Showing the Flag   Monday, December 13, 2010


This is an abbreviated, just-showing-the-flag post. I was sick most of the week and did almost no work.

So all I've got for you this week is a couple of poems and a couple of pics, just to let you know I'm still here. The poems are good (everyone else's) to oh, well (mine), as are the photos. But, special deal for the week, I have a terrific poem by my friend Dan Cuddy. You'll like it.

But this is a good place to add, it being near Christmas, that I need to get rid of some surplus books in my closet to make room for my National Geographics. The book, of course, is my own, Seven Beats a Second, 154 pages of poetry by me and art by Austin artist, Vincent Martinez.

Send me your postal address and $5.00 to cover the cost of mailing and I'll send you a free copy of the book. Send an extra $2.00 and I'll burn a copy for you of the CD of avant-garde musical improvisations by the Ray-Guhn Show Choir that originally accompanied the book.

Email me at to get my address.

But, back to the poems.

16th Century Japanese love poems from the Kanginshu

dragging my ass up the mountain

Jimmy Santiago Baca
from Martin

things I’d rather not think about

George Marion McClellan
A January Dandelion

Dan Cuddy

Kenneth W. Brewer
At the Surface

chickens and eggs

Shirley Kaufman
A Japanese Fan

american idol

First, I have a few short pieces from Shimmering Away, Songs from the Kanginshu, published by White Pine Press in 2006.

The Kanginshu is an anthology of poetry that appeared in Japan in the early 16th century. It is not know who originally assembled the poems to make the anthology.

All of the poems in Shimmering Away were translated by Yasuhiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins. The book includes sketches by Michael Hofmann inspired by the poems.

Who is this
    (you naughty boy)
that hugs me tight
and bites me,
a married woman

    but it's fun
    we're in full bloom
        at seventeen
        we're in full bloom
        at seventeen

but nibble gently -
if your teeth leave marks
then he will know


My hair
that I had just tied up
has loosened,
    gently tumbling,
    as my heart
    has fallen for you


    a gentle opening
    of the flower -
    flecked brocade sash
    of her underclothing

    all too soon
    a troubled heart
    in the willow -
    fronds twisting in
    the wind

    will i ever
    lose this memory
    of her tousled hair
      in bed?


    simmering away
    our world passes


the ecstasies of heaven
    and the wish
    to be born
     as Buddha
all all hollow dreams

Like I said, i really felt lousy for most of the week.

dragging my ass up the mountain

i am one sorry
these past couple of days,
like a runned-over
on a hot country road

each move of my body
feels like i'm pulling
a tow sack full of pig iron
behind me;
each twitch of my eyelids
feels cinematically ponderous
like opening and closing
the velvet curtains
at the Majestic theater;
each breath a
like a donkey pulling a wagon
up the Sangre de Cristo mountains

in short,
yesterday was bad,
not much better;
so maybe i'll be back,

Next I have a selection from Martin & Meditations of the South Valley, a collection of two long, semi-autobiographical poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca. The selection I chose for this week is from "Martin" - the story of the poem is about a boy abandoned by his parents who lives first with his grandmother, then in an orphanage. Relatives from both sides, the rural poor ones and the town bourgeois, take him out to visit occasionally. At ten he runs away, and, amid a life of Dickensonian adventure and travails, finds the poetry in his soul, then finally, in and out of trouble, discontented, broke thin with addiction, and drifting, returns home and finds the woman he has dreamed of.

It is a wonderful story, strongly and poetically told. I can't do the whole thing here, but I can tell you, if you ever see the book, published by New Directions in 1987, buy it, take it home and enjoy.


Part IV

Grandma Lucero at the table
smokes Prince Albert cigarette
rolled from a can,
sips black coffee from metal cup,
and absorbs hours of silence
like prairie sky absorbs campfire smoke.
Death hangs over her shoulders
a black cow's hide
slung over the fence to dry.
She had once been a brimming acequia
her four sons drank from
like bighorn sheep.

