Wednesday, December 18, 2013

POEM: "Greetings from Shanghai"

Greetings from Shanghai

                                               for Ron Slate

It seems we all write different stuff
That is, we process mostly the same
Stuff, but we process it differently
Let’s start this again…for le mot juste
I’ll give up food, sleep, a warm body
Lying sleeping but willing next to me
Money, health, my comfort, husbandry
Probably some other startling things
Like liberation from craving or wisdom
Or what passes today for modern sanity
I wouldn’t kill for it (I don’t think so)
Although given my human track record
Some people might disagree with that
About this need to make sense of a life
After long darkness the light flooding in
When we fool ourselves that we’re surprised
By all the justice, forbearance, and peace.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Chris Mansell Poem

The Hands Of Adonis


He smooths his hands along
her body and softly speaks
her name, Kristina, Kristina-mou.
She likes it even though it’s
not her own, ordinary, name.
She asks him to say in Greek:
If butterflies could speak,
they would speak Greek

and, when he says it, it sounds like
his mouth is stuffed with wings.

Tell me about the eagle, she says and
he tells her, again, in Greek, about the eagle
falling from the sky, his pain, his pleasure.
She tries to wrap her mind around
the sounds she cannot understand.

She knows the eagle is him.
When he holds her and whispers
these sounds in her ears she could stay
forever suspended in these wisps of words.

His English is perfect. He knows
the deep inflections of Bloke,
the subtle declensions of Don’t
Hurt Me, the various dialects of
Come Here, Come Close and
Stay Away. She struggles
with this language. His first
language, he tells her, is touch.
His hands are broad and strong;
his skin so smooth she thinks
he and she are newborn.
He speaks with his fingers. He takes
her body, humming with
whatever was near. She is too
overstrung, he says. She thinks
too much, he says. She disagrees
and talks at length about it.

He is clever, but his first language
is touch and he’s unwilling to speak.
In the end he will use words to say
Come, let me show you I love you.
And he does; he holds her close,
folds her in. She knows then
those strong arms, those strong
shoulders could harm her if he chose.
She thought that he and she were equals
but he could kill her with a blow. He
grasps her neck and she knows
this is touch at quarter strength.
They’ll part, but there’s a rift
they’ll fight to keep. A pain worth having.

Already she remembers being lost
in his body, smooth and strong.
He doesn’t know he is water,
she stone. He runs his hands over her body,
knots his fingers in her hair, kisses
her throat. On the last day and night,
she loves him to grief, each last touch,
each last kiss makes the air clamorous.
She knows what words
he will say: It’s okay. It’s done, but
his hands say otherwise, say,
Keep me, love me, and she can’t stay.

These words make paradise
impossible. She has grown used
to love, Adonis is not enough—
some crevice of heart-talk is unexplained.


Adonis will watch her go. He will
stand on the kerb and watch her
leave him one last time. This is
what happens with women. You
love them, even secretly, and they go.
No matter how many times he said
it wouldn’t happen, that he didn’t care,
no matter how hard he tried to choose,
he came out losing. They leave you
standing in the damned cold June wind.
It should be spring and nearly summer.
He should be standing on an island
somewhere north. There should be light,
but it’s his turn, somehow, to be locked
in the dark. He’s controlled and beautiful
and his mind is a fist. There is nothing left
but to do what has to be done. This is not
the life he had imagined. One day he’ll get
out. One day. He is counting
the days until he doesn’t know
what. Until he is not himself: father, lover,
son. Kristina told him the future’s now
and then pissed off. Some future.
Some now and when he walks upstairs
the apartment is emptier than before.
He turns the music up and gets out
the golf gear. He laces his shoes
and sees that he is crying and tells himself
it’s the cold that makes him sniffle like a girl.
The universe is clanging; the gods
and their daughters are slamming doors.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Bruce Bond Poem

The Delta

If you are going there by foot, prepare
to get wet. You are not you anymore.

You are a girl standing in a pool
of clouds as they catch fire in the distance.

There are laws of heaven and those of place
and those who see the sky in the water,

angels in ashes that are the delta’s now.
They say if you sweep the trash from your house

after dark, you sweep away your luck.
If you are going by foot, bring a stick,

a third leg, and honor the great disorder,
the great broom of waterfowl and songbirds.

