Sunset on the First Day of Spring
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Just a note in passing on the death of Richard S. Prather, creator of Shell Scott, Private Eye, and a whole series of books full of blood, brawls, babes, boobs and bad guys brought low, all in good humor. I spent my early teens reading all those books and though I probably should have been reading something of higher tone and greater moral impact, I read what I read and had the best fantasies of any thirteen year old I knew.
Would that we all could do as well, beginning here, with "Here and Now" number II.3.4.
Our first poem this week is in the form of a wee bit of a history lesson from returning on-line poet Mary Jo Caffrey, proudly, she notes, of the Caffrey-Powers Clan.
The Miracle that Slithered
So low, these varied ropes of length and scales
might be overlooked by anyone searching for
four-leaf clovers above the bog, on a hillside
emerald green set off by sky bigger than the sea,
roiling green-deep depths and a mist like a
benediction from Patrick, sackcloth donned
missionary to Druids and Viking spawn there
on the island, scattered like dog packs in a
country even now the Brits covet, curse of
island greed in tasting Thames, lifeblood of
a bigger fish that will eventually be fed.
Snakes underfoot in Eire, hanging in the trees
like broken branches seeking prey, snakes in
Irish hovels, scratching skins on homespun
wool blankets, seeking warmth in Irish winter,
even cozying up to sheep in the shed, living
collars on the dumb animals, sharing warmth
in snake lore, undulating staffs for shepherds
brave enough to hold them.
Patrick saw all that snakes infiltrated there in
Ireland and grew more and more outraged, especially
finding a thin small one curled around his still-warm
beads after praying the Rosary.
God help me and guide me, this is the end of
snakes in Ireland!
Patrick's prayer echoed in the hills as he marched from horizon
to horizon on that little island, stamping his travel cane on the
ground like a giant, waves of motion through the ground,
waking snakes and compelling them
to follow this bearded missionary so like God,
waves of snakes a living river, a quarter mile wide
and sometimes making hissing sounds like the wind
through pine needles, now snake breath through fangs.
On Patrick went, till the end of the island he reached.
There on a cliff Patrick stood like Moses, staff raised
high as he commanded the snakes into the sea. Then a
green waterfall fell into the sea, shimmering, and
disappeared. So all the snakes in Ireland migrated
into legend and myth, or so they say.
Patrick kept the smallest one for a pet,
a little snake that reminded him of God's mercy
and the blessings of moderation.
Later in this issue, on-line poet Sarah Zang will welcome the onset of early spring. In this poem, French poet Rimbaud welcomes the onset of a new day. Although he died before the turn of the 20th century, Rimbaud continued to inspire generations of writers and freethinkers, including Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison of the Doors and many others, as well as, to a greater or lesser extent, me and every other poet I know.
A Good Thought in the Morning
At four in the morning, in summer,
The sleep of love still continues.
Under the arbors dawn evaporates
The scent of the festive night.
But yonder in the huge lumberyard
Toward the sun of the Hesperides,
In shirtsleeves the carpenters
Are already moving about.
In their desert of moss, calm,
They prepare the precious panels
Where the city's wealth
Will laugh under false skies.
Ah! for those charming Workmen
Subjects of a Babylonian king,
Venus! leave Lovers for a little while,
whose souls are crowned.
O Queen of Shepherds,
Take brandy to the workers,
So that their strength may be at peace
As the wait for the bath in the sea, at noon.
(Translated by Seth Whidden)
Anne Sexton began writing poetry as therapy after attempting suicide in 1956. From that beginning, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Live or Die, and taught at Harvard and Colgate universities, and was appointed as a professor at Boston University, writing and writing and writing until her poetry ended as it had begun, with a suicide attempt, this time successful, in 1974.
She wrote this poem after viewing the famous van Gogh painting.
The Starry Night
(That does not keep me from having a terrible need of....shall I say the word....religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars - Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother)
The town does not exist
except where on black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.
