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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Picture Of The Moose From The Air Surrounded By Wolves \ Jay's Moose

Alan: The moose-wolf interactions on Isle Royale in Lake Superior have been studied for over  50 years, but what sticks in my mind is a black-and-white photo taken in the 1960s, all stark shadows and a story reaching its climax.

The Picture Of The Moose From The Air Surrounded By Wolves

bears no resemblance to the cage
where zoo-wolves pad down on us
or lie like movie stills slabbed on the gravel
or display wolfish affection or disgruntlement
for the student ethologists or disappear
into their concrete wolf den for pack meetings.
Nor does it much resemble
Wilt Chamberlain’s 500-wolf-muzzle king-size bed cover
or the legends of wolves waylaying shepherd girls
or the whistles of dog-cock hardhats
from up in the air, the position of advantage.
Nor does it capture the fear of the moose
standing and bleeding numbly in the snow
turning this way and that, but always slower,
always too late,
or the movement of the wolves, which is ballet,
themselves the audience.
It says: deficient moose.
Efficient wolves.  Efficient camera.
Efficient camera man.

Nancy: So much is wrapped in the white butcher paper – for the giver and for the recipient.

Jay’s Moose

sooner or later
we must eat Jay’s moose
the tang of the stalk
antlers blocking the sun
taste the anticipation
moose grows taller
time slows
salt of sweat
jolt of sound
hot in the mouth
and the blood, hot
and here eat
the flavor of dew
can you taste dawn
smell steel
crushed branch of fir
here on your plate
Jay’s moose

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Late November: Lamoine, Maine \ The Old Woman Draws A Map Of Her World

Alan: This one could be subtitled, “Monochrome with blue dot.”

Late November: Lamoine, Maine

The yards of Lamoine
are no-yards:
planes of mown space
no longer quite grass.

November’s no-flowers
smile no smile on these gardens –
rectangles, squares tucked in,
readied for winter.

Perhaps a boat
trailered and blocked, tight
in blue tarp.  Otherwise
not even rows of split firewood

to part the close gray;
homes set just so, wan,
silent in half-light, prudent
beside modest drives.

An almost no-sun tiptoes
meekly into this no-drama,
pauses, whispering
snow... snow... 
and makes its way into clouds.

Nancy: Difficult to explain why I’ve been writing on my shirt...

The Old Woman Draws A Map Of Her World

Stone and green.
All the shores, so different.
Canyon wren and hermit thrush.
She ponders Palestrina and mariachi
and decides on the octopus
flashing colors on a coral shore.
Rivers and fish, fossils in the cliffs
or weathered out on the beaches.
As she has always done, she labels
the trees with their names, and the
flowers.  Here and there she leaves empty
spaces; her world is still growing.
Growing, elephant tree, manzanita
Amanita, growing old, growing tired
pipsissewa.  Tired.  Niagara Falls
Bridal Veil falls, she shakes herself
Empty space, footprints, mink and bear
room to grow
the pen
the pen
          a blue-black pool
where it rests
          so tired

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Finishing "The 20th Century In Poetry" \ The Poetry Reading

Alan: I actually loved this anthology (Michael Hulse and Simon Rae, eds., Pegasus Books, 2011), which tells the story of the century through the works of its (English-language) poets.  But by the end both I and the poems (the last section titled, tellingly, “Endgames”) felt exhausted, limited, even jaded, and I wondered, is it possible still for poets to speak the language of magic and transformation?  To shake, if not shape, the culture?

On Finishing The 20th Century In Poetry

She is now, to be frank, a kept woman,
subject to pouts, occasional rages,
wheedling, whimsical, but on the whole
exquisite and, as we desire,
refined.  Visited by a few,
we could call her “prostitute”
or, more charitably, mistress of several.

She longs to be freed from these
brocaded rooms, beyond comfortable,
touched with opulence even –
longs not to be forever waiting
on those who provide this
almost luxury,

remembers how, when young,
she went howling through the winter woods
and could bring hail to the crops
and cause the rivers to flood,
and made all the people follow,
hoping, hoping to be chosen...

Nancy: Culture shock?  The “American Savage” sits in on a poetry reading in London, 1978.

The Poetry Reading

I sat  very still.
I sat still as a comet’s tail, a conscious contagion.
I sat still as an axe seething to bite wood.
I sat still as a glacier giving birth.
I was quiet.
I was quiet as water at the lip of the stone.
I was quiet as a stooping hawk.
I was quiet as a tooth on flesh.

