Another Chance At The Brass Ring
Friday, December 28, 2007
Welcome, Readers and Happy New Year from the San Antonio Riverwalk.
Galway Kinnell was born in 1927 in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied at Princeton University, graduating in 1948 alongside friend and fellow poet W.S. Merwin. He received his master of arts degree from the University of Rochester. He traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East, and went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. During the 1960's, he became committed to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Upon returning to the US, he joined CORE and worked on voter registration and workplace integration in Louisiana, an effort that got him arrested.
In addition to his works of poetry and his translations, Kinnell published one novel Black Light, and one children's book How the Alligator Missed Breakfast.
Kinnell was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing at New York University and a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. He is now retired and lives in Vermont.
I took this poem from the college textbook The Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
Ruins Under the Stars
All day under acrobat
Swallows I have sat, beside ruins
Of a plank house sunk up to its windows
In burdock and raspberry cane,
The roof dropped, the foundation broken in,
Nothing left perfect but axe-marks on the beams."
A paper in a cupboard talks about "mugwumps."
In a V-letter a farmboy in the marines has "tasted battle..."
The apples are pure acid on the tangle of boughs,
The pasture has gone to popple and bush.
Here on this perch of ruins
I listen for the crunch of the porcupines.
Overhead the skull-hill rises
Crossed on top by the stunted apple,
Infinitely beyond it, older than love or guilt,
Lie the stars ready to jump and sprinkle out of space.
Every night under those thousand lights
An owl dies, or a snake sloughs its skin,
A man in a dark pasture
Feels a homesickness he does not understand.
Sometimes I see them,
The south-going Canada geese,
At evening, coming down
In pink light, over the pond, in great,
Loose, always-dissolving V's -
I go out into the field and listen
To the cold, lonely yelping
Of their tranced bodies in the sky.
This morning I watched
Milton Norway's sky-blue Ford
Dragging its ass down the dirt road
On the other side of the valley.
Later, off in the woods
A chainsaw was agonizing across the top of some stump.
A while ago the tracks of a little snowy,
SAC bomber when crawling across heaven.
What of that little hairstreak
That was flopping and battling about
Deep in the goldenrod -
Did she not know, either, where she was going?
Just now I had a funny sensation,
As if some angel, or winged star,
Had been perched nearby.
In the chokecherry bush
There was a twig just ceasing to tremble...
The bats come in place o the swallows.
In the smoking heap of old antiques
The porcupine-crackle starts up again,
The bone-saw, the pure music of our sphere,
And up there the stars rustling and whispering.
Here's a fun poem from Khadija Anderson. We haven't seen Khadija in a while. It's good to have her back
wish you were here
I'm getting ready to go out
at the bathroom sink
in the big mirror I see
that my gray underwear is peeking out
over the top of my low
you would notice that
because you notice those things
and I have no top on
but my bra is also gray
and I know you would like to watch me
as I bend over
brushing my teeth like that
I notice that the brown animal spots on my gray bra
match my pants
and I wonder if you would notice that
but probably not
you'd probably just pull me
back into the bedroom
throw me on the bed and
well, you know
I used a poem by Charles Bukowski several weeks ago written near the end of his life. Although I don't have a date on it, I think this poem was also written late in his life. For most of his fifty year writing career Bukowski was careful to project and protect in his work the persona of his hard-drinking, hard-living alter ego, Hank Chinaski. As he grew older, especially near the end of his life, Hank became less the center of his poems, as in this poem where we begin to see more and more behind the Bukowski image, protecting Hank, in a way, from the decay of advancing age and death.
This is Charles' poem, not Hank's.
something's knocking at the door
a great white light dawns across the
as we fawn over our tailed traditions,
often kill to preserve them
or sometimes kill just to kill.
it doesn't seem to matter: the answers dangle just
out of reach,
out of hand, out of mind.
the leaders of the past were insufficient,
the leaders of the present are unprepared.
we curl up tightly in our beds at night and wait.
it is a waiting without hope, more like
a prayer for unmerited grace.
it all looks more and more like the same old
the actors are different but the plot's the same:
we should have known, watching our fathers.
we should have known, watching our mothers.
they did not know, they too were not prepared to
we were to naive to ignore their
and now we have embraced their
ignorance as our
we are them, multiplied.
we are their unpaid debts.
we are bankrupt
in money and
There are a few exceptions, of course,
but these teeter on the
at any moment
tumble down to join the rest
the raving, the battered, the blind and the sadly
a great white light dawns across the
the flowers open blindly in the stinking wind,
as grotesque and ultimately
our 21st century
struggles to be
I don't know what started me on this train of thought, but this is where the tracks led me.
