some old poems
(uploaded here in hopes that I'll write some new ones soon!)
she, I, & Scriabin
we three sit together
under the dazzling light of his brilliance
I occasionally talk to myself.
pedals clunk under her bare feet,
room fills with
crazy openings & closings & half-closings,
jazz waltzes past ragtime, swings through spain…
coaxing back old images, millions of lifetimes…
smoky horn from an apartment over lamplit London,
dark old Europe, old old India, & sunny Portugal, & Morocco, & the new world,
New Orleans, & Detroit, & San Francisco,
he, dead in Moscow in 1915, supposedly before jazz,
having already found his ‘mystical chord’ (c, f-sharp, b-flat, e’, a’, d”),
somehow he lived through it all,
or it all lived through him.
she, fellow explorer, way-farer, fellow coper,
like me unable to settle, wanting to be everything
& do everything,
& burdened with everybody’s pain.
the whole world suffers in us,
cruelly, or ignorantly, or both,
the whole world is undervalued.
yet sometimes we find ourselves floated up
on a centerless, immeasurable joy.
keys flutter, bass throbs,
the same deep something shudders in us at the music…
ahh! so huge to be human!
sometimes it’s too much to bear,
& we sing.
longtan, taiwan, 2000
A Poem for the New Year
I three places
I have bold & even embarrassingly open-hearted things to tell all of you, so please forgive me if I get altogether too festive along the way… But first of all, a cheers! & a raised glass to all of you from sunny Ko Chang, where I’m swimming & getting blunted & drinking in the perfection of creation, growing mad & savage from the shore, or trembling in the water & rolling sleepily across the surf, or strolling divinely half-clad along the beach… Living lazily & lustily & finally turning my pen to the task of saluting the coming year, & coaxing out the surging, boiling spaces opening in me at the thought of it.
Another raised glass & a ‘shin nyin quai le!’ to those in Taiwan! School & work let out there for the new year & everyone was happy. There were fireworks all day in the streets for a week. We were free from teaching & some of us hung around for awhile; cruised out to the coast on our bikes one day & saw everyone cleaning house, burning garbage, taking out trash, & burning ghost money for their families’ dead. This was the time of year to do those things. Whizzing through & thinking about Confucius rightly saying that ritual gives meaning to life. Drunks staggered alongside the road… shin nyin quai le! indeed. Boys fired bottle rockets over our heads & whooped.
Laying in bed one night hearing the fireworks go off… a crackling booming surge of them over the crickets, splitting & scattering through the buildings & groves, thinking yeah! So crazy; the night so silent & twittering, & mankind throwing these rollicking, pealing, raging noises into it!
The boys on the street lighting them & backing away,
lean & scared & excited,
laughing & touching &
beautiful in its own way, like everything that is.
And thinking of heaven coming down in Northern Alberta for the summer solstice that year… The mushrooms felt strong & open-aired. The band was a little silly but won me over with their joy & ridiculousness & perseverance, churning along for hours as the morning opened up & the woods awoke & it got deep & beautiful. They went with it, jumped up, got sassier & funkier in proportion to the quiet advancing beauty of the morning & the growing outrageousness of the scene in the light of day… And me jumping up inside & out, thinking of every moment, a quivering miracle, each pregnant with bold possibility, & how easy it is to sing & dance & clap hands, & how stupidly hard some of us have made it for ourselves…
So let’s raise the roof, friends, or tear it off altogether… A final toast to stop my rambling, to all the folks back home & everyone making the trip; I’ll see you this year at the fair; wouldn’t miss it…
II another year
the patient steady urge of life,
work against weight,
taste of salt on the lips,
the toughening of the body,
the spirit of pitching in & singing,
the way the mind falls steadily in pace alongside work,
& the limitless reserve of will lying therein.
the charmed delight of the male animal in the grace of the female’s movements;
in the lazy swish of her tail, in the way she bends
or tosses her head or arcs her back.
the hollow quivering ache of longing,
& the rootless & boundless awe beyond longing.
babies identifying things around them,
learning to make sounds;
their struggle & delight in the world
& our struggle & delight in making them.
hands touching smalls of backs,
& cradled in each other.
animals making it work from any precarious niche;
beavers felling trees to build up dams & lodges,
from there to build bigger dams & raise up bigger lakes.
dung beetles finding livelihoods in piles of shit,
bamboo shoots clinging to cliffsides,
aphids & ants entwining their lives symbiotically,
life flourishing even in the depths & vents of the earth.
people making livings sorting through garbage or selling insurance,
gambling in stocks & ventures or asking sympathy with their deformities.
the impatient spark of curiosity,
the thirst for beloved places & people & things,
the reaching always for things greater & higher,
the laying of plans & the laying aside of them,
The new flowering of culture, religion & spirit,
something far down tells me these things will go on;
they are changing but deathless.
the world feeds it own thirst & creates it.
the brain finds it work both in solving problems & in generating them.
