Wislawa Szymborska: Where Were You When I Needed You?


A Poem

By Wisława Szymborska

Nothingness unseamed itself for me too.

It turned itself wrong side out.

How on earth did I end up here—

head to toe among the planets,

without a clue how I used not to be.

O you, encountered here and loved here,

I can only guess, my arm on yours,

how much vacancy on that side went to make us,

how much silence there for one lone cricket here,

how much nonmeadow for a single sprig of sorrel,

and sun after darknesses in a drop of dew

as repayment—for what boundless droughts?

Starry willy-nilly! Local in reverse!

Stretched out in curvatures, weights, roughnesses, and motions!

Time out from infinity for endless sky!

Relief from nonspace in a shivering birch tree’s shape!

Now or never wind will stir a cloud,

since wind is exactly what won’t blow there.

And a beetle hits the trail in a witness’s dark suit,

testifying to the long wait for a short life.

And it so happened that I’m here with you.

And I really see nothing

usual in that.

—Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

“The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world — it is astonishing.” – Wisława Szymborska (died February 11, 2012).


About That Bowl

About That Bowl

Round it is, the bowl I placed

in a hut in a mountain valley.

For a moment, its dominion

arises, a matter of form and space,

or so one thinks – that bowl and

emptiness – giving and taking

like nothing else.

But it’s not about one or the other –

or wilderness or hearth. In usefulness,

wildness is swept away,

for a moment, but then it returns

like nothing else.

Morning Practice

Morning Practice

When my eyes open at dawn’s light

the question naturally arises,

whose arms are these – flaccid pink

skin draping off brittle bones?

On the pillow there’s some long hairs – mine

or the two dogs, Roxy and Daisy, sleeping on

the bed? Before, the long hairs were always

a woman’s, her body pressed close

in the morning chill.

Now part of my lung is gone, infiltrated

by swarming molecules hungry to

devour my breath. It’s rationed now.

My heart beats harder to help

its neighbor. My heart’s comforting

sound fills my chest, but my morning

cough sounds like a sick man.

 One beat, one breath….

 Good practice for a lazy man.

As Su Tung p’o said,

“I’m a tired horse unharnessed at last.”


Minding My Time

Minding My Time

Awash in mind time. Mind’s always mattering,

mothering: words, sensations, feelings always

forming stuff. Words always mattering

in Universe of Matter. That’s all (not really for

Roy & Laddawan and the Thai band playing Eric Clapton).

Mind called self is just the go-between

for no-body. Big Self mothers every thing

– knows like a bone every thing’s just co-

existing meaning-matter like mothering sky.

Right now in Chiang Mai at 1:18 a.m.

as a tiny candle lantern rises golden

in the night like a star.


Clive James’ Poetry in Full Bloom

One of my writer-heroes, Clive James, has been ill for the past several years yet his poetry burns anew even though it’s shadowed in sadness for a life fully lived and now in decline. Here are the last two stanzas to his recent poem, Event Horizon:

“Into the singularity we fly
After a stretch of time in which we leave
Our lives behind yet know that we will die
At any moment now. A pause to grieve,
Burned by the starlight of our lives laid bare,
And then no sound, no sight, no thought. Nowhere.

What is it worth, then, this insane last phase
When everything about you goes downhill?
This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being there,
That it is here we live or else nowhere.”

See his glorious website here.

TLS, May 10, 2013




Read Stonehouse In Troubled Times

IPhone photograph

IPhone photograph


Scorpion tails and wolf hearts overrun the world everyone has a trick to get ahead but how many smiles in a lifetime how many moments of peace in a day who knows a toppled cart means try another track when trouble strikes there is no time for shame this old monk isn’t just talking he’s trying to remove your obstacles and chains


- From The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, translated by Red Pine (Counterpoint 1999).

The Past is Always Right Here, James Newton

Marci Newton, left, me, top, James bottom, LeAnn, right.

Marcy Newton, left, me, top, James, bottom, LeAnn, right.

James Newton is a giant in my life. He kept me alive in the 80s & 90s. I saw his Facebook page for the first time this week, and he had posted two pictures of me. What does it bring back? Hot late nights, cooking steaks on an outside makeshift grill, poems, songs, spinning vinyl records, constant calibration of young, raw, natural energy. A knowledge it could never be repeated. I think of you always and forever, James, my brother.

Maybe the mid-80s my study in Arlington.

Maybe the mid-80s in my study in Arlington.

On James’ Birthday


Unwrap this, it’s for you

to take along on your search

for the perfect back beat

and still sea.

On this still-light morning

breaths draw slowly.

Sleeping bodies throughout

the house, too much drink

last night. The still cat

sits in the window sill

staring outside.

Beyond is the Great Outdoors

but what is it?

In last night’s dream

there was a man with

three hooks piercing his

chest, bound and hanging

on a swaying rope.

Is he you and me?

Now comes the first morning sound.

A bird feeling the Sun

on its tongue on another

moment of birth.



Frank X. Tolbert 2: His Art

My friend Frank X. Tolbert has always been one of my  heroes, and I’ve missed him a lot in recent years. He lives in Houston. His father was a famous journalist with the Dallas Morning News. Frank is one of those people who nourishes your soul when you’re around him, and he doesn’t have any clue what he’s giving to you. Frank and I shared a friendship with a man who was a hero to both of us: Roxy Gordon, a writer, poet, and another one of those people who give you things without knowing it.

Here’s a few samples of Frank’s work. See his Facebook website here for a taste of X’s style. See more of his art here.

Frank X. Tolbert, standing on the right, with one of his large paintings in the background.

Frank X. Tolbert, standing on the left, with one of his large paintings in the background.

Frank, on the right, with an artist friend

Frank, on the right, with an artist friend


A painting of Roxy Gordon by Georgia Stafford.

A painting of Roxy Gordon by Georgia Stafford.

Go here to see a sample of some of Roxy Gordon’s poems and writing and check him out on Amazon for some CDs of his poetry-songs. Note the death mask in the right corner.

Red Pine Has Two New Books Coming Out






Red Pine has two new books coming out in the next couple of years, in addition to Yellow River Odyssey which will be released sometime this summer. The first is based on the poems of Stonehouse, and the second, Finding Them Gone, is the story of his pilgrimage to the graves of Chinese poets. Both will be published by Copper Canyon Press.

William Empson: Let it Go



Let It Go

It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
The more things happen to you the more you can’t
Tell or remember even what they were.

The contradictions cover such a range.
The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.

– William Empson


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers