Winter on the South Frontier   Friday, January 22, 2010


V.1.4.




My special featured poet this week is Christopher T. George.

Chris, born in Liverpool, England in 1948, emigrated with his parents to the United States in 1955 and now lives with his wife, Donna, and two cats in Baltimore, Maryland, near John Hopkins University. He is the Editor of Desert Moon Review (http://www.thedesertmoonreview.com) and coeditor, with Jim Doss and Dan Cuddy, of the electronic and print magazine Loch Raven Review at http://www.lochravenreview.net. His poetry has been published in print publications worldwide, including in Poet Lore, Lite, Maryland Poetry Review, Smoke, and Bogg, and, online at Crescent Moon Journal, Electric Acorn, Melic Review, Painted Moon Review, Pierian Springs, the poetry (WORM), and Web Del Sol Review.

Chris's work is also featured in Poets Gone Wild: An Internet Anthology from Wild Poetry Press (2005) and he was, as well, the lyricist for Jack - The Musical, written with French composer Erik Sitbon, http://www.jack-themusical.com/, and he is an editor at Ripperologist magazine published in the UK, http://www.ripperologist.info.

His work has, also appeared often in "Here and Now."

Here's the rest of this week's posse.


Me
the truth of stuff

T. S. Eliot
The Ad-dressing of Cats
Cat Morgan Introduces Himself


Christopher T. George
Dear Old Guy

Me
it's my story and i'm sticking to it

Ursula K. Le Guin
Seventy
Taking Courage
A Request


Christopher T. George
At the Fly in the Loaf, Liverpool, Saturday, 17 October 2009

Me
high and mysterious grasses

Charles Bukowski
fast track
the hookers, the madmen, and the doomed


Christopher T. George
A Rube in the House of Lords

Me
going home someday

e. e. cummings
3-III
3-IV


Christopher T. George
My Belated Confession

Me
ambushed

Christopher Goodrich
Assuming I Die With My Eyes Closed

Erica Goss
Dust of an Ordinary Star

Christopher T. George
Cheesy Little Artsy Spy Buddy Movie

Me
when will the monkeys speak and what will they have to say?

Rabindranath Tagore
Freedom Bound

Christopher T. George
On Turning Sixty-two, January 10, 2010

Me
there are rules about this sort of thing

Wistawa Szymborska
A Large Number
Psalm


Me
trying to outrun the rain









I don't usually start out with one of my own poems, but in this case, I think I will, laying out the parameters of our relationship, so to speak.



the truth of stuff

as a poet

i'm a prose
writer
with a very short
attention
span

and
little commitment
to the whole truth
and nothing
but the truth

though
i do claim
to be seeking
a higher
truth

ha!

so
i tell
these little
1-page
50-word stories
that are at least
partially
if not wholly
lies
exaggerations
and evasions

if
you
are by nature
someone who must
believe in the
truth
of stuff
because,
after
all,
there it is,
written
out
on
paper -
just believe
this -
all the good stuff
i tell about my
self
is true;
all the bad stuff
is flat-out
lies








Here's a good way to begin a week, two poems by T.S. Eliot from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.



The Ad-dressing of Cats

You've read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse -
But all may be descried in verse.
You've seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
But
   How would you ad-dress a Cat?

So first, your memory I'll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
And yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course, I'm not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He's very easily taken in -
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He's such an easy-going lout,
He'll answer any hail or shout.

Again I must remind you that
A Dog's a Dog - A CAT'S A CAT.

With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don't speak until you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that -
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat.
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I've heard them call him James Buz-James -
But we've not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you like a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste -
He's sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he's finished, licks his paws
So's not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach you aim.
And finally call him by his NAME.

So this is this, and that is that:
And there's how you AD-DRESS A CAT.


Cat Morgan Introduces Himself

I once was a Pirate what sailed the 'igh seas -
  But now I've retired as a com-misson-aire:
And that's how you find me a-taking my ease
  And keepin' the door in a Bloomsbury Square.

I'm partial to partridges, likewise to grouse,
  And I favour that Devonshire cream in bowl;
But I'm allus content with a drink on the 'house
  And a bit of cold fish when I done me patrol.

