Complications   Wednesday, February 14, 2018






Just give me the simple life.














complications

damn complications
and I'm a simple kind of guy
who could live alone and happy on a beach
except I hate
beaches
so I'm more a simple kind of guy
who could live alone and happy on a mountain top
in a simple house
with three to seven dogs
and a cat
who hates dogs and sulks
when they're around
and sleeps purringly on my lap
when they're not...

a satellite antenna, of course,
with WIFI and NCIS reruns and Netflix
and a coffeehouse
half way down the mountain
with an elevator I could
take down for morning coffee
and restricted contact with other simple
folks living high in the mountains
and who don't talk to me unless I'm feeling gregarious
and talk to them first...

Oh, and dancing girls to come up
quarterly
to make sure my flag's still
flying,
and why not maybe a swimming pool
and hot tub
right outside the backdoor
of my simple house...

a simple life,
I bet I could live to a hundred and ten
living like that,
a simple man in my simple house
on a simple mountain's
simple top...

but all these complications,
social security, IRS, wild, ravaging Trumpistas
and saxophone players,
the breakfast cereal aisle at the supermarket,
the metric system, argyle socks, pants with button flies,
chances for Democrat renewal
in 2018 or any other year...

complications...

my old brain,
thick as coagulated oatmeal,
just not up to complications
anymore!







I have a few "travel moments" this week from my book of travel poems, Places and Spaces.

People often ask me why I don't fly (last time in 1971, to Baltimore for several days of a job interview with NSA). I don't like to fly, but I'm not afraid to. It's just that I don't like it, almost as much as I hate airports.

It's because I enjoy the drive, preferring to see the country close up, not from 30,000 feet, preferring the mystery and surprises that come from days on the road. My "travel moments" below are the  best explanation I can give for why I always drive.


Me
complications

Me
doing business on the border

Me
from "Well Begun"

Me
from "On the Cusp of Confederate Winter"

Michael McClure
46

Me
roadside bar-b-que in South Carolina

Anna Akhmatova
Tashkent Breaks into Blossom
Everything is Plundered

Me
from "Ruidoso"

Naomi Shihab Nye
inside the riddle

Me
my first

James Richardson
Northwest Passage
Head-On 
State-Sponsored

Me
from "To the Rockies"

Claudia Emerson
My Grandmother's Plot in the Family Cemetery

Me
three of ten

John N. Morris
August

Me
from "Sleeping with Andy Divine"

Patrick Donnelly
Corpse Flower

Me
East Texas pines

John Ashbery
Tension in the Rocks

Me
from "Silver City and Beyond"

Me
multiplicities















First up for the week.


















doing business on the border

the smell of
low-grade diesel
from Mexican buses
across the river
in Piedras Negras
steals the morning sweetness
of sage and huisache
on the caliche flats
of Eagle Pass

I spend the night
on a business trip,
make my official
quarterly visit
with staff
and move on,
Del Rio next,
and the less noxious
smells of 
Cuidad Acuna

in between,
the pecan groves
lining the highway
in the river valley of
tiny Quemado...















An introduction

















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

from Well Begun.














These are a few moments from the first trip I tell of in my book, Places and Spaces a round-about journey to the Blue Ridge Parkway, traveling along the way through eight states.

From On the Cusp of Confederate Winter.
















a pick-up
pulling a horse trailer,
alone in the back
one horse,
a palomino,
golden mane and tail
and eyelashes
flaring
in 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

```


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


```


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


```


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 tombstone
in rank and file,
climbing
the hillside like steps
to an afterlife that,
if we are all lucky, will look
exactly like this green little dell
and this white little church


```


just across the highway,
three cows
line a ridge, dark cut-outs
against the sky


```


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


```


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-foliaged pines
stand crowded side by side,
like spectators
standing shoulder to shoulder

watching a passing parade


```


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


```


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


```


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

the chill factor is in the teens


```

(note: my reaction to New Orleans)

the seediness
behind the facade,
like a middle-aged beauty queen
showing the sag
of body and spirit that  comes
from too many nights
closing too many bars
with too many men











First from my library this week, I have a poem by Michael McClure from The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry. The book was published by Wisdom Publications in 2005.