Conversations in her kitchen
about my mother I overheard as a boy,
made me sniff around the screen door to hear more,
like a coyote smells a cave he had been born in once.
My animal eyes and skin
twitched with fear. I created myself in a field,
beside the house, where lizard and rabbit
breathed in my ear
stories of eagles and arrowheads. My heart
became an arroyo, and my tears cut deep cracks
in my face of sand, when tia Jenny came to take me away
from grandma. With rocks in my pockets
earth had bit off for me like soft bread
for the long journey.
I left Estancia for the orphanage.

     As we drove through Tijeras mountains,
I looked back,
distant fields grooved with hoofpaths
of grazing cattle and sheep.
Grandma's knee-length gray hair,
she brushed and brushed every morning,
raided, bunned, and wrapped
with a black tapalo.
Long gray rain clouds hung over
the crumbling train-track town -
then lightning crackled
like the slap of new lumber stacks,
and rain darkened
the plaster cracks of grandma's adobe house.

I had an image of mother in the morning
dancing in front of the mirror
in pink panties,
masking her face with mascara,
squeezing into tight jeans.
Her laughter rough as brocaded cloth
and her teeth brilliant as church tiles.

On visiting days with aunts and uncles,
I was shuttled back and forth -
between Chavez bourgeois in the city
and rural Luchero sheepherders,
new cars and gleaming furniture
and leather saddles and burlap sacks,
noon football games and six packs of cokes
and hoes, welfare cards and bottles of goat milk.

I was caught in the middle -
between white shinned, English speaking alter boy
at the communion railing,
and brown skinned, Spanish speaking plains nomadic child
with buffalo heart groaning underworld earth powers,
between Sunday brunch at a restaurant
and burritos eaten in a tin-roofed barn,
between John Wayne on the afternoon movie
rifle butting young Braves,
and the Apache whose red dripping arrow
was the alter candle in praise of the buck
just killed.

Caught between Indio-Mejicano rural uncles
who stacked hundred pound sacks of pinto beans
on boxcars all day, and worked the railroad tracks
behind the Sturgis sheds, who sang Apache3 songs
with accordions, and Chavez uncles and aunts
who vacationed and followed the Hollywood model
of My Three Sons for their own families,
sweeping he kitchen before anyone came to visit,
looking at photo albums in the parlor.

When I stayed with the Chavezes
I snuck out of the house, wandered at will,
heading south to the ditches of the South Valley,
and when they caught up with me days later,
I smelled of pinon bark
from wood piles I had played on,
and the red brown clay stuck to my shoes
from corrals I had entered to pet a horse,
smeared over the new interior car carpet.
The stopped inviting me out.

On my cot one night at the orphanage,
I dreamed my spirit was straw and mud,
a pit dug down below my flesh
to pray in,
and I prayed on beads of blue corn kernels,
slipped from thumb to earth,
while deerskinned drumhead of my heard
gently pounded and I sang
               all earth is holy,
               all earth is holy,
               all earth is holy,
               all earth is holy,
until a nun shook me awake.

Next day I ran away,
a drifted barrios of Burque,
stealing food from grocery stores,
sleeping in churches and every dark dawn,
walking and walking and walking,
my eyes shaded with fear and my life
dimmed to a small shadow -
an old coal mine shaft
that kept falling in on me,
burying me in the black sands of a murky past.


