Ditchwater & Cook Smoke
(after Gu Cheng)
These poems were written while reading SEA OF DREAMS by Gu Cheng. Some of the phrases, images, and ideas were taken from his work, but in its entirety it is an original composition. It was written and edited in six separate early mornings (late evenings) from February 15th to May 8th, 2007, while listening to Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Mississippi John Hurt, Cannonball Adderly, The Quintet (recorded live from Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, 1953), Wynton Marsallis, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle.
…your luggage just keeps getting heavier all the time.
It is strange that death goes on,
that after I'm buried I come to live.
Lying down among flowers, I am mutilated
by the light. This is my opportunity
to greet the sun, to say hello to the forest.
Looking closely, I see an oak change
into a sparrow, stare at a garden which turns
into a desert. Their voices are only appearance.
The sounds I believe are but a child's, digging
a grave for his rabbit, as the birds scatter.
Autumn at the Farm
I step into the world with many lives.
One is not finished, one other has not yet begun.
Sidling past the river stones and bark canoe
I hear the meter of the forest, the gnawing insects,
the heaves of cows in the meadow, the ferment
of fallen apples. In the orchard, the bugs' fervor
praises the fruit, the cowflops are profound
with mushrooms and maggots. Lifting the skirts
of cedars, a tarnished wind brings metallic odors.
It is a day to lay flowers on graves and sweep-up
the clutter of old wreaths. A few red breasts surge
while I saunter to the barn and finger wormy leather,
step into the river at the earth's ledge.
Three children pass down the road.
One is dressed in red, another green,
and the third wears stories and dreams.
They talk to each other and themselves.
The girl in red speaks of flowers,
the boy in green says, lions,
the third child remains silent.
When they get to the red girl's house
the green boy tells her he'd like a kiss.
The dreamer swoons and rolls his eyes.
The girl blushes and smiles at the green boy.
Then the two walk on. When they part the sun
is high and the green boy sweats. The last says,
I'm a stone. We can only hope for shade.
for David James Smith
All stones are solid, a foundation of brothers.
I have no sister, so who will teach me
of delicate things? I hear armies
of goldenrod thinking my songs
are planted in earth. Battalions
of bluebells open and I find the sounds
that I dream are rock-solid sisters
and brothers, our foundations from others.
We gather stones, flowers, dreams;
and form with ideas, image, and essence.
Dusk at the Farm
Fields lie beyond the green ditchwater,
clouds so dark they thin slowly. Here,
I wait for the light to grow dim, to churn
and bring the wind from the woods,
full of dormant children waiting to grow,
their tired eyes kissing the spring, sipping
water filled with the light of cherry blossoms,
with dusk's odors falling down
from the tree tops, the cedar spines,
and the large, aching maple that makes
me want to stop and rest, to breathe
and be joyful about the moonlight
and your eyes that are still new and unknown
when they look at me, then toward the clouds.
A Beautiful Oval
My voice is quiet, with a single bird
as its companion, somewhere in the tree,
here in the wind, altogether lost
in the forest with the dreams of oaks
and beetles, bark and wounded cedars.
And here one sees the silence the moon
sinks into its caves and craters,
its gouged-out skin with a reptile's surface
and its jagged edge of a file flaring
like flint, the stone that brings fire.
Then the voice takes off with the bird, ogling
the moon, a beautiful disc with painted eyes.
The World Circles
a small place of thirty acres
with a stream and surrounding woods,
an orchard, a maple, many cedars
and firs on the banks of the river
still young, having been planted
years ago, but growing above
the boulders and underbrush green
and gazing at the hillside opposite.
In this small place a man walks
his pasture, the trails to the woods,
the wetlands and badlands of the bear,
cougar, coyote, where, downstream
beaver dam the creek and a pool
rises in spring, subsides in the summer.
Growling ever lower, faces appear
on the wall, men with their feet backed-up
against eternity, where the bullets strike
and shriek, and the men remain quiet
having dug their graves with words
broken open like the span of a heron
rising to flick its beak, to peck a fish
or frog, even a lizard, those creatures
near the tops of rivers, on rocks and pads,
near the bottom of the chain that dangles
all our lives in the balance of one.
The well, a large jar, dipped in
daily, and with joy at the wonder
of water and life, the source.
It was a world with cook smoke,
wood fired saunas, the crickets
and tree frogs to the left and right,
all around the outhouse.
I wish I could taste it again,
that pale creature, the Pygmy Forest,
the light in the pines at dawn
making a stunted-tree bonsai
with the mist crawling over
the fragile stems, and the roots
barely able to open the hardpan.
The Pygmy Forest
The whole five acres was a drainfield
in winter when the rain rushed down
and the clay hardpan was three inches
deep in floodwater. On each side of the land
were ditches with torrents of brown
tearing off the scum left over from summer
when frogs dug into the mud
and badgers fed on the bodies of mice,
voles, while swallows picked insects
out of air at dusk with the bats.
At dawn, when fog camped on the pines,
the world grew small with rhododendrons,
wild blueberries, mushrooms, and trilliums
surrounding the logged over redwoods.