Born in 1932, McClure, poet, playwright, song writer and novelist, was one of the five poets who read at San Francisco Six Gallery Reading in 1955. The event fictionalized in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. McClure, a key member of the Beat Generation, was immortalized in Kerouac's Big Sur  as "Pat McLear."













46

The Calico Cat lies
on the high ledge
in the darkness
feeling
the huge space,
blinking
at light
in the crack
under the door
- IT'S JUST
THE SAME
WITH ME
I
imagine
a shudder of pleasure
and 
the sense
of something
beyond self
filling emptiness
among cartons of old books,
a stored
vanity table
and an antique sewing
machine
HOW
PERFECT
and
MOMENTARY
and
ETERNAL

Remember
polliwogs in cold
spring ponds

and

their big

dark eyes















New memories from old road trips.















roadside bar-b-que in South Carolina

on the road 
in South Carolina

sitting at a rough,
scarred bench
at the edge of thick
forest...

rich, sweet bar-b-que
and the sting
of cold, golden
cider...

gray mist of early evening
drifting softly
through the trees

bloody
gray uniforms
behind every tree, 
haunting
the future they fought
against
to the death
















Next, from another anthology, two poems by my favorite Russian, Anna Akhmatova. The anthology is Poetry for the Earth, "a collection of poetry from around the world that celebrate nature." The book was published in 1991 by Ballantine Books.













Tashkent Breaks into Blossom

1.

As if somebody ordered it
the city suddenly became bright -
every courtyard was visited
by white, light apparitions.
Their breathing is more understandable than words,
but their lightness is doomed to lie
at the bottom of the ditch
under the burning blue sky.

2

I will remember the roof of stars
and the radiance of eternal glory,
and the little kids
in the young arms
of dark-haired mothers.

     translated by Richard McKane


Everything is Plundered

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town:
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
in the ruined, dirty houses -
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

     translated by Czeslaw Milosz













These short pieces are from a trip I made to Ruidosa, New Mexico, mainly because I had never been there. It was just my dog, Reba, and I on the trip, brief and not one of my most interesting.


From Ruidoso.













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


```

no sign of life in Olna
but a single tarantula making
its creepy, crawly way
across the highway, a cheering sight,
this fuzzy, black nightmare
extinct now where I grew up,
along with the horned toad and the
red-wing blackbird, a survivor here
where little else finds a home


````


across the road
from the Tribal Center,
two Apache boys
play King of the Hill,
rolling
over and over each other
in the rose-colored dust


```


the down slope
from Mescalero to Tularosa
opens up between wooded mountain sides
to the desert below,
desert grasses so dry
they are white
in the morning sun,
like sand,
like a wide ribbon of white sand
between the mountains


```


meanwhile,
a single deer,
a doe,
grazing on a green hillside


```


sky
clear overhead
but all around,
dark clouds,
lightning flashing
within the clouds,
blossoming pools of soft white light
through dark gauze


```


in the east, a small
break in the clouds,
like a knothole in a fence,
and through it, the peach-orange
glow
of the rising sun
















Next, a poem by one of my favorites, Naomi Shihab Nye, from her book Red Suitcase. The book was published by BOA Editions in 1994. Nye is a San Antonio poet who travels around the world to promote her poetry and the poetry of many others, especially poets from the Middle East, otherwise unknown in this country.













Inside the Riddle

It's blue in here.

There are grocery stores, with soap.

I'm looking for someone
who might have an answer
big enough not to be insulting,
but everyone looks preoccupied,
blankly solemn.

I'm staring at an umbrella,
a yard shrine on El Paso Street.
What is it keeping away?
Vagrant dogs, dogs with shark's teeth,
men with anchors blurred
beneath their sleeves.

