Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Restless Night, Cold Morning \ Three Nights Before Christmas

Nancy: The sound of calling birds – willets in the spring, geese in the fall – exerts a pull even on my sleeping brain.

Restless Night, Cold Morning

The geese hit the bay in a spray
of sound and water, rippling
the last shaft of rose madder light.
Then all subsides in dusk and murmur.

                       the geese circle the bay and land,
                       calling impatiently while I hurry
                       to gather my feathers, I almost forgot
                       but now I remember, hurry, call and fly

                       but wait, the geese lift up against the moon,
                       dark paper cutouts in the sky
                       even in sleep I hear, my blood answers,
                       but late, too late to fly

Days dawn so cold and clear now, listen,
you can hear the crackle of rim ice
when the wind catches an edge.
Down the bay, nothing murmurs, nothing stirs.

                       only dreaming the calling, the greeting,
                       the whirl and circle, the water, the sound,
                       the cries triumphant, one and another
                       and another and another

At dusk the bay is quiet, and again in the morning,
except for the wind, nothing stirs,
nothing calls to me across the water.  No reason,
and yet, for a moment I linger, listening.

Alan: Skeeter – 3 pounds of high-octane joy – ruled my life for all eight years of his.   I offer the following in his memory and in blushing homage to Clement Moore, Dr. Seuss, and Mad Magazine, which introduced me as a child to the perverse pleasures of parody.

Three Nights Before Christmas

'Twas three nights before Christmas, and up in my bed
I was sleeping the sleep of the not-yet-quite-dead,
Dreaming such dreams as I know are too common,
Of towns made of Swiss cheese and seas made of ramen,
Serial sagas both pointless and plotless,
Behaviors that dawn would reveal to be thoughtless,
Scenes by DiNiro, DeMille, Peter Jackson
(Silent, except for piano and claxon),
Teaming with characters straight out of Dickens
With bit parts galore (there was one for Slim Pickens),
Creatures who ranged from the pure to despicable
With motives transparent… obscure… inexplicable.
Let me tell you each detail (giant pink quinces!).
Oh.  Is that a yawn?  And are those tics winces?
Well, these were my dreams, so I found them engaging,
And slept, though outside a light drizzle was raging;
Slept in the bliss that tomorrow was Saturday
A sleep saints would envy, both former- and Latter-day.
Ah, joy!  No shrilling alarm in the darkness!
No jolt!  No "Where am I?  In Skegness?  In Harkness?"
And so, to sum up, I was napping the nap
Of a middle-aged, twenty-first-century chap.
Fretful and over-worked Monday through Friday,
But Saturday, ah Saturday!  It was my day!

When, what to my protesting ears should intrude
But the voice of the Skeeter.  So early!  So rude!
He whimpered.  He simpered.  He barked.  He insisted.
I covered my head with a pillow!  Resisted!
Downstairs in his crate he was growlin' and squeakin'.
I: clam.  He: the starfish.  I felt myself weaken;
Until, in despair, off the covers I threw
And peered at the clock.  It was five twenty-two!
The sky was pitch black!  It would still be for hours!
But who in the world can resist Skeeter's powers?

And so from the long winter's night I'm ejected.
I stagger downstairs, feeling beaten, dejected.
I light the gas lamps.  I put on the kettle.
I haul on my coat.  What a test of one's mettle!
I give good old Tycho a quick belly-rub.
Good boy!  You've been quiet.  Not so Beelzebub,
Who's watching, quite brisk, as I unlatch the gate;
Jeez, Skeeter, you devil!  Step forth from your crate.
So I leash them, and walk them, and build up the fire;
It dances and flickers: my dreams' funeral pyre.
I give them their biscuits.  Old Tycho's soon snoozing,
While Skeeter considers a toy of his choosing.
"Breakfast?  You're kidding!" he seems to be saying.
"It's time to be frapping!  It's time to be playing!"
So I toss him his ball, and I shake "Mr. Dino."
He fetches and tugs, while I feel like a wino
Who's just coming to from a capital binge
To stare at the visions that cause him to cringe:
A turtle, a ferret, and yet stranger creatures
That squeak when you press their abnormal, plush features,
'Til finally he flops on the cozy hearth rug,
Where he lolls and he sprawls, and he lounges, quite smug.

When at last the frail dawn creeps out, timid and gray,
The scenery's bleak, and it's sleeting.  Oy vey!
The driveway looks gelid, the yard bleached and slick,
And I think about Christmas, and poor old Saint Nick,
How he schleps all those toys.  What a schlump!  The schlemiel,
Why not just UPS them?  What's the big deal?
All that squeezing down chimneys (the soot can't be healthy),
An entrance like that, why it's hardly stealthy!
The cookies, the milk — oh, give me a break!
He must have a bladder the size of Salt Lake.
And out on the lawn, don't those reindeer get tangled?
"Yo! Rudolph!  Back off before Blitzen gets strangled!"
And that laying of finger aside his red nose -
Does he feel a sneeze coming?  It's here!  Thar she blows!
Ah, Nicholas, laddie, are you just a carrier
Spreading the flu?  Hoo boy, what could be merrier?
Then, labors done, whether dead drunk or sober,
You're gone from our thoughts until next mid-October.

