2 p.m.: Sunlight. The subway flows
beneath us. Flecks of darkness
shimmer madly on the wall.
As when a man cracks a window into a dream,
remembering everything, even
what never occurred.
Or after skimming the surface of good health,
all his nights become ash, billowing clouds,
strong and warm, suffocating him.
The subway never stops.
2 o’clock. Filtered sunlight, smoke.
* * *
I’ve been dipping into Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, Robert Bly’s 1975 translations of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer, and I couldn’t resist playing with one of my favorite poems. A different darkness, a separate space, another landscape…
Dear Daniel: How fortunate we are to tap into this medium of ether
and zeros and ones and all the combinations employed in our paperless
context. I am drawn to the concept of text as textile, as an entity
woven into the fabric of communication. Who knew that simple lines,
dots, dashes and squiggles would someday depict so well our
abstract beginnings and fingered desires, from counted goats and
jars of oil to the tattoo on a beloved’s inner thigh. The gap between
thought and graphic representation, whether on paper or glowing
screen, seems heightened these days, in spite of their ubiquitous
presences. I scratched my name onto the frozen creek’s surface,
only to watch it subsume as the mercury rose. I report this only
because you’ve scribed too well that feeling of treading on uncertain
surfaces, of words expanding in meaning and dragging us along
separate byways, fork into fork, under and through what we
never considered. That is our fate – to emerge from the pocket,
folded, wrinkled and smudged, smelling of makkoli and fish
markets and unwritten phrases stored in rice jars, our personal
creases expanding as we inspect the characters found there, some
crimped, others elongated, still others nearly invisible but apparent
through indentation. Translate these and what have you but a history
of glorious failures and unfelt victories in marks, on white,
somehow of note, if only to oneself. Success is a stranger’s smile,
an omelet cooked to order and eaten with gusto. It pulses
in the doing, in the unsteady drip from the faucet with a desiccated washer, and the ink staining the page symbol by line. I know only what I know, which ain’t much, but I keep trying to learn, to
cobble together these odd symbols into assemblages greater than
myself. As if anyone would notice. Say hello to the marred, the
cracked and disheveled of Jeju, and I’ll return the favor from
my hideaway in the Texas hills. As always, believe. Bob.
“Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket” first appeared on Vox Populi in July 2018. I am grateful to Michael Simms for publishing this piece (and others).
Quiet end what wait
Day day must go return
Wish seek fragrant grass go
Grieve with old friend separated
On road who mutual help
Understanding friend life this scarce
Only should observe solitude
Again close native area door
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?
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
Cold wind rises at the sky’s end.
What does he consider?
And when will the geese arrive?
The rivers and lakes are full this autumn
but poets’ fates are seldom pleasant.
Demons love to see us fail.
Let’s think of dead Ch’u Yuan
and offer poems to the river.
The transliteration on Chinesepoems.com reads:
Thinking of Li Po at the End of the Sky
Cold wind rise sky end
Gentleman thought resemble what?
Goose what time come?
River lake autumn water much
Literature hate fate eminent
Demons happy people failure
Respond together wronged person language
Throw poems give Miluo
According to the notes at Chinesepoems.com, the wild goose is a symbol of autumn, letters and travellers in difficulties. The wronged person is Qu Yuan, a poet of the fourth century BC who drowned himself in the Miluo river – another exiled poet later threw some verses into the river as an offering to him.
Clouds gather on the horizon, but here
it’s clear and cold as the silent Milky Way
and the stone of heaven, turning.
My life, like this night, will not last long.
Where will the bright moon find me next year?
The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:
Sunset cloud gather far excess clear cold
Milky Way silent turn jade plate
This life this night not long good
Next year bright moon where see
Jade was also known as the “stone of heaven” and was considered a bridge
between heaven and earth. It made more sense to me in this context. I’m clearly
taking license here…