FYI France
Ebooks Experiments -- the project

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TWO MILLENNIA: POEMS 2

By Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

 

Dawn

 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive...

 

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• Table of Contents •

 

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• about metadata •


____________________

 

One tiny methodological note: this ebook being as much an experiment, in online digital access & use as anything else... I am undertaking it largely to discover how these things work, in their latest incarnation.

Information overload is an old friend, and I am as sceptical as I ever have been about the latest round of information search & retrieval techniques: the Dark Web always has been large -- its continued looming omnipresence, or maybe under-presence / sous-présence, is at once our greatest challenge, to our techniques, and our greatest guarantee of the freedom of those techniques and much else besides.

So I am reading about Dublin Core & NISO & ISO & Google and other official and industry efforts, in standards development for these purposes. But I am not hopeful, on the one hand, and I am greatly relieved on the other: no we'll never be able to find & use everything, or so I am convinced from numerous past examples, universal bibliography is the chimæra it's forever been -- I am with Borges & Eco & Jeanneney, on this --- OTOH as long as something can hide and stay hidden, deep within The Matrix, perhaps there is hope for freedom, and for surprizes, and for renewal and youth -- & I am with Wm. Gibson, on that.

A few descriptors appear below, then. I figure no matter what structures-within-the-structures the metadata mavens eventually evolve, they'll always offer some means of combining & permutating (?) etc. a bunch of descriptors: so if word-term-occurrences and proximity-connections have anything to do with "relevance", the way Lasswell had figured they might, maybe they'll find my book. Or maybe they won't, we'll see.

I am not certain, myself, that there is not a "category mistake" at work, here: if a "book" is what is sought, then copious metadata about that object understandably may be useful -- but if what is being sought nowadays is a "text", an æthereal thing sometimes contained in a book but increasingly not, then metadata assisting in the search for a book is un ange qui passe -- the new philosopher newly-arrived from the US, standing at Carfax in the middle of Oxford, demanding, "But where is the university?"

So, metadata descriptors, maybe: poems, poetry, literature, me, you, us, other stuff, not ontologies, not relevance, not rankings, not content, not epistemology, not analysis, sometimes metaphysics, maybe music

 

 

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• Preface •

____________________

 

Here, in this second volume, the poetry gives way to me -- certain life-adventures, growing processes that always are a part of poetry. One problem in writing being that things still are changing.

What is seen is mostly a reflection. I rarely felt that as I was growing. All my education was against it. I was taught The Great Objectivity: I still remember, Subjektiver Geist warring with Objektiver Geist -- the most false of false dichotomies.

It's a useful construct, certainly, but for unimportant things -- things mastered -- if Œdipus hadn't cried, "I alone saved Thebes!", he never would have saved it, it never would have been saved. And Thebes did need saving.

Ultimately, though, and like-it-or-not, it's Self, and that remains a mystery. Not your-Self or my-Self but how each of us looks at the world -- each of us is our own little mysterious cognitive bundle, and the world doesn't very much care how or even whether we understand it. Women grasp this better than men do, it seems, and that is the subject of much here. In a women's liberation age, half the sky is learning now what can be done with that older knowledge -- a great deal, I hope. The Destroyers & Builders have done much, with their "creative destructions", but they made a mess of things, time to tidy up. At least until the next bunch of threatening-males-with-guns intrudes...

The dates shown here are approximate -- all dates being so, as times and locations and names all are -- but here the dates really are, we're within a year or so at best. A few of these lines were fished out of an old guitar case, where they hid for several decades, others from between the leaves of crumbling yellowed paperback books, still others from their end-leaves.

And when you are young, the dates don't matter: things in a perfect world don't change. Warring against them, over time, you discover that they do. It is distressing, now, to see new shops where the old ones used to rule a street, new buildings, new faces -- "The conscious impotence of rage at human folly", Eliot calls it, one of his "gifts reserved for age" -- distressing, too, to discover the disappearances of the old -- it all was so very certain and impermeable, back then, if it needed changing that was because it never would.

But it did. George Carlin figured "if you remember the '60s you weren't there", and that's true. I write about things now still to see them -- it's just interesting to me, looking over all this old stuff, that I wrote about them then for that reason too. It's been a learning process.

 

Thanks here are due not so much to sysops and database administrators, then -- none of that had been invented, 40-plus years ago, although there were surrogates -- but teachers, in various guises, helped greatly, and all need their due.

First and foremost for me was Don Jesse, who as all who knew him will attest was a formative influence on everyone he touched -- and always for better, I believe -- he taught Warren haiku, or he pulled haiku out of him which surprized Warren greatly, a surprize I still remember. It was the faith in the student, which so impressed the students about this teacher -- I've only come across that a few times in my life, but always it's been wonderful to see.

Another was Marian Calhoun. She'd married a Latin scholar, I think, and she knew her languages well herself -- and after several years of trying she never gave up on my scepticism about her much-loved Romans. But she loved her students, and one day I came to her whining bitterly about another teacher who seemed uncomprehending that morning about petty problems I had with others in his class, and she told me his father just that morning had died and that others have their problems too. And that has stuck with me, far better than her declensions and conjugations have. As I've gradually discovered that it's not the subject matter but the Self, one fundamental building-block of that has been that moment with "Mrs. Calhoun".

Teachers, like authors, never know what the effects of their efforts precisely will be. Jesse with his outstretched teacup, intoning to enthralled teenagers -- "What is this I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee..." and the teacup falls *smash* to the ground... -- also Mrs. Calhoun, with her meticulously-reassuring hic-haec-hoc.

A third was Ramsay MacMullen: never a word of Roman history, although I audited his classes -- always instead it was kind words about other people and situations, about growing and extending and flexing and trying new ideas -- again the warmth was what mattered, and the man's students and peers and squash partners all felt that from him... maybe not the squash opponents so much, but the partners felt the patience even if they missed a shot...

Then one day, decades later, MacMullen fielded the anxieties of this young father about the futures for my own two little sons, on the deck in Sausalito reassuring me -- after his decades of counseling generations of students and their perennially-worried parents about life-choices -- that, "Jack, it doesn't matter..." The teacher, scholar, counselor, highest quality in everything he did, declaring, "it doesn't matter..." And it didn't. I'd known that, without knowing it -- and I discovered it with the great decisions my own sons made then and later too -- I found that happiness is what matters and that it's a mystery, that choices & decisions are about other things. Teachers are strange people, and they contribute strangely.

So I am not trying to teach, here -- although my greatest debts are to certain teachers. Parents and grandparents and friends and lovers all get included, in the pæan, as do instructors and professors and peers at work. Corner grocers -- news-stand owners -- I've had some of the greatest wisdom from homeless people I've very occasionally befriended, much from taxi drivers, some from writers and musicians I've known or studied or read or heard. It's a strange process.

 

But still, I'm grateful, and I acknowledge that here. These poems get rough in places, smooth in others, they tumble and twist and turn just the way my favorite polutropon did. May we all have the courage to keep swimming.