Prepare to voodoo your way, best you can,
knowing there is a little water in things

you take for granted, a little charity
and squalor for the smallest forms of life.

Voodoo was always mostly charity.
People forget. If you shake a tablecloth

outside at night, someone in your family
dies. There are laws we make thinking

it was us who made them. We are not us.
We are a floodplain by the Mississippi

that once poured slaves upriver to the fields.
We are a hurricane in the making.

We could use a magus who knows something
about suffering, who knows a delta’s needs.

We understand if you want a widow
to stay single, cut up her husband’s shoes.

He is not himself anyway and walks
barefoot across a landscape that has no north.

Only a ghost tree here and there, a frog,
a cricket, a bird. And if the fates are kind,

a girl with a stick, who is more at home,
being homeless, than you will ever be.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Kazim Ali Poem (1)



Denuded and abandoned I recite
but what do I want

To rise again from the ocean
or be buried alive in the surge and sleep

To be a fearsome range in a single body
or to wind my unity down into depth

Missing in action, ghost-like
bobbing in the distance

Singing psalms to terrify myself
into deciding:

So long liberation

My time in the world was
only a gesture

My body a lonely

an ache
I never knew


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

POEM: "One to Nothing Else"

One to Nothing Else

Round the corner the beat pyramid
The boys are hiding in a field of reeds
Whispering about the slavers and the whips

At the nearest village get some clothes
Blend in and learn their bloody language
(They say this they say other foolish things)

Well we’re fit says one look the muscles
Gruel once a day another shakes his head
Spilled our hearts out they didn't pay us

Diminuated by servitude gone by sunset
Then early to rise the shouting and sticks
Bloody pyramids stuck up like dominoes

Never kiss your dear old mother again
Had a picture of her when she was my age
Tattooed on my back I remember how it hurt

Avoid al-Mokattam that valley of bones
A snake will put a fast end to your moaning
Stay out of the villages better head for the hills

It's rabbits you can't catch just dust
Blocks and sledges and ropes I hate it
Captured years ago can't stop shaking.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Sunday, November 17, 2013

POEM: "Là-bas Bleu"

Là-bas Bleu

Across the fields 
come the goatherds
shouting about some

new way of reading
the Bible, the Qu'ran 
the Book Of The Dead
their willingness to call
one length of desire
the concentrated picture
and they who will not
turn a difficult page
who will screw their 
faces at fiendish words
these same words)
want to sit me down 
but time (and pain) 
isn't a poet's problem
everything is the problem
why just last week when
I put the question to them
they laughed and laughed 
they gave me more wine
they screamed at me it's
only the wind at the window
look out for fuckin' eagles
but watch your own feet.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

POEM: "Selah"


An unlucky jump wasn't to blame
there was hope of getting back over
an insert with no supply line except
imagine braids with no central column
her hair beautiful body with no head
nothing there for as long as you could
walk over the silly weeks on the frontier
dry sky the wet ground the vibrations
remembering I finally found the head
how close it almost made me tired.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Bruce Weigl Poem

Song Of Napalm

                                             for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding, 
We stood in the doorway watching horses
Walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
Our vision altered by the distance
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their hooves when they faded
Like cut-out horses
Away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
They swung finally away from me...

But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,
Still I close my eyes and see the girl
Running from her village, napalm
Stuck to her dress like jelly,
Her hands reaching for the no one
Who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
Beat inside her until she rises
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling
Muscles draw her up
into that final position

Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air
And not the jungle green
Pasture unfolding before us can deny it.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

POEM: "A Pale Blue Dress"

A Pale Blue Dress

I can't believe that I thought I knew
she was smart, as smart as I pictured her
putting the shining wash on a white line
watering the plants, sprinkling the chickens
in a pale blue dress with no underwear --
come to bed at night with only a sexy moan.
OK. Erase that likeness. She was plenty smart.
Proud house plants wilted under the stress
and the chickens all one day fled for the trees.
The underwear was wrapped three times around.
OK. She was smart enough to hide her feelings.
She sprinkled me enough that I climbed away
while I believed she was smart. OK. Not that.
I believed I was smart to know when a blue dress
looks like it should come off it sometimes doesn't.
Hiding my feelings about that makes me smart.
Scotch that. It makes me almost smart enough
to read a pale blue dress, so well, so well.

