HAIKU

I picked up a book
off the shelf this morning
one hundred haiku

it was like sitting down
a word starved man, tired
of searching for an always
denied sustenance, and here
laid out before me, a repast
of the sweetest grapes,
bits of sugar caressing
a tongue grown used
to the often bitterness
of ill-considered prose.

As midday approached
I knew that this was a meal
to which I’d return.

POETS GATHER

One deep and abiding beauty of dreams
is that it is entirely logical for
Marina Tsvetaeva to be engaged
In an animated discussion with
Corso and Ginsberg where none will
acknowledge that the world they
wrote and imagined is a total mess.

Over in the corner, Mandelstam and
Reznikoff have agreed that for eternity
every game of chess they play will
result in a stalemate, if only
to drive Brodsky to distraction, that
and having Osip say he prefers
Reznikoff’s free verse translations
to Brodsky’s ponderous rhymes.

I am looking forward to a cup
of espresso with Sylvia Plath, but she
says here she only drinks single malt
Scotch until it’s at least 5 P.M.

HOGEN’S DRIP OF WATER 鐵笛倒吹 九十一

What are words
of wisdom
from the mouth
of the ancient ones.
I tell you
these are such words.
You may accept
or reject them
as you will.
Better still, tear
this page from its binding
crumple it
and cast it
to the four winds.
Let it be carried
off in ten directions.

A reflection on case 91 of the Iron Flute Koans

SONNETS AND SALADS

I would love to know the precise moment
when the consensus of critics reached
the tipping point, that lettuce was
no longer a green, but some lesser vegetable.

That would be around the time that
Arugula and romaine declared themselves
something other than lettuce, leaving
iceberg and Bibb as produce outcasts
while spinach, kale and chard openly

declared their superiority over all
of the others, shunning mustard,
if only for its name and seediness.
It is surprisingly like that with poetry,
literary free verse a critical darling now

even if intelligible only to those skilled
at self-aggrandizing, easily sold delusion,
and more run of the mill poetry, that
whose meaning is clear without resort
to layered metaphors left to rot on the shelf.

THINGS TO COME

One morning last week I decided
to plant myself at a busy intersection
and begin reading poetry, mostly
my own, I have to admit.

I was generally ignored, my usual
state, and that sadly of most poets,
when a scruffy, bearded young man
set up easel and paint next to me.

The morning seemed to relish
the stillness of this urban way station,
and we were easily ignored by the odd
pedestrian on her way to please not here.

As lunch hour approached, the streets
filled, and we were ready, this was
our moment, our world, until the
asylum escapee joined our duality

and preached loudly to those who
dared not avoid us, that the end
was nigh, and that we, artist and poet
were the living promise of heaven and hell.

ANSWER SWIFTLY

The question you will be called upon
to answer requires careful thought,
but you will be forced to respond.

Would you rather live the rest
of your life in Lilliput or Brobdingnab?

It may seem rather silly, for neither
is likely to occur, but that is not the point
and you cannot avoid responding.

Of course you will have to read
Swift, but you ought to do that anyway
and there, if you pay attention, you

see your own world and your
relationship with it, and you will see
others who look vaguely familiar.

So there you have your midterm exam
denizen of Lilliput or Brobdingnab,
and no, you cannot answer with

“because I’d be a giant among midgets,”
or “because I’d stand out as a midget
in a world where all around me are giants”

because no matter how you choose
you’ll be black in a white world, gay
in a straight one, or a woman in our world.

POOR JACK

He does not want to hear it,
but someone needs to tell Jack
just how foolish this makes him look.

It shouldn’t require a degree
in hydrogeology or philosophical logic
to realize that water, like all matter

obeys the basic laws of physics,
the concept of gravity being a principal
that says you don’t climb to find water.

Some, quite unfairly it should be noted,
place the blame on Jill, as though Jack
was a starstruck boy taken by her beauty.

One went so far as to suggest that
the story would have had a different
ending, and no medical bills, if only Jack

had fallen for Gayle, or better still, Sally
for everyone knows how easy it is to fetch
water from a well in a dale or a valley.

NOT SLEEPING NOW

The kid is late again today, but that
is sadly not unusual, the old man said.
I ought to get rid of him, but I know
he needs the job to feed his family.

In the meanwhile, I’ll now have
to hobble down to the meadow
and hope my collie, who’s as old as I,
is up to the job of herding sheep still.

And I know that he will only shrug
when I threaten to dock his pay
for the loss, hell, even just the profit
I lost on the corn the cows consumed.

I get that he’s tired, those late night
gigs at club in town, and I hear that
he’s thinking of joining a trio in Chicago,
though I have no idea how they ever

heard his playing out here in fly-over-ville,
but I guess I’d better let him get his rest,
for if he becomes a star, maybe he’ll
remember me in his first CD’s liner notes.

OUT OF THE NURSERY

The one question that has never had
a proper answer still bothers me.
Actually it gives rise to multiple questions
which synergistically expand my displeasure.

I get she had a lamb, and I don’t question
why, nor why hers was little, full size lambs
are far more common, and seriously
what did she do, bleach it every few days?

But those are minor points, really, because
we all know Mary was truly nomadic
and a real urban girl, city to city with
as little time in the country as possible.

The real question is where she kept
whatever it was the lamb so badly wanted,
because lambs don’t willingly leave their
mothers and not for some female Svengali.

SIPPING

I spent much of the afternoon trying
to imagine you, spending a small part
of an afternoon reading this poem.

I have no clear picture of where you are,
but the chair is well cushioned, and
you sit deeply in it, a glass of some

amber liquid on the glass and metal
end table, just within arm’s reach.
I suppose, since it is early afternoon,

it is iced tea, bit I wish it were a fine
IPA or better still a fine single malt,
though that much would give my poem

a meaning I never imagined, but
that might be an improvement, and
I think I’ll stop here and join you.