 

-- March 1, 2012 -- San Francisco

 

--oOo--

 

• Dedication •

to Jan, who teaches me still

 

 

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• Poems •

 

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Anytown

What did Randall Jarrell say about supermarkets
Or Allen Ginsberg
Or Sylvia Plath shielding her children
from the varnished aluminium glare of Brasilia
although the grass is growing there at least

The Bloomsbury Safeway Supermarket
Canned Milk and Fruits and Fish & Meat, Fische und Fleisch
Frozen Foods and Vegetables and the cryptic
Canned
Canned.
600 Prices Downnnnnn

at Safeway
German Garlic Sausage
Danish Blue Cheese
Exotic Kiwi fruit fresh from the South Pacific
And Spanish Honeydew Melons

Here I am in Anytown
Which used to be "...USA" but
now is Bloomsbury : Shaw and Woolf and Keynes and the BM and the University and Marx and Lenin and Strachey and now,
Safeway
Does it all look like this?

The Standard World is here
The poets didn't know it but they sensed its coming
One small step for the poets
They sensed its changes -- changes perceived as dangers
The managers don't know it but they too sensed its coming
Gaming, cost-benefitting, market trend analyzing
They make it and play it
But still don't understand it

Mrs. Jones does
Safeway Stores the new Marco Polo
Brings baubles from Berkeley
To Bloomsbury and beads from
Portobello Road to the San Pablo
Shopping center

You and I are not we but one
Big sprawling profitable enterprise

This is no diatribe against profit
But The Store Detective is foning the cops
I think to chase out the odd poet
From his plastic empire
Guess I'll go see a movie

 

-- Summer, 1967 -- first time to Europe -- great excitements, expectations, preconceptions, disappointments, disillusionments -- very great satisfactions too, though, and I learned a lot about the USA.
Return to Table of Contents

 

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Monday

Monday morning after a night of adding up everything -- cab fares, train fares, hotel bills, transatlantic fone calls, meals, a Kit-Kat bar I bought at the airport -- I get to my agency office with my bags and green-eyed Irish Yvonne miraculously produces 75 crisp pounds sterling which I'm so happy to see that I forget about my additions and off I go to TWA.

And (you think it's over) there is a wildcat strike called today at Heathrow Airport. One group meets at 1:00. Our plane, scheduled for 1:00, boards at 2:00 and leaves the ground at 3:30, literally the last one out of Heathrow as the 3pm strike goes into effect.

I gallantly push some little old ladies over in producing my passport which miraculously qualifies -- expecting to get a draft exemption or 2 weeks expense paid holiday in return -- and join the two girls (make a note to look up one in Heavenly Valley) who with myself qualify out of the original 120. We hold on -- to our passports -- 'til 11 when mustachio says no the plane won't go with only 3 people and the train station is only 5 minutes' cab ride away.

The Heavenly Valley girl decides to sleep in the airport to be able to tear the agent's eyes out when he lands tomorrow and I, crestfallen, catch the 11:30 for London and my patient friend's floor.

 

-- Summer, 1967
Return to Table of Contents

 

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Muni

Man on the Muni gently crazy
Acid or just a crazy head
Clear staccato, "ten per cent of a family's average income is devoted to... statistics say?"
Gentle easy laughs of four black
Jamaicans
On their way to
Busk in Ghirardelli
Hey mon we all agree wid' you

 

-- Summer, 1967
Return to Table of Contents

 

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Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell sitting all alone in your Oxford Book of American Verse
Quiet cottage in the country
Caroline
And a baby boy

Politics is names and telephone numbers
10p pieces pushed in a slot
The telephone blips like a burping baby
When it wants more

Robert the poet didn't know it
He sang the tune and eyed the moon
To play a riddle without a fiddle
He was hanging on to many things
With only the nails in his fingers

 

-- Winter, 1972 -- Oxford.
Return to Table of Contents

 

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Manzanagua

I gallantly push some little old ladies
over in producing my passport which
miraculously qualifies -- expecting to
get a draft exemption or 2 weeks
expense paid holiday in return --
and join the two girls
(make a note to look up one in
Heavenly Valley) who with myself
qualify out of the original 120.

We hold on -- to our passports --
'til 11 when mustachio says
no the plane won't go with
only 3 people and the train
station is only 5 minutes cab ride
away. The Heavenly Valley girl
decides to sleep in the airport
to be able to tear the agent's
eyes out when he lands tomorrow
and I, crestfallen, catch the
11:30 for London and my
patient friends' floor.

Monday morning after a night
of adding up everything -- cab
fares, train fares, hotel bills,
transatlantic fone calls, meals,
a Kit-Kat bar I bought at the
airport -- I get to my agency
office with my bags and green-eyed
Irish Yvonne miraculously produces
75 crisp pounds sterling
which I'm so happy to see that
I forget about my additions and off I go to TWA.

And (you think it's over) there
is a wildcat strike called today at
Heathrow Airport. One group meets at 1:00. Our plane,
scheduled for 1:00, boards at
2:00 and leaves the ground at
3:30, literally the last one out of
Heathrow as the 3pm strike goes into effect.

 

-- Summer, 1967 -- is the medium the message
Return to Table of Contents

 

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toukung

 

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Ciudad Obregón

Tour of the Yaqui Valley with Simeón and his son Simeón.

The Yaqui way of knowledge comes from here. The family of Castañeda's Don Juan used to own and now works this land.

It used to be ranch land. Simeón was raised on his father's ranch, and learned to ride and to break horses here, and he slept with the vaqueros on rides into the hills.

In the late 40's and early 50's a private company did a study of the possibilities of developing the valley -- 240,000 hectares (?) -- for agriculture. The government built a dam -- local citizens are paying this back over a long period and irrigation and thus agriculture began.

Strains must be improved, every three or four years, to keep up with changes in various plagues. Mexico is good for experimentation because days are longer than they are further north, in the US and Canada: more light means faster development.

The valley has become -- along with the Valley of the Mayo near Oaxaca -- the agricultural capital of Mexico. The plan laid the valley out in squares, marked by an elaborate road and irrigation-canal system. There is an experimental institute and school here which is being expanded -- an American Nobel Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, who has been working twenty-five years.

Simeón Sr. says he works day and night, seven days a week, explains things simply without condescension -- a man of great humility who never claims credit for himself, but always for his "group" of assistants. He has developed cross-strains of wheat and corn which now are being exported to and developed in India and Pakistan, by Mexican farmers and technicians.

Simeón Sr. speaks with great pride of this exportation. He says it equals anything in the US. Other products here include soybeans and cotton. Some oranges are produced, but more fruit and vegetables come from the South, where there is more water. Transportation is cheapest by train. Trucking is used and the main local ports are Guaymas, Topolobampo, and Mazatlán.

For the past fourteen months Simeón has been developing a very clean, modern, efficient hog farm, following models he has studied in the US. He buys the male hogs from Nebraska and now has ten.

The maternity currently houses forty breeding sows, although the monthly average ranges from thirty to ninety. The maternities are fully-enclosed, and air-conditioned using great extractor fans at one end. A pan of disinfectant is kept by the door, and workers have to dip their feet in that before entering.

Each sow has her own pen, in which she is futher restricted by steel bars from which the piglets can escape -- to prevent her from rolling over on them. Each sow weighs about 340 pounds.

Each pen has a heat lamp where the piglets gather. The sow learns to get water by pushing her snout into a pan to trip a switch which releases water.

The pens are concrete -- outside the maternity as well -- and pig feces are washed every morning into surrounding troughs and flushed away.

The pens and buildings -- steel frames, cinder blocks, corrugated composite (duralita) roofs -- are manufactured in Obregón, although Simeón bought his at a better price in the South.