This little house of Mary,
this concrete grotto studded
with seashells or chipped glass,
I would like to be a Catholic
with such a straight faith.

Or a Muslim, fasting and praying -
I would kneel of stones
beside the men of Cairo.

To believe God has reasons
seems too petty for God.
















Close to home, seeing a new world.
















my first

morning

blanket of snow
covers the hills from dorm
to classrooms

along the way,
the bronze mustangs,
strong legs
pulsing muscle,
rearing in defiance
of the weight
of their own
gravity

snow down their back,
in their manes, atop their
head - I imagine
the fog of their breath
blowing from their nostrils

snow - at 18,
my first












Here are three short poems by James Richardson. The poems are taken from his national book award finalist, By the Numbers published in 2010 by Copper Canyon Press.

Born in New York in 1950, Richardson is a poet, critic, and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Princeton University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.














Northwest Passage

That faint line in the dark
might be the shore
of some heretofore unknown
small hour.

This fir-scent on the wind
must be the forests
of the unheardof month
between July and August


Head-On

Flashing vehicles, unurgent lounging
tell you what it's too late for.
Don't rubberneck.
Don't look down the front of death's dress.
Don't say that white oblong on a gurney
looks like a bobsled, looks like room service.
Don't say it looks like a man,
all bright days jarred from his brain
like droplets from a branch.


State-Sponsored

Oh dear, say the Tyrants, sex
is naughty and intense
and might save you.
Please mistake it
for what you're not supposed to do.















These moments from a trip to Denver. As usual, Reba and I drove alone to Denver, where Dee joined us at the Denver airport.

From To the Rockies


















a palomino
with twin colts -
gold dancing
on a green field

a gathering
of buzzards, fifteen at least,
o  a little hill on the side of the road

so unusual 
to seem them together like this
with no carrion


```


passing
the Iraan/Sheffield exit.
I look south,
toward Big Bend Park,
the Chisos Mountains -
just a smudge on the horizon


```


little twisters cross brown fields
on both sides of the highway,
most throwing up clouds of dust
that move with the wind, but one,
a smaller one, forms a perfect funnel
about five feet across, keeping its shape
up to a hundred or more feet
above the ground

a tumbleweed the size of a beach ball
blows in front of me,
seems to pace the car for several seconds
then crosses the road


```


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


```


watching
from the coffeeshop window
I see a small boy
climb into the back seat
of his family's sedan,

closes the door

a conversation with his mother in the front seat

a moment passes,
the car does not move

the boy's door opens again
and a snowball drops
from the car


```


twelve bison
in a line across
a snowy slope,
each following the tail
of the other -

at the head of this strung-out regiment
a bull,
the leader,
knows where to to
and when to go there

and two or three miles
down the road
elk scatter among
a stand of pines,
pushing aside the snow
and pine needles
to graze


```


at ten thousand feet
the snow melt
sloshes down the rocky mountain side
in a torrent, at eleven thousand,
hick icicles, 
long as tall man,
hand from clefts
in the canyon walls,
dripping


```


El Paso,

deep desert blue
seeping through the black
nigh sky

the air is desert chill -
a pink thread
on the east horizon
suggests the coming
of a rising sun 


```


the pink thread
widens -
a shadowing light
spreads

from the north foothills
a coyote
howls














This poem is by Claudia Emerson, taken from her book, late wife, a Pulitzer Prize winner, published by Louisiana State University Press in 2005.

Emerson, winner of a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, is associate professor of English at Mary Washington College in Virginia.














My Grandmother's Plot in the Family Cemetery

She was my grandfather's second wife. Coming late
to him, she was the same age as his first wife
had been when he married her. He made
my grandmother a young widow to no one's surprise,
and she buried him close beside the one whose sons
clung to her at the funeral tighter than her own
children. But little of that story is told
by this place. The two of them lie beneath one stone,

Mother and Father in cursive carved at the foot
of the grave. My grandmother, as though by her own design
removed, is buried in the corner, outermost plot,
with no one near, her married name the only sign
she belongs. And at that, she could be Daughter pitied
Sister, one of those who never married.

















