Inventory for Spring
Feeling rich for one moment for using money as a bookmark
Feeling deceitful for making public some opinions
........while neglecting others
Feeling disordered at the sight of three statues conspiring in a row
Feeling insufficient for having a lukewarm reaction to news
Feeling important for having been offered a seat at the table
Feeling apologetic for nonetheless tuning out an argument
Feeling blue for identifying some people who don’t respect you
Feeling like a knife slipping into a pool of water
........for bearing disagreement
Feeling redundant for moving in a similar direction as others
Feeling angry for imagining the opening of the passage
........yet unopened for you
Feeling antisocial for declining further missives from home
The Danger of Wisdom
We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.
Obsidian. Sturgeon. Infatuated angels.
Which only we can translate into flesh.
The language to which we alone are native.
Our own bait. We are spirits housed in meat,
instantly opaque to the Lord. As Jesus.
We go into the deadfall of the body,
our hearts in their marvelous cases
and discover new belfries everywhere.
I continued toward the Minotaur keep
the thread taut. And suddenly, now,
immense flowers are coloring all
my stalked body. Making wine of me.
As bells get music of metal in the rain.
The prey I am willingly prospers.
The exile that comes on comes too late.
I go to it as Adam, singing across paradise.
...I got off the van without saying goodnight.
Goodnight would be full of inexpressible love.
They went on in their transport, they left me on earth.
Then, a few yards ahead, the van stopped. A man
shouted at me through the transport window.
I walked up towards him. He held out something.
A pack of cigarettes had dropped from my pocket.
He gave it to me. I felt closer to tears.
There was nothing they wanted, nothing I could give them
but this thing I have called “The Light Of The World.”
--from 'Light of the World'; Derek Walcott (1930 - 2017)
From the prose essay, Unknowing Lyric by Matthew Bevis:
When experiencing wonder, it feels as though we know something without quite being sure of what we know. (You know how it is, when you don’t quite know what the “it” is.) Since Aristotle noted in the Poetics that wonder is central to poetic art, many have made similar claims: in the 1550s Antonio Minturno — the first writer to treat the lyric as a genre on par with the epic and the dramatic — wrote that “no one can be called a poet who does not excel in the power of arousing wonder”; four hundred years later, Auden claimed that “whatever its actual content and overt interest, every poem is rooted in imaginative awe.” While lyrics may come from a wondrous unknowingness, they don’t seem able to rest with or in a state of “not precisely knowing not.” On the one hand, the work of lyric poems testifies to a need for abstraction, or sense, or knowledge, to a need to go over experience in order to seek out a certain distance and clarity. But even as the poem undertakes this expressive work, the embodied motion of the seeking seems to recommit poet and reader to bafflement, immersion, confusion. This mixed state of affairs helps to account for the coalescence of excitement and pathos — the beautiful and the bleak — one often feels in lyric encounters. Lyrics contain an elegiac feeling: one revisits experience, seeks a shape in which to know it, but the shape that is created brings with it wonder at the fact that no experience can ever quite be known. Lyrical abstraction reconnects us to, and re-alienates us from, our experience in a single moment.
From an Old Legend
let's cut some graftings
from off these trees and
uproot those hedgerows
and hold their foliage go
armed with camouflage as
we approach the castle
hoping they won't notice
our smirks and winks
our shining eyes maybe
leafsecreted we can plant
quick shrubs and shoots
around its impregnable
walls then waltz away leaving
their fortress enforested
[via Four Hundred and Four Sonnets]
Haiku- Winter 2016/17
at times the grace
of feeling nothing
the brass chorale
donkeys centuries old
in the weight of silent fog-
one chance only-
cardinal in the holly
new years morning
bald verbosity crowned
with a rat’s nest
dressed in her hijab
while driving a silverado-
the brave and the free
a park bench
on yesterday’s rain
reading in bed,
primeval dreams from a pool
of midnight ink
bottle of red wine
what never really happened
graces the table
tired of wine-
chalk it up to the stars
and a half moon
around the corner
noonday sunshine, a hat tip
Thanks can be given to Blue Lake Public Radio for this year's annual ‘winter solstice’ experience; ‘donkeys centuries old’ came from the Ozarks on the way to family; ‘reading in bed’ is what happens when you are at the end of McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain late at night; the 'silverado' was being parallel parked outside the county courthouse (deftly I might add). To express gratitude to Obama, a collaborative haiku and renga effort will be available year round at Harvard Review:
Nobody said fuck
you like he did — a razor
nick quick as his smile
Romantic, dialectic —
yet a middle finger too.
Tom Sleigh/John Skoyles
Tom Sleigh/John Skoyles
The Man at the Door
Last night in my dreams I took some steps
Underground. It seemed to be a holy place--
Perhaps monks a thousand years ago
Thought there. I had almost forgotten them.
