Maybe It's Beanbag After All   Wednesday, August 08, 2012


So here we go again, this time  the post  that was supposed to be posted last  week.

You'll probably notice some changes right away.

I never learn anything because I mean to. Instead I usually, just stumble on to it/over it. Well, eureka! I stumbled on to how to make some font changes here. So I'm going to experiment.

This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but, since I've changed nothing in the six years since I started "Here and Now" even a little change makes the earth start shaking for me.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch my anthology is The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, subtitled "From Ancient to Contemporary, the Full 3000-Year Tradition."

The book was published by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, in 2005. Through the preface to the book lists a number of translators, the specific translators of the individual poems is not noted.

Here's what I have for you this week.


Me
I usually go to bed at 8 P.M.

Du Mu
Written While Moored on the Qinhuai River
Two  Poems Improvised at  Qi  An County
On Purebright Day
The Han River
Visiting Leyou Park

Me
about the cat

D.A. Powell
[dogs and boys treat you like trash, and dogs do love trash]
[12-line poem, seemingly out of place]

Me
my mean motor-scooter

from  To the Tune of "The Water Clock Sings at Night"

Me
sunspots
even old dogs dream the hunt
6 barku 4 you

Jimmy Santiago Baca
from As Life Was

Me
3  barku

Folk Songs from the Music Bureau
The East Gate
A Sad Tune
At Fifteen I Went to War

Me
pretty girls dancing
redhead clown
I don’t like old men

Mary Jo Salter
Two Pigeons

Me
ring tones

Liu Xijun
Lament

Me
an old,  old woman
liar,  liar

Anonymous
Dead Letter Office

Me
until she sleeps

Yuan Haowen
Dreaming of Home
from In May of 1233, I Ferried Across to the North

Me
coffeeshop shorts, six  to a cup

Mary Rose O’Reilley
The Lives of the Cousins
The Foster Child

Me
Science Times  triptych

And  I admit I'm kind of curious.

You get old and slip into thinking everyone knows  what you know and you end up  saying things you think are pretty witty which, too bad, most people don't understand.

Not that it's particularly witty, but I do wonder how many readers under 50 understand the reference in this week's title.








I try to keep my life simple and, as much as possible, predictable.

Already had my share of excitement.


I usually go to bed at 8 P.M.
I usually
go to bed at 8 P.M.,
though I don’t make
a fetish of it,
sometime going down
at 7:55 or staying up
until 8:07

and I usually
wake up between 4:30
and 5:30, but sometimes
sleep in until 5:55

I like winter
because it means
I get to go to sleep
in the dark
and wake up to the
rising
sun...

I
am
an ancient creature
in all my routines,
sometimes described as
obsolete...

but I am past
worrying about obsolete
and don’t care about new-fangled
cause new-fangled just another stage
of obsolescence,
like me

something
I didn’t know
when I was
myself
new-fangled…

but now
I have my time
and my
place
moulded through time
to fit
me
and I get up
and I go down
accordingly









One of the things I like best about the Chinese poetry tradition is the day-to-dayness of it, and the poets' presentation of life in their time.

To begin from this  week's anthology, I have several short poems by Du Mu. Born to an high-ranked family in the year 803, Du was a Tang poet, calligrapher, painter and essayist. After his father and grandfather  died, his family fell on hard times. Despite  that difficulty, he was able to receive a classical education and passed the imperial exam at twenty-five. He had a  number of minor  positions, but none worthy, in his mind, of his grander ambitions until only a few months before his death in 852. A relatively large number (524) of his poems have survived the passage of time.

I couldn't help but think as I read these short poems how much he, and a number of his fellow Chinese poets, would have appreciated Twitter.


Written While Moored on the Qinhuai River

Mist touches cold  water and moon embraces the sand.
I'm moored for the night  near  a tavern  on the Qinhuai.
The singing  girl  doesn't know the empire is in bitter ruin.
Across the river I hear  her singing "Blossom of the Inner Court."


Two Poems Improvised at  Qi An  County

1

Dying sun hovers two bamboo sticks high above the stream's
    bridge.
Half a wisp of mist flows in the blurry willows.
Countless green lotuses lean together and commiserate.
I can't face it, and for a moment turn my back to the west wind.

2

Autumn sounds always stir my traveler's mind.
Rain is deep in the reeds of the Yunmeng marsh in the state of Chu.
By the steps, rain keeps dripping on its own from the parasol tree's
    big leaves.
Why does it tangle my thoughts and make me improvise sand poems?


On Purebright Day

Purebright Season comes with fine  fast drizzle
and travelers on the road  feel their souls sliced off.
Please tell m where I can find a wind shop?
A cowherd boy points to distant Apricot Blooming Village.


The Han River

White gulls fly over the broad, rippling river.
Its pure water in deep spring can dye your clothes green.
Navigating north and south will make a man age.
Late sun stays a long time seeing a fishing boat home.


Visiting Leyou Park

Open space like an ocean where a lonely bird  drowns.
Ten thousand years are eroded and buried in this field.
What are the achievements of the Han dynasty?
Five Tombs,  all treeless, and rising autumn wind.










This is an old poem, written in January, last year. For those who might be interested, we finally put the cat down almost exactly a year after this poem was written, by which time she had become immobile and seemingly boneless.

