Winter Day to Winter Night
Sunday, February 18, 2007
This will be "Here and Now" number II.2.3, if I ever finish it. It is Sunday morning and I'm just beginning to work on it, at a time when I'm usually on my final proof.
The reason for the delay, two words you never, ever want to hear together, kidney and stones. Without going into detail, I'll just say that my life experience for the past couple of days has been limited to lying on the floor in a fetal position and moaning.
But, all trials pass, providing you find the right drugs (which I did), so "Here and Now" is back on track, maybe a little late (we'll see) and maybe a little shorter than usual.
Readers of "Here and Now" are familiar with Gary Blankenship from his ten commandment series which we featured here over a number of weeks. Those poems are emblematic of the way Gary works, he lays out a challenge for himself, like the ten commandments series or his fifty states series, then sets out to meet the challenge, providing us, along the way, with some lovely poetry.
An earlier challenge resulted in his book A River Transformed: Wang Wei's River Wang Poems as Inspiration. (For more information on Gary's book, click on the link to his website on the right.) His aim in this book was to transform through his own reinterpretation the poems of the Chinese poet Wang Wei.
I had the honor of providing an introduction to the book and, in that introduction, I wrote that the result of Gary's effort is both a book of wonderful poetry, as well as an introduction to the ancient arts of Chinese poetry for people like me who knew little of those arts and who, through Gary's book, came to appreciate the beauty and soulfulness of Chinese poetry from a time when the Western tradition of art was still mostly about painting their faces like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart.
Here are a couple of Gary's "transformation."
After Wang Wei's Waves of Willow Trees - What Isn't, Is Forgotten
There are no castles on our horizon;
no ramparts to fly banners and warn
seabirds we have fled and do no follow!
Footsteps lead towards smoke and home,
We look back to the sea as if to recall
who was left behind unharvested.
Your hair floats unlike kelp at low tide,
fingers grasp unlike roots in soft sand,
your limbs as white as split driftwood.
I cannot see what you are, only what you aren't.
Your are flesh, blood and bone, but I see
shell, beach and surf as the moon turns orange
Around and around , a toy boat floats:
and old man argues its sail was ever blue.
After Wang Wei's White Rock Shoals - If Not One Lake, Another
Loons call across water lilies and eel grass.
Spooked by clothing tossed on autumn's breeze,
doe and fawn leap along the lakeshore.
Upstream, village dogs greet each passing car.
A truck door slams to drunken laughter.
Startled, we splash to shore and quick cover.
Redwings and bluebirds gather threads
o repair long abandoned nests.
On green rocks, once smooth and soap slick,
we listen to gossip cared across the water.
A muskrat dives beneath bleached sticks;
the wind rises to meet your shirt's wet touch
fawn nibbles a forgotten tube sock
under a cracked harvest moon.
After Wang Wei's Temple-Tree Path - Above the Tidal Flow
The path to the bay is slick with slush,
treacherous along a creek bed swollen
with a quick thaw and dead madrona leaves.
With each step, mud and winter grip
the bottoms of our boots like spider webs
cling to a frayed side porch screen .
We walk on as if the beach's wet boulders
mark the only rail that allows us
to journey with a modicum of surety.
You sit. Unable to continue?
Or more aware we were signaled
is it time?
The stylus no longer casts a shadow,
the calliope is deaf.
Arthur Rimbaud, the wild genius, scandalized French society, wrote some of the most visionary poetry or his or any other time, and ended up a merchant in Ethiopia. He made a small fortune as a gunrunner, but developed health problems that forced him to return to France, where his leg was amputated. He was going to stay at his sister Isabelle's house to recuperate but never left the hospital. Rimbaud died in Marseille in 1891, at age 37.
Here is one of his poems.
I live seated, like an angel in the hands of a barber,
In my fist a strongly fluted mug,
My stomach and neck curved, a Gambier pipe
In my teeth, under the air swollen with impalpable veils of smoke.
Like the warm excrement of an old pigeonhouse,
A Thousand Dreams gently burn inside me;
And at moments my sad heart is like sap-wood
Which the young dark gold of its sweating covers with blood.
Then, when I have carefully swallowed my dreams,
I turn having drunk thirty or forty mugs,
And collect myself, to relieve the bitter need;
Sweetly as the Lord of the cedar and hyssops,
I piss toward the dark skies very high and very far,
With the consent of the large heliotropes.
