Alpine Circle   Wednesday, October 14, 2015




I finally have some new pictures this week, taken during a two-day drive-around vacation we  took in the Big Bend  area  last week. I introduced the trip in my last poem last week. This week I begin with a poem that  offers a few details of our drive.

Since my photos  all are from our mini-vacation, I am extending the travel  theme with poems from my eBook Places and Spaces published several years ago. Two short poems open and close the book, with the remainder of the book  devoted to  five very long  poems relating to driving vacations taken over the years. For my old poems this week I use excerpts from one of those long poems titled "On the Cusp  of Confederate Winter." The poem recounts a  trip we made in early winter several years ago going north and east, ultimately aimed driving at the Blue Ridge Parkway. I start the journey alone, except for my dog, traveling through Arkansas, Tennessee, a slice of Kentucky, then West Virginia to Columbus, Ohio, where I picked up my wife who flew for the first half of  the trip (she is not the road warrior I am). From there we went back through West Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia, where we stayed for a couple of  days before taking off down the Parkway. We made about two thirds of the Parkway before we turned off because of heavy snow in the Great Smokey Mountains. After leaving the Parkway we began the drive  back to Texas via Arkansas and Louisiana. I think we may have very briefly been in North or South Carolina.

It was a great trip.    

All of the  poems in the book were written at the end of the day's  travel, recording, as I remember them, the events and sights of the day. I am a little disappointed that the book hasn't sold as well as I hoped because I think it's a very good book, an On the Road for a middle class over-the hill poet. But like all my eBooks, it is still available wherever eBooks are sold.

The four other extended travel poems in the book are  titled, "Ruidoso," around and about southeastern  New Mexico, "To the Rockies," to Denver and back, "Sleeping with Andy Devine," to Lake Tahoe and back, and "Silver City and Beyond," Albuquerque via Silver City and southwestern New Mexico.


For this week:

Me
Alpine Circle

Me
from Places and Spaces - "a pick-up pulling horse trailer..."

Ocean Vuong
The Touch

Me
going to the dogs

Me
 from Places and Spaces - "...orange sky like mist through a forest..."    

Victor Hernandez Cruz
Corsica

Me
someone ought to write a book

 Me
 from Places and Spaces - "...I wanted to write about the forest..."

Nick Carbo
The Coup of December 1989

Me
election, 2016

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...the forest colors have changed, the yellows gone..."

D.F. Brown
Still Later There Are War Stories

Me
a dark street

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...finally straightened out, I follow the road"

Excerpts 
from Shimmering Away, Songs from the Kanginshu

Me
just saying...

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...when I passed this way two days ago, it was dead dark..."

Wendy Cope
Envoi
Advertisement
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

Me
a farm boy visits the farmer's market

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...except for the homeless man sleeping in the corner..."

Federico Garcia Lorca
Balcony
Early Morning

Me
a fly on the window beside me

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...through the curve of thick forests..."

Anna Akhmatova
from Requiem

Me
six packs not allowed

Me
 from Places and Spaces - "...heavy snow during the night..."   

Diane Glancy
The Road Paved to Heaven 
She Was Dancing in Space

Me
refusing the light

Me
from Places and Spaces - "...lunch at a little truck stop in Pearl River County, Mississippi..."

Me
from Places and Spaces 
well begun
and in the end, well done

Me
on her scale of justice
 









Along the way west through Texas on Interstate 10 limestone hills are cut through to flatten the road. And from those cuts, you  see scenes like the above, a million years of history rising up on both sides of  the highway. It is a fascinating look at the layers of rock exposed, imagining the life such as it was when each layer was at the surface, before it was covered over by another layer of history. I've written about that several times (just about ever time I pass  that way I'm moved to write about it) and I did it again as  part of  the next poem.









Alpine Circle

Del Rio to Langtry and a-ways beyond,
the highway cut through caliche
and limestone hills, on either side of the road
a million years of geologic history rising
70 or 80 feet above, time traveling
at 80 miles an hour, before first human
trod the rough ground (just a couple of feet)
from the modern hill  top), past days
of the mastodon and saber-toothed tigers,
past the time of  ancient seas, past the time
of the dinosaurs whose footprints were left
in the long-ago sand of dry stream beds
at the bottom of limestone canyons carved
by ancient waters, passing all these so easy
to imagine, leaving  me with a feeling for eternity,
at least as our poor old world measures it,
a feeling for all that was frozen  between
layers of rock laid through time unimaginable,
all that was in shelves stacked above me, a
measure of reassurance at a time when all  that will
be is not so clear to me...

----------

past the limestone hills, flat
high plains that stretch on all sides
beyond vision and the gradual curvature
of the earth, until shadows of mountains show,
like smoke in the morning blue sky, can be seen
on the south horizon, a chain of mountains broken
by deep canyons carved  over a snail's crawl
of time by the Rio Grande, half  way through it's
slow flow from the Rockie Mountains
to the Gulf of Mexico, until, nearing Marathon,
the  shadows gain definition and the mountains show
as they are, smaller peaks, and behind them
the higher ones, not so mighty as mountains go,
6,000 to 9,000 feet, but high enough
for the bear and the mountain cougar and
wild boar, smaller in the Rio Grande version
and called javalinas...