I bumped into
in the Indiana University
library and David Brinkley
about twenty-five years later
at a chamber of commerce dinner
on the Texas gulf coast;
I saw Dwight Eisenhower
and Charles de Gaulle
as they passed in a motorcade,
Ike in Texas and de Gaulle
in Paris; I sneaked into
a lecture by LBJ at Texas
State University and had
with George Bush while
he was governor; I was
on the University of Texas
campus when the crazy guy
started shooting people
from the UT Tower, but
I was on the north side
while he was mostly shooting
south, all the way downtown,
and didn't know anything
was going on until it was
almost over; I saw Freddy
Fender once when he was
visiting a friend of his who
was a coworker of mine; I've seen
David Robinson at the bowling
alley and at a bookstore, and
I saw Popovich once at the same
bookstore looking at magazines
that's pretty much all the famous people
I've had any kind of contact with
I've seen a bunch of unfamous
people, too, but I don't
Here's a cool piece by Tony Hoagland from his book donkey gospel for which he received the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets in 1997.
He was born in 1953 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and educated at Williams College, the University of Iowa, and the University of Arizona.
He currently teaches in the University of Houston creative writing program.
I can't believe I'm sitting here
in this dark tavern,
listening to my old friend boast
about the size of his cock
and its long history,
as witnessed by the list of women
he now embarks upon, enumerating them
as a warrior might recite the deeds
accomplished by the family spear,
or like an old Homeric mariner might
go on about the nightspots
between Ithaca and Troy.
The bar tonight has the feeling
of a hideout deep inside the woods, a stronghold
full of beer and smoke,
the tidal undertow of baritones and jukebox
punctuated by the clean, authoritative smack
of pool balls from the back.
It's so primordial,
I feel my chest grow hairier
with every drink, and soon
I'm drunk enough to think
I'm also qualified to handle
any woman in the world.
You can talk about the march
of evolutionary change,
you can talk about how far we've climbed
up the staircase lined with self-help books
and sensitivity exams,
but my friend and I,
we're no different from any pair
of good old by Neanderthals
crouching by their fire
a million years ago,
showing off their scars and belching
as they scratch their heavy, king-sized balls.
I know that we are just an itchy spot
in the middle of the back
of the great hairy beast, The Truth;
I know that every word we say is probably a stone
someone else will someday have to
- still, part of me feels privileged,
belonging to this tribe of predators,
this club of deep-voiced woman-fuckers
to which I never thought
I never would belong;
part of me is more than willing to be wrong
to remain inside the circle of this
- to hear the details, one more time,
of how she took her shirt off, smiled,
and then they did it on the floor.
Even if the roof were falling in,
even if the whole world splintered and caught fire,
I would continue sitting here, I think,
entranced - implicated, cursed,
historically entwined -
another little dinosaur
stretching up its neck and head
to catch the last sweet drop of drunken warmth
coming from that ancient, fading sun.
We can't pull ourselves apart from it.
We don't really believe
there is another one.
Here's a poet that describes himself as a 42 year old male, born in New England and currently residing in Oklahoma. He says he is an explorer & adventurer that finally ran out of money, so he's now doing the "working for a living" thing.
The name he uses in posting on Wild Poetry Forum is DC Vision. I may not know his real name, but as someone who smoked for forty years before I quit eleven years ago, I do know what he's talking about in his poem.
To those still smoking, quitting is the hardest thing you'll ever do, until you really want to, then it's the easiest.
Here's the poem.
I feel as the message
from appetite to flesh
and in a flash
my arm lifts
to light another
cigarette in contemplation
I feel nothing at all
except the impulse
and my arm lifts
to light yet another
cigarette in unconsciousness
my arm lifts
but i forget why
so I light another cigarette
to punctuate the moment
I have to remember
that I smoke too much
and think too little
for my own good
Next, I have three short poems from Blaise Cendrars that come from his experience during World War I when he fought in the French Foreign Legion. He served on the front lines from 1914 until he lost his right arm under attack by the enemy in Champagne in September, 1915.
