Saturday, December 13, 2014

Undercurrents




New Orleans

The surface noise, at times tends too much
to distraction, tends, over time, for someone
like me, to tire—it’s the more

that keeps me coming back, the currents
that make the music and the dance
more than just a party. It’s the folks,

who will meet your gaze for no better reason
than your presence on the street—you get
greeted,

if you’re willing, you be noticed
with a nod, no matter the time of day.

It’s the genuine pull
of people toward one another,
hence toward you.

It’s the pull, that the people here go with,
that they don’t ignore, the deep pull of the true
and real that carries

all the rest—just like the river.


**


And of memories?

The thin curve of moon shoulders high,
keeping distance from the chill above the water,
some thirty degrees lost in the night.

A freighter shadows in the dawn,
the lighted tug groans, and the river, well,
the river continues—named or unnamed,

histories carry through waiting horizons,
under open skies and into nights of crystal-
chilled stars—nothing really ever lost.


**


The sun rises
among the sketch of clouds

just there behind where
the Mississippi bends,

but I can’t tell
if New Orleans is waking

or just now
heading for bed.


**


Even at this age…

It can’t be said enough how many times of late
I’ve used that phrase—even at this age—which suggests
of course, aging, aging advancing as against attitudes
and needs that have not too, moved along.

So here it is, a vow as such, to let the search
for reasons, for answers and plans, to here let all that

go—I’m here, right now, so,

as the masters were wont to say, I write,
sometimes chant or sing or dance, here, so walk
rivers’ edges, gaze grandchildren’s eyes, hold hands

with the wife and generally follow
the tangle of heaven and earth and my nature,
however and wherever it all unfolds.     

Amen.


**


Life really is about the spaces in between—it’s not nothing,
but something you cannot see, except by what it’s doing.

Like the fog this morning, like a veil-covered face—moonlight
shimmers the only sign of breath.


**


Streaks in the sky, south and west,
clear light despite early mists.
And the scent of fall

that comes of the crush
of crumpled leaves, that speak
of the last of their turn, this time.


**


The stretch of the eternal
cannot be heard in entirety,

thus leaving behind
the silence

within which we can hear
all that’s held in time.


**


Tides of miniscule movements, most unseen,
often missed, though sometimes not,
is where the poet works—

      what does this blossom
      on this apricot tree know
     
      about this late-November
      that I do not?


**


A day with no fresh air
is not yet

a day.

What if
you wake up

outside?

Well, that
goes without saying.


**


And still counting…


Awhile back, I cleared my shelves of titles
I knew in my heart I’d not return to, or for that matter,
those that hadn’t held my attention long enough
to have taken too much space for too long a time
on a shelf like mine—took’m down to the county jail,
where men with extended terms reside,

where books are read and re-read, re-cycled
hand to hand, and talked about—great life for books,
for words otherwise collecting dust, uncomplainingly
doing the work they’ve been cut to do, and maybe,

maybe even more—which is maybe the point, 
you might ask, they’re prisoners after all, but who
among us has not been there

before—the point is like butterfly wings
and weather patterns—everything’s linked,

everything matters, everything counts—each word
every time—and the best we can do is do them

as right as we can,  keep them out there,
keep them counting.

                                  

                               Cid Coreman:

                                   I count syllables
                                         because every
                                               syllable counts.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Places further east--November 2014



After two nights of rain,
leaves in bushes along the road
gleam with the grey of dawn.

Bouquets of closeness,
wordless offerings for all
who belong, tasted

as certain as signals
from home.


**


Groundwater—a cautionary tale

Groundwater, not on, but under,
squeezed into the rock beneath, deep
reservoirs of reserve, some say
some ninety-five percent
of global fresh water supplies,
rapidly depleting—as so say
the satellites, of all things,
which like us cannot see
beneath the crust, but can be
and are, as are we, influenced by
gravitational pull—mass or its lack,
the latter being tracked

on screens —red splotches,
deepening red splotches of absence
growing beneath the world’s
breadbaskets—take note…

take note, grandchildren: oil is fool’s gold,
always was. So don’t be a fool
and don’t follow none.


