Past As Prelude   Wednesday, May 10, 2017


On the theme of "past as prelude" - we thought  we could quit worrying about these bozos, but here it is, 2017, and they're back in even most virulent form than before we chased away last time.

This is from my book Always to the Light, from 2009-10.




last week

the lady says
the CIA lied to her
and people who claim intelligence
say they find that very hard to  believe

the Dungeon Keeper - Darth-Master,
former vice-president
goes on TV to complain
that the new guys
are messing up
all the good work he did

his former boss
wisely
cuts his brush
and keeps his mouth shut

the bishops
want to boycott the president,
suffering as he does
from the anti-Catholic vice
of intelligence
and the anti-Christian arrogance
of seeking to exercise it

a university in the great white state
of Arizona
refuses
to honor that same president
because he  hasn't picked
his quota of cotton yet
and in the great armed state
of Texas
time runs out
on legislation that would have allowed
every student at every state university
to come to school
in the morning with gun in hand - validation
of the foresight of the writers of the Texas Constitution
who, trusting politicians even less than we do now,
restricted their opportunities for mischief
to just 180 days every 2 years

state employees
who must make sense  of the results of these biannual
sessions think half the 180 days would be time enough
and even less would be better...

such a week

now a weekend to prepare
for another  just
like it








Another week  with a few poems from my library, a few new poems from me and a bunch of old poems from my now otherwise unavailable book, Seven Beats a Second. I think this is probably the last week concentrating on the book.

All of the illustrations accompanying poems from the book are by my collaborator,, Vincent Martinez and are among other examples of his art included on every page of the book



Me
last week

Me

not him...

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Field Song

Me
what do I do not know

Me
buggin' out

Me
afternoon sun

Andrew Hudgins
The Gift

Me
how brown now cow

Me
flambeau

Me
shadows

Kerrin McCadden
Ante Up

Me
unfinished business 

Henrik Nordbrandt
poem

Me
hillside

Me
where things went wrong

Me
gotta dance

Me
in the last days of March in South Texas

Me
morning in the hills

Seamus Heaney
The Clothes Shrine

Me
a lesson in the bottom line

Me
seven beats a second

Me
May Day
                                         












First this week, a memory, the kind that you can neither quite summon nor send a way. They just come and stay until their done.










not him

standing by his bed,
watching him,
the sterile silence
of the ICU broken only
by machines pumping,
beeping, buzzing - keeping him
alive, and all of a sudden, for the first time
in more than a week, he woke up, or appeared to,
sitting up, eyes haunted as if waking
from dreams of endings, he looked at me,
blank haunted eyes, seeing nothing,
not recognizing me or knowing that I was even there,
this man, the last time I saw him
before the necessary decision was made
weeks later and the wheezing, blinking, buzzing machines
were silenced, the last time I saw him, except for now
in my memory, but the memory not the haunted man
with blank and fearful eyes...

no, not him,
never
him...








Here's the first poem this week from my library. It's by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, from her book, Song, 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets published by BOA Editions.

Born in 1951 in California,  Kelly grew up in Indiana and lived most of her adult life in Illinois. A poet and fiction writer, winner of numerous awards and honors, she taught at University of California, Irvine, Purdue, Woodrow Wilson College, and, at the time of her death in 2016, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.







Field Song

What stands? The walnut:
   the tower of story
      dark with crows,

The leafy way station
   from doomsayers:
      Say nay, say no,

Say the morning comes in
   with a silver spoon
      and the spoon rattles

In a cup because
   the child is gone.
      But still the child

Stands, the way a statue
   does in the mind
      or in a field: a fawn

Figure with a filigreed
   grin: there beside
      the walnut and the way

Of passing things:
   the wide road down
      the middle of it all.

The middle  ground
   gives way and we
      are on either side,

As in a game:
   You're it. You're not.
      You're out. Arms up

You stand,
   with all those taken
      for all they're worth:

The lace of Anne,
   the rods of gold,
      the stalks made from iron:

Their color drains away,
   but still they hold
      on: a dry feast:

The way things fast
   toward their absent
      forms go in hunger.

