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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, November 29, 2019

The Second Day of Creation: an explanatory verse

I came across this ravishing image on Twitter by the photographer Pentti Sammallahati (Pentti, I sure hope you don't mind my showing a copy of your image here on my blog):

And then I composed this bit of explanatory verse:

An opening in the clouds Through which daylight Tears through more or less How the world appeared on The second day of creation
A negative statement almost entirely After the sky had been created and Began right away to block out light

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Stow Away

Down at the mouth
Of the creek just now
I ran into a neighbor
And her dog Farrell
A border collie
Docile and sweet

I was with my own
Dog Bayleigh
Who eyed Farrell
While I admired
The tranquil waters
Of Shinnecock Bay
A few ducks paddled
About 5 yards offshore

What a beautiful day
Better store it away in memory
My neighbor said to me

Where else am I going to put it
I thought to myself
But this was no time
For such a quip
I was transfixed
By the clarity of
The November horizon 
That seemed within reach
Even as it extended out
Towards the utter certainty 
Of seasonal death

Well why not write it down
And save it as a poem
A little acorn to stow away
I thought to myself
As I walked home
And of course that
Is exactly what I did
By stowing it away
As a poem


A number of years ago I became familiar with the idea of moment work, as developed by the playwright and director Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company, which has brought to life much of his better work.  A moment is integral to way they construct each scene in their dramatic works (the best know of which, perhaps, is The Laramie Project), built moment to moment as it were.

While writing this poem, it occurred to me that poems no less than dramas may be constructed by a similar means. There's no reason to confine yourself to a single moment, as the great Li Bai might have done, as opposed to creating a succession of moments like pearls on a string. The string is easy enough but the pearl - that of course is the hard part.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Rose Within (translation of a poem by Rilke)

The Rose Within

Where lies the interior
Of this outward display?
Over what ache spreads
Such a fine linen?
And what skies gleam
Above the inner seas
As the petals open,
So carefree, if you’ll
But look and see:
Looseness is the solution
In which they lie,
Yet unshakeable
By a trembling hand.
By dint of what effort
Holding themselves erect;
So much overflowing
And pouring out from
Daylight’s interior,
Always fuller and fuller
To their fullest extent,
Until the whole summer
Enfolds within a room
A room within a dream

Reply to Rilke

If a rose unfolding
Is a sign of the soul
There’s no inner withholding
That any true flower knows
It’s all in the baring as 
Each blossom grows
And the effortless giving of
What transparently shows

After a certain point, it's not quite enough to translate a poem; rather I find myself drawn into dialog.  For me this is particularly true with Rilke, whose ardency as a poet I greatly admire, but find myself not always completely aligned with in spirit.  As a bonus, I want to share with you a translation of a poem by Bai Juyi, one of my favorite Tang poets, on a similar theme:

Flower Without Flower

Flower without flower
Mist without mist
At midnight arriving
As Heaven's light dims

Dream of springtime fresh
But how long will it remain
A cloud lingers until dawn
Then disperses without a trace


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Reply to Rilke ... About that Cloak

Isn’t it possible
That God’s true cloak
Is no cloak at all?
The golden mist covering
The field will dissipate
Not long after dawn
Nor need our hands
Hide the truth from our eyes
Once the mist is gone
Instead let them lie idle
Alongside or clasped 
In mudra or prayer
Not busy making
Or creating
Only abiding


This poem is written in reply to Rilke's poem, God's True Cloak, from The Book of Hours.  You can read a beautiful translation of Rilke's poem here, by Joanna Macy and Anita Bowers.  What often happens to me when I read Rilke is that I'm filled with more with questions than answers.  He unsettles me, which I suppose is one measure of his greatness in the realm of the spirit.