**


There is no shortage of flags here in Nashville,
and patriotic sentiments are offered often
and spontaneous in public places.

I chose not to be recognized for my service,
such as it was. But did stand for those
they wished to honor.

“You can wave your flag,”
a twinkly-eyed old friend once said, 
“if I can wave mine.”

Only when it stands on both-and,
does either-or work
for everyone.


**


Nashville

We dined last night at the Palace—saloon
or club, you choose. But a vibrant venue
for what our waitress called classic country.

One song told of a bend in a river.
And while walking this morning I realized
we’re staying at such a place—the road itself
is named for it, Pennington Bend.

And I wonder at the sensibilities
that take such things as significant enough
to take note of them as such.

Lives turn where rivers bend, I suppose.
Clearly a tongue does, that then turns
and rounds its words

to flavor both place and people,
who then in turn choose their words
and how and where they’ll be told.


**


Our first morning here opens

a whisper of pink under high grey light
that shutters, slants, then quietly illumines
recollections of childhood

in rural New Jersey
transitioning to suburbs—a time, as a kid,

unquestioned, free.

It’s the stretch and roll of Tennessee landscape
that calls—leafy forest, occasionally broken,
wide swaths of farm land encircled by woods,

all of which then, there, was incrementally
being surrendered.

But what did we know? We played

war with dirt-clods from development work sites,
bicycled bare-headed on unpaved roads
and ranged those woods with few restrictions
beyond being home on time for supper.

I’d bike over to the Crow’s down the road,
for the entire day. The eldest, my friend, had
younger brothers, and a little sister, I think.
And two wildly vicious dogs,

always held barely in check by long chains
they dragged across earth made permanent dust
about them—I see now that the dogs were frantic

to guard something already gone—un-worked farms
and chicken coops long empty.

We’d inch past the dogs on our way to the coops
to play Cowboys and Indians, standing on the roofs
in the sun, backs to the woods, looking out

over weed-filled yards,
cap guns and make-shift bows,
unabashedly proclaiming our exploits.

We changed roles readily those days. They were
already Indians, of course, the Crows; and I,
I was already white. But what did we know,
what did we know, but to play?


**


William Everson

poet, then religious Brother,
then again religious and a poet, once said

“A religious man without a religion is in trouble.”

He favored in the end personal liturgy over public
and saw our life in language as a gift of the race, the gift
through which reflection takes place, the gift

given back through the words it gave—at its best,
a matter of thanks, a matter of grace.

He proselytized, but only the importance of awe,

of our awareness of its movements in us 
in the ordinary course of our day to day,

the groundswell of awe that pushes our words
to places we’d not imagined to go—which for some
will speak to the mystery and rush of the religious,

and for others is itself religion enough…
    
      wintered leaves
      fall from trees
      already barren,

      spinning akimbo
     
      through the air
      to the ground
     
      on the banks
      of the river
     
      Cumberland.


**


Found in the poems of Korean poet, Ko Un

“Yet the coming of spring is no repetition.”

A statement of the how
of our lived experience, before
manipulation, before abstraction,

continuing newness,

which when carefully considered,
naturally engenders

a muted pause of tribute.


**


After Ko Un’s, “October 19”

Time dropped away
without a whisper,

walls crumbled and fell,
and he stepped

ankle deep in the dust
of the bones of the ancients.

Their songs could still be heard,
but all he could do

was hum—they’d taken their words
when they’d gone,

leaving only the poems
behind.

