Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Pamela L. Taylor Poem

Experiment in Settling

Pour yourself—pure and cool—
into a glass jar filled with the simple
sand of me at the floor.

We’ll churn, shake, and spin
in our friction, turn together
become cloudy, become one.

Time and sense will suspend
as we cling to our turbid union.
We won’t know how long this

state will last before gravity
forces the natural breaking apart.
When your water goes quiet, larger

chunks of my wits will return to rockbottom
faster than the crumbs
of hope left in my heart.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Maya Angelou Poem

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

POEM: "Those Bridges, Those Bones"

Those Bridges, Those Bones

                                 When you have eliminated the impossible
                                            whatever remains, however improbable
                                                      must be the truth...

Not so fast, Sherlock
eliminating impossible
if it takes too long
to deduce improbable

Trust an old girl
galloping on a horse
that the old hills where
she rests are real

Impossible now
without a horse to get
there if truth needs
to swim a swollen river

Not there last week
the truth rising as
improbably as
what besets the mind

That always looks
for what remains
improbable as that seems
crossing to impossible.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

POEM: "See summer clouds..."

"See summer clouds..."

See the summer clouds roll in
the wind steadily gathering
(any woman’s monthly period)
invisible electric changes
learn the smells quite early
how to move away from danger
bigger now, to respect the signs
(hard to be regularly terrible)
walking past the iron zealots
some of them know that I know
we smile, I nod and press on
and head for other kinds of clouds
I still say give me big storms
violent weather excites me
loud lightning & big thunder 
there I'm in my element.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Thursday, May 22, 2014

POEM: "A History of the Hunger Strike, post-1989"

A History of the Hunger Strike, post-1989

Gave it up
Thought about it
Tried it
Phone call
Gave it up
Stayed till lunchtime
Felt strange
Didn't start
Phone call
Instant noodles
Mars Bar
Phone call
Gave it up

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Ahmad Shamlu Poem

They smell your mouth

Lest you've told someone 'I love you'

They smell your heart

                     These are strange times, my dear


They drag out under lampposts

To thrash.

       Love must be hid in closets at home.

In the cold of this blind alley

They keep their fires ablaze

        Burning our anthems and poems.

Do not venture to think.

              These are strange times, my dear

He who pounds on the door in the nighttime

Has come to kill the light.

        Light must be hid in closets at home.

Lo! the butchers

Stationed on roads

With chopping-board and cleaver soaked in blood

             These are strange times, my dear

They slit smiles off of lips

And song from the throat.

       Joy must be hid in closets at home.

Canaries are being roasted

On a spit of lilacs and jasmine

             These are strange times, my dear

Satan, triumph-drunk

Feasts at a table spread with our mourning

            God must be hid in closets at home.

(1979) Trans. Saya Ovaisy, Tehran, Summer 2009

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A James Wright Poem

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.


Monday, May 19, 2014

POEM: "Taiko"

                              for Eleanor

Amaterasu is goddess of the sunlight (thank you)
Her brother Susanoo is god of the sea and storms

If you don’t know the tale (why should you?)
One day Brother gets into a snit starts storming

The cause approximate (after all these guys are gods)
The damage is so serious that Sister flees to a cave

This is sunlight (we’re talking the absence thereof)
Other gods are worried because everything’s dying

Aunty (who looks like a feeble hag) is Ame no Uzume
Suggests to committee she actually knows what to do

Ame wades to the shore with a barrel of quality sake
Tears the top off it (has a big swig) starts to make a taiko

Begins to pound taiko like life depends on it (really does)
The gods on the beach dance their children of the drum

Meanwhile Sister Cave starts to get back the heartbeat
She finally emerges bringing light love good things etc.

The gods really fed up by now the brother's banished 
He dives underground (shadow gods tend to do this)

Brother’s anger took him out of circulation (thank you)
The drum won the day returned our sister's machine

You’re reading this now maybe we forget small things
Mean more than we think (yes remember it please.)

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Saturday, May 17, 2014

From Milan Kundera

“The irresistible proliferation of graphomania shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: we are all writers! For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.”


