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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, December 29, 2014

Bay Avenue Meditation (每精通五行)

Along the crook
Of Fourth Neck to
Its most easterly extent
Proceeding out on
A thin isthmus
Of asphalt and doubt
To a wooden bench
At the end of the pier
Where only tenuously
Connected to the
Sandbar behind me 
I sit and reflect upon
The sky’s reflection
And surrender to
The still wintry air
Watching daylight ascend
In layers and columns
To a higher redoubt

A dog barks
Down the street
A serene breeze
Stirs the red
Bandana affixed
To a pole
In the mouth
Of the Bay --
A slight tremor portends
Elijah and his fiery chariot
May finally be drawing near

Each packet of wind
Has its own trope
This is no projection
Or sympathetic fallacy
Merely an observation
Of the tendencies
On clear display
Out here in the harbor
As reality goes about its task
Defining a clear smooth path 
Out past the No Wake zone and
Through the Bay’s fill and chop 
Clear beyond the Point of No Return
As the waters continue parting
With a slight nod of the crown
Drawing us onward
Into the far greater depths
That lie straight ahead

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Another Year

It’s Christmas day
And anomalously
Just now I plucked
A dandelion from the
Front lawn with a white
Plumose Crown

And my mother said
To me: You can’t
Be too sure otherwise
Those seeds will be airborne
Before we get to New Year’s
And I thought to myself 
Another year another war

But it seems as if
This time around
With trowel close to hand
And a new Moon sitting
Two fingers adrift in
The western sky
The spheres have turned
And the growing season 
Is already here


On Hold Christmas Day - 2014 (每精通五行)

for Frank
It’s Christmas Day
And just now when you
Asked me to hold
I noticed a few
Drifting by
On the computer
Screen as if scattered
By some Java script
Onto the email below and then
I overheard you speaking
With the X-ray technician which
Didn't exactly fill me with
Holiday cheer and it being 50
Degrees plus out here on 
The East End I figure
That virtual snow is all
We’re likely to see on
Christmas this year

Frank on Christmas Day - 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the Five Phases of the Spirit's Journey (每精通五行)

How robust life is
In all respects
The rapid recovery
Truck sits just beyond
The front lawn all day long
Capable of addressing
Present disasters even if  
Woefully inadequate
When it comes to  
Those we imagine

 And how our continued
Sense of well being hangs
By the slenderest of threads
Through many harvests  
Through regime change
And bottoming out
In short through
All five phases of Being

When at last we emerge
From Reality’s cocoon
Our term of imprisonment
Under Five Phase Mountain
Having been abruptly commuted
Upon the arrival of
A dragon with wings
Tipped with pennants of fire

A rapid recovery truck outside the window

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Wintry Mix

For Christine Stansell
Chongyam Trungpa
Steve Davis and all
The other mentors
Real or imagined
Who taught by example
 (good and/or bad)
About the dangers
And rewards of
Mixing the personal
With the spiritual
And political realms
How the Lotus of Life unfolds
In the most intricate of ways

Please understand
From now until
New Year’s more
Than a fortnight hence
I have no frigging idea
On any given night whether
I'll end up in bed alone
Gnashing my teeth
Blessed or utterly stoned

Which was the very same
Wintry mix displayed
On the streets
Of Midtown yesterday
A surcharge of the craziness
We’re lately awash in
Anguish and insight  
With an antic twist
It's a two-step line dance called
The Armageddon Shuffle

In this case arising as a
Column of protest marchers
Chanting that Black Lives Matter
Made its way up 6th Avenue
Into the heart of Herald Square
Where a phalanx of Drunken Santas
Had already laid claim to the turf
In their riotous good cheer
They careened about
Under the street lamps
Swaying and cantilevered

Undeterred as the
Marchers proceeded
Uptown and East
While helicopters
Hovered overhead
And a cordon of cruisers
With blue and red flashing lights
Sealed off all alternate
Routes of escape

Hemmed in
On all four sides
Of the barricades
We were laid bare
In the urban grid
 Drawn and quartered
By the same police power
Those of us angry
And those of us willing
And those of us
Besotted too
All of us could
Suddenly see
Exactly where
Things stood

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finally - A Reply to Meditation #17

God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war,
some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all.   