How could we forget? Well, it's easy.
A guard at the door-- you know the kind,
Those who keep people out-- stopped me.
I began singing, "Hum-du-lah,
"Hum-du-lah." I couldn't remember
What those words meant.
But the man at the door grew
Light-headed, and let me in.
Tomas Tranströmer and the Human Ear
Somewhere there’s a rock pile in a field.
Some trees grow between the rocks.
Farmers learn to plow around it.
It’s a power generator for silence.
When this man lifts his sly, amused eyes
Some new sort of speech appears on the paper.
One equation makes the Pacific trenches
Equal to the porches of the human ear.
Sometimes a spy passes a blank paper
Alone in his room through the Solution.
His poems resemble the way Euclid
Found the solution to the Third Theorem.
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.
[via dreaming in the deep south]
A Love Poem
--Knuts Skujenieks (trans. Bitite Vinklers)
I would like clarity. To exclude
A relationship's tangled yarn.
Not a word.
Let reaction suffice.
So. Only so. And if the two of us
Are pitched alone against the world,
That we can instantly swing about
And stand back to back.
Would that be too much?
But a poem cannot be written
If one awaits the bullet
From the back,
And not from the front.
Both A Love Poem and At the Edge of the World were taken from 'Seed In Snow', which is the first English translation for Skujeniek. The collection was written while imprisoned for seven years in a Soviet Labor Camp during the 1960's. More examples can be found at Drunken Boat.
At the Edge of the World
--Knuts Skujenieks (trans. Bitite Vinklers)
I have nothing in common with those
Who are afraid of burns
This is the last barricade, firebreak, red line.
We will no longer shake hands
As friends, politicians, or drinking buddies.
The final day, the last sentence, the last chance.
At the border the word we will go up in flames.
The word you won't make it through the fire.
Only they will remain.
Tonight let's sit awhile on our suitcases filled with reason,
Our backpacks bulging with feelings of honor,
And count a lifetime's worth of pocket change
For the road ahead, or back.
Let us sit until the morning.
[via poetry daily]
From Mary Ruefle's essay, On Fear: Our Positive Capability:
Fear is the greatest motivator of all time. Conflict born of fear is behind our every action, driving us forward like the cogs of a clock. Fear is desire’s dark dress, its doppelgänger. “Love and dread are brothers,” says Julian of Norwich. As desire is wanting and fear is not-wanting, they become inexorably linked; just as desire can be destructive (the desire for power), fear can be constructive (fear of hurting another); fear of poverty becomes desire for wealth. Collective actions are not exempt from these double powers; consider this succinct and frightening sentence written by John Berger:
Everywhere these days more and more people knock their heads against the fact that the future of our planet and what it will offer or deny to its inhabitants, is being decided by boards of men who control more money than all the governments in the world, who never stand for election, and whose sole criterion for every decision they take is whether or not it increases or is prone to increase Profit.
But has it ever been any different? Races everywhere have always been at the mercy of collective desire and collective fear, sometimes their own, sometimes others’. The impulse toward order is born of fear and desire, and the impulse toward chaos is born of the same. The British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott believed artists were people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.
Matthew Brady Arranging The Bodies
On a mountain flat with snow
a blue cloud
paints a last touch of life.
There’s endless harm in trying
a dead body on for size.
The gentleman stands out
in every detail, except color.
He considers his life of a madness
that breaks unexpected
(one boy had a sweetheart
he wore her hair round his finger
it kept it from falling off
with the rest)
or comes also if he composes it
(lift one eye shut, put
rifle butt in the slack jaw
of soldiers decomposing).
He fell in love like a woman
in the folded arms
of a drying sweater:
touched one shoulder
and a whole platoon
was affixed with smiles.
Teeth already loose
falling from their envelopes
thick folded letters
in a dead white mist.
Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.
I spend all day on the internet, but many of its mandates are alien to me, and none feel quite as strange as this central, self-contradictory, two-part injunction: first, that you should talk all the time — weigh in on things, as if that was our duty — and, impossibly, always believe that you are right.
That pressure is becoming increasingly powerful among the people who shape public rhetoric. Print media is mirroring online media; online media is mirroring social media. Some days everything feels like a maelstrom, a series of fights over identity, in which everyone is constantly misrepresenting their own stakes. The danger of writing on the internet is that you can place too much trust in your own quick opinions, and thereby screw the precious pooch of your own mind. A passing thought needs time in private; there is nothing more suspect than a person in uncomplicated love with what he thinks....
Poetry teaches me that I basically know nothing, and that acknowledging this position is a beginning and never an end. The great thing is not having a mind. From a point of nothingness, the world starts to sparkle. It becomes declarable. It brings you those fleeting sensations that are worth sitting on, punching around, forming into ideas that may not be correct, necessarily, but will have some gravity, maybe even feel new.
There may be Chaos still around the World
There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.