(Translated by Wallace Fowlie)
In the last two weeks, we have read from Listening to the Light by Cyra S. Dumitru as she let us into the mind of Eve and Adam in the Garden. This week, we finish the triangle with words from the Snake.
Words of the Serpent
I loved her too much to see her kept in that garden forever.
All that perfection and beauty, after a while it's numbing,
one ripe apple indistinguishable from the next.
Nothing ever dies, hardly ever changes.
We need bruises on the peaches, worms in the fruit,
long stretches of drought so we can live
the meaning of water.
Oh yes, I imagined the consequences.
I knew sooner or later
she would have to feel pain, feel her body
split open with seed. I trusted her
strength, believed she could grown
another skin bigger than the one before.
The first time I offered her the fruit
I thought I'd hooked her with the smell.
But then she darted away
among unopened lilies.
Persuading her certainly wasn't easy.
Her awe ran deep (as mine once did)
before I broke the confines of God,
sought less constricting skin.
The seeds in her were fierce embers.
Her hands had to make; they used to twitch in her sleep.
"See how far they can take you," I whispered.
"Turn piles of stone into mountains that sing the sky."
Finally she came to me.
"I am ready," she said, shoulders trembling.
The first bite she took was dainty. "Eat!" I said.
Her face, neck hands became sticky from the succulence.
I know because I flicked my tongue once across her.
Abruptly she stopped eating,
Wind filtered through her black hair; she tossed her head.
With her whole glistening body she listened
as if the felt the lark thrum the air.
Then Adam found her, scolded her with narrow eyes.
The fruit she offered him was juicier than what I had picked.
At first he drew back.
She rubbed the fruit between her hands
tore a piece with her fingernail
and he slipped it between his lips.
She then held the fruit while he chewed slowly,
eyes riveted on the small fires of her eyes.
That was when their love really began
when their souls first felt the weight
of bones pressing against them
when hand reached out for hand
not knowing how long warmth would answer.:
Here's a new poem from me.
I was just thinking
it's a dreary
about 5 o'clock
with an unsure sun
in the middle
until further orders
and I'm sucking
on a latte
at one of my back-up
surrounded by medical
in some kind of latin
while studying pictures
and other bloody
and I'm not in a mood
to be thinking about
but what else can you do
when someone else's gizzards
are laid out in full color
and besides that
don't these kids seem awful young
to be looking at other peoples
god help me
around these kids
who might want
to try to cure
I miss my old doc
the one who knew
and had a German
in teeny tiny
little slide slide steps
like Tim Conway's
on the Carol
in the good old days
before everyone wanted
to be an idol or at least
for five minutes
you know who I mean
the one who
killed himself with an overdose
of boston baked beans
or was it navy
W. S. Merwin is said to be one of the most influential American poets of the latter 20th century.
He made a name for himself as an antiwar poet during the 1960's. His interest in Buddhist philosophy and Deep ecology also influenced his writing. He continues to write prolifically, though he also dedicates significant time to the restoration of rain forests in Hawaii, the state where he lives.
Merwin has received many honors, including a Pulitzer Prize and a Tanner Prize, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of American Poets.
I have seen the effect he describes here. Salt water from bays along the lower Texas coast seeping underground to turn fields that previously produced two crops a year of watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumbers into salty wasteland. The bad news is farm land disappears; the good news is large ranches, like the King Ranch, have developed a grass that will grow in this environment and produce pastures for their Santa Gertrudis cattle.
Low Fields and Light
I think it is in Virginia, that place
That lies across the eye of my mind now
Like a grey blade set to the moon's roundness,
Like a plain of glass touching all there is.
The flat fields run out to the sea there.
There is no sand, no line. It is autumn.
The bare fields, dark between fences, run
Out to the idle gleam of the flat water.
And the fences go on out, sinking slowly,
With a cow-bird half-way, on a stunted post, watching
How the light slides trough them easy as weeds
Or wind, slides over them away out near the sky.
Because even a bird can remember
The fields that were there before the slow
Spread and wash of the edging line crawled
There and covered them, a little more each year.
My father never ploughed there, nor my mother
Waited, and never knowingly I stood there
Hearing the seepage slow as growth, nor knew
When the taste of salt took over the ground.
