No Free Ride   Wednesday, July 31, 2013









My anthology this week is Poetry for the Earth.

Published by Ballantine Books in 1991, the book describes itself as "A collection of poems from around the world that celebrates nature."







 



I said last week that it was hard to use material from my last poetry book, Places and Spaces, because it consists almost entirely of five long poems each chronicling a different road trip. It makes it difficult to select from all that material the exact extracts that work on their own.

But I'm going to try.

(And, by the way, the fellow in the picture, my son, who likes to hike and camp in hard places, the picture taken by one of his friends.)




Here's the who's and what's this week.


Me
the dispatcher

Theodor Roethke
from The Rose

Me
from The Cusp of Confederate Winter

Philip Larkin
Sad Steps
Solar  

Me
the scrawny, pint-sized drunk guy

Pat  Lowther
Coast Range

Me
from Ruidoso

Audre Gritsman  
Hope

Kelle  Groom
Songs from Far Away

Me
the shrimper

Po  Chu-i
Having Climbed to the Topmost Peak of the Incense-burner Mountain

Me
from To  the Rockies

Pat Mora
Goblin

Me
the driver

Elizabeth Coatsworth
Whale at  Twilight     

Me
from Sleeping with Andy Devine

John Gardiner
Her Poems

John Elsberg
Claws

Me
that's how  good they were

Uvavnuk
Moved

Basho
Year's End

Me
from Silver City and Beyond

Stan Crawford
Harvest Sestina

Me
the Mr. and Mrs.

Walt  Whitman
from Songs of Myself

Me
from Sleeping  with Andy Devine

Jessica Goodheart 
Advice for a Stegosaurus

Me
the night I got chased out of Mexico       
 






My first new  poem this week is another in the series of "cabbie days" poems I started last week. I only drove a taxi for three or four months, as I explained last week,  working two in the afternoon until  two in the morning,  making a 33 percent commission on fares and what tips I could gather. Not much money, no matter how you add it up. I remember one night, the end of a 12-hour shift when I went home with $3.00, my total earnings for the day. Luckily, living at home with my parents, home from Peace Corps training and about to get drafted,  working 2 to 2, there wasn't much time to spend the money I didn't have.

Strolling through my mind,  I though of the experience and some of the  stories that came from  it. I think I have a few  more left, beginning with this,  the story of a very nice man I knew from that time. Also from about that time, my picture on the left.


the dispatcher

the dispatcher
was one of the nicest fellas
I've ever known

a precise looking man,.
always sharp,
freshly ironed, razor-creased
khakis and short-sleeve shirts,
brown loafers,  shined,
a short ride from bald, such hair as he had,
carefully oiled and parted,
long thin fingers
and nails  well-attended,
usually smoking,
flicking his ashes into an ashtray
 with a careful tap
of his index
finger

a gay guy except
in 1965 homosexuals
hadn't gone gay yet, not
in South Texas, at  least,
so what he was
in South Texas
in 1965  was a queer,
an identification
in the common vernacular
that he,  being not one to promote discord,
probably wouldn't
dispute

he was a dentist
from someplace back east,
with a family,
he tole me one night
on a 2 to 2 shift,
before the bars closed
and dead-end drunks fell out on the  sidewalks
waiting for a ride
and it was still quiet

he had a prosperous practice
he said,
and a picture perfect family
until caught out
being queer
(the exact circumstances of that
never asked, never told)
and as a result, lost
his practice
and his family and,  on the road,
ended up in deep South Texas, just a few miles
from the Rio Grande and the border

he didn't know how he ended up where he was
he told me,
but like  it  and had  stayed  going on
ten years at the time we were talking

he was,
as I said a really terrific guy
and I was pleased to call him a friend,
even if for just the short time
I worked with him

---

turned out
about ten years later I ran into him
again...

the taxi company went out of business
when the owner died
and he was a veteran (Korea) and as was my job,
I was  trying to help him  find another job

and for some reason,  I don't remember what,
I needed to visit  him at his house...

we were both ten years older,
me, not so green as  I was, and he, a little balder
and a little  grayer with what hair he had
left...

he was living with a young Mexican guy,
half-naked,
skinny as a stick,
pipe-cleaner
arms
and bony chicken chest,
long greasy hair hanging over his eyes

a fella  on the prowl who had found himself
a bird's nest on the ground,
living there with my long unseen friend,
sharp  razor eyes behind his hair watching me  with barely concealed
hate, afraid of competition, a threat to the easy life
he had gathered for himself there
with the older man,  and the truth is my first instinct
was to gather him up and kick him out on the street
for being such a sleaze
and for taking advantage of one of the nicest men
I had ever known, but what  can you do
when shadows conceal
deep need
and the choice to live as one wants
is so repressed
and so captive to hate and fear
that one has to live with his need
as best he can...