She was my cat, and I miss her, a selfish consideration not mentioned in  the poem.



about the cat
having breakfast every Monday
with the Religiosos at the
next table over

always gets me into
a philosophical/theological/cosmological
mood, setting me off today

to thinking
about which I am,
a non-believer or a dis-believer -

dis-believing
suggesting a lack of belief
in certain specific assertions

while
non-belief indicates
a disbelief in belief…

there was a time
for example
when many people did not believe

the human body
could stand traveling at speeds
of 50 miles per hour,

that should a human
achieve that speed, convulsions,
mental disorientation, bleeding from the ears

and probably death
would quickly ensue; many
people believed the same

about exceeding the sound barrier
(and that was in my lifetime) and
I, personally, believe

the human body
is not constructed to fly
like a bird

or a leaf blown in a summer storm,
and, despite all evidence
to the contrary,

that is still my belief,
which means I cannot be
a non-believer
because, obviously, I believe
in belief, in this instance

the belief that humans are always
destined
to fall out of the sky

whether on their own,
flapping their arms
in a sorry imitation of creatures

like birds or bats,
or encased in a metal sausage
with rigid wings, which

if you think about it
is even more ridiculous
than the flapping-arms scenario

so, while I dis-believe
in the theory of manned flight
and many other things

mostly doing with magic
and magical events and beings
and, since I also believe in many things

like biscuits and gravy and turkey dressing
and the innate goodness of man, it is clear
I am not a non-believer, which is not

the opposite of believer as dis-believer
clearly is, since a believer
and a dis-believer in the same room

are opposite poles
of the same thing, belief,
their common point of reference

which leads, on a more prosaic level,
to the question of the day
regarding conflicting beliefs

that being, do I believe more
in the rightness of euthanasia
at the proper time

and under the proper circumstances
or do I believe all creatures
have a right to life under all

circumstances,
however impaired,
until a natural death comes to them

in a natural time,
considering, today, this philosophical question
as it applies

to my elderly cat,
gone completely blind this past week,
wandering now in confusion,

bumping into walls as she searches
for her food and water dishes
and her litter box -

would the free-cat spirit of her prefer
her current state to the nothing on non-existence
or, on another level, is it only me I’m thinking of,

wearied already of her wandering
and of having to pick her up to take her
from place to place








I have two poems now by D.A. Powell, from his book, Cocktails, published by Graywolf Press in 2004.

Powell is the author of two books of poetry before this one and recipient of many awards and honors, including a Fellowship from the Michener Foundation and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has taught at San Francisco State University, Sonoma State University, Columbia University and the University of Iowa. He has served as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard and currently teaches at the University of San Francisco.


[dogs and boys can treat you like trash, and dogs do love trash]

dogs and boys can treat you like trash.    and dogs do love trash
to nuzzle their muzzles.    they slather with tongues that smell like their nuts

but the boys are fickle when they lick you.   they stick you with twigs
and roll you over like roaches.    then off with another: those sluts

with their asses so tight you couldn't get  them to budge for a turd
so unlike the dogs: who will turn in a circle showing & showing  their butts

a dog on  a leash: a friend in the world.    he'll crawl into  bed on all  fours
and curl up at your toes.    he'll give you his nose.    he'll slobber on cuts

a dog is not fragile; he's fixed.    but a boy: cannot give you his love
he closes his eyes to your kisses.    he hisses, a boy is a putz

with a sponge for a brain.    and a mop for a heart: he'll soak up your love
if you let him and leave you as dry as a cork.    he'll punch out your guts

when a boy goes away: to another boy's arms.    what else can you do
but lie down with the dogs.    with the hounds with the curs.    with the mutts


[12-line poem, seemingly out of place]
          a bad translation of Pushkin, ending with a line from a John Waters movie

then the vehicular manslaughter took place: a tornado
of metal and suffering in the crosswalk: my god
he must have lost consciousness  there where two marys
with very different handbags stood working

these days the block has its crossing guard: the mayor
sends volunteers in hats and sashes: to guard what?
can this bloodstained place be carjacked, eaten by rats?
will the dead like giants invade folks imagination?

or will the past  reverse itself: a speeding ferrari
so that no lean body lies broken in the intersection
so that poor bastard isn't missed.    isn't starved after
by ladies, boys, wretches who holler eggs, eggs, eggs










Wrote this last week. Something flipped a memory switch. Don't even know what it was.


my mean motor-scooter
not all innocents
are virgins;
some are just really good
at looking surprised


I had a motor scooter when I was about twelve, a Cushman, maybe, or some other brand no one’s ever heard of since 1953, very old, and, like most of what I had, something my father had found junked somewhere and put back into running order, so to speak.
It had a long metal cover over the motor and rear wheels which, with the front made the scooter about as long as a modern compact car. The paint on the cover was old and scratched and some years beyond any identifiable color.

You started the scooter with a rope pull, like a lawn mower, and steered with handle bars, the accelerator on the right handle bar, a twist-thing connected by wire to the motor, my dad’s improvisation, and a brake-squeeze on the left.

I mowed lawns in those days, for a regular group of regular customers and I would tie the lawnmower to the back of the scooter with a rope and pull it to the yards scheduled for mowing - quite a sight, as I remember it now, chugging down the street, beat-up old scooter with a lawnmower trailing behind, a third world type arrangement that would get me arrested on any street in America today.

