Don’t delete followed by brief reflection

Don’t delete

Please don’t delete

Whatever you do don’t delete

If you read just one poem today

This message could make you rich

You have been selected

Offer will expire

Act now or

Don’t

Don’

Do

Delete

…………
Reflection: This is a light poem. Sometimes I realize I need to lighten up, as a poet I mean. After writing a poem like “Outside”, there is a part of me, a shier part of me, that is like that student in the 5th row whose face is red and he is slumping in his chair, but his hand is raised to about the level of where his head would be if he wasn’t slumping. Yes? He says: I have a poem. The rest of the fantasy is, the class likes it and he feels encouraged to share more of his poems in the future, all of which are on the light side and some are quite funny. I may be calling on him some more these days!

Outside and a reflection on its writing

1

I’m tired of periods and
Words that end sentences

I’m tired of waking up to
Days that end in oblivion

I’m tired of writing sentences
This sentence is out of order

I am at a mountain lodge
I am the timekeeper

The workshop gets started
The conference room is filling up with students

Papers are being handed around
I hand his watch back to the facilitator

I am outside of time
When I have my phone

There are no mountains
I don’t have my phone

I am out of time
When I look at the mountain

Outside the window
I am outside

A purple cloud is behind the mountains
The mountains are behind this poem

This poem is behind time
This poem will never end

It isn’t about anything
I’m tired of this poem

2

I’m tired of this poem
It isn’t about anything

This poem will never end
This poem is behind time

The mountains are behind this poem
A purple cloud is behind the mountains

I am outside
Outside the window

When I look at the mountains
I am out of time

I don’t have my phone
There are no mountains

When I have my phone
I am outside of time

I hand his watch back to the facilitator
Papers are being handed around

The conference room is filling up with students
The workshop gets started

I am the timekeeper
I am at a mountain lodge

This sentence is out of order
I’m tired of writing sentences

Days that end in oblivion
I’m tired of waking up to

Words that end sentences
I’m tired of periods and

””””””
Reflection:
In this poem I am stalking continuity, both as a dreamer (since the poem is exploring a dream) and as a poet (the poem being the whole universe of the experiment). Achieving continuity requires the ability to move in and out of time and in and out of the conventions of language, for example, escaping the oppression of the period, or the “complete sentence” or even the linear thought. So the purple cloud is behind the mountain, the mountain is behind the poem and the poem is behind time. Where am I? I am with the poem but #1 states in the last line: “I am tired of this poem”. If that was all I wrote that might be concerning!

One solution to escaping the downward spiral of part 1, which involves the reader, is to track the lines of the poem backwards. By so doing I solve certain problems, one being the problem of being stuck inside the controlled narrative. Another solution is to give myself permission to use a sentence that is “out of place”. (Within the universe of the poem, this is equivalent to a tectonic shift.) Another is to be honest, within the poem, of my own waning interest in the poem I am writing. Fatigue during the writing process is not unusual by itself, but working into the poem bespeaks a kind of lucidity. (We have all heard of lucid dreaming, but there is also lucid writing.)

Apparently I am saying that with my phone (with everything that represents) there are no mountains and presumably when I have my phone, I am not outside, not really. Without my phone I am where I can see the mountains and I am outside of time.

In #2 In the very middle of the poem I hand the watch back to the facilitator. That means I have stepped into being a lucid time-keeper. I don’t need the watch to keep track of (worldly) time anymore. I am in the workshop but all I have to do is look out the window and I am “out of time” with the mountain. #2 ends with “and” with no period.

In writing this poem, I have transcended the poem that I am “tired of”, that is, I have stepped free of the poem that is about nothing. . . I think what I mean by “this poem isn’t about anything” is that nothing I can write about holds up to the timeless reality of the mountain, which (if you read between the lines) is where I am heading.

However that doesn’t mean I am leaving this worldly life just yet, but it does seem like I am figuring out what that might look like when I do, by choice or by dying.