© 2010 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Adrienne Rich Poem

Stepping Backward

Good-by to you whom I shall see tomorrow,
Next year and when I'm fifty; still good-by.
This is the leave we never really take.
If you were dead or gone to live in China
The event might draw your stature in my mind.
I should be forced to look upon you whole
The way we look upon the things we lose.
We see each other daily and in segments;
Parting might make us meet anew, entire.

You asked me once, and I could give no answer,
How far dare we throw off the daily ruse,
Official treacheries of face and name,
Have out our true identity? I could hazard
An answer now, if you are asking still.
We are a small and lonely human race
Showing no sign of mastering solitude
Out on this stony planet that we farm.
The most that we can do for one another
Is let our blunders and our blind mischances
Argue a certain brusque abrupt compassion.
We might as well be truthful. I should say
They're luckiest who know they're not unique;
But only art or common interchange
Can teach that kindest truth. And even art
Can only hint at what disturbed a Melville
Or calmed a Mahler's frenzy; you and I
Still look from separate windows every morning
Upon the same white daylight in the square.

And when we come into each other's rooms
Once in awhile, encumbered and self-conscious,
We hover awkwardly about the threshold
And usually regret the visit later.
Perhaps the harshest fact is, only lovers--
And once in a while two with the grace of lovers--
Unlearn that clumsiness of rare intrusion
And let each other freely come and go.
Most of us shut too quickly into cupboards
The margin-scribbled books, the dried geranium,
The penny horoscope, letters never mailed.
The door may open, but the room is altered;
Not the same room we look from night and day.

It takes a late and slowly blooming wisdom
To learn that those we marked infallible
Are tragi-comic stumblers like ourselves.
The knowledge breeds reserve. We walk on tiptoe,
Demanding more than we know how to render.
Two-edged discovery hunts us finally down;
The human act will make us real again,
And then perhaps we come to know each other.

Let us return to imperfection's school.
No longer wandering after Plato's ghost,
Seeking the garden where all fruit is flawless,
We must at last renounce that ultimate blue
And take a walk in other kinds of weather.
The sourest apple makes its wry announcement
That imperfection has a certain tang.
Maybe we shouldn't turn our pockets out
To the last crumb or lingering bit of fluff,
But all we can confess of what we are
Has in it the defeat of isolation--
If not our own, then someone's, anyway.

So I come back to saying this good-by,
A sort of ceremony of my own,
This stepping backward for another glance.
Perhaps you'll say we need no ceremony,
Because we know each other, crack and flaw,
Like two irregular stones that fit together.
Yet still good-by, because we live by inches
And only sometimes see the full dimension.
Your stature's one I want to memorize--
Your whole level of being, to impose
On any other comers, man or woman.
I'd ask them that they carry what they are
With your particular bearing, as you wear
The flaws that make you both yourself and human.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Lauren K. Alleyne Poem

Poem of the Week: Lauren K. Alleyne

What Night Knows

(After Gauguin's Le Cheval Blanc)

Some women ride horses.
Some women are horses.
Some horses are wolves
who have lost their teeth
and are ridden by women.
Some wolves are horses
ridden wild with dreams.
Some women are dreams
in the shape of horses
free of the ghost of wolves.
Some ghosts are women,
their bent air a kind of riding.
Some women ride dreams
and bend the air, freeing
the ghosts and the wolves,
and the horses.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

POEM: "Her"


I love you I see inside

you say it’s outside you
broken against a wall
in back of a wooden crate
splinters taken by a rat
in the innards of a mind
fetched to the second nest

which has two faulty hinges
the smile easy to remember
moving like a tired spine 
the corner of a rainy night.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vermeer, "Girl With A Pearl Earring" (1665)

You know you want to write something about her pale face, the almost smile at the almost man. Her eyes. Is she experienced? She never walked the streets wearing the turban or the big ball thing. On Saturday night she cooked dinner for me. For her birthday I gave her a deep blue lapus lazuli necklace with 6 pale amber pieces. I see her again and ask her if she ever wears it. I don't, she says, actually I prefer a gold necklace. So nice to see you tonight. Another drink? Throws the dice for another vigor. Throws the dice again.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

