Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Katie Peterson Poem

Denying Everything

Because it is a pearly evening
I am sitting in the window reading
a book I have read before.
Branches emphasize
their heft and sway over their shadows.
Some kind of extra firmament,
an ear over the earth’s ear,
extra, as language is to prayer.
Narratives of elsewhere: in the eye
inside my eye that vision makes when you tell it to
when you shut your eyes so hard they hurt
you get more vista and less twist
of road, and then you’re looking
at a valley you named yourself
and irrigated yourself,
full of bitterroot, magnolia in the clefts
of rock, sage, at last a harvest—
a desert that belongs to you–

The trick to renunciation is starting now.
The secret of detachment
is having already given up,
a transcript of speech whose cadences are lost,
the human need for a body to fill in
all your body’s deficiencies, those clefts and dents
already given up, the narrative of a life
completely altered in the retrospect
that knowledge brings and so discredited
the point of memory utterly lost.
That piece of land has always been
suitable for a house. That nest has never
been ready for eight baby birds
who, top-heavy, frightened their own branch
and home and scared themselves
completely and remarkably away.

Do you hear that? It’s the wind
negotiating the spine of one leaf
it cannot decide whether to raise
a fragment of an inch.
Duncan writes as a reader
struggles with a strong sentence, I struggle
at certain unmistakable times
with what’s furtive and most right.
When people marry they finish their names.
I am still listening for mine
to begin. My spine
wants a bicycle to order its work, a red
bicycle, a hill into a heart
of a city that holds something I want.

The pattern of the air around that leaf
is like someone tracing my ribcage
with his index finger
and then walking away.
Who can blame us for wanting other worlds,
but shall we take them,
or let them come to us? Is the spirit just an ear
more like a mouth
that bites the air and turns it into blood?

A voice in the next room goes to sleep.
Sleep moves in the branches of the oak
become a rootless mass
unsung by skeleton or name or height.
My friend who says
she does not believe in Paradise
believes in rest: I believe that,
or more likely I like to think of her,
the way she held my name in her small mouth,
as she held her own name. I like to think of anyone
who on a night like this
would reach towards my ribcage
and trace it delicately and walk away.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

POEM: "Winter Tourism In Ningxia"

Winter Tourism in Ningxia

Today I believe we’re all on the road to Heaven
Toward the cold blue mountains of Helan Shan
And me in the steam of three fragrant beauties

Our taxi driver’s nervous about this conversation
He’s claiming the horizon is always straight ahead
And we can never presume what we should not see

Still, we keep our own private counsels warm
Since it is 20 below in the sun with our hats on
Under the old great shadows of these quiet peaks

The trees are heavy beside a silent frozen river
Petroglyphs possibly ascribing the valley rocks
(I wonder whether I should describe this ice)

Love, I see the gracious Earth-Mother around us
Her fertile and ferocious aspect observing the Tao
While I climb the rocks and I remember how I’m still here

Yesterday among the 1000-year-old Xia beehive tombs
When you say you once clambered atop the steepest one
I see my own last fall, I contend that your own wasn’t possible

Fang pao, hen hao shua – moonlit Gunpowder Night
From the hotel window with our guns aimed at the sky walls
We salute those infant stars for this love and this New Year

Later then I think of my old battles on the faces of cliffs
Finally these narrow Chinese beds and your hot body
Fighting for the gentle certainties of our brief lives.

© 2004/2015 Rob Schackne

Monday, January 13, 2014

PHOTO: Hine, "Construction Worker At The Empire State Building, 1931" / POEM: "Our Man Is Long Dead"

Lewis Wickes Hine, Construction worker at the Empire State Building, 1931

Our Man Is Long Dead

Our man is long dead, but not
by his own hand or carelessness
just the ordinary accretion of time
and the unnatural play of events
we'll only guess at. Our own lives
which seem such a solid fantasy
remind us what to shy away from
avoid the heights, rabid dogs, people
who act too strange, bad jobs, the shakes
unsafe food, poisoned air, the dangers
we must not embrace -- we are smart
we know our long list very well.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Jynne Dilling Martin Poem

Jynne Dilling Martin

"What Endures And What Does Not?"

Soon this ship will be crushed in a polar storm; below deck,
pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica are read aloud,

shredded and used to light pipes. A century later
the preservationist draining antique food tins

sneaks a taste of raspberry jam. That night he’ll dream
he digs out a tomb on a glacier filled with bay leaves

still fragrant and green. The emperor penguin egg
tucked warm in the explorer’s pocket is delivered intact

to the receptionist desk at the Royal Geographic Society;
the robbery victim nestles a stone between his feet

and rocks back and forth at the bottom of the world.
Enough seal blubber can keep a single lamp burning

for a thousand years; enough knowledge exists to fill
twenty thousand encyclopedia pages. Lost friends

return to us in dreams, but come morning we can’t recall
what they wanted. Snakes, Snell’s law, Snowblind

curl up into hazy tobacco smoke. The amphipods
in test tubes begin to faint from next century’s

simulated heat; falling leaves fill the air of our dreams.
The biologist drills a hole in the sea snail’s shell

and slides a miniature stethoscope inside, listens
for the heartbeat: it’s beating, still beating, still beating.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

PHOTO: Roman Signer, "House with Rockets" (1981) Photo Emil Grubenmann / POEM: "House With Rockets"

Click to view larger image

House With Rockets

Time obviates
time cannot tell
moves like a finger
now at 12 noon
I am 2 days before

wondering if ever 
she'll stay the night
tomorrow is asking
if the moon is full 
sitting in the corner
thousand conversations 
for years like a stove
rattles into a window
house with rockets.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Joseph Brodsky Poem

1 January 1965

The Wise Men will unlearn your name.
Above your head no star will flame.
One weary sound will be the same—
the hoarse roar of the gale.
The shadows fall from your tired eyes
as your lone bedside candle dies,
for here the calendar breeds nights
till stores of candles fail.

What prompts this melancholy key?
A long familiar melody.
It sounds again. So let it be.
Let it sound from this night.
Let it sound in my hour of death—
as gratefulness of eyes and lips
for that which somtimes makes us lift
our gaze to the far sky.

You glare in silence at the wall.
Your stocking gapes: no gifts at all.
It's clear that you are now too old
to trust in good Saint Nick;
that it's too late for miracles.
—But suddenly, lifting your eyes
to heaven's light, you realize:
your life is a sheer gift.