Two poems for these pandemic times followed by a brief reflection

Cherry tomatoes

On the deck
Tomato vines wander

Cherry tomatoes
Red as lipstick

Hang in a cluster
Behind the railing

Right where we
(And even the chipmunk)

Failed to spot them
Until I happened to be

Looking out the living room window
Dancing to Smokey Robinson

Estate Sale

I

We pass an estate sale
And pull over.

In the shade of a few maples
3, 4 and 5 dollar tables

The books are 50 cents
Spread out on a blanket.

We don’t need anything:
(We just don’t want to go home yet.)

No furniture, vases, bookends
Ornate hairpins

Trivets, mirrors
Lamps, mugs or plates. . .

But then I spy
A little yellowed

Staple-bound
Victorian era booklet:

“Old Mother Mitten
And Her Funny Kitten”

II

“The dog and the cat
Were having a chat

When pussy cried out with a mew,
Dear old Mother Mitten,

Just look at your kitten
She’s going to drink mead with you.

When the supper was over,
The kitten moreover,

Did stand on the top of her head.
So the dog he declares,

They must sleep in their chairs,
And none of them got into bed.”

III

This book made me smile
Which I hadn’t for a while

My sense of humor was lit.
I read it with pleasure

This serendipitous treasure
Of quirky Victorian wit.

All the way home
I was lost in this poem

In a parallel world if you will.
If things just get worse

I will live in my verse
While everything else goes to hell.
…………..
Reflection: Both of these poems offer snapshots of a life during Covid. Both are a little quirky or written from an eccentric, (unselfconsciously self-centered?) perspective. For example, the tomato vine does not grow around its pot but “wanders” over the railing where it fruits in hiding. Dancing to Smokey Robinson is also a very private or possibly secretive activity, in that the dancer is dancing alone, in his own space, enjoying an old Motown hit. In Estate Sale, the discovery of the Victorian booklet is like diving down the quintessential rabbit hole. The description of the cat drinking mead with Old Mother Mitten and the dog, balancing on her head and sleeping off her hangover in a chair is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures Underground (original title of Alice in Wonderland). In these poems I wanted to explore how Covid has turned the world upside down, so sometimes it might feel like we are dancing on our head or dealing with a hangover or losing ourselves in rabbit holes where nothing is as it appears.

Frogs followed by a brief reflection

We approach the pond
Leaving our shoes

In the wet grass
The frogs jump

In a chain reaction
The closest ones first

The sound of little splashes
Then we settle

Watching them slowly return
The mirror to the water
………..
Reflection:

I broke this poem up into two-line stanzas to go with the haiku character of the imagery. The poem is like a guided meditation moving from sense to sense. The first two lines are the threshold, the second two lines are sensual or tactile. (Our shoes are off, the grass is wet.) The third stanza is the least sensual, mostly descriptive. In the fourth stanza the imagery is auditory and the last stanza is visual and meditative. We have already settled but the frogs have to settle before the water returns to how it was before our presence alarmed them.

Summer job followed by a memory

 
His job today is to learn to tie his shoe
His father’s last stern words
No lunch until you tie your shoe
 
Neither of us looking forward to the looming ordeal
We spent the morning outside
Taking advantage of a beautiful day
 
By 11:30 we were getting hungry
Time for the dreaded tying of the shoe
I picked a little park where there were no distractions
 
He untied his shoe and looked far away
OK give it your best shot I said
Do you want me to get you started?
 
He looked at me soberly and nodded
Your turn now I said watching him tighten up
But after just one loop he panicked
 
I can’t do it Gary Don’t make me do it
Tears began to flow Such depths of despair
As I had never seen I tied his shoe for him
 
Let’s get lunch I said
Everyone knew him The usual?
There’s that smile that makes my day
 
The whole time he was eating his sub
I was imagining his father’s interrogation
His angelic face a vision of perfect joy
 
……………..
Reflection:
This is a true story. About 20 years ago I worked with a young man who had Down’s Syndrome.
My job was to accompany him throughout his day, get him out of the house into the community and help him have a good summer. He was a happy person and was easy to be with. His father was the problem. He was strict and grouchy. I remember the relief I felt of driving out of their driveway in the morning heading out into a beautiful day. There is another story I like to tell about working with this man. He had a heart-connection with those who have passed away. One time we were driving past a wake and he politely but persuasively begged me to stop so he could pay his respects. I thought of the repercussions if his father found out that I let him attend a wake. I pulled over and explained that you have to be invited to a wake. He broke down sobbing, “But these are my people!” That plaintive declaration still rings in my ears.

