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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 ...

Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Jungles of the Heart

for Sarah K

Via the hyperlink
You sent me yesterday
I saw this video clip
Of a captive lion
Who through the bars of his cage
Gave capacious embrace
To his indigenous savior

This being no mean trick
Accompanied by a typically
Incoherent news report
I imagined the back story
Of this noble beast
Enslaved by some Colombian drug lord
And then for reasons obscure
Perhaps as the federales
Pressed in was cut loose
To fend for himself
A monarch exiled
An ocean or two
Away from his
Original realm

Surely any king
Would likely starve
Finding himself thus deserted
And dethroned
If not for the apparition
Of a savior of last resort
Passing through the forest
In act of loving kindness
To the animal shelter brought
The starving lion and
To good health it restored

And to see the lion thus
Embrace its maiden savior
Is to know gratitude
Is not to humanity confined
But as with other feelings
Thus refined
They're equally shared
By us with animalkind
We have such likeness undeniable
Being all sisters and brothers
From the Pekinese tossed
Roughly to the curbside
To the raven proudly sporting
The tools she has made

And thus we all
Grieve over our
Respective Edens
And savannas lost
And dream of lifetime restored
To our full natural glory
Instead of living out
Until the end of days
Being everywhere confined
By this widening pall

If and when the day comes and
It's our turn to be struck
By hunger and despair
Whether in dark forest solitude
Or a cage of our own making
Much better that we remember
There's a Natural order
That overlays the statutes
By which we humans aspired
The entire world to enslave

And by standing upright
We all may better clasp the bars
That have kept us apart
Almost embracing
Each other
Skin to skin
Lions and humans
We're creatures akin
To each other beholden
And it’s the same love
That rules the jungle
Inside every beating heart

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Short Poem for William Blake

The deeper into the purple
Of the world that I get
The more I discover
Whether to better
Or pleasure yourself
First you must put
One skate forward
And then the other

Not always marked
By urban woe
These faces I see
When I’m pedaling so
Cousin Billy

That’s the way it is
Not everywhere
But more yes than no
Among the places I know
Deeper into the purple
Where I choose to go

Photo by Marissa Bridge

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sidewalk Sailing

Wing and wing
You and I
We’re sidewalk sailing

I’m the jib
And you’re the main
Or sometimes it seems
It might as well be
The other way around

Anyway it’s all the same

We catch the breeze
Running down wind and away
From the late afternoon sun

A water tower
Squat on the rooftop
Serves as constant reminder
Of our common destination
As we travel
One and together
From first to last date
As with hoops of steel
We are strongly bound

On the Heart Sutra

Suddenly it hit me
As they were fixing
My Mac and I was trying
To keep my hard drive
From spinning
Out of control

Like it says in
The Heart Sutra
No matter how well
Life suits you
Each product feature
Also contains
This indelible flaw


It’s emptiness
And nothing more
The raison d'être
Of every body
Even with the
And all

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Getting Ready for Another Journey

When high tide
Takes full swing
At the established banks
Just before autumn
And kids have started
Thinking back to school

If one has begun
To figure out part
Of what it means
To live at the top
Of the food chain

How to shoulder
The great responsibility
And make the most of
The many incredible

With tarragon scent
Heavy on your hands
And the shrimp
Well butterflied
A 7/11 coffee close by
And all around the
Thick perfume of the late
Summer afternoon

Then come and sit down
Put your feet up
And relax in the shade
It’s time to begin
A new journey
This time it’s The Book
Of Enlightenment
That beckons

In a calm frame of mind
Without the least bit of fear
Alas not everyone is up to the
Task of heading aloft
With clouds for wings

But that is precisely
Where we are bound
Together with
The brave Monkey King

And to travel with him
We must likewise
Board our cloud ship
Steady in the bow
Let loose the sheets
And unfurl the sails
Today being the first day
We found ourselves
Alone and together
And thus we learned
How to sail

