Still Hands (Cento)

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Still Hands (Cento)

I let it burn, rooted as it is. Now
nothing else keeps my eyes

in the cloud – get close to a star,
and there you are, in the sun.

What about all the little stones,
sitting alone in the moonlight?

Silence complicates despair.
I have believed so long in the magic

of names and poems,
and I know that you would take

the still hands to dryness and
loose rocks, where the light

re-immerses itself. It’s not the story
I want. We cannot live on that.

 

* * *

Credits:
Sharon Wevill, Julia de Burgos, Francis Ponge, Mary Oliver,
Alberto de Lacerda, Robert Hass, HD, Jacques Dupin, Francesca Abbate, George Oppen.

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Late Night (after Li Po)

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The moon smiles upon my bed.
I consider frost and ice,
and raising my head, the bright sky.
Lying back, I think of home.

 

Once again, I’ve attempted to shiver myself into a timeless piece. I can only hope that my version does not offend.

 

The transliteration from Chinese-Poetry.com follows:

Bed before bright moon shine
Think be ground on frost
Raise head view bright moon
Lower head think home

 

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This originally appeared here in March 2014.

Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

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Cedar Grove (after Wang Wei)

I sit alone among the cedars,
play my guitar and hum.
In this dark forest
no eye spies me but the moon’s.

My take on Wang Wei’s “Bamboo Grove,” from this transliteration copied somewhere along the way:

alone sit dark bamboo among
strum lute again long whistle
deep forest man not know
bright moon come mutual shine

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“Cedar Grove” made its first appearance here in March 2014. I adapted it to fit my circumstances…

You might find the Wikipedia entry on Wang Wei of interest.

Numbers numbers numbers: NINE

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Numbers numbers numbers: NINE

Early on in my other life I was hand-picked and hired to assist with budgets, to work with numbers. One of the higher-ups remarked that my spelling score was quite good for a “numbers person.” This amused me to no end, as I’d no inkling that a) anyone in the world considered me fluent with numbers, or b) that the mundane labor that comprised my livelihood had been noticed, much less evaluated, by someone beyond my small, three-person office (certainly no one noticed the writing I’d produced and published). More than a quarter century later, I’m still amused. And still working with numbers, which even now remain mysterious, magical, and even inspiring.

Take the number nine. Multiply it by two, and you get 18. Add the two digits that comprise 18, one and eight, and you get 9. Multiply it by three: 27. Total the two digits forming 27, and you get, yes, 9. Multiply it by four, by five, by six, by seven, eight or nine. Add the digits that comprise the sum and you return to nine. Interesting, no?

It appears everywhere. In Islamic cosmology, the universe is built of nine spheres. In Ancient Mexico, the netherworld consisted of nine layers. The magic square consists of nine parts. Beijing was designed as a center with eight streets. Hindu temple foundations contain jewels and nine distinct grains. The human body has nine openings. The number also appears in both sacrificial and healing rites. The River Styx bends nine times. I could go on (we haven’t scratched the surface), but will refrain.

And if this piece piques your curiosity, you might find this poem inspired by zero (a truly fascinating subject) of interest:

http://www.cladesong.com/okaji.withtheseninefigures.html

Or this one, “That Number upon Which the Demand Lieth,” which takes up the number three.

This first appeared on the blog in February 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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Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

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Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

Wind bends the grass along the road.
A lonely truck passes by.
Stars reach down to touch these hills
and the moon drifts behind.

No one will ever know my poems.
I am too old and ill to work.
Circling, floating, who am I
but a vulture looking down.

First posted in March, 2014.

This is not a translation, but rather a version, my “take” on a famous Tu Fu poem. I claim no abilities in translation, neither speak nor read Chinese, and instead depend upon the skills of those who have ventured into these difficult reaches. This is where the poem carries me, a middle-aged Texas hill county dweller, in the Year of the Horse, 2014.