Producers are organized into two large and four small credit unions. Simeón is a leader in one of the big ones. The credit unions are similar to those in the States: loans are made to individual farmers, and large bulk buying and selling and warehousing is done through their staffs.

There are no price support systems, here, although Simeón says they are being talked of.

There are unions in Mexico -- although not in Monterrey where, says Simeón, producers anticipated organization by giving benefits to the workers, leading to their turning down organizers. Farm workers are not organized. Simeón defends his own relationship with his own workers firmly -- he employs between twelve and fifteen workers and their families permanently, and hires up to thirty more during harvest-time. Recently his credit union has established a fund to finance government-built workers' housing.

I will try to see more of this. Employers pay 10% social security and workers get a pension after twenty-five years. service. Recently Obregón has been encouraging secondary industry -- a pasta-and-biscuit factory, and a refinery for safflower oil, recently have been built.

I tried to give my little argument for locating these industries in poorer areas, but Simeón ain't buying.

Obregón has the highest prices in Mexico -- higher than Mexico City. Shoes cost $18-25 US, pants $8-12. The fancy homes and enormous gas-eating cars make the place resemble a San Francisco suburb, or more a thriving mid-western Iowa town.

Things don't fit together with an ease accumulated from practice, but the wealth is there and is flaunted.

Simeón's home and garden, which resembles the others in this barrio of perhaps 100 homes, would be about $100,000 in the US at the moment. Roads are all paved, here and downtown, and there are sidewalks and municipal landscaping. Went to church in the new municipal gem -- monument to new-found prosperity -- big "modernistic" murals, stained-glass windows, pre-cast concrete construction, and all.

 

-- December 25, 1975 (?) -- channelling my inner Joan Didion, but never found a truly "journalistic" style -- enduring affection for and sympathy with Mexico, though.
Return to Table of Contents

 

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A place in the pond

1) Water and Trees

I don't climb mountains any more
The paths and valleys interest me
Where I find trees and moss
And I listen to birds singing

The most wonderful thing is water
And I find it now in streams
Flowing gently through meadows
Or churning briskly over roads

Fresh trees in shades of a thousand greens
Show bright flowers in the Spring
Not the delicate, eager, mountain flowers
But something more strong and self-assured

Water begins as droplets
Then forms fragile and beautiful snow and ice
Far up, high, on the mountain
It descends in streams only later
Once the bitter crystal has been lost

2) A Place in the Pond

Youth has a bitter edge
A ceaseless surging against the world
A constant pushing to establish
A place in the pond

A small fir tree bent double
By the weight of the snow
Crushed by the shadow of its elders

Minnows
Swallowed

It's attitude rather than achievements
They didn't tell me then
I found it hiding beneath a rock
With salamanders
And before a delicate glass case
Containing suits of jade

Phlebus the Phœnician found religion
Before his boat sank, completely,
The solace of the Greater Wisdom
Denied, to books, in the end

Down, then, to blend into the sea
Down from mountain tops
Around rocks, across meadows
Descending through valleys

Touching everything, nurturing trees
Absorbed into everything, eventually,
No longer the energy
The hardness, brittleness, of youth

3) Leaves on a Pond

Lives
A red and yellow, green, and blue one
Carmine, azure, cinnabar
Gris, anaranjado, Royal Hwang
Remnants of a life
The briefest shadow
Caught, quickly
Before it turns to rot and dust

Vivacious yellow
A girlish sprite
Flirtatious later
Then gentle and serene in passing
A happy life

Her violent sister, Carmine
Strongest color in the jungle
Drawing, boldly, all the animals
To see, and feel fully
And be devoured, at an early age

Then Old Hwang -- pretensions
Of a life lived grandly
So he tried to take it with him
Ozymandias

And finally azure, most clear most true
Translucent beauty
To see while being seen
The joys of life and sorrows

The azure tree with leaves of brilliant hue
Fine and rare, most perfect
Standing out yet blending
And now blending with the water

The fullness of life
In a little pond

 

-- January 1, 1975 (?) -- China Hotel, Liu Hua Lu, Guangzhou, People's Republic of China.
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

An Evening

I spend an evening imagining
Your sound, your footstep
Your voice, your breath
Your small lithe body
Turning and twisting and surrendering
To my arms

What map saw you coming?
What chart or graph or design?
Who made this unbirthday surprise for me?

The feeling of holding
A small warm head in rough hands
Precious piece of matter
Curving bone and silken hair
And warm flesh tender to
The touch -- blanche, c'est blanche

Warm sun and a small and eager
Breast
Warm sun and writing wrapping endless
Arms
The sharp curving of an aquiline
Hip -- strong -- strength of Eve
Downy hairs coating -- frosting --
Delicate skin
I gave shade to your
Shining eyes.

 

-- May 1, 1977
Return to Table of Contents

 

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En Attendant

En attendant le telephone
Godot never arrived either

A memory of three swift days
A yearning for three more

To give -- and to be taken
To give -- and to receive

In China you are --
In China.
Where is China?

Some word from you -- "Write!", she said.
The doubts -- have I overdone it -- was there too much, too fast -- is she a doe scared from a clearing -- is it the clearing I love rather than the doe
And does she wonder that?

Letters re-read. The thing against the person. What essence indefinable makes me think of her not it?

Past trysts. Pink rooms. The body soaring -- the mind at rest. Now the mind tears and tumbles -- small breasts, long thin hands -- guarded gaze longing to be pierced. Will we have the courage?

 

-- May 30, 1977
Return to Table of Contents

 

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Questionmarks

Questionmarks. They can kill.
Better to leave development to fate.
The ablest economist
Never planned a lovers' tryst

Only I hope there is no trysting here.
No logic -- no plan -- no certain end,
Either. But no turning on and off
Like taps in a drought.
No sweaty flesh.
Those things pass too quickly.

But the other lasts too long.
The doe in the clearing -- will
She fly, sensing others frightened
There before her?
And what of me -- will I fly?
Will that vague, chilling, ghostly
Detachment creep up my spine --
Paralysis of cruelty -- hardness masking
Weakness -- bitter despising of a
Former love. Is it fright with
Me as well -- or a cowardice of
Clipped wings?

Better to see her not it.
Fawn tuned doe. Tender prettiness
Aged to beauty. Taking her chances
With life, with China, with herself
And Dieu Remercie with me. Let
What will happen come to the clearing.

 

-- May 30, 1977
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

Spain

Spain take this cup from me
For I don't want to drink its
Poisons
The mystic disorganizations of
A thousand associations

Gray, blue, and green matter
Encompassed by its cortex
Meanderings through
Eighty years of
Existence

Order in the chaos?
Pigments of imagination -- red
Yellow green scarlet and
Blue, always blue

Where were thee when thou
Was sought?
"Beside thee! But why
the seeking?"

Why the seeking, Then? Why order
for the chaos?
O lovely Chaos -- from which
Zeus emerged, before Athena from him.
Chaos chaotic cacaphonic concubines
Of carefully carousing courtesans.
If whores are mayors and men die
Beneath busses and Christ is recrucified
Again and again, why the quest, or
Any quest?