Reading a little further into Cendrars' biography I learned that I have been wrong about something. I previously thought Cendrars had been an inspiration, especially in his travels, for Guillaume Apollinaire. Turns out, it was the other way around, Apollinaire inspired Cendrars.
After the war, he became involved in the movie industry in Italy, France, and the United States, and then, in 1925, he stopped writing poetry and concentrated his efforts on novels and short stories which provided him a greater income.
Here are the war poems.
In the fog the rifle fire crackles and the cannon's voice comes right
up to us
The American bison is not more terrible
Nor more beautiful
Like the swan of Cameroon
I have clipped your wings, O my explosive forehead
And you don't want a kepi
On the national highway 400 thousand feet pound out sparks to the
clanking of mess kits
I pass by
Brazen and stupid
All my men are bedded down under the acacias the shells rip through
O blue sky of Marne
With the smile of an airplane
We are forgotten
This is one of those late night dog-walking poems. Seems my ideas come either while I'm walking my dog or while I'm at a coffee shop. To bad I can't walk my dog at a coffee shop, I'd probably come up with some classics.
is full of
and almost full
if I could
a line from here
Now, here's Paul Durcan, a contemporary Irish poet born in Dublin in 1944. He has published eighteen books of poetry, including Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil which is the source for this poem.
- A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the
same people living in the same place.
"Ulysses," Bodley Head edition, 1960, pg. 489
The Bloomsday Murders, 16 June 1997
Not even you, Gerry Adams, deserve to be murdered:
You whose friends at noon murdered my two young men,
David Johnston and John Graham;
You who in the afternoon came on TV
In a bookshop on Bloomsday signing books,
Sporting a trendy union shirt.
(We vain authors do not wear collars and ties.)
Instead of the bleeding corpses of David and Hohn
We were treated to you gazing into camera
In bewilderment fibbing like a spoilt child:
"Their deaths diminish us all."
You with your paterfamilias beard,
Your Fidel Castro street-cred,
Your parnell martyr-gaze,
Your Lincoln gravittas,
O Gerry Adams, you're a wicked boy.
Only on Sunday evening in sunlight
I met David and John up the park
Patrolling the young mums with prams.
"Going to write a poem about us, Paul?"
How they l laughed! How they saluted!
How they turned their backs! Their silver spines!
had I known it, would I have told them?
That for next Sunday's newspaper I'd compose a poem
How you, Gerry Adams, not caring to see,
Saw two angels in their silver spines shot.
I am a citizen of the nation of Ireland -
The same people living in the same place.
I hope the Protestants never leave our shores.
I am a Jew and my name is Bloom.
You, Gerry Adams, do not sign books in my name.
May God forgive me - lock, stock and barrel.
My next poem is from fellow webpoet Cliff Keller. I'm pleased to have him back with us.
She may have noticed
the cursive scratching
or my posture's gothic arch
crumbling into the table.
"I'm a writer, too."
I can tell she means it.
Doesn't matter if
her "i"s are dotted with little hearts
or she rubs her eyes raw 'til 3 am,
she means it.
I blush, search for
the little billboard:
A rug of drinks levitates above her
and floats off to the stuffed men
measuring out their days with
if she'll write about me tonight
if I'm a poem already
conceived in the lunch rush
Here's a poem by Roberto Sosa, a poet from Honduras. Born in 1930, his poems have been, at different times, both banned and highly honored. He writes of the oppression and poverty in his country, which accounts for both the banning and the honors.
I took the poem from the book The Same Sky, with poems from around the world selected by the book's editor, Naomi Shihab Nye. The poem was translated into English by Jim Lindsey.
maze after maze
with their emptiness on their backs.
In the past
they were warriors over all things.
They put up monuments to fire
and to the rains, whose black fists
put the fruit in the earth.
In the theaters of their cities of colors
and golden masks
brought from faraway enemy empires
They marked time
with numerical precision.
They gave their conquerors
liquid gold to drink
and grasped the heavens
like a tiny flower.
In our day
they plow and seed the ground
the same as in primitive times.
Their women shape clay
and the stones of the field, or weave
while the wind
disorders their long coarse hair,
like that of goddesses.
