Sheng-yu’s Lament (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

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Sheng-yu’s Lament (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

First heaven took my wife,
and now, my son.
These eyes will never dry
and my heart slowly turns to ash.
Rain seeps far into the earth
like a pearl dropped into the sea.
Swim deep and you’ll see the pearl,
dig in the earth and you’ll find water.
But when people return to the source,
we know they’re gone forever.
I touch my empty chest and ask, who
is that withered ghost in the mirror?

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“Sheng-yu’s Lament” is included in my micro-chapbook, No Eye But The Moon’s, available via free download at Origami Poems Project.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Heaven already take my wife
Again again take my son
Two eyes although not dry
(Disc) heart will want die
Rain fall enter earth in
Pearl sink enter sea deep
Enter sea can seek pearl
Dig earth can see water
Only person return source below
Through the ages know self (yes)
Touch breast now ask who
Emaciated mirror in ghost

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And Sometimes You Say No

And Sometimes You Say No

Perhaps I’m getting cantankerous in my dotage, unwilling to admit that I can’t expect good things to continue coming my way, and should consider settling for what’s offered. After all, the age reel isn’t rewinding, and my inbox is not exactly buzzing with publication offers. There are more funerals than weddings in my future. I limp. Each day is indeed a blessing but my remaining minutes do not feel unconstrained. Far from it.

A few months ago I received an acceptance email from a chapbook publisher affiliated with a literary journal that had published one of my poems. The chapbook is strong, I think, and I felt good about the acceptance, until I read the one-sided contract. You can guess which side received the greater benefit. I emailed a reply asking for clarifications, and received one back the next day. To sum it up: the publisher would deign to publish me, but I’d bear responsibility for all promotion beyond their announcements on social media. Furthermore, their standard policy was to provide no review copies, and I would have to meet their minimum pre-publication sales order in order to be published. I could deal with these annoyances if there were hope of some payment, but in this case payment would be limited to 12% of the initial print run, which would likely run from 40 to 100 copies. So let’s say I was one of the fortunates who merited a 100-copy printing (which, to be frank, is on the low end). My total payment would consist of twelve copies, out of which I would need to provide any copies sent to reviewers, leaving me with oh, let’s say nine or ten to sell at readings. Chances are after a couple of readings, I’d have no chapbooks remaining, and would need to purchase additional copies from the publisher if I wanted to sell more. But under their terms, I’d receive only a 30% discount. Bear in mind that bookstores generally require a 40% discount to sell a book – they have to make something on the transaction. The publisher’s price was $14, so each consignment sale through a bookstore would net a loss of $1.40 per book. Uh, no. I may be a poet, but I can add and subtract, and I will not a) pay a publisher to publish my work, b) lose money merely to see my words in print, or c) work for free (I’m willing to do my part, but the publisher must also function as more than just a printer).

What to do? Stay on the same track? Submitting to publishers, and then on the rare occasion a manuscript is accepted, peruse the publisher’s terms and sign only if they’re agreeable? Self-publish? I haven’t wanted to take on the headaches of self-publishing, but am leaning in that direction more and more. I have two chapbooks scheduled for release during the next year, and am grateful to the publishers for offering good terms to their writers. But after these are in print, what course should I take?

Ilya Kaminsky’s “Search Patrols”

Reading “Search Patrols,” I marvel that so much feeling, so many layers, can exist in so few lines. If you have time, listen to the podcast, which includes discussion of the poem as well as Kaminsky’s dramatic reading.

To Sing the Ever Present Farewell

To Sing the Ever Present Farewell

The way your breast rises,
small pillows,
two doves in autumn,
so, too, the song escapes.

I admit my part,
warbled promise, uncombed
and shivering,
free to worry
under its pull.

Still it comes,
inexorable tide
lowing a sorrow
through filtered light
till dawn.

Even the Sotol Believes

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Even the Sotol Believes

If we must discuss logographic systems, let us begin with fish.
And how might one mistake an entrance for a perch?

A movable rod for a desert spoon?

Today’s lesson excludes a poorly rendered door.

Hinges are merely mechanical joints, the origin of which means to hang. Concentrate there.

D is the tenth most frequently used letter in English.

Depicted on rock wall paintings, the sotol has provided food, sandals,

blankets, ropes, tools and spirits for millennia.
Slow cook the roots for three nights, crush, then ferment for seventy-two hours in

champagne yeast. Distill, then age in French oak.

We shall neither open nor close, nor mention those things that do.

Like bivalves. Bottles. Eyes. Shops. Caskets. Books. Mouths. Circuits.
Its flower stalk rises up to fifteen feet. Its leaves are long, thin and barbed.

Surrounded by orange ochre flames and black smoke, the sotol spirit appears.

Dalet will not enter our vocabulary today.

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Originally published in Otoliths 41 (October 2013), and most recently posted here in May 2017.

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

Dear Jeff: The glow here betrays our fantasies,

and between day and night and that uncertain

moment when neither holds sway, I have gained

a toehold on consequence. Who knew darkness

could shine so? Last November the surgeon

incised my belly six times but no light oozed

out and little crept in. I say little, but feel

a peculiar radiance emanating from my middle

which I can only attribute to the moon, although

the medical professionals would say it’s just

gas. But what do they know of Sheng-Yu or

Li Ho, of jade wheels and spilled cups? Last

night, to honor our marching sisters, I looked

to the cloud-filled sky and toasted them and

our ancestors, the poets and scapegoats, friends,

allies, compatriots, Five White and Jackboy,

shedding a solitary tear of joy in the process.

We won’t label the other tears, but I shudder

at our country’s current course and how the

bulging wallets of the rich continue swelling

at the expense of the poor and unhealthy,

the elderly, the unacknowledged, and those

living on the fringes, in colored shadows.

If we meet in person on some desolate, moon-

free road in a country that could never be,

how will I know you but from the ghosts and

smiles sparkling in the surrounding fog,

and the little voices singing their sad tune

of happiness into the night. This is where

we stand today, but tomorrow? Look for me

on that bench. I’ll be the full-bellied fellow,

the one with an eclipse leaking from his shirt

in a six-point pattern, two glasses in hand,

wine uncorked, ready for reptiles and politicians,

mirth and causation and good conversation

in brightness or tenebrous calm, whichever

needs replenishing more. But bring another

bottle. Or two. Talking makes me thirsty. Bob.

 

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My poem “Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon” was first published at The Hamilton Stone Review in October 2017. Much gratitude to editor Roger Mitchell for taking this piece.