like we might read about in current weekly or monthly magazines, their various stories coming together as you read to form a narrative.
It makes for some very interesting pictures, like this one.
Eden was glorious.
Lillies large as Gabriel's trumpet
roses with the width of my hands
nectarines so sweet my toes tingled.
How could I have imagined anything else?
We were absolutely new.
We had no memories of Other,
knew only what we lived.
It never occurred to me
that the evening breeze could bring
anything but the Always One.
What did "storm," "hunger," "broken" mean?
Much less, "displeasure."
I know, it astounds even me
that any place in any time
could be seamless, perfect.
But how do you fathom still waters
until you've nearly drowned?
How do you feel sheltered
before you've known battering?
As I watched honeybees
fly from blossom to blossom
robins build their nests twig by twig
my hands swelled from emptiness.
I wanted to make something too.
One day I found myself at the river
filling my hands with smooth stones
carrying them to a clearing of softest grass.
I made circles all day - little ones, big ones,
circles of wet river stones, of small boulders,
circles made from stones that sparkled.
It felt strange, wonderful.
I saw how flat stones
held moonlight on their backs
how shadows crept around the boulders.
I fell asleep among them.
Images of flying filled my dreams.
I awoke expecting wings sprouting from my back.
Instead my arms and back ached from stooping.
As I wandered the orchard, Serpent called.
her emerald coils twined across a low
branch of the Not Tree.
Never before had I stood close
enough to smell the shining fruit
a fruit Adam never dared to name.
"Your hands have a life of their own," Serpent said
with a flicker of tongue. "See how this feels."
Then she swung a fruit
into my startled hands.
It smelled of sunrise, the constancy of light.
My face, hands, my whole body trembled a new song.
Then words whipped my ears: "caution."
I dropped the fruit, heard it splatter
bits of flesh scattered across my toes.
I ran to the river, bathed.
On the other bank was Adam
fingering the stones.
I placed a flat on upon his palm.
"So smooth, cool," he murmured.
Together we curled among the circles.
We are in the middle of the two week period that is the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
The event started last week with the traditional "cowboy breakfast" when thousands of men and women in cowboy hats and boots, including trailriders who ride in into San Antonio from all directions in groups of a few to a lot, as well as real and for-pretend local cowboys, meet at a central, outdoor location for god-awful coffee and potato and egg tacos at 5:00 a.m. on what often turns out to be the coldest morning of the year.
What can you say, tradition is tradition
The actual rodeo started today with bulls and horses and all the rest, followed each evening by cowboy singers, both the already famous and the trying to get there.
Supposed to be a great event, but I don't know. The last time I was on a horse was fifteen years ago and it damn near killed me.
But there was a time, as in this poem, written in 2001 and published in Hawkwind in 2002.
communion between horse and rider,
the fluid movement
of two as one,
become a single thing
through the dust
that's the way of
best done when both
are evenly matched
I had a horse once
who always threw me
on the second turn
and a long-time lover
who did the same
just a little better
at the game
Marianne Moore on how to be a proper houseguest
My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat -
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth -
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint."
Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.
And now another winter moment, this one by Dave Ruslander, from his book Voices In My Head. More information on Dave's book can be found by clicking on the link on the right.
The Swamp at Sunset
A cold sterling reflection glows
from the frozen swamp; a streak
of butter on a Wedgwood sky.
Through gray gnarled cypress,
Virginia deer flicker, white and brown,
as pink tongues lick ice waters.
A red tail soars.
The ghosts of doomed voles
will waft through the swamp
Charles Reznikoff was born in Brooklyn of Russian parents. After a year studying journalism, he entered the law school of New York University in 1912 and graduated in 1916. He practiced law briefly and entered officer training school in 1918, but failed to see active service before the end of the war.
Reznikoff worked for a time for his family's business as a hat salesman. He then worked for a legal publishing house where he wrote summaries of court records for legal reference books. This experience was to prove important for his later writing.
From his teens, Reznikoff had been writing poetry and publishing it himself using handset printing plates. Throughout his writing life, Reznikoff was always concerned to ensure that his work was published, even at his own expense.
He lived and wrote in relative obscurity and poverty for most of his life, with his work being either self-published or issued by small independent presses. In the early 1960s, this situation seemed set to change when New Directions published two books, including the first installment of the verse Testimony. However, critical reaction to this book was generally negative and Reznikoff once again found himself publishing his own work.
In 1971, he was awarded the Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize of $2,500 by The National Institute of Arts and Letters. In the years immediately following he found a new publisher who, after his death, brought all his major poetry and prose works back into print.
Four Songs of the City
Showing a torn sleeve, with stiff and shaking fingers the old man
pulls off a bit of the baked apple, shiny with sugar,
eating with reverence food, the great comforter.
In steel clouds
to the sound of thunder
like the ancient gods:
our sky, cement;
our earth, cement;
our trees, steel;
instead of sunshine,
a light that has no twilight,
neither morning nor evening,
Coming up the subway stairs, I thought the moon
only another streetlight -
a little crooked.
If there is a scheme,
perhaps this too is in the scheme,
as when a subway car turns on a switch,
the wheels screeching against the rails,and the lights go out -
but are on again in a moment.
What are doing in our street among the automobiles, horse?
How are your cousins, the centaur and the unicorn?
A few short pieces from Octavio Paz
the night empties out,
the hour is lit.
Stars and Cricket
The sky's big.
Up there, worlds scatter.
unfazed by so much night,
a cricket: brace and bit.
On the sand,
the memoirs of the wind.
silent on the table,
It lacks something:
We've had three of my older poems so far this week. We'll end with a new one, written in the past week or so. In fact, you might say it's still being written since I have an ending stanza I've added and taken off several times now, unable to decide if the poem is better with it or without it. This is the without-it version.
I am impatient with the night
I am impatient
with the night
sleep is restless
while the new day
I do nothing
of consequence with
that day, I
am comfortable in the
of its doing
and a local paper
then a drive
to the northside
and a Times
and some jokes
with the morning
I-10 to South Alamo,
where I can sit
in the open
and watch people
pass, some pulling
like an unacknowledged
a deep and lasting
left in the past
but not forgot;
all day like this
moving place to place,
talking to strangers,
that spark across the gap
that separates them from me
So that's it for this week.
We leave with a reminder to San Antonio area readers that next Friday, February 9th, is the second Friday of the month, which means the Casa Chiapas Poetry Circle will be in session. We're beginning to build the beginning of a crowd at our monthly poetry-do and welcome all, to read, to talk, to drink coffee or just to listen. As usual, we'll be beginning about 7:30 (ish).
Until next week.