Monthly Archives: December 2016

Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “Endless war” followed by comments

Endless war

my mother
my child
green clay
my way
remarkable
endless war

storm of gannets
red pine
coated paper
symbolic
prickly pear
endless war

no words
under the surface
systematists and mountain folk
industries do not require
every kindness
endless war

nightingale
the sea-unicorn
stretch out your hands
i followed them
everything but the bones
endless war

curtain down
indifferent
trudging
the back way closed
to sting or sooth
endless war

friends forever
turning the sheet down
what i remember
helping a fly recover
that is why
endless war

let me tell you
here it comes
did you insist?
how many died?
try the door
endless war

moving out
upon the wind
make a difference
let me know
when i was you
endless war

left her crying
right at the sign
no charge
jumped at the chance
serves them right
endless war

Comments:

We are living in a time of perpetual crisis. As a human being, uncertain of what the next moment, hour, day, much less year will bring, I find myself needing to respond on multiple levels — feeling, analyzing, sensing, intuiting, anguishing, dreaming, to name a few. In this poem I am not using a proven structure for the language. Each phrase in each of the 6-line stanzas is a fragment of a thought but the effect of the whole stanza is greater than 6 isolated lines. Every stanza is a unit of meaning that each reader might experience slightly differently. Continue reading

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Poet’s notebook: My poem, “Angels fell like snow” and comments

Angels fell like snow

The angels fell with the snow.
Some fell soft
Some fell softer.

Some rolled when they landed.
They rolled like cotton balls
Coming to rest

Like tumble weeds of gauze;
They accumulated,
They piled up.

They tried their broken wings,
Like broken ornaments
Trying to shine.

Some fell on their backs
And waved their arms
Helplessly

Making angels in the snow.
Some cast off their wings and sat
And brooded like alabaster thinkers.

Some ran into the pines
Where the deer were abiding.
What do we do now?

The deer were not afraid;
They saw the fear in the angels’ eyes
and they looked at them with wonder;

They pawed the snow
And huffed but did not run.
They taught the angels

How to huff and paw the snow
And leap barbed wire fences
And hide.

The angels were quick learners.
More and more fell, like snowflakes,
And in the spring, like rain.

Comments:

I wrote this poem while looking out of the upstairs window. It was steadily snowing, soft larger-than-normal flakes and this poem came to me all at once as if I was listening to a story being told to me by a gentle storm. The story is about angels falling but there is nothing violent in the narrative. But I wanted there to be more to it than just the weightless falling and landing of angels. My sense was that they would want to shift into some kind of action once they had safely landed. Having them meet the deer in the pines was the obvious solution because deer, to me, are the gentlest creatures in the forest. They would “get” angels and would even relate to their benign temperament. The angels are like aliens from a world of absolute non-violence. The poem tests what might happen in a situation where a peaceful race from somewhere else “falls” to Earth, and, instead of encountering human beings, with their complexes and defensive attitudes toward newcomers, they encounter a form of earthly life that thinks and behaves more like them. And the deer begin to teach them how to survive in an environment that is far from heavenly. This poem might even be addressing the refugee problem in a parallel, albeit poetic universe.

The ending is provisional. The poem is really just about angels falling, endlessly falling, but not filling up space because they are not necessarily solid but more like snow or water. And then I began to imagine that snow and rain are really falling angels. The concept is very surreal.

Poet’s Notebook: A haiku and commentary

The poet’s notebook: A Haiku and commentary

Where the pipe ends

Where does all this end?
The pipe ends at Standing Rock.
Where does oil end?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dreaming (big), as opposed to small ‘d’ dreaming. We have a lot to learn from events at the tribal gathering at Standing Rock which serves as as an example of a people Dreaming large.  By stepping into our abilities to Dream large we tap into a great reserve of strength and vision that is always there, that comes with being human. I like to think that all cultures have their own way of tapping into their Dreaming as source, as grounding for engaging in a life of greater meaning and monumental action. Dreaming is Dreaming together, as one.  But how do we Dream collectively without behaving like soldiers or termites or worker-bees, being ruled by a rigid programmatic closed-ended Dreaming as depicted in the film, “The Matrix”? Dreaming together consciously calls for a vision. It is sharing a vision that allows us to tap our Dreaming which sustains that vision.  And I am also talking about letting in more light! Dreaming together means expanding our consciousness together. Consciousness is a form of light. Who questions where the light comes from in dreams?! It’s not the sun, it’s consciousness!