I rode the scooter wherever I needed to go, convenience trumping embarrassment, except never to school, there being no convenience imaginable that could make up for that level of embarrassment.

In addition to my yard work, also had a regular job at that time, one that I had beginning when I was ten years old, at a tiny corner grocery store a few blocks from our house. It was a couple of hours every weekday, stocking shelves, pulling the rotten potatoes out of the potato bin, sweeping up (and how I came to love the smell of the rosined sawdust I spread on the floor before sweeping), picking up trash in the yard around the store and taking out the garbage.

One day, running a little late, coming in too fast, my brakes weren’t good enough to stop me in time and I ran into the store’s outside wall with a loud crash, gouging out of the wall a foot-square piece of white stucco.

When I went inside, Mr. Spant, the store owner, ask me about the loud noise outside.

“What noise?” I asked, busily whisking dust off the cans on the shelves with an innocent’s single-minded enthusiasm.

I was much better at innocence in those days and the damaged wall was never mentioned.









Wen Tingyun, born in 812, was  a contemporary of Du Mu. Said to be known for this wit, intelligence, and handsome looks, he was a failure as an official (no small thing in the China of  his time), having failed the imperial exams many times. Instead, he lived the life of a drunkard and frequenter of brothels, a life style often reflected in his poems. As a poet, he was among the innovators leading, toward the end of the Tang  period, to the transition to the Song dynasty and new poetic forms and conventions.

Like  other lyric poets of his time, his poems were written to the meter  of  popular  songs, long  since  lost.

This poem,  true to his reputation, concerns Lady Xie, a well known  concubine of the time who was said to be held against  her well in the luxurious mansion of Li  Teyu.


from To the Tune of "The Water Clock Sings at Night"

1

The willow weeps long silk,
a slender spring rain.
Past the flowers a water clock sings forever,
startling frontier geese,
crows on the city wall,
even gilded  partridges on the painted screen.

A thin  perfumed mist
seeps through the curtain
and grief fills the ponds and pavilions of Lady Xie.
One red candle
behind the drooping embroidered curtain.
She dreams on forever  of things he won't understand.

3

The jade incense  burner  smokes
and a red candle sheds tears,
casting slant light on the hall of paintings and an autumn sorrow.
Her painted eyebrows are fading
and her  hair is tangled clouds.
the night is forever,  the quilt and pillow cold.

On the parasol trees
rain  falls at the time of the midnight drum
unaware of the pain of separation, this intense bitterness;
leaf by leaf
plink, plunk,
it drips on the empty steps till dawn.











Here a couple of short poems from March, 2010.

And, by the way, a "barku" is a form I  invented six or seven years ago when at a bar with poet-fire flaming and nothing to write on but a bar napkin. So, the barku - ten words in six lines,  sized to fit on a bar napkin.



sunspots
past
white-robed mountains,
the virgin-brides
of western California,

past
San Bernardino,
and the car-choked
debris
of Los Angeles

to the dry brown
hills of north Arizona

bright yellow
flowers,
brushy and thick,
climb the hills like
sunspots
across
the rising drab and dreary

 
even old dogs dream the hunt
home is the hound
from his run
in the hills

content
now
to nap by the fire
and dream
of the chase

and,
sometimes
even old dogs,
of runs to come

6 barku 4 you

puddles
on asphalt shining
reflect
green
fresh faces
of spring

~~~

grey dawn
begins
a rainy
day -
mist
and drifting fog

~~~

woman
under umbrella
huddling -
tiptoes through
dark streams
of wet

~~~

leaves
wet glisten -
early light
casts
glitter
like disco balls