----------

then Alpine,
a small city of slightly over  6,000 citizens, a
hunter and cowboy and oilman town, and  a
small state university, barely 2,000 students, a night
at the western classic Holland Hotel, built in 1928,
an old railroad hotel, best in town, rescued
from neglect some 20 years ago and now a show-
piece of Mexican Texas architecture hidden
inside a nondescript exterior...

the young woman at registration is a student
as I can easily see from the school work
scattered on the registration desk, a nice gig
for studying during the slow  season...

a communications major  she tells me when I ask..

she'll be leaving after she graduates  I expect,
most  communication around here done over one's
back fence











This is my first old piece  for the week, taken, as explained above, from Places and Spaces, my book of five extended travel poems, excerpted from the poem "On the Cusp of Confederate Winter."

At this point in the poem I'm still in Texas in the first leg of the trip, heading for Arkansas.








     ...a pick-up
     pulling a horse trailer,
     alone in the back 
     one horse,
     a palomino,
     golden mane and tail
     and eyelashes
     flaring
     the wind,
     brown eyes watching 
     as I pass... 

----------

     ...a hawk
     slips slowly from the air
     to land on a fence  post,
     watches,
     sees  all with yellow eyes
     that view all that moves
     as potential
     prey... 









My first library poem this week is by Ocean Vuong. The poem is from his book, Burnings, published in 2010 by Sibling Rivalry Press. Born in Saigon in 1988, Vuong was an English major at Brooklyn College, CUNY, at the time the book was published. Among other  awards, he has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.











The Touch

We slept on the floor,  our bones cushioned
with cardboard. Behind the wall,someone

was humming a lullaby. I felt the hardwood tremble,
my mother's shoulder quivering

against my back. the sound of tears
flooding her breaths as she quietly cursed

the god she failed to know. I did not think
as I reached into darkness, guiding  a love infused

in fingertips, as I wrapped my arms
around her waist. The way a man does.

I did not  think how the wind stopped hissing
through the cracked window, or how

she softly exhaled as I pulled her closer knowing
this was not right: a boy reaching out

and into the shell of a husband. I only knew
the warmth spreading between us,

that the wings on her shoulders
were really my hands.












Ran into to two biblical (old testament) references in one day. Had to write a couple  of poems in  response.













going to  the dogs

now Jezebel
was  a queen who picked
the wrong horse
in the god  race
and ended up eaten by the dogs,
only her skull, her feet,
and the palms of her hands remaining
just as old Elijah
predicted...

so
I guess most  Jews
and Christians would say
the good guys won
but I ask
you -

is this any way to run a country?

skulls
and feet
and palms, indeed...

but that's from the Bible,
deemed
oh so Holy
and some say that's the book to read
and learn  from...

teach our kids from...

does anyone else think that
when we get to making banned books
list, old Mr. Holy ought to be
right on top
cause any true movie of it
would be just another
snuff film
and I'm thinking even  Charleston Heston
wouldn't want  to have
anything to do  with it, even if we substituted
the ravenous dogs with a couple of AK-47s
and a rocket launcher

-----------


I spent some years of my young life
in weekly Bible Class..

I'm thinking I might be a better person
if my parents had just sat me down
in front of Game of Thrones
on TV and left me to my own devices












Passing through Texarkana and into Arkansas.














     ...orange sky
     like mist
     through a forest
     of orange leaves...

----------

     ...lakes and ponds
     and waterfowl,
     a crane passes over the road,
     low,
     long neck outstretched
     wings spread,
     a dark shadow
     against
     a nearly dark sky...

 ----------

     ...red sky
     in my rearview,
     the road like a tunnel
     through the dark,
     thick forest
     on either side...

----------

My dog Reba is my solitary companion until Columbus. Together, we take our first  night's sleep on the way in a cheap but clean motel in Little Rock.

     ...Reba
     asleep in her little bed
     in the corner,
     11 hours on the road,
     now I would join her
     but for the woman singing,
     badly,
     in the next room over  









Victor Hernandez Cruz is my next library poet, with a poem from his book of poems and essays, Red Beans, published by Coffee House Press in 1991.

Born in Puerto Rico in 1949, he was named one of America's greatest poets by Life magazine in 1988.












Corsica

Underneath with the geologic plates
Puerto Rico and Corsica
Are holding hands
Both hand with golden rings
Sweating each other's palms
The same moon is seen
From both islands
The light of the sun
Upon the mother
The seaman's stories of migration
Like whispering olives within
Red beans
Inhabit the seasonings
Echoing through the island
Cave's fifth aboriginal dimension
Of Camuy
Where not far from the salt
Of the sea
The compass of the fishing
Boats zero in on Minerva's
Lips of crimson shine
Who are flowing in the currents
Of the river within the ocean
Inviting the estrangement of
The planet to come and sit
In the plaza - the delights of
Sweet breads and virginal circular
Night walks of white dresses
Ah, Minerva blessed was your
Father at the thought of Migration
It was the limestone of the
Caverns  speaking underground
You are now as a
Mediterranean sway en route
Equatorial
With Manati pineapples lit
Electrical down Antillean
Sweet  aflame
Pales Matos following you
With his eyes of drumming sounds
Crazy
This is Corsica
Puerto Rico in the Mediterranean
All the eyes are the same.












Here's another responding to the double-whammy bible day mentioned earlier.














someone ought to write a book

shepherd
giant-killer
consort to a  king
singer
poet of love
king
serial adulterer
voyeur
rapist of Bathsheba
father of the bastard king, Solomon
King of Kings
seed of  the Messiah

David...

poets admire his poetry

the churchly of two religions
praise him

someone ought to write a book..

oh...