Sometimes you just have to face up to the possibility that there's more to yourself than you want to imagine.

things i'd rather not think about

i'm wearing
my macho man shirt this morning,
the let's-go-out-and-shoot-Bambi-shirt
i bought at Walmart
last year,
it and another just like it except in a different color,
evidence that even i, the complete rationalist, am prone
to occasional lapses
of what-the-hell-was-i-thinking

the bright-colored hunting motif,
dogs and guns and woody images,
embarrasses me;
to be seen in it makes me feel
like a fraud
since i haven't shot anything of an
animal nature
since i was ten years old, killing
a sparrow with my bb gun,
leaving a tiny, neatly ringed bb-sized hole
right through the bird's head,
a bright blaze of blood
trickling from the side of the hole,
a crimson trail
brilliant in the summer sun
and in my memory

it's just not me,
this shirt,
just not in my nature,
but it's cold outside
and it was the warmest shirt
i had already ironed this morning
and i promise
that's all there is to it,
no subliminal pulse of murderous rage
barely contained
beneath this calm and pleasant countenance,
this peaceable exterior,
i promise...

you can come out from behind the sofa now...

I promise

but, since i iron my own shirts,
just don't ask me how this shirt
got ironed
in the first place

there are things
i'd rather not
think about

I have a poem from the anthology African American Poetry, 1773-1927, edited by Joan R. Sherman and published by Dover Publications in 1997.

The poem I selected from the anthology is by George Marion McClellan, a minister, teacher, fiction writer and poet from Tennessee. Described as a highly educated man of deep faith and personal courage, McClellan lived from 1860 to 1937.

A January Dandelion

All Nashville is a chill. And everywhere
Like desert sand, when the winds blow,
There is each moment sifted through the air,
A powdered blast of January snow.
O! thoughtless Dandelion, to me misled
By a few warm summer days to leave thy natural bed,
Was folly growth and blooming over soon.
And yet, thou blasted yellow-coated gem,
Full many a heart has but a common boon
With thee, now freezing on they slender stem.
When the heart has bloomed by the touch of love's warm breath
Then left and chilling snow is sifted in,
It still may beat but there is blast and death
To all that blooming life that might have been.

This poem came up just a couple of days ago on Blueline's House of 30 forum. It's by my friend and Blueline housemate, Dan Cuddy. I told Dan as soon as I read it that I had to have it for "Here and Now." I'm happy he agreed, for it is a wonderful example of Dan in full poetic explosion.

I'm sorry to say it was Dan's way of saying farewell to the "House" for a while. All his housemates wait for his return.


coming to the end of a cycle
like the Christmas lunches with past co-workers
or the football season with a play off berth maybe
but no prospects except to show up for the kick off

or like an engrossed reader to the last page of the novel
the mystery solved, the shadow in the doorway
brought into the room with all revealed
and the world safe for democracy, or at least big business

or like the last dance off, the hands clapping
the breath panting, the sweat rolling but to a stop

or the last note hung in the air like a curl of smoke
in a room now hermetically sealed by time and tradition
aw, the smoke is like the cloudiness encased in a marble
perhaps a pocket of oxygen dotting the glass ball

the glass ball used for a doorstop now
and not to predict the future
or to watch Dorothy and the scarecrow
and the Lion and the Tinman
and most importantly Toto

I was going to have Toto pee on the ruby slippers
but incontinence is not literarily approved
and the comic code can only yell "make up"
and pounce upon the unflattered face with
a slap and huff of powder

oh schlap, oh schtick
Pinky Lee and his ridiculous suit
and Peggy Lee saying
like that curl of smoke
but scented lavender like a big busty woman
that one could never be Platonic about

Is that all there is?

Stagger Lee, after a dicey game
ricochets from wall to wall, chair to floor
shot by Billy and haughty or naughty
no more
so Billie, Killing Bill's sister, the brewing net of her
will holiday no more
but will take the staggered poet of a man
in her cupping arms
and one kiss
just one last kiss, oh baby
one last kiss
will say goodbye
then lift her eyes to the light
shafting in through the high window
and galloping away
it is a high horse
loco on tumbleweed and worse
hi ho antimony
and off to catch another train
of conscious

oh Eliot, what a waste
this land of prudent defrocking

it is no time for an old man in Antwerp


Fay and Ed

The next poem is by Kenneth W. Brewer, publisher of several books of poetry and former poet laureate of the Utah.