 

-- June 1, 1977
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--oOo--

 

Young

Youngest of the young
And most beautiful of those
She bathes in that beauty
Slim, delicate molding,
Firm beneath, in
Body, mind, and soul
Young woman -- mother
Breasts full
Belly tight with child
Thoughtful
Sometimes moody
Sometimes tearful
Long eyelashes brushing downy cheeks
I kiss her forehead

 

-- April 28, 1979
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--oOo--

 

Park

 

--oOo--

 

Exercise

Exercise in hubris. Hubris and peculiarly American form of show and of greed, and a typically American, very special form of down-home sincerity beneath.

In a pretend city there is soil in the back lots -- and old fruit trees and an occasional abandoned windmill and a shack from time to time. Most telling of all, though, is the as-yet unpaved soil.

The sign of an agricultural origin, not yet fully left behind. Reminder of the forefathers. Ashes to ashes, Rome is so old that beneath the soil for miles around there are ruins.

Urban ecology -- a blending of human habitation and the earth. Dallas is so new that the earth -- perhaps once-cultivated but not recently -- still is there -- untouched now but undeveloped as yet.

And the grass grew

Interstitial in old

The grime holding the grand accident together

So the walls will not collapse

Or, if they do,

They will come down gently

Onto the gentle grass.

There is an excitement in the non-linear world which the linear lacks, the excitement of ups and downs rather than progression. Many progressions. Many successes, reversals. Richard Nixon on the comeback trail. Time to pick up the pieces and try again.

 

-- January 1, 1987 (?)
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

Travel

My father never saw anything when he travelled. He collected things. He collected souvenirs, gifts, people -- people he would talk about later with other people, people whom he would see on a later trip. Most of all my father collected experiences -- dramatic happenings, funny stories, curious incidents. Anything my father told you about one of his trips was meant to entertain, meant to have a punchline. Most travel experiences my father told you about actually happened. Some didn't. All of them got heavily embroidered in the telling. My father travelled as a collector.

Mother was the other type. My mother saw everything when she travelled. Nothing escaped. She pursued every detail of a place relentlessly. The history, first, had to be devoured and committed to memory. If there were five cities to Delhi she knew them and their dates before she landed. If there was a sixth she found it, berating herself for lax scholarship, before she left. The art, the music, the literature, the culture, the current politics, the native plants -- all of these were the prerequisites, the absolute necessities, of travel for my mother. It was only through these special lenses that she saw what actually was there. She was a compiler of encyclopedias of travel, my mother.

There are other types of travelers. People who go for business, for example. The efficiency of travel appeals greatly to a businessperson. Schedules, itineraries, communications, transportation, planning, results or the lack thereof but always the possibility realistic or not that results will improve next time. The immense satisfaction of catching a nearly-missed plane. Oddly, though, business travelers always are apologetic. "I really should take time to...", "Someday I'll bring the wife and we'll spend time doing...". The curious hold which the academic mind has over us all -- guilt over not going into depth. But the breadth and breathtaking speed of business travel. Travel as process.

And there is travel for study and travel for diversion. The sabbatical -- an extended trip. A month in Florence to study its art, a year in Oxford to study its philosophy, an apartment in the Trastevere. The illusion of depth, the idea of belonging -- you never belong in a small village anywhere until your grandfathers' grandfathers did -- but the satisfaction of knowing you at least have tried to avoid the shallowness of a fast trip. And then, the fast trip -- the tourist -- speed for the sake of breadth, titillation, all the cathedrals on one swing, if it's Tuesday this must be Belgium. An expensive antidote to sameness. An exhausting alternative to boredom. And always a hot shower, your own, at the end of the hot and dusty and hectic road.

I wonder what the world will do when variety has ended? When every human has seen Trastevere, Oxford and Florence -- twice -- when the faces in the crowds everywhere all are a medium chocolate-brown with slightly slanted eyelids and the same, slightly hassled expression. When animals are extinct or domesticated or in game preserves. When wild areas all can be visited only with trail permits -- there already is a national park 'protecting' Mt. Everest, after all. When cities all look like Hong Kong. When everyone is rich and speaks Chinese, or English -- whatever. Will the moon offer our only variety then ? Or childhood ? There always will be childhood, I guess.

There used to be a story to educate the young, about Leonardo Da Vinci -- about how the Great Observer would spend entire afternoons in his youth observing a single flower, or a patch of ground three inches square. The story told how young Leonardo would watch the flower, sketch it, watch it again, revise the sketch, pluck the flower, dissect it, determine how it worked, how it grew, sketch it from the inside out, compare that to the first sketch made from the outside in, make a third sketch combining aspects of both -- all to enable him to see the flower -- or the patch of ground or the facade of a cathedral or a waterworks he liked -- and very little of it, in his youth certainly, for publication or in some direct form for his work.

Travel might be done this way. Leonardo travelled. Satisfaction with the immediately available might be supplemented with satisfaction with the strange and new: the at-home might complement the abroad. But doing this requires arts and powers of observation, both at home and abroad. The observation, rather than that which is observed, seems to be the key. Whether you are a collector or a compiler, one who studies or one who tours, it seems most important to be able to see it and to remember what you have seen.

 

-- June 14, 1987
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--oOo--

 

Rain

Rain
Falling to remind me
Of things I have forgotten

Like
Rubber shoes and yellow rain slickers
And the neat wonderful feeling
Of running through puddles and
Never getting wet
Or sometimes getting wet

And
The old porch, slightly
Dank and musty
Mold and sneezes but an overhang
With the rain beating down and down

Rain beating down on an eave and falling
Just out of reach
Or tapping at or streaming down a windowpane
Just out of reach
Like so many things you yearn for, long for,
Try to remember
Just out of reach
Perhaps it's just as well -- beautiful to look at
But if you reach and touch you
Just get your fingers wet

Rain

Rain pushes down clods of newly-turned earth
Breaks them up, runs them down
Levels
Blends
Rain bringing water, the strongest of things,
Breaker of mountains
Carver of valleys
Leonardo could only aim you, never stop you
Rain the Leveler

But then a small seed sprouts, and grows
Thanks to rain
Trees, grow tall,
Thanks to rain
Men eat cabbages and build cities
Thanks to rain
And make war and make love and write poetry
Thanks to rain
Rain tears down and builds up
Rain

Memories of Saturday afternoons long ago
Rain on the eaves
Noses on a windowpane
Puddles
Thoughts of growth and of decay
Seeds, and trees,
And the great valley of the Yosemite
And the flood washing the land into the sea

Rain

The hum as old as history
Rhythms from before music
The blanket coating the Earth
Quenching fires, bringing sadness, stilling thought
Primæval rain
Destroyer and Life-Giver
At once decaying, and renewing
Cycles in time which pre-date time

A thrush on the water fountain
Squabbling with a black bird
Says, 'But they're my seeds,
My tree, my mate,
The garbage tossed will be my garbage!"
"I'll fight you for it!", shrieks the other,
Fights for garbage, while
Memories of the earliest nest
Thoughts of small chicks learning to fly
Glories of a birdbath on a bright summer morning
Fly by -- just out of reach
Rain

It's hard to fight, in the rain,
Hard to make love, in the rain,
Hard to run, in the rain,
Hard to sleep, in the rain,
Hard to eat, in the rain,
Hard to read, in the rain,
Hard to cook or sew or dig a hole or mend a fence, in the rain,
Hard to do any thing at all, except sit and listen to the rain, in the rain,

Sunshine should do it too
But it doesn't
The sun warms and raises but somehow
Pushes and intrudes
Hide from sunlight
Escape from darkness
But rain somehow is comfort
Not warm not cold but comfort
Nothing to do but sit and listen
In the rain

 

-- October 27, 1987
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--oOo--

 

Country Life

Country Life for someone who likes people
City Life for one who doesn't

Faces in the crowd
Surface
The southern front of the chill,
Mysterious north

Whether the chill ever can be thawed
Around a warm and intimate country fire
Embers glowing
Sparks crackling
And time
Time to unravel the most intricate problem
To think the deepest thought

There's a knowledge can be had
Of people but it takes
Time

Time is what there isn't in a city
All fast
All new
The great hill of ants
Erecting and creating and clearing out and renewing
Nothing old, in a city

And people
Coming and going
Talking of Michelangelo
Yesterday's neighbor tomorrow's
Vacant flat
All of them strangers
The fantastic whiz of faces that is a walk
Through a crowd
In a city

Thomas! Richard! Harold!
Faces in the cavern
Kings Cross Station in the early morning
What did the old Montanan see
In those strange English faces?

