HERE AND NOW
PATH TO ENLIGHTMENT
intend to put my brain
on a leash this
because I'm thinking
I want to be taken seriously
as a poet and adult human being
of the masculine persuasion
and nobody takes nobody serious
who's always running off at the brain
like I'm prone to do,
chasing every little bushy-tailed squirrel
that happens to cross my path
making it hard to get to the end of that path,
difficult to find the enlightment
that one naturally assumes of a human being
of the masculine persuasion,
and a poet to boot...
never even close
chasing squirrels instead...
but, second-guessinig myself,
something us chasing-every-squirrel types
rarely do, and never without good cause,
I'm reconsidering my decision
to adopt the leash-constrained mode,
thinking to abandon the chase
for the mantle of seriosity expected of poets
and adult human beings
of the masculine persuasion
because there are advantages
to the chase-every-squirrel state of mind,
like flushing out a bird bath,
getting rid of all the leaves and algae
and bird poop that collects
in the presence of birds and shallow water,
giving it a good flush, a good scraping out,
leaving behind clear water, water free
of entrenched distraction, water renown
for its clear thinking, water that knows its own mind -
and I'm thinking that is a clear advantage
for the chasing-every-squirrel state of mind
how is one to find enlightment
when the path is strewn with leaves and algae
and philosophical bird poop?
just won't work...
if you want to find enlightment,
you have to clear the path, flush the pump
like you flush a bird bath and that's what
a chasing-every-squirrel state of mind,
freed from the leash and on the chase,
is good for, stirring up such a frenzy,
a regular misdirection that blows
all the extraneous crap out of the way,
leaving a clear path,
just over the next rise...
Another practice board
A REAL LOSS T0 POETRY
it was a golden night,
behind thick, low clouds
reflecting back to the ground
and streets and houses,
the golden light of the city,
never sleeping golden light
filtering through the trees
like spun gold gold, orange shadows
in the golden night,
and down at the creek
water flowed in golden bubbles of light
while the crickets cricked
and the frogs farted
and, oh crap,
haven't I done this before
and who cares,
poetry is serious business
and ought to be about serious things
like, how about that helium?
if I ate a ham and helium sandwich,
would I rise to the ceiling
like those balloons they give to kids
at the supermarket who let go of the balloon
and the balloon rises to the ceiling
which is lined with balloons given to kids
who let the balloons go,, red, blue, green,
what a bunch of colors lining
the supermarket ceiling
and what if I ate two ham and helium sandwiches,
or maybe even three,
would I float away into the sky if outside
where there is no supermarked ceiling to keep me safe,
would this be a new mode of transportation,
great airplanes guided through the sky
by teams of pilots gorging on ham and helium sandwiches
and what about the porpoise, Einstein of the sea,
Aristotle with fins, Plato with a snout and a jolly smile
and what do you call more than one porpoise -
is it porpiees, maybe, and what about a gathering
of porpiees, not a school, because that's fish
and porpiees are not fish, and not a herd
because that's cows and horses and sheep,
and porpiees are none of those and not a swarm,
cause that's bees, and not a flock
cause that's geese and chickens and not a pod
cause that's whales (which I think is a silly name
for somethng as vastly gargantuan as a congregation
of whales - it would be much better if we called such a gathering
a "tundra" or something else equally as vastly gargantuan,
but that's just me) and at least whales are mammals
like porpiees and not fish, even though, like whales,
porpiees like the water and frolic all about in it, at least
the porpiees I saw at Seaworld like to frolic all about
in the water, so maybe a group of porpiees
who travel together might be called a "frolic".
but that's just a suggestion...
and anyway, I could go on and on because
there's lots and lots of important things
poetry should deal with instead
of getting stuck in frou-frou poems
about golden nights and cloudy skies
and absent stars and vanished moons
and crickets and frogs...
and what about those frogs and the way they mate
like a honkytonk in Amarillo, has anyone ever written
a poem about that - well, in fact, I did, but no one else
and that's a real loss to poetry...
I'm telling you, a real loss
Showing off several of my boards and my new haircut (even though, actually and on purpose, it looks exactly like my old haircut)
I wrote this at the request of a very good friend who had just experienced a terrible and unexpected loss.