I was truly happy to see my friend
and would have enjoyed a chance to sit and talk with him
but couldn't with the barely-literate companion
of this so-literate man
watching,
thinking already of the revenge he would take
as soon as I left...

so I  left, feeling very sad for my friend
and all others who  lived in such circumstances  of denial,
never for them the life they wanted,
those who could never find the fulfilling life
that is our natural birth-right, finding happiness
only in the shadows
instead

I gave him a referral to a job
at a convenience
store
and I would see him every once in a while
when I  stopped in to buy cigarettes,
seeing him,
this oh so sad man
so  happy
to see
me







First this week from the anthology,  Poetry for the Earth, I have an excerpt from a longer poem by Theodore Roethke.

Roethke was born in 1908 and died in 1963. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1954 and two-time winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, the last time posthumous in 1965, he was widely considered the most important and influential poet of his time. In 2012 he was featured on a United States postal  stamp as one of ten great American poets of the 20th century.




from The Rose

                              2

As when a ship sails with a light wind -
The waves less than the ripples made by rising fish,
The lace like wrinkles of the wake widening,, thinning out,
Sliding away from the traveler's eye,
The prow pitching easily up and down,
The whole ship rolling slightly sideways,
The stern high,  dipping  like a child's boat in a pond  -
Our motion continues.

But this rose, the rose in the sea-wind.
Stays,
Stays in its true place,
Flowering out of the dark,
Widening at high noon, face upward,
A single wild rose, struggling out of the white embrace of the morning-
     glory,
Out of the briary hedge, the tangle of  matted underbrush,
Beyond the clover, the ragged hay,
Beyond the sea pine, the oak, the wind-tipped madrona,
Moving with the waves, the undulating driftwood,
Where the slow creek winds  down to the black sand of the shore
With a thick grassy scum and crabs scuttling back into their
      glistening  craters.

And I think of roses, roses,
White and red, in the wide six-hundred-foot greenhouse,
And my father standing astride the cement benches,
Lifting me high over the four-foot stems,  the Mrs Russells, and  his
      elaborate hybrids,
And how those flower heads seemed to flow toward me,  to beckon me,
      only a child, out of myself.

What need for heaven, then
With that man, and those roses?







My first selection this week from my  book of  travel poems, Places and Spaces, is about a trip through the south, then through West Virginia to  Ohio where  I picked my wife up in Columbus, then,  together, to Virgina, down the Blue Ridge Parkway and home to  San Antonio.

This piece is from early in the journey, two days out (the first day of getting anywhere from San Antonio is limited getting  out of Texas).






from On the Cusp of Confederate Winter

 ...Nashville

    I wanted to write about
    the forest,
    the colors, gold and yellow,
    and the red-brown color the Crayola people
    used to call
    Indian  red or  Indian brown
    or something like that

    and in the middle
    of all that gold and yellow
    and red-brown Indian whatever,
    some low  bush that's flaming bright red
    scattered among the trees
    like little fires
    burning in the woods

    and I wanted to write about
    the flock of ducks that flew over
    in perfect V formation,
    near enough to the ground
    that I could hear the flapping
    of their wings
    and the mutter-quacks among the ranks

    and I wanted to write 
    about
    the hills, reminding me
    of  the hill  country of home,
    but soft hills, none of the hard face
   of caliche and cactus and mesquite,
    just soft 
    soft
    forest-hills, trunks climbing close

    I wanted to write about the sun
    this morning
    and how it lit the colors of the trees
    and covered the sky 
    from mid-afternoon, bringing
    shadow
    and mystery
    and darker colors of night

I wanted to write
about those
things
but

for two days
through two states
I have been unable to find
a national newspaper

again and again and  again
I talk to someone,
ask a question of my server
at a restaurant
or the cashier at a gas station
or the desk clerk at a hotel
and again and again and again
the response I get is
"uhhh, what?"...






The first two poems from my library this week are by Philip Larkin. They're from his chapbook, High Windows, published by Faber & Faber in 1974.

Larkin, an English poet and novelist, was born in 1922 and died in 1985. A prolific writer and recipient of many honors,  including the  Queen's Gold Medal  for Poetry and an offer, which he declined, to be named Poet Laureate of England.







Sad Steps

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a win-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this.

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-colored light sharpening the  roofs below)

 High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No.

One shivers  slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young: that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished  somewhere.


Solar

Suspended lion face
Spilling at the center
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
and how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petaled head of flame
Continuously exploding.
Heat  is the echo of your
Gold.

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb  and return like angels.
Unclosing like  a hand,
You give for ever.