I've seen them barefoot and almost nude,
guarded by voices poised like whips,
or drunk and wavering with the pools of the setting sun
on the way back to their shacks
in the last block of the forgotten.
I've talked with them up in their refuges
there in the mountains watched over by idols
where they are happy as deer
but quiet and deep
I've felt their faces
beat my eyes until the dying light
and so have discovered
my strength is neither
sound nor strong.
Next to their feet
that all the roads destroyed
I leave my own blood
written on obscure bough.
I was watching this scene at Borders and one image, the boy standing with his arms crossed in front of him, like he was hugging himself, crystalized the poem for me.
chess night at the coffee shop
the young chess player,
dark hair spiked
in every direction,
to his older,
to the next table,
arms folded in front
like the young boys
were in my younger days
or some other
that served to define
a particular class of queer,
never at ease with their bodies
shame them in their own minds,
making them always ready
for a challenge in the realm
of the mind, a chance to join
other brainiacs around a chess table
where minds could make moves
without the clumsy
John Ashbery, born in 1927, has won nearly every major American award for poetry and is recognized as one of America's most important, though still controversial, poets.
Our next poem is from his book And the Stars Were Shining, published in 1995 by The Noonday Press.
Like A Sentence
How little we know,
and when we know it!
It was prettily said that "No man
hath an abundance of cows on the plain, nor shards
in his cupboard." Wait! I think I know who said that! It was...
Never mind, dears, the afternoon
will fold you up, along with preoccupations
that now seem so important, until only a child
running around on a unicycle occupies center stage.
Then what will you make of walls? And I fear you
will have to come up with something,
be it a terraced gambit above the sea
or gossip overheard in the marketplace.
For you see, it becomes you to be chastened:
and for the old to envy the young,
and for youth to fear not getting older,
where the paths through the elms, the carnivals, begin.
And it was said of Byges that his ring
attracted those who saw him not,
just as those who wandered through him were aware
only of a certain stillness, such as precedes an earache,
while lumberjacks in headbands came down to see what all the fuss
whether it was something they could be part of
sans affront to self-esteem.
And those temple hyenas who had seen enough,
nostrils aflae, fur backing up in the breeze,
were no place you could count on,
having taken a proverbial powder
as rifle butts received another notch.
I, meanwhile...I was going to say I had squandered spring
when summer came along and took it from me
like a terrier a lady has asked one to hold for a moment
while she adjusts her stocking in the mirror of a weighing machine.
But here it is winter, and wrong
to speak of other seasons as though they exist.
Time has only an agenda
in the wallet at his back, while we
who think we know where we are going unfazed
end up in brilliant woods, nourished more than we can know
by the unexpectedness of ice and stars
and crackling tears. We'll just have to make a go of it,
a run for it. And should the smell of baking cookies appease
one or the other of the olfactory senses, climb down
into this wagon load of prisoners.
The meter will be screamingly clear then,
the rhythms unbounced, for though we came
to life as to a school, we must leave it without graduating
even as an ominous wind puffs out the sails
of proud feluccas who don't know where they're headed,
only that a motion is etched there, shaking to be free.
The next poem is by Thane Zander. I don't usually use poets two weeks in a row, but I've been saving two of Thane's poems, the one last week and this one, that I think are exceptionally fine and I want to use them both before I forget where I have them.
Headline 73 buried in Page Forty of the Newspaper
There it is, found it. I'd been waiting for the snippet of information since the interview seven days hence. The Cub Reporter was true to her word, within one week and there it is, "Mentally Ill have been Great People"
Winston Churchill it is said
was mentally ill
lived a life coupled with depression
not sure he was Manic Depressive
The window of Depression is always dark
the mood of the bearer often slouchy
the light of day darkened when passing through,
I suffer Mania, so can't comment
though I'm sure it's as debilitating.
The article was two hours of interview, though the short piece surely doesn't warrant mentioning. Maybe I wasn't that interesting, though in my own mind I find myself highly worthy of mining, yet I get the feeling the gold I tried to pass off as my illness was subjected to editorial dismantling.
