In Praise of Rain (with recording)

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In Praise of Rain

Which is not to say lightning or hail.
Sometimes I forget to open the umbrella

until my glasses remind me: Wake up, you’re
wet! If scarcity breeds

value, what is a thunderhead worth
in July? A light shower in August?

Even spreadsheets can’t tell us.

***

“In Praise of Rain” is included in my recently released chapbook, Buddha’s Not Talking, available from the publisher, Slipstream Press. Signed copies may be purchased exclusively from Loud Bug Books in Indianapolis. Simply type in “Okaji” to view all of my available books, or just add the title. $10 plus shipping and tax (where applicable).

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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

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This first appeared on the blog in October 2014.

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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Cracked

 

 

Cracked

When you say smile, I hear footsteps.
When you say love, I think shortened breath,
an inner tube swelling in the abdomen,
and the magic of tension and elasticity.
Decision, indecision. Bursting
points. The child’s hand clenching
a pin. I tell myself this, too,
will pass, that life’s gifts
balance hurt with pleasure. One
kiss lands in softness. Another twists
into bruises and cracked ribs. Two
nights in intensive care, perpetual
nerve-shredding. When you say quiet,
I see headstones. When you say
please, I feel fingers at my throat.

 

 

“Cracked” first appeared in Noble Gas Quarterly. I’m grateful to the Noble Gas team for taking this piece.

 

 

Love, Scattered (Cento)

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Love, Scattered (Cento)

I cull and offer this and this,
and these last definite whorls

or later star or flower, such
rare dark in another world,

outdistancing us, madness
upon madness, the crest

and hollow, the lift and fall,
ah drift, so soft, so light,

where rollers shot with blue
cut under deeper blue as the

tide slackens when the roar of
a dropped wave breaks into it,

and under and under, this
is clear—soft kisses like bright

flowers— why do you dart and
pulse till all the dark is home?

I am scattered in its whirl.

 

* * *

This cento is composed exclusively of lines taken from fifteen pages in the Collected Poems of H.D., 6th printing, 1945. Hilda Doolittle is a fascinating figure in 20th century American poetry. You might look at the Poetry Foundation’s biography for further information:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/h-d

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Laocoön

GREEK COLUMN LINDOS

 

Laocoön

This figure of complexity
persuades a lingering

glance, the two-fold
inclination entwined,

horror expressed
in tandem, the sons’

limbs compressed
as the father struggles,

realizing true
sacrifice, the inward

grasp of storm and
wrath and serpent,

his face
echoing those yet

to come, breached
walls, a city in

flames, the cries
of warnings unheeded.

 

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Laocoön, through Virgil’s Aeneid, is the source of the phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” The poem, which first appeared in The Blue Hour Magazine, was inspired by the sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons,” which resides at the Vatican. You might find Wikipedia’s entry of interest. Originally posted on the blog in February 2016.

Yesenin

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Yesenin

Respite, involuntary and gentle
circling one’s
collar, a touch barely felt, renewed.

Or, the other turns,
belying expression and the halted voice.

The recursive window, closing.
A final poem in blood.

And beyond the glass? The face behind
the indifferent mask
designs its own

smile, risking everything
as the chair’s leg tilts,

inertia become constriction,
the taut lapse begun.

* * *

A fascinating poet, Sergei Yesenin died nearly 90 years ago. You might check out his bio on wikipedia.

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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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White Mules and a Column of Smoke

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White Mules and a Column of Smoke

I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.

And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.

If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?

Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.

 

 

“White Mules and a Column of Smoke” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I am grateful to Natalie Butler, who sponsored the poem and whose photo inspired me.

 

Tell it Slant: How to Write a Wise Poem, essay by Camille Dungy

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Few essays on writing poetry grab me by the collar, slam me against the wall, and say “Listen, dammit!” But this one did.

Camille Dungy’s words sear through the fog. She tells it slant. She tells it true. She explains how some masters have done it. If you’ve not read her poetry, seek it out. You’re in for a treat. If you have the good fortune to attend a lecture or reading by her, do so. She’s energetic, wise and kind. She knows.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/247926

FIrst posted here in 2014..