The question of whether life follows art or art life is a moot question. They should go hand in hand. As an aging poet, I reject the idea that my poetry might mean more when I’m gone than it does while I am here. I think poets of the past (best kept secret) wrote for posterity. But we need to be in life, living the best life we can, right now, being accountable and lucid, paying attention to our dreams and our metaphors (!), eating well, drinking plenty of good water, getting all the sleep our bodies require, caring for the earth, our home. Our bodies are quantum fusions of physical and spiritual elements that come with a history and a purpose that we give names to, like mind and brain and heart and souls and spirit and conscience but the reality is indescribable. Life is indescribable. If we try to define what we are and what life is, we are only fooling ourselves. So we write poems, make pictures, dance, make love, to try to glimpse what’s going on for us, because of course, being mortals we struggle. At our worst we are riders on a train heading we-know-not-where, looking out of a rain-smeared window at the passing world, and at our best we are lucid journeyers, gypsies traveling light from place to place telling stories around a fire, enjoying each other’s company, dancing and singing and occasionally shouting to the stars. But if we are not taking care of ourselves, I see that as a tragic mistake, because it really isn’t about us, but the gifts we embody. It is about nurturing those gifts which ultimately define us.
He sculpts spirits.
He saw them somebody told me.
Those are carved from ash and oak.
So I wanted to meet him.
They are forest spirits, those two.
They were sitting in the trees.
At the foot of the mountain.
They looked just like that.
They were friendly.
They welcomed him.
They don’t treat everyone that way.
Some people they scare off.
They moan and creak.
They shriek and sigh.
Their voices seem to come from everywhere.
From high up or way over there.
The mountain is their home.
They keep it that way.
It’s not your average place.
The Indians avoided it.
Some places are mysterious and deserve our respect and we should show our respect by granting them space or at least when we visit these places we should try to discern whether they want us there or are asking us to back away. I think the Grand Canyon is like that. We should stay out of it, admire it from the rim, but let the spirits live there in peace.
Draw on my heart
For your gullible audience,
Pulling a robin out of your hat
Waving your wand
To make the snow vanish,
Making the sunlight seem to brighten
Just as I look up.
How can I trust you now?
Even the man who just brought my coffee
Is conspiring with another waiter
To bring the tables outside.
They glance over to make sure that I am listening.
How much did you have to bribe them?
And the mud on our road,
One inch shy of axel deep!
I know as well as you
That you have no intention
Of thawing the road for keeps.
Soon those foot-deep ruts will be ridges
As hard as concrete.
You want us to think that we made it,
That the deck is in our favor.
“Pick any card”, you say
With a vulpine smile.
But I know you better.
You may fool the newcomers
Into thinking they will draw the black lotus,
But I know fake magic when I see it.
The greatest magician of all
Is no illusionist!
And no matter how many times she does it
It never gets old.
She finds her way out of a frozen bulb
And a million locks spring open.
Including the one on my heart.
Anyone involved in shamanism or even dreamwork has to eventually make room in their universe (or Worldview) for the reality of magic. This poem is a parable that is being spun in order to say something true about the magical powers of the daffodil, not only to break out of a frozen bulb, like the Great Houdini, but to participate in (or in this poem, initiate) the grand ecstatic chain-reaction that we call Spring. We are at an unprecedented tipping point. We can’t solve the calamity of climate change with science alone, but we stand a chance of reversing some of the damage we have done if we open our hearts to the sheer magic of nature that surrounds us and allow ourselves to gape and wonder.
Now that you have found your way through the labyrinth
What don’t you understand?
You may ask anything you want.
If it is in my program
I will be happy to answer,
Tilting my head slightly and smiling.
But first: How much do you want this job on a scale of 1 to 100?
On a scale of 1 to 1,000,000?
Before we get started let me say
That here there is no discrimination.
I am predisposed to overlook every aberration
Of your essential humanity.
If you break down and cry a little
It will not be counted against you.
If you rant about how everything is broken,
I will smile sympathetically,
And wait for your emotions to subside,
Noting your humanity.
Then I might ask you a few questions such as:
Can you accept that everything that is wrong
Is somebody else’s fault?
Can you work in a small place with no window and no
Natural light? Can you work in a place with no
Exit, no ventilation, that seems to get smaller every day?
Can you work in a place with no future?
Can you work in a place with no access to power?
Can you work continually with no time off?
How do you feel about mumble mumble?
Do you have any questions for us?
When can you start?