~~~

birds will
sing
when sky
is dry -
now they
sleep

~~~

rain
for lovers
who love the
rain -
romance
the wet








Next, from my library, I have Jimmy Santiago Baca. The poems are from Baca's book,  Healing Earthquakes, published in 2001 by Grove Press.

Born in 1952 in Santa Fe of Chicano and Apache descent, Baca was abandoned by his parents and at 13 ran away from the orphanage where his grandmother had placed him. He was convicted on drug charges in 1973 and spent five years in prison. There he learned to read and began writing poetry. His semi-autobiographical novel in verse, Martin and Meditations on the South Valley, received the 1988 Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 1989. In addition to over a dozen books of poetry, he has published memoirs, essays, stories, and a screenplay, Bound by Honor, which was made into a feature-length film.

Baca has conducted writing workshops in prisons, libraries, and universities across the country for more than 30 years. In 2004 he launched Cedar Tree, a literary nonprofit designed to provide writing workshops, training, and outreach programs for at-risk youth, prisoners and ex-prisoners, and disadvantaged communities. Baca holds a BA in English and an honorary PhD in literature from the University of New Mexico.

This book is a compilation of several long narrative poems, or, books. This week, I'm using two early poems from "Book I - As Life Was"


from As Life Was


One

With this letter I received from a young Chicano
doing time  in New Boston, Texas,
     I'm reminded of the beauty of  bars
     and how my soul squeezed through them
     like blue cornmeal through a sifting screen
     to mix with the heat and moisture of the day
     in each leaf and sun ray
          offering myself
          to life like bread.
He tells me he reads a lot of books and wants my advice
and more amazed
     he quotes from my books, honoring my words
     as words that released him from the bars,
     the darkness, the violence of prison.
It makes me wonder,
     getting down on myself as I usually do,
     that maybe I'm not the pain in the butt
          I sometimes think I am.
I used to party a lot, but now I study landscapes
and wonder a lot,
     listen to people and wonder a lot,
     take of sip of good wine and wonder more
     until my wondering has filled five or six years
     and literary critics and fans
          and fellow writers ask
     why haven't you written anything in six years?
And I wonder about that -
     I don't reveal to them
     that I have a box of  unpublished poems
and that I raise at six-thirty each morning
     and I read books, jot down not5es
     compose a poem,
          throwing what I've written   or wondered
          on notepads in a stack in a box
                                                 in a closet.
Filled with wonder at the life I'm living,
distracted by presidential impeachment hearings
          and dick-sucking interns and Iraq bombings,
my attention is caught by the kid
without a T-shirt in  the winter
on the courts who can shoot threes and never miss,
by a woman who called me the other night
threatening to cut her wrists because she was in love
     and didn't want to be in love,
by the crackhead  collecting cans at dawn along the freeway
     sore-hearted at the end of each day,
     wondering how to pay the bills,
          thinking how I'll write a poem
     to  orphans for Christmas
     and tell them that's their present
     and watch them screw up their  faces -
     saying, huh,
          wondering what kind  of  wondering fool
          I've become
     that even during  Christmas I'm wondering...
     caught in the magical wonder
     of angels on Christmas trees
          colored lightbulbs
all of it making me  remember the awe and innocence
     of my own childhood
          when Santa came with a red bag
          to  the orphanage
               and gave us stockings
               bulging with fruit and nuts.
It was a time of innocence, gods  walking around my bunk
               at night,
               divine guardians whispering at my ear
               how they'd take care of me -
and they did, armies of angels have attended me
in rebellious travels,
and the only thing  that's changed since then
is instead  of me waiting for Santa
     I'm like an ornery pit bull leashed to a neck chain
     aching to bite the ass of an IRS agent
wondering why anyone in their right mind would,
with only one life to live, have a job making people so miserable.
It's something  to wonder about.


Three

My poems are for the working people
in Grants' mines, to the farmers in Socorro
and Belen: my poems are ristras dying on rooftops -
the long red chili  stands
strung together and knotted on the stems.
the wind rattles them
and the seeds inside the  pods
shake coldly.
I think of my heart -
dry and crackly, the dry seeds of dreams
rasping against the tough red inner  skin.

My poems have rubbed themselves
on the fingers of a you girl who then rubbed her  eyes
and wept all night
in her bedroom for a lover.
From birth my tongue has had a fire
for communication
with trees and dirt and water,

for homes in my barrio
that sniff the ground for something lost.
Kids cling together like leaves on a branch
grown from the earth
outside dripping faucets.

the pictures of my grandfather,
now dead, hold in his eyes the ancient song
of wild drum, and in the eyes of my father,
now dead, the ruins of red dreams.

In winter the barrio stirs quietly,
its ways soft, like an animal sensing
the wind's heart,
flickers
red ashes in wood stoves,
keeping the warm fire alive.

I go looking for poems,
I walk past the church, then back up
and climb up the steps to the landing
and look in. An old man kneels in front
of La Virgen, beckoning her to remove
the boulder from his heart. I  lean
against the great doors watching him.
Candles at La Virgen's feet like flaming guards
swing their silvery sabers
in front of his brown eyes, warm intimate  creatures
that ask forgiveness from the mysterious marble.

It's December and he has  a gray coat on.
He makes the sign of the cross
and slowly rises. the altar behind him:
thorn-studded slits of flame in blue and red candle jars
spring and twist like a net
wrestling with a wild animal it's caught...

