Intense cold everywhere last week, so I celebrate this with a collection of snow photos. The pictures were taken over the last several years in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California.
A collective shiver is in order.
I return to the anthology this week, taking poems from Language for a New Century
, a collection of "Contemporary poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and beyond. The book was published by W.W. Norton in 2008.
I'm doing something different this week with my library poems. Instead of using my own library, I'm taking poems from a book lent to me by a friend. The book is River Flow, New and Selected Poems
, by David Whyte.
I have never read Whyte before and I'm looking into touring his poems with you.
Born in 1955, Whyte is an English poet. He moved to the United States and began his writing career in 1986 and in 1988 accepted an offer to become a corporate adviser on, among other things, creativity in the work place. He identifies himself as a British American so I assume, though it's not specifically mentioned in his on-line biography, that at some point he took American citizenship along with his natural British citizenship.
In one instance I went my own history for inspiration.
And my stuff old and new.
Down in the Mid-Levels
a long time coming
Man in Black
a mid-winter poem
Horses Moving Through Snow
Excerpt from What Was Not Conceivable
all brothers to all brothers
Light Over Water
King of Serial Heroes
Yon Shu Hoong
it's easier to imagine old than remember young
The Vows of Glencolmcille
I meant this to be a deep, multidimensional poem. Everyone who's read it has taken it on its face.
Keep it simple, stupid, something for me to remember from now on. Play to my strengths.
I fight the coming
of this day,
things to do
I don’t want done,
especially not by me
but it’s a cold
My first poet from this week's anthology, Language for a New Century
, is Laurence Wong
Born in 1946 in Hong Kong, Wong received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Hong Kong and his PhD at the University of Toronto. His publications include eleven books of poetry, five collections of "lyrical essays," six collections of critical essays, and numerous translations in a variety of languages.
The poem is translated from its original Chinese by the poet.
Down in the Mid-Levels
Resting my head on the dawn chorus,
I am a green water weed
quietly listening to the soft silver ripples
streaming into the golden glass of dawn.
Deep in the glass, a transparent vein of light
is slowly flowing over lock and upon lock of lilac wind.
The lilac wind is your soft hair
floating over the golden comb of dawn, noiseless
From January, 2011, a story of another cold night.
a long time coming
a dark poem
all the long night's
covers the rising sun,
by the cold spreading
night to day
a long time
Earlier this month was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union Address when he summoned Congress and the country to a War on Poverty.
I was in the second semester of my sophomore year of college. By the end of that year I was in Peace Corps training at the University of New Mexico. I was the youngest, least educated, and certainly least sophisticated of the other members of my class. And, though I completed the training I did not, in the end, go on to an overseas assignment. Probably the best thing for all concerned because at 20 years old, I was not nearly ready for the level of responsibility required.
But the training was one of the defining experience of my life. In 1964, the Peace Corps truly did inspire and attract many of the best and brightest. For myself, essentially a displaced country boy, associating with this most talented group of men, living with them, learning with them, playing with them, gave me a chance to learn more about myself and my potential than any number of years of traditional education and experience could ever have. I discovered I could be a lot more than I had though I could ever be.
Those days of the War on Poverty and the start-up to the Great Society were heady times for those of us who shared the dream. The spirit of that time is still in me, leavened as it had to be, by more than 30 years soldiering in the battlefields of that war, learning the realities of the challenges.
But as I said, the spirit of 1964 has never left me, and I was reminded of that when I heard this song on a drive home last week from downtown. It is a naive and maybe cheesy song, but it is a song that holds the secret of that better, more hopeful time, and I treasure the way it made me feel as I heard it again on the radio.
I include the song this week to honor and remember the spirit of those times, as well as the song's writer and performer, the man in black himself, Johnny Cash.
The song was originally released in 1971 in an album of the same name.
Man in Black
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side off town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.
Well, we're doin' might fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held behind
Up front there ought'a be a Man in Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
for the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died
Believen' that we all were on their side.
Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
An things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You'll never see me wear of suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man in Black.
After all the cold, a warming trend.
it is a beautiful day
the kind of day I love,
temperatures in the mid-twenties,
the icicle splinters flying
in the wind gone, the air still,
trees reaching high
to reassert themselves
as tall guardians
of the day...
it's the early mornings,
before the sun has risen that
has been hard on me
for the past several days,
the cold, colder in the dark,
a silent knife slicing
skin from my cheeks and nose...
dog-walking in the freezing dark,
the dog loving it all sniffing and smelling
every leaf hanging cold and crisp
and dry on every ravaged
bush along the way, looking for,
who knows a dog's mind, especially
this dog, near strange
in the extend of her curiosity,
missing her cat friend
who would walk with us
and encourage dog along if she began
too long dallying, pushing her cat head
against dog's neck, time to go, time
to go, the cat, like me, not so happy
with the cold as the dog, the cat, Mama
cat, our morning companion, unseen
for over a week now....
I woke, as usual,at 5 this morning,
lying in bed, dog, as usual
impatiently rattling her collar
beside the bed, time to go, time
to go, lying in bed,
thinking of the cold and the dark,
wishing dog had an opposable thumb
so that I could give her the leash
and tell her to go walk
she would in a minute if she
could, I know,, my small function
in our morning exercise,
we both know, is only to hold the
is my next poet from this week's anthology. She was born in India in 1956 to Sikh parents who immigrated to Canada in 1958. She grew up in Quebec and her MA and Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia and is now known as an award-winning Canadian poet, playwright, essayist and translator. She is a professor of creative writing, English and education at York University. She has published five books of poetry.
This is my first reading of this poet and it left with a feeling of envy I haven't felt since the first time time I read Junkman's Obbligato from Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind, thinking, damn, I wish I could do that.
The chronicle of the city unravels
like a prayer cloth
calm of storybook nurseries, book codes,
swift calligraphy of desire.
The city dreams us
gives us exigencies in eavesdropped
stories, undistinguished pleadings
requiems for forgetting.
There is a small star pinned where Hiroshima used to be.
It's late and someone's almost forgotten how to convince you
he's telling the truth.
Even in sleep he cries out for help
and you minister to him
a woman who likes history returning for it wounded.
Blackbirds drop from telephone wires
rose petals collect in birdbaths.
Everything stories you. You take Rilke at his word
Taste it everywhere. Wonderland signs:
Eat me. Drink me.
Your hands like hobbled birds
read the classics. The hero enters the arched gate of the city.
In these books it is clear where the story of the city begins.
In the book of lost entries
nothing is pure but the forgotten things
crossed out words on a haunted page
useless dark of ink.
Today the city is unwriting itself
in a coffin of glass.
In the blurred doorways.
in skyscrapers that rise silver and blue
cool as nothing could ever make them burn.
Sprayed on concrete walls
Where is my beautiful daughter
Emma was here
I pray for you Lucas
Fuck the politicians
the billboard with the women tall
with tall legs against white sand and blue ocean
red mouths puckered high above the crowds
smooth lipsticked smiles longing for cigarettes and sex.
Across the city, lights are shutting off
Good night, good night.
On the radio, the sirens are singing
Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch
ethereal lullaby Don't leave Nobody but the baby
Come lay your bones
On the alabaster stones
And be my ever-lovin' baby
Reading Emily Dickinson
Beauty crowds me till I die.
You feel the loneliness.
That's what is left of the dream of beauty.
So many kinds to name.
You hope for a day soft at the edges
for something, someone to
know the small hands of rain
to be like rain
wet with a decent happiness
Kiss the gleaming armor of the world.
Feel its electric purr.
Close your hands on wind-stunned leaves.
Bluff the scars of history with your mouth.
