Thursday, January 30, 2014

Duck \ Trap Lines In Winter

Nancy: A loaded pulp truck coming toward you presents one sort of threat and, oddly enough, one in front is also dangerous.  Even though accidents are rare, except for rolling and spilling the load like pickup sticks, they’re often so grotesque, so tragic, that they’re memorable.


When I was a kid I was afraid
TB would get me.
The last few years I’ve been worried
about pulp trucks.
The way they come up behind you
until their radiator grill fills
your rear view mirror.
Or coming at you – is the boom locked
down?  Could it swing free and drop?
I could be flattened, just like that couple
up in the County.

And they overload them.  They do.  And then
it only takes one low overpass
and wham!  One of those logs gets knocked
back just like a pile driver
through the windshield.
Or they roll.
Oh God, the driver
just takes a curve a little too fast – 
the ambulance crew is holding a guy,
he’s shouting, “I know that car, I know
that car”– he breaks loose and starts
pulling at the logs with his fingers.
It happens.

I don’t like crowds.  I hate people coughing
anywhere near me.  I’m really glad
I never have to ride a subway.
But they tell me a fully loaded pulp truck
weights 100,000 pounds.  50 tons!
And who knows how often they check
those brakes?

Pulp truck: a truck used for hauling pulpwood or whole logs, often overloaded

Alan: My only poem, so far, to inspire a title for a novel.  True, a pulp western, but still, I’m happy to be associated with anything written by John Harvey, in this case The Skinning Place, number 10 in his Hart The Regulator series, from 1982. 

Trap Lines In Winter

Again now
doing what comes utterly
forcing thick feet
one and then one
to slow traverse
of white

A trick-track beaten
on my own
for my own use only
A cold occupation
digging out snares
set months ago

Some lost
some dragged off
by snow ghosts
some, with luck, frozen
tight into fur

Each seems hardly dead
as if come across
by accident
never lived
could be breathed warm
lifted tenderly
set walking

If I ever turned back
at each rise would see
no tracks
not me at all.
The red mouth
the skinning place
a voice

“Trap Lines In Winter” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meal Stop, Ninety-seven Miles From Bangor Airport \ Ted And Sylvia

Nancy: The only time I ever fell asleep at the wheel – only seconds but enough to come to my senses, enough to print the night, the diner, the men in my mind forever.

Meal Stop, Ninety-seven Miles From Bangor Airport

Behind me, two men sat talking of women
and fishing and faith,
as I came awake over a plate of potatoes
pooled in ketchup.
Out on the road I’d fallen asleep,
drugged with finality,
and out of the grating slew of gravel
had fumbled into the hot oil spoon clatter
only twenty miles from home.
Coffee – please –
elbow propped thinking sugar maybe
and making whirlpools in the thin stuff.
I couldn’t finish the fries; pushing away
I left them tumbled like peeled posts
on the plate.

Behind me, the men went on to pie;
one said,
       “She’s not much for speed,
        but she’s got quite a roll to her”
– but I’d lost track
and didn’t know whether they were talking
about women or boats,
and will never know, for I went
back to the road
and did the last twenty miles slowly,
carefully, in the fog.

Alan:  Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath still seem bound tight, more than fifty years after her suicide and fifteen years after his death during cancer treatments.  I wonder sometimes if the myth of the Poet killed them both.

Ted And Sylvia

Sylvia was “Ariel,” is Ariel to us now,
but who was she really, behind the closed door?
And Ted?  Self-styled wild thing of the woods?
Or just a man consumed by appetite and then remorse?
(She ever off the table in subsequent public discourse.)
Who consumed whom in each other’s mythy dreams?
And whom do we consume?

My father sought his archetypes in dreams
that he could then reduce to formal verse:
Joseph Campbell a congenial, gentle guide.
But his me-myth eluded him behind his own doors,
each one smaller than the night before
until at the end all he saw
was an impenetrable garden wall.

I have been advised that we should be
the heroes of our own stories, make of ourselves a myth,
so that tomorrow, when we are dead – what? –
our friends will say, “He thought much of himself”?  (Too much.)
Narcissus with broadaxe and horned helmet?
Or just Polonius embarrassed to be stabbed
under a threadbare pelmet?

Living the quotidian is unmythic in the extreme, and better for it.  
Let others make us myths,
or more likely forget us, the way we forget
what we ate last Tuesday, although we know we ate.
Our pleasures the pleasures of a moment,
alive on the surface tension of this dew-drop world,
we are most of us, to be frank, not quite second-rate.

Even the Buddha, despite his self-placed honorific,
was nothing but human, although inhumanly awake.
True, he denied all categorizations, but
it was left to others to abstract 
his innumerable qualities, give them the artifacts
we crave: arms and auras, faces mild or fierce.
The carefully placed hand above the perfectly placed wrist. 

So, let us, first and last, be unknowable to ourselves,
and ever a surprise and a disturbance, 
no more Ariel, no more Wodwo, no more Buddha or Bodhisattva
than the neighbor boy who, daydreaming and careless,
trips on the sidewalk, running to the house,
and catches himself, and then looks up,
astonished.  Suddenly aware.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"The Relatively Unproductive Chaparral" \ Riprap

Nancy:  I never looked at a Manzanita and saw BTUs, but after hearing a neighbor suggest that we could solve our waste disposal problem by sending it on rail cars to the Grand Canyon...

