Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Unattainable Coppery-tailed Trogon \ The Narrow Road

Nancy: This bird, now even less attainable, having had its name changed to Elegant Trogon, lives on in my mind, half real, half myth, always beyond reach.

The Unattainable Coppery-tailed Trogon

Sometimes it’s just a matter of altitude.
Or luck.  Worn out by Onion Pass, camping too high,
not knowing that Spring was straight down
where the snow melted and fell into Cave Creek.

Sometimes it’s a matter of attitude,
of settling for easy bookish beasts and lame archetypes,
or of never being in the right place
to catch the Ravens in their Spring.
Black birds seen in the looking glass
are less real than my Trogon,

which I have called unattainable,
but which is truly there, calling from tree to tree
in a canyon which I could find, given luck
and another Spring.

Alan: I offer homage to Basho, after reading The Narrow Road To The Interior (aka The Narrow Road To The Deep North) in translation.

The Narrow Road

Anxious before each Barrier,
at Shitomae Basho finds delay,
the guards “suspicious, slow
and thorough.”  A three-day
pounding storm: refuge
a guard-shack with its lice
and fleas: “Now the horse
beside my pillow pees,” an amber
torrent, soaking stinking
            No wonder “the old
infirmities return”: fever,
weakness, and the fear of death
on that narrow, interior path.
And at each stage a thousand
years whisper to you, or moan,
in grass, under water, or in stone,
and a country as if made by gods calls forth
these poems wherein we watch you
pause at that gateless gate
then step through,
into light.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bewildered Orion \ Into The Deep

Nancy:  Walking in to the house on a dark night with no form ... and there, half-seen above, old Orion, equally lost.

Bewildered Orion

Where have your dogs gone, Hunter?
One step wrong, and one, and one,
and the dogs gone, and the familiar
landmarks  .  .  .  Orion, this is wilderness –
a light? – no, wait – no – fog –
in all corners of the night, fog.
This is not a night to be hunting
or wandering; Orion, how came you here
in the fog, alone?

Alan: Nagas, serpent- or dragon-deities in Buddhist mythology, inhabit the depths of the ocean, and of the mind.

Into The Deep

Somewhere below, the Nagas
are stirring.

I have been told by others
that they are armored in jewels,
in crystal.  I have not seen them.

They dwell in the 
deepest waters, far
beyond where the last light
reaches from above.

I am told they guard treasures,
yet may on occasion welcome us.

Therefore I dive,
being but one diver
in the ocean shared by all.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Sky Speaks To Ryokan \ After

Nancy:  The Zen poet and monk Ryokan (1758-1831) came into our lives one year and has reappeared occasionally ever since.  He has been cheerful at times, even uproarious, but here he is taking his leave.

The Sky Speaks to Ryokan

Old monk, you are shivering
your bed quilt is thin.
Your rice basket is empty.

      Ryokan nods,
      what the sky says is true
      and the mornings are dark,
      and the tea is thin as well.

Ryokan says, Sky,
teach me to do as I must
even as you –
you who bring ice and snow
on this rough home,
who bring the sadness of leaving
to my heart.

      It seems that silence may be a teaching.
      The sky is watching
      as Ryokan takes the path.

      Watching as he leaves the first poem
      of the journey tied to a twig.

Alan: A few words about a place beyond words or the need for words.


After the last words have been spoken,
after the last endearments have died away,
the last, whispered I-and-Thou’s,
after we have exhausted our meagre vocabularies
and our paltry imaginations,

love, impalpable as gravity, holds us
in this hollow of space-time we have made for ourselves,
and to the pillow we rest our heads upon.

I hold you now, asleep in the slow-breathing room;
you, a world clothed in darkness,
and me, your ever-watchful moon,
looking down.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bookham Grange Hotel \ The Fuck Poet

Nancy:  Step back in time – cold showers, cold toast, cold drafts in leaky windows – would today’s website be a mirage?

