Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

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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.

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Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

 

Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

Dear Dan: I’ve been trying to revive that dream,
the one in which the rare Texas bird sings “cuckoo, y’all,”
before shimmering through the night’s shrilling heart
and wakefulness, as you clamber up the balcony to join me
in knocking back Japanese single malt, chilled soba and Doritos.
The distance between earth and a first floor balcony may vary,
but the fall’s impact can’t ache so much as what never was or won’t
be. My mother’s family hovers out there in the World of Darkness,
while I stumble through my days under the Texas sun, rice grains
trickling from holes in my pockets, studding the way between
there and here, back and forth, between us and them, now and
maybe. I confess that communication doesn’t come naturally
to me. I’m reticent and slow on the uptake, and enjoy my time
as a shaded diminishment with only occasional forays
into the light. So much to learn, so little capacity. I could spend
hours watching the spider working among the unread books,
while my mandolin languishes in its case and the earth
keeps spinning, spinning, holding us in place. What tunes
have I forgotten, which remain unsung? The wire mesh tube
in my heart cleared the way from a numbered life, and now
I roll along in words, which bear their own bags of worry.
But I’ve learned to empty and stack the burlap on the floor near
the resonator, and the sacks magically replenish themselves
every night. So it goes. Empty, refill. Like a glass of Hibiki,
or blood pumped through our anterior descending veins.
Tonight rice and peppers will fill my belly, with fish, a mango
cream sauce, and a bitter ale, which I would share with you,
perhaps in another dream, or better yet, in person, under
stars announced by mythical birds on a warm night with
laughter in the breeze. No ladder needed. Come on up. Bob.

 

“Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void” was first published in Lost River in August 2018. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for publishing this piece.

 

Letter to Hamrick from the Century of the Invalidated

 

Letter to Hamrick from the Century of the Invalidated

Dear Charlotte: The sun here winces daily, stumbles
across morning before smudging gray like an old slate
scarred with decades of chalk dust and erased messages.
I’m hunting work, and there are days when it feels
as if past experiences have been rubbed out, or maybe
I can’t make myself slog through the powdery white
crusted blend of ennui and discounting youth. Those years
spent chiseling out budgets and manipulating spreadsheets
have wrought zilch. Even the service seeking writing
tutors shot down my application. Seems SAT scores
from the 70s can’t be validated, and how else might they
measure one’s qualifications. But somehow I still exhale air
cleaner and more carefree than any I’ve taken in since
the century rolled over. Funny how that is. The more shade
they throw my way, the stronger I feel. Seated at wobbly
tables by restrooms in near-empty restaurants. Chipped at,
ignored, reviled. Questions answered with curled lip and
haughty tone. Laughing, I relish it all. L* the kitten
just launched herself at the table, scattering across the fake
wood floor mail and bits of poetry which might be
hammered into a collage of shady loan offers, crappy
lines and massage therapy ads, if my talents leaned
in that direction. But scooping out the litter box seems
my crowning achievement lately. I wonder how a creature
so pure and new to the world produces something so
vile, without intent? I have other questions, too, but will
leave them for a subsequent whine-fest, which I’ll scribble
in smoke or invisible ink on another long-shadowed
day. Until then I’ll dream of southern winds and coffee
and beignets under bright skies in a life I should have
lived. If only. Your virtual and faithful friend, B*.

“Letter to Hamrick from the Century of the Invalidated” first appeared in January 2021 in the inaugural issue of Book of Matches Thank you, editors Kelli Allen and Nicholas Christian, for taking this piece.

Letter from Insomnia

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Letter from Insomnia

Accepting Li Po’s tragedy,
apocryphal or not,

we embrace her imperfect
reflection
rippling in the breeze,

but manage to surface.

I once thought I would name a child Luna
and she would glow at night

and like Hendrix, kiss the sky.
But that was whimsy

and only candles light this room
at this hour
on this particular day
in this year of the snake.

And what fool would reach for a stone orbiting at
1,023 meters per second?

There are clouds to consider, the stars
and the scattering rain

and of course wine
and the possibilities within each glass
and the drops therein.
We must discuss these matters

under her gaze, where smallness gathers.

 

* * *

This originally appeared in Middle Gray in October, 2013. It was written in response to a poem my friend Michael sent me, replying to this poem.

 

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On Parting (after Tu Mu)

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On Parting (after Tu Mu)

This much fondness numbs me.
I ache behind my drink, and cannot smile.
The candle too, hates parting,
and drips tears for us at dawn.

A non-poet friend asked why I’m dabbling in these adaptations. After all, she said, they’ve already been translated. Why do you breathe, I replied, admittedly a dissatisfying, snarky and evasive answer. So I thought about it. Why, indeed. The usual justifications apply: as exercises in diction and rhythm, it’s fun, it’s challenging. But the truth is I love these poems, these poets, and working through the pieces allows me to inhabit the poems in a way I can’t by simply reading them. And there is a hope, however feeble, of adding to the conversation a slight nuance or a bit of texture without detracting from or eroding the original.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Much feeling but seem all without feeling
Think feel glass before smile not develop
Candle have heart too reluctant to part
Instead person shed tear at dawn

red_coat

This first appeared on the blog in October 2014.

Letter from Austin

perfection

 

Letter from Austin

Michael, when you say moons do you see
cold stone floating in the firmament
or phrases frayed in the mouth and spat on paper?
And does the Spanish moon simmer at a similar
pace to mine or yours? Which embers blush brighter?
But let’s turn to estuaries, to salt and clamor and gun-
running poets and interrupted words sold in stalls
between parenthetical gates, to incomparable cavas
and the deterioration of envy and intervening years.
Or perhaps mislaid passion – a friend claims love
is merely a bad rash, that we scratch and scratch
and inflame but never truly cure what ails us. Sounds like
politics to me. Or sports. And business. Or neighborhoods.
On my street people should cook and play music together,
laugh, raise chickens and read good books. They should
brew beer, swap tomatoes, recite each other’s poetry and sing
in tune. But we’re different here, preferring instead electronics
glowing in dimly lighted rooms. I reject this failure, as I also
reject the theory of centrifugal force spinning off the moon’s
body from the earth’s crust, preferring to imagine a giant
impact blasting matter into orbit around what morphed into the
earth, and somehow accreting the stuff into this orb we
sometimes worship. This, to me, is how good relationships
form: explosions of thought and emotion followed by periods
of accretion. But what I mean is I hope this finds you well
by the river of holy sacrament. Remember: brackish water
bisects our worlds. Turn. Filter. Embrace. Gotta run. Bob.

 

Originally published in Heron Clan 3, this first appeared on the blog in July 2015.

My friend Michael occasionally sends hand-written notes or letters to me, and I respond with poems. This is one. You might read some of his writing at Underfoot Poetry.

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Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?

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This poem is dedicated to the memory of haiku master and good friend Ron Evans, who provided and sponsored the title for the Tupelo Press 30/30 fundraiser challenge I participated in during August 2015. Ron passed away in September 2018. I miss our pun-filled exchanges, his zany sense of humor and our wide-ranging discussions. Life continues, but the light has dimmed…

Calvin Coolidge — Live or Memorex?

They say the wind in Alvarado bypasses closed doors, slips through
book-laden walls and plate glass and into your dreams where it circles
and accumulates, whirling, whirling, steadily gaining force, gathering
loose pages and errant thoughts and memories too combustible to
burn, ignoring time’s compression and the gravity of dying suns, forever
counting, talking, thinking, looking up and out between the long nights.

unable to sleep           he opens a window          daring the wind

The 30th President of the United States breathes and writes at the junction
of an invisible house and a wheat field in Alvarado, in the guise of a
74-year old haiku poet. No longer the solemn ass, Cal laughs and speaks
and observes his two birthdays, recalling Harding’s scandals and Dorothy
Parker’s “How can they tell?” with equal relish. Sometimes he dresses
in tails and top hat, and speaks in 17-syllable phrases. Sometimes.

spitting out sake            in the shadow’s glare            death forestalled

Alvarado’s laureate is leaving it all behind – the presidency, the books,
the kolaches – catching the next breeze out of town, a silver-tongued
dust devil riding the word, spewing puns all the way to Indiana. But
buried in a waterproof box near Oswald’s grave, 314 cassette tapes
capable of shattering crystal carry his voice further than their unwound
lengths, whirring incessantly, celebrating life, praising the long wind.

standing in the sun          wisdom blows by          no questions today

alamo3

Driving without Radio

trash-in-tree

 

Driving without Radio

One minute you’re sipping coffee at the stoplight,
and the next you find yourself six miles

down the road, wondering how you got there,
just two exits before the French bakery

and your favorite weekday breakfast taco stand.
Or while pondering the life of mud,

you almost stomp the brakes when a 40-year old
memory oozes in — two weeks before Thanksgiving,

the windshield icing over (inside), while most definitely
not watching the drive-in movie in Junction City, Kansas,

her warm sighs on your neck and ear, and the art
of opening cheap wine with a hairbrush. How many

construction barrels must one dodge to conjure these
delights, unsought and long misfiled? You turn right

on 29th Street and just for a moment think you’ve seen
an old friend, looking as he did before he died,

but better, and happier, and of course it’s just a trash bag
caught in a plum tree, waving hello, waving goodbye.

 

 

“Driving without Radio” was published at Split Rock Review in November 2016. Many thanks to editor Crystal Gibbins for providing a home for this one.

 

Letter from Insomnia

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Letter from Insomnia

Accepting Li Po’s tragedy,
apocryphal or not,

we embrace her imperfect
reflection
rippling in the breeze,

but manage to surface.

I once thought I would name a child Luna
and she would glow at night

and like Hendrix, kiss the sky.
But that was whimsy

and only candles light this room
at this hour
on this particular day
in this year of the snake.

And what fool would reach for a stone orbiting at
1,023 meters per second?

There are clouds to consider, the stars
and the scattering rain

and of course wine
and the possibilities within each glass
and the drops therein.
We must discuss these matters

under her gaze, where smallness gathers.

 

* * *

This originally appeared in Middle Gray in October, 2013. It was written in response to a poem my friend Michael sent me, replying to this poem.

 

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Poem Up at Book of Matches

 

My poem “Letter to Hamrick from the Century of the Invalidated” has been published in the inaugural issue of Book of Matches Thank you, editors Kelli Allen and Nicholas Christian, for taking this piece. This is a fantastic new litmag, featuring such luminaries as Clare L. Martin, Eric Pankey, Jeff Santossuosso, Kelli Russell Agodon, Jack Bedell, Megan Wildhood, Lauren Camp and others. Try it, you’ll like it!