Why are you still here?

(after Li Bai)
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It’s spring, you say – Why are you still here?

The lichens are slowly turning
The mountain rock to new dirt,
The snowmelt is carrying the old dirt away;

Why are you still here?

I smile; my heart
Beats as slowly as the mountain’s heart.

A peach blossom, ripped from the twig
By the pummeling spring rain,
May be carried by freshet, by gully,
By stream, by river – clear to the sea, maybe;

So too me:
ripped from heaven,
Halfway to somewhere else by now.

Which is why I have no answer.

 

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Nuisance crow

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Nuisance crow
on an old fencepost:

green field behind;
brown hills in the distance;

gravel road,
deadleaf trees,
white sky,
world all around —

when did it all become
not worth a mention?

I fear my sixth decade
will make me an old man yet.

 

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But really they thought it no harm done

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All right so it was a bit of a trick
But really they thought it no harm done
To secretly scatter crackers on the lawn
Then send the baby out to frolic

Thus they taught their girl
From her nascency
She was the mistress of birds
And she grew up into the utmost complacency
Knowing they’d come at her beck
And adore her
And be harmless and not peck
And would sing for her

And no one ever thought What will become
Of her when she grows up and leaves home
When she fares into the world all alone
And her pockets mysteriously unfilled with crumbs

Would she hate the birds that kept absent
Or blame them
When the fields and branches of the trees stayed vacant
When she failed to tame them

To what would she ascribe
The usual empty sky

The poor dear the answer remains unclear
But anyhow what can be done about it now

 

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The Rower

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Departing just at dusk, having sneaked down
To the lake’s edge, led on by springtime
And your young blood’s joy in its own restlessness
And happening on a boat secreted in a secret cove,
You set oars to the locks, shoved off from shore,
Hearing the soft decisive scrape of boat’s bottom
Sliding over rough silt-buried stones,
The thunk and clunk of setting-out that made
A momentary echo in the shallow hull, but died without ado;
Then sensing the smooth surge, the self-sufficient craft
Kissing into the smooth lake, bow-waves and wake
Endlessly disappearing into black water,
Face firmly fixed toward your origin, only occasionally
Glancing furtively backward, as one guilt-ridden,
Though guilty not of a past but of a future,
You peered through gloom in hope to scry a destiny
Or glean some dim foretelling of a future track,
Yet rowed onward with reckless confidence
In destination, destiny, desire; as in a dream.

Small wonder when there reared up from your source,
The past you beat away from yet still faced,
A shadowy, vast, overlooming crag –
For you were in the mountains and
Had been for days, had come indeed
On purpose, to escape those flat,
Dull, visible days spent on the lower plain,
That future otherwise inescapable; how was it possible
That the invited and inevitable sheer presence
Shocked you? Was it that you thought
You had attained an utmost height already,
Shrugged the encumbrances of girdling earth,
And nothing loftier was left to know?
Or, so used to the unbounded vistas of your youth,
To past and future spread about you,
An endless succession of meals
Set on a table without end,
Assumed with altitude you would encounter
Just more of the same—oh, grander,
Splendid, isolating—thus more to the liking
Of your young aspiring heart and eye.

Reasons, if reasons there were or are
Add not nor subtract not one atom from this world;
So there it was, that thing, itself
And part of everything else too
Whose overwhelming distance made it seem
To follow you implacably, pacing you
Effortlessly, the borrowed boat’s clawed motion
Giving to its vicious peak a serene glide, a patience
And a presence more than natural
So that, all at once overcome, you gave up all
And turning plashed about for shore
And home, and would be haunted
After your return, then and for all your days.

Had you kept rowing – ah, what then?

 

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This is the house we all built

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This is the house we all built.

This is the woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

These are the tears that are cried at night
By the youngish woman
Who lives in the house we all of us built together.

Here is the imp that comes in the dark
To lick the tears
From the face of the girl
Who lives in the house that we all built as one.

