Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A small bird, dark . . .

Cherry blossoms from the spring of 2007 in Japan!

Sometimes it pays to go backwards---maybe just a little way---
maybe a long way. I have finally gotten my hands on a copy of
Burned Kilim by Robert Pesich
published by Dragonfly Press in 2001.
My first memory of Robert Pesich was my observation of him 
at the Foothill Writer's Conference many years before that, 
seated on stairs talking earnestly to another poet. (I think it was Henry Carlisle.)
Their serious expressions impressed me, and I might have been 
a little jealous of the attention
young male poets often received in these situations. . . 
The book turns out to be worth serious attention, with very interesting subject matter 
and excellent handling of the language and themes throughout.
Here is the one I chose for tonight.

A Window in the City

I was in the back, in the bathroom,
reading the Times on the toilet,
a small article under a yellow night-light
because the switch was blown.
"Old woman finds infant in dumpster,
revives him with songs."
It was then that I could hear
someone knocking on the neglected
window in the corner, above my face.
A small bird, dark as my eyes
returning to her chicks.
The nest wedged against the hinge
keeping the window open with its woven
mouth of mud, grass, and tangled
cassette tape holding my voice,
a few words, a brief song, made useful.
Tiny ligature of a greater voice
that brings me to the window.
Black back-alley, bricks,
dumpster and sour diesel.
The birds resting in my breath
while outside, someone shatters
a glass, or a mirror
under a brief snow of blossoms
floating down from somewhere.

Robert Pesich 

Burnt Kilim
Dragonfly Press, Mountain View, California, 2001, page 47.

Monday, January 26, 2015

No longer white, not yet green

This is the way things looked this morning, as if ducks lined up for inspection.

And, from the bedroom window, just a little earlier, I spied these guys taking naps
on what would be the sunny bank if the sun wasn't clouded out. I don't know
where the girls sleep, but I have read they nest in the grasses.
And, I think it is too early for that!

Poem: The Morning Walk

There are a lot of words meaning thanks.
Some you can only whisper.
Others you can only sing.
The pewee whistles instead.
The snake turns in circles,
the beaver slaps his tail
on the surface of the pond.
The deer in the pinewoods stamps his hoof.
Goldfinches shine as they float through the air.
A person, sometimes, will hum a little Mahler.
Or put arms around an old oak tree.
Or take out lovely pencil and notebook to find a few
touching, kissing words.

Mary Oliver

Long Life; essays and other writings, Da Capo, 2004, page 83.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"hushed and glittering points"

The muted palette of today's late afternoon reminds me of some Japanese woodblock prints; 
that, and the delicate tracery of the dry grasses. The ducks like to hang out here, 
just where the stream bends.

The Tsugaru Strait

A shelf of black stratocumulous clouds has formed in the south
Two ancient blue-green peninsulas
Take turns to brush away the fatigue of the day
         . . .two merging currents
         extracting sea fog again and again. . .
The waves, their hushed and glittering points
Repeated reflections in a variety of angles
Or, the weaving of stripes of silver and onion green
Or tin pest and Prussian blue
And when the water changes its costume of seven colors
Exulting in its companions
          . . .a flashy and lucid wedding
          in the Oriental fashion. . .
The ship's smoke flows toward the south
The channel, a ghastly beautiful arsenic mirror

Before you know it, the land of Hokkaido is undulating
As rainclouds whirl their black tails
Under the northern sun

Kenji Miyazawa

Strong in the Rain; selected poems, translated by Roger Pulvers
Bloodaxe Books, 2007, page 83.

Here is a short Wikipedia article on the Tsugaru Strait, which separates Honshu from Hokkaido.

Look up tin pest in Wikipedia--that's very interesting! In the context of the poem, I thought it was just another color, like Prussian blue. This poem makes me want to go to Hokkaido; actually, I have wanted to go ever since I saw the book of photos that Michael Kenna took there.
This Japanese poet, Kenji Miyazawa, holds a very high place in the history of 20th century Japanese poetry. There is not way I can compare them to the originals, but I am very impressed by the poems in this book!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

where the waves are wild and rough . . .

I might never tire of this brookside haven.


I sleep
under the willows
all afternoon
and wake, covered
in green caterpillars

the river, too
is green, and cloudy
flowing slow
grassy banks gentle
with sleeping ducks

I remember
a brief dream
a wooden boat
the long journey
downstream to the sea

where to, then?
the boat is too small 
to go far
out where the waves
are wild and rough

always my dreams 
turn back to the land
my soul tossed out
onto the riverbank
settling, grounded

Joy McCall

rising mist, fieldstones
Keibooks, Perryville MD, 2015, page 61.

This author has been writing the five-line form known as tanka for a long time, but only recently began to publish, as a result of finding her publisher as she looked for someone to make a few handmade books of her work. In this book, she uses her familiar stanza, but has presented the work assembled in page length poems. I am never sure what to think when I find a poet who doesn't use capital letters or punctuation (except for the essential question mark.) but she really doesn't seem to need them. In an afterword, the publisher tells us that the poet is in ill health and expects not to live much longer. The book is available through Amazon.com. Lovers of this short form will find much to admire here.

Friday, January 23, 2015


More tranquil memories from the autumn woodlands.


No sleep, not tonight. The window blazes.
Over the city, fireworks soar and explode.
No sleep: too much has gone on.
Rows of books stand vigil above you.
You'll brood on what's happened
and what hasn't. No sleep, not tonight.
Your inflamed eyelids will rebel,
your fiery eyes sting,
your heart swell with remembrance.
No sleep. The encyclopedias will open
and poets, dressed carefully,

bundled for winter, will stroll out one by one.
Memory will open, with a sudden hiss
like a parachute's. Memory will open,
you won't sleep,
rocked slowly through clouds,
an easy target in the firework's glow.
No sleep: so much has gone on,
so much been revealed.
You know each drop of blood
could compose its own scarlet Iliad,
each dawn author
a dark diary. No sleep,
under the thick blanket of roofs, attics,
and chimneys casting out handfuls of ash.

Pale nights row noiselessly into the sky,
their oars silk stockings delicately rustling.
You'll go out to the park, and tree limbs
will amiably thump your shoulder, making
sure, confirming your fidelity. No sleep.
You'll race through the uninhabited park,
a shadow facing more shadows.
You'll think of someone who's no more
and of someone else living so fully
that her life at its edges changes
to love. Light, more light
gathers in the room. No sleep, not tonight.

Adam Zagajewski

Canvas; translated from the Polish by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry and C.K. Williams,
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997

I cannot stay away from this marvelous poet! So here we are again. Short sentences, longer sentences, short lines, longer lines. And the clear movement of the mind, the way it often moves. Praise to the translators, too, for something that is so vivid in English.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


A winter evening approaches over the Little Union Canal.

When we moved here, I went to a great deal of trouble trying to find out the name of this
100-year-old stream, Finally, at the local Historical Society, I found it was named the 
Little Union Canal, and had been dug using horsepower quite early in the 20th Century.
Last month, a map came in the mail detailing the road extension nearby. On the map,
this canal is clearly labeled Eagle Drain. (This is the town of Eagle, Idaho.)
Isn't that truly ugly? I think my heart may break. . .

Narcissus and Echo

Shall the water not remember      Ember
my hand's slow gesture tracing above      of
its mirror my half imaginary       airy
portrait. My only belonging       longing;
is my beauty, which I take       ache
away and then return as love       of
teasing playfully the one being       unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure       Is your
move me. I live apart       heart
from myself, yet cannot       not
live apart. In the water's tone       stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower       Hour,
whispers my name with such slight      light:
moment, it seems filament of air,       fare
the world become cloudswell.       well.

Fred Chappell

The Language They Speak Is Things To Eat; poems by North Carolina Poets. Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994, page 111.

Over the past year, I have found some of the most interesting poems in topical or regional anthologies like this one. I got this book because A. R. Ammons is in it, but there is plenty of other good poetry in it as well.
The magical double strategy of this poem is that the end word of each line rhymes with the end word, as well as making another poem, or cry, by itself. And all of it goes with the story of Narcissus and Echo! 
Now I think of how I would manage the task of trying something like this, only shorter, to begin with, because the idea is soooo interesting! 
I should also mention how much I like the word-compound "cloudswell" which lifted up my heart.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Past the helpless guards

Imagined winter frost at twilight. iPhone app FX Photo Studio.   jhh

The Concert, by Vermeer

Imagine the man who stole this painting.
He sees himself seated between the two women,
his face averted, safely hidden:
the woman to his right, older, his wife;
the woman at the keyboard, younger, not his wife.
The painting reminds him of possibilities,
the three of them seated there, 
no sound but music,
fragile notes emboldened by the tile floor,
and then no sound.

Thieves have paraded the painting past the helpless guards,
past the ghost of Isabella Stewart Gardner
and the ghost of her dog, which did not bark.
Each day the new owner takes the painting from his vault.
He is learning about provenance, and theft,
how holding is not owning,
how no peace comes with power.
He hears fingers pressing the keys trying to sustain each note
past time, past the limits of memory.
When he presses one of the women close,
time passes and is gone.

Sharon Olson

The Long Night of Flying
Sixteen Rivers Press, 2006, page 40.

This stolen painting by Vermeer can be seen and read about here in Wikipedia; it is still missing.

When you have a lot of poetry books, as I do, it is fun to look for things to share here. I have known Sharon for many years; she worked as a librarian, as I did, and lived in the Bay Area for many years. I never see her any more as she moved east several years ago.

Your task is to write a poem in two stanzas about a painting. Use flowing lines and don't force things into a certain meter or form. The first stanza describes the painting and perhaps makes a little story about what you see. The second stanza goes somewhere else. In this case, about a famous theft and about the moral consequences of owning somethings very valuable that is not yours, really. You could go in another direction suggested to you by the painting, into history, or an autobiographical memory, or whatever else is suggested to you by contemplation of the painting (or other work of art.)