I ain't got much polish, me manners is gruff,
  But I've got a good coat, and I keep meself smart;
And everyone says, and I guess that's enough:
  "You can't but like Morgan, 'e's got a kind 'art."

I got knocked about on the Barbary Coast,
  And me voice it ain't no sich melliferous horgan;
But yet I can state, and I'm not one to boast,
  That some of the gals is dead keen on old Morgan.

So if you 'ave business with Faber - or Faber -
  I'll give you this tip, and it's worth a lot more:
You'll save yourself time, and you'll spare yourself labour
  If jist you make friends with the Cat at the door.

                                        MORGAN








Now, for our first poem from featured poet Christopher T. George.

All I know about Guy Fawkes and Guy Fawkes Day is what I learn from Chris's poem and, by extrapolation, that movie of a year or so ago - can't remember the name - but it sounds like a cross between Halloween and Hell Night in Detroit. I know it had something to do with blowing up Parliament, which we have to be careful about talking about - don't want to give those Tea Party people any ideas.

Here's Chris’s poem. (He also sent an illustration for the poem, but it turned out to be too small to use here.)



Dear Old Guy

A bit of childhood fun,
to dress up a dear old Guy
and burn him on a bonfire
amid bangers and skyrockets:

a yearly whoop-up - whoopie! -
born of religious intolerance,
innocuous really, whether today
with trilby or a mock mitre

though with a barbwire kiss
thugs might drag a Guy
from his doorway swill
and set him alight. Poor Guy.








Like I've said, said, sometimes I lie, which is a lie in itself because i'm more prone to lie often, not sometimes.



it's my story and i'm sticking to it

15 degrees
outside
and i'm snug and warm
inside,
sitting by the window,
eating my bacon and eggs
watching all the freezing
children
walk to school through
twelve-foot snowdrifts
as slavering snow beasts slink
from the dark
forest,
howling,
appetite raging
for the delicate taste
of freezing school children...

but
wait...
that's someone else's
life,
in fact,
not a life at all,
but one of those legends
we all build around ourselves,
legends we use,
as in this case, a story
to convince my son that walking
four blocks to school
under South Texas sunshine
wasn't the worst thing that could happen

or,
legends
we build to convince ourselves
we are stronger, smarter, more heroic
than we are,
like,
boy,
if i'd been on that plane
when that stinking terrorist
tried to light his underwear
i would have got him good,
gone over the seat at him
before anyone else noticed
what he was doing, then
a three-punch combination,
nose, gut, haymaker to the jaw
and it'd have been all over,
except for my picture
on the cover of Time
Magazine

legends
to sooth that nagging
suspicion of
inadequacy the world
daily
reminds us is the
modern state
of man or woman,
when little is expected
beyond ardent
consumption
of the retail legends
of others

legends,
as, in our recliner,
we pat our little round
bellies
and squint through
failing eyes
at the Time Magazine
upon which cover
we will
never
be








Now I have a couple of short poems by the great science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin. The poems are from Le Guin's sixth volume of poetry, published by Shambhala in 2006.



Seventy

I've lived the life of man,
the span, the seven ages.

Now my life is out of bounds
and doesn't keep the time.

I'd make sense only to myself,
but wear the old habit.

I'd take my rage unsweetened,
but see: I fall to rhyme.

Oh, how am I metered?


Taking Courage

I will build a hardiness
   of counted syllables,
asylum for the coward heart
   that stammers out my hours,

and armature of resonance,
   a scaffolding of spell,
where it can learn to keep the time
   and bid what comes come well.


A Request

Should my tongue be tied by stroke
listen to me as if I spoke

and said to you, "My dear, my friend,
stay here a while and take my hand;

my voice is hindered by this clot,
but silence says what I cannot,

and you can answer as you please
such undemanding words as these.

Or let our conversation be
a mute and patient amity,

sitting, all the words bygone,
like a stone beside a stone.

It takes a while to learn to talk
the long language of the rock."








Here's a second poem from our friend Christopher T. George, describing a trip back "home."