POEM: "On Turning Sixty Jesus"

On Turning Sixty Jesus

Counting positrons against the tide
As if to balance the oceans of this world
In directions likely to be better curled

Though accidents and near-accidents proved
A different physics it never stopped the climb
The jump the fight the poems the wrong ones
The desperadoes the women and the beasts

(Get everything you want & you still don’t have it)
Nearly killed me turning their horns my way
Horses snakes bugs diseases borne by air
By water times a hundred the swell looked on
Nodding there was really nothing left to do

But wait and watch the great idiot ride it out
The sun faded on the beach there were shells 
I barely saw the luck collected in the sand.

                                                     In the Year of the Snake

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Saturday, October 5, 2013

POEM: "After Horace"

After Horace

It wasn’t till I got old and cranky
my shields scuffed by faster men
and shadows played with my eyes
that I remembered being told 
slow down, find peace with them.
That was after the last one. Comrades
could think of nothing more helpful
than reprove my new infirmity. Only pity?
Remember the blood that fell along the way.
Consider how long the winter will last.
When I recovered I went back hard.
The trick, like it always is, even limited
is never to be where you have to be
to endure the unendurable. Say it.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Horace Poem

To Licinius

You'll do better, Licinius, not to spend your life
Venturing too far out on the dangerous waters,
Or else, for fear of storms, staying too close in
To the dangerous rocky shoreline. That man does best
Who chooses the middle way, so he doesn't end up
Living under a roof that's going to ruin
Or in some gorgeous mansion everyone envies.
The tallest pine shakes most in a wind storm;
The loftiest tower falls down with the loudest crash;
The lightning bolt heads straight for the mountain top.
Always expect reversals; be hopeful in trouble,
Be worried when things go well. That's how it is
For the man whose heart is ready for anything.
It's true that Jupiter brings on the hard winters;
It's also true that Jupiter takes them away.
If things are bad right now, they won't always be.
Apollo isn't always drawing his bow;
There are times when he takes up his lyre and plays,
And awakens the music sleeping upon the strings.
Be resolute when things are going against you,
But shorten sail when the fair wind blows too strong.

(Horace, Odes II, 10
Tr. David Ferry, 1998

Sunday, September 22, 2013

POEM: "How We Might Look Like Fools"

How We Might Look Like Fools

When a little kid puts his pants on backwards
the shoes on the wrong foot proudly to display
ah we might look like fools mismatched ideas
a bit of this a bit of that maybe you don’t get it
a little kid listening to the grown-ups laughing
the glasses raised high the noise getting louder
Uncle Alice is passed out and put into my room
I go in to look at him snoring and touch his nose
how we might look like fools strange match moods
it’s one part Paul Desmond one part of Jim Hall
then time for bed like the kid what does it mean
I see this but I want something else go to sleep
aye we might look like fools look at everything
proudly the ideas images and music come along
don’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before
you're told it’s different maybe the dreams will fit.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Jack Gilbert Poem (2)

Ovid in Tears

Love is like a garden in the heart, he said.
They asked him what he meant by garden.
He explained about gardens. “In the cities,”
he said, “there are places walled off where color
and decorum are magnified into a civilization.
Like a beautiful woman,” he said. How like
a woman, they asked. He remembered their wives
and said garden was just a figure of speech,
then called for drinks all around. Two rounds
later he was crying. Talking about how Charlemagne
couldn’t read but still made a world. About Hagia
Sophia and putting a round dome on a square
base after nine hundred years of failure.
The hand holding him slipped and he fell.
“White stone in the white sunlight,” he said
as they picked him up. “Not the great fires
built on the edge of the world.” His voice grew
fainter as they carried him away. “Both the melody
and the symphony. The imperfect dancing
in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.”


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Michael Palmer Poem

Your Diamond Shoe

Don't write poems about what's going on.
Murderers and liars, dreams and desires,

they're always going on.
Leave them outside the poem.

Don't describe your sad-eyed summer home
or wide-eyed winter home.