FOR KATIE'S NANA
4/3/1998 - 6/22/2010
like a star
is born and brightly
through the darkest
in the universal winds
its alloted time
and all the constellations
that burned with it
dim in a fellowship
until grief fades,
consumed by memories
forever closely kept...
for what more
can we ask of a child
than to be a star
like a duck hunt
you really begin to fly
in the weeds
shoots your fuzzy butt
right out of the sky
art by Vincent Martinez
These poems are fom One Hundred Poems From the Chinese, collected by Kenneth Rextoth. The book was published by New Directions in 1971.
No translator is credited for any of the poems.
The first two poems are by Tu Fu, one of the greatest of the Chinese poets.
A hawk hovers in air.
Two white gulls float on the stream.
Soaring with the winds, it is easy
To drop and seize
Birds who foolishly drift with the current.
Where the dew sparkles in the grass,
The spider's web waits for its prey.
The processes of nature resemble the business of men.
I stand alone with ten thousand sorrows.
The bright, thin, new moon appears,
Tipped askew in the heavens.
It no sooner shines over
The ruined fortress than the
Evening clouds overwhelm it.
The Milky Way shines unchanging
Over the freezng mountains
Of the border. White frost covers
The garden. The chrysanatahemums
Clot and freeze in the night
Written a couple of years back, before routine became my preferred way to spend my day.
the source of my problem
that's my problem,
too much of it...
I haven't seen an Albanian gypsy
or heard the plaintive cry
of a river flattapotumus
or smelled the acrid stench
of burning filagabbit feathers...
looking around me in this restaurant
I see not a single Grenadian pirate
or Singhalese soul-snatacher,
just plain old moms and dads
and grandmas and grandpas
and little kids
with chocolate milk mustaches,
and the old guy in the corner,
typing on his computer, dripping grits
in his beard, muttering to himself about things
just another Sunday morning...
how is one to find a poem in a life
A personal reckoning of the day
We went to my brother’s funeral today.
In Victoria, in the Golden Crescent, center of the state’s Rice Belt, 178 miles either way. A short jaunt for Texas travel, but a difficult one going, late, racing time on small country roads.
We arrived near the end of the service, plenty of time for the essentials of funeral, time to comfort the living and learn the lessons offered by the dead. In my case, as we filed past the coffin to see my little brother, for the last time, in his box, to learn the tricks of time and its tides, the tricks that put him, the younger, in the box where I should be. He, who should have been last, leaving before me, making me the last.
And what of the last? What is to be made of my last?
I thought of the two of us and our lives as brothers. The four-year difference in ages meant that when we were young, it was rare for the two of us, outside home, to be at the same place at the same time. Meaning we grew up on different life tracks. His life led to a life of personal comfort. Comfort that, on my life track, I have never found.
I still, in the time left, I seek it, never expecting to find it. Seems I have always been a step behind satisfaction and comfort with where I am and what I’ve done. In my old age, I am a man of strict routine, routine that cushions me against the desperation and depression I expect to find around every corner.
And my routine has been broken now for two weeks, leaving me exhausted and on the edge of a quiet despair. My life, interrupted, focused almost exclusive around the inadequacy themes of my poetry, which I no longer write, and my art which I doubt will ever be as appreciated as the pleasure I take in it Too big, too unrestrained to ever fit on anyone wall, needing a large, pale wall in need of the color I can add to it, a mansion, perhaps Bill Gates has such a place, or something institutional, a university or a bank or an office building needing to bring life to their walls. But I don’t know Bill Gates or any institution interested in the work of a past-due amateur.
But I paint them anyway because of the pleasure each new piece brings me.
And the poetry – that is over, I think. Perhaps this prose is as close as I come. Never again for me, I’m afraid, the thrill of a mind running free and frantic to find new joy in old words and old ideas to jolt back to life.
And so this is it, not the poem I hoped to find in the day, but a report and a reflection of myself; gone to morn and comfort, finding also, as is almost always the case, variations on the stories of oneself.
The poem is self-explanatory as to the purpose of writing, my effort to find some truth in myself as final survivor of a family of five.
I hoped to be honest, but in one aspect, I was not, maybe, honest but incomplete.