The young might be able to contribute to that deeper collective focus or awareness in a very meaningful way. At our last sweat lodge the younger generation was powerfully present and D. spoke, very emotionally, about his desire for our, his Elder’s, teaching . . . but he also spoke of having things to teach us. That was very poignant. True Dreaming includes all the generations. In working with students I see how a big part of their vision has to do with working for sustainable community and toward a peacefully functioning planet. A war economy is clearly not sustainable. The younger generation (the so-called Millennials) might put it differently, but to my way of thinking, my generation needs to reboot our working vision . . . We need to envision a world that doesn’t have to be at war to generate wealth and trade, but first we will have to Dream it. I think the young, as they begin to articulate their vision, can help us do this. Let us Dream ourselves out of this, together.

I just wrote the following to a fellow blogger: I find that when I work with people as a dream-worker or as a shamanic practitioner, a familiar firewall comes up. When people start unlocking the power of their emotions and imagination they get cold feet. They say, “but isn’t it ‘just’ my imagination?”. . . And that attitude diminishes the credibility of their experience, including their experience of poetry and art and dreams and vision and nature etc. Well, of course it is, but imagination is nothing less than our interface with “reality”, with nature, with Dreaming, with archetypes, with life! If we can’t trust, and depend on, our imaginations to inform us, what do we have? It narrows everything down to a life stripped of emotional engagement with the universe. I look at a fracked landscape and I feel intensely for that landscape. It makes me want to weep and cry out! A world without imagination is a padded cell, a sterile laboratory.

Imagination, like Dreaming, is no small thing once we embrace it.

 

In anticipation of another Solstice; a reflection

In anticipation of another Solstice; a reflection

Our neighbors, through the woods, host a Solstice gathering every December at their home. It is always well-attended and for good reason. It is very well planned and with a good spirit. They have been hosting this evening for over a dozen years. Everyone finds a pillow or chair in the living room around a centerpiece that symbolizes the theme or themes of the gathering. One time the theme was seeds or the seed, everything seeds represent, suggest and symbolize – bounty, mystery, hope, promise of new life, new possibility. There was a beautiful mandala made of seeds in all their variety, shapes and sizes from red and blue beans to red corn kernels, sesames, acorns, black sunflowers, layered and juxtaposed in intricate concentric and radial patterns covering every inch of a cloth that was beautiful in itself. The next day all the seeds were scattered in the woods for the animals. Michael and Leslie, elders now, always start the evening by talking about the meaning of Solstice, the shortest and therefore the darkest day of the year. Their voices are quiet, almost conversational. I have to really focus to hear them. Sometimes there is a story. Before the candles are extinguished for fifteen minutes we are given a prompt, a simple instruction that amounts to: Come out of the darkness with something. The prompt is different year-to-year depending on what kind of year it has been. We are living in extraordinary times. Every year the theme is different, the ritual is the same. Then the candles are snuffed. Thirty people, one intention, sharing a bubble out of time and ordinary space. After the submersion in darkness everyone lights a candle and expresses something from the heart, whatever they want to say . . . or not: some choose to remain silent. When everyone has had a chance to speak and all the candles have been lit, one person at a time, the room is still cloaked in darkness, but the candles, some thirty or forty of them, bathe that darkness in a powerful but gentle glow that softly illuminates every face. After that, people go outside and everyone lights a torch, and the torches are used to ignite a bonfire in a clearing. And then there is a potluck.

I hold this to be the highest task of the bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. Rilke
 
 
You, darkness, that I come from
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
and then no one outside learns of you.
 
But the darkness pulls in everything-
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! –
powers and people-
 
and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.
I have faith in nights. — Rilke
 
 
I live not in dreams but in contemplation of a reality that is perhaps the future.
— Rilke        
 
 
That is the principle thing – not to remain with the dream, with the intention, with the being-in-the-mood, but always forcibly to convert it all into things.   — Rilke

Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “What do I do about the mice? (A pacifist’s quandary)” and comments

What do I do about the mice? (A pacifist’s quandary)

It was late,
In the middle of the second half of the night.
We were asleep.
The mice were not.
They sleep during the day.

They were very busy gnawing
on something in the wall.
It is the kind of sound
That gets to you,
It feels like it’s inside you

Like a trespass.
The breaking of a commandment.
The kiss-off of a “thou shalt not”.
And my wife was not taking it.
She was incredibly awake.

I was only half-awake
When she said,
You have to do something about the mice.
I wondered if she meant, right now.
Or tomorrow,

Which at the moment
Seemed like never.
I have been promising to do something about the mice
For years.
My wife

Is one of the most patient people on the planet.
Or maybe I am.
See, I’m a pacifist.
We have all these little
Have-a-heart traps

That really work.
But in the winter
The average day is too cold
To release the mice-people.
Sure, they are disease-carriers

And they shit and piss
Between the walls.
But they have a right to live.
I can hear the peanut gallery laughing.
I imagine a gallery of grotesque

Caricatures of humanity
Ridiculing my pacifistic,
Some might say,
Spineless, quixotic position
On what to do about the mice . . .