A street in San Francisco
On a Sunday morning
Has a special form of life
A human surface
Couples, families, kids
A real estate lady pink-faced
Dripping jewels and facelifts
Putting out a sign
Long-drawn computer man from Jersey
Agonizing over blueprints
Rosy Miss Barrigan wading with aplomb
Into the chaos of another day at school
Long tall Dutch Henry
Knobby knuckles going plink plonk
On his piano
Tulip fingers

An older couple
Out for a walk
It's only the couples
Who go for walks
And people with dogs

Patterns in the city
Rooftops
Steps up the side of a hill
Past a gardenful of fuchsias
Small red trumpets proclaiming
The pride and love of a
Step-dweller

Small steptop tower
Proclaiming
Pride, civic virtue
The lust and loves of a young and healthy girl

Down to the district that spawned
Generations of Americans
Womb of the city
Bearing fruit of Lucca, of Parma,
Now of Hong Kong, Swatow, Canton,
Celebrations of fecundity
Nightly at the striptease
What better place?

There is a blend
Like fine coffee or wine or tobacco
Drugs of the generation
Avoid anything which cannot mix
For purity can kill, my dear,

Sterility of neighborhoods
The yuppies
Shylocks of the society
The protestant ethic born again
Earnest, appealing, superficial, self-sacrificing
Too busy to have babies
How better to have sacrificed a son to Vietnam
Still
The young, scrubbed and oiled and scented faces
The magazine-cover bodies
The pricetag clothing
Automobiles for anything but transport
Lovemaking with no love
Sex with arousal dulled by time
Stimulations bought not felt
And no children
No old folk
The yuppie wave engulfed and overcome
By a tide of Chinese children

In the country a man plants corn,
Tends the field, helps it ripen,
Plucks it, eats it,
Then plants again.
The luxury of cycles
Rhythms of the Earth
But
In the city, corn is delivered, pre-cooked,
Chewed absently, tastelessly, un-tastingly,
Dishes washed in a machine
Time for other things
Making love, thinking
Washing cars, how much time does it take to wash a car?
Luxuries of Mind
Surface of the Earth
Heights of imagination
How much time to read a book, sit in a park?
Does a farmer take a walk? Does he have the time?

In the area of Oakland
Small black children weave
Majestic patterns in the morning sky
Theirs to inherit
Their fathers pushed
Down to the earth
Their mothers shoved
Across the earth to other places
Out of the Fillmore
Negro removal
Singing, no doubt
The strongest will survive

A tiny girl in a pure white costume
Upturned lip
Pearly teeth
Bold dark eyes
Hair braided tightly
Sings the pride and the hope of her mother
Children of the jungle
Burned by the fire
Oldest of the tribes
The pharaohs
The pyramids
That enormous continent
Which children of my children
May, at last, see rise.

Yet here they are
Represented
Present and accounted
Wonderful in all they offer
Beauty, and rhythm
Real music of the city
Real movement
The music of the city
Ghetto-blasters
Earphones on the subway
Radio for commuters
Dance for ballerinas
Now even muzak in the waiting-rooms
Playing her songs
Feeling Oakland's music

The farmer plows, and sings
Spirituals he heard again last Sunday
A song his mother taught him
A tune from high school long ago
There is no time for more.

 

-- November 15, 1987
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--oOo--

 

bubbles

 

--oOo--

 

Twin Peaks

Great skin of giant Earth
Cloak for turmoil underneath
Hot rock, lava, and chaos above
Meteors and gasses and showers of unknown things
And balanced on this thin, tentative membrane
Suspended below it, floating above it,
Sleeping and eating and making love and raising children upon it

A strong young black girl with braids
Corn-rows
Arranged with love
By a mother or a sister or some other friend
Arranged in rows
Like the little boxy houses on San Bruno Mountain
Little boxes all the same
Tight, coiled
Each with a brightly-colored bead at the end

Every small curl a tight bundle of contradictions
Hates and hopes and fears and loves and
Wonder, no matter how deeply hidden, at what is going to happen
Then the small bead

See her dance, see her sing
See her feel
See the families in the small houses

Life on this most thin of small worlds
Suspended
Between ozone and lava
Between nothing and nothing
And a small girl with tight black cornrows
Dances,
And sings,
And feels hope.

 

-- November 11, 1987
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--oOo--

 

Momentous Events

Gathered around the table
Gentlemen -- the signing
Photographers, and reporters,
And a hundred little grey men
Those "assistants" who are everywhere and do everything
And a hundred little fountain pens
One for every "assistant"
A momento
The future of the earth
Decided, done

The top of a pyramid
Is so narrow, so constricted
There really is so little there
Yet the base is in the dirt
There must be a base
Something from which to grow
Otherwise there would be no aspirations
No hopes
But it is in the dirt
And the dirt, though rich, contains dangers
Molds, and diseases, and rodents chewing
Yet at the top there is too much light
The air is too pure
The sugar so refined that it has lost its sweetness
Food tastes better when you're hungry
The loss of taste of the rich man and the hunger of the starving man
Something they have in common

I will go where there is more
I have seen the top
The game of glass beads, Magister Ludi
And the bottom is wherever you look
On the street in Calcutta
And in the kitchens in Orinda
In the common rooms at Napa
Where wrecks of human beings feel their ways along the walls
And among each other
Shipwrecks lose their pilots
And in salons of Paris and Pacific Heights
Cruelty wearing a human face
The cocaine of Beverly Hills
The cutting edge of a London cocktail party

Somewhere in the middle
Toward the bottom, but not too far,
There is a depth -- a universality
Like layers of the earth, when you dig
The surface ephemeral
The depths sterile rock,
But at a certain layer, riches,
Earthworms, and nests, and burrows
And water and minerals
And the bulbs and roots from which all things grow
Then further up
To the green stems
Not the flowers, at the showy apex
But the strong green stems
That sustain and develop and guide and grow
And know
Because they are nearest to the roots
And they remember the dirt

Bill Owens in the suburbs
The meanderings of Leopold Bloom
The heroism of Willy Loman
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man
Vladimir and Estragon

Homer and old Tolkien
Had a need for heroes
The need of an age which has lost its way
Eliot was braver, but despaired,
And found his answer at last in the credo
When his brilliance was in asking
The unanswerable questions

Now perhaps
If we can turn inward
Upon ourselves
Away from the base, and the apex
And discover the beauties of breadth and depth
At the middle
Toward the bottom
Not at the brain, oh Brahma,
Nor at the feet, oh Sudra,
But somewhere near the heart and stomach and entrails,
Where the Kshatriya and Vaishya live and survive
God in the mundanity of your neighbor
Not dead
Only changed his address
To a less-ritzy neighborhood.