John Donne, Meditation 17 

Entails a stutter step
Or a stammering
Thanks to the absurdity
Of the Brightness

If you're unprepared
It can be hazardous
To your health
The equivalent
To a stroke or
A Richter 10 quake

But how unlike
A beast is humankind
That we can lift
Our hind legs upward
In prayer (not merely
to urinate)
Over our heads
In submission
To the laws of

And while sitting
On the mat if you tell
Me not to ask
For whom the bell tolls
Or the siren wails
I’ll take comfort
In knowing that
It wails for me
Celebrating the
Not-self's return

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Poem for Bodhi Day

For Jonathan Stalling

From Emptiness to Enlightenment
Is but a short step (or leap) off
The end of a long dark period
As quite suddenly old Gutei
Lifts a single finger and
The first Nen clears its throat
Ready to speak of its own accord

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Sur-reply to Wallace Stevens

I wrote this stanza answering to a double prompt - (i) a photo (copied below) that I saw posted on Facebook of footsteps trailing off in a field of snow, which basically looked like a calligraphy for half of a Chinese character or so, and (ii) Wallace Stevens' great poem The Snowman.

For the wanderer
Who treks through the snow
And beholds the Nothing
That is there along with
Various other things 
Paled by abstraction
And contingency 

The title of this poem is a cross-reference to a few of my earlier poems that were addressed to Stevens, including one which you can read by clicking here.   But what this new stanza reflects is how lately I've been considering whether The Snowman reflects a Buddhist view of Nothing (as a number of American critics seem to think it does)  as opposed to that of an American modernist insurance executive?  There are many types of Nothing and Stevens, for the most part, seems to stick to thinking about it in a spare positivist framework, at least that's how his mind of winter strikes me - not quite yet inclined to see Enlightenment as the ultimate payoff of Emptiness.

The mind of winter may also be the least of it.  How about this as a further sur-reply: 

For the wanderer
Who treks through the snow
And beholds the Nothing
That is there and even more so
Knows not just the sheer abstraction
Of the landscape but also
Endures its coldest contingencies
Must contend with something
Much more severe than
The mere mind of winter  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Poem Written in reply to Don Share's Tweet

This poem is the result of an exchange on Twitter prompted by Don Share's tweet (in which he quoted the novelist Ali Smith as saying that poets should revere translators) to which I then replied reverence has nothing to do with it -- which as a translator I feel entitled to say -- and he replied he reveres his masters and so on....

And so we tweeted
Back and forth the other day
About the aptness of reverence
For poets and translators
Masterful or otherwise
Yet there was one more thing
I still wanted to say

Because even for poets
I’m inclined to revere
-- like Neruda Akhmatova or Blake --
I would be astonished
If any one of them 
Had ever intended
For their words
To be fetishized thus
Or construed so as to impose
An anthropomorphic gloss
On what is and always
Remains a matter of
The poet’s deepest
Abiding faith

To say nothing
Of the greatest sages of all time
Such as Lao Tzu and Zhuang Zhou
For whom meaning subsumed 
To the messenger  
Would be inimical 
To the Dao itself

And so it goes with
The best of poems
As with any testament or sutra
That it may be understood
More as means to an end
Or an expression of striving
Rather than exalted as
An end or meaning that's
Been fully attained

Monday, November 24, 2014

Words Spoken to a Muse in a Hotel Room in Syracuse New York

So no one can accuse me
Of not laying it out on the line
Most of the time
From the very title of it
Leaving little room for doubt
About with whom I'm speaking
Or where I've been

That’s what you call
The network effect
Of modern life
Filling in the story
The way the eye likes
To complete the arc 
Of the rainbow's glory
From only a hint of color

We laughed and drank and talked
And then like a couple 
Of old ghosts draped in muslin
We danced in the moonlight
At the end of the hall
While Marissa took a short nap

*  *  *  *  *

--> Marissa crashed out on the bed not long after we checked into the hotel – it had been a long day’s drive, and she’d spent more than 3 hours behind the wheel.   The traffic droned by on the Interstate that ran parallel to the parking lot just outside the motel window.  I sat and after a while fell into a meditative trance.  Then I went downstairs to change the air freshener in the car.  A puff or two later I was all set and went back upstairs.  The drapes at the end of the hallway billowed in the breeze.  Or was it something else, a dust devil perhaps or the exhalation from a nearby air vent?  

Because life is inherently interesting – that’s what I told myself – that’s reason enough to keep writing, even if it only means that I continue scribbling things down in one my little notebooks.  With a memory so porous as mine, there is simply no other way to keep track of all the amazing things that happen in the course of an otherwise quite ordinary day.