I mention the despair and depression that always seems right around the corner,but I was not as specific as I could have been. I didn't name it.
It is a thing perhaps stronger for men of my age and history, growing up in an age of male domination, when it was thought and we males were expected to be in charge. Finding in our late years the shadows of a time coming when we will be in charge of nothing, not even our own bodies and minds.
The names of people know for many years, forgotten, the words, simple and well-known, that disappear (and for a writer, what worse than the lack of words), the fumbling fingers trying to turn the page of the daily newspaper, the car key that are gone from the counter (gone from where I know I last put them), the uncertain gait on a flat sidewalk, the dread of stairs, the ocassional explosive rage that comes and goes over trivial inconveniences.
These simple things, the first signs, we fear, of a time that might be coming. Assuming another five, maybe ever ten, years of life. For how many of those years will I be present and accounted for.
It is the word men of my age don't like to think about.
Dementia, the disappearing self.
the very proper lady in the black Sunday dress
the very proper lady
in the black Sunday dress
and jeweled necklace
and dangly earrings
blows her nose
into a tiny lace hindkerchief
and her eyes bulge
like a bug's or maybe
like a big spotted frog
caught wide awake on her lily pad at midnight
thinking silverfish thoughts,
and her ears, I swear, are flapping
and I'm tiinking, "holy shit"
her head's gonna explode like the bad guy's head
at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie
and I don't know if I should watch
or shield my eyes from the sight,
so I compromise and peek through my fingers
and watch as the pressure slowly eases
and her head shrinks back to regular size
and her ears lie supine at rest against her head
and her eyes slink back into mean little slits
like when she came, only I didn't notice then
like I do now...
that is one evil woman,
in her proper black dress and jewelry
and hanging earrings and, by gosh,
I'm glad she didn't blow up
or I'd probably have evil debris gunk
dripping all over me...
a pretty scary experience for this early in the morning,
but it is one of the reasons
I like to have breakfast here -
you meet the most interesting people,
and other creatures one can't be
entirely sure of
Art by Vincent Martinez
This is another piece from One Hundred Poems from the Chiniese, this one by Ou Yang Hsiu.
In the Sprintime I am always
Sorry, the nights are so short.
My lamp is burning out, the flame
Is low. Flying insects circle
About it. I am sick. My eyes
Are dry and dull. If I sit
Too long in one position,
All my bones ache. Chance thoughts from
I don't know where crowd upon me.
When I get to the end of a
Train of thought, I have forgotten
The beginning. For one thing
I retain I forget ten.
When I was young I liked to read.
Now I am too old to make
The effort. Then, too, if I come
Across something interesting
I have no one to talk to
About it. Sad and alone,
I sigh with self pity.
Another practice board
Over the course of a 30-year professional career I attended, often convened, many such meetings as this one.
there is a large crowd,
on several tables
a business breakfast meeting it seems,
for a congregation of insurance agents
(my guess, they look like insurance people)
mostly men in dress shirts and ties
and a couple of women frantically
over-compensating for lack of male genitalia...
at the head of the table,
a large red-faced man who appears to be the boss,
with the assurance of a person genetically in the dark,
telling sleep-deprived staff all about the Shinola
he don't know shit from, and beside him,
a mid-thirties blond, well-put-together, who
has a 17-year-old daughter at home
who's driving her nuts with skimpy dresses
and good-for-nothing boyfriends,
all this exposed to the world before the meeting began,
and now that it has, reveals herself to be
the boss's carry-on brain, taking over his Shinola punditry
to bring the meeting to order, providing such business
as there was scheduled to be
at this early morning business meeting
other eight at the table know
who knows what needs to be known
because their droopy-eyed attention to the boss's Shinola
is immediately replaced by edge-of-their-chair attention
when she starts talking, chewing reduced from a roat
to petite and silent chomp-chomps
as eggs and bacon slide quietly and respectfully
down alerllt and thoughtful gullets
I have been to, often convenec such meetings,
sat at the head of many such tables
spouting my own Shinola, killing time
until my right-hand brain finishes her poached egg
and fat-free milk and sets herself to take care of business,
while I relax, my job done for the day
This is an old board, but I don't remember ever posting it here.
Cortez Discovers Mexico
Poor little Pumpkin
among the trees