 

-- December 19, 1987
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--oOo--

 

Morning

Winter landscape
Wet and cold
And just peering out to see
Whether the rays of sun will be enough
To warm today
An Easter lily
Shivering up and out
Waving, testing
Whether it's Easter
An apricot
Quietly tasting
The winter air
Sampling the billows of warmth from the winter sun to see
Whether it's Spring yet
Not yet
And yet
There's some warmth even in winter

Spent a long week working
Pulling at some things, pushing at others
All the while draining myself
Pouring that which is me into this
Into that
Into another thing
One which might work
One which might not
One which didn't
One which won't
But still pouring
Life as an endless tea party
With the pot ever pouring
You'd better like tea

But even if you don't
Even if there's that slightly acrid taste
No matter how much sugar you put in
No matter how much cream you pour to drown the bitter leaves
The British built their empire on
Cream-drowned
Sugar-sweetened
Bitter leaves of tea

A small Filipina
Perhaps four, or five -- still with her baby teeth
"Hi"
Tentative, timid -- a flirt when she's fourteen
A larger Americana
Love for the baby daughter
But a first debt
And trouble with the law
"Does it matter?"
It does, Veldena, it truly does.
They'll come to get you in the morning
If you don't pay your dues.
The trust, and the ignorance, and the innocence
In those great dark eyes
And an even larger Americana
Child of Poland and Romanian gypsies
Wondrous fine lips and great eyes again and
A wondrous great soul
"I want to have a child"
Eternal salvation of the human race
The hope of woman, the pride of man,
But first the cocaine habit
The career, the man,
The fulfillments
But then,
Eventually
The small baby suckling at her breast
The caresses

Life is no walking stage or shadow
But a vast garden
Deep in frost and molds and diseases and bugs
A fragile thing but as the doctor says
The strongest of cells nevertheless
So frost kills
But bulbs will bloom again
Snails devour
And wildflowers explode in the Spring
Then even vandals invade, and sow salt,
And a mutation arises which lives on salt
It is so hard at vandal-time
And try we must
But being all the reality we have
It is real
No stage
No shadow

The mist clears
Bringing the sun of winter
The warmth of cold
The hope of the Easter lily
The joy of the apricot.

 

-- December 19, 1987
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--oOo--

 

Ceremonies

Ceremonies of life
The way an older man
Fades

One day after another
Grey days
And then, after all, is that all there is
Ashes to ashes

A celebration
Happy that you were born, dear
Happy that you live
That you love
Sad that you have died
Commemoration
Else there's nothing

Remove the props, and
How will you stand against
The winds which will blow then

Let there be joy
In winter
From Christmas to Saturnalia to Divali
And eternal need for joy
In winter

 

-- January 7, 1988
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--oOo--

 

Tennis Elbow

Small hints of an ending
Different ways to coast to a finale
Suggestions of things to come and things now past forever
Intimations of mortality

Pushing and probing my mind finds
Like the doctor does
A weakness here
A slight strain there
A thing overlooked
A hole in the net, lacunæ,
The old bridge giving way
Not just needing a new coat of paint
The completeness of a life half-filled

Hard things begin to soften
Soft things begin to harden
Positions held give way
Small ideas become positions
Rigid thoughts sealing in the soul
The last coat of paint

I remember the oldest
A grandmother -- one of my own,
Discovering how little time there was left
And softening, opening
A beautiful, radiant opening,
The confidence of old age
Its sureness about reality
A dropping of pretensions

Yet there are those who harden
The less-confident souls
Upset, anxious, afraid,
Searching for a structure on which to hang themselves
Work, reputation, other people,
Hung, like laundry left too long,
To harden, whiten and decay in the sun

There is a trick in living
That is wisdom to an elder
Coming naturally when young
It's only in-between that suffers,
That is
Bending when the wind blows
Walking in the rain
Shivering in cold times and
Sweating freely when it's warm
And loving
Allowing loving
Permitting yourself the hurts of love

 

-- March 19, 1988
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--oOo--

 

bliss

 

--oOo--

 

Boats

Sailing boats in the Luxembourg
Fantasies
Dreams of childhood
Old Su Shih sitting
Dreaming in a tavern

There was a time when
That time re-lived again
The excitement, the wonder
A wonderful place, the world
A world full of wonders

That ever there should be
A gray, sour time
A routine time
A time when time is all that matters
A worrying time
A time of inside hurts
Of cares, of thoughts about the future
And of regrets about the past
An aging time, a dying time
Yet there are times of brilliant color
Wondrous light, warmth and wonder
Times of standing still

Three great and heavy, ponderous Russians
Enormous hands like great hams rubbing
Fending off the chills of April
On their way from here to yonder
Pausing briefly between meetings
Of the Soviet Delegation
Stopping by to watch the playing
Thinking silently of home.

 

-- March 29, 1988
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--oOo--

 

The Intricacies of LANs

The blues and greens of madness
The browns of despair
Yellows showing joy
Ecstasies of Saint Theresa
Sorrows of the final bolgia
A Divina Commedia without a Purgatorio
Heaven and Hell
Heaven and Hell

Letters to Theo
Dear Theo, Cher Theo,
The fate of a brother
To disappear
Into the wall
The walls have ears
To catch the sound
To listen
Never speak
And yet, never speaking,
Never misunderstood
Dear, straight, Theo

The reproduction on the wall
Flesh of my flesh
Shows nothing
Of the original.
Sleeping in the bed
The little bones
Take on a new life
A resemblance. To be sure
The same flaring temper
A chance arrangement
Of flesh around the face
But even the brushstrokes
Are different, in ways
That are significant

Laid on heavy, in the original
A pillow, brilliant yellow
Place for dreams
The thick, creamy oils
Carry forth an image
Of pillow
Firm, inviting, pillow
Not the soft blur of yellow
In the photo on the wall;
Then a floor, scraped brown
And the greenish yellow caning on a chair
So bold in the original
You could run your hands across them
Picking up splinters
Now
Hung next to one another
Yellow here,
brown there, green to follow

Still the photo reaches millions
Millions who have never seen
The first one on its wall.
How will my re-edition strike them
Will there be a newer meaning
Is there something lurking, hidden,
Which will blossom in its own separate Spring?

