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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2,000 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (and I still can’t resist)

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The subject of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated, these four lines have not suffered from lack of translation. Gary Snyder’s rendition is beautiful – some might say perfect – as is Burton Watson’s. And then there’s Octavio Paz’s version. Yet I persist…

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com (which differs from that offered by Eliot Weinberger):

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

And my take:

Deer Sanctuary

There’s no one on this empty hill,
but I hear someone talking.
Sunlight trickles into the forest,
reflecting onto the green moss.

Time and again Weinberger objects to an explicit first person observer, but to my ear it flows better. I’ve tried to retain a sense of precision in observation and at least a hint of duality, and believe that I’ve succeeded, at least in part. Having carried this poem with me for more than two decades, only now have I felt up to the task of adapting it. I chose the title “Deer Sanctuary” because in my neck of the woods spaces enclosed by “game fences” are generally meant for hunting. We Texans do love our venison. But the poem, to me, is ultimately peaceful. Hence my title.

I was flattered when Sam Hamill contacted me after this first appeared in 2014. We had a brief exchange about the sun and moss and academics that I’ll cherish forever.

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This originally appeared on the blog in April 2014.

 

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.

Hours

Hours

who remembers can
the blur of
flowers be so

unpleasant if as
Creeley says “imagination
is the wonder

of the real”
what then is
presence obtained from

nothing the mere
transformation of shape
to glory incessant

as the night
raining in through
the long hours

 

* * * *

A poem from the mid-80s. I don’t recall where the Creeley quote came from.

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local

 

Dead Rose at 5 Points Local
(A collaborative poem written with Stephanie L. Harper)

Having plucked the disheveled
petals from the core,
she waits
for the dead to speak
of last week’s sweetness—

of damp upholstery
and worn-out shoes,
of locked chests
and the faint honey
of unrealized hope.

Magnetized,
I twist the stem;
I quarter the seeds and
blemish the plate.
Which north rings true?

Which faded-red
bridge reveals the lost
inner compass?
Our ice cubes clink
no answers, as the essences

of hibiscus, lavender,
and mint slip over my tongue,
concealing the cool
tang of her demurring
ghosts…

But when she says whisper,
touching her lips
with an index finger,
I hear distant trains
baying like wolves,

and smell the char of nights
trailing the undiminished
river, its waters flowing
in every possible
direction, away.

 

* * *

“Dead Rose at 5 Points Local” first appeared in Formidable Woman Sanctuary in November 2018. For the story behind the poem, click on the link.

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

 

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

And having no other paper at hand,
I scrawl on a dollar bill, “I want to speak
the language of smoke.” My invisible friend
interrupts. That is a white man’s dilemma.

 At least you have a dollar and a pen.
“But I’m only half-white,” I reply, “with half
the privilege.” Then you must bear double
the burden,
he says. This version of math

twists my intestines into a Gordian knot,
as does the concept of half equals twice,
or in terms I might better comprehend,
one beer equals four when divided by color

or accent and multiplied by projection.
The unsmiling waitress delivers my rib-eye
as I’m dressing the salad, and the check appears
just after the first bites of medium-rare beef

hit my palate, certainly before I can answer the
never-voiced question “would you like dessert?”
Cheese cake, I would have said. Or cobbler. And I
seldom turn down a second beer. This too, I’m told,

is another example of my unearned entitlement. I
contemplate this statement, scribble a few other
phrases on bills, drop them on the table, and walk out,
wondering which direction to take, which to avoid.

* * *

“While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me” was a finalist  for the 2017 Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry. It was published in Slippery Elm (print only) in December 2017. You may be amused to hear that shortly after the winner was announced, I had lunch in Bandera with one of the other finalists in this competition, D.G. Geis, but not at the restaurant featured in the poem. The photo is of a local bar, not the eatery, but it offers some of the flavor of the town.

At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self

 

At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self

 

1 (reflection)

Six iterations, alike but lessened in sequence, and always in pairs:
front and back, oblique, the two mirrors becoming four, then six.

A perfect mirror reflects and neither transmits nor absorbs light.

Tilting my chin, I accept reflectance according to its distribution.

Retina as transducer, producing neural impulses.

The images consume no space but the effect is of distance.

Vision is not simply the retina’s translation
but counts inference and assumption among its influences.

The sum and product of its parts: 1 + 2 + 3, or, 1 x 2 x 3.

Angles achieve distinctions apparent at each adjustment.

Turning slightly, I detect movement in each replica.

A six-door cubic cage depicting the bondage of sense and elements.

It is possible to withdraw from this frame.

 

2 (answers)

Does the weaker eye perceive less.
Who conceals the shadow’s death.
Is a distal truth a lie or merely implication.
How do you rid the mirror of its ghosts.
What resonates in the echo’s decline.
Did the light switch subvert the blackened image.
Apparition, projection or visual representation.
When do waves not disturb.
At what point does belief transmute sight.
What fixes the mirror’s image.
Who closed his eyes and saw light.

