Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Learning The Salmon Upstream To Spawn \ Habitat

Alan: Debris packed up under the bridge.  Just below, crowds of fish, unable to ascend.  We worked to free the blockage, then followed for hours as they struggled upward until we could straddle the stream and there was hardly water enough to cover their gleaming backs.

Learning The Salmon Upstream To Spawn

Simply, fish:
your own metaphor.
Fleshed energy
worn by, clothed in the sinews of flood.

Bubble of strength
dissolve in rapids, rise with backwash,
advance beyond powers.
Energy locked up from pool to pool.
Stretch entropy with instinct –
give all away but an anchored spark.

Alive: organized potential.
Failure brings death.
Fulfillment: death.
And so all futures grow within you.

Alone in infinite effort,
there is no past.
You are the stream,
flowing out, swimming in
the same.
Through drought and falling, 
meteors in another rain.

Nancy: When I saw the picture – the caption – my mind rejected their juxtaposition; if this isn’t a poem, read it as a cry of disbelief and outrage.



and after
in full color aerial views

we don’t do this anymore
dusty ripped bare shattered bombscape
we’ve changed, we’re practicing
new forestry
(see second illustration)

we care
about the environment
we’re sensitive
to your concerns
and sure enough in the second example
right there near the edge of the photo
islanded in the
dusty ripped bare shattered bombscape
are three
“providing habitat”


what I see is
three trees standing
what I hear
is silence
a sound fainter than one hand clapping
no bone trill blood sap song
all that was  /  and is not
three dusty trees
an empty sky
thirst, an ocean of thirst

“Learning The Salmon Upstream To Spawn” first appeared in the Swarthmore College Bulletin.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Daigu \ The Bike And The Pole

Alan:  As a young man, before renouncing the world, Ryokan had a reputation in his village as quite the Don Juan.


Once I was known as the Bull of Echigo:
“Semen” my middle name.
Then I saw where it led:
clinging and suffering,
illness, old age, decay and death.
Now I couldn’t get it up if I wanted –
and where are those ripe young girls? –
bones, or shriveled beyond caring.
Wouldn’t they howl to see my little limp prick,
whose eyes once grew wide and eager at the sight of me?
Still, there are times, now and then, recalling those days,
I might be tempted to trade my wisdom
for one more night of deluded youth!

Daigu: “Great Fool,” part of Ryokan’s Zen name.

Nancy: April is mud and peepers, high water and fishermen.  When I saw the bike I could have predicted – yes – down the rain-slicked bank a kid with a fishing pole and hope.

The Bike and the Pole

The bike and the pole
and the drizzle and the memory
of the mud and the careless slide
and the old tree and the seat
of a trunk and a curve
and a branch and the way
you could stand at the water's edge
not you, this was my edge
my tree my memory my tangle of line
but it will be his memory too
because past the bike I can look
down the bank and see a head
tawny blond boy head
and I remember what it was like
the impatience even though
in a month this will all be green
but it's April and surely the fish
will be there waiting for me
just past the mud
the tree the curve and shelter
of my seat in the trunk of the tree

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nazeing, Essex \ High Balling Wind

Alan: At the center of great commotion, a stillness.

Nazeing, Essex

The blackthorn
burst of white on black
scratching, scratching itself in the wind.

Towards the Lea,
on the sheltered south slope
below the copse,
bee skeps.

Near, through the gated hedge,
gleaming white

Nancy: What else would a railroad man’s daughter compare the wind to?  It’s spring – the wind blows whoooee.

High Balling Wind

This wind’s traveling.  This wind’s moving
on a long grade.
If you could hop this wind
wouldn’t you fly . . .
But you can’t catch this wind.
It’s got a heavy load; it’s full of winter
and it’s headed out.

I heard that whistle, and I went out
to see.  Yes, this wind’s blowing
a clear track.  This wind’s blowing
stand aside, coming through . . .
No, you can’t catch this wind,
it’s wailing high ball,
right through town.  This is a freight train
wind; it makes my feet itch,
but I can’t catch it – stand back –
it’s high balling right through town.
Whoooee . . . stand aside, coming through,
this wind.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Old Men Talking \ The Bitter Herbs Of Spring

Alan: Growing up in a family of four brothers, suddenly losing the youngest left the rest of us adrift on a sea of what-ifs and never-will-be’s, incomplete futures and ever-questioned pasts.

Old Men Talking
                                      In memoriam, DLB

Under the ramada the old men sit,
in the shade, holding tall drinks.
Wearing broad-brimmed hats, they gather
each hot, still morning, clicking the ice and sipping
while the children dance in and out of the shade and sun –
the grandchildren or great-grandchildren, grand-nieces and -nephews
or great-grand-nieces and great-grand-nephews, it does not matter.
The children play; the men sip their drinks and talk.