Outside again, before sunset,
the church bells
bellow through the wild grasses,
the notes trample across the distant  fields
like great horses that drab boulders.
They breath powerfully from steel nostrils;
clouds of sunlight explode
then simmer into evening.










Here are three more barku. The others were old; these are new, from last  week.


3 barku
three oaks -
giants
to someday
be -
planted
by my hand

---

stepping stones
laid in
blazing
summer sun
white
in moonlight

---

creek
rushing
behind cracks
in fence
falling down -
summer rain










More from the Chinese anthology.

The Bureau of Music was set up about 120 BCE. by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty and abolished in 6 BCE by Emperor Ai. At the time of its dissolution , it employed 829 people. Its function was to collect songs by the common people, in part as a way to judge the mood of the common folk and their reactions to the policies of the imperial government, a kind of ancient Gallup Poll.

Here are three of the collected songs.


The East Gate

I stride out the east gate
and don't look back.
The next moment I'm in our doorway,
about  to break down.
There's no rice in our pot.
I see hangers, but no clothes.
So I draw my sword and again head out the east gate!
My wife grabs me by the shirt and sobs
"I'm not like other wives. I could care less for gold or rank.
I'm happy to eat gruel if I'm with you.
Look up! The sky is a stormy ocean.
Look down! See you small son's yellow face?
To go now is wrong."
"Bah!" I say,
"I'm going now
before it's too late.
We can barely survive as it is
and white hairs are raining from my head."


A Sad Time

I sing a sad song when I want to weep,
gaze far off  when I want to  go home.
I miss my old place.
Inside me, a dense mesh of grief.
But there's no one to go back to,
no boat  across that river.
This heart is bursting, but my tongue is dead.
My guts are twisting like a wagon wheel.


At Fifteen I Went to War

At fifteen I went to war
and I'm eighty now, coming home at last.
I meet a man from my village
and ask who lives in my home now.
"Your house is over there,
where pine  and cypress crowd the grave mounds."
Rabbits scurry in the dog door,
pheasants fly among the rafters,
wild grain burgeons in the yard,
and sunflowers blossom by the well.
I beat the grain to make gruel,
pick sunflowers to make soup,
but when the gruel and soup are cooked
no one is there to serve the food.
I  go to the east door and stand gazing
while tears soak my clothes.









Here are three morning  coffee  shop observations and ruminations from near Christmas, 2009.


pretty girls dancing
pretty girls
prancing

coming in
dancing

dark hair
bouncing

to a
jingle bell

beat -
dancing and prancing -

having their breakfast
to a

jingle bells
beat


 
redhead clowns
burger
and fries
a cinnamon
shake
and a dog with
a bone
a cat on the
phone
and redhead
clowns
giggling in
the diner

welcome home
Mr. Saturday
Night


I don’t  like old men
i don’t like
old men so much -

not much
to talk about

after the first
couple of jokes

with these old guys
who

haven’t learned anything new
since their 37th

birthday
or the day they lost

their virginity,
whichever came

first, what response
can you make

when they say stuff like
the country’s really

gone to hell
since the liberals

kicked out
ol’ Richard Nixon -

I'm not at all
like them -

i make a point
of learning something new

every day -
course that don’t mean

i
remember any of

it








The next poem is by Mary Jo Salter, taken from her book Henry Purcell in Japan. The book was published by Knopf in 1985.

Salter was born in in 1954 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was raised in Detroit and Baltimore, Maryland. She received her B.A. from Harvard University in 1976 and her M.A. from Cambridge University in 1978. She is a co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry and a professor in the Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University.
This was her first book of poems.


Two Pigeons

They've perched for hours
on that window-ledge, scarcely
moving. Beak to beak,

a matched set, they differ
almost imperceptibly -
like salt and pepper shakers.

It's an event when they tuck
(simultaneously) their pinpoint
heads into lavender  vests

of fat. But reminiscent
of clock hands blandly
turning because they must

have turned - somehow, they've
taken on the grave,
small-eyed aspect of monks

hooded in conferences
so intimate nothing need
be  said. If  some are chuckling

in the park,  earning
their bread, these are content
to  let the dark engulf them -

it's all the human
imagination can fathom,
how  single-mindedly

mindless two silhouettes
stand in a window  thick
as  milk glass.  They appear

never to have fed on
anything else when they stir
all of a sudden to peck

savagely, for love
or hygiene, at the grimy
feathers of the other;

but when they resume
their places, the shift
is one only a painter

or a barber (prodding a chin
back into position)
would be  likely to notice.







Here's a 2007 poem. My file on 2007 begins with April. It just occurred to me that I don't know where my poems are from 2006 and the first three months of 2007.

A project for the weekend. Find the poems.

Is anyone else as sick of cellphones  as  I am.  Maybe not. Don't  see anyone throwing theirs into the river.


ring tones

little man 
on a cellphone 
advertises 
with booming voice 
there is more to him 
than appears 

** 

business suit 
charcoal gray 
pin stripped 
red necktie 
on pristine white shirt 
whispers 
to himself 
as he picks 
at his Blackberry 
with a plastic 
stylus 

I read his lips, 
“beam me up, Scottie” 

I swear 

** 

two girls 
on the sofa 
under the Starbucks sign 
each with cellphone 
talking 
each in private 
conversation 
ignoring the other 

it’s only as I pass 
I realize 
they are talking 
to each other 

*** 

fat woman 
in a pink jogging suit 

two kids 
one on each 
tree stump leg 

receiver 
on her walkie-talkie phone 
set to maximum loud 
public address system’ 
mode so that the man 
on the other end 
echoes across the store 
like a sonic boom 
and she yells back 
sure, I guess, 
that he’s as deaf 
as she 

** 

woman behind me 
at a high school band concert 
talks on her cellphone, 
taking calls and making calls 
all the way through the hour and a half 
