Celan, 1970

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Celan, 1970

From frame to door,
the obvious defers, denying

entry as if
an eye could reclaim

or separate

the fallen tear
and the river’s skin,

or return
those words to

thought, water to
stone, intent

to cold
reason,
now to before.

He stepped into release.

 

* * *

“Celan, 1970” first appeared in October 2015. One of the most influential (and difficult) European poets of the 20th century, Paul Celan survived the horror of World War II but never escaped its shadow. A brief biography may be found here.

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Earth’s Damp Mound

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Earth’s Damp Mound
for P.M.

I. February 1998.

That week it rained white petals
and loss completed its

turn, the words finding themselves
alone, without measure,

without force, and no body to compare.
Though strangers spoke I could not.

Is this destiny, an unopened
mouth filled with

pebbles, a pear tree
deflowered by the wind? The earth’s

damp mound settles among your bones.

 

II. Count the Almonds

What bitterness
preserves your sleep,

reflects the eye’s
task along the inward thread?

Not the unspoken, but the unsayable.

Curious path, curious seed.
A shadow separates

to join another, and in the darker
frame carries the uncertain

further, past silence, past touch,
leaving its hunger alert and unfed,

allowing us our own protections.

 

III. The Bowl of Flowering Shadows

Reconciled, and of particular
grace, they lean, placing emphasis on balance,

on layer and focus, on depth of angle
absorbing the elegant darkness,

a lip, an upturned glance, the mirror.

What light caresses, it may destroy.
Even the frailest may alter intent.

So which, of all those you might recall,
if your matter could reform

and place you back into yourself,
would you choose? Forgive me

my selfishness, but I must know.

 

IV. Requiem

Then, you said, the art of nothingness
requires nothing more

than your greatest effort.
And how, seeing yours, could we,

the remaining, reclaim our
space without encroaching on what

you’ve left? One eye closes, then
the other. One mouth moves and another

speaks. One hears, one listens, the eternal
continuation. Rest, my friend. After.

 

Prentiss Moore influenced my reading and writing more than he ever realized. We spent many hours talking, eating, arguing, drinking, laughing. Always laughing – he had one of those all-encompassing laughs that invited the world to join in. And it frequently did. Through Prentiss I met in person one of my literary heroes, Gustaf Sobin, whose work Prentiss had of course introduced me to. Those few hours spent with the two of them driving around in my pickup truck, discussing poetry, the Texas landscape, horticulture and the vagaries of the publishing world, are hours I’ll always hold close.

Earth’s Damp Mound first appeared in the anthology Terra Firma, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

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Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

Everything is nothing, but afterwards.
I rise and the moon disturbs the darkness,
revealing symbols, a few stolen words
on the bureau. Tomorrow I’ll express
my gratitude by disappearing be-
fore I’m found, which is to say goodbye
before hello, a paradigm for the
prepossessed. Compton tells us to imply
what’s missing, like Van Gogh or Bill Monroe,
but why listen to the dead before they’ve
stopped speaking? Unfortunately we throw
out the bad with the good, only to save
the worst. I return to bed, and the floor
spins. Nothing is everything, but before.

This first appeared in The Blue Hour Magazine in December 2014, and is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. The line “Everything is nothing, but afterwards” comes from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin. Porchia wrote one book in his lifetime, but what a book it was! Often described as a collection of aphorisms, Voices is so much more – each time I open the book, I find new meaning in old lines.

Vincent

Directive to the Circumspect Texan

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Directive to the Circumspect Texan

When the vowel trips through the consonant and knots
the tongue, remember this: artifice. A making. In one

hand, a knife. On the table, cured flesh and fermented
products. Imagine uncertain lighting, laughter, a narrow

opening and the uphill walk three days into the parametric
world of occlusion. Tell no untruths. Mention refrigerators

and your proficiency with duck. Admit failure and order
a second pilz. Listen. Discuss heat and issues of space,

personnel logistics and the pleasure of July departures.
Cite advertising and Ashbery. Savor what is rightly not

yours. Embrace inadequacy. Forego dessert. Express
true gratitude. Say y’all. Shake hands. Find the door.

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From Alternative Fiction & Poetry (1987)

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(This first appeared in March 2014).

Quite the interesting mag back in the day. This particular issue saw the likes of Bukowski, Ivan Arguelles, Lyn Lifshin, Norm Moser, Sheila E. Murphy, and, well, me, among others. I was thinner back then, as was my poetry.

no more than
the slow grace
of light turning

the leaf so
patient in the
air and colder

now that sense
of permanence unfurled
it is not

long to wait
as Wang Wei
said in his

letter I listen
for a sound
but hear none

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Fifty-Word Review: Forth a Raven, by Christina Davis

(Originally appeared in December 2013)

Christina Davis’s Forth a Raven offers stark, textured, intelligent and lyrical pieces in a stripped-down yet ultimately complex, reflective language. Encompassing the tension of different realms – the spiritual and the secular, the extraordinary and the mundane, her work, quite simply, astounds. Read this book. Seek out her work. It’s sublime.

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Not Your Mama’s Carnitas (and not my Mama’s either, but then she was Japanese)

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This first appeared in December 2013.