Next,  another new poem  from the cabbie days. The bars all closed  at  2 a.m.  - just  at  the end of  the late shift when the cab  company shut down  for  the day. It was  a time all the drivers hated  since there was no way to know what you were going to have to  pick up before you could go home.

This poem is about a night that could have turned out much worse than it did.






the scrawny, pint-sized drunk guy

2 A.M.
the time when the bars  sweep out all  the barflies
before they close

this particular barfly
was a scrawny,
pint-sized
guy
and very drunk

the belligerence
often associated  with each of those conditions
multiplied exponentially
by the concurrent
presence
of the others

I could tell
even before he got into the back
of my cab he was
an
asshole
flagship at high mast

he mumbled something
I couldn't understand as he got it
and I turned around
to ask him to say it  again
and noticed he had a
knife,
a switch-blade eight - nine inches long
with the blade out

this dickhead is trying to rob me,
I thought,
and I'd have given  him everything
in the cash box,
but in the box was not just the cab company's
money
but my 33 percent commission as  well,
$6.38 of my hard earned reward
at the end of a twelve-hour shift

I kept track of y cut as the day progressed
and there was no way that scrawny,
pint-sized
drunk
was going to get any of it...

but
heroics not required
as the guy, very, very drunk,  like I said
so drunk
he dropped his knife
in the space between the front and back seat
and in the process of trying to get it
back, wedged himself between the seats

"well,hell,"
I heard him say
as I opened the back  door
and tossed him out on the street

then drove  back to the
garage,
my sift over
for that  very long day...

---

but I  kept the knife,
sold it the next  day for  $2.00
to a  large, happy-faced guy who I was   assured
would do no evil  with it

the $2.00
good news for me, increased my take
for the long  day before
to
$8.38,
enough extra
in those days for a pack of cigarettes
and a beer
which I could nurse
thinking of all  the stories I was going to get
out of my god-awful
job









The next poem from the anthology is by Pat Lowther. Born in 1935 in Vancouver, she grew up in the neighboring city, North Vancouver.  She published her first book in 1965 and it was shortly after submitting her third book for publication in 1975 that she was murdered by her husband of twelve years,  her  body left in a wooded area by a creek.





Coast Range

Just north of town
the mountains start to talk
back-of-the-head buzz
of high stubbled meadows
minute flowers
moss gravel and clouds

They're not snobs, these mountains,
they don't speak Rosicrucian,
they sputter with
billy goat-bearded cheeks
bum sliding  down
to splat in the sea

they talk with the casual
tongues of water
rising in trees

They're so humble they'll let you
blast highways through them
baring their iron and granite
sunset-colored bones
broken for miles

And nights when
clouds foam on a beach
of clear night  sky,
those high  slopes creak
in companionable sleep

Mover through gray green
aurora of rain
to  the bare fact:
The land is bare.

Even the curly opaque Pacific
forest,  chilling you full awake
with  wet branch-slaps,
is  somehow bare
stainless as sunlight:

The land is what's left
after the failure
of  every kind of metaphor.

The plainness of first things
trees
gravel
rocks
naive root atom
of philosophy's first molecule

The mountains reject nothing
but  can crack
open your mind
just by being intractably there

Atom:  that which can not
be reduced

You can gut them
blast them
to slag
the shapes they've made in the sky
cannot be reduced








The next piece from my travel book, Places and Spaces, is about a trip I took, just me and my dog, to Ruidoso, New Mexico, a place I had no particular reason to go to except that I had  never  been and long ago knew a fellow who grew up there.  Curiosity, good enough for me.

This piece comes from early in the poem when I'm still in Texas. For fairness sake, I should  mention that  on a subsequent trip  I passed through Pecos on a better route that was not so bleak as the one I took on this trip.

Sorry,  Pecos.




from Ruidoso

Pecos, Texas

    poor little Pecos, sinking
    beneath the weight of the
    21st century
    that has no place
    for dirty little towns stuck, alone
    on the dry West Texas plains

but,
dried up as it is,
it is still the largest  thing around
and it has a federal courthouse,
so hope is undeterred,  and across  the street,
Sally's North Side Cafe & Bail Bonds - Sally
feeds them
coming and going...

    an hour north
    of Pecos,
    a congregation of buzzards,
    gathered in the middle of the highway
    in the Sunday-best black, our scavenger
    cousins, dependent, like us
    on meat killed by others

Olna,
15 to 20 structures
along the highway,
all abandoned and in ruin

no sign of life in Olna

    but a single tarantula making
    its creepy crawly way
    across the highway, a cheering
    sight, this fuzzy,  black
    nightmare
    extinct now where I grew up,
    along with the horned toad  and the
    red-winged blackbird,a survivor
    here
    where little  else finds  a  home

across the line
into New  Mexico and the  road
turns
to  shit...