Next, passing through Tennessee, I express my irritation at being unable after two days on the road to find any kind of national newspaper.













     ...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
     so that each duck could be seen
     and counted
     as an individual,
     close 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
     caliche and cactus and mesquite,
     just soft,
     soft forest-hills,
     trunks climbing close
     together

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









Filipino poet Nick Carbo is next  from my library. His poem is from his book El Grupo McDonald's, published by Tia Chucha Press in 1995.

Born in 1964, Carbo grew up in Manila, the adopted son of wealthy Spanish parents. He began writing poetry as a student in the United States, earning an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Sarah  Lawrence  College. He served as Resident Poet at Bucknell University and Writer-in-Residence This book, so far as I can tell was his first to be published. He has published several  more since then to critical acclaim.









The Coup of December 1989

The day after Andres Bonifacio Day
(All Heroes Day, November 30),
several troops of the New Philippine Army
marched into the heart of Makati.
They occupied the Intercontinental Hotel
the Urdaneta Condominiums,
one of the Twin Towers,
the Manila Gardens Hotel,
the Atrium Office Building,
and the Green Belt Shopping Mall.
For six days, my parents never
went close to a window,
never turned their lights on at night,
never dared to go out into the street.
My father would describe the gunshots,
the impact of bullets
hitting their apartment terrace
while we were talking on the phone.
I could hear the M-16's firing in the background.
I knew where the rebels were shooting from
and from where the government soldiers
were returning their fire.
I was watching the coup on CNN
in San Antonio, Texas - fed the information
long distance to my father.
On December 8, the rebel soldiers surrendered.
My father said nobody got hurt
except a maid on the sixth floor
of our apartment building.
She peered from her  bathroom window
and spotted soldiers on the roof
of the Green Belt Mall parking lot.
They saw her head
and she quickly ducked.
After a few minutes, she stuck her head
out again and that's when the sniper
shot  her.




Photo by Dora Ramirez-Itz








Going on 72 years old, the worst election of my life. That ought to be something to think about.













election, 2016

it's
like an  ugly dog contest

there's sure to be  a
winner
but
you're still
not gonna want
to  take it
home

politics
in the world's oldest
democracy

2016












Next, Nashville behind, on the way to West Virginia.
















About an hour out of Nashville, one of the best roadside parks I've every stopped in, next to a slow-moving muddy river.

     ...the forest colors
     have changed,
     the yellows gone
     as we have journeyed
     further north
     and the gold is starting
     to fall as well, a shower of golden leaves
     around me
     as I stand  by the river

----------

Past Knoxville, a complicated detour that almost sent me to North Carolina instead of Virginia.

     ...the colors now
     are mostly shades of red and brown
   
     on a hill
     surrounded on four sides by forest
     a horse enjoys a pasture
     all his own... 

----------

     ...in a dell
     green as spring,
     a small church
     white clapboard with a white wooden steeple
     rising twice the church's height

     on a hill behind the church
     rows of tombstones
     in rank and file,
     climbing
     the hillside like steps
     to an afterlife that,
     if we are all lucky, would look
     exactly like this green little dell
     and this white little church... 

----------

Finally, into Virginia, which I have to cut the corner of to get to West Virginia.

     ...i stop at a park
     just across the state line
     so Reba can walk and  pee
     
     just across the highway
     three cows
     line a ridge, dark cut-outs
     against the sky...

----------

As I begin to slip into West Virginia, I ease into mountains, soft and discreet, unlike the mountains in the Southwest that stand starkly against a dusty desert floor.

     ...the road  rises in front of me
     bordered, as always, by red and brown forests,
     at the top,
     a silver-dollar moon
     on a pale blue sky...









The next poem is from the anthology Unaccustomed Mercy, Soldier-Poets of the  Vietnam War. From the book I selected a poem by D.F. Brown.

Born in Springfield, Missouri in 1948, Brown served in the United States  Army from 1968 to  1977 as a clinical specialist, including  service in Vietnam as a medic. He holds an  M.A. from San  Francisco State  University where he subsequently taught creative writing. At the time the anthology was published, Brown worked as a Ward Clerk at a hospital in Berkeley, California.

I  served in the United States Air Force from January, 1966 to March, 1969. I was Vietnam Era Veteran, meaning I served during the war (after being drafted), but not in Vietnam. That means that, over the course of nearly four years, I shot at no one and no one shot at me. An important distinction between me and the Vietnam Veteran soldier-poets in this anthology that should not be forgotten when people start telling their war stories.









Still Later, There Are War Stories

           For those who  think of us, not  as we were
                                                - Randall Jarrell

1

Anther  buddy dead.
There is enough dying -
Gary Cooper will
ride up,  slow and easy
slide  off his horse
without firing a  shot
save us all.

It is a matter of waiting.
We grow old counting  the year
in days, one by one
each morning ritual marks
one more, one less -
the plane has yet to land.

2

Down freeways, past  federal cemetery flags
half masted, dark green lawn,
the watered rows of stone - I could have
come home - November  five - to a decade
recounting days since, another
waiting above jungle trails
for then we hope never to see -
field hospital beds, orthopedic surgeons
saving lives, fifteen minutes away...

Daily boy scout excursions
through brush so thick
one hour hacking brings you
twenty feet closer to home,
down a new tropic trail. The jungle
loaded, nobody
comes away in one piece.











