I hunt the old texts, the stories muttered aloud
In various voices, told well or poorly
In hundreds of tongues, or printed, bound in books
Alone or collected.
Dragon breath, killing the grass
Outside the cave, consuming the curled snake,
His kin, asleep in the greenwood, smothers the princes
Who fail. But some Beowulf always comes to save
The stifled land from blight and kill the Dragon.
That's not what I look for. Change is the upshot I want,
Some final answer, just, and unlike any other.
I want the story to end better, not
With some monster benign as a clock, no girl disguised
As a warrior, no Puss in Boots, no hero.
I keep hunting an ending as credible
As that Dragon's breath which blisters the earth. I crave
Answers to what I do not understand-Doom logic--
Some resolution other than death of the Dragon
Which isn't right anyhow.
Words keep telling me words
Were the beginning of every living thing,
And if the end is Dragon breath, I want
To know it.
I want to surrender hope, get on
With it, take what I'm given, forget the jewels
In the cave, live in the shadow of fire, breathe it,
To burn at the end, comprehending how things are.
for Hideo Yokokawa
I have never wanted to do anything other
Than to pull into relation my desire
And, say, this lime-green library full of books
And privet-filtered sunlight, or all those leaves
Dropped from maples. They chatter under my feet
Oh, what about? frippery? they are so light.
Or a broken ukulele beside a grand piano in Montargis.
They mean themselves. Or myself to me.
I've wanted more.
Hideo told me how sadness wells
Out of cracks in dry earth, moves upward
From the deep underground, like water, like blood.
Michael was wrong, who wrote of us that it's enough --
A man and a woman, loving, want no other life.
("Are we here just for saying House, Bridge, Fountain?")
I've wanted more. Poetry. Relation.
(Snow) (Moon) (Flower)
the gift of Hideo Yokokawa
"These characters: What do
"Snow. Moon. Flower.
"'Interwoven,' you mean?"
"'Essentially ‘joined,' And 'keep.'
As verb. Or as noun, 'inn, house.'"
sweet summer years gone
this inn alone on a hillside
for one night keeps all seasons
white bound with cold light
and silence by essence joined
black ideograms of atmosphere
a veil made of shadows and sighs
one moist lotus petal
by moonlight laid
into the killing snow
weighs less than cranes' down
by essence joined only
divided by griefs of place
and season moonset hibiscus
flare crimson above snowy plains
First snow had fallen.
Inside, cross-legged on the bare wood floor,
We faced one another.
Wrapped in warm blankets,
We talked all night.
There was no lamp. The moon
Filled the window and flooded the cold room
Moving slowly around the walls
And away by day break.
In half a century
I have been equally happy maybe five times.
You turned twelve in December.
I did not know why I wept all spring
Or what I longed for.
When the lovers of wild things discover hiding
Their lips curve on a smile
In a pine forest they light on insects
Secret under fallen needles, earthworms under
They are beguiled
Observing the furious scurry and wriggle of life
Back into shelter.
And they will hurt nothing,
Leaving alone even the numb-seeming boulders
And planks of rotting wood, leaf covers and
They will not disturb the trout they see mottled
In a stream's dimpled shallows, immobile,
Nor crush grasses they happen on
Bent where coyotes have lain after hunting the
Nor unsettle nests in the cactus
Of gnatcatchers, thrashers, wrens,
Nor trespass on warm slabs of rock
Where a rattler sleeps.
We can tell that the lovers of wild things
And surely no one will hurt us as we grow wild,
Wilder, even savage as wolves ravening.
We've seen the lovers of wild things smile at
As if they've uncovered a secret spring of sweet
They'll disclose to no one, they'll leave
Or a deep, clear well, the first cause of all
slow, the drifts of cirrus high.
My eyes still hurt from a sunny haze on the Bay
When the yachts headed out this morning. Gone
Now in the gradually lavender sky
Stars are beginning. So many kinds of light.
I wonder how long I've been in this chair?
At least I'm not hungry. This air
Gets chilly near the ocean though, toward night.
"Warm enough?" My daughter. Voice like mine.
"I've brought you a sweater, Mother. Here. Soon
As I'm through I'll join you, to watch the moon
Come up." Beyond the purple line
Of spruce it will ride out, opalescent, white,
Huge over Newport, as it always does,
Then blue, till nothing is as it was --
The world undisturbed but utterly changed by
Like that time at Gibson Island. Blossoming
Full moon. A fragrance touched me. He touched.
Softer than breath. Shivering petals flew
Where I stepped, shaken in windless air,
The night on fire with sweetness. When I tried
To speak, I couldn't . . . tears came. Youth.
I can't speak now. Words in my mouth
Get broken. All I feel is caught inside.
