Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Letter From Washington County \ Ryokan And Little John

Nancy: The back-to-the-land woman and national politics – what a treat it was to read this at the Maine Fair and to hear a yelp of fellow-feeling from the audience.

Letter From Washington County

They said four minutes to midnight
and I said heliotrope, larkspur.
They said gunfire, democracy
and I said peppers, beans, round red beets.
They said me first
and I said cherries, apples, pears;
I said grapes.
They said God is on Our Side.  I said,

Oh.  Oh, I said to my neighbor,
will you come with your two horses,
your black team, and plow –
plow the flat piece, near the bay,
where the hay’s run out?

They said trickle down economics
and I said mulch, I need mulch.
They said massive deterrent and worst
case scenario, but I couldn’t keep up,
next thing I knew trees
were polluting the moralmissiles or
was it the mighty majorities
and I said,

Shit.  Well, I said shit to myself,
what I said to my neighbor was
barn dressing, you know that’s pretty poor clay,
I looked at those furrows and said
could you bring me some barn dressing,
some for the field you plowed and some for my grapes?

He said, Thursday,
and I said thanks, and dug four holes
for the grapes.

Alan: In a scene imprinted in childhood from TV and movies, Little John and Robin Hood meet cute, fight, and make up.  Only much later did I see that Robin Hood was really Ryokan in greenwood garb.

Ryokan And Little John

He blocked the bridge –
just a slick adzed log
spanning a creek –
said it was his border,
I could not pass.
So of course we fought,
pushing and shoving with crossed staves
until I slipped, sat on my ass
in mucky water.  He, laughing so hard,
bent double, gasping,
soon followed.  We hauled
each other out, dripping weed
and slime, collapsed on the bank,
stared up through shining leaves
at the hidden sun, lay there
 all afternoon, telling our stories,
ended up friends, have
never been parted, two thieves
open-handed in a kingdom
of clenched fists.

“Letter From Washington County” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

John FitzPatrick Took A Ship To America \ Rites Of Spring

Nancy: My relationship with Ireland was tenuous – an aunt, a nun, who tried to keep in touch.  I wrote this poem during “the troubles,” when Americans were being asked to provide money and guns to prolong the conflict.

John FitzPatrick Took A Ship To America

John FitzPatrick
had his TB inside him
when he came.

Handsome, even so, he
married my grandmother,
gave Mama red hair,
blue eyes,
and died.

That makes me American.
Apple pie midwest melting pot American.

Jigless grudgeless churchless American,
John FitzPatrick dying young.

Except for a gene somewhere for the body
rocking back and forth with certain songs,
for no-word singing of certain songs,
especially drum songs...

Except for a chromosome somewhere for quickening
at a storm breaking in the west and sun
flaring on trees against a dark sky east,
wild beautiful Irish light...

John FitzPatrick
bequeathed almost nothing,
dying young.

Nothing that would explain bombs.
Nothing to make a blue-eyed American take sides.

Alan: For a few years in the 80’s, I danced the morris in a group inspired by Roger Cartwright, who seemed to tap directly into the dance’s primal roots.  I think Ryokan would have liked this, had he seen it.

Rites Of Spring
                               for Roger Cartwright

Commotion in the street:
from nowhere, sudden
as a passing shower,
the gray town gleams
to trill of a pipe,
rapped “tam tam” of a tabor.
Behind their leader, the morris men file,
leaping and capering, streamers flying,
bells a-jangle.  Clowning,
the bagman clears a space, a crowd
forms, the set begins, the pairing, the weaving,
tipplers spill from the pub, Ryokan
among them, pint in hand, jigging
in time to the music, the clack
of sticks.  He grins
to feel the centuries
peel back, the field gods
stir, the pavement
crack, the barley
sprout beneath his feet.

Bagman: The member of the morris “side” or team who traditionally keeps the funds and equipment; often charged with passing the bag (or hat) for donations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Meadowlark \ Uncertain

Nancy: It’s a skill I’ve probably lost – the soft touch, the yielding feel of the bark as it loosens, ready to slip.  So no, I won’t be stepping out the door into the birdsong and whistling back.


bright song
bright bird
on a fencepost

Time to whistle
when the sap rises
when the willow greens

Time to remember
man sitting on the back steps
his hands moving slowly

He raps the willow twig
with the back of his pocketknife
round and round

That's how you make a whistle
with love, slowly

bright sound
willow whistle
girl swinging in a tree

Alan: On a day when we were both in an in-between state, all I could do was keep moving.


While you were lying unconscious
I was planning my meals.

While you were being cut open,
the raddled part discarded,
I was sweeping the floors.

While you were getting fitted
with the new,
sleek as a bike frame built into you,

centaur of bone and alloy,
I was dusting, I was staring
out the window.

While you were in Recovery,
fogged, uncertain,
out of reach,

while I was waiting for the call,
while I was waiting
my heart and my stomach
arguing over too small a space

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Assemblage Of Crows \ Ryokan's Visit

Nancy: Before the yellow goldfinch, the raspberry-pink purple finch, the robin redbreast, there are the crows.  Constant neighbors, they share their lives with us.

An Assemblage Of Crows

A gathering, a coming together
     before dawn
     black sky
     black trees
     black birds
to the spruce, to the fir
     to the hackmatack
     crows on black steeples
     waiting, silent
     monks filing in
     for what they alone can hear
     the sound of a struck gong
     the sound of black transforming
     the whisper of light on trees

Sun rising, golden sky, golden trees

     black birds
     leaping in salutation
     black birds in the sky

Alan:  Preoccupied with our goal-driven lives, can we welcome those unexpected gifts – the friends who come in, sit down, and make themselves right to home?  Would we even allow it?

Ryokan’s Visit

If you came visiting
would I know how to entertain you?
I’m always so busy!
Here you are stumping up the driveway
and look at this place, awash
in newspapers and half-read books.
You’d want to spend all day
drinking and talking poetry;
I’d be sneaking glances at the clock
hoping you wouldn’t notice.
There’s just no time for guests!
So tell me, my friend,
when can you return?