Walking my dog very early in the morning last week, I had this extraordinary moment.














a dark street

a dark street
and an early morning sky
caught between black night
and the blue of new day

a crescent moon,
bright yellow hook, and beside it
a star, the morning star, perhaps, brilliant glow,
and large, as if close, like a near companion
to the moon...

except for passing times
on deserts or atop high mountains
I've never felt the heavens
so clear or personal as in this moment,
a transient intimacy, I know,
and I try to absorb the fullness of it
in the first few seconds before
it  slips away and becomes just another night,
another moon, another star, not so special, I know,
as in those ephemeral seconds it seemed,
instead, the routine morning of a routine man
in a routine life, but those first seconds
will stay as part of my day, a part of my life as long
as I have a memory for the extraordinary,
held in a favored place in my catalog
of astonishments...











1,703 miles into the trip as I leave Charleston, West Virginia. About an hour out I discover I'm lost, an outdated map useless, operating by guess and compass and getting nowhere, I finally stop at a small convenience store of the small road I've blundered onto. And discover I'm on the right road, just going the wrong way.










    ... finally 
     straightened out, 
     i follow the  road,
     a narrow two-lane that  twists
     north with a river,
     on the river side
     shacks
     square little homes
     with junk cars
     and several hundred dollars
     worth of scrap metal in front
     and on the other side of the road,
     great brick houses
     with wide green lawns
     and barns
     and horse stables... 

----------

Finally arriving in Columbus after four days on the road, I pick up my companion for the rest of the journey, Dee, my wife, at the airport and prepare for the next day, a day of rest before we move on to Virginia.

     ...Dee prowls the little shops
     of Old Dublin
     while I enjoy the luxury of a latte
     and  a Times at Starbucks,
     this, assumed as an entitlement
     a week ago, this fancy-shamncy
     upgrade of regular old Joe
     and  daily national news,
     now joins my list of things
     to be thankful for...

----------

After combing through the downtown museums we get lost looking for the arts district.

     ....finally
     and by accident, as you might expect,
     we find ourselves on High Street,
     right in the middle  of Short North,
     the arts district, but find the galleries
     all seem to be closed,
     so we settle
     for a late lunch at Betty's Food & Spirits
     named it must be, for Betty Page,
     whose photos, along with other 
     mid-century pin-ups, paper the walls
     the most vivid dreams
     of my 14-year-old days and nights revisit me
     as I enjoy a bowl of beef vegetable soup,
     a bit thin of broth for my taste,
     but full of vegetables and think chewy bread...     










Next from my library I have poems from Simmering Away, Songs from the Kanginshu, a collection of songs of love and wisdom which appeared in Japan in the early 16th century. The poems in this book, published in 2006 by White Pines Press, were translated by Yasuhiko Moriguchi and David Jenkins.













The wind blows
and in my heart,
pain
       to think
       of the gale beating
       at the petals
       of the cherry blossom
       and of the time
       that flies so fast
       those rare nights we meet,
this rare night we met

----------

Morning sounds of
         cloth being beaten
         reach me
                 pat pat
         reaching back
         the sound of
tears upon my pillow


----------

How frail
the knot that binds -

a half-bow
in a sash
of sky blue


----------

what is there to do?
         so what
         is there to do?
this world is but a leaf
blown by the wind
upon the waves



                   all,
                   all of this
                   is a dream
                             phantasm,
                             foam upon the water
                   soon gone
                   in the time
                   the dew may vanish
                   from the bamboo leaf
                              this irksome world
                              a dream!
                              illusion!
                                        dear  God!




                                                but hard it is
                                                to look upon
                                                a joyless man

                                                        this world is
                                                            a dream within
                                                            a dream within
                                                         a dream

                                                 (there he is)
                                                 his face
                                                 so damned sober

                           what good is  it
                               (I ask)
                           to be so  sane?
                           our life  time
                           is just a dream
   
                                     why not
                            just get crazy?











The deserts and mountains we drove  through last week received the rain this week that we were due here.














just saying...

no stars
this morning, just
city lights reflected off low-hanging clouds

a rumor of rain yesterday,
still hinting at it this morning,
but, as to yesterday, heavy rain, true,
all day, but covering the desert and mountains
I drove through last week instead
of here...

day late;
dollar short

the story of my life

and though I know that story
I'm not expecting it

instead
I'm sitting in my backyard
this afternoon, a full shift, noon
to  5 p.m. - naked as a possum's belly,
waiting for the rain, neighbors be damned,
and if the rain doesn't come, this warning
to the Rain Gods - I'm willing to do this until
you let loose your tight grip on rain
and all its thunder and lightning
accompaniments (or at least until my wife
turns the sprinkler on me, but she's
out of town for at least a
week so don't count on any help
from her)

so,
just saying -

let there be  rain...












Approaching 2,000 miles, we head off for Roanoke, Virginia, passing again through a portion of West Virginia.











      ...when i  passed this  way
     two days ago, it was  dead dark
     and I couldn't see anything but the 
     moving island
     my headlights threw ahead of me

     this day I appreciate the tree covered hills and vistas
     as we curve around the mountain sides

     though the rain has stopped,
     most of  the color on the hills is  gone
     and what remains is draped in drab
     by the overcast sky... 

----------

We take a short that offers a more direct route.