“The Relatively Unproductive Chaparral”
                                                                            Keuster, Davis & Bagby
                                                                                                     Nature 2/23/84

Passing into, passing through,
hunkered under the Manzanita,
expectant of birds, I love the chaparral,
chaparral between me and the desert,
chaparral between me and the mountains,
chaparral between me and the sun.

And I love the life of the chaparral,
the wings in the chaparral,
the wild black bees in the chaparral,
the pungent sweet honeycombed chaparral
humming in the sun.

Industrious America!  Biomass!
The new chaparral, the ground-up, spit-out
feedstock/chaparral, the diesel fuel factory
between the desert and the mountains.

I loved the old and shining Manzanita,
the old days, wild and wasted days,
thunder and sun in the chaparral.

Alan: When I first read the series of haiku-like segments in Paz’ “Piedras sueltas,” it inspired me to try something similar using his headings, although not quite as compressed and with a seventh section that gives up entirely on the form.

                  After Octavio Paz, “Piedras sueltas”

1.     Flower

Rain-washed, polished by passing feet,
it’s all one to these stones.
Except here, at one side, these two give up their embrace
and part forever for this flower.

2.     She

She was a cat, an owl, an oasis,
a call that brings longing in the night.
As she was all shapes, no one guessed
as she drained through the stones, her death.

3.     Biography

It came and went so swiftly.
He held it all and it shattered.
A long time on his knees
cutting his hands on the pieces.

4.     Bells in the night

All day burning with sun,
now ice of stars and moon too old to rise.
I have waited here, waited
until at last the stones start ringing.

5.     At the door

I blink at the wind-whipped courtyard.
What do you all want?
Behind me silence, my own walls.
Threading the cobbles the million ants.

6.     Vision

He became everything at once.
A harrier quartered the lowest sky.
A mouse sprinted agonized among the blades.
He never found a way back to himself.

7.     Landscapes

Stones scale the slope, lifted on each others’ shoulders
and burst in waterfalls, glimpses
of armor hidden among trees.
Arrows, green feathers or the wings of mountains.
All the hills lift high in the shrill air
and circle away to the west.
Birds the color of sunset beat down as splintered rain.
We fear the storm as storm, as fear.
We slip, are carried downward,
as dead leaves, dead stems eddy together for comfort.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cookie Fortune \ In The Bleak Mid-Winter

Nancy:  Cut loose from the future, a victim of fast-fading red ink.

Cookie Fortune

^   The ones that clearly were intended
for someone else at the table.
Those you can toss into the rice bowl,

^   The ones that you read thinking,
if only I’d gotten this before my last
car, job, man, it is so right!

^   The ones that you read, clear your
throat, roll up into a little ball and
toss into the rice bowl while turning to
the person on your right and applauding
his/her excellent good fortune.

^   The ones that you slip into your wallet
and take home and add to the small fluttery
pile in the corner of a drawer.  Not you,
maybe, me, my little collection of papery
promises.        Just a joke.      Really.

#    I am going to tell you a terrible thing.
Until I opened the drawer this morning I
was witty and wise, admired, steadfast and
destined for fame.  Romance was mine and
fortune was on its way.  Until I opened the
drawer.  Until I saw the carefully smoothed
slips of blank paper, their messages degraded
to nothing more than faint discolorations.

I’m wiped out.  All my fortunes, all my futures
were written in fugitive ink.

Alan: How did Ryokan get through the winters in his little hut?  How do we get through our own harshest weathers, when it seems we having nothing left to sustain us?

In The Bleak Mid-Winter

Day after day it snows
filling the path
drifting high against the walls
of my hut.
Nothing to eat but old roots:
the mice and I hungry, hungry.
I’ve seen no one for weeks,
not even the sun peeping in.
Dying now, I won’t be found ‘til Spring.
Tayatha om: this is how it is:
burning my poems
to make one small flickering fire
after another.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

In Memoriam \ New Year's Dawn

Nancy: Children play at this, letting their twigs race downstream.  Even as I dropped my broken bits into the currents and eddies, I was aware of racing to a new place, a new potential.

In Memoriam

I broke a stick into small pieces,
one for each year,
and dropped them into the stream.
They caught in an eddy and turned,
foam caught at them, the bark, the broken edges,
and then in a quick slide they went under the bridge.
What did I expect?  That they might knit
miraculously?  That I might go home laughing?
When I turned they were slipping downstream
pulled apart, jumbled, the way the years go,
here and there one catching the light.
Before I left, I drank, the water still tasting of ice
and now of the thrusting green shoots upstream,
and then I turned for the house.
A roof there, four walls.
My legs were tired and I had a long way to go.

Alan: While revelers sleep it off, I’d rather start the new year at daybreak.

New Year’s Dawn

at the northeast corner of the country
at the east edge of the time zone
the light comes early, leaves early.
Half-past five.  Already
the air brightens to the southeast,
sculpting that long line of mountains
that grows each night from the sea
and dissolves again each day.

There, beyond the fields and scraggy woods,
beyond the barely perceptible, gentle
true horizon,
there they are once more
heavy and distant
and the arms of the sun behind them
reaching up to embrace
the cold, recumbent sky,
the still sleeping year.