 

3 (prosopagnosia)

I sip coffee and gaze out the second-floor window.

More light enters my neighbor’s office than mine.

Calculate the difference between illumination and glare.

Looking ahead, I claim no face and recognize no one.

The eye converts a signal from one form of energy to another.

Accepting light from external objects, I perceive reflection as the true arbiter.

The dissected path impairs transduction.

Face as identifier: to make, to do.

Translation: imperfection: diminishment.

Blink.

* * *

“At Work I Stand Observing My Diminished Self” was published in Posit in October 2017.

Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

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Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.

Another try at an old favorite…

I consider this adaptation rather than translation, but perhaps appropriation or even remaking might be more accurate.

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

Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in

So many choices, none of them exactly right, none of them entirely wrong. How does one imply idleness, what words to use for “flower” (blossom? petal?), or for that matter, “fall” (descend, flutter, spiral)? And how to describe a moonrise that scares the constantly calling birds? My first attempt began:

“I lie among the falling petals”

but it seemed vague. The word “osmanthus” fattened my tongue, or so it felt, but the osmanthus americanus, otherwise known as devilwood or wild olive, grows in parts of Texas. So I brought the poem closer to home.

I considered naming the birds (quail came to mind) but decided against. In this case the specificity felt somehow intrusive.

My hope is that I’ve managed to amplify, in some small way, previous iterations, and that while the edges are still a bit blurred in morning’s first light, perhaps they’ll become slightly crisper by the evening.

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“Spring Night” last appeared here in February 2018.

Incongruities

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Years ago, I worked in a library…

Incongruities

so little depends
upon

the half-Japanese
bookman

reading Italian
haiku

in the Texas
library.

Once again, my apologies to William Carlos Williams, whose poetry inspires and therefore often bears the brunt of my little diversions into whimsy. “Incongruities” first appeared here in October 2015. The original WCW poem can be found here.

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Which Poet, Which Beer (2)

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Tastes change. In my younger years I preferred sweeter brown ales, eschewed hoppier, bitter beverages, and seldom branched out. Nowadays, I lean heavily towards the bitter, and when the opportunity presents itself, feel compelled to sample the unknown. Thus when I spied Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Jalapeño Imperial IPA on tap, I had no choice but to order a pint. We may not normally place the words Alaska and jalapeño alongside each other, but if this Imperial IPA is any indication, perhaps we should. With an odor of hops and capsicum, it felt smooth on the tongue, a little malty, even earthy. Not  complex at the outset, but subtle, defying definition and developing over time, in the way a good poem develops. My only complaint would be the lack of heat. But hey, I’m from Texas, and we do jalapeños. This is a beer of multiple cultures, a blend of distinct identities. I think of Joan Naviyuk Kane, and her first book, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, in which she writes in “Antistrophic”

Instead of out, I am in,
Trying at the old habit of imperfect definition
As well as the less familiar,
Between falling gold

Kane’s narrative, her mythology and landscape, are not mine, yet they invite me in and envelop my senses, allowing synthesis, acceptance, to occur.

But sometimes I crave the unadorned. The Lone Pint Brewery’s Yellowrose IPA, a single malt, single hop concoction, startled me. Surprisingly mellow in the mouth, it imparts grapefruit and perhaps pineapple with a hint of something I can’t readily identify. Strong yet delicate, infinitely interesting, Yellowrose is most definitely a celebration of simplicity and craft – a few ingredients combined to create magic. Which may also describe Christina Davis’s book An Ethic. Spare in nature, her work transcends the limits of language, the borders of the page. Her poems blossom anew with each reading, and the farther away I move from them, the more I long to return:

”All Those That Wander,” in its entirety:

After the ark survived the Flood,
it was taken apart
to be made into cages.

This is the nature of religion.

Of course my curiosity leads me down other paths, too. Infamous Brewing Company’s Sweep the Leg peanut butter stout pours with a small head, and tastes of rich malts and coffee, with a little cocoa and, of course, subtle peanut tones. An opaque, dark brown or black, with minimal carbonation, exuding stillness, it isn’t quite what I anticipated, with the peanut butter flavor a tad muted. But the mouthfeel is spot on, and the aftertaste lingers, leaving me requesting more of this unlikely combination, and reminding me of Charles Simic’s  Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, in which he imparts, through prose poems, the experience of viewing Cornell’s enigmatic art. Nothing is quite as you expect it should or could be, yet you go on, somehow understanding. He writes in “Secret Toy”:

In a secret room in a secret house his secret toy sits
listening to its own stillness.

Simic offers openings into Cornell’s art, explains the unexplainable without explanation. I stare into the pint of Sweep the Leg, and find my own stillness. I read Simic and find another. This is what I seek in poetry, what I want in good beer. I have found it.

 

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“Which Poets, Which Beer (2)” has appeared here several times. You will be relieved to hear that I am still conducting research in these matters.