This, I think,
is where we are today. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

After talking with the poets




What are the chances, even in a small town,
of meeting the only car that moves on the street
at 4:30 AM, at just the driveway it wants,
and it having to wait

for you to pass. And a block beyond,
to meet another solitary walker
coming down the stairs you’re going up,
passing so close your sleeves brush—

who would guess, even in a small town,
in this world how close we all really are ?
                                                  
                                                10/20


**


Robert Lax says attention is holy
and that’s why we all want it.

And why perhaps, when we attend
to the direction our own attention has turned,

we’ll likely find our way
to where we’ve wanted to be

all along—it’s its own light.


**


Trying too hard to sing tires the heart.
Just hum—it’s still song…
                                                           10/21


**


To speak of god
is not to speak
as something separate,
but as heat rising moments

of touch, smell and tongue,
as sighted currents of light heard,
as thought-breathed sparks of awe
spoken as praise.
                                10/23


**


A love story…in words
that might be said, but need not

in the end meet the air
between your eyes and mine.
                                                10/25


**


“Who needs community”

raises question to statement
made to oneself
in solitude.


**


Calistoga

There’s more sky here than at home,
so light thins later, lamps lie latent

through rain-filled clouds
and the day stretches the pen’s strokes

beyond imagined returns

to turn fallowed textures of the known
to futures refusing definition.
                                                  10/25


**


To Lew Welch

This ring of bone,
this life of song
indeed suggests
no notes ever

gone wrong,

all that issues,
pure sacred name

received.
                            10/31





End poem, by Lew Welch, American poet

I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
“ring of bone” where
ring is what a

bell does

Saturday, October 18, 2014

But that was yesterday...





Even in Croatia, the day composes
the poet-scribe—and translation, well,
that seems to come of its own.
                                     9/1


**


The isle of Korchula—4 AM

The wife slips out of bed
to meet church bells.

One for each hour
enters the air-conditioned hum

to flicker unsatisfactorily.
Answers fail confused complaints

and sleepless dreams
surround the darkened waves

of empty space, everywhere.
Nothing touches of home.
                                                          9/3


**


Budapest—the date on my watch
rolls and clicks, so it must be so.

Through the lobby doors,
past the old men in the park,

crows hold place in towering limbs,
crouched and muted shadows,

shuddering rains.
                                             9/14



**


Prayer and gratitude—

and do I find them again
or they again find me

in heart-felt folds,
on lips and breath

that say yes…
             

**


Of current events

and where to turn
in a world such as this
today…but to that concert
of singular heart beats…


**


9/16

At home, after weeks away, fits
like skin rediscovered.


**


Looking at 71—even at this age,
startled by my own shadow.
                                                    9/20


**


Look long
into the night sky
before saying alone
aloud—and even then,
if asked, I’d say
OK to that.


**


Mists clear with the coming light.
Morning prayers, the soft rush of breath
made whole for the world at large.


**


As a young man, I didn’t fully appreciate
how the music moves on its own,
how despite misplaced apprehensions,
songs were there all along.


**


10/8

After Ko Un

Early autumn leaves.

Will I dance too,
when I leave?


**


Indian Summer

We watch each other
across the courtyard

in the front of the house,
the hummingbird and I,

where shadows
first begin to stretch

beyond the reach
of the day’s sun.


**


Why poetry ?

Because of the way the words spill
to leave in their wake intimations
of insights gleaned from where
they have come, from where
they themselves have been.

                                “…if poetry is life, and I believe it is…
                                           when the words come, I trust
                                               they’re the right ones.”
                                                                                Robert Lax



**


Krishnamurti believed
we should write
our own sutras.

I’ve come to see
how right
that is.


**


Simply, to communicate.
Not to argue, nor convince,
but to simply communicate, simply.

                                                           10/17

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dinky Lakes


Dinky Lakes Wilderness,
Sierra National Forest   Mid-August 2014

Late, in the warmth of the bag,
a thin volume of poems

in high country

—eyes still wide,
abandoning the words
of the ancients,

I turn to my back
to return the gaze
of the waiting

sea of stars…


**


John Muir calls the Sierra, the “range of light,” and so it seems. At 1:00 AM,
the Big Dipper spills southward, luminous dusts of the Milky Way scour the dark
and the moon casts light through the quiet pines, just enough for me to rise and pee.


          Unpremeditated…

          take again the given winds
          that fold the syllabled words
         
          to where the earth and the sky
          and water and fire 
         
          come to speak and to mean…



               Deep in the woods, unknown to the world,
               A bright moon comes and shines on me.”
                            
                                     from Wang Wei’s (?701-761),  “Bamboo District’s Lodge”



**


Directions to the cabin
at Boulder Creek    August 24, 2014

Leave Highway #9 to the right,
on Prospect:

climb the canyon’s walls
to where the reach of trees circles

a cache of sky so clean
Heaven need only let go

to find its way.

Where Heaven and Earth meet.
That’s it.


**


Scatterings


Be receptive.

We are never not receiving.
It is never not reciprocal.

That's all.


**


8/29

I can tell you only of my experience and even that is suspect. A dream
within a dream, Dogen said—and our contemporary, Ko Un, living openly
in his native Korea, cautions: inclinations

toward the ‘much more’ that lies beyond imagination, that too:
a dream known as ‘greed.’


**


9/18

At 5 A.M. the streets are still, empty but for lamp-lit shadows
that seem to accept, without protest, every soundless passing, low-looking clouds
the only ones to leave a trace.


**


10/4

In a place with tools that are used,
worked for the fun, for the joy,
where order is not overly so.

A space of movement, sweat and smiles,
of lingering scents of incense and bells,
the hum of human lungs

and that silence that surrounds
the settled heart.


**


9/29

to Robert Lax then

and to the solitary work

of this solitary mystic poet
of the Isle of Patmos,

unselfconscious model
of charity and grace, received

and the nature of play as prayer
that comes of that.

The work is ourselves,
the dance our living with others

and the foundation the music
that makes it all so.


**


10/5

Life-death has its own reason.

May today and all that it is
bring us closer, clearer…

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer 2014





after Jane Hirshfield…

 From “The Tongue Says Loneliness”

 As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.

                      
Yes Jane, “the tongue says”
   but “does not feel” what is said,

“cannot feel” longing, greed, joy,
   cannot but form the sound

as sign that points. But there is
   the speaking, is there not,

that rising foundation of the felt
   that forms the bell

that sounds what’s heard
   by who we are—this life then,
  
is it not gate
      as horse plunging through…?
                                                        8/9


**


John Muir Wilderness 8/1

In the evening of the last day in the mountains, the chill
settles early on the water’s surface, the winds continue,
sun descends, shadows rise.

Light stays the slivered rocks along the ridge, clouds
perimeter, trail and streak, and we sit on a stump,
hours before the first of the stars, staring.

In the face of our own impatience, the given lesson
of no expectations, no demands, the lesson of matter-of-fact
acceptance simply manifests,

so true to itself
as to eclipse all need
of name.                       
                                           

**


Is it distraction then

when three yellow-petalled flowers
grab attention, when irritations release
in the flow and fold of incense smoke,
in calligraphied swirls of praise,

and following eyes find final rest
in faces of wood-fingered Buddhas,
who sign to all who pass that all
is OK—is this distraction then,

or something else at play ?
                                                               8/7


**


When shadows begin to lengthen,
we are reminded of earlier warmths
summarily rejected, now blithely refusing
belated regrets.
                                            8/1


**


Woodchuck Lake—JM Wilderness

Night does not hurry this time of year,
so days linger through the hours
long past the time the first stars arrive,

as if, for only a while,
to taste of this part of the planet’s life.
It’s a glad time, bare of pretence,

where every patience is requited,
where all promises ever dreamed are delivered
and the grip of every secret feels comfort enough

to let go.
                  