 Next from my library, I have two poets from  Fall/Winter 2004 issue of Borderlands - Texas  Poetry Review.










My first poet from the journal is Audrey Gritsman, a poet and essayist.

Born and raised in Russia, he lived in the New York area at the time of publication.



Hope

Sounds make a song,
there is no one to sing.
It does not matter  where your belong
as long as your lungs
are filled with free air.
All you know is  that you've been born
alive, you are airborne
and bear the vestiges of your early life
with grace: umbilical hernia,
nearsightedness, two traceable  scars
on the scapula
left from the wings.


The second poet is Kelle Groom.

At the time of publication she was  director of grants administration for the coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and author of two collections of poetry.



Songs from Far Away

When I arrived after so many years,
I was afraid  he would be angry or disappointed,

Find me at fault, but he said, You're here!
With more joy than I  have ever heard

In my life.It was  as if  the force  field that separates
The living from the dead, lifted long enough

For me to hear his voice,so that I could know
He loved me & knew me, his mother. I've never

Heard the dead before or since. But I wonder
If they are always talking behind the glass,

Full of joy for us, if they are in the trees, swinging,
Smiling,  saying live, live,live, & on this side

We  hear  birds,
Songs from far away.









Another new poem about another cab-character - from 1965, deep South Texas, borderlands on the Gulf of Mexico.






the shrimper

he was a large man,
middle-aged and gray,
bulky,
slow-moving,
as those for whom
the deck is never
still
are likely to be,
large, hard-used hands,
knotty veins,
and calloused, fingers stiff
from bad weather,
his  face  cracked and broken
from sun and salt spray

he would spend
weeks on his little boat,
fishing, then return to harbor  for a week-long binge,
sleeping at  his mother's house
when he slept

(he hated her, he said,
whore, bitch, a whoring bitch, he said,
waiting for her to die so he could have her house to himself

he was loud, boastful,  contentious,
prone to getting into bar
fights
and mostly losing
from what I could see
when I picked him up  late at night
during weeks he was ashore,
his face a  swollen mess  of blood and bruise
pints clanking in  his coat  pockets,
something to keep  him going
with the bars closing, something
that could keep him  drinking,
sleeping, under a tree
in a park  until the bars opened again
in the morning,  pickled pig feet and a hard-boiled egg
from glass jars on the bar, breakfast, often lunch, sometimes
dinner, no matter  as long
as he could keep  the  whiskey flowing

usually too  drunk to know
when he was being rolled, he was always
broke when I picked him up
at the end of his week  ashore,  money spent, lost, stolen,
everything he had but his boat gone,
the earnings of a week of hard, dangerous toil
gone, his refuge again, the boat
and the rolling waters
of the Gulf  of Mexico,
and his catch,
enough  in time for another lost week...

he was not a happy man,
not a good man, and never a man to make a friend,
a victim,
his own self-destructing victim
out to  erase himself or  at least some part
of him...

a man hard to feel sorry for, but
for a while I did,
before I realized  he was a man freed
by his own  misery
to wallow in the  life he chose...

one of the lost  boys
of the sea
grown old and
bitter,
deserted  by Peter
in a never-ever land
of nightmares he created
to belay memories
of better  days
that never-ever happened








Next from Poetry for the Earth, a poem by Po Chu-i.

Po is known as the most  prolific of the Tang poets. He was a member of the Han-Lin Academy and mayor of Lo-yang, the eastern capital of China at the time. Like Tu Fu was deeply concerned with the social problems of his time, with poetry characterized by humor and clarity.

According to tradition, he tested his poems by reading them to an old country woman. Any that she did not understand,  he rejected, the resulting simplicity and clarity a factor in his continuing popularity in modern China.




Having Climbed to the Topmost  Peak of the  Incense-burner Mountain

Up and up, the Incense-burner Peak!
In my heart is stored what my eyes and ears perceived.
All  the year -detained by official business;
Today at last I got a chance to go.
Grasping the creepers,  I  clung to dangerous rocks;
My hands and feet - weary with groping for a hold.
There came with me three or four friends,
But two friends dared not go further.
At last we reached the topmost  crest of the Peak;
My eyes  were blinded, my soul rocked and reeled.
The chasm beneath me - ten thousand feet;
The ground I stood on,only a foot wide.
If you have not exhausted the scope of seeing and hearing,
How can you realize the wideness of the world?
The waters of the River looked narrow as a ribbon,
P'en Castle smaller than a man's fist.
How it clings, the dust of the world's halter!
It chokes my limbs; I cannot shake it away.
Thinking of retirement,  I heaved an  envious sigh;
Then, with lowered head, came back to the Ants' Nest.