But you would think the fields were something
To me, so long I stare out, looking
For their shapes or shadows through the matted gleam, seeing
Neither what is nor what was, but the flat light rising.
This is the second appearance by Dan Flore in "Here and Now". Dan leads poetry workshops for the mentally ill and says he would like, eventually, to become a certified poetry therapist.
stained glass pictures
mother's eyes go black
images of me in a baby carriage
somewhere in Mexico,
and the old padre stroking her cheek
with the back of his hand
swim in her mind
she falls to the ground
every street noise
begins articulating her name
mother, let me hear your prayers
the churches stained glass pictures
all dance and spit on you
feel your lips
the ones that sang
the songs you wrote
just for me
songs of orchards waiting for us
and lightening bolts
we could swing from
mother, bring me the melody
I must sing to you now
where is it?
lost in your
mildew smelling bible ?
how many times did
you dunk it in holy water?
mother, I've seen you weep
after holding it in for so long
everyone who left you
is a diamond now
in your mind
all you can think of
they were all
high in a steeple
a robed man lights candles
illuminating you and I
from years ago
my infant hand
around your finger
hymns swirl around our younger selves
golden, dreamy, and cradling
then all is dark
Howard Moss, poetry editor at The New Yorker for many years before his death, wrote often of the coast. This poem reminds me of Corpus Christi (pictured above), a city on the middle Texas coast where we lived for fifteen very good years. I will never forget driving along Corpus Christi Bay in a heavy fog just at sunrise, when the only contact with the world was a light lapping of waves against the shore and the muffled sound of gulls crying on either side as you passed.
That's my poem, not yet written. Here's Moss'.
At Georgica Beach
How roughly ambivalent the seizure is
Of the sea to fix each wave it undoes
In the wake each time of the breakage it was,
Each coming in to the edge of dry-dock,
And then, underneath, the long drawing back,
Leaving the minor clatter of shellshock....
It's day. The wind's up. The ocean's gambling
With light. The dice thrown, the game is running
Away with itself in runnels and creases -
The long cliffhangers, just as they strengthen
Their hold on the surface, break and capsize
Into the sinking spools and renewals
Of things getting ready only to be things.
Here, a small quiet moment on the rocky shores of Lake Travis, near Austin, Texas. Forty years of so ago, I sometimes went to a little cabin there to study and to write. The poem was written then, when I should have been studying. It was published in The Green Tricycle in 1999.
the midwinter lake
heaves and rustles
like some great animal
in the gathering dark
under pins of
white and yellow light
the soft stone of night
smoke and scents
of campfires rise
falls with the sun
From Elegy For The Departure, a book of poetry and parables by Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, this poem on the politics of crucifixion. A fervent and public anti-communist voice during his country's occupation by the Soviet Union, Herbert was familiar with show trials.
On the Margin of the Trial
Sanhedrin's court was not open during the night
blackness was needed by the imagination
it was in flagrant contradiction of normal practice
it is improbably
that the holiday of Passover was violated
because of a not very dangerous Galilean
the agreement of opinion of traditional antagonist -
Sadducees and Pharisees - is suspicious
it was for Caiaphas to carry out the interrogation
ius gladii was in the hands of the Romans
therefore why call on shadows
and a crowd roaring Free Barabbas
the whole affair it seems was played out between officials
pale Pilate and he terarch Herod
and impeccable administrative procedure
but who could ever succeed in making a drama out of this
hence the scenery of frightened bearded men
and the mob going up to a mountain named
for a skull
it might have been gray
Though we've featured her poems before, and will again in this issue, Jane Roken isn't just a poet. Here's evidence of her other talents.
Photo by Jane Roken
Photo by Jane Roken
Photo by Jane Roken
And here's another quiet moment from me, also published in The Green Tricycle. This one appeared in 2003. The Green Tricycle is another former publication of Cayuse Press that is greatly missed.
The poem also appears in my book, Seven Beats a Second
like the bite
of a velvet adder
to the touch
to the smoldering
From her book Of Gravity & Angels, Jane Hirshfield tells us about her horse.
My mare, when she was in heat,
would travel the fenceline for hours,
wearing the impatience
in her feet into the ground.
Not a stallion for miles, I'd assure her,
give it up.