Poetry entails a sort of scientific inquiry into the nature of the universe – its spiritual dimensions.  I closed my eyes and rested my forehead on the edge of the desktop.  I listened intently to the hard drive whirring hoping I could better discern and transcribe everything it said.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A poem that first started out as a tweet

So here is a new wrinkle in the way I've decided to play around with Twitter.  I started writing a poem as a Tweet.  And then I hit the 140 character limit and I kept going.  Oh well.  I guess this twitter poetry is a rapidly evolving form of art in which we make and break rules with abandon.  In any case, here is the poem that started out as a Tweet:

A poem may
Be nothing more  
Than a moment in time 
That brings heightened command
Over the King’s English and 
In which insight waxes greatly
(in other words, a tweet)
Only briefly to transpire
And no longer suffice
For the expression of whatever
Meaning it was that
Was initially conceived

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ode to Nothing (or a brief note jotted down while examining the vortex)

How the vortex shows
Nothing may be such an active
Presence in our lives
Like the drone of bees
Gathering around
The hive it is an
Effusion we give off
Collectively as a species
As we go about building
Out the honeycomb and preparing
For our own demise

The image above is by the artist Brian D. Cohen and first appeared in his book The Fools' Journey, which is filled with striking images based on Renaissance cosmography. You can learn more about Brian's great work on his website:  www.bridge-press.com 

A Note of Thanks to Francois Jullien

I jotted down these lines after first opening up the pages of a revelatory text called The Great Image Has No Form by Francois Jullien.

The ineffable remains
A frontier by rational
Intellect largely undiscovered
Reachable much more readily
Via the Arts than Sciences
Not easily susceptible to
Measurement or dismemberment
Or remembrance in daylight's glare
But in embracing it
We ourselves are subsumed

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ode to the Cherry Street Inn

for my nephew Austin

There are so many ways
To kick the bucket
Without even trying
Some involve stupidity
Some serial bad luck
But easiest of all 
Is succumbing
To the living death
Of the day after day

Whereas living in grace
Entails a far simpler plan
If you can only whistle a bar 
Or two of the Hallelujah chorus 
While sipping at your morning coffee
If you can keep an open heart and mind  
In the face of all the sameness
That lies directly ahead

You have to persist in this
Notwithstanding the shadows
Lying in wait outside
The front door
Shadows that seem to impede
Your forward progress  
On February 2nd much as
Any other day
You have to figure out how
Not to let those shadows
Get in your way

Groundhog Day tells a story
That’s easily misunderstood
As a simple allegory whereas
It's actually a realistic account
Of the pact each of us
May choose to renew in response   
The alarm clock's summons
Each and every day

No matter what quadrant you start out in  
Whether at the Cherry Street Inn 
Or down at the Blue Lotus Temple
Snug at a table at Papa G's
Or across the Square
And out at the old homestead
Sooner or later your lifetime begins
To spin around the coordinate points
Faster and faster in a disorienting way
It's powerful enough to fool GPS 
And it can certainly confound a foolish
Old man like me

*  *  *  *  *

For those of you wondering about the title of this poem, it's a reference to the great Harold Ramis movie Groundhog Day.  And the picture above is the view from the shade of the front porch of the Inn where Bill Murray stayed for almost an eternity and where Marissa and I were lucky enough to stay last night - as guests of Karla and Everton Martin.  Now called the Royal Victorian Manor, for those of you passing though McHenry County Illinois, I recommend it highly.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Poem Written While Sipping a Cup of 7/11's Finest


Even the candy wrapper 
Approaches perfection
Sitting at roadside as the world
Spins and strives to regain its balance
Every cause seeks out its effect 
With longing and finds bliss 
In the attainment from 
One moment to the next
All ten thousand things
Fit snugly in the pocket
Of emptiness

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ode to the Barrista's Fedora

Just the other day
I reread a favorite essay
By George S. Trow
In which he lamented
His demographic fate
As outcast to his
Patrimony only fit
To wear a fedora

And then again today
In a coffee shop
I noticed this barrista
Named Sarah who was
Wearing her fedora
Most fashionably and 
Without a hint of irony

And I realized it all adds up:
No context has been context
Enough to trace our progress
Over the intervening years
As fashions came and went
The hat got passed from
Clark Kent to Jimmy Olson
And now to Lois Lane
And all the while
The goat continues

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Under a Gibbous Moon Rising

A dog barks to leeward
I am so in the mix of
The west wind rising
Uplifted with the tide 
And likewise enthralled 
By a milky gibbous moon 
Which has pulled Time adrift 
And so I slip a little too 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Short Poem for Wittgenstein's Ghost

