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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Monday, July 30, 2012

It's Two Twenty Eight

The dogs have twice
Been walked
It’s two twenty eight
It’s time to slip in
To a half-dream state
If I listen closely enough
Even the jackhammer
In the street will
Start making sense

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Point Reyes Station

Pulling into
Point Reyes Station
I thought to myself
Here where the Fault juts
Seaward is a place
Appositely inclined
To my own frame of mind
While also very much akin
To invisible features   
Of the ground underlying
Together giving rise
To an unshakeable sense  
Of karmic equivalence

Strolling down Main Street
I browsed the bookstore aisles
Hoping for guidance  
From a former resident scribe  
Yet none beckoned to me
From the shelves
Who had scribbled
Any closer than
Kesey north in Humboldt
Or Steinbeck down in Salinas
Leaving the most local of mysteries
Still waiting to be divined

Only a few hundred yards
Beyond the outskirts of town
Unmarked by a formal road sign 
Yet the topography could be read
As clearly as with map in hand
Right there where the fingertip
Of Tomales Bay cut inland
As signaling the occurrence
Of a change most profound

And from that point with eyes closed
I thought to venture further on
At less than snail’s pace
And forever affixed to this spot
Though by dint of the epochal
Migration of rock knowing
I was nonetheless destined
To end up in Portland
A hundred million years hence
Carried along by this very earth’s 
Inevitable heaving
As the Pacific coast itself
Slipped to the rear

Whether I stood on
An island or peninsula
It remained unclear
But gradually grinding north
Transported by an overpowering force
I made my way of necessity
To North America
In contra-position

Sunday Morning

Between press click send
And the boot-up routine
Begins a new poem
Prologue to an act
Still to come

This product is
Licensed to me
In point of fact
And seeing how
It's a free country
I can say whatever
I want goddammit

Though sometimes
It would be nice to know
Whose voice it is
That's speaking to
Or through my head
And how it relates
To airportcigarettes.com
And all the other
Duty free zones

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ode to the 14th Green

This morning
As I ambled
Along the course
Of Saucon Creek

I thought how
Wordsworth might
Have penned an ode
Or Longfellow been brought
To tears for love
Of this leafy green

But my only concern
Was to stay clear
Of the foursome
Right then approaching
From the other side
Of the Creek who  
After stopping to take
A few practice swings
Amidst the chorus of
Woodland songbirds
Suddenly commenced
Hacking at the turf with their
Clubs of carbonized steel 

And right then and there
Where the Creek runs slow
Alongside the 14th green
I  saw clearly how
The pristine waters
Bubbled forth with
Unceasing foam
Enriched with the runoff
From Monsanto’s latest
Miracle products and
I couldn’t help but
Shed a poetic tear or two
Beholding this idyll of youth
Thus transformed 
Into an official stop on
The PGA tour

The Swan

This is my translation of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which my mother said is one of her favorite poems.  But more precisely, since I don't read German, I based my translation on a prior translation (which my mother gave me) by Joanna Macy.  Until I read this poem (in Macy's translation), I never particularly much liked or understood Rilke.  But Macy has given me a much better appreciation for Rilke's incredible talents, which here I have tried to restate in a style more of my own.

 * * * * * * * *

We labor away
With all that remains undone
Everything that weighs us down
Much as a waddling swan
Approaches the water

And when we die
The very ground seems to
Give way underneath us
Just as the swan delivers itself
Hesitant but gracefully
Onto the water’s surface
Which yields as it flows all around
Ripple after ripple

While the swan
Now altogether calm and secure
And with regal bearing
Glides forward serenely 

In The Dark American Night

A news story I read today
About the Colorado shootings
Ended on a solemn note
Reflecting the full depth
Of this American tragedy

As Warner Brothers
Decided to withhold
Box office numbers
For the Dark Knight
Through this long weekend of grief
Issuing a formal statement that
They will wait until Monday
Out of respect for the victims
And their families

But with respect to
Their shareholders
Please take note
That receipts may not have  
Diminished so much after all
And there's only negligible
Risk of long-term harm
To the Batman franchise
As the Dark Knight will be
Ready rise yet again
Perhaps as soon as
This coming fall

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On My Way to Buy a Diet Snapple

Another 90 plus day
Here in the City
And the humidity index has
Increased the very weight of the clothes
On my back and there's a Mojave blast
Coming off the sidewalk
That's been baking
Since midday up
Along 7th Avenue

This may not be the way
The world ends
In point of fact
But we may very well
Wish that it did
If every year
The temperature
And the chaos keep
Rising accordingly

A Note About Chan

Like a seagull's call
Reality is iterative
That for me
Is the essence of Chan

It first coheres
From a reverence
For emptiness
And slowly ripples out
From there

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Song of An Always Self-Published Poet

Often taking
Perverse pride
Being a self-published poet
Like my beau idols
Walt Whitman and
William Blake