A lot of stars of stage and screen
suffer from Bipolar,
suffer from depression,
suffer from drug abuse
and maybe alcohol too,
The Lap Dancers in some hotels
snort cocaine to stop the pain,
the degradation of self
degeneration of mind,
a young kid in a classroom shows disinterest
shows signs of fidgeting,
knows he's not fitting in
he's got puberty to wait for the outcome
a mental illness part hereditary
part self abuse,
all to often seriously underrated.
I read the article another time, just to be sure that it would articulate with fellow sufferers, to accept my invitation to join our consumers group, to offer peer to peer assistance, to let them know they are not alone. She highlighted the meetings every second Wednesday. I think "is this enough?" then ruminate that maybe it could be too much for some. Such is life.
We meet every second Wednesday
to keep the pace of the meetings going
to do crafts and the likes
to make things happen,
numbers are low
we expect that
to start with,
this week we hope after the paper article
things will pick up, improve, increase,
of course, buried on Page Forty
not many would have the patience to read that deep,
I sure as hell wouldn't,
The register we sign when we clock in shows a marked increase. Maybe the Winston Churchill reference or the elucidation of famous actors, but this week coming indications are more people will be there, the phones of the organizers running red hot. Someone read, yes, and they read me, now time to meet and mingle as fellow humans afflicted with likewise ailments.
James Galvin was born in Chicago in 1951 and raised in northern Colorado. He earned a B.A. from Antioch College in 1974 and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1977. He has published several collections of poetry, most recently Resurrection Update: Collected Poems 1975-1997, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Lethal Frequencies, Elements, God's Mistress, which was selected for the National Poetry Series; and Imaginary Timber.
Galvin lives in Wyoming, where he has worked as a rancher part of each year all his life, and in Iowa City, where he is a member of the permanent faculty of the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop.
The poem I have this week is from his book X Poems, published by Copper Canyon Press in 2003.
Wild Irises On Dirty Woman Creek
Stars leak mixed feelings
Over sheet lightning's weft of echoes.
You, I can't get over your shoulder blades,
Like music from the center of the earth.
I want to live happily.
You can have the ever and the after.
You are quite lifelike, but you can't fool me.
I know the unearthly when I die from it.
I'm not talking about the body's mutable components -
I'm not talking.
Look - wild irises, like every spring,
In the salacious green of Dirty Woman Creek.
I wrote this while sitting at a very crowded espresso bar in a supermarket, waiting for my son to finish shopping for the Christmas dinner he's going to prepare for us.
at the grocer's
two days before
at the market,
with valet parking,
an overflow of BMWs,
and Escalades and
in the parking garage
and a crowded little espresso
bar for those in need
of a caffeine snort at a
for all its pretensions,
this is a place for
who is a serious cook,
buys his groceries here
when he prepares dinner
for us, as he will do
so as he shops,
I stand by,
debit card in hand,
sucking on a latte
at the espresso bar,
by the kind of Texans
with a lot more money
than me, bankers
and lawyers dressed
like ranchers or farmers
just off the plow,
and I realize,
in the milieu
they have chosen,
I, in my faded jeans,
Walmart tee shirt
and Goodwill jacket,
am better dressed than
they are, in all their
working man finery,
which is such a shock
to my usual relaxed (read
sloppy) self, I think
for a moment that
we ought to do
all our grocery shopping
Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, she spent her early years in the Dominican Republic, until political insurrection forced her family to flee the country. After their arrival in New York city, she and her sisters struggled to find their place in a new world.
Her most notable work How the Garcia Girl Lost their Accents, a collection of related short stories, was published in 1991 and is drawn from this immigrant experience. Alvarez released her second novel, In the Time of Butterflies in 1994.
In addition to novels, she has published several books of poetry, beginning with Homecoming in 1984. In 1995 she released The Other Side: El Otro Lado, another poetry collection.
Alvarez is married, with two children, and is currently professor of English at Middlebury College in Vermont.
This poem is from Homecoming
We keep coming to this part
of the story where we're sad:
I've broken up with my true love
man after man.
You've found It.
Once, It was God.
in the third world.
Now, It's love.
You'll survive, our mothers said
when romance was once.
Now they keep tight faces
for our visits home
and tell their friends
all that education
has confused us,
all those poems.
They have, we laugh,
and buy the dreams -
Redbook, House Beautiful,
Mademoiselle. and Vogue -
to read our stories in them
and send the clippings home.