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to Zhuang Zhou

Doing my stretching
One rep at a time
When one eye falls
On the reflection
Of my shadow
There at the mirror’s edge
Doing its own stretching too

What my shadow sees
When it stands by the mirror
Is standing next to me
A most peculiar thing
Only a few steps in between
I wonder what it thinks
Looking at me

Friend of my friend
My blurry doppelganger at the gym
The reflection of my shadow
Now giving me attitude
With its own feminine side too

Or is it an even bigger
Cubs’ fan than me
A burly shaggier beast
Prone to dozing intermittently
Falling deeply asleep
Then arousing itself with a shudder
And suddenly scurrying
To catch up with me

As the correspondence
Between waking and dreaming
May feel all the greater
While appearing less distinct
So I find things stand
With me and my shadow's reflection
As each of us keeps stretching
For a part of itself that
Remains out of reach

Monday, July 19, 2010

Small Poem for a Small Planet

If you think it’s time
To kick off the traces
Of history

Just remember
That sleaze is
A hearty perennial
That grows in

Whereas potatoes
And eggplant
Like to grow together
Very very much
And strawberries
In short thick clumps

These being just a few
Of the many things
You need to know

If you’re going
To make the most
Of the small difference

Between merely
Letting things go
And learning to grow
Them from seed

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memorial Day (thinking of Mingy)

The poplar and the willow
Don’t have a thing on you
No sirree Mingy

Not in that narrow little spot
Between the cherry tree
And the Sach’s domain

Nor the little sparrow that
Flits just behind the crow

It’s Memorial Day weekend and
Already the potatoes need hoeing

Up and down the creek
Summer has just begun

A south-easterly breeze
Heralds the warming trend

Which to your grave
Shall bring a profusion of zinnias
And anemones
My dear friend

In memory
Of your sapient spirit
And distinctive
Dignified being

Drawing by Peter Rippon

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Solitary Goose

Usually I don't post translations of another poet's work on my blog. But every once in a while I make an exception. I guess it's when another poet's voice moves me so much that I feel need to make something of it my own

This is a poem by Du Fu written as he sailed down the Yangtze in the year 768 or 769 shortly before he died

A solitary goose
Neither drinks nor pecks
But flies in search
Of its long lost flock

Who will remember
This lonely wanderer
Set against the backdrop
Of a lowering sky

Gazing into the distance
And pondering its distress
You almost heave
An involuntary sigh

Amidst the cries
Of the loons and terns
Everywhere so confused

P.F.C. Martin Henry Levey

The things I meant
To tell my father but didn’t
Like the tastiest bits
Left on the plate
For one bad reason or another
Such matters left unsaid
Until it’s almost too late
Are among the reasons
I come to see you today
My dear cousin Marty
A private first class
Like none other
Part cousin part uncle
Part brother

To look into the unfaded truth
That pervades your blue eyes
I can’t imagine any other color
And finally in your presence
There’s no room for doubt
About the portent of
The nurse’s unhurried and
Skillful ministrations
For your impending blind date
As the cancer and strokes
Have almost run the table

In the white bag I brought
A few things of course
A red Gerber daisy
On the nightstand reposes
A plain slice of Junior’s cheesecake
In the fridge now waits

If your eyes were to open
As the moment draws near
I have not the slightest idea
What I’d manage to say
But just to sit near your
Lingering frame
With bruised skin
Pulled loosely over it
Yet still refusing to yield
Its most succulent part
That being your
Untrammeled heart
Every day in acknowledgment
Of its entanglement and
Consanguinity with
Those in close proximity
So liberal of spirit
You will never be undone

Thus tongue-tied
At your bedside I reach
For your hand and feel
It’s quickening pulse
So tongue tied or not
I behold your fading warmth
As it runs a final course
Through the veins
Of my very own body

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Leaves of Man

That words be
The leaves of man
Is a thought we struggle
To understand beyond
What words themselves
Permit us to know

That they display
More than a single side
And flutter in a breeze
Ever so gentle and slow
And always strive
To absorb more light