The Lovely Wife and her boon companion Apollonia, the 5-lb terror of Texas, are in the country, shooting arrows, fixing weed whackers, burning wood and sipping Chianti with the neighbor, leaving me bereft, alone but for Jackboy, the loyal cattle dog, and forced to fend, alas, for myself. So after a vigorous cardiac rehab session I repaired to my favorite bar, er, grocery store, and while meandering with a “mazy motion” like Kubla Khan’s sacred river through the aisles laden with organic produce, wondrous cheeses, craft beers and dubious dietary supplements, what did I spy but a comely little top round bison roast! I’d never before prepared said roast, but throwing caution to the wind is of course part and parcel to fending for oneself, and it was a breezy day. And while resting at the bar, er beverage sampling station, and sampling the wares (a local German-style pilz), I pondered the piece of meat and eavesdropped among my fellow samplers – talk of shopping conquests, welding, 14th century navigation and hoppy beer. But what to do with the roast? Certainly not an ordinary potato and carrot concoction. Chili? Nah, just had it. Grilled? Are you kidding? And then I overheard the word, the one way, the truth: carnitas, which instantly transported me through various savory stretches of the world and multiple cuisines, initiating salivary gland overload, but leading, in the end, to what I hoped would become a culinary delight, or at least an edible dinner.

I knew that I should braise the meat, as this particular cut of bison was very lean (hell, bison is very lean), but it was late and I was famished. So I did what any bright, hungry, middle-aged sojourner of the kitchen would do: put it off. But thinking it might be nice to enhance the depth of flavor, I threw together a few dry ingredients (salt, sugar, 5-spice powder, ground pepper), sprinkled the mixture on the roast, and set it in the refrigerator to cure overnight.

[To assuage my hunger I fried some leftover rice with ham, green onion, jalapenos, carrots and peas. Tweren’t bad.]

And the next day, after taking The Lovely Wife’s dobro to the repair shop, reading Dawn Lundy Martin’s A Gathering of Matter a Matter of Gathering (amazing poet, incredible poetry) at Hopfield’s gastropub while enjoying the Pascal Burger (medium rare with camembert, cornichons and carmelized onions) and frites accompanied by a delightful tulip of Birra del Borgo’s American Pale Ale,and following this with a productive and pleasant writing session in the poetry shack, I commenced preparing dinner…
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…which began with opening a bottle of Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot, and pondering Dawn Lundy Martin’s book. The collection opens with “Last Days,” a poem of death and grief and what lies before, between and after, consisting of questions and replies. But such questions. Such replies! She begins the poem:

What is the relation between Figure A and Figure B?

This is what the father has become.

And ends it:

How is the pain endured?

A stem of grass imagined when it is not raining.
All those things called intentions. The private / treasures one keeps safe.

The depths, the deliberation, the complexities of language and image brought forth in the replies, astound (confound?) me. So much to consider. And what lies between the opening and ending serves to build, layer by layer, the emotional foundation, adding texture and nuance, providing power in detail and, yes, beauty. Wonderfully complex and masterfully done. But back to the pinot (light, spicy, woody aroma (cedar?), and balanced, though unlike Martin’s work, not complex, but hey, it was only $11), and cooking:

First I inventoried my supplies, starting with veggies: three slightly withered carrots, one whole onion, garlic, three jalapenos, a small knob of ginger, one red pepper, four green onions, half of a small red cabbage, and a poblano pepper that had seen better days. Next, the braising liquid. Hmm. Which primary liquid? Pinot? No, I wanted to drink it and wasn’t willing to share with the bison. Sherry? Nah, use it too often. Chicken broth? Water? Surely you jest. And then I spotted a partially full (empty? was I truly feeling optimistic?) bottle of sake, resting amiably next to its close friend, Ms. Soy Sauce. Braising liquid, check.

I peeled and fine-diced the carrots, sliced the jalapenos lengthwise into thin strips, diced the red pepper and onion, salvaged what I was able of the poblano (about half had gone mushy) and diced that, and minced three cloves of garlic and the knob of ginger, reserving half of the ginger for later use.

Then I patted the roast dry with a paper towel removing the excess moisture drawn out by the rub, after which I seared it in a little oil in a Dutch oven. After judging the roast suitably crusty, I removed it and added the carrots, onion and peppers, sauteed them until softened, added the garlic and ginger, two tablespoons of soy sauce and the rest of the bottle of sake, perhaps three quarters of a cup. I brought this up to a roil, turned down the heat, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then covered and placed the Dutch oven into the oven, where it remained for two and-a-half hours, simmering gently at 350 degrees.

While the bison braised, I shredded the remnants of the red cabbage, sliced the green onions, prepared a dressing consisting of rice vinegar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, hot mustard, minced garlic and the reserved ginger, and tossed it all together, resulting in an in-your-face but nevertheless tasty slaw.

And after the allotted time, I removed the bison from the oven and shredded it with a fork – yes, it was that tender – placed a bit of it in taco shells (hey, these are MY carnitas, not your mama’s), topped the meat with some of the cooked veggies, dolloped a bit of creme fraiche on that (I’d found a partial container in the fridge, only a month past the “sell by” date), covered that with the slaw, and took a bite. My. Goodness. Wow. More. Want more. All in all, I must proclaim that the Asian-Inspired Bison Carnitas with Hoisin Slaw was a success. I give it two thumbs up, and a few assorted toes.

But I’m still pondering Dawn Lundy Martin, and have turned to her latest (I think) book, Discipline, which looks to be every bit as intriguing as A Gathering of Matter a Matter of Gathering.