     ...a smaller, slower road
     with dips and turns and twists
     that takes us across a river,
     then alongside it for twenty miles

     people here are different from people
     in Texas who post the name off every 
     river and creek, whether flowing water
     or dry that is crossed, whether paved
     or caliche, or blowing dust - we value water
     for its scarcity and want a name
     everywhere it might be found, even if wet
     only a couple of days a year

     but here, even rivers seem to have
     no posted name

     and this river,
     wide, with white-water rapids
     deserves a name we
     thought, even if only a name
     we gave it

     a "man with no name" river
     we decided to name

     "El Rio Sin Nombre"...

----------

As we  approach Virginia, the temperature dips and fog rises from the hollows and slides over the mountain tops.

     ...a white house
     on a hill
     surrounded by leaf-bare trees
     and behind them,
     mountains
     showing bits and pieces through the fog

     on the road,
     short, thick-foliage pines stand,
     crowded side by side like spectators
     standing shoulder to shoulder
     watching a passing parade

     or, I think of the hundreds of clay soldiers
     lined in rank after rank
     buried with their Chinese  emperor

     fog drifts around them
     and in that shifting fog, the soldiers
     seem to move, coming back to life
     while their emperor lies still
     in the dust he has become...








From my library now, thee short poems  by Wendy Cope from her chapbook, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, published by faber and faber in 1986.

Cope was born in Erith, Kent. After university she worked for fifteen years as a primary school teacher in London. This was her first collection of poetry. A year later she received a Colmondeley Award for poetry and in 1995 the American Academy of Arts and Letters award for light verse.









Envoi

Dear friends! If adages like these
Should seem banal, or just a joke,
Remember fish don't grow on trees -
So say I and so say the folk.


Advertisement

The lady takes The Times and Vogue.
Wears Dior dresses, Gucci shoes,
Puts fresh-cut flowers round her room
And lots of carrots in her stews.

A moss-green Volvo, morning walks.
And holidays  in Guadeloupe;
Long winter evenings by the fire
With Proust and cream of carrot soup.

Raw carrots on a summer lawn,
Champagne, Gioconda smile;
Glazed carrots in a silver dish
For Sunday lunch. They call it style.


Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

It was a dream I had last week
And some kind of record seemed vital.
I knew it wouldn't be much of a poem
But I love the title.










There's a farmer's market down the street from the  coffeehouse at the Pearl. I visited once - seemed to  me to be more about lifestyle than food. A place to walk  your dog and push your baby buggy.














a farm boy goes to the farmers' market

farmers' market
down the street, tomatoes
and lettuce and cabbage and  gourds
and  Royal Jelly (the queen's personal honey stash)
and here and there, something good to eat,
and sundry beauty creams sure to make the Birkenstock crowd
beautiful unto their 5th, 6th decades,
or more,
dear god, who  can say
how long this privileged tribe might
last, and, of course,  just as the creams
will make them beautiful, these vegetables, fresh
picked, locally grown, reputed to make them live, not just beautifully,
but forever, all of it at three times the supermarket price,
all for the retro-thrill of walking down a street
to buy misshapen vegetables
from a street-side stall...

I grew up on the edge of a tiny town
in South Texas,
surrounded by fields - oranges, ruby-red grapefruit,
avocados, tangerines, tangelos, lemons,  limes,
and in the winter, vegetables of most kinds,
and right next door for two  seasons, potatoes of a perfect size
to throw at  each other when playing GI versus slanty-eyed
Japs and beetle-browed Nazis war games,
and best of all,
the wonder of a watermelon patch
right next to our swimming hole

and it's true it all tasted better
than what I can buy in the supermarket today,
but mainly because it was mostly free,
given to us by our farmer friends, or, as with the watermelons,
sweetened by the stealthy skills of dripping-wet-from-the-swimming-hole
theft, like international jewel thieves we were when it came
to those watermelons...

and, truth is, I  don't care if my tomato came from Peru
as long as I can buy it cheap in mid-winter, and that can of
extra-sweet niblets, that's pretty good too...

can't buy that
at the farmers' market...













We visit the downtown art museum before we leave Roanoke for a side  trip to Jefferson's other plantation on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.









     ...except for the homeless man 
     sleeping in the  corner
     of one of the galleries,
     not real, of course,
     but a presentation of reality,
     an essay on invisibility 
     as museum visitor after museum visitor,
     myself included,
     walked past without seeming to see him,
     stopped and looked at paintings
     hanging over the space where "he" slept
     and not seeing, as if the homeless
     live in an alternate universe, unseen
     and unknown to us until they panhandle us
     or scream and rant on a street corner...

----------

From the art museum and the invisible homeless,  we head out toward  Lynchberg and Popular Forest,
Jefferson's second home and  plantation.

     ...from his grand veranda Jefferson
     could look  down on the nearest
     of his 4,000+ acres

     large poplar trees
     yellow leaves still holding on
     despite  the lateness of the season,
     a gently slope of close-cut grass,
     a creek running fast;
     another pasture,  tobacco fields
     in Jefferson's time, a crop he despised
     but planted anyway
     because he needed the cash;
     a forest of poplar trees broken
     by a winding crushed -shell drive,
    around the side and in the back,
    slave quarters, 
    not for the cultivated eyes
    of the gentlemen and ladies
    of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Like the tobacco he despised as a noxious weed, a destroyer of the soil, but grew anyway, as he despised slavery, saw it as a vile practice despoiling the country he helped create, but never freed a slave until his death, and then, only his own slave family.









Here now, Federico  Garcia Lorca, from his book In Search of Duende - two poems. My copy of the book from New Directions in 1955.