At the Fly in the Loaf, Liverpool, Saturday, 17 October 2009

Nervous, you cross the fancy mosaic threshold of an ex-baker's shop,
nudge past garrulous and muscular young guzzlers, ascend
to the upstairs quiet hushed aerie where the poets gather.

No, it's no longer your city, though the street sign "Baltimore"
hard by the Fly in the Loaf at Hardman and Baltimore Streets
recalls your "other city" all those three thousand miles away. . .

"The Liverpool of America's East Coast" and how Adrian intro'ed
you as "a poet from Philadelphia" ha! and he told of streets
near his Mount Street home: Baltimore and Maryland,

testimony to Liverpool's slavery past. It's no longer Ade's
Liverpool or the slaver's Liverpool. Discursive as ever! Wrap
your mind round that. . .wrap your words round that, Poet!

Muscular words to tell of that evening, arc lamps burning,
sweating, drops of perspiration dot the paper. Now!
Squeeze the words out. Let the people hear. You're here.








It is a fact, I do enjoy the company of my animal buddies.



high and mysterious grasses

i promised
Reba
last night
before i put her

to bed
that i'd take her
for a walk
this morning

and i know
she's sits by the door
at home
now

waiting
and i'll be there
to get her
as soon as i finish

this
because the joy to me
of watching her joy
when i reach for the

leash
feeds the new day
like a shot of sunshine
on the cold shoulders

of a sleeping cat
shivering
in the morning chill -
bringing back

the morning dream
of slow and stupid
mice
and warm milk

waiting in a bowl
by the fire
and the safe lap of he
who makes the sun to shine

so bright
on this winter morning
begun by a walk
through high and mysterious

grasses








I have two poems now by Charles Bukowski, from his book what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

There are those old rascals of myth and legend beloved by all. Bukowski was certainly a n old rascal, seems like almost from the day he was born, but, self-loving ego-manic that it seems he must have been, it's hard to ever see him as beloved. (Though it's also true there were those, men and women, who called him the best friend ever.)

But none of that means he isn't still only one step below Whitman in my pantheon of favorites.



fast track

jesus christ
the horses again
I mean I said I'd never bet the horses
again
what am I doing standing out here
betting the horses?
anybody can to to the racetrack but
not everybody can
write a sonnet...

the racetrack crowd is the lowest of the breed
thinking their brains can outfox the
15 percent take.

what am I doing here?
if my publisher knew I was blowing my royalties,
if those guys in San Diego
and the one in Detroit who send me money
(a couple of fives and a ten)
or the collector in Jerome, Arizona
who paid me for some paintings,
if they knew
what would
they think?

jesus christ, I'm playing the starving poet who is
creating great Art.

I walk up to the bar with my girlfriend,
she's a handsome creature in hotpants
with long dark hair,
I order a scotch and water,
she orders a screwdriver
jesus christ
I don't have a chance
did Vallejo,Lorca and
Shelley have to do thought
this?
I drink some of the scotch and
water and think,
the proper mix of the woman and the poem
is infinite Art.

then I sit down with my
Racing Form
and get back
to work.


the hookers, the madmen and the doomed

today at the track
2 or 3 days after
the death of the
jock
came this voice
over the speaker
asking us all to stand
and observe
a few moments
of silence. well,
that's a tired
formula and
I don't like it
but I do like
silence. so we
all stood: the
hookers and the
madmen and the
doomed. I was
set to be dis-
pleased but then
I looked up at the
TV screen
and there
standing silently
in the paddock
waiting to mount
up
stood the other jocks
along with
the officials and
the trainers:
quiet and thinking
of death and the
one gone,
they stood
in a semi-circle
the brave little
men in boots and
silks,
the legions of death
appeared and
vanished, the sun
blinked once
I though of love
with its head ripped
off
still trying to
sing and
then the announcer
said, thank you
and we all went on about
our business.








Here's a fun piece, number three for this week, from our friend Christopher T. George.



A Rube in the House of Lords

I'm introduced around the room by Lord Strawberry.
I gladhand Lords Raspberry, Cherry, and Pomegranate,
I think to myself, Jeez, all these guys is fruits!