                                 Translated by Arthur Waley








And here's another selection from Places and Spaces. The piece is from a poem that covers a trip to Denver and back.

I  like to drive and don't like to  fly and Dee doesn't like to drive, so, on our trips together  we compromise. I  drive wherever we're going and she flies to meet me there. So  it was my dog and I going and the three of us coming back. Except in this case, she had to fly both  too and from.

This little piece of the longer poem is as I was crossing into Colorado, a very bad storm behind me finally catching up just as I  arrived in Denver that evening. There was better than a foot  and a half  of snow on the ground by the time Dee flew in the next morning.




from To  the Rockies

 ....as I pass through Las Vegas,
New Mexico version,
I see the snow-topped mountains
marking the bowl that holds
Santa Fe to the west

    further north,
    as we  cross into Colorado,
    the winter grass  is almost  white,
    the almost white
    of sand on gulf beaches,
    broken here and  there
    by red barns
    like red umbrellas
    on a vast white beach that has no sea

just past Pueblo,
I turn on the radio
and hear the first news
of the severe winter storm
that's on its way

    as I approach
    Colorado  Springs
    I see black storm clouds
    pouring over the mountain  crests

    I enter the front of the storm
    as I leave

    rain,  sleet, snow and fog
    all at once
    and in alternating bursts

traffic slows
and I fall in line...








Next from my library, this poem by Pat Mora.

Mora, a native of El Paso, won the Southwest Book  Award for this book, Borders, as well as her first book, Chants, of desert incantations. Borders was published in 1986 by Arte Publico Press of Houston,  with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission for the Arts.





Goblin

We laughed double that night,
a desert rain bursting down on us
after "Ghost Busters" lightning
flashier than the show inside.
You pulled my hand gently
jumping puddles, tugging
"You can make it.      Jump."
My eleven-year-old mothering me.

I saw a flash
                     ghost of my future in slow
                     motion, shaky and gray leaning
                     on  my red-haired daughter firm
                     of hand, squeezing to keep me
                     with her.

Busy in the present
tickled by the rain
and my shaky steps  in high heels,
you missed my sneak preview, my spook.

When did your hand grow so?
Yesterday I hid it safe
in mine, squeezed and squeezed
when the wind gobbled my words.









Another new poem, another new taxi poem (Yellow Cab, by the way,  don't think I mentioned it before by name).







the driver

younger
than the rest
and the only white guy,
the other drivers
never had much to say to me,
except one,
an older man
who had been driving
his yellow cab for the company
for twenty years or more,
long  enough to remember
when a man could make a reasonable  living
at  it

now it  was just a place to go,
sit,
read magazines,
doing it  so  long...doing it so long
it was  like he was tethered
to  the bumper of his cab,
couldn't imagine  what he would do
if he didn't do this

those of us like me who, six months later
found ourselves
participating in military service
after receiving  our own
personalize
invitation
form the Uncle who knew us so well,
had  name for those who  continued to serve
after then no longer had to,
"lifers" is what we called them,
and my driver friend
was a lifer in the taxi driving business,
know  the drill better
than  anyone else,
frightened,
late in his  life,
to  being  the one all over again
who 
didn't







From the anthology, this poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth.

Born in 1893, Coatsworth died in 1986. A writer  of fiction and poetry for children and adults, she was honored for her children's book. The Cat Who Went to Heaven, in 1931 with a Newbery Award from The American Library Association and, in 1968, was a "highly commended finalist" for the international Hans Christian Anderson award for children's literature.







Whale at Twilight

The sea is enormous, but calm with evening
    and sunset,
rearranging its islands for the night,
    changing its  own blues,
smoothing  itself  against the rocks,  without
    playfulness,  without thought.
No  stars are out, only sea birds flying to
    distant reefs.
No vessels intrude, no lobstermen haul their
    pots.
Only somewhere out toward the horizon a thin
    column of water  appears
and disappears  again, and then rises once more,
tranquil  as a fountain in a garden where no
    wind blows.








Next from Places and Spaces I have a piece of my poem about a trip to Lake Tahoe and back. As usual for us, the dog (Reba the Wonder Dog) and I drove alone for several days from San Antonio to Reno where we picked Dee  up at the airport, then rode together to Lake Tahoe and, after several days home again, going west at first (which seemed strange to me) to catch I-10 in California.