I was born this way.
My mother couldn’t kill anything,
But it went beyond that.
She couldn’t countenance
The suffering of anything

No matter how small
Or pesky.
And I have a lot of her in me.
And at 3:00 in the morning
My heart seems

To take up a lot more of my body.
I’m not a Christian
And yet
I live by
The commandment,

“Thou must not commit murder.”
Killing to me
Is murder.
So, where does that leave me?
It’s not a thought, or an advisement,

It’s a commandment
Written in my bones.
Not to be taken lightly
Because,
We have to listen to our bones.

We have to listen to what they say.
Bones don’t care
About a lot of things
That matter to the flesh.
Why, sometimes

We can even reason with the heart.
But our bones
Have their own reasons.
They might not even
Care about my marriage!

So, I just had to get this down.
I’m going to catch some mice
And I’m going to keep them
Fed and watered
Until the weather improves

Which it will,
With global warming on my side.
And then I will release them
With apologies
For disrupting their lives

And wish them all the best.
Until we humans
Get a handle on our business on earth
I see us as on a par with mice in the walls
Doing what we do

But very much at risk
Of provoking the owners of the house
To do something about our destructive habit
Of incessantly gnawing the walls
Without either awareness or remorse.

Commentary:

My pacifism has been a joy for me and a crutch. It is one of the main factors affecting the direction of my life and the shape my life has assumed. At a very early age it set me apart from other boys my age except for a few close friends. I quickly learned that because of my aversion to killing anything, I was in a minority and sometimes it felt like a minority of one. But when I turned the draftable age of 18 and many of my friends were scrambling to get out of being sent to Vietnam, it was my pacifism that became my strength, my shield, my way forward with dignity. When my low number came up in the lottery I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I registered with my draftboard as a conscientious objector. I worked in a wire factory for the summer of 1969 and, with a friend, traveled by jeep to the Navaho Reservation in the late Fall where I tutored Navaho students at Navaho Community College. We were in Many Farms in the middle of nowhere. But that nowhere was for me a sanctuary, a safehouse. The beauty of it was, I was no longer in the United States — I was in Navaho Land. It was there I wrote my manifesto. It was a strong declaration of my truth, a bold outline of the principles around which I would build my life for the foreseeable future. And central to that manifesto was the commitment to follow my heart and conscience wherever that may lead.

Yesterday I was stopped for speeding. When the cop presented me with the ticket he said, . . . looks like you haven’t served in the military. I don’t know how he knew that or why it was relevant to my speeding violation, but I heard myself answering, I am a peace-veteran, a card-carrying CO. I serve peace. As I drove off I thought about what I wanted to say: that Vietnam killed over 58,000 men, some of them my friends and, in terms of military objectives, they died for nothing. If we can’t learn to live in peace, how are we ever going to focus on what is really important – the precipitous accelerating degradation of the biosphere. I also thought of the gap between me and that cop and it made me very sad, sadder than it should have . . . It was that old feeling that crops up now and then of being in a minority and wishing for sanctuary. Maybe it’s time to write another manifesto.

 

Poet’s Notebook: When do you say, “This is my battle!”? My poem, “To make it our battle”, starting with a reflection on how this collaborative poem came to be written. 

Commentary followed by the poem:

I want to post a poem that I “wrote” that is based on a prose reflection by Lee Burkett, “Walking my dog while the battle rages”. I put “wrote” in quotes because the words in this poem aren’t original to me. The way I wrote it was to rearrange some of Lee’s phrasing and juxtapose certain of his thoughts in a way that I find poetic. I want to repeat, all of the words are Lee’s. He lives in the heart of “Gasland”, in Pennsylvania where the landscape has been devastated by fracking. (Expanding on Wikipedia: “Gasland”, geographically speaking, refers to certain places in the USA where fracking is going on full-tilt. (The film Gasland (shot in Pennsylvanis, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia) is a 2010 American documentary (available on Netflix) written and directed by Josh Fox. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011, the film focuses on communities in the United States affected by natural gas drilling and, specifically, a method of horizontal drilling into shale formations known as hydraulic fracturing. The film was a key mobilizer for the anti-fracking movement.)
 
Vermont and New York are the only states that have banned fracking. So, as a Vermonter, I don’t know what it feels like to walk around where I live or take a drive in the countryside near my home and (like Lee) experience the Hellish devastation of, an otherwise familiar, fracked landscape.  Lee writes very poignantly of how it feels. I can only imagine it! Lee has helped me imagine, but as for writing a poem about what it feels like to live in Gasland, I wouldn’t presume to be able to do that. But, as a poet, I am driven by a powerful instinct to write about things that I care about and things that matter to me. By transforming Lee’s reflection into a poem I was able to step into his shoes, into his experience. Continue reading