Both poems were translated by W.S. Merwin.










Balcony

Lola
sings saetas.
The little bullfighters
circle around her
and the little barber,
from his doorway,
follows the rhythms
with his head.
Between the sweet basil
and the mint,
Lola sings
saetas.
The same  Lola
who looked so long
at herself in the pool.


Early Morning

But like love,
the archers
are blind.

Over the green  night
the arrows
leave tracks of warm
lilies

The keel of the moon
breaks purple clouds
and the quivers
fill with dew.

Ah, but like love,
the archers
are blind!












Observing a kindred spirit in the morning.













a fly on the window beside me

a fly on the window beside me...

silly fly,
trying to get outside
to the beautiful day we both so clearly see,
bumping its head into the window, the
sitting back, rubbing it's filthy little feet together,
and trying again, bumping its head into the glass,
oh, that clear glass, that damned glass,
the outside so inviting, so beautiful a prize
it is, but how far away and impossible
to attain...

like the fly, I have my ambition,
and this right now is part of it, pushing
against the clear glass of impatient desire, beautiful
poems on the other side,  like this day, so handsome and
inviting,  poems lolling in my barely  conscious, waiting
to  be plucked like a ripe red apple from a tree in the orange shadows of fall
and presented to a grateful and appreciative world,
promises doomed to be unfulfilled -

unfulfilled, but knowing they are there, that helps, a chance
that someday they will break out, the glass broken and
aspirations realized...

----------

but wait, the fly no longer bumping against the glass,
climbing up it instead, maybe like me, satisfied in knowing
there is an outside out there, finding such pleasure as there is
in simply observing it

furred belly pressed tight against the glass, sublimation found
in a tight gassy hug, almost like being
there...








The plan from this point, to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, at least 233 miles of it from Roanoke to Asherville, following the bony ribs of the Appalachians through Virginia and into North Carolina.

It will take a full day.

     ...through the curves
     and thick forests
     of poplar and pine,
     leaves falling like
     golden snow,
     we begin to  climb...

---------

A good road,  federal parkway, two lanes well maintained.

     ...A half dozen
     wild turkey
     along  the roadside,
     undisturbed
     by our passing

     a fat deer
     I see ahead
     leaps across the road
     and through the trees...

----------

A very cold storm is following behind us and with each stop it gets closer, until we stop for  lunch at Becky's Home Cooking in little Mayberry Mill and it catches us and we can't get ahead of it again.

     ...grand vistas
     across green and old  hills around us,
     cleared pastures,
     little villages
     with little white houses
     and broken-down barns
     and church steeples
     and yellow school buses
     parked behind schools closed
     for the weekend

     the temperature at 3,700 feet
     is 37 degrees,
     a fierce  cold wind
     blows through the wooded valleys
     and across  the high crests,
     so strong it billows my Levi jacket
     out from my back like blue wings 
     almost lifting me over the edge

     chill factor in the teens...








Anna Akhmatova, born in 1889 and died in 1966, was one of those rare poets, like Lorca above and a few others, who proved that poets can be heroes. NPR did a story on her today, quoting,  among other work the poem below, Prelude to her masterpiece of witness, "Requiem." I have the poem in one of my books and have used this piece here before.

In the poem, she waits outside the prison where her husband, later secretly executed, was being held during one of the many times of terror.

The poet's life and the poem, especially this prelude to it, moves me.











Instead of a Preface

During  the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen  months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone "picked me out."
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, or course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said in my ear,
(everyone whispered there) - "Could you  ever describe
this?" And I answered - "I can." It was  there that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.

The 1st of April in the year 1957, Leningrad


Not under  foreign  skies
Nor under foreign wings  protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.

(1961)












The world does seem to push so persistently against those of us who just want to be good.















six packs not  allowed

donut holes
come in increments of one dozen

this was explained to me
this morning
by the lady at the new donut shop

I was trying to order just six
because if I order a dozen holes I will eat
a dozen
holes

(in fact, already have)

six donut holes is not a perfect solution,
but a compromise - a number
edging past the maximum
allowable daily sugar allowance

not good, but at least providing
a starting defensive
position
against the onslaught of unwelcome
advice from my doctor
and my wife...

but a dozen,
well, there is just no  defense for a dozen
except
(and this is what  I must fall back on)
though I fought bravely and with persistent rectitude,
the donut lady, obviously in league with the devil,
made me do it

and will probably make me do it again tomorrow...

but,
as some football coach probably said sometime,
manly virtue
is found in the fight
not in the six extra donut holes











With bad weather bearing down on us we decide to take a more southerly route to Asherville before heading back to one last stretch of mountain vistas across the Great Smoky Mountains.

But the weather turned even worse overnight.









     ...heavy snow
     during the night
     has dusted white 
     across the lower elevations

     higher,
     thick dark clouds
     wrap around the mountains,
     covering them like a dirty white blanket...

----------

On the advice of our waitress at the Waffle House, we decided to stick to I-40 and skip the higher passes.

     ...the soft slow slur
     of a southern accent
     can make any Southerner sound stupid
     to many ears,
     especially when it comes 
     from the mouth
     of a Southern woman

     pity those
     who believe it true... 

----------

So, staying to the lower  lands of North Carolina, then Alabama, our next stop  is Birmingham.