Detritus of the city, hung
Obscenely in museums like so much
Laundry from a closet floor
Washed and whitened
Starched to fit the categories
Then stretching out to dry

How can they hang
The ecstasies of Arles
In a hall devoted to the
Excesses of a lost century
The one is stuck
A note in history
Facts and dates to be memorized
Chronologized
While the other lives
To be lived again
Recrucified
In the small body in the bed
Snoring gently in its early morning

But not unless it's taken off the wall.
Not unless there is an appreciation
Of the depth and texture of the brush strokes
A new palette, new paint,
New canvas stretched anew
On a new, untested frame
Perhaps computers
Intricate emanations of the conscious world
Extensions of the life electric
The nerves, the impulses
Which push us past and onward;
Closing gaps, acetylcholine
Synapses, interacting
Building impressions
Intelligences
Bach would have had one
So would have Vincent
If only trying something organizing
Or something simply different
At first, we thought,
There'd be no surprises
Eternal illusion
No surprises
Enjoyment of a sunrise
By the cave in Rishikesh
Then came power surges, core dumps,
Breakdowns in the systems
And the eternal mystic challenge
Of learning how in hell to do
A new thing
A different think
The more excitement, the more new buttons

So, computers
Computational devices
Betraying all the shadings and lacunæ
In the cogito ergo sum
Perhaps he'll hit them, touching lightly
Fingers floating over keyboards
Guiding mice around the mazes
Of a monocolor telescreen
There was an eternity of observation
In Leonardo's lying in the sunlight
Observing leaves on a Sunday morning
A single leaf, a blade of grass
So much of life in a single leaf

Just so my son
Discovering eternity
In a LAN
A network program
The face and body of a soul
At the other end of a telescreen

And perhaps not
Malraux's warning
Gone unheeded
Giving clues to all that love and life
Ever offered Vincent
A lessening, a cheapening
Or broadening, expansion
Reaching out, to reach
My self, my wife, my sons

An architect, perhaps,
Totalitarian profession
As if life could be contained
In structures
The thin skin of the Earth
Rolling hills and gentle mountains
And cities, flowering cities
Small bits of rot around the roots
And specks of dirt along the petals
But fresh and washed after a rain
The beauty of blossoms in the sunlight
I studied cities once
Walked their alleys
Felt their throbbing
Pulsing lives, along the boulevards
Veins and arteries of a body
Barely contained within its walls
It took
A South African to show me
Stanley, planning on a wall
Rolling surface up by surface
Showing superficiality
Of each thin encrusted layer
And beneath them all was rock
Only rock
Detritus of the deadened star, this time
The lives upon it thin and fragile

The many roads to Damascus
One hung now on a wall in a museum
The fortune to be re-issued
And re-lived by another generation
If there is interest
In more than simple decoration
But there always seems to be
Think of the ordinary, the pedestrian,
Of Vincent's generation
Why his blues? His greens?
Why the joy of his brilliant yellows?
Now the broadcasts of his posters
Posing questions, never answers,
Only questions, endless questions,
Leonardo looking at his leaf
Intricacies of city planning
The mysteries of LANs
Preserve the answers of the past
Evidence of endless searchings
My little sons.

 

-- March 29, 1988
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--oOo--

 

Wonderful

The wonderfully rhythmical
Essentially spiritual
Tossing, turning
Tumbling, churning
Rolling gait
Of a laundromatic
Washing machine

Always yellow
Why are they always yellow?
And slightly green
Why slightly green?
Why yellow and green,
For a washing machine

Down by the river
I am down by the river
Beating the clothing
Against the rocks
A pause in the day to go
Down by the river to beat
Clothing against the rocks

A pause
In the hard beating rhythmic inexorable day
Gossip at the well
Down by the ghats
The idle talk of hunters
A pause
While the quarry, too, rests,
The Vineyard's cafe
Idle talk
Sharpening the scythe
The steady, dulling, evening routine,
Of an old, noisy, steady washing machine.

 

-- March 30, 1988
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--oOo--

 

Paris in the morning

The gentle sound of rhythm
Lyrics waving softly
Summer breezes
Autumn leaves
Winter snowdrifts
Spring's soft rain
The chest of a little boy asleep
Falling rising gently falling

We are born in rhythm
Contractions none too gentle
To women caught up in lunar phases
Flowing in and out with tides
Growing in cycles like the spirals
Of those fabulous seashells
Winding outward uniformly endlessly
Until the shell becomes too fragile
Returning dust to whence it came
Dust to dust the dusty world

The rhythms can be felt
Are touchable palpable corporeal
Not only in the country
Where the Neolithic life
Leaves us waving with the wheat
Or trudging ponderously to pens
And stalls, containing other growing things
But in the city, also,
Rhythms
Variations on many themes
At times a hum
At times a steady, inexorable beat
A twenty-four-hour study
In activity
From birth to death to
Birth again

Ageless Lutetia
Town of early dreams
First stirrings
Of the body, imagination
Creativity perhaps
Endless walks, stimulation
Of a grand hive blessed
With many shifting colors
Gentle city with a not so glorious past
Still, a head a heart a belly
Entrails, even, and a bloodstream,
The river replaced
The old lifestream become
A shuttle for endless tourists
But now, something new
Like a body been to Houston
With a coronary bypass
Now the great trains running smoothly
Faster cleaner than the older river barges
And telephones, Minitels,
The lines for the computers
Enhanced circulation for the city with a heart

The heart in the same place
Facing the Parvis
Religion and tradition
And passion -- ecstasies of Saint Theresa
A city balanced on its river
Balanced but turning, slowly turning
Like a great jewel in a woman's hand
Delicately held, appreciated
Reflecting life and love and, she hopes, passion
And light, always glorious shifting changing light
A woman's changes, the jewel she holds
The turning, endless rhythms
Paris, in the morning

 

-- March 31, 1988
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--oOo--

 

Orchestrations

The most disturbing thing would be
An interruption
In a carefully-orchestrated life
The question would be how
To keep the several parts from breaking
While the whole is re-assembled
As something better, something worse
Or something somehow different

The breaking of a glass
Frustrations in an office
A spider always clinging
Falling down his silken thread

Water breaking over rocks
Seeking other ways, other paths
The less and least resistant
Always finding some way

The question would be
Just how much hurt could be sustained
Just how much glass could shatter
Whether spiders' threads could break
With a slight or stronger pull
And when

In the well-orchestrated life
There must be a place for time
A time for every season
Sowing planting reaping eating
So that when glasses shatter
When the strings of spiders break
There will be a time for these things

But spiders' webs are woven
In the straight places
Narrow doorways
High mountains
Beneath the sink
Above the cabinet
At the top of the tallest sequoia
And they are forever breaking
The wind does it
And brooms
And slamming doors
And before they break they bend
And stretch and twist and turn
Woven with several sticky ends
So if one breaks the others serve
Until the small arachnid mends things

The same is true of rivers
Like the clouds, always seeking
Always finding
But
Always bending, always stretching
Always twisting, always turning
Never a line completely straight

I would lead my life
Twisting, turning, like the river
Stretching, bending, like the spider's web
But
There is glass in me
Which shatters, or would,
Things I have to lose, old Half Dome,
Not my health
Not the body
Long ago I had decided making most of all my senses
Hands to see with, eyes to hear with
Ears for feeling, smelling, touching,
The old blind man playing Bach

Not the other things,
Lost so easily,
Their gaining but a game

But other things
Small
Insignificant
Three people
You and our two little sons
Most fragile and beautiful glass
In me

 

-- April 3, 1988
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--oOo--

 

Defining the Lotus

Speaking of Borges in three different languages
Old Jorge Luis
Still teaching mistrust
Of time, of things we all knew once
They say it's all become relative
La mezcla, une mélange,
Great African men escorting
Small Chinese girls
Students from the Argentine
Supervising Delhi for the French
Big Macs sur le Boul' Mich'
Software in Bangalore

It all somehow is floating by
The floating world
A Japanese concept
Copied from the land of robots
Defining the lotus

Defining the lotus
As if the lotus were more
Than a leaf to be eaten
A flower to be watched
By a frog on a pond
Me, the frog
Watching my lotus
Contemplating