Mid-way views.
















three of ten

driving through rolling hills
and dark woods of Arkansas
at day break

the road,
razor sharp cut through the trees,
like a funnel

straight ahead at the neck

of the funnel,
a red sun rises, a fireball

burning
through early morning 
mist

day three
begins,
seven days yet to drive














This short poem is by John N. Morris, from his book, Green Business, published in 1970 by Atheneum.  I don't know why I like the poem, except that, like the poet, I hate August.

Morris, born in 1931 in England died in 1997 in North Carolina. Never widely known, he was highly regarded by many of the greatest poets of his time.












August

Even the cattle do not like it,
This dirty quiet,
The air a bronze green.

The wind marches,
It smashes the grass,
That great man.

It is meant
Impartially,
This multitudinous intent.













The fourth of the road trips I write about in my book, Places and Spaces, took me, my dog Reba and, for part of the way, my wife, Dee, to Lake Tahoe. The dog and I took a straight route to Reno where I picked up Dee, then the rest of the way to Lake Tahoe, and, after several days, to California where we caught I-10 all the way back to San Antonio.

From Sleeping with Andy Devine














on the right
a Rio Grande River delta valley,
green and cultivated
fields,
pecan orchards,
houses
stores
church steeples
yellow school buses
flashing red lights
on two lane highways

hanging over all this
mountains


```


a hawk
dead in the middle of the road,
a casualty
of flying too low,
flying too slow,
a single wing
like a flag stands
above the mess  of bloody
mangled meat and bones -

brown and white feathers
flutter
in the wind


``` 

nearing  Gallup, 
I reach the snow level.
patches first,
mostly in shadowed areas
where the day's sun
could not reach

the more and more,
until the desert is covered in white,
a thin layer,
little individual sprigs
of desert grass poke through
in small patches,
like Kilroy
with a really bad haircut


````


through the high desert,
flat
as far as one can see

then mountains
on the horizon, north and west,
snow capped


```


I see a buffalo
in its shaggy brown coat,
eating green sprouts
between giant red boulders


```


dense white clouds
cover the horizon ahead -
rain 
or dust storm...

sleet
the strong winds
even stronger
throwing
ice pellets like BB shot


```


moving on,
through the national forest
and between the mountains
the snow gets much worse,
blowing hard across the road,
the sky closes in
and the temperature
drops to near freezing

then

the clouds clear,
the temperature goes back up,
and fat driving snowflakes
hitting my windshield
turn to fat splashing raindrops


```


snow clouds

flow
over mountain peaks
on both sides of me

like buttermilk
over hot cornbread

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

the snow falls
faster
and soon they all
sport white caps

until
they all disappear
under the white sea


```


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


```


from my tenth floor window,
I watch snow clouds
cross the north mountains,
then begin a slow
drift across the water
toward us

the "little cat feet"
whisper
over cold water


```


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

a white sailboat sits
offshore,
half hidden in the
snow


```


the mountains
are a majestic spectacle that lifts the heart,
but they're more than 1,700 miles
from home

I can get bigger and better mountains
500 miles closer


```


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

past San Bernadino
and the car-choked debris
of Los Angeles,
to the dry brown
hills of northern Arizona