Then I gets to meet Lady Quince and I'm telling myself,
she's no Lord, she's a Dame! Ain't nuthin like a Dame,
whether it's at the Limey House of Lords or anyplace!

I'm movin' in on her, nice and sweet, smooching her
ladyness with my Western adventures, Rube in buckskin,
when, with a whiff of death, Lord Wolfbane horns in.

Then its duelling time, his place or mine, pistols or
rapiers, popguns or pigstickers, rotten tomatoes,
grapes or cherries, pigs in blankets, cornhusker pie.








I write in public and not at home because, at home, there's no one to write about but me.



going home someday

angels
are dancing
on the head of a pin
down at the south-facing booth
where, on most days,
i rest my breakfast bones,
a trio of religiosos,
wise men in their field,
perhaps,
arguing out, it sounds like,
the proposed
text of some religious
book or pamphlet

they were at it las week
as well, occupying, then too, my
booth

the three,
one, older, hawk-nosed
and bald, another younger,
rotund to the butterball degree,
and bald, and a third, young
with hair,
argue this week
as to what is the most significent
tenet of the Christian religion, virgin birth
or the resurrection

not being of the faith
myself
it's perhaps not kosher
for me to weigh in on this discussion
but i know lots of Christians
and they, almost all but the Paulists,
think highly of sex
and would most certainly
vote thumbs down on the idea
propagation with
out sex -
most, i'm sure, would find the idea
of putting up with teenagers
without
the precedent pleasure
of sex
to be not worth the trouble

are these guys really that wise?

i ask
because it seems obvious to me
the one central element of Christianity
that sustains the belief of all its
practitioners
is the resurrection of Christ
and his promise
of everlasting life for all
who put their faith in him

everlasting life - that's
a hard sell to beat - even i,
the non-believer's nonbeliever
am attracted to that, though my
version of such everlastingness
is not predicated on a ride through
the clouds
in a golden chariot,
but a simple, more base rebirth
as the atoms
that temporarily gathered to make me
disperse to a new purpose

and the soul?

i don't know about the soul,
a slippery concept,
at best,
but i am finding it enticing to believe
that the essence of me
that animates the gathering
of atoms that is my physical self
is just a small part
of a larger essence of us
to which that part which was me
will return in the end, then dissolve
like smoke
into the everything,
the whole
from which i have been
for these few years of human life
distant and distraught

a return home








The next two poems are by e .e. cummings,poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. Born in 1894, he died in 1962, his body of work encompassing approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays, as well as numerous drawings and paintings. This week's poems are from the collection, is 5, published in 1985 by Liveright Paperback.

I am struck by the thought that cummings, born in the 19th century, is still, in the early years of the 21st, one of our most modern poets.



from Three

III

it is winter a moon in the afternoon
and warm air turning into January darkness up
through which sprouting gently,the cathedral
leans its dreamy spine against the thick sunset

i perceive in front of out lady a ring of people
a brittle swoon of centrifugally expecting
faces clumsily which devours a man,three cats,
five white mice,and a baboon.

O a monkey with a sharp face waddling carefully
the length of this padded pole;a monkey attached
by a chain securely to this always talking
individual,mysterious witty hatless.

Cats which move smoothly from neck to neck of bottles,cats
smoothly willowing out and in between bottles,who step smoothly
mice;or leap through hoops of fire,creating smoothness.

People stare,the drunker applaud
while twilight takes the sting out of the vermilion
jacket of nodding hairy Jacqueline who is given a mouse
to hold lovingly,

our lady what do you think of this? Do your proud fingers and
your arms tremble remembering something squirming fragile
and which had been presented unto you by a mystery?
...the cathedral recedes into weather without answering


VI

candles and

Here Comes a glass box
which the exhumed
hand of Saint Ignatz miraculously
inhabits. (people tumble
down. people crumble to their
knees. people
begin crossing people)and

hErE cOmEs a glass box;
surrounded by priests
moving in fifty colours
,sensuously

(the crowd
howls faintly
blubbering pointing

see
yes)
It
here
comes

A Glass
Box and incense with

and o sunlight-
the crash of the colours(of the oh
silently
striding)priests-and-
slowly,al,ways; processional:and

Enters

this
     church.

toward which The
Expectant stutter(upon artificial limbs,
with faces like defunct geraniums)








And now, another poem by Christopher T. George, our friend Chris.