Again from January 2011, the dark of the season bringing out the dark of me.
a mid-winter poem
I have the feel
of a string running out,
a slackness in my lifeline,
all I am reduced to
I've done many things in my life,
good and worthwhile things,
though none lasted longer than
it took for my shadow
to fade around the corner
my proudest legacies
remembered only by me -
like clouds blown apart
by a rising wind, so much more
than I had imagined
and now the line that anchored me
to the future
has gone slack and I feel just another
of the world's many forgettable
Here's my first poem from this week's featured poet, David Whyte
Horses Moving Through Snow
through the damp grass
around the house
there are horses moving
on the snow
in the half-light
they move quickly
following the fence
until the mist takes them
is the hollow sound of hooves
in the south field.
In the dark of a morning in the middle of a week, the past not always so past
there is no movement
in the opaque and enigmatic fog
but for the two of us walking,
and no sound
but the muffled hush
of my soft-soled shoes
and the click-clickity
of dog's nails on the
the dark mystery
of the morning, adrift in dim haze -
a vault of old
I open myself
to the past, not always
a good thing
for I am a realist
about all things
and there is no hiding
for I know where the bodies
are buried, my own a
the vault opens
and in this enshrouded morning
linger behind every
and it seems
their every name
Here, from the week's anthology, an excerpt from a larger poem by Fatima Mahmoud
, a Libyan poet and journalist. She published her first collection of poems in 1984, and in Cyprus she founded and edited Modern Scheherazade magazine about Arab women's issues. She sought political asylum in Germany in 1995 and continues to live there.
excerpt from What Was Not Conceivable
spill their crimson autobiographies
the ember is the master of fire
the ember is its dust...
Then I became confounded...
the master's repulsive...
and delicious mouth
I am singed with happiness
with the stamps of hollowness
dipped in counterfeit songs
morning and our faces...
and spat out
the master's repulsive
(translation from Arabic by Khaled Mattawa)
This poem is also from January, 2011, and it is included in the mythical "next book" that, so far, has been delayed more than a by one circumstance or another. I'm sorry to report that our beloved Reba and blind cat, both mentioned in the poem, are no longer with us.
all brothers to all brothers
I talk to my animals...
who can't hear me,
but she can see my lips move
she is on my mind, like blind cat
knows she is not alone in the dark
when I stroke her head as I pass,
like the friendly nod
I exchange with people
I pass on the street
because we all need to know we are not
alone in the dark -
such an acknowledgement
of our shared passage we should
pass on to the creatures around us -
balm to repair the primordial weld that has bound us all
since creation, the weld that is separating now
as all become remote from the others...
if you believe in God, remember he created us all
as part of his plan and it is not our place
to redraw the blueprints of his creation;
if you do not believe in God,
that we are all creatures at base
of common offspring, basic elements
that give us,
as our relatives,
the snake,, the bird, the fish in the ocean,
the lion in the field,, our neighbor
across the fence the daffodil growing
wild as any creature on the meadow,
the earth beneath our feet
and the stars that shine overhead,
all brothers of all brothers
in our most basic
Again, featured poet, David Whyte
. I'm really liking what I'm reading, especially his shorter poems.
Light Over Water
Through the light on the upper line of water
with wings extended into the center of brightness
turn south into the channel
flicking their wings through the currents of air
to a silent horizon that empties the wind of sound.
In that noiseless wind they turn
and in the sodden busts as they lift
the dark throats of the evening birds turn white.
A morning poem from last week.
King of the Serial Heroes
my favorite place for breakfast,
the best $40 breakfast
why am I telling you this?
because I have to tell you something
and until I have something interesting
to tell you
my breakfast will have to do...
at the Pearl, about a block and a half
from my coffeehouse, so
I'd be going that way even if I wasn't
going there for breakfast...