In the shade of the ramada, gray-green in the deeper shade
of the great paloverde, the men look out
at the dusty heat and blink.  They talk quietly,
with pauses, with many relaxed silences,
finishing each others' thoughts,
nodding at the start of some old story
that may or may not be concluded.

I envision and envy us as these ancients,
creviced as the garden walls which surround the ramada.
We have long since transferred our faith to the young,
retreated to the telling and re-telling of
old stories.  Under the ramada
that you built, one person is missing
and that is the builder, which is why
however I think this or want it, the tales
are always yours.  We are left living your stories
in ways none of us could have foreseen or imagined.

Nancy: I often wonder how many Americans eat the foods of my early childhood.  My mother and grandmother ate the coarse corncakes and dandelion greens dressed in hot vinegar and appeared to like them.  If I ate one corncake and the greens, I might get a spoonful of molasses on the second cake.

The Bitter Herbs Of Spring

I reject the bitter herbs of spring,
the greens from Granny's basket,
ragged leaves dressed in hot vinegar.

Not mesclun, no, not oils from some
named grove, not raspberry vinaigrette.
Sharp toothed first green of the meadow.

I learned how to dig.  I learned mother
of vinegar.  I learned how to temper
bitter with corncakes fried in saved fats.

But then, when I dug alongside
Granny, when I crawled on stubble or
old meadow and dug . . . . .

then is not now.  Now that I am as
old as Methuselah, now that my no
is my no, I reject the bitter herbs of spring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tycho And Skeeter \ Beginning With A Word For Spring

Alan: The little dog – never as much as three pounds in weight – came into our lives unexpectedly and left unexpectedly, a victim of melamine-tainted dog food.  In between, he owned our house and hearts.

Tycho And Skeeter

The old dog
looks for the young dog
in all the best places –
around the corner of the room,
under the desk where we kept his crate,
the half-secret daytime
lying-up places
under the chairs –
so small
he must be somewhere.
Like me
missing something essential –
glasses, car keys –
he goes back
and back again
having no other choice.
Ten days
and he has not forgotten
even as, surely, the scent
fades and we, the strange
ones on two legs, who talk
and talk and sometimes
rub our eyes,
have given up
and have shown ourselves
less masterful
than we all supposed.

Nancy:  What sort of word would: the dumping of contaminated spoil on a coral reef – the opening of a dam to bring life to an estuary – the creation of harbors with atomic explosives – be?  Gender roles may have lost their rigidity, but are there still stone mindsets and green dream mindsets?

Beginning With A Word For Spring

With a great noise the ice broke and turned
and the water flowed.
This had happened before,
and because it had happened before,
it had a word.
Tonight at the fire, Walks With A Limp spoke the word,
and said that when the sun reached here,
on the wall,
we would move.

The women knew the word,
for them it was like a pod, they opened it
and looked in their minds at what it held.
They saw the south facing slopes;
there, green things grew, and the people fed,
it had always been so.
Soon the animals would pass, walking their old trails,
the females heavy with the young of the year.
It had always been so.
The women murmured together, gathering cords and skin bags.
Soon they would move; there was a word for the green place,
and when the time of sweet foods came
there would be a word for that too.
No one alive could remember when it had not been so.

       Walks With A Limp sat by the fire
       and the other men sat with him.
       As they came to know the world, they were frightened
       by its simplicity.
       Although many things had words, the words were not stones,
       the words were not throwing sticks.
       They spoke together of their fears.

       Tonight there was a new word.
       The men said that it was a thing that had come before,
       but we had not looked at it.
       Now it had a word and it would belong to the men;
       it was a stone word, a throwing stick word.
       They said the word, and with their fingers
       and red paint, made a mark on the wall
       where the sun must come.

The moving time came, and the greens eating time,
and the young of the year were dropped.
The fish came and the women splashed and laughed;
the days passed as they had always done.
The fire was only an eye in the night,
not a warming place.  The women spoke a word,
and helped one another to cut meat to lay in the sun,
and tested the milky grains with their teeth.
Slowly the grasses bent as they had always done.

       But the men sat more and more often by the fire,
       apart from the women.  Their word had not healed the fears,
       but had given them new words.  Everywhere they looked,
       they saw that the world needed a stone word.

       Tonight the women must hide.
       They must not touch the throwing sticks or the bone whistles.
       They must not look on the men,
       who shine in the firelight and shake their antlers.
       Tonight the men say the words that will make the bulls fat,
       and the grain swell; they shake rattles
       and say the words that will make the sun obey.

The does come heavy with young, and the kernels ripen
as they have always done.  The sun obeys.

But was there a time when the world in its simplicity
was not ruled by bargains between the men
and the gods they had shaped with their stone words?
Perhaps.  The women speak of such things sometimes, quietly,
when they talk of dreams, and the play of children.