My Belated Confession

I admit it - I cheated: I took steroids
- they helped me to win all those awards,
the Pushcart, the Pulitzer, and the Nobel
- even if it's ignoble of me to admit it.

Although I claimed that I took no stimulants
(here, I dab my eye) I've let down my family,
all my fans and all aspiring poets who believe
they can reach the pinnacle without a fix.

I confess, I juiced myself up real fine , , ,
I deserve to be stripped of everything.
For my success, anonymity I would trade.

My megalomaniac malice was incontestable,
my artful duplicity all too contemptible:
I fully deserve the world's tirade.








I did something stupid last week, for which i have been amply rewarded with a very sore back. The bonus, set me to thinking about a poem.



ambushed

i
have a hitch
in my get-a-long
this morning,
a vintage mid-fifties
phrase, probably planted
in my young brain by
Tennessee Ernie Ford
or some such,
meaning i'm limping around
like an old man
because of a pain in my hip,
the result of my cheapness
in refusing to pay $200
to have someone remove
a fallen tree from my
backyard resulting in
$400 worth of personal
pain and suffering after
trying to do it myself,
plus paying $300 to someone
to do the job i couldn't finish

but that's another story

it's the phrase
i'm interested in this morning,
the phrase that slipped
directly from my brain
like a quarter
passing, unhindered, through
guts and gears of a malfunctioning
vending machine

in what secret fold of our brain
do things like this abide, a homely phrase,
a word you forgot you knew, an ugliness,
deep buried, you think, never to see again
the light of day - and suddenly there
they are again, the good and the bad
and the merely embarrassing, jumping
right out, throwing themselves
at the world like a giggle at your mother's
funeral, a subversive fart
while having tea with
the queen,
yourself revealed,
not really yourself, you explain,
but little pieces of your earlier self
you though long left behind
long banished or
forgotten

my mother
would sometimes call window shades
window lights,
an embarrassment to her
because she thought it revealed
her country-poor upbringing

my father
stuttered when excited,
like all of us
sometimes ambushed
by the
past








Next, I have two poems from from the Fall 2006 issue of Hotel Amerika, a literary publication of Ohio University. This was the last issue published by the University. The journal was reborn at Columbia University in 2007.



The first poem from the journal is by Christopher Goodrich, a poet and stage director living in New York City. He has an MFA from New England College.


Assuming I Die With My Eyes Closed

supine on a Serta, and assuming your are sitting next to me,
your head resting on my chest, your hand
reaching for your forehead, I ask
that you force my eyelids open
and position my eyebrows two or so inches
above their normal setting and urge my mouth,
if you don't mind, from its parched post
into the shape of an O,
three fingers long, two fingers wide.

That way, once you are through grieving
and have alerted the children,
it will appear as if I'm on the verge of song,
a rendition of "Walking my Baby Back Home" -
not the traditional 1952 sing-a-long,
more like James Taylor's fevered acoustic cry
to a woman since departed

And if you would then move my left leg
so it's nearly touching the floor,
and budge the right with bended knee
so it might easily follow the left,
I could fool you into believing I am rising
for one final embrace, and who knows,
we might dance a two step
up the skinny hall and down again,
my lips fixed to sing the song whose steady rise and fall
will keep the rhythm as we sway left to right, right to left.


The second poem I have this week from Hotel Amerika is by Erica Goss, a graduate student in the MFA program at San Jose State University, specializing in poetry and nonfiction. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her family.


Dust of an Ordinary Star

I walk the dog, we two alpha females hike the hills and imagine ourselves trotting over
the tundra with the pack following, bringin home a caribou for the whole tribe to share.

When the phone rings I am the older sister; I research the family diseases: I am supposed
to keep secrets so I try not to remember what I am not supposed to know.

