Letter from Austin

perfection

 

Letter from Austin

Michael, when you say moons do you see
cold stone floating in the firmament
or phrases frayed in the mouth and spat on paper?
And does the Spanish moon simmer at a similar
pace to mine or yours? Which embers blush brighter?
But let’s turn to estuaries, to salt and clamor and gun-
running poets and interrupted words sold in stalls
between parenthetical gates, to incomparable cavas
and the deterioration of envy and intervening years.
Or perhaps mislaid passion – a friend claims love
is merely a bad rash, that we scratch and scratch
and inflame but never truly cure what ails us. Sounds like
politics to me. Or sports. And business. Or neighborhoods.
On my street people should cook and play music together,
laugh, raise chickens and read good books. They should
brew beer, swap tomatoes, recite each other’s poetry and sing
in tune. But we’re different here, preferring instead electronics
glowing in dimly lighted rooms. I reject this failure, as I also
reject the theory of centrifugal force spinning off the moon’s
body from the earth’s crust, preferring to imagine a giant
impact blasting matter into orbit around what morphed into the
earth, and somehow accreting the stuff into this orb we
sometimes worship. This, to me, is how good relationships
form: explosions of thought and emotion followed by periods
of accretion. But what I mean is I hope this finds you well
by the river of holy sacrament. Remember: brackish water
bisects our worlds. Turn. Filter. Embrace. Gotta run. Bob.

 

Originally published in Heron Clan 3, this first appeared on the blog in July 2015.

My friend Michael occasionally sends hand-written notes or letters to me, and I respond with poems. This is one. You might read some of his writing at Underfoot Poetry.

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From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji

 

From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji

In the evening I pour wine to celebrate
another day’s survival. My motions:
up to down, left to right. Glass

from cabinet, wine to mouth.
And then I return to the page.
The character for stone, ishi,

portrays a slope with a stone
at its base, and I take comfort
in knowing that as my knee aches

at the thought of climbing, ishi exists
in descent only. A volcano belches,
producing hi, fire, rising above the

cone, while earth, tsuchi, lies firm
beneath the shoots pushing up,
outward, and ame, rain,

consists of clouds and dotted
lines and the sky above. But if
wind is made of insects and

plums, do I assemble new meaning
without fact or wisdom, form
or assumed inflection, left to

down, up to right? Consider water,
its currents, its logic and needs.
Consider truth. This is how I think.

 

* * *

“From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji” appeared in Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.

 

Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

 

* * *

This first appeared here in April 2015, and yes, the itch is still there. Yesterday I walked into a wonderful bookshop (Black Dog Books) in Zionsville, Indiana, a few miles from my home in Indianapolis, and I felt instantly at home. Ah, the world of books! And yes, I returned home with a small stack of books.

 

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Untitled from the 80s

Another untitled poem from the 80s…

wood and water
the wave of
fragrance so perfect

we seek to
obtain it as
if we could

be windows open
to a light
the gentlest cloud

would obscure still
spreading like one’s
final exhalation which

travels only to
disperse and become
at last another’s

This first appeared here in June 2017.

 

Awakened, He Turns to the Wall (Cento), with Recording

cell

 


Awakened, He Turns to the Wall (Cento) 

Then, everything slept.
Where were you before the day?

You see here the influence of inference,
whereby things might be seen in another light,

as if the trees were not indifferent, as if
a hand had suddenly erased a huge

blackboard, only, I thought there was
something even if I call it nothing,

like the river stretching out on its
deathbed. No one jumps off.

 

* * *

A cento is composed of lines from poems by other poets. This originated from pieces by: Larry Levis, Jacques Roubaud, Lorine Niedecker, Gustaf Sobin, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Spires, William Bronk, Vicente Huidobro, Ingebord Bachmann

For further information and examples of the form, you might peruse the Academy of American Poets site: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poetic-form-cento

 

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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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This Oak

  

This Oak

Never rooted in Tibet,
has not watched a whale breach
a November Pacific dusk, or guzzled
bitter beer near Vesuvius. Nor has it
absorbed the warmth of a loved one’s
hip on a frozen morning long after
the embers’ glow has greyed
and the windows blossomed
white. It cannot know the beauty
of disparate instruments playing
in joyous harmony. It will whisper
no incantations, does not smile,
won’t ever feel the anticipation
of a first kiss after a complicated
courtship. The bouquets of Bordeaux
elude it, as do tears or the benefits
of laughter. Why, then, do I envy it so?

 

 

“This Oak” was published in Slippery Elm (print only) published by Findlay University in Findlay, Ohio, in spring 2019. As luck would have it, I, along with four others, am reading at Findlay University tonight, Tuesday, October 15. Who would have thought this backyard Texas poet would be reading in Ohio?