Bookham Grange Hotel

Whether from some bizarre sense of humor,
or a last fumbling grasp at elegance,
the room was full of mirrors.
Above the tap.  On the 
dresser, over the mantel, fronting
the wardrobe.
They reflected one another,
and repeated the peeling paint,
the patched  bedspread,
the mended rug.  They multiplied
the tiny cheap print hung crooked
high on the wall.
I stripped and stood there,
and asked my ghosts
(the only company I had,
gifts of the mirrored room)
what in God’s name I was doing there.

Who slept in these beds?
Did they read the Bible;
did they fill the chipped nightstand
with travel alarms, contraceptives,
cheap novels, store teeth,
sleeping pills?
I slept alone.
On the other bed I made neat piles of clothing.

What in God’s name am I doing here?
The triptych of mirrors on the dresser
winks at the shabby room.  I have given it
a stone from the sea, and flowers;
they repeat endlessly.
At night I become a company of pilgrims
burning candles.  My mind turns to thoughts of atonement
and the sin of pride.
          Ah love, will I wait at the door with a begging bowl?
          With a little imagination can I see myself
          as a dog at your back gate, gnawing grudged bones?
“I will come when I can,” you say, and you do.

You come and you go.
Much as I want them to,
the mirrors refuse to hold your image –
but neither do they mock me.
The bed, under its tidy piles of folded shirts,
no longer reproaches me with its emptiness.
Here I am.
I am one hand seeking another, water seeking thirst,
darkness in search of a flame.

Perhaps when I leave,
the mirrors will speak to one another, saying,
“While she was here, the room echoed with flowers.”

Alan:  I suppose stories like the following are all too common at writers’ retreats (Totleigh Barton is one such, in Devon), but given how this one turned out, I still remember almost 40 years later.

The Fuck Poet
                                    For Cérès

At Totleigh Barton
the Fuck Poet
came late to breakfast,
haggard, worn,
as did several of the
female participants,
the younger ones anyway,
but not you,
who sat, past midnight,
on the stairs, a little above us,
so we had to look away,
seeing you with nothing on
under your nightgown,
weeping in shame
and disappointment
because, when you’d appeared
at the appointed hour
at the Fuck Poet’s door
in the converted stable
another like you
had emerged and scuttled
sideways into the shadows.
Two years later
I saw you, pale
and bloated, high
on God knows what,
reeling along the Embankment,
your terrified boyfriend
futilely trying to
guide you home;
a few months after,
you were dead;
but that night,
although cast down,
you were rightfully
above us, and
so beautiful,
naked under your
unwanted skin.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Whitman And Wilderness \ Gulls For Congregation

Alan: At some point, Whitman became for me an avatar of the social and ecological awakening America needs, a sort of constructive Paul Bunyan, ever available to our imaginations, alive in some archetypal realm.

Whitman And Wilderness

Walt Whitman strode to the top of the rise and flopped down
     on the grass heavy with care.
He looked West to where the wheeltracks swayed toward the horizon,
     to the thin pall of smoke of the far-away burning.
“They need me there” he thought, “where the wilderness begins.”
And Whitman looked South to where the hard sun hammered the
     earth and the people were drying like uncut corn.
“They need me there” he said, “where the wilderness begins.”
He turned North where the snowclouds smothered the hearts of men
     and the animals crept into themselves and wept.
“They need me there” he roared, “where the wilderness begins.”
And he gazed back East where the city covered the ground and men
     and all things coughed and groaned and stumbled blindly.
“They need me there!” he sang, “where the wilderness begins!”

Walt Whitman had gone up that hill to die, but when he looked
     around him he saw, and swore, and flung his straw hat in the air
where the wild birds caught it and tore it and took it to
     every direction of the circle of earth.
And he started out after to mend it and set it aright upon his head
and he never stopped once,
mending and singing,
where the wilderness

Nancy:  Out of sorrow and pain comes unexpected strength.

Gulls For Congregation

gulls for congregation
     he died so quick
body churched still
     sixty six
traps to haul

engine catching a rough psalm
     he left a strong daughter
she was his boatman
     tied the dinghy to the mooring
left the harbor

water for benediction
     his life counted
sixty six sixty five sixty four
     good years bad years
and the water sighs and heals itself

a ledge a cleft a leaning spruce
     he will rest now
mist in the trees light on the water
     last rites
for a lobster fisherman