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
Whoso walketh in solitude,
And inhabiteth the wood,
Choosing light, wave, rock, and bird,
Before the money-loving herd,
Into that forester shall pass
From these companions power and grace.
Emerson– Woodnotes II
Modern transcendental idealism, Emersonianism, for instance, also seems to let God evaporate into abstract Ideality. Not a deity in concreto, not a superhuman person, but the immanent divinity in things, the essentially spiritual structure of the universe, is the object of the transcendentalist cult. In that address to the graduating class at Divinity College in 1838 which made Emerson famous, the frank expression of this worship of mere abstract laws was what made the scandal of the performance. – William James, The Variety of Religious Experience
A Poem for Red Pine
Bill Porter went West, took a new name
and came back from the East to spread the word.
A master of the shadow art,
he trails behind
recasting Chinese ideograms into new lines
for English minds.
He works from a second floor study in Port Townsend,
deciphering black strokes from faraway days with sharp eyes,
diamond mind – a time of flaming hearts:
writers of the Silent Word.
On the wall of his study, a Tibetan tanka.
A small painting of bamboo with a poem by Wang Wei.
Through a window, the Cascade Mountains.
Through another window, the ocean.
Through another window, the branch of a plum tree.
Pine trees and bamboo sway in the morning wind.
Light brightens a new day
as the pine tree’s shadow disappears,
leaving no trace.
I looked for Roxy Gordon’s website today, and couldn’t find it. I’ve written his wife, Judy, for more information. I still can’t write about Roxy, who’s dead and buried outside of Talpa, Texas, near his “house up” home/campsite in West Texas. It’s one of those small, flat-top hills with the mesquite-desert spaces in between. Roxy was a writer-artist-musician-poet. Even more important, he had what Indians call medicine. People in Asia would say he was a man of The Way. He knew some things.
Here’s a link to Smaller Circles, his poem/talking word song (also the title for a book of poetry).
Here’s a poem/talking word song Indians.
Here’s a story written upon his death by a Dallas friend.
After posting my dream poem (below this post), I was reading in Edmund Wilson’s The Shores of Light and enjoying immensely his hard edged judgements and wise takes on the likes of Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken, Sherwood Anderson, W. H. Auden, Elinor Wylie, Edna S. Vincent Mallay, E.E. Cummings, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence and other writers of that era when American letters were finding a new footing. Wilson, besides his literary critcism, was a prolific writer on cultural life for The New Republic, and he captured the fleeting fervor surrounding communism and its prominence in American life during that era, which now seems the musings of a different civilization entirely.
Anyway, in the book I was surprised to see an essay on Dream Poetry.
Wilson wrote about dreams that produced poetry, citing examples, the most prominent of course was Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, which is said to have come to him in an opium-induced dream state. Most dream poetry is not high art, of course, and is in fact touched by an other wordly whimsy.
Wilson recorded one of his dream poems:
The human heart if full of leaks;
The human head is full of vapors.
The crows disband: the mandrake shrieks;
The scandal was in all the papers.
And this from an anonymous poet:
It’s white to be snow,
It’s cold to be ice,
It’s windy to blow,
And it’s nice to be nice.
And one by E.M. Forster:
I will put down Hastings, you shall see
Companion to India as a boat gnawed.
Forster’s is closer to most dream poetry, I think, in which the dreamer feels that the “as a boat gnawed” is touched by genius, only to awaken, recall the words, and shake his head in wonderment.
I wish Wittgenstein would have taken an interest in this phenomenon of language produced in a dream, rather than action stories, states of feelings, fantasies, etc.
Riding the Wind
In my dream
you gave me your
Book of Poems
“Read this one:”
The wind was Love
and what the was was
Well, yes – exactly – that is the problem.
All travelers experience it
at each step on the Way. Is it
here, there, up, down,
backwards, forwards, all around,
or somewhere else? How are we to know,
if it doesn’t tell us so?
We all have our maps, but they are the
artifacts rubbing our noses in it.
My worn map I drew myself. I traced
a line from Birchman Street in Fort Worth
through dark caves as a Boy Scout, to Saigon
(and flowing dresses) to Ubon and
Thailand’s temples to Third Street in Denton –
a college town – to Dallas (there’s the dead president)
to Arlington to Thailand again and Laddawan – to Denton
(the college town again) to Waco – a crazy town –
to Alpine and the airy Big Bend where I met and lost
so many friends, to here and now in Chiang Mai.
Ok, just breathe deep and let go.
That’s as close as I can get to it.
Were it not for the new moon
my sky would collapse tonight
so fed by the waters of memory.
– The last line in River IV from Songs of Unreason by Jim Harrison
– The first five lines of Love from Songs of Unreason by Jim Harrison:
Love is raw as freshly cut meat,
mean as a beetle on the track of dung.
It is the Celtic dog that ate its tail in a dream.
It chooses us as a blizzard chooses a mountain.
It’s seven knocks on the door you pray not to answer.