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
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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