**


The nature of freedom…how it is, or might be…

to reside, as it were, at the edge
of a majority of possibilities,
all as yet untried…


**


Life is never less than,
but always fully accommodates
the fullest capacity of every circumstance,
ever-filling the furthest limits,
calling out from there…


**


Last night

just before falling into sleep,
a glimpse

of the gentle arc of peace
that hovers,

of tidal shifts, and the rise
of appreciation.
                                 8/11

                      --To enjoy life’s immensity,
                             you do not need many things.
                                                   Ryokan


**


End Note

From Jane Hirshfields’s poem,

            “When Your Life Looks Back”

    When your life looks back—
    as it will, at itself, at you—what will it say?

    ….

    “This,” your life had said, its only pronoun.
    “Here,” your life had said, its only house.
    “Let,” your life had said, its only order.

    ….

    “Mortal,” your life will say,
     as if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
    Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

June and July 2014



Just remembered that

trying to write meaningfully
is already a failure of trust;

just being awake here speaks
all the meaning there is,

letting go,
the only must.


**


Fernandez Trail, Ansel Adams Wilderness

A cirque is a three-sided, glacier-carved bowl

that holds a high mountain lake that holds in its face
reflections of the sheered stones that make it so.

No one here says mountains don’t speak, nor lakes
whisper back—birds know, trees hear

rippled reflections
pass on the lips of resident winds.


**


6/22

Summer Solstice

Our first backpacking trip of the season
begins at Clover Meadows in the high Sierra
at just over seven thousand feet,

a walk on the year’s longest day 
that draws on all of our reserves, all of our resolve,

only to deliver a stunning display of stars
for a late night supper
and a long, dreamless sleep.


**


6/23

Lady Lake 8,500 ft.

Thresholds crossed are worlds re-seen
from places we’re often unaware we’ve arrived.
But not here. Unawareness has no place

in a place like this, where, having come,
being seen is a given, and being seen as having come
is itself re-seeing.


**


On the bluff above Chittenden Lake 9,400 ft.

The quiet founded in thin air and high thriving rock
is as complete a refuge as one will find, itself the answer
to the mystery—given all the effort, why we continue
to return, but to again be taken in.


**


Things that will last…
after Kenneth Rexroth

We spend our last day and night
at the Madera Creek junction,
where the Fernandez Trail meets
the Walden in the flat
among the lodge pole pines
at the end of a valley meadow
that runs aside the creek below
a towering volcanic formation
studded with twisted juniper pine,
a small meadow
traced with quivering aspen,
low-growing buckwheat, wild flowers,
butterflies and humming birds.

The creek is lined with willow and lupine
and filled with hungry trout.

But for the creek and woodpeckers
and when wind, the trees, it’s quiet.

How to be here is a matter of who you are.
The place absorbs all who come, goes on its own way
when we’re gone, needing no prophets to tell it so. 


**


6/29

Some turns crinkle, even bind
just a bit, some go so smooth
the view is the only proof

of change—change being
the nature of nature, notions of sameness
are inherently false limitations

risen from simple inattention.


**


7/5

For lack of paper and brush,
that Zen-struck poet, Ryokan,

is said to have practiced calligraphy
in the air—sweeps of soundless poems

spewed out on the restless tongue
of wind-filled skies.


**


Appreciation
is the gift of recognition
properly received.


**


Of most importance
is where the foot that’s risen
will fall.


**


the third way
to cultivate…

to live-listening
to the world and to what
it is waiting to be…


**


7/25

Unquantifiable…

Skin, under the touch
of wind, of sun, under loving eyes…

The presence of turning
to another’s needs—having been useful…

The thought of the sound
of the grandchild’s voice, remembrance
of the name…

The glint of rising sun
bringing the final line of the poem
home…


**


7/26

Sneaking out under the blaze of late afternoon sun,
ocean fogs run the length of the ridge,

white flags of promise of relief,
evidence of the possible

seeding shifting undercurrents, windows,
cupped and readied for release…