When finally time came
To hammer out terms
With my first semi-legit
Ironically enough
With a company 
Named Proverse

I found myself
Adopting a hard line
Over inconsequential things
Such as the percentage share
Of non-existent revenue streams
And foreign rights that weren't there 
Perhaps in the hope of insuring
That publication might never
Come to pass

And that way
My authorial hymen
Might remain intact
At least a bit longer
Having received insufficient
Inducement to give up
My meager pittance of purity

What it Means to Be Homeless

This poem is for and about my friend Richard.  It is part of a larger work I am deeply involved with (in collaboration with the photographer Michel Delsol), a new book entitled The Life and Times of Richard Musto.  You can follow the progress of my collaboration with Michel on our blog (richardmusto.blogspot.com ).  I'm not sure if this poem will end up as part of the finished work, but in the meantime, here is the first draft of what I just wrote:

What it Means to Be Homeless

Sorry but I forgot to mention
Something that Richard
Said to me
The other day
When Michel and I
Visited him
In Atlantic City

In the course of
Explaining to me 
What he found most
Objectionable in the
First two chapters
Of my book
Richard said
And I quote:

Although you seem to
Have a good vocabulary
I think you made
A serious mistake when
You described me
As a homeless man

Because in fact
Not just theory
Richard maintains he still owns
His mother’s former home
Out in Tottenville
Staten Island
Although long ago
Having defaulted on
Overdue taxes
The house was boarded up
And technically abandoned
Richard nonetheless believes he should still
Be considered the last owner of record
And if so
That would remain his legal residence
Notwithstanding wherever
His present domicile happens to be
Right down through the present day

So it seems we all
Poets and First Army vets alike
Should be careful
When we write or speak
Not to throw words around
Too loosely
Considering the emotional
As well as the legal import
Of the things we say 
Particularly when
It is the human heart
About which
We’re speaking

Saturday, July 14, 2012

We Citizens United

Most of the poems I have written prior to now have addressed personal or spiritual concerns.  But I happen to come from a family with a strong predilection for writing light verse, for better or worse, the most famous practitioner of the craft being my great Aunt Felicia, who secured for herself far more than local fame, based on her too clever rhymes, sometimes in the New Yorker's pages or else published in thin little volumes wryly illustrated by Edward Gorey, that playfully touched on broader social concerns.   So this is my first serious attempt to try my hand at this sort of lighter refrain.

We Citizens United

As the political season
Swings into high gear
It becomes increasingly clear
That we have subjected
Ourselves to a system
Of governance best described 
As a campaign-ocracy
A unique form of
Demotic tyranny
In which we the people
With help from a threadbare
Majority on the Supreme Court
Have effectively denied ourselves
All meaningful resort

Other than the public effrontery
Of two decadent parties
Devoted to brazen pandering
And the ritual choreography
Of an endless electoral sham
Well beyond the endurance
Of any sensible man
How it builds to a crescendo 
As the convention season nears
With the ever more frenzied shake down
Of our leading citizenry
Corporate and individual alike
Only to insure the parties
Continue unabated in power

And thanks to the tortured logic
Of Citizens United
Every year of this perennial
Politicking it now costs more
To vote for leaders more firmly
Committed to doing nothing
But sustaining an endless stream
Of consultants and bagmen 

Ever at the ready to pull
The creaky levers 
Of government bureaucracy
Condemning us to rule
By deadlock and inaction on
The issues that really most matter

Betwixt alternating terms
Of Democrats and Republicans
Each year looms as the most important
Yet never does the outcome
Matter in the least since there's not
A hairsbreadth of difference between
The lot of them
On key issues such as 
Protection of the monied class
The greenhouse gas effect
Insuring our basic
Civil liberties or the increasingly
Frequent assertion of Star Chamber
Powers to advance the interests
This two party state

In the end
I guess it's not such
A light verse at all
But one of saddest
I can ever imagine writing
That a place that once conceived itself
As the last best hope for humanity
Has now positioned itself to be
The very cause of calamity
By virtue of a system of
Governance so purely devoted
To corporate sponsored
Blindness and neglect 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Route to Better Vision

for Michel

Like brothers
We share a predisposition 
And have together embarked
On this unlikely quest
For enlightenment at
The noir end of the spectrum
Approaching life and work
As an open book
With camera and pen 
Ever at the ready
To record the ramblings
Of an old homeless man

And truly what a gift it's been
To discover this route
Through your camera
To improved vision
Well past the midpoint in life
When my eyesight
Is only diminishing
Yet you've brought
Clarity through
Into a new key
Opening vistas I had
Never before imagined
Or seen

Spry and lively
As you are
Prancing forward
And aft of the old man 
As he ambles
Along the boardwalk
And down the supermarket aisle
With your hands quick and steady
You capture each angle of vision
Through your lens
While I stumble and hurry
To keep pace
Jotting down a few
Quotable things
Best as I can 

Writing such as mine
Would seem interstitial and plain
Without your lush colored pixels
To flesh out reality's frame
* * * * * * * * *

This poem is for my dear friend Michel Delsol.  Michel and I are currently writing a book together entitled The Life and Times of Richard Musto, which is about a remarkable World War II vet we met living on 28th Street.  You can follow the progress of our collaboration on our new blog at:  http://richardmusto.blogspot.com.

