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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aunt Nannie Said Lordy Lordy, A Ghost Story \ Jizo

Nancy: How I loved it when Aunt Nannie (my grandmother’s aunt) visited.  “What have you been doing, child,” she asked as I sat on her bed while she unpacked her suitcase full of salves and tinctures and told stories her own aunts and grandmothers had told her.

Aunt Nannie Said Lordy Lordy, A Ghost Story

Aunt Nannie – her ghost, actually
but not at all
                     phantasmagoric –
her ghost came in and stood behind me.
                     camphor scented
                     fresh ironed starched cotton
I was filling a rough brown vase with late flowers
and scarlet leaves and my hand stopped
Aunt Nannie, who loved flowers
Aunt Nannie, who loved bright colors
Aunt Nannie, who loved me
                    stood behind me
(I know she was smiling)
                    Lordy Lordy, she said
                    Lordy Lordy, child
I could hear the smile.

Alan:  Some things you never get over.  You may get used to them, but they are always there.

         for Nancy


When they took it away from you,
they didn’t.
When they took away the he and she of it,
the unnamed name of it,
the unlived life of it.

When they put you back in your own life
to stagger forward as best you could,
it followed.  On its tiny imagined feet
it followed you, all those decades
to now, to this late August day.

When, once again, staring out at the gravel
and the grass cut short as a shorn sheep and as pale,
you remember – can’t help but remember –
when they took it away from you.
When they didn’t.


In the graveyards of Japan, under the dripping pines,
the stone Jizos stand or sit in meditation along the walls,
the mossy stones, and at the intersections of paths.

These are not the tall monk
with his staff and wish-fulfilling gem
who guides souls lost in the hells
but small things, alike or almost so, with
outsized infant heads and barely suggested hands
raised in prayerful greeting.  Some
wear knitted baby hats or bibs.  

If you took Jizo and placed him,
with reverence and perhaps some tears,
on your garden wall, in a niche
or at the base of a flowering shrub,
or even on your desk or bedside table,

it would not finally go away – it will never
go away – but it would at least
acquire form. This emptiness, at last,
would take form.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hungry Woman Exorcism \ When It Ended

Nancy: Have you ever known someone who seems so intense – so needy – who makes you feel like a picked bone?

Hungry Woman Exorcism

Some folks
can slip your bones out through your skin
suck your breath
steal your soul
folks with the no-smile smile

             What you can do
             is spell the words wrong
             say the names backwards
             hold your hand over your heart

Some folks
can shoot needles out of their eyes
you feel your soul
beating its wings
folks with the no-smile eyes

             What you can do
             is sit way back
             look away
             walk backwards fast

Some folks,
hungry folks, make me nervous

That woman there
makes me nervous
I don’t want to see her back teeth
when she smiles

             What I gotta do
             is sit way back, far back
             on the other side
             keep my mouth shut
             keep my hand over my heart

Hungry folks like that
give me a flutter in my soul.

Alan: If a world ends and nobody notices, does it really happen?

When It Ended

In that year, the tree frogs
did not clatter from their April puddles
at the feet of the spruce trees,
and the peepers’ helium chorus
failed to echo from the swamps by night.

In that year, the green frogs
no longer tuned their banjos – boing! –
in their pools, nor did the pickerel frogs
creak from the grassy edges.

Even the bull frogs went teetotal:
no more jug-o’-rums from the summer lakes and ponds.
The salamanders, the newts and efts,
silent already, went missing from the woods,

and the toads’ midnight trills
that once had electrified spring’s horizons
shorted out completely.

Country folk, who might have wondered,
felt their ears full of pulsings and fretted not.
Perhaps they imposed memory on absence,
or perhaps it had all been prerecorded from the start.

Everyone, country or city, in that year
and afterwards, had faces of the palest blue, and white eyes,
and they could not notice what they no longer cared about

“When It Ended” is from a work in progress, Annals Of The Nearer Soon (preliminary title).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pasture \ Memento Mori

Nancy: How many wise sayings, aphorisms, memoirs could be summed up in the word “change”?


We call it the “pasture,”
but it’s filled with trees.
Time and growth invalidate our terms.
It was a pasture once –
when I was green, and young,
and loved from need,
and never got enough of summer and of sun.
How saplings change!
We kept that pasture in our minds
with words: an artifact.
I don’t know when it happened,
but I grew –
and growing things don’t stay the same.
We use the old words still,
we call it love,
but change won’t stop for words.
We’re living in the pasture;
we’re living in the shadows of the trees.

Alan: The winter Ryokan came into my life, poems flowed quickly.  As spring advanced and I busied myself outdoors, his visits grew few, fewer.  Almost forgotten.

Memento Mori

It’s been months since I’ve seen him –
all hectic summer not even a glimpse.
Now, after first hard frost,
clearing the wrecked garden, under squash vines
I find his half-rotted cloak,
a nest for mice and bees.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Finding Equilibrium \ Deficient Moon

Nancy: There are days when I would – if I could – spread my wings and float, ride the variable winds on fixed wings.

Finding Equilibrium

the crow
the highest, most slender

every morning
– from this lectern –
gives a teaching

folds his black robes
leaves me in thought

let it be my practice
to seek

to choose
         as crow

to find equilibrium

Alan: I’ll watch the moon tonight waxing from crescent; soon enough it will reach full and decline.  Crazy to try to hold it, like trying to hold time itself.

Deficient Moon

to see the moon half-vanished –
where did the days go? –

one thin cloud
in an otherwise empty sky
pulling away from it’s whiteness

cotton from a boll
seeds from milkweed
in the wind

Just like the moon
to wander away when it’s most

Just like us
to want it –
to always want it whole.