Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stopping By Woods \ Cold Night Old Friend

Alan:  My seventh grade English teacher declared that I would be “my generation’s Robert Frost” because of some doggerel or other I’d handed in.  It was an off forecast, but perhaps the following is a long-delayed response to that burdensome prediction.  “Plow,” by the way, means a snowplow.

Stopping By Woods

Meeting Ryokan on a back road
late, one glum afternoon
(he was staring into the trees,
their clotted flanks,
snow flecking his cloak like dandruff;
the grind of a plow approaching from the distance,
and more forecast),
he looked at me, grinned:
“No promises.
Nowhere to go.
No interest in sleep whatsoever.”

Nancy: So little difference – a hut in the mountains, a cabin by the sea – and the quiet that is filled by a thought, a smile, the snick of an ember.

Cold Night Old Friend

Before I had the door open
Ryokan was talking . . . and I
was tired of the cold and went
down to the city but oh
the flapping of paper . . . bells
on every corner . . . something
awful, the little drummer boy . . .

He sighed and pulled a bottle of wine
out of his robes.  We didn’t need
to talk, just put another log on the fire,
it blazed up, just you, me, Ryokan, and
now and then the tkk of a falling coal,
waiting out the longest night.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ryokan's Night Journey \ Yaqui Well

Alan: We are blessed with our night sky – one of the last places along the east coast of the U.S. where you can still see stars by the thousands - although light pollution now smears the horizon here and there.   How many stars, how many constellations, must Ryokan have seen!

Ryokan’s Night Journey
                 “If someone asks my abode I reply: the east edge of the Milky Way.”

Over his hut the stars.
What did he name them? how shape his sky?
Night after night, winter, summer, watching:
dip, turn, rise, vanish.
Were there beasts, hunters?
Rice paddles, plows?
Or were they stones, way-marks?
On a night this cold
did Ryokan take his stick
and ascend through snowy woods?
Those bright ones, hanging there –
were they a question? or a path?

Nancy: The “well” was nothing more than a pit deepened every night by coyotes.  To the coyotes we owed the small grove of trees, the chattering flock of birds, the broken shards of pottery that showed us the past.

Yaqui Well

From here you can see the waterhole.
No one comes but the birds,
no one laughs,
no one kindles the fire,
no one pours from the dripping jug.
It is broken.
They killed the pots,
killed the tools,
tore down the shelters of brush
and burned everything.
Everything was gone,
the coyote songs, grandfather songs,
the first man and first woman,
the beginnings
and slow steps on the sacred ways.
The circle was broken.
The only path left led to the end of things.
They killed the pots,
and took the path of unsanctified bones.

The water is a sweet secret in the ground.
Coyotes come in the dark, and dig.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ryokan Under The Great Circle Route \ the animals

Alan: Ryokan has come into our poetry in many different guises.  For me, he often leaps unexpectedly through time and space, hopscotching “normal” existence, a sort of Zen poet Dr. Who.

Ryokan Under The Great Circle Route

Ryokan watches the contrails
spread across the stars
under the moon above Mt. Kugami.
Portents of a future
glowing and fading in the dark.
Too content to sleep,
he takes his brush, writes: “In the void of no-being,
all things are.”  With five quick strokes
draws moon,
mountain, three lines across the sky.

Nancy: I wrote this after hearing a news item about the siege on National Public Radio. 

the animals
                                          Sarajevo, 1993

zoo under siege
keepers at first
ran the gauntlet

bent double
food for the beasts
dodging bullets

the beasts
were old friends
had no nationality

but war is insatiable
war ate the food
war ate the keepers

the beasts ate the trees
even the bark and roots
even the dirt

one another
ate even their young
even their mates

the great bear
died of starvation

except for the mortars
the zoo is quiet
unless you happen to hear

or wind
in the rubble

a voice saying
leave this planet
while there is time

Friday, December 6, 2013

Driving Route 127 \ Always Seeking The Growing Tip

Alan: David Kresh once wrote a poem that quoted, as an epigraph, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s wonderful “Bright moments, bright moments, bright moments, right now."   Here’s a “bright moments” poem from the road.

Driving Route 127

Occasionally there are moments
traveling a perfectly ordinary stretch of road
topping a perfectly ordinary low rise
to glimpse between the upraised arms of trees
a perfectly ordinary small hill
floating above an implied but unspecified
minor valley

the heart spasms itself so happily tight
you could die now, and should,
making of this a final vision
and grace.

Why then must we keep going over
and down the once again
imperfectly dull miles
knowing our real death waits
patient and banal
to flag us as we round some future
unremarkable blind curve?

Is it we so desire
just another such moment and another,
or suppose that to pause in one
will trip this coherence instantly to decay,
or fear that our minds will hurry forward regardless
leaving our bodies stupidly for all to see
forever dumbstruck and agawk?

Nancy: If you suppose that the following hints at some argument with certain small magazines that mistake the merely fashionable for the truly creative, you’d be right.

Always Seeking The Growing Tip

Hidden behind a cushion
of epidermal tissue, behind tough
expendable cuticle, the active
meristematic cells do their thing.

Which is: to penetrate, to pierce,
to pry, to make a way through grit,
to thrust through rubble, to crack stone;
to suck, to sip, to eke.

All this in the dark, even
rejecting light, tropic,
these cells, this growing tip,
to gravity and elemental stuff.

Elsewhere, coteries form and dissolve
around umbels, around corymbs; much
is made of this panicle or that,
even of ephemera, that have one
– only one – day in the sun.

In the dark, the growing tip is always pushing,
always ready to differentiate; if you are seeking
the growing tip, never look where it was yesterday.
It will have gone, on;
always look in new ground.