In this section of the poem I was passing through Nevada. My first time driving through the state, I no idea before how wide it is until I was halfway across it.






from Sleeping With Andy Devine

    ...snow clouds
    flow 
    over mountain peaks
    on both sides of me
    like buttermilk
    over hot cornbread 

    light snow
    dusts desert stones
    and plants
    with points of silvery
    shadow

    the snow falls
    faster
    and soon they all
    sport white 
    caps

    until
    they disappear
    under the white sea

    a herd of horses,
    twenty or thirty of the
    chase and play
    in a field of snow

past Hawthorn
my route begins
to take me into new mountains

soon
I'm high above
what seems to be
a very large lake
but heavy snow obscures
all details

    I crest
    the last of this latest string
    of mountains
    and laid out before me
    a vast valley,
    a basin surrounded 
    by peaks,
    covered white
    like a fresh tablecloth
    at a New York 
    bistro

no problems
with ice on the road
until three miles from my destination,
the freeway
like a skating rink,
pile-ups
three, four, five cars
in each

one after another

and so I end
nearly 600 miles of driving today
very slowly

across Nevada
east to west

rain
sleet
fog
bright sunlight
and heavily falling snow...









The next poet, Stan Crawford,  is one of five in the book Five Inprint Poets.

Inprint is a non-profit organization founded in Houston in 1983 to support the literary arts. The five poets in the group first met in writing workshops provided by the organization. This collection of  the work of the five was published by Mutabilis Press in Houston in 2003.

At the time of publication, Crawford was an attorney practicing civil trial law in Houston. He had a B.A. from Brown  University where he studied poetry and a J.D. from the University of Texas. He began writing poetry in 1998.





Harvest Sestina

October already - a very long distance
from spring. Knives sharp  for the harvest.
Autumnal processions and daughters to see
and I went, holding he wheel with one hand
along roads that twisted,  broke and rose,
unfurling ahead like concrete sails

running before the wind. Nothing to assail
for a while. Stars salted the cobalt distance.
My daughters, a/d/a Snow White and Rose
Red, chose their gowns for the harvest.
Melons, pumpkins and late corn at  hand.
This year's ad hoc royals to see.

My orbit taught new ways to see,
to tack into the wind, to sail
crosswise. The temperature  stung my hands
too near the nest. A  needful distance
away,  roadside stands held the harvest.
A woman with a tumor red as a rose

near her eye stacked fruit n serried rows,
composing her still life. Her son could see
her designs as  he counted  cash from the harvest.
a king with his chest puffed out like a sail
started off the parade. Signs in the distance
said Vote for Jesus - His Kingdom at Hand.

Then a band, and the waving hands
of young women in formal green, white, rose.
A catfish moon low in the distance,
as boys with bad haircuts stained to see
their sisters pass. The tomato sun sailed
west, simmering over the harvest.

The road was fringed with cuts from the harvest,
uncollected by any restraining hand.
The tired king followed his sagging sail
of a belly to bed. The pale moon rose
over the swaying cane. I could see
waves like Evangeline's hair in the distance.

A rose in hand fuzzes with dust. My girls,
see them glide, whispering rumors of sails.
Not so long a distance to harvest time.









How many great bands have there been that had their day of grace and glory, then disappeared, often remembered by a few, but never heard again? Thousands upon thousands would be my guess.







that's how good they were

their regular Wednesday
gig,
drunks from the bar
and the septuagenarian bartender,
gray dreadlocks
swinging
slowly
to the silken beat,
and the burly, sharp-faced bouncer
all out on the floor dancing
with the black-clad
hipsters

that's how good they were

Wednesday
nights
sometimes passing
on the last 2 a.m. pick-ups
to  get to the bar early
enough
to hear the last song or two

they were that good








Next from the anthology, two short poems, the first by Inuit Shaman Uvavnuk, a mid-19th century Netsiliki Eskimo woman.

The legend is that Uvavnuk, out one winter night,  was hit by a fireball that lit up her internal organs. In pain and delirium, she stumbled back to her village and fell  down singing. Her songs cleansed her and all those around her with joy.



Moved

The great sea stirs me.
The great sea sets me adrift,
it sways me like the weed
on a river-stone.

The sky's height stirs me.
The strong wind blows through my mind.
It carries me with it,
so I shake with joy.

         Translated  by Tom Lowenstein


  The second short piece if by Basho, the Edo-period Japanese Haiku master.


Year's End

Year's end,
all corners
of this floating world, swept

(no translator credited)








Next I have an excerpt from the last of the five long poems that make up my eBook, Places and Spaces. 

I had planned this trip to be relatively short, just me and my dog Reba, to Silver City, New Mexico, just like my short trip a couple of years earlier to Ruidoso. I had even less reason to go to Silver City than to Ruidoso. I had seen the cut-off from I-10 many time as we passed and then later heard that it was a little arts city, so I decided to take several days to check it out.

Before anyone else makes a spur of the moment visit to Silver City, I should warn you I wasn't much impressed. Except for a very good coffeehouse on a very short main street, I didn't find much.