Sometimes my thoughts spiral over and over and the sight of a kitchen knife fills me with
despair. When this happens my eyes feel peeled open.

I sink my hands into my garden soil and feel it collect under my fingernails; I pull up
great handfuls of earth and smell them when no one is looking; sometimes I have dirt
ringing my nostrils for hours but no one says anything.

The dog and I are getting older, looking more alike: sagging jaws and weird little tufts of
hair. This bothers me more than her. Neither one of us is interested in chasing after men
on motorcycles anymore.

I am a mother; twice I gave birth to healthy, perfect sons; once I had a daughter but she
was not perfect so I cast her body from mine; when she was gone my spine made a great
lurch and I stopped sleeping.

I plant seeds; I collect leaves, eggs and stones; I once found a jawbone with all its teeth
still attached.

I lie awake at night and stare out the window; I see lights out in the forest and wonder if
they are flashlights or just the sweep of distant headlights; I wonder where people go at
three in the morning while I am trapped here in my bed.

I send letters: they enter the secret house of the mailbox, deposits that can never be
withdrawn, they settle into rectangular drifts awaiting the great paw of the mail carrier.

When the sky is too loud I head for the woods; a silent redwood pulls the sunlight down;
I place my ear against her trunk and hear the settling dust of an ordinary star.








Now, another one from our friend and featured poet of the week, Christopher T. George.



I have seen this movie many times, and loved it every time.



Cheesy Little Artsy Spy Buddy Movie

As Pettigrew, the English butler,
I'd served the Edwards family
faithfully for two decades.

They saw me for what I was:
the perfect English servant
in classic stereotypical mold.

I found young Bart Edwards drunk
and stoned out of his skull
in the closet, once again,

sprawled in his own vomit.
"Ah there you are Pettigrew,"
he slurred as I cleaned him up.

Unfortunately, I was pressed
for time and had to take him
with me on my latest assignment

to clandestinely enter Russia
through frozen Lake Ladoga;
we arrived in Moscow in time

to rendezvous with Natasha
just as she was to dance
the Black Swan at the Bolshoi;

she gave me the microchip
from inside her black bra:
I put it in my black eyepatch

- the plans to the secret Arctic
facility, which Bart and I reached
by scaling the Slemskya glacier:

I, Lefty Pettigrew, 006, and Black Bart
blasted the cave with Semtex,
guided by landsat technology.

So we foiled the Ruskies' infernal
plot to dominate the world. Then
we enjoyed a night of debauchery

with Natasha and the White Swan,
Martina, smooches goodbye and we
crippled the North Koreans and Iranians.

Unfortunately, we shot up the set
so badly the movie went way over
budget and we landed home penniless.

Once again, I found young
Bart Edwards drunk and stoned
out of his skull in the closet,

sprawled in his own vomit.
"Ah there you are Pettigrew,"
he slurred as I cleaned him up.








This next piece came out of, as often happens, a story in the Science Section of the New York Times.



when will the monkeys speak and what will they have to say?

every morning
i think

is this the morning
it stops? -

is this the morning
i cast my net

and it comes back
empty

but for an old black boot,
three empty bottles

of Jax beer, and the rubber floormat
for a '49 Hudson Hornet?

every morning i cast the net
sometimes near and sometimes

far, like this morning
very far

pulling out from the soupy
sea

the story in the New York Times,
last week

about research demonstrating
monkeys could talk -

that is they have the physical
equipment required to vocalize -

but don't
and i wonder why

is it disinterest in speaking
or is it just disinterest in speaking

to us
as secretly they jabber away

with each other
in a whisper under their bed covers

at night
and it all reminds me

of a science fiction story i wrote
45 years ago -

before, i stroke my ego by adding, Planet
of the Apes and Koko and her offspring -

about apes who lacked the ability
to talk (as was the belief at that time)

but could learn American Sign
and were taught to Sign by a zoologist

and, once learning this skill,
they taught it to their offspring

and soon there was a flourishing civilization
of apes and their kind

in competition with the human race,
a competition resolved

without violence
because the greatest of all the apes

made an impassioned speech in Sign
at the United Nations

proving that all species could live together
and that any species,

given a chance,
could produce its own Gandhi or Christ

~~~~~~~~~

or i could write about
what i just read today, that

the human Y chromosome has been evolving
very rapidly, much more rapidly

than any other part of the human body,
leaving us all wondering now

just exactly what it means that
the chromosome for macho stupidity

is quickly taking over
the human race

but
that's a dead end for sure