It moves. They are alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:
into that rushing beast of night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
This being the beginning of the fifth year of our war in Iraq, I submit this poem, written last week and triggered by a photo in the New York Times.
four years after liberation
(from a photo in the New York Times)
and a ragged tee,
no more than five
standing behind an
eyes bright and wide
over his ears
the caption reads
is heard nearby
Portuguese poet Eugenio de Andrade speaks of desire.
Eye of Water
Everything ached within,
so strong was his desire:
and its wall of sadness,
the adolescent murmur not of wasps
but of linden trees,
the breathing of wheat
fire gathered at the waist,
and open kiss in the shadows,
everything ached within:
a fragile, sweet, gentle
masculine watering of the eyes,
carmine squandered on mirrors,
the instruments of joy
so strong was his desire:
the melancholy sweet
magnificence of frightened animals,
a difficult summer
in high beds of sand,
a sigh's delicate stalk,
the business of ruined fingers
the unfinished harp
a pulse clearly pensive
on the eve of becoming a man,
on the eve of becoming water,
my love white mulberry,
towards the birds,
shared nakedness, morning games,
or if you'd rather: nuptial,
the torrential silence,
the reverence of masts,
in the interval of swords
a child is running
running on the hill
after the wind
so strong was his desire
everything, everything ached within.
(Translated by Alexis Levitin)
Poet and teacher of literature Gary Soto writes of his first experiences leading a classroom.
Teaching English from an Old Composition Book
My chalk is no larger than a chip of fingernail,
Chip by which I must explain this Monday
Night the verbs "to get," "to wear," "to cut."
I'm not given much these tired students,
Knuckle-wrapped from work as roofers,
Sour from scrubbing toilets and pedestal sinks,
I'm given this room with five windows,
A coffee machine, a piano with busted strings,
The music of how we feel as the sun falls,
Exhausted from keeping up.
I stand at
The blackboard. The chip is worn to a hangnail,
Nearly gone, the dust of some educational bone.
By and by I'm Cantinflas, the comic
Busy body in front. I say, "I want the coffee."
I pick up a coffee cup and sip.
I clip my heels together and say, "I wear my shoes."
I bring an invisible fork to my mouth
And say, "I eat the chicken."
Suddenly the class is alive -
Each one putting on hats and shoes.
Drinking sodas and beers, cutting flowers
And steaks - a pantomime of sumptuous living.
At break I pass out cookies.
Augustine, the Guatemalan, asks in Spanish,
"Teacher, what is 'tally-ho'?"
I look at the word in the composition book
I raise my face to the bare bulb for a blind answer.
I stutter, then say, "It's like 'adalente'."
Augustine smiles, then nudges a friend
In the next desk, now smarter by one word.
After the cookies are eaten,
We move ahead to prepositions -
"Under," "over," and "between,"
Useful words when la migra opens the doors
of their idling vans.
At ten to nine, I'm tired of acting,
And they're tired of their roles.
When class ends, I clap my hands of chalk dust,
And two students applaud, thinking it's a new verb.
I tell them adelante,
And they pick up their old books.
They smile and, in return, cry, "Tally-ho"
As they head out the door.
Now this from Victor Hernandez Cruz
This is a leaf
It is from the palms
That the river of words
is entering the valley
Into the caves
the winds of hurricanes
Chasing the crabs
of the oceans
Leafs hanging in the
wind are the archives
Of the gone
Exchanges between thought
In the landscape
alphabet of rocks
The library of Alexandria
emptied into a Bedouin
Sprayed from the desert
into flaminca's eyes
Who sailed the Atlantic
To make the pineapples
Upon sheets of golden
So hot that insects want
to take off their clothes
And just be whispers
writing out of palms
On-line poet, Lana Wiltshire lives in Southern California, not far from the beaches where she grew up. She says she writes because it is the most joyous, engrossing, satisfying thing she can do each day. When she's not writing....well, she's always writing, she says. But sometimes she also teaches History and English at local middle schools and high schools.
This is Lana's first appearance in "Here and Now."
What Stays and What Goes
I take one
last look around the bedroom.