Go in  grace.












First the week from Seven Beats a Second.












What Do I Do Not Know

Well...

     I do not know
the price of tea in China.

     I  do not know
the effect of superstring theory
on the certitudes of revealed religion.

     I do not know
the square root of twenty-seven thousand
three hundred and forty-three.

     I do not know
how Superman can circle the world at
the speed of light causing the world to
reverse in its rotation so that he can save
Lois Lane by backward go time making.

     I don't get that at all.

What else do I do not  know?

     I do not  know
how a hummingbird can fly so fast
and not run into trees and
     I do not know
how pelicans can fly at all, front-loaded
as they are with fish and salt water and god
knows what else in their droopy pelican cheeks.

Many lesser things I do not know,
curiosities, facts and fiction, trivial pursuits
good for crossword puzzles and nothing more.

And other things I do not know.

     How love grows
     and why it dies,
     why hearts break
     and how they're mended,
     why we laugh
     and why we cry
     how we grow
     and when I'll die,

All these things I do not know
and probably never will.

So what do I know?

Well, that's a subject for
     another time.
This poem,  you see, is about what
     I do not  know.











From Seven Beats a Second. I wonder who else remembers the song, "They're Coming to Take Me Away" by an Australian group in the sixties.









buggin' out

I can hear them
walking in my head

soft little footsteps

          shushhh
          shushhh

like they're wearing
little velvet slippers
on their little buggy
feet...

           shushhh
           shushhhhhhhh

I can hear them
sneaking
through my brain

          shushhh
          shushhh

on little buggy
tippie-toes...












A moment.











afternoon sun

late afternoon sun
reflects on car roofs,
commuters going home,
stringing diamonds as they pass

moonlight commuters with
headlights shining softly
will string
pearls









This from my library, a poem by Andrew Hudgins, from his book, The Never-Ending, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1991.


Born in Texas in 1951 and raised in Alabama, Hudgins earned his MFA at the University of Iowa. A poet and essayist, his work has been highly praised. Currently Professor of English at Ohio University, he previously taught  at Baylor and at the University of Cincinnati.









The Gift

They hung the lambs and cut their white throats. Blood
flowed down their chins and into earthen bowls.
Each time one filled,  another bowl was placed
beneath  the stream. Inside the pit, mesquite
burned town to an orange pulse, a coat of ash.

You asked about the myths and now,, at last,
they talked as they prepared the feast. They stuffed
the carcasses with masa, the packed the hole
with four lambs, three full jars of  blood. Green leaves
were tucked around the meat and everything
was buried. The dirt included excrement.

All night you hunkered on your heels, talked, smoked,
almost forgot the buried flesh  because
they offered you a legend no one outside
had ever heard. The coals burned slowly . At  dawn
they dug it up: the tainted meat, the jars
of hot,  gelatinous blood.Already knowing
how it would double you with cramps and heaving,
you held the rough bowl in both hands, flinched once,
almost eager now that you had no choice.












Here's another from Seven Beats a Second.












how brown now cow

fire burns
the turning worm
and God helps those
who drop folding
money
in the plate
on Sunday morning
but time passes
and never moves
so it's always
now
is the time
for good men
to get the best deal
they can for their
pound of flesh
give it up for the
dollar
but no sense
to it now
tomorrow
and tomorrow
but always now
I see time passing
in the graying
of your
smile
you're on candy
camera
like the one I had
when I was a kid
back then
yesterday
now again
I see time passing
but it's always now
and that's a real
motherfucker
because you left me
yesterday
and tomorrow now
will be lonely
too  










I think it's important to make all your final arrangements before that final moment comes. I have, as I explain in this weird love poem from Seven Beats a Second.