concert - Wagner, Sibelius, Sousa, 
Hindemith, Joplin and all the rest 
less interesting than her girlfriend’s 
report on the new hairdresser 

and the concert ends 
and the children all come out 
to meet their parents 
and she tells her child 
as they leave, good work, 
you were really good 

I’m so glad I came









Back to the anthology.

Around 107 BCE a Chinese princess from the Han royal family was married for political reasons to the chief of the Wusun tribe, a nomadic band in the northwest of China. When she arrived, she found her new husband aged and decrepit. They saw each other rarely, once every six months at most, and couldn't communicate since they had  no common language. When her husband grew much older, she was  forced to marry his grandson.

This song is attributed to Liu Xijun, the unhappy bride.


Lament

My family married me off to
the king of the Wusun,
and I live in an alien land
a million miles  from nowhere.
My house is a tent.
My walls are of  felt.
Raw flesh is all I eat,
with horse milk for my drink.
I always think of home
and my heart strings.
O to be a yellow snow goose
floating home again!









The next two poems are from July, 2008. Both, in different ways, are about companionship.


an old, old woman
she
shuffles in
every morning,
an old, old
woman, bones
wrapped loosely
in skin,
and sits in one of the easy
chairs in the corner,
has a pot of tea
and reads her newspapers,
the Times,
Wall Street Journal,
Irish Times,
and Le Monde,
and leaves, walking
to i don’t know where
just as i don’t know
where she comes from
but i know
she's a piece of my every day
and she will leave a hole
when that morning
arrives
that i'll see her no more




liar, liar
i lied
to my dog today

when it came time
to put her in the car
so we could drive
to our morning walk
i said,

“Reba,
i can’t take you
with me
today
because i have
a bunch of errands
and you’d be stuck
in the hot car
and you’d get hot
and sweaty and
you’d hate it.”

liar
liar
pants on
fire

the truth is
i don’t have any errands,
don’t plan on doing anything
different
from what i usually do,
i just didn’t want the hassle
of taking her home like i usually do
before i go off to all the places
i usually go off to

but
i knew
as i scratched behind her ears
and looked into her soft brown eyes
that, weeping
though she might be on the inside,
she believed me

just as she always
believes me

i ask you,
can a man
sink
any
lower
than this?









Next, I have the latest chapbook by my good friend  "Anonymous" who truly believes poetry should be free and a thing apart, unhinged from considerations of who did it and how much it should cost.


Dead Letter Office


Unsent Letter #1

Dear J,

There’s a mallard and his mate, outside my window. The rose bushes
have been uprooted; ready to be replaced. Across the street the police
are in the process of arresting a woman. Her husband [boyfriend] leans
against the building like he’s seen it all before. It’s difficult. I think I’m
ruined. I’ll take my chances in slivers; not brave enough to flat out ask
and too smart [afraid] to blow it all by being honest. If you were here
I couldn’t fake it. But you’re not. You are a handwritten letter; an untold
story. Tomorrow, the landscapers will be back.


 
Unsent Letter #2
Dear J,

Now, there is nothing but dirt. They took the trees, bushes;
even part of the sidewalk. The police are gone. The flashing
red and blue a quiet promise of their return. I want to tell you
stories. I want to find one more way to turn the truth. I want
to be subversive. I’ll confess my crimes. I’ll take my chances;
tell you what you think you already know. I do plan to post this
bundle of letters. Maybe I’ll redact them. As if they were sent
from a war zone or some Eastern Bloc country; before the wall
came down.


Unsent Letter #3

Dear J,

Sometimes I no longer believe you are real; this letter
will sit in the dead letter office. Unopened and unread
until one rainy day, a bored employee will wonder who
it was meant for. They will open it, read it aloud; create
their own narrative. I wonder will they be able to see
the curve of your hand, the spot on your wrist I used
to kiss; the freckle on your rib. On my window ledge,
a petal, used to be a rose. It is a stamp that has fallen
off an envelope; one more letter unable to be delivered.


 
Unsent Letter #4
Dear J,

I think about carefully writing letters then leaving them in random places:
Dear Subway Passenger,
Dear Passer-By,
Dear Friend I've never met,

Let me tell you about my lover. She’s beautiful in that way sadness has of rounding out edges.
She likes to go barefoot; better to feel the earth tremble, she says. She worries about the sun
when it rains, Likes to sit in her grandmother’s chair; best seat in the house when it thunders. 
She believes in long good-byes and wide-open spaces. Last thing she told me was how words
seemed to come alive, when written by hand.


Unsent Letter #5

Dear J,

Every day I stop at the park. Same time, except on Thursdays [I’m a little late].
I lean against the car and wait. Sometimes I’ll walk the path. Once I sat under
a maple; watched a robin collect twigs for a nest.  One day there will be nothing
left to breathe; a few moments here, a question or two there. I notice the same
people: an older woman sits on the bench facing west [always leaves at 4:30],
a young boy and girl, [the beginnings of a crush]. Sometimes, I wonder if they
recognize me; know what I’m waiting for.


Unsent Letter #6
Dear J,

You told me your husband wished you were more practical.
I wanted to accidentally run into him; tell him I was envious.
Convince him you’re perfect. We were everywhere. We were
overflowing, abandoned. I promised to not count the days,
but they were right there: full fresh days; a bawdy yellow
field; a dark sitting room, the backseat of a car while it rained.
There were wide highways; clean, flat and endless. When I
stopped counting it was long enough to end it all. You’re patient;
all ready to take the long road. I’m unforgivable; writing my way
into nothing.


Unsent letter #7

Dear J,

I love edges. Anything that can take me down another city
block, around corners; into the permanent. The air is lousy
with shouts from irritated cars. It’s all breakable; you tell
me joy is the number 8, always doubling back on itself.