Blank white walls, pale
offer no hint of lives
lived here: all joy, sorrow,
bed, no oxygen
machine with its snaking
tubes - just silence
For a moment
shadows play through
the room and memory
colors the walls again.
Then I walk away.
don't live in rooms, but in hearts.
I plan to take mine with me
William Butler Yeats on old loves and could-have-beens.
When You Are Old
When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes once had, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Painting by Blas Hernandez Jr. and Rita Ramos
Nobel Poet Octavio Paz on poetry
At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of joy and the
vertigo of death;
the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena
in submarine gardens;
the laughter that sets fire to rules and the holy commandments;
the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
the despair that boards a paper boar and crosses
for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-
the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipa-
tion of the self;
the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors;
the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and
the garden of Netzahualcoyot;
the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the
cave of thought;
the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on waves of language;
the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid; the love in
(Translated by Eliot Weinberger)
Next, we have two poems from on-line poet and frequent "Here and Now" contributor Alan Addotto . This is a gentler, quieter Alan than we're used to.
Awake in the dark
The other night
as she slept
The bluish night light
in the bedroom
was just bright enough
..... soft and unobtrusive
as I suppose
it would be inside a cocoon
if it were tinted a pale cerulean.
Kwan Yin sleeping
I reached over
and touched her right breast.
Nothing I didn't expect
still somewhat of a surprise.
Her presence and mine
at the same time and in the same place
both caught up in the quiet coincidences
that had brought us there
She didn't stir
except for the dreaming movements
beneath lidded eyes.
.....the riseandfall of gentle breathing
with the reaffirming warmth and
reassurance in just touching her.
The sound of wind chimes in the twilight
What would you of me,
Foreverness in this body,
in this place?
This, I am afraid, is not mine to give
though I would if I could
and wait out the star-dimmings with you
But have we not done that before?
Have we not in other bodies other than these
watched many sweet light-bornings
and their slow retreats into darkness
uncountable and repeating
again and again?
have faith. Don't be afraid.
Time has no bind on you and me.
We have no business
with just this single temporality,
this single set of brief breaths
strung out over fragile years.
this is not for us, these limitations.
Be brave, my dear heart.
As there was no start in the past
there is no ending at last.
James Wright spent most of his life in New York City, but never, in his poetry, forgot his rural roots.
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
The Chinese poet He Qifang was born in the early years of the 20th century and was greatly influenced in his poetry by Western literature. Despite joining the Communist Party near the very beginning of the revolution and years of loyalty to the party, he was, like many teachers and intellectual, persecuted and sent to the countryside for "reeducation" during the Cultural Revolution.
He died of stomach cancer in 1977.
Shrine to the Earth God
Sunlight shines on the broad leaves of castor-oil plants,
Beehives nestle in the earth-god shrine.
Running against my shadow,
I have returned circuitously
And realized the stillness of time.
But on the grass,
Where are those short-armed children who chased after chirping crickets?
Where are those joyous cries of my childhood playmates,
Rising to the blue sky at the treetops?
The vast kingdom of childhood
Appears pathetically small
Under my feet, which are dusty with foreign dust.
In the desert, travelers treasure a glass of water;
A sailor resents the white waves beyond his oars.
I used to think I possessed a paradise
And hit it in the darkest corner of my memory.
Since then I have experienced the loneliness of an adult
And grown fonder of the mazes of paths in dreams.
An important trait to be developed when workshopping your work on any of the many on-line poetry forums is the ability to accept all criticism with equanimity and appreciation. All criticism is helpful, you must convince yourself, even when it's clear that your critic missed the point of your masterpiece entirely.
Hard as it is to admit sometimes, it's true, criticism makes better poets.
Some have a harder time developing this trait of grace under pressure than others.
progress report on learning to accept criticism graciously
with her own
little band of
all of them
time to get
of the forest
with no one
I can do that
she's a tree...
she's a tree...
a snarky bitch
fallen on the
rotting with bugs
and little rabbit
and no one
From the classics with ideas that resonate still in our time, this short piece from William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing , we are out of time;
It moves us not - Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
Or hear old Titan blow hs weathered horn.