The illustration on the left, by the way, is the painting by my artist collaborator, Vincent Martinez, that I chose for the book's cover.









flambeau

no moldering
in a dank and dismal box for me

I want to go out in a fiery flash,
consumed in flames and hat
until all that's left of used-to-be-me
is ash and bits of charred and brittle bone

mix this small  reminder of what I was
with water, a cement base,
and shiny river pebbles,  with a poem
or  two cut in paper strips
to  weave through the mix
as my love for you has been threaded tight
through all the better parts of my life

from this potion,
make a little cement bow
where birds can come to bathe
and drink and preen their feathers
in first and last light of every day

set this bowl with its elements of what's left of me
on a pedestal in a shady place near a window
so you can see as the birds come and go
and sometimes think of me













Another moment.











shadows

old oaks
on the grounds of the Alamo

thick branches
reach for history

of days 300 years
past

that past  living
in this hushed place of

whispers
in many languages

some recent
some

so old all memory of them
is long dead

buried
in the lost graves

of their forgotten
speakers









This poem is by Kerrin McCadden, taken from her book Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, published by Western Michigan University, New Issues Press, in 2014.

A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Woodrow Wilson College and winner of the Vermont Book Award, McCadden teaches English and Creative Writing at Montpelier High School.









Ante Up

This what you said to me this morning, at the breakfast table,
but not really. What you asked me was what would you give up
and I have been thinking about that all day. I would give up,

for instance, the rocking chair, but not the dresser. I wold give
up the rugs but not the table. I would give up the books, even,
but not the letters. I would give up the farm, but no the paths

worn into the fields. The sentences without semi-colons, but not
the lovers who wrote them. Well, it is true that I have given up
the lovers already, all of them, but not the plot chart of them.

I wold give up all the lakesides, but not the late afternoons.
The dusk sky, even,  but not the swallows. Th front and back door,
but not the neighbors. The map, but not the way here.

Nevermind the fact that you never asked me this, that I read it in
the Book of Questions you brought in from the truck after the road trip.
We were road weary, and suddenly unsure. I have spent  the day

in writing formulas and calculating  risk.What I have come to so far is this.
I would not give up the sling of your mouth,  the bit of silence you hang
between words, the interstitial gaps of  your teeth,or your string of guesses

after I ask guess what? I would not give up the machinery of your gait,
not even for a nightly return to the beginning.










I was about 61 or 62 when I put Seven Beats a Second together in 2005, and just  beginning to feel the first meaningful twinges of mortality.











unfinished business

I've reached that  point in my life
when I begin to  understand
that I will not get out it alive

and with that,
clarity

a million years of back-story
before our time and consequences lingering
far past even a memory of our time,
leaving no  end to things but the dark end
that  comes to us all, despite the struggles
with pharmaceutical  and metaphysical
manipulations that  occupy our final days

but even as we fight to change the  rules
of life and death, it's not closure we want
but a  chance to stay on this well-lit stage
past our character's plotted time, a chance
to see the play unfold past the limitations
of our own poorly written walk-on  part
waiting for a final act  that will never come

your  life...
my life...
it's  all about unfinished business








Next from Exchanges, Translation and Commentary, Spring  1997, Number 8,  published by the Translation Laboratory at the University of Iowa.

This piece is taken from by Thom Satterlee from the original Danish poem by Henrik Nordbrandt.







Poem

I promised you a poem
and have   since thought of everything I could
to keep from writing it.

Now the almond tree is in bloom
three years and nine months later

and even in the twilight
and without my glasses I can see
every single leaf.

But my own writing
I can just barely make out.

Wouldn't you still have known me
with glasses on and in the way
I've  written this poem.











This is one of two poems I wrote during the course of a couple  of days drive-around  in the central Texas hill country. The view is from our hotel, high top a hill, looking out on Lake LBJ and the small, but very interesting, town of Marble Falls.









hillside

third floor terrace
atop a very high hill
overlooking
Lake LBJ
and beyond that
the small town of 
Marble Falls
and between the two,
the green mermaid of caffeine salvation,
Starbucks,
where,  as the sun rises
tomorrow
I will enjoy my morning coffee
and a New York Times
and beyond all that, if I have
my directions right,
one helluva sunset
tonight

just a weekend drive in the hill country,
later afternoon,
day one...










