Prentiss Moore, 1947-1998

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Prentiss Moore, 1947-1998

I’d been so busy with the bookstore that we’d not been in touch. I always thought we’d have time for that breakfast, for those drinks, for that laughter. I heard about his death only minutes before the memorial gathering was to begin. Stunned, and dressed in my standard bookseller’s uniform of jeans and wrinkled shirt, unshaven, I felt inadequate to the occasion, betrayed, embarrassed. The clear sky pressed uncomfortably close. How dare he die! Why did I not know? The ground shifted underfoot and I walked like a man underwater. I swatted at a buzzing wasp, not caring if it retaliated. And for the first time I realized that I, too, was dying. We all were. We all are. The gathering was lovely, memorable. Friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers spoke. I could not.

I once said that I hoped to become half the poet that Prentiss was. I may finally be approaching that elusive mark, but I’m still angry. How dare he die!

To read one of his most memorable poems, please look here:

And my poem for Prentiss can be found on this blog:

https://robertokaji.com/2014/09/06/earths-damp-mound/

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?

* * *

“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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Jackboy’s Pride

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Abused, abandoned and left to die of thirst or predation almost sixteen years ago on a largely uninhabited county road terminating at our rural property’s entrance, Jackboy brought much laughter and comfort to our household. Tireless shadow, friend, writing partner, loyal companion and protector, he was, and will remain forever, a good boy – in his estimation, the highest possible praise. Nearly four years have passed. We miss him.

Jackboy’s Pride

Through patience,
recognition eases in: the patterns

of repetition and praise
and joy in task. The orange ball. A scorpion’s

tail. How we delight in sharing each
victory. And with the breeze

runs other unspoken tales – a neighbor’s
cruelty, bones, the pregnant raccoon

lumbering through the cedars. But nothing
deters the jump and the following drop.

He nips heels where none exist. We follow.

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Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

 

Ghost, with a Line from Porchia

In my dreams you manifest in a younger form.

If I were to give you life, what could I give you?

Your hands never touched these walls, yet you inhabit them.

As my language inters you, I am absorbed in yours.

Some gifts are simply not proffered, others are released.

My fingers retrace your name in both sun and shade.

The rain taps out regrets, regretson the metal roof.

Dim spirit, faint soul. Root-land. Shoal. Mother.

Each visit signals the darkness waiting.

Your battle with language, with silence, invoked.

I stretch the word and weave this dirge for you.

* * *

Note: “If I were to give you life, what could I give you?is from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin.

“Ghost, with a Line from Porchia” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.

As Blue Fades

 

As Blue Fades

Which defines you best, a creaking lid or the light-turned flower?

The coffee’s steam or smoke wafting from your hand.

Your bowls color my shelves; I touch them daily.

Sound fills their bodies with memory.

The lighter’s click invokes your name.

And the stepping stones to nowhere, your current address.

If the moon could breathe would its breath flavor our nights?

I picture a separate one above your clouded island.

The dissipating blue in filtered light.

Above the coral. Above the waves and ocean floor far below.

Above the space your ashes should share.

Where the boats rise and fall, like chests, like the waning years.

Like a tide carrying me towards yesterday’s reef.

Or the black-tailed gull spinning in the updraft.

“As Blue Fades” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.

Setting Fire to the Origami Crane

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Setting Fire to the Origami Crane (the one floating on Muscongus Bay) at Sunset

Who is to say which comes first, the flaming crane
or the sunset’s burst just over the horizon

and under the clouds? There are causes and causations,
an illness named bad air and another attributed to wolf

bites, neither accurate. There is the paraffin to melt,
and the folded paper resting comfortably nearby, with

a small, unopened tin of shoe polish and the sound of
tears striking newsprint. You know the myth of the

Viking burial — the burning ship laden with treasure
and the deceased clothed in all his finery. But pyres

are lighted to make ash of bodies, to ease the soul’s
transition to the heavens. Think of how disturbing

it would be to come upon the charred lumps of your
loved one washed ashore. And other myths — various

versions of the afterlife created to bend wills and
foster hope where little exists — to which have you

departed? There are no returns in your future, no more
givings, and your ashes have dispersed among the clouds

and in the water. They’ve been consumed by earth and
sky, inhaled and swallowed, digested, coughed out but

never considered for what they were. So I’ve printed
your name a thousand times on this sheet, and will

fold and launch it, aflame, watching the letters that
comprise you, once again, rise and float, mingle

and interact, forming acquaintances, new words,
other names, partnerships, loves, ascending to the end.

* * *

This was written for the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. To read the poignant story behind the poem’s title (which I was unaware of), visit Jilanne Hoffman’s blog.