Brewer received his doctorate in creative writing at the University of Utah and worked at Utah State University for over thirty years as a teacher of writing.

The poem is from his book, sum of accidents, published by City Art of Salt Lake City in 2003.

At the Surface

I have heard talk
about the edge of the universe
from a physician
whose imagination
skips past his tongue
directly to paradigms
on a blackboard -
the advantage of chalk-talkers
over the sermonist of the mount.

And I have heard
that some fish
communicate by sonar
at a depth of ocean
where we cannot breathe,
where the sun dissipates,
sweetens the darkness
like a cup of tea.

And in Russia
a few infants swim
from the moment of birth,
in a pool with dolphins
who nuzzle them like midwives.

Alternately, I cup my ears,
dog-paddle, push my lips outward
to the edge of that
bubbling surface I cannot see.

Just talking to myself - you can listen in if you want.

chickens and eggs

I’ve never had any one to
talk to about things
bothering me
except for myself,
talking myself to sleep
at night, more recently
the conversation down,
like this,
and calling it a poem

a result is
I don’t remember
ever taking anyone’s advice
on anything:
but maybe that the cause,
not the result,
maybe I never had anyone
to talk to because
I knew,
and they knew as well, that
I wasn’t going to pay any attention
to what they said

it’s a real chicken
or egg

a real cause and effect
thing, the nexus of most big
who caused what
or what caused
did some god or gods
cause us
or did we cause them

I am of the school
that we are the creators
of everything, from pig sties
to the all-powerful God on his throne
in heaven, none of it real,
illusions all, from pig stink to the glitter
of the pearly gates, dreams held together
by common belief, drawn from some immaterial
pre-blast memory of some immaterial
dimension where, unlike ours,
everything is real

it is why we must always believe
in the things we all believe,
for if we did not,
they would not be and neither

My last poem from my library from this mini-post is by Shirley Kaufman, and is from her book Rivers of Salt published in 1993 by Copper Canyon Press.

A Japanese Fan

When I hold a chicken over the gas
to singe the blunt ends of feathers
sticking from legs and wings, the random
hairs, the loose flap dangling
over the broken neck, fat
crackles and the bumps in the skin
burn black. I pluck the singed hairs
one by one. I takes me an hour
to clean two chickens.

This morning at the bus stop on Jaffa Road
a woman was fanning herself with a paper fan.
A cherry tree and a tiny snow-covered
Mt. Fuji were painted on it.
The sun was so hot we could barely
breathe. I watched her climb slowly
up the mountain. The air got lighter.
When she wiggled her toes in her sandals
she could feel the snow.
She wiped some of it on her cheek.

I need a Japanese fan in my kitchen.
I need a little wind to get me
from place to place.
When I tell you about the snow
my words are small origami birds
with the meanings inside.
I want you to unfold them
and look at them under the light.

The wings of this chicken
have sharp little elbows.
I have to unfold them
and flatten them over the flame.
I think of my father with his words blocked,
regarding his hands. How he was trying
to lift them , the weight
on his waxy fingers, trying
to remember what to do.
When he held his dead hand in my hand
he seemed to be holding me.

The blue flam hisses when; the fat melts
and jumps into orange. One tip
of a red-hot finger over Mr. Fuji.

My last poem for this short week.

american idol

i wish
i could play
the piano
and the flute
and the trumpet
and the violin
and sing like

i wish i could dance
like Gene Kelley,
not so fancypants
like Astaire
but just a blue collar guy
like me
who never hid
the fact he was working

i wish
i could squint
like Clint,
walk like the Duke,
lay out a cold-eyed stare
like Mitchum or
talk with an accent
like that gecko
on TV

then I could be
the me
I always wanted to be

an american idol

musically progidical,
to the world

The end, and that's all I'm going to say about it.

at 2:35 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you are sick. You still write entertaining poetry. Loved the animals pictures this week too.
Hope you are better soon. Hugs for Reba.

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