     ...i expected cotton fields
     but found forests instead,
     still with the colors of fall,
     turning more and more to green
     as pines begin to infiltrate, then
     dominate,
     tall giants
     straight as fence posts
     with a brushy crown at the very top...








The last poet from my library this week is Diane Glancy. For this week, I have two  poems from her book, Long Dog's Winter Count, published in 1991 by West End Press.

Born in 1941 in Missouri, Glancy is a poet, author and playwright of Cherokee descent. She earned a B.A. Degree in English at the University of Missouri, a Masters Degree in  English at the University of Oklahoma, and an M.F..A. at the University of Iowa. She is an English Professor and began teaching Native American  literature and Creative Writing  at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1989.



The Road Paved to Heaven

God is tuned in  to us
his antennae turn to the speck of any
distant roar,
his thoughts move like the blue dot of tractor
in the field.
Tires tied over a tarp over a hay mound,
that's where faith begins.
In the peepholes
I hear the pines
their clumps twerping near  silos.
He believes we're here,
the angels put his finger on our corral.
You see the road's not really there
& you can't make it without him,
but if you believe it's there
it's there
& and you transcend the slot of God
& you're in.


She Was Spinning in Space

The little soul twirling
at last like a leaf  on the sycamore,her absolute level best.
Ah yes this was the turning that was squashed,
this was the life ripped from her
like the beginning of a feeling
that rises but was chopped.
&  all  the while  longing  to  be again,
to dance to  say ya sota to the Spirit,
to speak his language,
to feel the pines beneath it.
The dancing bedrock  the frilly edge of Timothy
& Johnson grass.
To weave back the separation the split in the head,
the braids released over her two feet dancing,
the blessed will of her passage
to mere  space
with a wedge of certain life.
The pure drive to come from the back room
along the clear air enfolding the hall,
the sycamore leaves snake-dancing
on her lovely yellow dress.







I usually tried to keep  a low profile regarding  my anti-religious beliefs, in part because I was a semi-public figure for many years and religion, or lack thereof, was one of the personal things I kept quiet about. The problem now is that religious people, particularly Christians as it affects me, are so adamant about demanding you take their side (or else!), and having now no particular reason to keep my mouth shut, I have become more vocal.

Presently I have someone who is pressing me to watch a video that "proves that  God exists" and,  there being no  question on the god issue that I haven't been  thinking about since I was about 10 years old, I am getting impatient with the pressure and approaching impolite.

I have  always considered religion a tonic old people, in particular, cling to  as they watch their life passing faster than they ever anticipated. What surprises me, as in  this poem, is what seems to be a religious revival among young people. I don't get it. What is it in the anti-human, anti-life message of religion that draws them to it. Maybe something like what I imagine here.









refusing the  light

Sunday at the coffeehouse,
walking Bella past the Pearl Street Church
just down the street, passing their parking lot
with a bunch of nice looking cars
and as the attendees
get out of the cars, I  see no one
who looks poor, no one, as  far as I can see, over 30...

part of the religious revival among well-off "millennials"
(I think that's what we're calling  them now, at my age
I just think of them as "The Kids" - easier to spell among  other things)

religion among young people - something I don't understand
in these modern  times...

I stopped believing in Santa Clause about the time I turned five,
but I had a little brother, so I couldn't talk about it...

not so long after that I stopped believing in  Peter Pan, Tinker Bell,
Mickey and Mindy, Donald and Daisy, Superman, Batman and all the rest

(though I did hold our for Goofy, he seemed so much  like me at that age,
to disbelieve in him would be almost like disbelieving in myself)

it's not that I didn't get the call to believe, just about every Sunday morning,
dragged out of bed to go to Sunday School and then Church, but the effect
was not positive, just the reverse...

it is said that the best religious education makes the best atheists and I'm  living
proof of that, because it's true, the more  they tried to  teach the more apparent
became the holes in logic and reason...

and I think that might be the  thing  with The Kids...

after years of relativism our official  philosophical creed,
they've absorbed the lesson that  logic and reason
are not static like stones (knowing  that  even the hardest stones
are not static but in a state of constant change),
allowing them to believe things
my non-relative mind
cannot accept...

in the end  it seems to me to be a kind of Zen-Christianity  they believe in,
where the struggles of Christ on his cross and his later resurrection are not
real world events, but a kind of internal  expression of over-soul truth,
redemption through acceptance of an eternal-other that strings us all,
like diamonds on a necklace of one and all together...

is that the heaven of all  things and all  places - I can respond to that,
for even  my coldest logic and reason does not  deny that I cannot know all,
it is the required acceptance of all religions that all is known I rebel
against, and the claim of absolutes that protects me from
the error of unreasonable belief- making me
in the end, I suppose a devote believer in the anti-religion of
"I-Do-Not-Know"

I am an alternate Paul on the road  to Damascus,
getting hold of myself at the last minute
and turning back into Saul, the non-believer
and tax collector for the imperial  power of Rome,
this time, refusing
the light













This experience, passing through Mississippi, reminded me that, even  though change might be slow, it does come.












     ...lunch at a little truck stop
     in Pearl River County, Mississippi,
     three county deputy sheriffs
     at the table next to us,
     all three black,
     making me think of my first
     trip through the south,
     on a bus in the spring of 1966,
     white and colored waiting rooms,
     white and colored restrooms,
     white and colored water  fountains,
     thought clearly marked, illegal
     since the passage of the civil rights act
     a year earlier, but lifelong habits break hard,
     people, black and white, still  segregating themselves
     because that's the way the knew

     but hard or not,
     habits change and what could not be imagined
     becomes routine...