Wow followed by a brief reflection

Let’s have an understanding
An ultimate meeting
Let’s listen and not interpret
Don’t interrupt

Hear that incessant noise?
What noise?
White noise
It’s just me but be still

I’m a factory
You be a damaged river
I’ll be a California fire
You be Laura at landfall

Why are those dead people looking at us?
Why are those people looking sideways?
Where are we swimming?
Repeat your favorite phrase

I am glad I’m not you
All your issues
Have made you blue
Pick up the garbage dammit

Clean up the yard while you’re at it
Maybe the monkeys will want to live here
Maybe the insects will sing to us
Cheh Cheh chic chic chic Cheh Cheh

They can light up too
They can sting
They can weave and
They can make their little homes

In shadows
Out of little bits of nothing
They can walk on a thousand legs
Now what is my double thinking?

What is my double trying to say?
I will not be put off again
This collaboration is a sham
She said I was a mattress salesman

In a previous life
She said that for my night job
I managed an Orange Julius
And was fired for allegedly stealing money

From the safe
And after that fiasco
I lived in the streets
Of Purple City

As the understudy of a street magician
Who could throw a card
Across a busy street
I never got tired

Of seeing him do it Wow
That’s all I got to say
Wow
Wow
………..
“Laura at landfall” is, of course, the hurricane that is currently pounding the Gulf coast. When this poem was written she was a tropical storm that was just gathering hurricane strength from the ultra-warm waters of the Gulf.

My double comes up in stanza 8 and 9. Interesting synchronicity: Right after I posted this poem, a guy I am working with sent me a dream he had the night before (when I was in the thick of writing Wow) in which I am chasing my doppelganger out of a bush.

The images in these more experimental poems are not random. My son commented that the reference to the dead in the 4th stanza messed with the flow, it was “too sudden”. He is right, it is sudden and it should create a little turbulence in the read. But it is not random and it is there for a reason. I am juxtaposing intense / poignant imagery with the trivial to keep the reader guessing at how serious I am, right up to the end. Throwing the card across the street is a powerful yet arguably meaningless gesture! (I actually witnessed a street magician throw a card across a busy street in downtown Chicago when I was visiting my son years ago. It took him three tries to accomplish the feat, but watching that tiny square of paper sail over cars and people to land harmlessly, and probably unnoticed, on the sidewalk at the feet of pedestrians a good forty feet away, left an indelible impression on me. It was powerful and random!)

Sometimes I strive for randomness but I don’t even think that is possible. I think there are just more and more subtle explanations for our choices, in art or life. Trusting the more subtle choices that my poetic mind makes is where I seem to be heading as a poet. (Hence the advantages of lucidity which [as in lucid dreaming] does not lead to more control necessarily but to more awareness around our choices and behavior and how we live our lives. Lucidity ushers in Tao which teaches us how to become artists of life and perhaps even magicians.
………………

Photo credit: delphine_deneir at https://www.flickr.com/people/127409659@N05/

A rocky place

We drove and drove and when we got home
We unpacked the car
And frowned at the clutter

Then we slept and woke just in time
To catch the tail end of early
When the sun clears the canopy

On Monhegan I vowed to the sky
To change how I live
I made this vow on the island I love

I hoped and my hope expanded
I prayed and my prayer broke the spell
I listened to the ocean’s counsel

When I return to Monhegan
A rocky place waits for me
Where the back of the island is free

Shipwrecked followed by a brief reflection

Poetry where are you?
Poetry today now you have to listen
Without you all I do is yammer
I’m stuck Nature’s fool