III onward & upward
strange new days are on us,
& stranger still to come.
I have no special insight into them but I profess
eternal & cosmic optimism anyhow.
I assure you that wider & wilder vistas must be ahead,
& that things run deeper & further back than we know.
& I assure you that old acquaintance won’t be forgot,
even if the song is.
a new, ripe season is on us,
for dreaming huge, open-aired dreams,
for tasting the world, learning more about everything,
for learning new languages & creating them,
learning to relate to any man or woman,
for thinking public thoughts,
& becoming larger & more beautiful.
I imagine a wide & democratic season
with no rockstars & no idols,
no one has a top 40 record anymore,
no need to narrow your field just to stay chief farmer.
I hear unheard music, chants & prayers & dances,
spiraling out myriad polyrhythms.
I hear younger, braver voices than mine,
poetry both softer & stronger,
faring farther out,
breathing life & meaning into the world,
filling up new spaces with words,
& expanding them until we can live inside,
carving out their own legends,
leading & following their own lives.
have I gone soft, friends?
eaten up too much Walt Whitman?
but really, I see heroes in the men & women around me
& don’t know how else to say it.
And look ahead!
the distance stretches out vast & hazy from here,
with this vast & hazy future to wander through it.
no time to plot,
but a moment to search ourselves for the handholds & footholds
by which to make our ascent & our self-overcoming.
therefore, I resolve;
(what a mystery, the will;
how hard & immutable & effortless
as it hovers above the universe!
yet how flighty & forgetful as it wends
through the storied & turbulent insides of life!)
nevertheless, I resolve,
to walk lighter & notice more,
to leave the shaping of my wants to worthier givers
than money & images of imaginary people’s lives.
to judge situations & things better,
but leave other people unjudged.
to hold none of my beliefs immune to revision,
to love open-handedly,
& keep moving;
the soul stagnates as it pools in some hollow place,
but runs riverlike through changing terrain & scenery.
to stop my fidgety, flirting dalliances
with the ugly brown herb,
& just settle, monogamous,
with the sweet & leafy muse.
to try even harder & stress even less about it.
to grow younger & softer,
enlivened & endangered in my thinner skin.
to give everyone I pass at least a smile,
& even to be ready to meet them.
All this I’m telling you just to remind myself, friends;
I know that all of you already know it
& intend to do it.
the world is ours, friends;
it belongs to each of us
& was intended for us.
it has rest for us & work for us.
it is perfect enough to lead our souls to heaven,
but never perfect enough to leave us nothing to do.
an awed salute;
I’m a child in this & some of you are miles ahead.
working on organic farms or for labor rights,
hands on children or the sick or shovels,
securing the priceless dignity of each
I lift my glass last to you,
wherever you are.
How is the road ahead?
How is the view from there?
ko chang, thailand, february 2001
declining sun shades shifting pale pastels,
big fish jump & flop,
bells undulate round sounds down from the ashram
cows amble doe-eyed along the bridge
monkeys scrutinize the scene from suspension wires,
Vandip sits in front of me, happy,
thinking of nothing at all.
body erect &
swaying with his mantra’s meter,
mind clear &
lit from within.
lakshman jhula, india, february 2001
a man pulling a rickshaw
a man pulling a rickshaw plump with bananas
struggles & stalls at the base of the hill.
two men passing by fall in behind &
lean into it;
a third on a motorcycle pulls up alongside
& pushes with an outstretched foot.
they are singing,
back & back & back through the ages
& even now in the kali yuga
bananas & spirits beautifully lifted.
lakshman jhula, india, february 2001
me & Crees had a laugh about
me & Crees had a laugh about
the blankets we’d left out for Rosco, homeless hound on the block.
We speculated about
him playing by himself in the daytime,
throwing them into the tall grass,
& sleeping like a goof on the concrete at night, or
having his blankets stolen by bigger, smarter dogs without blankets.
the thought of either one was hilarious.
He’s such a little monkey,
or hyena, Crees says,
running around like a dumbass,
chasing frogs, biting flowers, carrying around dead fish from beside the pond
like they were trophies, barking at nothing,
sleeping in the street,
& when he was sick, wheezing, looking mournful,
breaking our hearts, the laughing crying tragicomedy of it all.
longtan, taiwan, 2002