And whether on vellum
Or parchment inscribed
Or leather bound
Or bagged in plastic
Stacked at the curbside

How they ultimately
Find best use when
As good mulch they
Help other words
In good turn to grow

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Sunday

Good Christ to be there
At the beginning
As pistol shot rings out
Announcing the
Race back to life

Supplicant in the soil
My spade unwieldy
For the filigree
Of first growth

Instead my fingers
Follow the Pilgrim trail
Tracing the green line of
Renewal as it radiates
Up and out

Oh hologram of
Light and life

Into the very heart
Of purple madder
The asparagus shimmers
A perfectly formed
Whisper of its
Future self

The strawberry leaf
Blinks and unfurls
Stutter stepping
Across the threshold

I am dumbstruck
By the intrepidity
Of perennial life
Unleashed and still
Quivering with the
First taste of vernal light

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Poem for David

Around about
This time of year
That marks the first
Of frost

I went down on my hands
And knees in the garden
Digging out on
What I could only hope
Would be the first
Of many such similar
Occasions in the
Rapidly oncoming
Year of the Tiger

I noticed myself
In the midst of this
Taupiary display
Of decaying things

A hardy handful
Of surviving
Dried blossoms
That had endured
The long hard winter
And made it through
To see this first burst
Of glorious Spring

Beauty appearing
Out of nowhere
That had been
Standing there
In plain sight
But unseen for
The longest while

How these slowly
Drying things
In our midst
The azaleas
And hydrangeas
From last year’s garden
Still retain an
Austere glory

You need not
Take my word for it
But first just
Open your eyes
And your mind
To this wonderful thing

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What I Owe Du Fu

Only by reading
You in Chinese
Did I discover the
Path to poetry
Through direct struggle
Gleaning feeling first
Before puzzling out
Each character’s meaning

Whereas with
Auden or Eliot
It seemed to work in reverse
For outcome less certain
Or so much the worse
Slogging through
Evident meaning
In order to grasp
As at straws
For what may
Once have been felt

So poetry came
That much easier
Once I abandoned
My native tongue
Where glib understanding
No longer barred the way

And only by following
Your path did I discern
The grammar of my
Own Mother Tongue
Where meaning and feeling
Come together as one

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Poem For My Valentine

Handmade by Tumbalina
I gave my love
This pin/button card

Love cubed pinned
To the outside
These words I wrote on
On the blank
Folio page inside:

To say but once
How much I love you
Then I’ve just barely begun

To say it twice is
Better but it still
Won’t suffice

It always takes
Three times or more
To say how much
Je t’adore

‘Cause that’s how much
I love love love you

Monday, February 15, 2010

Morning Stretch

From first uncovering
In pre morning light
Stretching all points coordinate
The clavicles in particular
For each day’s anti-hunch

Via math simple and precise
All prime or better yet perfect
By disposition symmetrical
Doing each rep twice
Introducing that bit of sameness
Into the daily mix
Like a pinch of yeast

So that each day
I may go forth unchanged
But steeped in your spirit
In this body I wear
Like a provisional name
More open in mind and chest
Expressing equal susceptibilities
To salvation and ruin
Holding least suspicion
Of bad intent

More alive and hopeful
More at Liberty
Whether by speaking
As I please
Or seeking release
By hurtling with
Great vehemence
Along the path
I have followed
Without regret or distinction
For a dozen years

Perhaps eventually
Arriving close to the
Island’s nether region
Where so many have found
Full measure of freedom
My pulse quickens in kinship
Surprisingly free of can’t
And surpassingly plain

However unlikely
I’ll finish even a small
Part of the work
Belatedly begun
But having stretched
To full extent
I content myself
By striving
To understand more
While hearing less
And by the
Strenuous pursuit of
The beauty of fading flesh

Sunday, February 14, 2010

From the Desk of the General Counsel

On the working lives
Of great American poets
And those lesser well known
Who have sought place for words
Amidst the desktop clutter
Paying enough but
Only so much regard
Lured by the brass ring
But not without misgivings
We strayed and stayed
Then sold our birthright
For the monotonous plenty
Of corporate living
Surrendering our
Unfettered freedoms
For more nuanced rights
Of commercial free speech