Du Fu, forever falling in and out of favor with authority, never achieving wealth, never achieving high government position, lived an active life in difficult and unsettled times.
Born in 712 B.C. and dead before his 50th birthday, he is said to be the undisputed genius of Chinese poetry, The Daoist Li Bai was more popular, it is said, and the Buddhist Wang Wei more sublimely simple and intimate with nature, but Confucian Du Fu exceeded them both in thematic range and master and innovator of all the verse forms of this time.
Here are two of his shorter poems. At the time they were written, invasion from Tibet seemed imminent, keeping him from returning to his home and family.
On Yueyang Tower
In the past I heard of Dongting Lake,
and now I climb Yueyang Tower
and see Wu and Chu unfold east and south.
Heaven and earth float there night and day.
Not one word from my family and friends,
I'm old and sick and have just my lonely boat.
War horses charge north of the mountain passes.
I lean against the rail and sob.
Gibbons wail into a high sky of wild wind,
Birds circle a pure isle of white sand.
Leaves drift and shift from countless trees.
The Yangtze River boils and rolls without end.
I've wandered forever, a thousand miles of autumn woe.
I climb the terrace alone, sick as always in my lifetime.
Bitter pain has turned my temples to snow.
I'm so poor I can't even afford muddy wine.
On-line poet Sarah Zang welcomes early spring in this next poem.
Her poems have appeared in many online and print journals, including Poetic Diversity, Get Underground, Subtle Tea, Poetic Village, Kookamonga Square, Wordflair, Muse Whispers, New Classic Poems, and others. She is the keeper of the key at Wordflair Community of Poets and Writers at www.wordflair.net. She also has her own website, "Pitching Pennies," which can be accessed through the link on the right.
This is Sarah's first appearance in "Here and Now."
stirs pinpoint stars,
tousles trees still free
from summer egos.
gaunt from winter battles,
fishes a tasty morsel
from the fresh thawed stream.
All earth sits shy
in new green,
We are given these days
William Carlos Williams on a widow's mourning. Though not acknowledged in the poem, the widow is said to be his mother, as he, in the poem, seems to be addressing his own grief through her.
The Widow's Lament in Springtime
Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
loaded the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turned away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.
Blaise Cendrars learns that past is past.
I went back to the Quarter
As I did when I was young
I think it's a waste of time
Because nothing in me recognizes
My dreams or despair
What I did eighteen years old
Blocks of houses are torn down
The names of the streets are changed
Saint-Severin is stripped bare
The place Maubert is now larger
And the rue Saint-Jacques has been widened
I think it all looks much better
New and older at the same time
And so by whisking my beard
Off and with very short hair
I bear the face of today
And my grandfather's skull
That's why I have no regrets
And I call to the wrecking crew
Knock my fucking childhood to the ground
My family and my habits
Put a train station in its place
Or leave an empty lot
Which will release my origin
I am not my father's son
And I love only my great-grandfather
I made a new name for myself
Visible as a blue and red
Billboard upon a scaffolding
Behind which new futures
Are being built.
Wally Schirra was one of the heros of my time. I wrote this poem in 2004, upon seeing mention in the newspaper of his 81st birthday. I just saw in the paper a week or so ago a story on his 84th.
The poem appeared in The Green Tricycle shortly after it was written.
Wally Schirra is 81
I remember watching
report Neil Armstrong's
first step on the moon
Wally wept that night
maybe he cried
for the chance he lost
to make his own mark
in the virgin lunar dust,
or maybe for the earthrise
he would never see
he may have wept
for the lost mystery,
our bright goddess
for a thousand generations
no longer so remote
or maybe he wept for all of us,
making this first step together,
this first emergence from the womb
of our endangered mother earth.
On-line poet Susan McDonough is back with "Here and Now," ruminating on the weighty decisions of a dog's life.
Decisions at Midnight
The dog has difficulty
deciding who he will
sleep with tonight.
Maybe he should hang out
with the teenage girls
and ask to share their ipods.
or curl up under the quilt;
warm in the crook of Nancy's arm
but out of "jump down" range
instead he settles in his circle
next to me, growls at my feet
telling them not to move.