Here's one of Michel's pictures of Richard, taken in front of his home and storefront on the street shortly after we first met him last summer in New York.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday Afternoon on the Creek

From peddlers to paddlers
In three generations
Thanks to a not so
Grim shift in the fortunes
Of my family
With ups and downs
Riding at times
Counter cyclical to the
General drift of things

Bringing me here
Paddle in hand
Where I can glide
Along the surface
Of Weesuck Creek
Sailing without canvas
Or mast in this bare
Plastic hull

And where each passing
Crosshatch of
Stratus and cumulus
Expresses the whim
Of gods unknown
And the startled covey
Of starlings denotes
Another auspicious

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Dancing Dragons

You know
You've been reading
Too much Chinese poetry
When the water dragons
Start appearing at random
In a glass bowl dancing merrily
Or skipping across the freshly
Mowed lawn
The way they disport
Themselves with their
Ridiculous tails
And then collapse in the shade
Looking moody and dyspeptic

In the Backyard on Another 90 Plus Degree Day

The hydrangeas
Are loving all this
Double water ration
While the grass
Is as yet unresolved
If it's willing to spring
Back to life or
Instead will spend
The rest of the long
Hot summer in
Severe reserve mode
But my best attention
Must be directed
To the garden
Where each hour
Spent staking the tomatoes
And rearranging the kale
May be the last best hope
For tomorrow's salad

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Moon Over Weesuck Creek

Tonight there's a moon
Rising over Weesuck Creek
That only Ralph Blakelock
Could fully appreciate
A smudge through the clouds
Concentric circles of charcoal
Bleeding into maroon
A muted display of lunar glory
If I ever did see one

A fish breaks the surface
In the middle of the Creek
Much like the Drala of Life
It all happens much too fast
And much like the moonlight
More distinct in its watery reflection
Than in the first hand
Experience thereof

Under the Big Dipper

Through a thin scrim
Of stratus clouds last night
Each point of the Dipper
Briefly emerged  
Opening up a vista
Billions of light years hence
Helping me to levitate
And better appreciate
The very curvature of space

So from now until
The Dipper inverts
In another couple of months
Let's hope it continues
Sending forth its blessings
In a continued outpouring
Of summer's abundance

Early Morning on Shinnecock Bay

Few are the sights
To be seen more fair   
Just as the sun
Attends to dawn's chores
With my unrustable
Red plastic kayak
Pulled high on a bight
Of East End sand
While a gull screeches
And a lone trawler
Drones its way across
Shinnecock Bay

There hangs
The gibbous moon
Off to the southwest
Atop of a litmus sky
That expresses the delicacy
Of this early light best
From acid to neutral to base
A gradient both exquisite
And spare


Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Thing or Two Kay Taught Me About Poetry

I learned more about poetry
From reading Kay’s
Recent marketing report
Than I ever heard discussed
In the college classroom

For amidst all her talk
Of branding and
Similar jargon
As a certainty
She said and I quote

Positive perceptions of poetry
Include the belief that
Poems can help you
Better appreciate
The world around you
They can make you laugh
Or cry out loud with
Insight or pain
And most of all
They can help you better
Other human beings
As more than similar to self
Than by custom one had
Been led to believe
Was the case

Poetry’s most essential task
Being to abet the self
In loosening
Its tight grip
A message very close
To the heart
Of all art and


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

After the Summer Rain

There’s a steadying drip
In my neighborhood
After a summer rainstorm
Off the drain spout
And a nearby maple

It’s like the band striking up
With an infinitely supple wrist
The drummer keeps flicking
At the Zildjian high hat

And the robins reclaim
The front lawn
For still more puffery
While the worms return
To their endless digging

The Mind Was Made for the Sonnet

The mind was made
For the sonnet
Not the other
Way around
Because a poet
Doesn't so much choose
The words to speak
But rather it's the words
To poet that are
Directly bound

Or so it is hoped
But first comes
All the sweat and effort
The daily email reminders
And mental calisthenics to make
Speaking poetically
Sound both direct
And roundabout
At the same time
Not halting and pidgin
But always proceeding
In a natural and
Graceful way and
At a well-tempered pace

But still I'd pay
A king's ransom
To speak the Queens' English
The way a Bodleian man can do
So I could keep pace with
The sparrows all day long
Singing my quatrains and couplets 
Unleashed in an unceasing tide
Of half rhyming
And half blank verse