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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Before September

Before September

In that before-September haze I knew
the birds’ names but not their language,
I saw green in the distance while grass
grew tall and light never lingered.
Questions cratered my moons. Answers
hid between sunbursts. My lips formed
soundless words and glass crunched
underfoot everywhere I walked.
Nothing sparkled under the skies.
Even gemstones and feathers in morning
dew dulled the day’s arc, printing
their notes of lonesome protest in rock
shade and tree droop, in acquiescence,
in quietude. And then you spoke.

* * *

“Before September” first appeared in The Field Guide Poetry Magazine. Thank you to editor Amanda Marrero for taking this piece.

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.

Letter to a Ghost

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Letter to a Ghost

Had I not dreamed your death, I would have praised this day.
Your name rests in a wooden box on a desk

in a room far away and twice as old as we were then.
My penance in this phase: to continue.

I gather words close and refrain from admissions.
The clock on the wall seldom chimes,

like one whose vows circumvent convenience, or
a shade allowing the barest sliver of light

through the window. That tock preceding
a long silence. Snow blanketing the mounded earth.

Your scent never lingers past sleep, where you remain.
At last I no longer covet those sheets you’ve shared.

Your name rests in a box. I gather words and refrain.

 

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“Letter to a Ghost” last appeared herein 2017.

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.

 

 

Poet’s Pantry

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In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.

My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament? The pantry’s contents.

Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.

(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)

This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.

And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:

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This first appeared here in January  2014.

A Word is Not a Home

  

 

A Word is Not a Home

A word is not a home
but we set our tables

between its walls,
cook meals, annoy

friends, abuse ourselves.
Sometimes I misplace

one, and can’t find
my house, much less

the window’s desk
or the chair behind it.

But if I wait, something
always takes form in the fog,

an arm, a ribcage, a feathered
hope struggling to emerge.

Inept, I take comfort
in these apparitions,

accept their offerings,
lose myself in mystery,

find shelter there
in the hollowed curves.

 

 

Spring Dawn (after Meng Haoran)

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This morning I slept through dawn
and the screeching birds, long
after last night’s wild wind and rain.
But who can count the fallen flowers?
 

 

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

 

Spring sleep not wake dawn
Everywhere hear cry bird
Night come wind rain sound
Flower fall know how many

 

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This adaptation first appeared on the blog in November 2014.
 
 
 
 
 

Why am I Writing a Poem a Day?

Lyra and Baraka

Dear Friends,

Brick Street Poetry, Inc., a literary nonprofit based in Indiana, could use our help. Like many nonprofits, Brick Street depends upon donations to augment their projects, which vary from a monthly poetry reading series, to placing Borrow a Book boxes in state parks, publishing a literary journal and various anthologies, and establishing a neighborhood literary art park (to offer free workshops), just to mention a few.

This month they’re raising funds by asking people to vote, via PayPal donations, for favorite haiku in a just-published online anthology.

I’ve decided to help out by — what else — writing poems. See my post of September 5th for details.

Why am I doing this? I love poetry. If I, poet, reader and book buyer, don’t support Brick Street’s mission, who will?

I invite you to join me in this project and help out by reading, commenting, heckling, encouraging, insulting, cajoling, praising and yes, if circumstances allow, sponsoring me and donating funds (to Brick Street, not me). This might not be of much interest if the poems were simply going to languish in a file somewhere, but such is not the case. They will be posted online daily, beginning September 8, warts and all, for the world to peruse. That’s right – you’ll see my daily work, unpolished and raw, finished or not, and if you listen closely you may hear whimpers issuing from a certain garret in northwest Indianapolis.

Thanks for listening.

Bob

Why am I Writing a Poem a Day?

Lyra and Baraka

Dear Friends,

Brick Street Poetry, Inc., a literary nonprofit based in Indiana, could use our help. Like many nonprofits, Brick Street depends upon donations to augment their projects, which vary from a monthly poetry reading series, to placing Borrow a Book boxes in state parks, publishing a literary journal and various anthologies, and establishing a neighborhood literary art park (to offer free workshops), just to mention a few.

This month they’re raising funds by asking people to vote, via PayPal donations, for favorite haiku in a just-published online anthology.

I’ve decided to help out by — what else — writing poems. See my post of September 5th for details.

Why am I doing this? I love poetry. If I, poet, reader and book buyer, don’t support Brick Street’s mission, who will?

I invite you to join me in this project and help out by reading, commenting, heckling, encouraging, insulting, cajoling, praising and yes, if circumstances allow, sponsoring me and donating funds (to Brick Street, not me). This might not be of much interest if the poems were simply going to languish in a file somewhere, but such is not the case. They will be posted online daily, beginning September 8, warts and all, for the world to peruse. That’s right – you’ll see my daily work, unpolished and raw, finished or not, and if you listen closely you may hear whimpers issuing from a certain garret in northwest Indianapolis.

Thanks for listening.

Bob