Don't write about your being homeless
or your home-away-from-home.

Don't write about war,
whether you're against or for,

it's the same fucking war.
Don't talk about language,

don't talk about loss.
Don't mention truth or beauty

or your grandpa's bones.
No one wants to know

how your father/brother/lover
deducted himself. Razor, rope, or gun,

what's the difference?
Whisper nothing of the snow

on the Contrescarpe,
nothing of moths, their fluttering arcs,

or the towers--how we watched them fall.
Don't write at all.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

A K.J. Bishop Poem

The Crone Meets Her Son (On The Battlefield)

The revolution, this time, was 'to actualise the marvellous'. 
   The gunslinger

enlisted, far from sure of his part, for his weapons fired only
   common lead,

not multicoloured lights or waves of kundalini. But he had,
   in his dreams,

dived to the bottom of the ocean and seen the carcass of a
   whale, with hagfish

at it all around like mad sperm around a dead egg, devouring
   the infertile germ,

and felt his private share of responsibility, like a new organ
   in his body, a harmonica,

maybe. He had always been around the edges, among the
   listeners, tapping a foot,

but if he really was a boar leaping out of the sea, he wanted
   to know that furious joy.

There was no commander as such to give orders, so he found
   a place on the left flank

with the giraffes, and an old woman who had a tray of
   buttons and a thermos

of black coffee, infinitely replenishing, which she shared
   around like a suave host.

With gratitude he drank the unsweet brew in the tin cup and
   remembered how, as a boy,

he'd loved the tubes of buttons in the haberdasher's shop,
   like lasting candy,

kaleidoscopes, or magic money for buying magic things
   from magicians.

Perhaps, he mused, that was where his longtime love of
   finery budded in tulip-stripes.

Looking back, said the woman, it's all ravines and tempests.
   You're cold, have my coat,

he said, stripping down to waistcoat and watch-chain. It's
   bulletproof, and keeps the rain out.

Well, I like rain, but thank you, and here, choose some
   buttons, son. The pearl is smart,

but please yourself. Thank you, ma'am, and in the yellow
   dawn he chose plastic sections of Jupiter

and brass wafers for the charity of the poor, and pearl for the
   whale and the egg,

and fake tortoiseshell for the giraffes, and fuchsia velvet
   domes for sex and love

and loaded them in his old shotgun, and grinned like a fox
   sucking shit through a sieve

because that's how it's done, and he followed the old woman,
   who followed no one,

cocking her leg at every pillar, eating out of garbage cans,
   sniffing bums in trousers,

her jubilant howl assuring him this wasn't desertion at all.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

POEM: " Folding Paper"

Folding Paper

I ask him if he likes to read
sure he says I read all the time
terrific what are you reading now?
The Practical Illustrated Encyclopedia of Origami
sounds like a pretty complete guide I say
oh yes he says it’s very useful, tell me
what do you do in your free time?

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Seamus Heaney Poem

From The Frontier Of Writing

The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration—

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Geraldo Vandré Poem

Sorry If I Don't Mention The Flowers

Walking and singing and following the song
We're all equal, whether arm in arm or not

In schools, on the streets, fields, construction sites
Walking and singing and following the song

Vem, vamos embora que esperar não é saber
Quem sabe faz a hora não espera acontecer

Through the fields the hunger of the great plantations
Through the streets we march in nervous bunches
Still making the flower the strongest verse
We believe that flowers will win against the guns

Vem, vamos embora que esperar não é saber
Quem sabe faz a hora não espera acontecer

There are soldiers (whether they're armed or not)
Who have almost all lost an arm, or a hand
In the forts where they were taught old lessons
To live for their country, & to live without reason

Vem, vamos embora que esperar não é saber
Quem sabe faz a hora não espera acontecer

In schools, on the streets, fields, construction sites
We're all soldiers, whether we are armed or not
Walking and singing and following the song
We're all equal, whether arm in arm or not

Lovers of the mind, of the flowers in the ground
The certainty of your thought, the history of your hand
Walking and singing and following the song
Of learning, & then teaching this new lesson

Vem, vamos embora que esperar não é saber
Quem sabe faz a hora não espera acontecer


 from the Portuguese