Sometimes the bright chase
of lovers in a meadow
sets us to believe again
in the worn plot of love.
Sadly, we turn the page
to right our hearts,
knowing our lives too well
to be the heroines
of our mothers' stories.
We're careful with the words
we pick, the loves with no returns
like the ones we wanted.
Godmothers to our sister's girls,
we bring them squawking rubber monsters,
birthday poems pasted in the growing albums.
Photo by Thomas Costales
I've shown you some of the stark, late-night photos of Thomas Costales several times. Thomas recently came back into the daylight to try some portraiture. Here is some of his new work, beginning with the self-portrait above.
Photo by Thomas Costales
Photo by Thomas Costales
Photo by Thomas Costales
Photo by Thomas Costales
Chao Meng-fu was a prince and descendant of the Song Dynasty, and a Chinese scholar, painter and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty. He was born in 1254 and died in 1322.
Why does an artist or poet continue to do his art even if it seems no one cares. He explains it in this poem, translated by Jonathan Chaves.
An Admonition to Myself
Your teeth are loose, your head is bald,
you're sixty-three years old;
every aspect of your life
should make you feel ashamed.
All that's left that interests you
are the products of your brush:
leave them behind to give the world
something to talk about.
This is another coffee shop scene, written last night for my poem for the day.
the chill of the night
long dark hair
with the sheen
of fresh-mined coal,
against the cold
in identical red coats
and the chill
of the night
Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He and his brother and sister were abandoned by their parents when he was seven years old. They stayed at their grandparents house until their grandfather died. He and his brother were sent to an orphanage, while his sister stayed with their grandmother to help her. Running away from the orphanage when he was thirteen, he and his brother found his abusive and alcoholic father and lived with him. He eventually escaped his father by moving to California.
Baca continued to get in trouble and at the age of twenty-one was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison for drug offenses. It was in prison that he learned to read and write and began to compose poetry.
His book Martín & Meditations on the South Valley, a pair of long narrative poems, including the poem sequence below, won an American Book Award in 1988. I pulled the poem from The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.
In addition to his poetry collections and stories, Baca wrote the screenplay for the movie Bound by Honorr, which was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1993.
from Martin XIV
El Pablo was a bad dude
Presidente of the River Rats.
(700) strong from '67 to '73.
Hands so fast
he could catch two flies buzzing
in air, and still light his cigarette.
From a flat foot standing position
he jumped to kick the top of a door jamb
twice with each foot.
Pants and shirt creased and cuffed,
sharp pointy shoes polished to black glass,
El Pachucon was cool to the bone, brutha.
His initials were etched
on Junior High School desks,
Castaneda's Meat Market walls,
downtown railway bridge,
on the red bricks at the Civic Auditorium,
Uptown and Downtown,
El Pachucon left his mark.
Back to the wall, legs crossed, hands pocketed,
combing his greased-back ducktail
when a jaine walked by. Cool to the huesos.
Now he's a janitor at Pajarito
Elementary School -
still hangs out
by the cafeteria, cool to the bone,
still wears his sunglasses,
he leads a new gang of neighborhood parents
to the Los Padilla Community Center,
to fight against polluted ground water,
against Developers who want to urbanize
his rural running grounds.
Standing in the back of the crowd
last Friday, I saw Pablo stand up
and yell at the Civic Leaders from City Hall,
"Listen Cuates, you pick your weapons.
We'll fight you on any ground you pick."
Now, here's another in the Tarot series by Alex Stolis
Strength is a prime number
You tell me everything
I need to know about my sins -
how they will be stones
that weigh down my pockets
how they are the missing page
in an attempt to write a story.
Tomorrow and the tomorrow
after is time enough to believe
today we will be unafraid
with nothing left to break
Next, I have five short poems from the Japanese. The poems are taken from the book One Hundred Poems From The Japanese. All of the poems are translated by Kenneth Rexroth.
The first poem is by Bunya No Asayasu who lived about 900 A.D. The poem was written at the request of the Emperor Daigo during a garden party and poem-writing contest.
In a gust of wind the white dew
On the Autumn grass
Scatters like a broken necklace.