I said nothing, and for the first time
I heard my own sounds,
my voice, guttural as a bear, how it grew from roots
of stone and made its way through the night shadows.
I heard my words crashing against ledges,
falling thunderstruck like pines,
splintering the room and smoldering in the corners.

One by one the poets read their own truths
into the dim room, while I sat very still.
They unrolled their worn land in my mind,
drifted with the ashes of dead fires.  It was quiet.
Quiet.  I wanted to seize their poems in my teeth
and shake them alive;
I wanted to open a window.
I wanted to go home with my wild words,
home to my own wide wild land.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

At The Center \ The Old Woman Says "Then!"

Alan: Sometimes, all one can do is witness...

At The Center

Night of no moon, thick clouds,
and so much rain!
Dark as a bear’s den.  Dawn
shambles out at last, pauses, and sits
heavily, as if to say, “no farther.”

You move to the sofa, trying to find
sleep and the easing of pain.
Songs of Kuan Yin on the iPod,
gentle breathing from a higher realm:

in the kitchen, where I tidy the dishes,
almost subliminal between sudden
paroxysms of rain hammering the roof,
wind chimes all clanging at once,
leaves smacking the windows:

so many musics vibrating together
and at their center,
surrounded by so much
caring surrounded by so much uncaring,
so much pain.

Nancy: Have you ever preferred your Then to your Now?

The Old Woman Says "Then!"

Last week the northeaster blew
color out of the saltmarsh and left
bladder wrack on the lane.  Today
the snow whitens the garden and
leaves the late flowers drained.

The old woman says "no, not yet,
too soon."     She will not say "Now."

She growls.  Bearlike, the old woman
snuffles her way.  She sweeps away snow
with her paws.  She rolls away stones.
She feels criss cross with the world.

"No, not yet, too soon.  No, not yet,
too soon."

The poor old woman goes this way
and that, this way and that   .   .   .
searching for the path to Then.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Morning Song \ In The Late Garden

Nancy: What a sound of contentment and peace – the thump of the dog’s tail on the kitchen floor.

Morning Song

A soundless high scud shreds the milky sky
just before dawn, southwest to northeast,
raggedy precursor of rain, or the ground so cold,
ice.  My dog has led me around the dry cornstalks,
past the heavy knots of calendulas in seed,
past the deer-bitten apple tree and turned –
all is well, says his tail, all is safe.

Now the day is mine, to feed the coals in the stove,
to break the silence grinding coffee beans,
to watch the sky bury the dawn in clouds.
The dog opens one eye and says with his tail,
again, all is well, all is safe, and I say yes yes,
as I stack wood on the fire and go about my chores

Alan: Once my garden was an assertion of order as I measured out the space between seeds, between rows.  The years taught me that nothing comes up or comes out quite as we expect.  And perhaps that’s better.

In The Late Garden

In the clearing
surrounded by spruce trees –
woods that were field and pasture
within our memories –
in the clearing growing back
to goldenrod, aster, hardhack,
field roses, and the shrubs we planted –
hydrangeas, ninebarks, azaleas, overgrown
or choked –
in the wildering space
I still dig over
a few square feet
within this leaning fence.

Within this fenced garden
ramshackle now and weedy
with witch grass, chickweed,
mulleins, self-seeded hollyhocks,
a few calendulas,
I still dig,
turning over the soil for garlic,
preparing the soil
for next year’s beans.
A few square feet
is all we need now
or can manage.

I am in this garden
with my whole body, digging
and pulling weeds, and listening,
seeing the soil come up in clots
at my feet, shaking it from the roots,
my skin alert to the air,
its motions of Fall mixing warm and chill.
Raven sits on the highest spruce
just out of sight behind the wood’s edge
and comments.

“Garock-garock.  Garock-garock”
says Raven.  “Raven,” I say,
“is this a greeting?”  “Garock-garock.”
“Do you keep watch over this place
even when we’re gone?”
I surmise this but can’t know.
I think of Raven as beneficent,
never my father’s “dark, malevolent shapes”
(the ignorance of fear).
As wise, even, and far-seeing.
But I can’t know, really.

                                    Oh, Raven,
today or some day years off,
may I feel death come over me in this garden
and, falling, turn to face Sky.
Fly down then from your hidden perch.
Walk around me three or four times, inspecting.
Cock your head, attending.
Pry out the blue grapes from my face
before Crow or Vulture, Coyote or Fox
can find me.
Carry them back and swallow,
so that I may see, through you, in death
what in life I could not discern,
even to the azure limits;
so you will know what love grew,
and what questions, what suppositions
and what longing,
in this narrow, earth-bound skull.