But I didn't want turn around after a night and a day and go back home, so I decided to take a roundabout trip to Albuquerque (one of my favorite cities in years past) and then back around home to San  Antonio, maybe seeing along the way a few things I had never seen before.

In the end I had a nice night in Albuquerque and a very interesting, and sometimes worrisome, drive across a mountain, finding, on the far side of the mountain, a little restaurant and my first experience with flat enchiladas, most  definitely not TexMex.

Below, from the beginning of  the poem.




from Silver City and Beyond

558 miles
and one time zone

San Antonio
to El Paso

a long day's drive
in the country

    stone-wrapped hills
    to  long-stretched fingers
    of pink Chihuahua Desert

    blue sky, blue on blue
    on deep ocean blue sky,
    to jagged clouds
    dark and sharply racing 

and little towns along
the way

Segovia Senora Saragosa
Sierra Blanca
Allamoore
Belhmora
and Van  Horn

all pass

the miles and hours
and skies and hills
and deserts
and all the little towns
pass quickly

    on the ridge
    a line of dead trees
    oak blight killing scrub oak
    all around

    reminding me of a picture
   I saw once
    of a lone tree,
    bare and burned,
    among the ruins at
    Hiroshima

    these trees like that,
    bare limbs
    black
    reaching up, grasping
    at the sky

    in the pasture below
    a mare and her foal eat grass
    generous and green

the roadway
blasted through stony hills
in the rock walls on either side
layers
of geologic time...

    there,
    near the top,
    a woman and a man passed,
    nearly human,
    and down here by my feet
    a fish
    struggled,
    crawled awkwardly
    from the sea... 










 Here are two poems from my library this week are from the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of Spillway, a literary magazine of poetry, reviews, and articles published semiannually by Tebot Beach since 1993.









The first poem, which serves as an introduction to the book, is by John Gardiner, at the time of publication, a teacher of English as a Second Language and an actor and director with the touring troupe, Simply Shakespeare.


Her Poems

She wore her poems
like a pair of old  boots
that won't wear out,
with a life of their own
beyond her feet  -
wandering  poems with
beaten soles & footprints
real as tattoos;
poems of a hunter
with a shaman's bow,
poems as easy
to  open
as a hand,
poems stoked in the heart
&  pulled out
like teeth.
And having nothing else to wear,
she wore her poems
stark naked.


My second poem from  Spillways is by John Elsberg, at the time of publication, a publisher and editor.


Claws

      for Ted Hughes

This is where the night grows
into the origins of childhood
monsters.This is when the curtains flap,
compressing air. so tight,
that even metaphor asks  forgiveness.
What  thinks you now? Not much, and too much.

But such litanies can slow the anguish
of what begins as sleep, before
the bed rides high, like the hand
above a cat, upturned, that plays beneath
a blanket - a play of feints, a play of claws,

until it's time to say it's over.








You don't  have to drive a taxi, especially late at night, to see a lot of things that you'll spend a lifetime trying to figure out.

But you probably won't, because, when you get right down to it, people are just too damn strange.








the Mr. and Mrs.

I
don't know
what they did
in the rest of their
lives
but on Thursdays
and Fridays
they went dancing
and drinking

I'd pick them up at 8
at their hillside split-level
on the north side
and take them downtown,
always to the Glass Hat,
a posh place
with patio dancing
on top of the Crystal Building
at Tyler and 1st
and then pick  them up
again
at 1:30,  them being too classy
to hang around
until they got thrown out
on the sidewalk
at 2

and I'd take them
home,
both always drunk
and sometimes
scratched,
traces of blood
on the side of their mouth, a
multicolored kaleidoscopic array
of new and old  bruises and
all  the way home
to  their house on the north side
they'd either be making-out
near to the point of fully-dressed fucking
or they would be hitting
each other, first her
then him, then her, then
him...

and I'd sneak a peek
in my rear view
to make sure they weren't
doing any serious damage, but
never interfered cause
bottom  line
they tipped better
than anyone else I ever
carried, and, besides,
I caught them looking  back at me
once
when I was checking on them
in the mirror
and got  a strong sense
they were getting
an  extra kick out of my
watching

a weird kind of  club
they had for themselves,it seemed,
some kind of very strange
kiss-kiss, slap-slap arrangement
but I  was  a cab driver, accustomed,
even in just  a short time,
to all kinds of unusual arrangements
between all kinds of people,
stuff I could spend the rest of my life
trying to understand
but never will

my job,
to give them a ride,
however they wanted to
ride
it







This is my last piece for this week from the anthology Poetry for the Earth.

And what poetic celebration of the earth could ever be complete with out the inventor of American  poetry - Walt Whitman.