In the meanderings
Of a robotic world
There are so many choices
Decisions
On and off
Synapses
Acetylcholine
Assemble enough, he said
Link them all together
And I will move the world
So, it's moving
And I'm on it

Investigations of a light switch
Questioning whether
It's on
Or it's off
Not really caring
Whether it's either

I would like to have
Nothing to regret
Said the wise and old man
Old Karajan
Conducting stiffly
Remembering achievements like
Notches
On the handle of an axe
On the barrel of a gun

For the Porsche, number sixty,
For the sailboats
For the horses
Glide them gently, remember,
It is not you but the horse
Who does the jumping
Finally
Elderly white racist
Accused of sins against humanity
Omission only, like most sins,
Gently coaxing Jessye Norman
Through works by the worst of all
The Old Supremacist
Glorifying Vikings
Blonde hair blue eyes
über alles
Just falling short
Of embracing horses
Now the Old Man pauses
Gesturing tenderly
As the sweetest aria
Sings forth, from lips
Obscenely large and bulbous
Disgustingly blackened by the sun
Revoltingly unlike all the
Staatsoper
Yet the sweetest, most gentle,
Rising to passions unequalled
By the Staatsoper
The finest of Germany, the best of Africa
Singers of Bach with almond eyes
Yo-Yo Ma rivaling Casals
Gary Snyder plodding through the backwoods
High above Gion and all its sins
Yet there's the Old Man
Stiff, unyielding
Coaxing out the best
From his shattered bent frame
Remembering?
Not the Nazis
Not even Jessye Norman
Not Porsches nor horses nor boats, in the end,
But having done them
Videodisks next
Let the mezcla move on
Jorge Luis in his
Youngest of old bodies
If I'm deaf give me Rilke
If I'm blind give me Mozart
If you won't give I will take them
Before the end

Remembering
Regrets of a life well-orchestrated
Synapses, acetylcholine
The happenstance of people
Thinking of decisions not made
Thoughts never answered

The first time Janet cried
First tears of adulthood
First breath
First life
To have cried
To have laughed
To have felt

 

-- April 4, 1988 -- on the plane, Paris to Dhahran
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

Traveling Without A Ticket

Fragile time,
Measuring success, and failure,
Telling when to change a diaper
At war with chance
The chance the glass will fall
And break
Before the wine is tasted
The time of feeding, and of sleeping
Then the baby wakes at midnight
Or has the colic
The time in Delhi, and in Frankfurt,
Loving time, eating time, hating time, dying time

Don Arcadio Alarcón
Creation of an old man
Remembering Geneva of his youth
Space and time are a relation
Of the eater to his ice cream
Of the mower to its lawn
Which came first, and which came after?
Nevertheless, the blades of grass fall
And the ice cream still is eaten
Or it melts

Time exists like dictators
For the ordering of a disordered world
The more there is a sense that things will happen
The less the need for time

Consider the young girl bounding freely
Over the gate at a railway station
Traveling without a ticket
Laughing gaily at the world
Today Levis, boots à la cowboy,
Yesterday durndl à la paysanne
Tomorrow an evening dress
Or a suit à la yuppie
Different lives, different loves, different lovers,
Demands of school and Mama
Many miles away in Hamburg
Little need if any
For calendars and clocks

Yet the neighbors set their watches
By the old man at his breakfast
Breaking the daily eggshell just so
At the small end only
Or setting out
On his morning walk
Or catching the bus
At his regular stop

Sir Isaac brought order
To a disordered world
Which Einstein exploded
As Duchamp's nudes
Descended their staircase
And Cocteau's fops
Skipped to their funeral
A world gone mad, quoth Twiggy

And then there is memory, and history,
Both as well at war with time
Imperfect mechanisms
As selective as any seamless web
So full of holes
Like the law forever searching
For solutions to the ad hoc
Post hoc ergo propter, for that matter
So historians, selecting
Had Napoleon been invented
Trees falling in deserted woods
William Shirer, searching,
For order in the madness
The joke that any explanation
Might be found amid those endless
Piles of papers

The history of déja vu
The world relived
An old man chewing a pencil end
Remembering his feelings
On the Kurfürstendamm
Dismissing entire nations
How the Danes crumbled
Building others into legend
The stronger younger brother
And his Norwegians
The stuff of legend
As though the Baltic
Were a wine-dark sea

And yet one wonders
Having done research
Having gazed in awe
At those stacks of papers
And wondered how to find
The arrogance
To begin the selection
One wonders whether
The papers said it
Or simply reinforced
Blonde Norwegian murmurings
In a young American ear
Years before, on a couch, on the Kurfürstendamm

As I said, a world relived
Look at Coucy
Was there a time, before the Germans,
When the Sire held his court there
Or have there always been groping lovers
Taking shelter in the ruins

I just have seen a city
Which I loved once for the tales
It could tell me of its past,
Now I see the city haunted
See Abelard pressing Héloïse
See spent loves thrown down from the tower
Hear Quasimodo's ecstasies
When the bells ring I hear Hugo
Not reminding, really hearing,
He's a living breathing being
As alive as the dead who walk his streets

 

-- April 4, 1988
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

Water and Trees

I don't climb mountains any more
The paths and valleys interest me
Where I find trees and moss
And I listen to birds singing

The most wonderful thing is water to me now
And I find it now in streams
Flowing gently through meadows
Or churning briskly over rocks

Fresh trees in shades of a thousand greens
Show bright flowers in the Spring
Not the delicate, eager, mountain flowers
But something more strong and self-assured

Water begins as droplets
The forms fragile and beautiful, snow and ice
Far up, high, on the mountain
It descends in streams only later
Once the bitter crystal has been lost

Down, then, to blend into the sea
Down from the mountain tops
Around rocks, across meadows
Descending through valleys

Touching everything, nurturing trees
Absorbed into everything, eventually,
No longer the energy
The hardness, brittleness, of youth

 

-- April 17, 1988
Return to Table of Contents

 

--oOo--

 

Jan

 

--oOo--

 

• Glossary •

____________________

 

Note:

Kindle Digital Publishing currently says, "Indexes are not recommended at this time", or maybe they are, or maybe they are in Kindle 8 or Kindle 5 or something... And Apple's iBooks Author so far hasn't said anything -- they tend not to, until they've got it "perfectly" figured-out themselves -- always been that way, Apple folks are the Republicans of the digital biz, wear the belt and the suspenders, great investment and great products, but they tend to leave their few users who are in the dark, in the dark... "B-b-but it's intuitive!", spluttered exasperatedly... And Microsoft is, well, Microsoft, obscure and obscurantist, too many Word explanations of how to create Back Matter, all of them saying too much.

So this is a Glossary, but in the medieval sense: glosses, glossators -- people forever have been "writing in their books". So these are not "explanations" of the poems which they accompany -- see the Preface, above, for my diatribe against that -- instead they are additional ramblings, some relevant to the poetry and some maybe not. Another friend assembled a famous collection of Marginalia Books: old stuff, some of it very famous, in which people, some of them very famous, had scribbled in the margins & underlined & otherwise marked-up, people more interested in understanding the text than in worshipping the container, in his particular collection's case people such as Erasmus. Also, I tend to have a "good random mind", a good friend once praised-me-for-that-I-think, and these are that: it is fun for me to follow "leads", in my reading -- this glossator's Glossary, then, is for those who share that delight.