I’ve two poems up at Defuncted, a journal dedicated to reprinting pieces from defunct publications. All too often our work simply disappears when a publication ceases operating, so I’m particularly grateful to editor Roo Black for providing writers with the opportunity to rejuvenate their work.
Unaware of the day’s movements, she paints her
reply to the bracelet of light flaring above
the horizon. Tomorrow’s edict is gather,
as in retrieving a sister’s bones in black
rain, reassembling in thought
a smile that could not endure despite
its beauty. I seek a place
of nourishment and find empty bowls.
What is the symbol for peace, for planet?
How do we relinquish the incinerated voice?
Under the vault of ribs lie exiled words, more
bones, and beneath them, relentless darkness.
And whose bodies mingle in this earth?
Whose tongue withers from disuse?
The eight muscles react to separate stimuli,
four to change shape and four to alter position.
Turning, she places the brush on the sill
and opens the window to the breeze.
Exit the light, exit all prayer. Ten strokes
form breath. She does not taste the wind.
You keep returning and I can’t say why.
I wake in the shrouded room and lie still for hours.
Sometimes you speak through the siding’s wind rattle,
in the rasping shingles or the gutter’s drain.
But who interprets these phrases?
No friend. No dictionary.
The dog barks at nothing and chases his tail
to exhaustion. Unlike sound,
light cannot penetrate these windows.
Perhaps the answer lies in the page’s hollow, between
words, or at the free end of a kite’s anchor,
wedged within clouds, echoing
like a cough in a decade’s breath
hammering down after a long illness.
I question afterlife, but dying continues.
This first appeared in Shadowtrain.
May I Be Familiar
Do we find you in what you’ve left or where you’ve gone.
In words you could not form, or forgot long ago.
Missing the pastels, the shades, all nuance.
With moistened hands, I pat rice into a ball and wrap it in seaweed.
By my reckoning, the word who no longer implicates.
Ritual accumulates significance in memory.
Forgotten fruit on the sill. A whisper nailed to the wall.
Honor and pride line your earthen home.
Though you never did, I pickle ginger. Make takuan.
The transparent house reflects no gaze and contains no one.
Gathering your absence, I coil it around my body.
* * *
“May I Be Familiar” is included in my mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night, published in 2016 by Platypus Press as #10 of their 2412 series.
Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)
Five White cat always made sure
no rats gnawed my books,
but this morning Five White died.
On the river I offered up rice and fish,
and buried you in its lazy currents,
chanting my lament. I could never neglect you.
One time you caught a rat
and carried it squealing around the yard
to frighten all the other rats
and keep my cottage clear of them.
We’ve shared space aboard this boat,
and although the food is meager
it’s free of rat piss and droppings
because you were so diligent,
more so than any chicken or pig.
Some people speak highly of horses,
saying nothing compares to them or donkeys.
But we’re done with that discussion!
My tears prove it so.
* * *
The transliteration from Chinese-poems.com:
Self have 5 white cat
Rat not invade my books
Today morning 5 white die
Sacrifice with rice and fish
See off it at middle river
Incantation you not you neglect
Before you bite one rat
Hold in mouth cry around yard remove
Want cause crowd rat frightened
Thought will clear my cottage
From board boat come
Boat in together room live
Dry grain although its thin
Evade eat drip steal from
This real you have industriousness
Have industriousness surpass chicken pig
Ordinary person stress spur horse drive
Say not like horse donkey
Already finish not again discuss
For you somewhat cry
A Song Dynasty poet, Mei Yao-ch’en (or Mei Yaochen) died in 1060. His great poems live on.
I count more graves than people in my sleep,
but nothing turns more quickly
than an empty wind
in a place whose memory has died.
And all manner of departure: What you have left is you
without you. As if it could be different, as if decades
could withdraw and draft a blueprint of motive and action,
returning them, returning you, to that point
across the sea where the ship has not yet arrived.
If you ask she will say it does not matter. If you ask.
To be within, yet without, as in the unuttered phrase.
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
to render the void clear and resolute, the diction of
separation divided by decades and your ocean.
The language of silence, drawn near.
3. From the Other Side
Sometime becomes never and steps around a desolate corner,
and all we have left is our field
awash in stone, remnants of the unspoken.
I have no memory of you. Nor you, of me,
but the strands do not lie, and unraveled,
expose the imperfect blends
that compose my love. A leaky roof. The last word.
A pity to put up at all
but there is rain.
4. Another Night
Of all the hours which were the longest?
The earth trembled around me
and I lay still, bearing witness to
the uncertain malice of its
shrug, shoulders brought to
fore, then returned,
and finally, released. If,
after this half-century, words
could reform in your mouth,
what denial would issue?
Ashes, washing ashore.
And seeing you only as the shadow of an
ending whose voice lies
in an uncommon past, how
may we recognize the very shape we share?
The bridge’s fate is loneliness,
knowing that one side
decries the other’s
call, that separation affords new light:
they are between
comfort and space, between words and a smile,
between nothingness and sorrow,
two points, beginning and end,
reaching, in opposition, towards each other.
“What you have left is you without you” is from Edmond Jabes’s “At the Threshold of the Book” in The Book of Questions: Volume I, translated by Rosemary Waldrop.
“It is time the stone made an effort to flower” is from Paul Celan’s poem “Corona,” included in Poems of Paul Celan translated by Michael Hamburger.
“A pity to put up at all but there is rain” is from Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns, translated by Cid Corman and Kamake Susumu.
Albert Huffstickler’s poem “Bridges” which appeared in The Balcones Review in 1987, begins “They are between…”
“Elegy” first appeared on Underfoot Poetry in October 2017.
I was fortunate enough to hear Martín Espada read this poem live last week. It’s a powerful piece to read, but listening to him perform was especially sublime. You can do both at The Poetry Foundation.