How much better would
Our poems have been if we
Weren’t already primed
By professional training
Or otherwise so inclined
To wander in this endless
Thicket of qualifying phrases
Nor so prone to the pretense
That hidden meaning would
Better adhere to our words
Like burrs if we could but
Free ourselves from conventions
Of plain English speaking

Oh sisters and brothers
How we labored on
In the dismal vineyard
Captive and anxious making
Headway through the ranks
Ascending to vice presidency
All without giving vent
To inkling of doubt
In metered verse about
The whys and wherefores
Of our miserable day jobs
Through which we drank
And whored and pined
For a fiction more supreme
On the slopes at Vail
Or amidst the Florida pines
Whether we swung
Straight down the fairway
Or drunkenly at Hemingway
In dark mood or sublime

And who knows better
The Snowman’s curse
Than each and every one of us
Who has been bored
For the same long time
By the nothing that is
And always shall remain
In the fine print
Of the actuarial table
Or footnoted brief
Where it says
With irony unintended
That imagination starved
Will long out-endure
Consciousness stuffed
And overawed

But while I too have
Battled tedium and
Given imagination free rein
Always subject to email
And telephone
I have learned
To make the most
Of what comes
Ready to hand

Thus not so much
Of miracles at Key West
Am I singing as of the
Ever refreshing mess
On my desktop and the
Plain simple benefit
Of attaining
A decent living in such
Uncertain times

And even though
No poem of mine
Has ever
Brought food to table
It may have sustained me
All the same even without
Benefit of critical acclaim

For having pursued truth
Daily in verse to the
Same strict standard
With which I have prepared
My annual tax returns
Claiming deductions
Wherever I can
But always signed
Under penalty
Of perjury

To find your voice
First you must have
Lost your way
But once found
There’s no reason
To stay in the forest
Forever without
First obtaining
Ample provisions

Armed with this
Intelligence the
General Counsel
Sits at his desk
In Buddha like
Contemplation of
His happy belly
And ponders the merits
Of early retirement

Saturday, January 30, 2010

梦蝶 灭 (Dream of a butterfly slaughtered)

Of the backfilled thoughts
Across so many years
That wear you out and
Grind you down
And leave you hoping
For someone who
Someday just might
Happen to reappear

Of a multitude of
Past imperfect
And the ripeness of
Certain fruit of
First youth
So fresh you
Somehow sense
It may never be
The right time
To move along
Into another aisle
Stocked with
Canned goods

The din we made
You and me
In the full idiocy of
Over-privileged youth
Was more than loud enough
To shatter the peace
Of a distant afternoon

Deciduous or not
I ask myself
In circular fashion
If surviving doesn’t
Make me feel nearly
As guilty as you daily felt
About the pulp
You wrought
And those whom
You brought down
To their knees

And now that you’re
Gone and I’ve
Emptied my purse
Once and for all
I find myself
Standing here
By the check out counter
Needing to figure my own way out
Between the doubts and fears
Of loving you
Even so
After so many

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ode to a Wife Left Behind

With apologies to Anna
For the none too literal

Such a cold proud man
But perhaps you can understand
How he truly thought
He was following
God’s righteous words
With his righteous deeds

And what can he say
About his loving wife
Who once and forever
Lost her original name

Whether you think
The less of her or not
Just because she couldn’t
Keep from looking back

At the earthen towers
Of her native Sodom
And the childhood pavilions
She couldn’t begin
To fathom life without

Suddenly she
Looked to the rear
And I imagine
Once nimble her feet
Became rooted
To the spot
So they tell me
In a transparent tower
Of salt and tears

For all of you
Kind enough to ask
I’ve learned so much
About the insignificance
Of my own life
With or without her