“Night Journey” is included in my micro-chapbook, No Eye But The Moon’s, available via free download at Origami Poems Project.

Here’s the transliteration on chinese-poems.com:

Nocturnal Reflections While Traveling

Gently grass soft wind shore
Tall mast alone night boat
Stars fall flat fields broad
Moon rises great river flows

Name not literary works mark
Official should old sick stop
Flutter flutter what place seem
Heaven earth one sand gull

My goal was to retain the mood, as I understand it, of the original, and to place it into my personal context. An interesting exercise.

If You Drop Leaves

 

If You Drop Leaves

If you drop leaves when she walks by,
does that signify grief for those
cut down early,

or merely drought?
How easily we abandon and forget.

Yet a whiff of lemon verbena or the light
bouncing from a passing Ford
can call them back,

tiny sorrows ratcheted in sequence
above the cracked well casing

but below the shingles
and near the dwindling shade
tracing its outline on the lawn.

And what do you whisper
alone at night within sight
of sawn and stacked siblings?

Do you suffer anger by way
of deadfall or absorption,

bark grown around and concealing
a penetrating nail, never shedding
tears, never sharing one moment

with another. Offered condolences,
what might you say? Pain earns no
entrance. Remit yourselves.

 

* * *

“If You Drop Leaves” was published at Bad Pony in November 2017. Many thanks to editor Emily Corwin for taking this piece.

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

 

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

 

Dear Jeff: The glow here betrays our fantasies,

and between day and night and that uncertain

moment when neither holds sway, I have gained

a toehold on consequence. Who knew darkness

could shine so? Last November the surgeon

incised my belly six times but no light oozed

out and little crept in. I say little, but feel

a peculiar radiance emanating from my middle

which I can only attribute to the moon, although

the medical professionals would say it’s just

gas. But what do they know of Sheng-Yu or

Li Ho, of jade wheels and spilled cups? Last

night, to honor our marching sisters, I looked

to the cloud-filled sky and toasted them and

our ancestors, the poets and scapegoats, friends,

allies, compatriots, Five White and Jackboy,

shedding a solitary tear of joy in the process.

We won’t label the other tears, but I shudder

at our country’s current course and how the

bulging wallets of the rich continue swelling

at the expense of the poor and unhealthy,

the elderly, the unacknowledged, and those

living on the fringes, in colored shadows.

If we meet in person on some desolate, moon-

free road in a country that could never be,

how will I know you but from the ghosts and

smiles sparkling in the surrounding fog,

and the little voices singing their sad tune

of happiness into the night. This is where

we stand today, but tomorrow? Look for me

on that bench. I’ll be the full-bellied fellow,

the one with an eclipse leaking from his shirt

in a six-point pattern, two glasses in hand,

wine uncorked, ready for reptiles and politicians,

mirth and causation and good conversation

in brightness or tenebrous calm, whichever

needs replenishing more. But bring another

bottle. Or two. Talking makes me thirsty. Bob.

 

 

* * *

My poem “Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon” was first published at The Hamilton Stone Review in October 2017. Much gratitude to editor Roger Mitchell for taking this piece.

 

 

Some Answers You Never Considered

 

Some Answers You Never Considered

At the cusp of night, before the sun steams out in the ocean,
and blues abandon the reds.

Nothing rests at the core of zero.

Cerulean blue was first marketed as coerulium.

What we consider sky includes only its lowest reaches.

Even considering a dense history with kites, I humbly concede,
and admit sacrifice as atonement, with grace.

No. I say it again. No.

Your visual system constructs the colors you see.

Only when the wind unbuttons its greatcoat, or at the tip
of an icicle, just before the drop catches itself.

Release the line and know the freedom of loss.

Transparent yet wide, unfolded like a fist freeing
a swarm of bees into honeyed air, it contains us.

Your inability to see it does not refute the horizon’s base.

If I knew I’d tell you.

 

* * *

“Some Answers You Never Considered” first appeared in Underfoot in October 2017.