~~~~~~~~~

so i think again
of the monkeys and

it reminds me of the story
of the boy

who never said a word until a day
during his eight year

when he finally spoke up
at the family dinner table,

saying, "these peas suck"
causing amazement all around

as all had thought he was physically
unable to speak

and they ask him why, for heavens sake,
have you never talked before

and he said,
"the peas never sucked before"

and maybe that's why
we haven't heard anything

from the monkeys
yet








The next poem is by Rabindranath Tagore, from the collection of his work, Selected Poems, first published by Penguin Books in 1985.

Tagore, born in 1861, was the youngest son of Debendranath Tagore, a leader of the Brahmo Samai, a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal. Though he was sent to England to study when he was seventeen years old, he obtained most of his education at home. As an adult he managed his family estates, in addition to his literary activities. He and Gandhi were very close friends and, occasionally involved himself in the Indian nationalist movement. Knighted by the ruling British Government in 1915, he resigned the honor a few years later in protest of British policies in India.

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, he was a success in all literary genres, he was first and foremost a poet. He wrote two autobiographies, one in his middle years and one shortly before his death in 1941.



Freedom Bound

Frown and bolt the door and glare
    With disapproving eyes,
Behold my outcaste love, the scourge
    Of all proprieties.
To sit where orthodoxy rules
    Is not her wish at all -
Maybe I shall seat her on
    A grubby patchwork shawl,
The upright villagers, who like
    To buy and sell all day,
Do not notice one whose dress
    Is drab and dusty-grey.
So keen on outward show, the form
    Beneath can pass them by -
Come my darling, let there be
    None but you and I,
When suddenly you left your house
    To love along the way,
You brought form somewhere lotus honey
    In your pot of clay.
You came because you heard I like
    Love simple, unadorned -
an earthen jar is not a thing
    My hands have ever scorned.
No bells upon your ankles, so
    No purpose in a dance -
Your blood has all the rhythms
    That are needed to entrance.
You are ashamed to be ashamed
    By lack of ornament -
No amount of dust can spoil
    You plain habiliment,
Herd-boys crowd around you, street-dogs
    Follow by your side -
Gipsy-like upon your pony
    Easily you ride.
You cross the stream with dripping sari
    Tucked up to your knees -
My duty to the straight and narrow
    Flies at sights like these.
You take your basket to the fields
    For herbs on market-day -
You fill your hem with peas for donkeys
    Loose beside the way,
Rainy days do not deter you -
    Mud caked to your toes
And kacu-leaf upon your head,
    On your journey goes.
I find you when and where I choose,
    Whenever it pleases me -
No fuss or preparation: tell me,
    Who will know but we?
Throwing caution to the winds,
    Spurned by all around,
Come, my outcaste love, O let us
    Travel, freedom-bound.








And finally, one last poem, a birthday poem, in fact, from our featured poet, Christopher T. George, complete with a photo of the birthday boy himself, taken by his father Gordon B. George.



Good work, Mr. George, and happy birthday, Chris, pretty well preserved, considering.



On Turning Sixty-Two, January 10, 2010

I'm thirteen years younger than Elvis
- and he's very much dead. Instead,

I'm still alive, savoring each minute, got
my ticket to ride, not prepared to rot.

I know I have enemies who deride,
Mateys, take a firebrand up yer nose.
Why d'you suppose I would give it up?