The next poem is by Fujiwara No Atsutada. He is believed to have died in 961 A.D. He was a high functionary during the reign of Emperor Daigo. His family, which continues today in Japan, has retained power, influence and service to country for centuries, providing Japan with administrators, regents, Shoguns, poets, generals, painters, and philosophers .
I think of the days
Before I met her
When I seemed to have
No troubles at all.
The last three poems are by Kakinomoto No Hitomaro. He lived during the reign of Emperor Mommu (667-707 A.D.). Nothing, outside of his poems, is known about him, though it is speculated that he might have been a personal attendant to the Emperor.
In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.
Gossip grows like weeds
In a summer meadow.
My girl and I
Sleep arm in arm.
This morning I will not
Comb my hair.
It has lain
pillowed on the hand of my lover.
I'll end the week with an old poem. I wrote the first version of it in 1968 while in the military, posted to a USAF facility near the town of Peshawar on the frontier of Northwest Pakistan.
According to legend, in ancient times, the city began its existence as a wintering place for Alexander's armies. I don't think it's a secret anymore that in the 1950's it was the last refueling stop for the U2 spy planes that overflew the Soviet Union, an intelligence exercise that ended when one of the planes was shot down and its pilot, Gary Powers, taken prisoner. The primary intelligence learned as a result of that flight was that Soviet anti aircraft missiles could fly a hell of a lot higher than we thought.
The city has been in the news in recent years as the center of tribal areas that are harboring Osama Bin Laden and the remnants of his murderous crew.
I spent nearly a year there, from mid-1968 to mid-1969 at a "secret" facility outed while I was there on the front page of the New York Times and closed upon the overthrow of the government of Mohammad Ayub Khan by Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, himself later overthrown by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of the just assassinated Benazir Bhutto.
I was one of several hundred American airmen pleased to see the gates close behind us as we left.
Here's the poem as it was published in The Horsethief's Journal in 1999 after an extensive rewrite.
It's curious, there's something both discouraging and encouraging about reading a poem written by a forty-year younger you. It's like looking at yourself in an old high school yearbook, pimpled and with a ducktail construct impossible to rebuild today, causing a reaction combining "jeez, that's me?" with "jeez, if I survived that, I can survive anything!"
APO New York
So I'm sitting here,
at the at the absolute and eternal center
of all that is lost and lonely,
cataloging my sins, thinking,
which one was it, oh Lord,
that caused you to leave me here,
forsaken and abandoned
when there is so much goodness and beauty
still to be tasted in life....
I'm thinking of mountains,
maybe the Sandias or Manzanas,
and the way they look from the desert floor in early winter,
snow clouds slowly spilling over the crest
like a dime's worth of ice cream in a five cent cone.
Or waking on a mountain top,
making coffee with water come from snow
melted in a pot over a juniper fire,
smelling the air, fresh made for the morning,
never breathed before, never close to anything
that wasn't clean and bright and wholesome.
Or the back roads and fields
and lakes and wooded hills
of south central Missouri,
the golden, October shimmer of an aspen grove
amid a stand of deep green pine,
the cool and ageless presence
of Anasazi ghosts in the canyons of Mesa Verde,
the boulevards of Paris glistening in early April rain,
the splash and rumble of South Padre surf at midnight.
Or the essences of home,
the slam of a screen door
with it's too short spring,
the creak in the kitchen floor,
the bite of cold cactus jelly on hot cornbread,
the luminous green of the lightning-split mesquite
shading the backyard in early spring.
And the best things,
the peace and love and heart-full joy
of you in my life,
the taste of your lips,
the softness of your skin,
your warm breath on my chest
as you curl against me sleeping,
the sweet smell of your hair
framing your face,
the sound of your morning laughter,
your secret whispers in the still of winter night.
These are my comforts tonight, my love,
as I try to sleep in this place
so far from my life's essentials.
You are the sum and substance of my dreams
my breath, my life, my evermore
and I am missing you tonight.
Dark falls and a new moon rises on a new year.
As this old year ends, I am rewarded by the fact of someone on TV finally got the courage to tell the truth about the last seven years and those who misled us through them.
If you didn't see this live, go here to see it now. I saw it. And if I'd had a flag I'd stood up and saluted.
(you'll have to copy and paste to your browser)
With that closing note, I remind you that all the work presented on this blog remains the property of its creators. The blog itself is produced by and the property of me...allen itz.