An old man's poem. Now that I'm more than ten years older  than when I wrote it, I've decided I didn't know how good I had it back  then.









where things went wrong

life
gets more screwy every day

and I don't like it

I liked it better
when I didn't have to play dodge'em
on the highway
with all the beam-me-up-Scotties
with cell  phones in their ears

I liked it better
when the crazy person on the sidewalk
talking to the air
really was a crazy person talking to the air
and not a dweeb yuppie
talking to his dweebette girlfriend
on some kind of phone thing to small
for me to even see

I liked it better when men were hard
and women were soft and cars had fins
and the president was smarter than the
average dumb ass drunk at the corner bar

I liked it better
when Desi loved  Lucy
and Gorgeous George was the meanest guy
in TV wrestling

I liked it better
when a microwave
was what your girlfriend did
when she was across the room with her
parents

I liked it better
when I was young

a real up-and-comer

and the pretty girl on the park bench
was waiting for me








In the early 2000s, my so was in a very good ska band with a strong following here in San Antonio. I liked their music very much and went to almost all of their gigs, a decidedly mixed collection of venues from punk to a down and out reggae place (right down the street where I am now) to clubs  on the Riverwalk. I wrote this piece (and included it in Seven Beats a Second) after one of their gigs.

People danced when the band played, sometime even when they shouldn't. (Going to  their gigs, I saw passed out drunks come alive and start dancing on their bar stools and bouncers quit bouncing to join the crowds on dance floor, that sort of thing  not unusual. The bouncers in this instance stuck to their job)





gotta dance

shirt  off
chest glistening
sweat-wet hair long
swinging as he dances
atop the amp rack
twenty feet in the air
arms pumping feet  pumping
skanking
lost in the island beat
oblivious
to the bouncers
sweeping across the room
like an ebony tide
converging on him
when he jumps down
and breaks for the door
smothering him
like a black cloud
on a sunny day

it's the music,
he says,
can't you hear it?

gotta dance,
man,
gotta dance









From Seven Beats a Second, and the war continues.

At time I wrote this, which was a couple of years after my first retirement, I was commuting weekly from San Antonio to the coast for a job as Community Services Director with the local United Way. I did the commute for a year and got to know the road very well.







in the last days of March in South Texas

clear sky, bright sun,
the last north wind of the season
pushing hard against me as I drive south,
back to the coast for another week

many weeks now I've done this,
a year and a half of  weeks,
north on Fridays to the rocky hills
and quiet comforts of home, home
to family,to all my favorite places,
then back on Sundays to the coast,
until the road is hardwired in my memory,
gray asphalt ahead and behind,
I'll pass a hundred miles sometimes
and not remember any of them

but today is a day just past the first edge of spring,
a spring just past a wet and mild fall and winter
so that now, spread out on either  side of the road,
lies the soft side of South Texas chaparral,
neon green mesquite,  mustard yellow huisache,
pastures of bluebonnets, creamy white buttercups,
Indian paintbrushes,  red or deep pink
depending on the light, and sunflowers
lining the highway on tall green stalks
and just around a softly rising curve,
a mother and her baby, sitting together
in a deep patch of bluebonnets,
the mother posing, look at daddy she's saying
as he circles, focusing, getting just the right shot

and seeing this small family reminds me
of a picture in the Times this morning,
a mother, bare feet grimy from her dirt floor,
a colorful blanket laid out by a wall,a treasure, maybe,
where just moments before was lying the baby
she holds now in her arms, long graceful fingers
holding the baby tight against her breast

perhaps she heard them coming,
the two soldiers standing in the open door,
rifles ready, three  people afraid, not knowing,
friend or foe,
friend or foe,
the woman, her face under some trick of light,
is a bright, frozen mask in the dark interior,
the soldiers, awash in sunlight, with backs to the camera,
are tense, their hands tight on their weapons,
their fingers tight, it must be, on the triggers
while the baby sleeps in its mother's trembling arms,
an innocent in a time and place
where innocents will die with the wicked,
where the just and unjust will find a common grave

I think of all who have died in my time
and of all those who will die now
in these last, bloody days of March, and I  ache for God,
the God I knew as a child,  of green trees and cool winds
blowing soft on a pasture dancing with his colors,
a compassionate God who would enfold
all the mothers and babies and frightened soldiers
into the protection of his billowing robes

but that God, it seems, is not the one in charge today
so these last days of March will continue without him