A duck walked by Now a pheasant
Is cocking his head outside the window
The gorse is bright yellow
Rosehips are red the sky blue

Poetry it isn’t fair that you left me
Surrounded by so much beauty
That draws me out of myself
But I don’t need beauty I need you

I walked yesterday and couldn’t find you
I was picking blackberries from the trail
Reaching way in for the ripe ones
I almost fell into the tangle of briars

You were the berry I couldn’t reach
I came to a family on the trail
They were just heading out
When I was hurrying home

Because the sky was darkening
And the wind was moving
In the tops of the trees
The color of the ocean had changed

From deep blue to gray
And all I could think of was Don’t breathe
When you walk past that sneezing girl
You were in the spirit of that family

That reified my fear
And then I passed the rusty hulk
Of the shipwreck at Lobster Cove
The DT Sheridan A tug

That was blown against the rocks in 1948
When it was towing two barges
The captain ordered his crew to abandon ship
And they cut the barges loose

Only the metal hull remains
The first time we visited Monhegan
I marveled at the scale and mass of its carcass
Since then I have avoided it

Even with my eyes because it felt unlucky
Like staring at an unburied corpse
And to me poor poet
Cursed with metaphoric vision

It evokes the hubris
Of the human race
Poetry you would have warned me
Not to write about this wreck

Which drags me down
Hollowed and abandoned
In my shipwrecked humanness
Poetry where are you?
…………..
I have a little something to share by way of explaining this poem or maybe what I mean to say is there is a moral attached to it. Something like: Retreating to beautiful, centered, whole and peaceful places does not always guarantee that our experience will reflect those salubrious qualities of place. We might even find, depending on what issues are stalking us, that we don’t belong there initially. Usually when we spend time on Mohegan we start benefiting the moment we step off the ferry onto the wharf. The island has a cleansing mystique to it like when my elementary school teacher wiped the blackboard with a damp cloth. This time that didn’t happen. I was not a happy camper. I repaired to one of my favorite secluded spots for three days in a row and let the rougher than normal surge work on me. I don’t mean that I went in the water literally. Nobody goes in the water on the east side of the island where it is all ledge and cliffs, but my psychic and emotional body was pummeled and pounded and scoured of all the crap that I was carrying when I arrived on the island — my neck was stiff, my head ached and I wasn’t sleeping well. I showed up, as I describe in this poem, “shipwrecked” like the DT Sheridan (towing two barges of crap!). By the time we left I was my old self, the self I like to see looking back at me from a random mirror. My thoughts were thoughts I wanted to have. My emotions and feelings were no longer edgy and off-putting but supported by my heart. I was “back”. Thanks Monhegan.
………….
photo credit: Navin75 at https://www.flickr.com/people/23597588@N00/

Vertigo / Picking up glass on Monhegan Island

The back of Monhegan rises
Over a hundred feet above the sea

Like a bit of wild Ireland
I am partway down

A series of climbable ledges
Picking up shards of glass

Green and amber and clear splinters
Of what’s left of beer bottles

That were lobbed from the top of the cliff
After the beer was finished

From the top of the cliff
The whole Atlantic Ocean

Spreads out to infinity
With the United States behind me

I can picture each bottle
Arcing and free-falling

And exploding out of sight on the rocks
And when I am sitting on that cliff

I am in a place that is its own place
I am free

To let myself be lulled by the waves
That break on the rocks like glass

And are pulled back by the sea
To become waves again
…………………………

Reflection:
Home in Vermont, weeks later, I still have that plastic bag of 5 pounds of glass that I picked off the rocks on the eastern side of Monhegan.
I’m not sure what to do with it. Even though recycled bottles are eventually ground up and repurposed, the system is not set up to accept broken glass, so it would wind up in a landfill. I think this dilemma I have created for myself by assuming responsibility for the broken glass of some clueless tourists’ beer bottles is as good an explanation of the title “Vertigo” as any. Instead of finding encouragement and affirmation for trying to live in balance and do what is best for the environment I find myself thrown off center. Sad to say, I have grown to expect this in a land of such brokenness and upheaval. The last image of the poem (of the broken wave being reformed into a new wave) is an image of rebirth or resurrection. If only we can hold our course, nature will heal us. I still believe this.