We had some unusually cold weather a week ago, thee nights in a row of temps in the low twenties and high teens, making all sorts of changes in what we normally see as we look around the countryside.



there are rules about this sort of thing

it's a drab
and dreary place now

after three nights
in a row

of hard freeze -
dry grass, bare trees and shrubs -

all the color gone,
lying in brown wilt on the ground,

meaning
booming business

for the plant nurseries
in a couple of weeks

as folks try to replace
all that they lost

but that's not my way -
i look for what's still green,

the native growth
that does not wilt and die

when assaulted
by the native climate -

so most of my plant shopping
isn't done at the nurseries

but out in the hills,
hiking through the limestone and granite

with a small shovel and transplant pot,
figuring,

if it can grow and survive
out here through drought and freeze,

my backyard will be a cakewalk,
a garden of ease for the weary plant -

it's about
listening to Mother Nature,

letting Her tell us how
we should fit into the scheme of things -

it's a good rule,
recognizing the supremacy of the natural order -

course, round here
the green and lovely Matriarch

of us all, maker and keeper of all the rules,
doesn't always speak English,

leaving me, often, to fall back
on simpler rules from simpler sources

like, don't buy your bar-b-que
where you can't smell the smoke








Wistawa Szymborska is a Polish poet, born in 1923. Winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, she is a poet, essayist and translator. Though her poetry is widely read in Poland and cherished by her fellow Polish poets, she has a relatively small body of published work, only 230 poems to date. Though her published work may be small, it is widely known, having been published in most European languages, as well as Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.

I have this week, two poems from her book View With a Grain of Sand, published by Harcourt Brace in 1995. The poems were translated to English by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, winners of the 1996 PEN Translation Prize.



A Large Number

Four billion people on this earth,
but my imagination is still the same.
It's bad with large numbers.
It's still taken by particularity
It flits in the dark like a flashlight,
illuminating only random faces
while the rest go blindly by,
never coming to mind and never really missed.
But even a Dante couldn't get it right.
Let alone someone who is not
Even with all the muses behind me.

Non omnis moriar - a premature worry.
But am I entirely alive and is that enough.
It never was, and now less than ever.
My choices are rejections, since there is no other way,
but what I reject is more numerous,
denser, more demanding than before.
A little poem, a sigh, at the cost of indescribable losses.
I whisper my reply to my stentorian calling.
I can't tell you how much I pass over in silence.
A mouse at the foot of the maternal mountain.
Life lasts as long as a few signs scratched by a claw in
   the sand.
My dreams - even they're not as populous as they should be.
they hold more solitude than noisy crowds.
Sometimes a long-dead friend stops by awhile.
A single hand turns the knob.

An echo's annexes overgrow the empty house.
I run from the doorstep into a valley
that is quiet, as if no one owned it, already an anachronism.

Why there's still all this space inside me
I don't know.


Psalm

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face
   of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin - still its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't
   stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant
between the border guard's left and right boots
blithely ignoring the question "Where from?" and
   "Where to?"

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn't that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?
And how can we talk of order overall
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog's reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn't been partitioned!
And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.








I've come to realize as I've grown older, that life is never so complicated that you can't grab hold of it and hold it down for a moment or two while you catch your breath.



trying to outrun the rain

drivers
on the interstate
are racing by, as if
trying to outrun
the rain, even though
the steady mix of rain and fog
has been out there
for three days
so i'm thinking, what's
the rush, that which was
chasing you is now being
chased by you

such is life -
the demons that drive us
are never outrun,
always waiting for us
at the finish line

~~~~

i'm listening to the
three guys sitting in front
of me, medical instrument sales
it sounds like, the one furthest
from me, a young manager
i think, some kind of regional VIP
down to motivate the troops,
never stops talking, the other
two listen, and at the end
he talks about his young daughter
and the man behind the demon-chaser
shows through and he and i both
wish he was back with her because
i know him, having been him
through many of the early years
of my son's life, chasing the demon,
seeking always those few moments
when i could be out of my life
for a while and into his, finding never
enough of those moments
as a parent until it came to me
that the demon i raced
was not behind me, but in me
and winning the race was not about
running faster because in the end
he would always win
and the way to beat him
was to let him go, let him
finish ahead
and wait
for me while i walk
a slower path - knowing
i will lose in the end
anyway,
my choice being in how i
choose to get to that end place
where demon
waits

~~~~

too many mornings
i tried to outrun
the rain

now
i just try
to enjoy the
wet








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