"I'm here now, Mother. I hate staying in
When the moon's rising. Near the wharf -- look
The changing moon. What can I do but stare,
A dumb animal, at my close kin?
Half in another world and half in this,
Stricken, and from myself estranged.
In a twinkling we shall all be changed.
Possibly. Death is anybody's guess.
What will become of me? Maybe the soul, set
Scatters and clusters the way blue moonbeams
To the ruffling Narragansett as a wake
Of pear petals. Moon blossoming sea.
The vision blurs. Too dark and bright. It's
Light washes. Nothing. Null. The deep.
The years that empty into sleep.
It's damp out. Time to be taken in. I'm old.
for Eleanor, my sister
Tom Singer’s Bracelet
this inlaid silver on my wrist
For years, its obscure shine
Like music from a nearby room. The stones
Are turquoise and coral; design,
Stylized ocean and earth. I love it, dull
For having been worn. Beautiful.
But often lately I've laid it aside, for a rage
Singing in the wasting blood
Which shrivels my skin. This flesh I've borne
And sturdy for a soul's old house, but cruel
To the clear water of a jewel.
Necklaces, bracelets, and rings -- trivial or
I've thought, to prank the body
With spangles, grandmothers' vanity. It's taken
To see jewels as not gaudy
But beautiful--the stones, dense flowers of
The metal, tough as desire.
This bracelet which Tom Singer made carries his
Those who wear beautiful things
Display not opulent bodies but God's handiwork.
From grace such beauty springs.
Beauty is: beauty cannot adorn.
This bracelet was made to be worn.
A SECRET AT THE
The Great Buddha!—oh,
his lap must be all filled with it
cherry blossom snow.
November day. My friend and I
Walking among the barren cherry trees
Watch her children play along the path
To a tmple I have a thousand times imagined.
None of them sees
May’s myriad soft blossoms in my mind,
Glistening the air around the Buddha,
White star petal flakes floating,
While I gaze into his tender gaze.
Mrs. Aoi calls to her children
Who run to her side, laughing.
“Time to take the train.”
Time—this minute, this lucent minute,
“Time to take the train back home.”
On the last day of the year
I came to the forested mountain.
The first snow lay new fallen
Where I walked in the evergreens. Here,
Among snow laden pines in the cold,
Broke a vision of the year just past,
And I foundered. All I had lost
Bore down. Sunlight too old
To be fire began to fade.
Dark bit the frozen track.
Wind thrummed against my back.
Quiet, within blue shade,
I shouldered the weight. How deep
The windy stillness, easing
Disquiet of heart, freezing
Time to an instant. A sleep
Of snow enclosed my loss.
Yet nothing is harder to bear
On Earth than love, as near
To grief as to solace.
The air is still as glass—
sheer cold, pure, breakable.
The little birds, puffed up in their brown
bunch together under the rhododendrons.
They pull themselves into themselves and wait
for what comes.
The bees have grown logy,
their honeycombs heavy with amber,
Keen mornings inside their weighted hives
they trace familiar paths, feelers
delicately slow about their accurate hexagons.
In noon’s lucidity some few buzz out,
to coast close by.
Stems, leaves and flowers, they’ve all turned
Outside-cats cope somehow
or starve in the pale sun. House-cats
incline to comfort more. They eat more.
They sleep more. Their fur softens, grows
Stroked, they respond with a cushiony purr,
nudge drowsily, curl their forepaws, turn onto
responsible for nothing.
Whatever it is about animals in winter
I want a share of.
This is a love poem.
LINES AFTER KENJI MIYAZAWA
If you in a high fever on your last day on Earth
Ask for snow, I will faithfully bring it to you
In a blue bowl patterned with chrysanthemums—flowers
I think of as yours, because we met in a cold fall
Long ago. Many years now. But it was not till
We kissed, when we witnessed great wind-driven slabs
Cracked over one another in a pile on the lake
shore. That ice
And white blizzard drove us together, seeking in
Warm human company against that terrifying fall
Of beauty, sun blades burnt in ice, blunted in
Of snow crystals. Though I could not even then go
The taste of new snow might ease you, falling to
And if I am first, what I would ask for, you
Could not give me then—the many years we have lost,
Dream-children, family—all abstracts of love,
So tangible as snow. Yet, your warm hand gripping my
At death’s edge, as you do now, the strong pulse in
Against mine, your blood would beat the last rhythms
For me. And I would ask you to speak again words as
plain as earth.
Those plain words, spelled into my ear, would change
at my wrist
To a memory of mint and white peaches. Your words in
Would close on the sharp smell of bonfires, leaves
Left at the last but ashes and our own obscure
In plain words falling to earth. And, last, I would