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


```


(note; after ten days, five states, returning home)

where days are measured
not by calendars
and dates
and miles past
and to-dos done,
but by the passing of the sun,
east to west,
and cycles of the moon,
full to dark,
and by poems written
and quiet moments,
when a contemplative life
seems
not a waste of time
but a harvesting
of the fruits of time













Next, this poem by Patrick Donnelly from his book Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin, published by Four Way Books in 2012.

Born in 1956 in Arizona, Donnelly appears frequently in poetry journals and anthologies and has published four of his own books. He earned his MFA at Woodrow Wilson College MFA Program for Writers and has taught at writing at several colleges. His work has received numerous awards and honors.













Corpse Flower

         Amorphophallus titanum

If that squeamish virgin Artemis in the Hippolytus of Euripides was right -
           even to look at death makes  you unclean,

If the people were right who hauled Taguchi Shigeyuki nine hundred
           years ago out of their house on a sliding door
so he wouldn't die inside, the they were right to believe death pollutes a house,

if the singing teacher of my twenties last night was right when she scolded
            me at fifty-one you are too young to think of death so much,

even so, soil me, roll me in the funk of it.

No other flower blooms as large. Huge.















Many roads, many miles.














East Texas pines


highway

through thick East Texas pine forest
at daybreak,
tall pine trees on either side,
their long shadows crisscross the road,
a lattice marking the rising
sun racing past,
ahead
then behind

deep, dark woods
hiding many
secrets,
fears
of the Klan
and burning crosses
at the feet
of their hanging
trees

long shadows
that never
fade












Last from my library, this poem by John Ashbery. The poem is from his book Where Shall I Wander, published  in 2005 by Harper Collins - ECCO.

Born in New York in 1927, Ashbery's work has received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. Until his death late last year he was Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College.













Tension in the Rocks

The changed for dinner. In those days
no one was in a hurry, it was real time
every time. usually the streets were saddled with fog
at night. In the daytime it mostly blew away.
We kept on living because we knew how.
Maple seeds like paperclips skittered in the allees.
We knew not how many enthusiasts climbed the slope,
nor how long they took. It was, in the words of one,
"beholding" not to know. We eased by.

You can see how the past has come to pass
in the ferns and sweepings of ore and text
that shadowed such narratives as had been scratched,
as though any hotel guest could wipe the blight away
and in so doing, be redeemed for the moment.
I tell you it was not unseemly.
Little girls gathered in groves to see the wish spelled out,
yet under the hemlocks all was molting, a fury
of notations, obliterated. We knew who to tank
for the postcard. It was signed, "Love, Harold and Olive."












The last of the travels I wrote of in Places and Spaces was a relatively short trip, my dog, Reba, and me, to Silver City, New Mexico. I had seen notices of it as an "arts city" so I decided to check it out.

Disappointed by what I found when I got there, I decided to use one of the travel days I budgeted to around through Albuquerque instead of going straight home.

From Silver City and Beyond












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

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

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


```


a cloud billows up
from the Chisos Basin
like a white rose
opening to the sun


```


three horses
crossing
a green pasture
grass high,
up to their knees

crossing 
single file
one after the other

like carousel horses
with somewhere to go


```


(note: deciding to take a loop that will lead me right through the Gila Mountains and national forest)


a lone-lane bridge
separates 
Mogollon from the national forest

the higher I climb
the heavier the rain falls
and the slipperier the road becomes


setting aside mudslides and other hesitations
- it is now considerably further back than forward-
I come to a beak in the trees
and stop and look out and see that I am
on a high ridge,
above the clouds, churning
white and billowing
below


```

a very large buck
and 25 to 30 doe and fawns,
fluffy white, with brown stub-tails flickering
in the wind,
all together as a group,
coming down the mountain side
in great bounds, over the road, then back up
on the other side,
winged creatures who,
through fate or folly,
lost their wings
but still they try to fly, almost succeeding
with each great leap


```


passing through a burned-out portion of the forest,
pine and aspen tall and limb-less, black as he coal
they have become,
while still
they reach of the sky

I stop and listen to the wind
all around deep-forest quiet but for the wind
passing through these poor, standing dead...

ghost whispers





















Counting the ways















multiplicities

morning

sun
warms my back

cold wind chaps
my face

train
blares its passing
at a crossing
three blocks away
cracks
the thin morning hush -

lessons in the multiplicities
of life









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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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Loch Raven Review
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