7 o'clock now,
meeting Dee at the restaurant
at 8:30, which means
I'll be leaving here
about 8 o'clock
- here being my regular breakfast haunt
where I just had coffee and toast
this morning, with a turkey sausage patty
for the dog -
- here being also where I am this morning
for a symbolic cup of coffee
so the servers won't feel disrespected
by my absence and so
they won't call the sheriff to investigate
the possibility of foul play having
befallen me -
but, still, such niceties aside, I must leave room
for the coddled eggs...
downtown on the interstate
on a misty-slack road, computer clogged,
half the traffic intimidated by the weather,
driving 50 miles an hour, and the other half
hitting 85, on the theory that slick roads
won't be a problem if you drive
fast enough to fly
there, I finally go to the exciting part,
will I make it downtown
or will I die in a wet, dripping and twisted wreck
it's a real drama
just like when Zorro
rides his horse off a cliff
into a deep, dark
you have to come back
next Saturday to see how he survived,
"how," not "if," because we know he did survive
just don't know how, Saturday afternoon
movie serial heroes, like God himself,
moving in mysterious ways
to always beat the odds, survive
for a second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.
I am the hero of all my stories,
as you well might know,
so expect a dramatic, bloody car crash,
from which I will crawl, unhurt,
to continue my Wednesday morning quest
for my $40 breakfast
King of the Serial Heroes - that's me
Photo by Dora Ramirez-Itz
is an Israeli poet, editor and translator. Born in Tel Aviv in 1956, he has published ten volumes of poetry with work appearing in more than 40 languages.
I can't say I know for sure what this poem is about. Some kind of political or cultural metaphor not available to me, I'm guessing, but the vivid imagery does attract enough to make me want to continue to try to figure it our. Or maybe it's just as simple as a love story turned torture nightmare. Or maybe it's just observations from a Mapplethorpe retrospective.
In the beginning there was desire, they say.
And then some.
The lips that clung to this dick
suckle ow, blind with rapture
a live dildo, a hard-on Truth,
the deeper the more blessed,
Later,, blue as well. the hand that was tied
with the black stocking between the legs,
the groin tucked in the flayed hide (dressed and dyed).
the whip up the ass
will leave nothing
And primarily the grip.The involuntary
gagging motions take a small death first
before begging for more
heat up the blue rim.
Pull the trigger.
(Translated from Hebrew by Tsipi Keller
This is another poem from January, 2011, one not included in my off-rumored next book. Don't know why. I kind of like it.
late in the mornings
helping blind cat
when she gets up from
her night's sleeping
all the necessaries,
food, water, litter box
so that I can put her back
in the chair
for her day's sleeping -
a great temptation
at that point
to put myself back to bed
getting up in the winter
in the dark-dark
an hour before sunrise
does not energize me like
getting up in the soon-light
there being something about the dark
makes the cold morning colder
while the dim of early summer
makes the promise of a cooler day
that it is,
I enjoy the illusion -
is the soft wrap
that consoles us on sharp-edged
and prickly days
when goodness and mercy
do not follow us through the winter/summer
and nights of our lives -
and that fellow three booths down
looks exactly like a fellow I knew
forty years ago,
the suicide obsessed fellow,
I talked into holding out for another
day twice on a rooftop-
skunk-drunk he was
and I was too
but we both came down -
and I am enjoying the illusion
that he looks exactly like he did
forty years ago
and that I must as well,
and that forty years passed,
he made it
and I made it, but mostly
he made it through the mummy-wrap mist of
his fearful nights
and that's a nice illusion to have at six-thirty
in the dark dark
Here's another short poem by David Whyte
In the center of this wildflower
the names of things revolve like planets
and as if pulled by tides
and the gravity of deep space
the names of things move into form
through enormous distance.
Like electrons enchanted
by the atom
they show their undiscovered seas
as they revolve.
But for the dark flower
I give it the name of a hidden moon.
I am like the boy scout I wasn't - always prepared.