But I glance at the pupsters — they're both deep in slumber —
And think, "C. familiaris sure has our number.
We're trained; we supply them treats, comfort and hugs.
I'll bet, way down deep, that they take us for mugs.
To amuse them, it seems, we consider full recompense
For all their bad breath and occasional flatulence."
So, feeling these sentiments slowly imbue me,

“Frapping,” from “frap,” frantic random activity period.

Friday, December 19, 2014

December Redrawn As A Landscape \ So We Shine

Nancy: Our landscape, in the snow, is black and white as if drawn with ink on rice paper.

December Redrawn As A Landscape

A low roof, a path,
boulder slopes, a pine-dark mountain
            empty until you see the tiny figure;
now you see that this is a journey,
            black and white, ink and dream,
a landscape waiting, a traveler, a goal.
That old lady has gone to get the sun.
Tomorrow she will draw this landscape
            again, in color, in light.

Alan: When I came across this old poem, I was struck by its non-gender-neutral language.  Feel free to substitute “her” and “herself” for “his” and “himself” throughout.

So We Shine
                              “ Exposed on the mountains of the heart” – Rilke

So we shine the brighter, each in his own way
So the feathered tree clutches and is nourished by the snow
So we shine like snowfields as each comes into light
So we blink out blindly across the gulf
So the tree breaks loose and soars alone
So an eagle rides from each and tilts and claws the air
So the air holds us all and nourishes our wings
So we rise and circle, circle, rise again
So we vanish together and altogether
So the snows remain, so the mountains, so the gulf
So light is equality as each shines in his own way
So at night the seeds lie waiting in the snow
So each wraps his wings in himself
So each keeps himself until light has come from each
So each unfolds and rises in his way

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Weather Notebook, 12/97 \ Night Watch

Nancy: Variable weather, winds and tides, bottles and boats, flotsam and jetsam, mostly lost, sometimes found.

Weather Notebook, 12/97

Ice, fog, snow squalls, rough water.

Little enough sun, with the days pinched
short.  No one was tending the dinghy;
it must have heaved in a gust and slipped
its mooring.  One morning it was gone.

Ice, fog, snow squalls, rough water.

As the days shorten, the cold sets in hard.
First, ice covers the marsh, then it fills
the small coves.  Yesterday, just at sunset,
the air thinned enough to see a flock of
buffleheads, riding it out in the bay.

Ice, fog, snow squalls.  Wind.

Winter begins at 3:07 p.m.  When the wind
lets up, trees, surprised, fall into the
pause.  Out on the bay, the dinghy has been
blown back and fetched up on a ledge.
In the coves, the ice thickens.

Winter begins.

Alan: When nothing can be done, the heart opens.  Call it prayer, or supplication, or just a crying out in darkness.

Night Watch

You’re so sick
and I’m helpless –
all my ministering a fraud.

Through night to a cold dawn
I listen to your shallow breaths
and the unceasing whir-whoosh
of the oxygen concentrator:
driving thought out of mind
in fragments,

the White Tara mantra remains
where I tenderly offer up your name:
          om tare tuttare ture Nancy ayuh-punya-jnana-pushtim kuru svaha!

White Tara,
                       Green Tara,
                                              Kuan Yin,
female embodiments of active compassion –
help us now!

Wrap her in your arms
for, though my heart yearns as a mother’s,
I am of male form and helpless.
I would hold her now as a mother
her suffering child –

as Mother Ocean holds her continents,
as Mother Galaxy holds her Earth,
as Mother Emptiness holds us all –

do this now

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

As For Him So For Me \ Teishen Tries To Write About Cherry Blossoms

Nancy: That first step away from his hut, that last quick look back – a start on the path toward an unexpected gift.

As For Him So For Me

Late fruit so sweet
     old bones warm in the sun
Ryokan drowses

Years in a mountain hut
     giving what he had
poems, dharma stories

Now, wrapped in a warm shawl
     he sips tea
love, he ponders love

So late, this teaching
     she hands him an apple
so late, so sweet

Alan: Late in life, Ryokan fell in love with the beautiful nun Teishen, who was with him when he died.

Teishen Tries To Write About Cherry Blossoms

I found him
out in the rain
looking up
at still-bare branches.
How withered he seemed!
leaning on his gnarled stick –
an old crow in his last molt,
water dripping from his beak –
so shabby his cloak!
I wanted to help him in
to warmth, green tea
but didn’t know where
his mind was –
left him, saying nothing,
rain trickling down his cheeks,
or tears.