I cannot get enough of Whitman. Each line leads me to the next line, and the next and the next and the next.




from Song of Myself

I believe a leaf of grass is no  less than the journey-work of
    the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the
    egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of
    heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all
    machinery,

And the cow munching with depress'd head surpasses abt
    statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of
    infidels.

I find I incorporate  gneiss, coal,  long-threaded moss,  fruits ,
    grains, esculent roots,
And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
But call any thing back again when I desire it.

In vain the spending of shyness,
In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my
    approach,
In vain the mastodon retreats beneath its own powder'd
    bones,
In vain objects stand leagues off and assume manifold shapes,
In vain the ocean setting in hollows and the great monsters
    lying low,
In vain the buzzard houses itself with the sky,
In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs,
In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods,
In vain the razor-bill'd auk sails far north to Labrador,
I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of the
cliff.







It turns out I have room for one more selection from Places and Spaces, so I return to the fourth poem, Sleeping with Andy Devine. This section from that poem comes after we've arrived in Lake Tahoe.

I don't ski and I don't gamble so I had no reason to be in Lake Tahoe except that I wanted to try to get some good pictures from the mountains  and from around the lake. But the weather turned against us the first morning we were so I ended up doing what I do most days. I found a coffeehouse and watched people and wrote poems. I did get out a little, walking my dog, Reba






...yellow school buses
pass
snow chains clanking

Reba and I go for a walk
at lakeside
in a park I found yesterday

    we are not the first
    to break the snow, little
    duck tracks, triangles
    divided by a line
    from point to base,
    and tracks of some bird
    of a larger sort, tridents
    in the snow

    a white sailboat sits
    offshore
    half hidden in the snow

    there yesterday
    as well

home, home
on the
lake

where
the carp
and the pelicans
roam...









My last poem from my library this week is by Jessica Goodheart, and it's taken from The Best American Poetry, 2005, published by Scribner Poetry.

The poem first appeared in Antioch Review.










Advice for a Stegosaurus

Never mind the asteroid,
the hot throat of the volcano,
a sun the daily drops into the void.

Comb the drying riverbed for drink.
Strut your bird-hipped body.
Practice a lizard grin. Don't think.

Stretch out your tail. Walk, as you must,
in a slow deliberate gait.
Don't look back,dinosaur. Dust is dust.

You'll leave your bones, your fossil feet
and armored eye-lids.
Put your chin to the wind. Eat what you eat.








 My last new poem for the week is not exactly new, though I did  do some rewriting on it. Originally written in 2009, it  fits in with this weeks new poem taxi driving  motif. Like the rest, it is a true story, with, like the rest, the truth nudged here and there for dramatic purposes (the absolute truth being so often so absolutely boring).







the night I got chased out of Mexico

this
is a story
about  the night
I got chased out of
Mexico
by a posse
of Mexican taxi cabs

I was a younger guy
just old enough at 21
to get  a taxi license
and I was driving
cab
on the Texas  side
of the border

I picked up  a fare
outside
one of the hotels
who wanted
to  go to Mexico
and I said
hell yes
because it was about
25 miles
and at  35 cents
for the first mile
and 10 cents a mile
thereafter
it was a pretty good
pay-off

of which I'd get
a third
which never was
a helluva  a lot
most nights
but better for a
trip
like this...

so we headed out
down 77
for  Matamoros
through Brownsville
and across the bridge
from where I knew
how to go two  places
boys town
about which we
sill speak no more
and the Central  Plaza
which was close
to  the Mercado
and lots  of  good
nightclubs
good food
music
and floor shows
with sometimes
naked women
and that's  where
the fella I was
carrying
wanted to go
so we went there
and  dropped
him off  at the  plaza
and while he paid me
I notice  all
the Mexican cabbies
giving me the eye
and I noticed
when I left
some of those
Mexican cabs
started following
behind
and then I noticed
I had ten to  fifteen
Mexican cabs
riding my back
bumper
and I said to myself
oh shit
I fucked up
and the way
they were following
close and honking
it looked pretty clear
that they were
pissed
about whatever
it was I did
so I took  off
for the bridge
as fast as  I could
trying to remember
as I flew
which of the many
one way streets
in  Matamoros
were going my way
and which ere going
to  either  get me lost
or back to the plaza
where more trouble
was sure to be
waiting
and I reached
the bridge
I tossed my 8 cents
to cross
to the Mexican
border guard
without
hardly stopping...

---

when I got  back
my dispatcher
told me the rules -
cabs don't cross
borders
fares are dropped
at the bridge
when they can
walk across
and get a local
cab
so
I really felt dumb
and never did that
again
though one time
I did pick up a guy
at the bridge
who had been in
jail
in Matamoros
for three  days
and was beat
all to  shit
and bleeding and
barely conscious
so  I  took him to a
hospital

but that's  another
story








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