I have started
writing my obituary
I expect it to be used
any time soon, but
because it will be the last piece of writing
under my name
and I want it to be right
and well written...
and just leaving
Lee Elementary for a new life
as an entry-level
junior high scholar
I wasn't aware my lie
was so interesting...
so I'm thinking maybe
this isn't just
an obituary maybe I'm
writing a memoir
which impresses me
because "memoir" sounds like
a French word
and I've always admired French writers
or maybe I ought to just
take my six pages
and cut it down to
a more reasonable length
like maybe half a
because, me - except for french fries -
not having much French stuff
Born in 1966 in Singapore, Yong Shu Hoong
is an award winning poet and literary advocate. He holds a computer science degree from the University of Singapore and an MBA from Texas A&M University, College Station. He has published four volumes of poetry.
The infinite extent of
on the observation deck
reminds me off illuminated fish tanks
that once held my gaze in Van Kleef Aquarium,
the therapy of bubbles. But here,
there's only the chatter of sightseers
drowning out the symphony of skyscrapers.
I navigate my nose closer toward the sky,
staring out with m fish eyes
from my enclosure into another realm.
Then, with the decibel of voices dwindling,
I look down over streets, the big shoulders
of buildings, watching the city bustle in silence
as my mind fills with strange thoughts
of the Flamingo sculpture suddenly taking flight,
the Art Institute's stone lions roaring to life -
How I have again missed out
on anarchy and outrage, trapped
behind the sheen of shatterproof glass.
Here's another from January, 2011, also in the book. In 2014, I guess I'm one of the junior-senior on my quarterly doctor's visit. In the school of getting old, one does advance quickly.
it's easier to imagine old than remember young
at 67, I'm
not the oldest person
in the doctor's office, more
of a sophomore-senior, a little older
than the spry and fresh-faced freshman,
younger than the junior-seniors,
but not nearly as old as the senior-
like la viejita,
shuffling in from the cold,
a little round dumpling
of a woman
all wrapped n a coat and cloak
and red knit tam,
moving slowly to the receptionist
on fat feet
overflowing pink house slippers
she thinks she remembers
when she was proud of her
slim, dancing feet,
her delicate hands, long proficient
her black hair streaming well past her shoulders,
the fire in her eyes
in flickering candle light
she thinks she remembers
this, but she's not sure -
she might be thinking of the pretty girl
on the novela that comes at 3 o'clock
she says in Spanish
to the receptionist, I can wait
but tell the doctor not too long,
Porqu Dios me espera,
and he will not wait for ever
Here the last poem of the week by featured poet, David Whyte
. As noted in the introduction, his poems this week were taken from his book River Flow, New & Selected Poems
The Vows at Glencolmcille
It's as if the solid
green of the valley
were an island
held and bound
by the river flow
in summer rain
and the central green
round the edges,
an edging brilliance
and makes us
as deep emerald.
New from last week; the last for this week. I've always wondered about those logo shirts. When did it occur to the corporate ad flacks that they could get people to wear their advertising for free.
in the booth in front of me
is wearing a shirt
maybe he went skiing there,
or at least he wants us to believe he did,
he might have just bought the shirt
at the ski-shop at the mall
and has never seen any more snow
than he sees
when defrosting his refrigerator...
you never know
so many ways for people to lie
about themselves these
days, so many ways to create
an image of themselves, at least the self
they'd like to be - just for the price of a t-shirt
they can have been anywhere,
done anything, with
not for me,
I don't allow my body
to become a billboard for anyone
or any place or anything, my shirts purposefully
bland, but for the color of the day,
no products, no events, no vacation hideaways,
no sports teams get the pleasure of my free promotion
if I've been to Squaw Valley
you won't know about it from reading my shirt, for
my shirt includes neither truth nor lies,
just plain old shirt...
that's because I believe in truth in shirting, the old truth
that if you don't have nothing to say,
don't say nothing and I don't have nothing
to say on my shirt
that's because I do all my truthing and lying
in my poems and that's where
you might find the story my trip to Squaw Valley
if I've been there or maybe not
that's because truth in poetry
is about the same as truth in t-shirts,
you reads the story
and takes your
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