There is a catch in your voice; you would rather be home,
digging in the garden until the sensation of floating ebbs
into a drop of rain. I want to plan a full color escape, feel
the brush of your hand against my cheek. Until everything
is simple math: minus me; plus you; divide us both in two.


Unsent letter #8
Dear J,

Remember the night we stole your father’s car? The halo-glow
of the porch light illuminated our crime. You slid across the long
bench seat, told me to drive. Drive to nowhere; drive over the edge
of the earth; watch the look on God’s face as we crack the horizon.
I remember crickets singing louder the further we went; the hum
of wind through wing windows. There was clean static from AM
radio; your hand on mine. I wake, three four five times a night
and you’re invisible; a shadow; a heart-shaped moth watching
over me as I fall to sleep.


Unsent letter #9

Dear J,

Not sure what is left to write. I’ve told you about the birds that nest
in winter; the simple pearl of water that glides down my window;
an unpainted bridge over Lester Park Creek that reminds me of that
summer. We cannot forget what we don’t remember; cannot let it
go again. Next time will be forever. This morning the moon was a dim
light wrapped in gauze. We are separated; not by distance, not time
but circumstance. We will carry each other; two butterflies frozen still
on pink petals. Handwritten notes folded in our pockets; everything
we’ll ever need.


Unsent letter #10
Dear J,

I want you to forget you love me. Forget how trees scallop the sky,
the way the horizon shuns the stars. I want you to bury the words
you gave to me. The ones that belong to the soft rush of wind
through pussy willows. Pack away the quiet adjectives you use
to describe the sound of morning; forget it all. I’ll write you from
another continent, bare and thirsty words; underfed and worthless
words. I’ll write of broken promises; made up prayers from lost
lovers. I’ll tell you about paper wings, ashes; a wet moon awash
on the shore.


Unsent Letter #11

Dear J,

I’m looking outside my window 5:30AM; the only
one here; not ready to work. Its quiet; the quiet
roar of a world that’s still and within itself. You tell
me you are flying out in five days; England then
Portugal. I wonder what love feels like after a distance;
after silence turns into a rush of wind. Later this year
I’ll be in London; funny how we end up in the same
places but never at the same time. Send me a card,
a cheap souvenir.  I’ll fold it into a talisman; every
crease a reminder of where I’ve been. 

Unsent letter #12 [I still think of you when the world gets like this]
Dear J,

How you told me 11 is the number for clarity;
it’s morning, rivers and sleet. It’s anything
wet: sweat on a glass of beer, a splash from
fish, silver and sleek, It comes before blood,
before we learn how to swallow loss. You love
this town, its broken pieces laid out before this
Great Lake. The park by the canal is deserted,
gulls pick at tourist leftovers. I imagine you
painting, writing, listening to your favorite
playlist; firefly or lush.  I watch the lights on
the hill go out one by one by one; count them
until everything becomes clear.








My friend and constant companion, at home and on the road.



until she sleeps
     Reba
sleeps in the back of my car,
on her way for a bath
and beauty treatment
at Pet’s Mart
as soon as I finish breakfast…

overdue for a bath
because I’ve been concerned
about how frail she is
and how the pain in her hips
requires special gentle handling…

but
let’s face it,
she stinks…

    poor dear,
so thin, so fragile,
so hard for her to lie down,
so hard for her to get up,
following me
from room to room
when I’m home,
lying beside
me when I’m working
in my office,
her brown eyes
pleading
and there’s nothing I can do
but hold her head
until she sleeps
and whisper in her deaf ears
that she is not alone…

    3 a.m.
sitting beside her
on the floor
stroking her head
until she sleeps…











My next  poet from the anthology is Yuan Haowen, considered the finest poet of the Jin Dynasty. Born in 1190 in Xinshou in Northern China,  he was raised by his uncle, a provincial official. He lived through the hardship and dislocations, as the Mongols under Genghis Khan swept through  his homelands. He  passed his imperial exam in 1221 serving several governorships, including a posting at the capital in 1231. This was at a time when the dynasty was undergoing constant attack by the Mongols including their capture of the capital in 1233. Yuan was forced into house arrest for two years, beginning during those years what became a lifelong project, creating an anthology of Jin dynasty poetry. He spent the rest of  his life after house arrest traveling through Northern China and gathering materials for a history of the fallen dynasty. Although he received patronage from the new Yuan dynasty, he never  actually served in official capacity again.

More than thirteen hundred of his poems survive, including these two, which speak of the times of the Mongol siege of Bianjing.


Dreaming of  Home

A withered Chu prisoner with a southern hat,
my homesick mind flows east each day.
Green mountains glow when my dream nears home
and yellow leaves rustle in autumn wind and rain.
In poverty, my poems become uncannily refined.
In turbulence, I have no tears left for grief.
Just let me see my brothers in the years I have left,
and I won't worry about the world, happy with chopped pickles.


from In May of 1233, I Ferried Across the North

1
Countless captives  are lying stiff by the roadside
as Mongol wagons pass like flowing water.
You roughed women  walking weeping behind Mongolian  horses,
for whom are you still looking back at each step.

2
White bones lie in a tangled mess like hemp fire.
In a few years mulberry trees have withered to a dragon's desert.
It  seems to me life in Heshu has utterly ceased.
But look! Smoke rises from those broken  houses.













Here's  a short several from 2006/early 2007.




coffeeshop shorts, six to a cup

1
wouldn't it be cool
to read the poems
the giants
chose to never write
and compare
them
to mine

mine
I bet
are just as fine

2
the vastly
pregnant
woman
rubs her belly
imagining
with her fingertips
the slight
vibration
of a sigh

3
all the pretty girls
say
"hi"
to me