This is the witch with a striking beard
Who conjured the imp that came at night
To trace with its tongue the tracks of the tears
That were cried by the lady
Who lives in the house we conspired to build together.

Now comes the priest with righteous mien
To chasten the witch with the wisp of beard
Who called the imp
To lick the tears
That were wept by the woman
Who lived in the house we all built.

This is the popular, vocal crowd
That cheers the unforgiving priest
Who rebuked the witch
Who summoned the imp
That licked away the stinging tears
Of the tragical woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

Here is the singer who sold the tale
Of the joking crowd
That cheered the priest
Who tormented the hag
Who raised the imp
Which sipped the tears
Of the sad old woman
Who lived in the house that we built.

And there the woman lived and lives
Who heard the impecunious singer’s tale
Anent the jocular jeering crowd
That adored the cleric
Who chastened the witch
Who summoned the very junior devil
Who caused to cry
The attentive woman
Who abides there still
In the house we all of us built together.

 

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How to use an otter to negotiate

 

Otter_Steve_Slocomb_6178538861_3979396802_zHow to use an otter to negotiate
Is to turn it loose in the room
Among the lawyers and business types
Trusting its liquid eyes and old-woman whiskers
To get us to a place where everyone is happy

While knowing they all know you know
Otters live by their wits
And teeth and claws
Are fiercely territorial
Defend their young to the death
Only sometimes mate for life

But prefer loafing in the waves
If only everyone could get along

 

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and the night hold no memories

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and the night hold no memories
but what we can read from it
time is not now
nor am I time’s ghost

read not by dint of a writing
since words are water
O hush of crickets mother me home
like matins like a bell

she is gone, gone to the sea
is gone to it, gone forever
and now every black shadow
seems a good place to hide

O hush and mother me home
like an awkward drum at night-time
like an empty coat
in a room full of empty coats

gigantic hush of crickets
and the moon giving no light
to see these black streets
only the intersections lit up

to see again from this height
between the crossed streets the shadows
darkness dimly lit
the moon

meanwhile all of them
are joining their way homeward
two and by two
two and by two

all are parting the cool air
O and when it closes behind them
they are come home
they are arrived

 

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there’s something sacred

First and Last Word

there’s always been something
sacred about a lost corner

of cracked asphalt
under the daylong sun

where absolutely nothing grows
except the sad weeds

 

just as I thought I heard
trumpets sound

though I was taught
the walls were long down

I noted the prophet
head cocked patient

sitting on the curb
beside the riven pavement

and knew there were still ramparts
and work for the trumpeters

 

from my mundane height I hear
every car on the road

every radio every satellite
how much more

does he hear sitting down there
among the holy holy weeds

 

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For me best a paperback

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For me best a paperback:
No good hard boards,
No slick dust jacket that absorbs
The unpredicted inevitable knocks and tears.

Rather the words writ in a rush
Hastened to publication,
The immediate cheap paper
Not worth the saving:

The leftbehind vacationhouse detritus;
The not quite worth packing for home;
The someone else’s freshmanyear surveyclass albatross,
Borne till it could be misplaced in a move

To wash up not yet loved
In beachcomber thriftstores of the mind
In Simi Valley Marin Moscow or Iowa City

Priced to sell
With four neat Roman Xs
Stamped across the pagetops.

 

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A robin

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A robin, solitary, young by now raised, body gathered inward against the chill light, breast the color of sunset, color of embers blown with new life, that were embers yet and never would birth flames, perched taut on the taut catenary stretched from beginning to end, from end to beginning, and far nearer one than the other

was moveless the while

I watched

till time had gone

then did I cross the new mown lawn, then I walked on, past gray sermons of buildings, past black stones standing, moving along alone beneath the dark green trees and through the park and through the cheering dawn toward town

only, nearly there,

to pause, struck still, pierced neatly to the brain on glimpsing, pictured in the patternless cracked sidewalk cement, having hastened before me to lay itself as if by happenstance across my path,

my own shocked heart.

 

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