The punchline to the best jokes
Lately sounds exactly the same
As we figure things out
A minute too late or else
Our sizable cash inheritance 
Only becomes payable the day after
All currencies have been abolished
And or it turns out even words come
With an expiration date
As a medium of exchange
For expressing matters
Of utmost importance 

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Poem Written While Waiting Online at Staples

So this is pretty interesting.  At least to me it is.  I went to buy myself a new notebook this afternoon around the corner at Staples.  And while standing in line I wrote a poem.  I've never quite managed that feat before - in one clean shot a poetic composition complete, ready to stand on its own, without further adieu.  Not only that, I went home right away and published the poem via Twitter.  I wasn't sure at the time I wrote it how many characters it would be.  In other words, it wasn't initially written pursuant to a formal notion or constraint of 140 characters. Rather I wrote the poem I wanted to only subject to the constraint of standing on line at Staples and it just so happened that it fell under Jack Dorsey's prescribed limit to be publishable on Twitter.

In any case, here is the poem I wrote and first published on Twitter together with the photo I took while standing in line.

Now once again
I've returned to
The scene of
Previous mention
In line at Staples
Except this time
I manage to go through
With the purchase

I imagine some of you well might think - it's not much of a poem.  And no doubt that's quite true.  But please bear in mind the circumstances under which it was written.  And also please take a moment to read the poem I wrote immediately prior to this (which you can read by clicking here) to which this poem directly relates if not answers.  So in a sense I suppose it may be cheating slightly - as this poem is formally constrained to being 140 characters or less but it does in part derive meaning by reference to a slightly longer prior poem.  (In fact Haiku originally developed in a very similar manner through a tradition of linked short poems known as Renku or Renga - so there is even good historical precedent for that poetic business model as well!)

In any case, whether it's a good poem or not is utterly besides the point.  What is of note here is that I have made a discovery for myself.  It's such a good idea I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't a number of other poets out there exploring similarly how to really use Twitter instead of continuing to resist it.  So far I have only seen poets using Twitter in the usual ways - as a means of self-promotion, casual banter or snide asides.  But getting beyond such banalities there is no reason we can't someday hope to see a genre of poetry spring up here too, like a modern day version of Haiku or better yet Renku!  A new journal or two from some hipsters in Brooklyn is surely soon to follow and what more after that do you suppose? Just wait until next week ...     

Poem Written in Line While Waiting at Staples

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Little Lost Leaf

Far too long and
Deep into the weeds
Between stoned and not
There’s naught but
An exhale of difference
Except now the depression
Scuds low enough

To envelope me
Much like a riptide
Dragging my sorry ass
Far out to sea
A tiny speck
All but submerged

              *  *  *

At Staples just now
They asked 8 bucks plus
For a little black notebook
But why pay such
A high price
For poems that
May just as well
Remain thought

But unwritten? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What an Artist Knows

This was one of the first poems I wrote.  It was on the occasion of my wife's 50th  birthday which we celebrated with friends in grand style at the Cafe des Artistes.  (It was back in the days when we still had money to burn.)

Tonight we'll be celebrating again (happily enough with both new and old friends) on the occasion of the Suffolk Arts Center's new exhibit where 3 of Marissa's orchid paintings will be on display.  So I thought it would be a good idea to dig out the old poem, dust it off and see if I could refurbish it in light of new facts and circumstances of our lives.  Usually I don't like to rewrite older poems but this one is slightly different because I knew at the time I first wrote it that I hadn't gotten it quite right.  More than that, love and marriage is certainly best understood as a perpetual work in progress so it is in that spirit that I offer up these revisions.

What an Artist Knows 
                               for Marissa

What an artist knows
She knows in the flesh
With each turn of her wrist
Each inspiration and breath
She iterates space
With a knowing caress

Eyes open or closed
There’s joy in her bones
Or the sudden most sorrow
May stipple her marrow
So that come what tomorrow
The surer her vision grows

As with the tip of a brush
She enraptures the rose
And captures swift life
As it ebbs and it flows
Through all the harmonics
Of laughter and shade

Until by means
Still more enigmatic
From garden to pallet
She learns to transcribe
The orchid’s tuneful lyric
Onto the petals strewn
Beside and below

Restoring us into
Intimate contact
With beauty in its
Timeline aspect
Of the radiance that endures
Even as each blossom
Comes and goes

* * * * * *

Marissa Bridge from The Journey #22

This is one of the paintings from Marissa's new series called The Journey which chronicles the life cycle of an orchid in in bloom.  You can see more of these incredible images on her website here.

(You can also read the earlier version my poem here.)