I read this story on BBC World News: “The world’s first robot designed to carry out unbiased job interviews is being tested by Swedish recruiters. But can it really do a better job than humans? Her name is Tengai. Measuring 41cm (16in) tall and weighing 3.5kg (7.7lbs) she’s at eye level.” Her voice is kind and businesslike with a tinge of the maternal. Her face glows.I couldn’t help but imagine where this is going. It all seems very innocent right now, the subtle introduction of AI into every day culture. But is it?
Two ravens are eating corn
In the snow, in the medicine circle.
They are jet-black
Against a field of pure white.
Looking out over this cold landscape
You would never know it is March.
You might make some tea,
Place another log on the fire.
You might gradually return to your thoughts.
You might be quiet and let the time pass.
You might try to write.
You might rest your elbow on the desk
Propping up your head,
And you might lift your eyes
And look out
At the medicine circle
Where the cracked corn
Is a golden-yellow patch in the snow.
Someone else might do something different.
But what I just described is what I did.
This is a poem about subsistence and waiting. The point of view is very interior and introverted. The poet is protecting himself by protracting his quietude, the privacy of his process even though there is no hint of an inspiration. He is holding space for himself, for his art. He is functioning on so little energy that he hardly even identifies with himself but the poem is about what someone else “might do”. Only in the last line does he locate himself on the the poem’s radar. In the first working draft I identified myself as the one (in the first line) who left the corn for the ravens but in the final version “I” is left out until the very last line where I describe “what I did”. The ravens are the real subject of the poem. They are where the energy is. But even they are in a holding pattern, along with the poet. They are not aware that he is watching them but are subsisting on the corn that he has left for them in a place set aside for medicine and healing.
If this matters,
does that also have to matter?
If this is true
then what about that,
which is (or was?) also true?
Can’t those two truths
walk side by side
for a while longer?
That used to be the case,
when there was more time
And more truth.
Maybe it’s just me, but
I thought as I got older
that there would be
less and less to argue about.
there is more.
And there is less.
The world has crabs.
It has butterflies.
And it has people walking upside down,
But it’s not a circus anymore.
It’s a sideshow.
(as if it matters)
is there a perfect person,
only perfect fools.
There is a peg
on which to hang all our failures,
all our meanness and our greed,
our fears and addictions,
our masks and make-up,
our super powers
and our powers of self-destruction. . .
And then there is a door to open.
An opportunity to walk out
and count ourselves
among the crabs and butterflies.
Otherwise we’re going to find out
that we’re really not that important.
Nor were we ever.
Josh Mitteldorf posted a piece on OpEdNews, on Shanthi. (https://www.opednews.com/articles/Daily-Inspiration-mdash–by-Josh-Mitteldorf-Peace-190228-240.htmlon), which I really recommend reading. This poem does not have much Shanthi in it. It is written at the edge of the dualistic universe where many of us are poised at a kind of door. What if all the alarm clocks in the United States went off at once? I think we are almost at that point.
Bananas are famously yellow
but they are also very quiet.
Sometimes they are so quiet
that I forget they are there
until they turn black.
Equally quiet is a chair
but a chair is more still than quiet
when it isn’t being sat in,
so still in its form you have to wonder
if it has another dream entirely,
the dream of running through the forest
with the deer.
And as for the tree outside the window,
what I like best about that tree is
it is always in my window,
always in the same place
with the sky behind it.
And what I like about the window, right now is,
it is keeping the wind outside,
the wind that makes the branches of the tree move,
like an old stiff man, miming the wind.
What I like best about the wind
is how it sometimes meets me on the path,
as if it’s glad to see me.
But it loses patience when it sees
that I am keeping to the path
Whereas the path at least keeps
looking over its shoulder
to see if I am following.
I like that about the path,
that it waits for me
even when I stop, deep in thought
as quiet as a banana,
as still as a chair.
This morning I was reading Mary Oliver (An anthology, Devotions, Penguin Press, 2017) and I got inspired. This anthology starts with her poems from 2015 and tracks backwards 4 decades. Some of her more recent work is very paced and simple. (She says in one poem, “I want to use small words / and make them important”.) Anyway, I started writing about why I liked certain things that I could see in the house from where I am sitting in my overstuffed chair, like the banana, a chair at the table, the window, and, to my surprise, it went somewhere. It only became a poem after I had jotted everything down in paragraph form. I have rarely used that technique, but sometimes it works for me, where I just write, without worrying whether it is a poem, and then transform the prose into poetry by sorting out the natural rhythms and line-breaks.