good father
figures
I guess
are hard
to find

4
the south Texas
girl
born and raised
wears a fur hat
and a fur coat
and fur boots
and though
it's fifteen degrees
above freezing
imagines
snowflakes
landing softly
on the open palm
of her fur-lined
glove

5
a broad
broad
round
woman comes in
with a trim and handsome
young man
like from the cover
of "GQ" or such

she laughs
in peals
like bright balloons
and all is explained

6
everyone
has a story
but rare
are those
I have the skill
to tell

still
I keep looking
listening
searching
collecting
anyway

satisfied to find
just those few






My last library poem this week is by Mary Rose O'Reilley. The  poems are from her  book  Half Wild, winner of the 2005 Walt Whitman Award of the  Academy of American Poets published by the  Louisiana  State University Press.

O'Reilley is the author of five essay collections and is a professor of English at the University of St. Thomas. Active in Quaker  ministry, she describes her vocation  as taking care of animals,teaching, peace and social justice work, music, being a potter, and being a poet.

The Lives of the Cousins

The lives of the cousins came in letters
from  our Canadian aunts,
with graduation photos from nursing school:

O pure cousins in navy capes
gold pin at the neck,
organdy cupcake upended on practical hair.

Carmen and I skidded, crazy as boys,
through the tiled hall, we were striped
with the welts we toweled on each other,

making the puppies yap. How could we,
dripping and screaming
dream of becoming Cousins?

Quiet and kind and black and white on the wall
the nurses,  unjudging anything, sat.
I could not think of my brown hands

holding each other, smelling of Jergens,
on such a white lap. I could not think  of my
pink nails unbitten, toes curled in rubber-soled  shoes

walking my heart down a hospital corridor
after a cart. The cousins dimmed
in the lamplight, flanked on each side

by Jesus and Mary, their hearts
fileted on their chests,  each squeezed
by its bracelet of thorns.


The Foster Child

Weaving a basket  of the  day, they
who seldom spoke  otherwise
talked  in bed.

It was not  a house for  privacy:
two rooms and a  sleeping porch;
I on my couch overheard
everything  said.

Propped on pillows,  he smoked a pipe,
she fingered rosary beads,
between them the basket was  finished

and  put aside in the methodical way
they did everything:
played cribbage, carted the leaves  away.

No ideas hung on the blackberry vine
they wove  into  the warp of real things,
words for mice, feathers, and wings,

for the white  cat  who loved them,
birch trees and wrens.
A few feet from the door

the waves kept  lapping.
I'd never been give before
a sense of  containment,

and never got  it again,
except I can weave it now on my own,
out of the talk and stillness of that home.








Here's my last piece for the week,inspired, once again, by the New York Times Thursday science section.


Science Times triptych
                                                                                                                                                 
light
is a stream of protons,
shot out
from its source
like birdshot
from the barrel of a shotgun -

as anyone who’s ever shot
a shotgun can tell you
it is true,
for every action
there is an equal and opposite
reaction, in shotgun-terms,
a “kick” that will turn
a shoulder blue
if the gun is not held properly
when fired

the lesson of the morning
is that light protons
streaming out in one direction
also have a “kick” in the opposite direction,
meaning that, as your drive down
that lonely country road at midnight
after that late-night session
at Roxy’s bar and bingo parlour,
high-beam lights on
to illuminate every dark corner
of the narrow, twisty road,
the protons bursting
from your headlights are exerting
an equal force back against
your car…

the practical application
of this is that,
gas prices being what they are,
I will no longer
drive
with my lights on during daytime…

I don’t care how safe it is
to have your lights on in the daytime,
we’re talking $4 a gallon here…

it is a time for living dangerously

---

new research indicates
that polar bears
have been around for about
five million years…

it has also been demonstrated
that the heat generated by
you and me and everyone else
is the cause
of the global warming
that is pushing the polar bear
on a path towards eventual
extinction…

I don’t know a lot about
polar bears, except
that they are huge, up to 10 to 12 feet
tall, weighing as much as 2,000
pounds…

the idea that I am
the most dangerous thing
to threaten such a creature
in 5 million years
boggles
my rather modest self-perception -
the thought of such fragility
in the world I stomp
my muddy boots through is
frightening…

how the All must
dread
my clumsy approach

---

flies
make a great deal of noise
when having sex

bats
can hear that noise
and target its source

making
flies
in the throes
of their filthy romance
easy targets
for hungry bats

is there another message
here
about unsafe sex
or is just an issue of
thin
hotel walls
and the dangers
thereof?









Everyone knows that  presenting information in bullet point format immediately makes the information  you present truer, more important, interesting, and possibly ever sexier. So:

     * all material presented in this post remains the property of its creators

     * my stuff is available if you ever want it - just insure proper credit for me and "Here and Now"

     * I am allen itz, owner and producer of this blog

     * people should buy my books, which are available as shown below

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony eBookstore and Apple iBookstore for iPad,iPhone, i-everythingelse, as well as  Kobo, Copia, Gardner's, Baker & Taylor, and eBookPie

  

 
Places and Spaces




Always to the Light




Goes Around, Comes Around





Pushing Clouds Against the Wind



And

For those of a print-bent, available on Amazon (both new and used)

Seven Beats a Second


And,
exceptional news,
my next book,
Sonyador (the dreamer),
a book of very short
short stories
went to proof
this week
and will be available 
for purchase
at a very modest price
before the end of the year.

Thought you'd like to know.

Especially the modest price  part.








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