 The last part of our  early drive through the cusp of Confederate winter  took us through Louisiana. Since I despise everything about Louisiana but zydeco and Cajun cooking, I didn't write anything particularly interesting as we traveled through. So  instead of something  from Louisiana, here are the two short poems that open and close the book










Well Begun

spring storm

clouds
dark as the devil's  black eyes
behind
as we  race to clear skies
ahead


And In the End, Well Done

home court

there is pleasure
in travel
but comfort
in routine and the everyday

so,
I'm back

second table from the rear,
by the window,
back to the river,
looking out on the corner
of Martin
and Soledad,
San Antonio, Texas

life
in the slow lane,
looking
for a poem
in all the old familiar places








I read this really amazing piece somewhere last week. The story being that 60,000 to 70,000 the human kind, our kind easily recognizable as our kind, was reduced due to, among other things, climate change, to roughly 2,000 individuals, several hundred less (as I note in the poem) than the population of the tiny town I grew up in. We were at the very brink of extinction when something seemed to awaken in our ancestors a combination of cultural and intellectual and technological advance that not only saved us from disappearing forever from the planet, but gave us the tools to advance, very, very slowly across the planet until we almost literally cover the world.

Which has consequences that suggest the possibility of another brush with extinction.








on her scale of justice

about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago,
give or take several millennia,
the world was in crisis

it was the cold height of the ice age,
ice several kilometers thick
extended into the middle regions
of what we now call
the United States of America,
and as the ice drew in all the world's water
areas now under ice became desert, as in Africa
were the stubby and stubborn folk we would  now
recognize as our true human ancestor struggled to
survive, easily recognized today as one of our own, these folk,
if sitting beside us at the coffeehouse, shaved and shorn,
sipping a latte in a pin-stripped  suit...

 then came the volcano,
one of the largest the world  had before or since seen,
named in our day, "Toba," like the vast lake it created,
blowing its ash into the sky to circle  the entire earth,
causing at least  10 years of volcanic winter,
beginning a planetary cooling cycle estimated to last
a thousand years...

the earth was in crisis then, as it is in crisis now,
but the earth did not care then
as it does not care today, for the mother knew as long
as there is time under the sun that shines on her
she will survive...

but not so our little band of mulish ancestors, struggling
in the cold desert that was their Africa home, their first
and until then only home, their home that besieged them,
the garden that had nourished them for as long as they
ever were, gone, their numbers declining until
there were barely 2,000 of them left in all the world
as they had ever known it...

I think of that, only 2,000 of our kind left, several hundred
souls fewer  than lived in the small Texas town where I grew up...

those days it seemed all must be lost, but then, on the every edge
of extinction something unexplainable happened...

community was born...

language with the structure and syntax of all languages today was born...

tools were invented; simple tools  to do simple things, simple tools to do grander things;
tools to hunt; tools to kill...

art was  born...

artists drew stories of their day on the walls of their rocky homes
as around campfires, poets told those same  stories each night
under such stars as could appear through volcanic haze,
stories told again
and again
and remembered
and passed on from generation to generation,
remembered today even by us, though often we do now
or remember their origin, the genetic memory of all
we have ever  been...

and movement began, families and communities
leaving the desert, moving into  new worlds  uncovered
by melting ice as the sun slowly returned, small bands moving
slowly, mile by mile over the course of generations,
never knowing what was around the next bend,
beyond  the next  hill, but moving,  spreading, until the world
is covered by us,  infested, some would say,  by us...

and now a new crisis coming, not the product of advancing  ice,
this one, or massive volcano, but a crisis of natural forces abused
by us the descendants of those stubborn, stubby survivors, their
survival bringing us, for better or worse,  the inheritors
of struggle leading ourselves  into  struggle again...

the world does not care, mother of us and mother of all  else,
she does not care, for  she has many children,
we among forever the lesser  of them all
on the scale of  her
justice...




Photo by Dora Ramirez-Itz



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3 Comments:
at 10:40 AM Blogger davideberhardt said...

the highway cut intriguing- as heiroglyphics- what is the explanation behind the way they look?
then u have another cliff (2 pix) with humanoid pod like structures - very (again) intriguing- what caused this (talk to a geologist)
the akmatova poem got me thinking
was she part of the left opposition?
if whe was political i am sympathetic- otherwise not so much (u know me)
yes she suffered-so don't we all- do we aply a meter to poets who have "suffered the most"? yes in the sense that they are writing about stuff so much more important than mary oliver or billy collins
btw- GO BERNEE

at 12:06 PM Blogger Here and Now said...

david - the highway cuts are explained in the first poem, along with why the fascinate me - a couple of million years of history laid out in layers to look at. akhmatova, was a young, very well known and regarded poet before the revolution. like so many other poets and artists during the period, she suffered great oppression during the leninist and stalinist, unpublishabel and having to write in secret. her husband executed, her son dying while she was in ex
ile in the frozen north. you speak of the "left opposition" as if she was living in baltimore - the only opposition during the years she lived under oppression of lenin and stalin were the dead.

at 12:09 PM Blogger Here and Now said...

i just noticed the part of your comment where you said "yes we suffered, so don't we all."


comparing your "suffering" to the suffering of poets and artist living under an all stifling and murderous dictatorship, leads me to suspect you have no idea of what living under those circumstances is really like

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