She'd widen her nostrils,
sieve the wind for news, be moving again,
her underbelly darkened with sweat,
then stop at the gate a moment, wait
to see what I might do.
Oh, I knew
how it was for her, easily
recognized myself in that wide lust:
came to stand in the pasture
just to see how it played.
Offered a hand, a bucket of grain -
a minute's distraction from passion
the most I gave.
Then she'd return to what burned her:
the fence, the fence,
so hoping I might see, might let her free.
I'd envy her then,
to be so restlessly sure
of heat, and need, and what it takes
to feed the wanting that we are -
only a gap to open
the width of a mare,
the rest would take care of itself.
Surely, surely I knew that,
who had the power of bucket
and bridle -
she would beseech me, sidle up,
be gone, as life is short,
But desire, desire is long.
And now, a couple of new poems from frequent contributor Don Schaeffer.
Memory as Hologram
The past is a story
told by someone else.
My life is a string
of the present.
Sometimes I have
the tools of speech and hand.
Sometimes I wander through the present
listening and watching like a ghost.
He has to wake up
by six in his memory
to a warm breakfast.
There will be
an hour in the cold
waiting for the full
heat of dawn before
he can arrive amid the
false friends and pretensions
of the day.
Now there isn't much
he has to do and the
memory of swimming in a
sea of ambition and fellowship
has dulled. The hallway
is a long journey.
Tiny step followed by
pause to catch breath
follows tiny step.
He clings to the walking aid.
And when I look into his face
as I pass him, all I can see
This seems to be the week for golden oldies (perhaps because my new stuff is not so golden), so here are two other sort poems written forty or so years ago. At the time of their writing, I was a frequently intoxicated American soldier living in an air conditioned American enclave far out on the West Pakistan frontier, within sight of the Hindu Kush.
Both poems were finally published in 2001, the first in Hawkwind and the second in Experimentia.
blackout at the oasis
the sound of a thousand air conditioners suddenly stilled
and our island is one with the desert-blowing night
summer night at the end of the world
platt kerplatt kerplatt
tennis ball sounds far lit court
drunker than I thought
Now, Audre Lorde, from her book The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance speaks to us of perception.
Clean jeans and comfortable shoes
I need no secrets here at home
in this echoless light
I spread my papers out
a grey-eyed lady takes fire
one pale nostril quivering
we both know women
who take up space
are called sloppy.
You've seen her photographs this week, now here's another of Jane Roken's poems.
The scourge of God grows
like a hardened crust
upon the wall of the town, its
ringwall of garbage, offal, rubble
Empty rusty oil drums resounding
with empty prayers to rusty ghosts
of Manchu, Soviet Union, Great Khan,
in vain, all in vain
Under a sooty shed roof
a child is soaking scraps of dried meat
in a leaky tin can,
feeding ancient three-legged
bringing stolen hay
for cat's bed,
calling cat Grandma
may be the sole reason
that some day
in spite of all
an Angel will descend
And I almost forgot. Here's another of my "name" poems. This one was published in Scope Journal in 2002.
Imogene gets away clean
comes and goes
in a swirl of sex
and musky intrigue
leaving men of every age
in the vapors
of her libidinous wake
like a fever in their softened
by that lower consciousness
that hangs between their legs
like a divining rod
as those very night fantasizes
that have nurtured the growth
of a thousand fancied dissatisfactions
pass in the flesh
comes and goes
leaving a path of wreckage
like a summer storm
across the green and golden
pastures of well-ordered lives
she leaves behind
like the wind leaves behind
a broken tree, like a flood
leaves behind sodden fields
Imogene gets away clean
And we end with Bukowski on the prideful excess of poets.
words for you
red dogs in green hell, what is this
divided thing I call
what message is this I'm offering
it's so easy to slide into
almost all art is shot through with
what is this foolish
strutting and posturing
why do we embroider everything we say
with special emphasis
when all we really need to do
is simply say what
needs to be said?
the fact is
that there is very little that needs
to be said.
so we dress up our
little artful musings
and clamor for attention
so that we may appear to be
a bit more
or even more
than the others.
what is this I'm writing
what is this you're
is it no worse than the rest?
probably even a little bit
Love those last two lines. Even in the middle of self-flagellation, the poet's ego makes its plea for assurance and recognition.
Until next week.