Gwendolyn Brooks, born in 1917, was publishing poetry by the time she was seventeen years old. Her first book, A Street in Bronzeville, won a series of prizes, including Guggenheim fellowship. With her second poetry collection, Annie Allen, published in 1949, she became the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother eye.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breast they would never suck.
I have said Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine? -
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
Your were born, you had body, you died.
It's just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
This is a piece I wrote in 2005 and used in my book Seven Beats a Second published shortly thereafter. I don't think I ever sent it out to anyone else.
my kind of people
need not apply
while reading historical
no krinkly, wrinkly
babies with foul smelling diapers
who count their money
in a dark little room
no judges, no fire chiefs,
no social workers,
no grocery store clerks,
or used car salesmen
also, no candlestick makers
if they're still around
none of them either
and no swarthy skinned
men with mustaches
no bald-headed men
with brittle hair
piled higher than
six and one half inches
none too short
none too tall
none too big
and none too small
and none too
no men in tangerine
and no women
in pedal pushers
no arabs, no blacks,
no wops, no jews
no russians, maldavians,
limeys, frogs, krauts,
poles, czechs, hunkies,
nor tight-fisted scots
they just need not apply
and no chinamen either
and none of their oriental
and damn sure no syrians
and canadians, too
and kansans, californians,
new yorkers, iowa
or any of the rest
all of them
just need not apply
all that riffraff
just need not apply
cause now we're
getting down to
the right kind of people
my kind of people
Don Schaeffer, on-line Canadian poet and regular contributor to "Here and Now," lets us in on one of his nightmares.
The Return Trip
They teach us
in space cadet school
that the return vehicle
is very small
so we have to shrink
before we can go home.
I lay here
thinking about that
and get frightened
Anonymous Egyptian love songs, circa 1500-1100 B.C.
Pleasant Songs of the Sweetheart Who Meets You in the Fields
You, mine, my love,
My heart strives to reach the heights of your love.
See, sweet, the bird-trap set with my own hand.
See the birds of Punt,
Like a shower of myrrh
Descending on Egypt
Let us watch my handiwork,
The two of us, together in the fields.
The shrill of the wild goose
Unable to resist
The temptation of my bait
While I, in a tangle of love,
Unable to break free,
Must watch the bird carry away my nets.
And when my mother returns, loaded with bids,
And finds me empty-handed,
What shall I say?
Even when the birds rise
Wave mass on wave mass in great flight
I see nothing, I am blind
Caught up as I am and carried away
Two hearts obedient in their beating
My life caught up with yours
Your beauty the binding.
Without your love, my heart would beat no more;
Without your love, sweet cake seems only salt;
Without your love, sweet "shedeh" turns to bile.
O listen, darling, my heart’s life needs your love;
For when you breathe, mine is the heart that beats.
(Translated by Ezra Pound and Noel Stock)
I wrote this piece somewhere in early 2005, about the time I began putting Seven Beats a Second together which was about the time I started getting behind on my record keeping. The result of that in the case of this poem, as with almost everything I've written in the two years since, is I don't know exactly when I wrote it and exactly what I did with it. Luckily, I did know that I included it in the book which turns out to contain, apparently, the only remaining hardcopy of it I have.
I keep telling myself I need to sit down for a week or two and get all this straightened, but I haven't been able to find the time to be that bored.
I do think I remember the poem was written in response to a challenge, probably on the Blueline forum. I'm thinking the challenge might have had something to do with Dali.
Realizing that I may have already done way too much commentary on such a slight poem, here it is.
eyes of Sister Jude
like tempered blades
that cut clean through when angry
that weigh and judge
and stand ever alert for betrayal
dark eyes, deep,
softened only once for love
then moistened by a long night's weeping
but only once
and it was long ago
Finishing up with an unusually terse Walt Whitman, but still a beautiful piece and very Whitmanesque, with all the elements that make him (the poet and the man, inseparable and always one) impossible not to love.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tireless speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need to be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul