As the Gravy Flows

 

As the Gravy Flows

Viscosity is always a consideration, as is definition:
traditionally a sauce composed of meat juices and
thickeners, or, a sediment of melted tallow, which
somehow brings to mind a laborer rising early after
a hard night, eating red-eye, made of fried ham
drippings and coffee, served over grits. Or perhaps
an egg gravy – a béchamel sauce flavored by bacon,
with water and milk, and an egg – ladled over butter-
rubbed biscuits. But then I picture my vegetarian
friends pushing away from plates of this fine repast,
and not wishing to deny them or those following a vegan
lifestyle, we turn to roasted vegetables with broth, oils
and wine and a savory yeast extract. But I can’t fathom
a life without giblet gravy, which features the neck and
offal of fowl, including the liver, the taste of which may
be too strong for other recipes using giblets, an interesting
word in itself, from the Old French for a game-bird stew,
and the Middle English meaning of an inessential
appendage, or entrails, morphing to garbage. I would
never throw out an onion gravy, essentially a thick sauce
of slow-cooked onion and stock or wine, and admit to
having tasted a cream version with the consistency and
flavor of diluted paste, indicating a lack of balance in
flavor and poor roux-making technique. My favorite
would be an Italian-American buddy’s gravy, his word
for a rich ragù of sausage, braised beef and shredded
pork, red wine, tomatoes and herbs, served over pasta.
This of course stretches the definition of the word, but
language is elastic, is it not? So it flows, as does the gravy.

 

“As the Gravy Flows” was drafted during the August 2016 30/30 Challenge. Thank you to Lady Phoenix for sponsoring the poem and providing the title!

 

Senate (Tritina)

Senate (Tritina)

Not imposition, but welcome.  The way
cooperation welcomes coercion, turning the
tenor of the intended phrase, opening

the statement to interpretation, opening
a point without dissension, in the way
of politics, agreeing which fact will shape the

morning, which truth will determine the
next word and the subsequent, as if opening
the issue, claiming to have found the way,

one way, the only, but never actually opening.

* * *

A tritina might best be described as the lazy poet’s sestina, consisting of ten rather than 39 lines, with the end words of the first stanza repeating in a specific pattern in the subsequent two stanzas. The last line includes all three end words.

The patterns:
abc
cab
bca

The last line uses the end words in sequence following the pattern of the first stanza.

This first appeared on the blog in March 2017.

A Brief History of Babel

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A Brief History of Babel


Borders, windows.
Sound.

Trudging up the steps, I am winded after six flights,
my words smothered in the breathing.

The Gate of God proffers no favors.
When the spirit gives me utterance, what shall I say?

Curiously, no direct link exists between Babel and babble.

A collective aphasia could explain the disruption. One’s
inability to mouth the proper word, another’s
fluency impeded by context.

A stairway terminating in clouds.

Syllable by twisted syllable, dispersed.

Separated in symbols.
And then,
writing.

To see the sunrise from behind a tree, you must face
east: higashi, or, a discrete way of seeing
the structure of language unfold.
Two characters, layered. One
thought. Direction.
Connotation. The sun’s
ascent viewed through branches
as through the frame
of a glassless
window.

Complexity in simplicity.
Or the opposite.

I have no desire to touch heaven, but my tongues reach where they will.

Who can know what we say to God, but God?

And the breeze winding through, carrying fragments.

 

* * *

 

My poem, “A Brief History of Babel,” was drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was subsequently published at Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.

 

 

Uccello

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Uccello

the wind is what
the stillness
desires to say
each instant
collapsing into itself
like a bud
returning
to the seed

listen
the birds in my tree
are silent
as echoes
before their brief
lives are
silent

something thrashes
in the leaves
the feather
spiraling
slowly
is not only what
it is

as the candle
is more
than flame
or a moment

curling
to darkness

the question
is of clarity

I built a frame
but placed
nothing in it

the wind
blows through
quietly as if
between silences
there exists
only silence or

light
the familiar embrace

unfolding

 

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Originally published in 1987 in a short-lived publication called The Balcones Review, this is the opening of a longer work. When I last looked out my window at that same tree, I heard the birds, no longer silent.

 

Water Witching, We Hear

dry

 

Water Witching, We Hear

The rattle of stalks
along dirt roads,

whispery days
sifting through
parched
light,

you say
patience, my
friend
, and again,

patience.

 

* * *

“Water Witching, We Hear” first appeared on the blog in April 2017.

Which is an Eye or a Bowl, a Dream

eyes3


Which is an Eye or a Bowl, a Dream

Or well-placed mirror in a sunburnt room, shivering through shifted
images: that hand, blackened and stout, opened like a dark peony;
the tattooed chin; shovel and torch; hook and owl. You say no one
chooses one fist over another, that bread’s rise completes its cycle
and begins anew, pressed flat and rounded. Take this heart and seal
its chambers. Note the anterior descent. Compression, lesion. Plaque.
Consequence. And your friend, who slept, never to awaken. Lying
in that strange bed, you taste salt, acknowledge change, whisper
to no one: audible house…audible tree, knowing that time’s limit
remains unclear. The air swirls and you accept this new light.

 

Note: “Audible house…audible tree” is from Jane Hirshfield’s “Not Moving Even One Step,” from The Lives of the Heart.

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Self-Portrait with Umeboshi (with recording)

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Self-Portrait with Umeboshi

Our resemblance strengthens each day.

Reddened by sun and shiso,
seasoned with salt,

we preside, finding
comfort in failure. Or does
the subjugation of one’s flavor for another’s

define defeat? The bitter, the sour, the sweet
attract and repel

like lovers separated by distances
too subtle to see.
Filling space becomes the end.
What do you learn when you look through the glass?

Knowing my fate, I say fallen. I say earth.

 

Ah, simplicity! When I was a child my mother would occasionally serve rice balls in which a single mouth-puckering umeboshi rested at the center. These have long been a favorite, but I admit that umeboshi might be an acquired taste. Commonly called “pickled plums,” ume aren’t really plums but are more closely related to apricots. I cherish them.

“Self-Portrait with Umeboshi” first appeared in the Silver Birch Press Self-Portrait Series (August 2014), was included in the subsequent print anthology, Self-Portrait Poetry Collection, and also appears in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

 

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Music: “Senbazuru” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Chill (Cento)

silhouette


Chill (Cento) 

I shiver a little, with the evening,
and you print a shadow like a thin twig.

Wait for my death, then hear me again.
He believes a pomegranate is a thesaurus,

the thundercloud, tomorrow’s puddle. Is
this hunger unlike that of others?

When a drowning man calls out,
his voice follows him downstream.

Why am I grown so cold?

 

 

A cento is composed of lines borrowed from other poets. “Chill” owes its existence to: James Wright, H.D., Ingeborg Bachmann, Eduardo C. Corral, Blaga Dimitrova, Forrest Gander, Yusuf Komunyakaa, and Adelaide Crapsey.

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“Chill” first appeared on the blog in March, 2016, and was subsequently published in Long Exposure in October 2016.

 

Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket

 

Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket

Dear Daniel: How fortunate we are to tap into this medium of ether
and zeros and ones and all the combinations employed in our paperless
context. I am drawn to the concept of text as textile, as an entity
woven into the fabric of communication. Who knew that simple lines,
dots, dashes and squiggles would someday depict so well our
abstract beginnings and fingered desires, from counted goats and
jars of oil to the tattoo on a beloved’s inner thigh. The gap between
thought and graphic representation, whether on paper or glowing
screen, seems heightened these days, in spite of their ubiquitous
presences. I scratched my name onto the frozen creek’s surface,
only to watch it subsume as the mercury rose. I report this only
because you’ve scribed too well that feeling of treading on uncertain
surfaces, of words expanding in meaning and dragging us along
separate byways, fork into fork, under and through what we
never considered. That is our fate – to emerge from the pocket,
folded, wrinkled and smudged, smelling of makkoli and fish
markets and unwritten phrases stored in rice jars, our personal
creases expanding as we inspect the characters found there, some
crimped, others elongated, still others nearly invisible but apparent
through indentation. Translate these and what have you but a history
of glorious failures and unfelt victories in marks, on white,
somehow of note, if only to oneself. Success is a stranger’s smile,
an omelet cooked to order and eaten with gusto. It pulses
in the doing, in the unsteady drip from the faucet with a desiccated
washer, and the ink staining the page symbol by line. I know only
what I know, which ain’t much, but I keep trying to learn, to
cobble together these odd symbols into assemblages greater than
myself. As if anyone would notice. Say hello to the marred, the
cracked and disheveled of Jeju, and I’ll return the favor from
my hideaway in the Texas hills. As always, believe. Bob.

 

“Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket” first appeared on Vox Populi in July 2018. I am grateful to Michael Simms for publishing this piece (and others).

 

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby, Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide, Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

 

Summer 1966: After France & Remembering Bobby,
Who One Day Would Learn to Multiply and Divide,
Write Love Poems, Define Home, Fight Unfairly and
Live with as Much Gusto as a 7-Year Old. Perhaps.

From left coast to right, or the wide arc between,
which place claimed you? In New York you marveled
at the building’s backs scratched by clouds, and all your
pale cousins in Baltimore spoke strangely and couldn’t fathom
your nuclear family’s private lingo, while the drive to Texas
and its red ants and iced tea blossomed into adventures between
pages in the back seat of the VW bug. By the second week you
learned that Texans sweat as much as the French, and swear even
more, that you couldn’t fight one twin without taking on the other,
sometimes both at once. There was no question of fairness then,
just brotherhood, but the librarian would slip you the choicest
donated fiction, and you played baseball every day in the vacant lot
until sundown called the players home to black and white body
counts and cigarette commercials on the three channels received.
Sometimes you lay in bed under the half-light of the whirring
fan blades, and dreamt of heroes and ornithopters, zebras
and the scent of chocolate chip cookies in the oven. Other nights
you wondered how words could rest so calmly on one page yet
explode off the next, or why a man would climb a tower in Austin
to kill fourteen people when opportunities for mayhem and murder
burgeoned across the sea. Wasn’t living a matter of simple
subtraction? One by one the days parted and you walked through
that dwindling heat, eyes squinting, questions in hand, emerging
fifty years later having suffered additions and division and the
cruelties of love and success, honor and truth, still asking why
and how, home or house, where it went, your shoulders slumping
under the heft of those beautiful, terrible summers stacked high
like so many life-gatherings of unread books awaiting a bonfire.

 

This was first published in theSilver Birch Press “Moving” series, and an earlier version titled “Bonjour, Texas” appeared on the blog A Holistic Journey.