photo: newenglandrocks at https://www.flickr.com/people/53775612@N00/

The Eleventh Commandment and a brief reflection

The Eleventh Commandment

I am walking back across a field of white clover
And alfalfa

Honey bees are working the field
Behind me is a hemlock forest
And a path that follows a ravine
Up to where I left my friend
Sitting by a waterfall
(He is a little older than me
But we are both old men now
His hair is white
My hair is gone)

The day before yesterday
The port of Beirut exploded

75 years ago Hiroshima was bombed

First Commandment: Let the bees work the field

I’m going to be honest
I passed so many things I don’t like
To get here
The list was endless
It would give anyone a headache
It’s my list
And this is Vermont
I love this state
And yet I find so many things not to like

Second Commandment: Love what you like

Third commandment: Cherish what you love

I like those hills those flowers
I like that porch that locust tree
So I love those hills
Those flowers
I love that locust tree
I cherish them

Now there is a fly on my screen
Proof-reading my sentences
Stopping to rub its tiny hands together

When I was crossing the field
Were the clouds saying
There is a man crossing the field
He is noticing the bees working the field?

Fourth Commandment: Let the clouds have thoughts

I try to identify the plants
Growing behind the guard rail
As I walk back to my car
Burdock, poison parsnip, goldenrod
Chicory, mullein, but what’s that one
With the vertical rows
Of bell-shaped yellow flowers?

Fifth Commandment: Not everything has a name
Some things don’t need a name
Un-name some things

I un-named the poison parsnip
But its name came back again

As I crossed the bridge I looked into the stream
It looked just like I thought it would look
Clear and shallow
Running over a slab of rough concrete
Before it passed beneath the street

Sixth Commandment: Something about
Water under a bridge

There is something in the road
I let a string of cars rush by
I walk out to inspect the object
It looks like a dead animal
It is a black mask

Seventh Commandment: Some things should be left in the road

I unlock my car
I check the time
I drink some water
I eat something

My car is pointing north
Soon I will be driving north
Back to my home

Eighth Commandment: Honor the seven directions

The seventh direction
Isn’t a direction
It is the heart
It is your heart and my heart
It is the great heart

I am heading back across the field now
Through the alfalfa and clover
Where the bees are working

Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal
From the bees
(Ask them for their honey
Thank them for their labor)

In the corner of the field
I vanish into the forest
To follow the path up the ravine
I drum loud enough for my friend to hear

When I see him descending through the trees
It is his white hair I see first

I sit at the foot of a hemlock waiting
Listening to the whispering
And the rushing
Of the stream below
And behind it all
I hear a distant tape
Of rock and roll
It is just in my mind

It is good rock and roll
But it is out of place here

Tenth Commandment: Turn the radio off
And listen to the waters

My friend is standing there
How was it? I ask
He says
We are living in Paradise.

Eleventh Commandment: What does it mean
To be living in Paradise?
Find out what that means

It sounds right at the moment
But time passes quickly
Like the water of a waterfall
The moment you stop gazing
Into the heart of its spirit
……………
Reflection: This is a poem about shamanic work. My friend was sitting with a waterfall in a somewhat remote power-spot in a ravine in a hemlock forest while I held space and waited lower down and out of sight. When he came down it was his white hair that first caught my eye as he passed between the trees. I saw him as a New Age Moses, descending from the mountain. Right on cue, and in character with my fantasy, he soberly observed: We are living in Paradise. Because we were in ritual space, what he said carried weight. I knew exactly what he meant but it was more than an observation. We were being entrusted to return to our lives and find out what it means to be “living in Paradise”.
photo credit: Kelly Colgan Azar at https://www.flickr.com/people/16473336@N06/