But no I never once
Looked back
Nor have I surrendered
To the least regret
For what the good Lord
One and all
Must abandon
Though I miss her so much
The woman who ventured all
For a single glance

Poem for Mr. Apology

If everyone takes 
More than a little 
Whatever remains 
Must sustain 
Those left behind 
For Tahnee 
Among others 
Following in your footsteps 
While out for midnight 

Attention blue 
And white collar criminals 
Attention you cheats and frauds 
Attention sex workers 
And pleasure seekers 
Those with long drawn faces 
And with smirking smiles 
For ordinary people 
With extraordinary 
Secrets and regrets 
Locked in silence 
Most of the time 

Not to speak 
With mournful voice 
But seriously inclined 
While riddled with joy 
In celebration of the 
Perverse logic of  

Being one-half animal 
And the other half god 
We can and must 
Figure this out 
As best we can 
It could be far worse 
Much worse after all 
As we are inevitably 
Destined for decline

From bombs 
In the basement 
Well accomplished 
From first to last 
At every art he tried 
Of figure study in the studio 
With daylight shaft 
Piercing the interior 
On the farther South Side 
To know art 
Is to know being 
Both possible 
And palpable 
All of the time 

But for now 
Read these block letters 
As I know you can 
And rejoice in your 
Exalted position 
Atop the food chain 
And please try to think 
And begin to explain
Both about what you ate 
To get where you are 
And what’s eating you 

That’s right 
My beloveds 
Every last one 
Of the great unwashed 
Urban scum 
Just call Mr. Apology 
And let him help you 
Lay it out on the line

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Lay a Body Down on the Water

Sometimes I feel
Like old Captain Sully
Trying to position myself
For an eventual soft landing
Held aloft by the wind
As if I’m dropping into
A bed of clover
Nose tucked up
Proceeding belly first

Yeah just like Sully
As he heads
Down the River
Attending to his task
Rudder in hand
In immaculate fashion
If you need to land
That contraption
Somewhere Sully
Please don’t make it
My backyard

From 5,000 feet
In the air
50 tons feels bulky
Unassisted by
Mechanical thrust
But descends more
Gradually than
You otherwise think
Would be possible
Held aloft by a
Column of air
Streaming down
From the north
Then turning sheer
To the east

Oh yeah
Just like Captain Sully
I want to lay
This body down
So gently on the water
With the wind
Streaming down
Sheer to the East

And I want to get myself
Into position
For that sweet soft landing
With the wind in my face
Held aloft by the ocean breeze
As I’m dropping into place
Nose tucked up
Proceeding belly first

Song of Winter Shadows

What I discovered
During this long cold winter
Looking into shadows
As they come and go
Is something I think
You should know

Shadows come
In many colors
But among all the others
You always find a blue

That’s what I’m telling you
When you look into
Winter shadows
You always find a blue

As the January day
Extends in length
The light softens
At the edges
And I look deep
Into the shadows
Where among
All the colors
I always find a blue

That’s what I’m telling you
When you look into
Winter shadows
You always find a blue

During winter more
Than any other time
Nature comes to you
Spare and uncovered
You look deep
Into her shadows
And there you discover
A rich world of color
And among all the others
You always find a blue

That’s what I’m telling you
When you look into
Winter shadows
You always find a blue

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Of the Rock Pocket People

with Heather and Ora
on a cold January day

So we navigated
From the south end
Of the Mall past the
Air and Space Museum
And then we alit
From the Honda

Fellow travelers with
Child rearing years
In the rear view mirror
Though child like
All the same
We encountered
An Ojibwe canoe
And central Arctic kayak
In the vast interior

Only slowly learning
To articulate
The latent manifesto
Of the poem indwelling
In such wide open spaces

Aligned dead center
In the nested circles
Of concentric rings
I felt there the
Indelible spirit
Of the tribe from
Whence I came
Captured by means
A vaulted ceiling
And the stones heavy
In my pocket’s bottom

Of brotherhood
And sisterhood
I mean to sing
These being the feelings
Most concentric
To the heart of
Any human being