Second day of our hill country drive.











morning  in the hills

light breeze
rustles through the dark canyon

with a lonesome  sigh
trees whisper
and in the brush another rustle
that draws dog's attention

standing stock still
she focuses the  considerable intelligence
of her nose and ears on identification,
reassurance
that nothing lurks that should not lurk
in this very early morning

background 
to  all else, Pedernales Falls,
its mile and a half  rush over
falling slates of  granite, the low  voice
of  water murmurs as it  runs

sunrise in minutes,
I climb as the canyon elevates
to a promontory where
I will watch the new day
burn its way into morning

Breakfast at the bluebonnet Cafe,
then three hours home, a short break
in the tiny town of Comfort
where they make the best
blueberry pie








Here's last for the week from my library, a poem by Seamus Heaney, from his book Electric Light, published by  Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2001.

Born in 1939, Heaney was an  Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 2013.







The Clothes Shrine

It  was  a whole new  sweetness
In the early days to find
Light white muslin blouses
On  a see-through nylon line
Drip-drying in the bathroom
Or a nylon slip in the shine
of its own electricity -
As if St. Brigid once more
Had rigged up a ray of sun
Like the one she'd strung on air
To dry her own cloak on
(Hard-pressed Brigid,  so
Unstoppably on  the go) -
The damp and slump and unfair
Drag of the workaday
Made light of and got through
As usual, brilliantly.













Again from Seven Beats a Second.











a lesson in the bottom line

leaning forward,
hands cuffed behind,
forehead pressing
against the wire  mesh
that cages him

    an old image intrudes,
    overlays reality,
    a memory of a day

    ...riding his  bike
    in the park by the bay
    gulls calling overhead
    water lapping softly
    along the edge of the path 

    look at me, dad,
    hands aloft,
    look at me he calls

a drop of sweat, a tear,
like a red and blue jewel
in the flashing light, rolls
slowly down his cheek
as the car moves
silently away

    look at me, dad,
    look at me...









This is the title poem for Seven Beats a Second, and the last poem in the book. It is based on something my son told me which, immediately upon hearing it, flip-flopped in my head causing me to imagine seven beats a second as a very slow and stately pace instead of the opposite. It wasn't until the poem was written and the book was published that I realized my mistake. Leaving me with a poem meaning the opposite of what I  had envisioned. Done is done, so here it is.










seven beats a second

the universe pulses
seven beats a second
laying down the back-beat
to the rhythms
of all that is and ever was
from the birth of stars
to the spreading of a smile
on the fresh lips of a child

we're born, we love,
we hurt
and we die
all our days
measured in multiples 
of seven beats a second











Happy May Day, whatever the hell that is.













May Day

from traditional spring festival
to "International Worker's Day"

the difference,
the traditional celebration
involves
dancing around a May Pole

the Communist version
involves
marching around a May Pole,
re-education camps
reserved
for those who fall out of step

in either case
dancing or marching 
I have no idea what a May Pole
might be,
but am pleased to  report
that May Day in San Antonio
is a wondrous day, fifty degrees,
light breeze, brilliant sunshine, 
my coffeehouse sparsely populated
as the city's usual crowds
are thinned by the  need to stay home
and recover after completion
of the two weeks of Fiesta,
time to pay the piper
which fits with the day
since a good-playing piper
might be helpful whether
dancing or marching around
the May Pole,
whatever the hell
that is







As usual, everything belongs to who made it. You're welcome to use my stuff, just, if you do, give appropriate credit to "Here and Now" and to me




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 I welcome your comments below on this issue and the poetry and photography featured in it.

I welcome comments on "Hear and Now" and on the poems in this edition. Just click the "Comment" tab below.









Poetry

New Days & New Ways


Places and Spaces
 




Always to the Light




Goes Around Comes Around



Pushing Clouds Against the Wind





And, for those print-bent, available at Amazon and select coffeehouses in San Antonio




Seven Beats a Second





Fiction


Sonyador - The Dreamer




                                                            

  Peace in Our Time
 

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