“Let us define our terms. A woman who writes her lover four letters a day is not a graphomaniac, she is simply a woman in love. But my friend who xeroxes his love letters so he can publish them someday--my friend is a graphomaniac. Graphomania is not a desire to write letters, diaries, or family chronicles (to write for oneself or one's immediate family); it is a desire to write books (to have a public of unknown readers). In this sense the taxi driver and Goethe share the same passion. What distinguishes Goethe from the taxi driver is the result of the passion, not the passion itself.

Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions:

1. A high degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities;
2. An advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual;
3. A radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation. (In this connection I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty-one times higher than in Israel. (Bibi [character from the book] was absolutely right when she claimed never to have experienced anything from the outside. It is this absence of content, this void, that powers the motor driving her to write).

But the effect transmits a kind of flashback to the cause. If general isolation causes graphomania, mass graphomania itself reinforces and aggravates the feeling of general isolation. The invention of printing originally promoted mutual understanding. In the era of graphomania the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without.”

Milan Kundera, from "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" (1978)

Friday, May 16, 2014

POEM: "Mousai"

                                  Muses, please come charm my mind, as 
                                  I go along the straight road to the grove.


How do the redoubtable sisters fare today?
The Nine who would dance together sweetly
Whose dresses were soaking wet
Everywhere was the scent of flowers
You all went underground
Sandals slapped until there was no sound

In the wind we could still hear you
In the waves of the sea, in the trees
In the firecrackle late at night
In waters laughing in the woods
Outdoors we still heard your song
You had not left, you’d charmed the earth

It was by accident we lost our way
Through too much hatred and guilt
All the bitterness of memory
We couldn’t turn into a single lesson
We couldn’t even win the battle of wisdom
Which still tears at us in hard dreams

Come to us now, Mousai, charm our way
Lend us music, heal our tired minds
Or put us to sleep forever. Charm our bodies
To hear more sound where we thought was silent
Enter us into dark places with your light
We see all that had been hidden, returned.


Stay, Kalliopê, teach us how to listen
How to hear the epic story of the world
Take down the words the winds carry
Remind us events are shaped by the Gods
Breathed by poets, only recorded
In living creatures, one word after the other

The spirit is in everything
In love and fear and heartbreak
In sorrow and pain and in pride
After all, it is the mortal way
That no expense is ever spared
To remind our selves of that

We were taught to avoid the epic
Better to work the short subject, care not
For the grains of sand, the stars in the sky
For understanding the mass graves
We were taught that the unlimited kills
And works destruction upon the infinite

Every moment is part of a great story
It does not evade your close interest
Take papyrus and sharpened stylus
Mix your ink and wine, come closer
Breathe your best, welcome the dawn
Make it done what you promised.


Before an open box of books Kleiô sits
Humming, an open book with nothing writ
Upon but two columns down each page
The personal and the extraordinary
Divided by an imperfect world
She starts to sing her perfect song

How secret the historical world
How clear the lines of harmony
The imprint of sound on the passing day
On the cat, the small metre of the body
In the rhythm, of the tall old grasses
Hear the song that is always singing

Not the story of the victorious or the weak
Made by each other, but in one book
Read the futures of the other
By lack of knowledge, confused
But finally redeemed by all of time
Which is only your history in reverse

How you know what will happen
Even as tired soldiers drop and die
Their leaders contemplating retirement
Boys play war games on computers
Arguing their strategies of growing old
Laugh as they move toward death.


Euterpê with all the world’s flutes
Breathe in me the lyrics that mean something
When I am very bereft of sense, lost
In too much observation, unable to hear
What has suddenly come on me
What moment is always waiting

See the smallest corner and the joint
Hint of smile and next composure
The origins of how you feel before you sleep
The ships you sail on when you dream
Fortunately nothing is too small or too big
Otherwise I know we should disappear

Without pretension, sometimes it hurts
Without acting, that you are somebody else
And you know more than you do, unfreeze
The parts that you don’t recognize
Stretch out bent limbs, move to the fire
You know the shadows of the flame

Music is the fire hiss, crack and wind
Reminders of the terror of living without sight
Breathing with less air than a second ago
You go through your litany of blessings
One round, two rounds, three rounds, four…
Until prayer tells you where.


I am Melpomenê, I wear the cothurnus
I honor Artemis, increase my stature upon the stage
Needs a mask to bring us more tragedy
Reminds us that great men wear their own masks
Reminds us of yet more tragedy and more
It stands before the audience, aieeee!

Appeal to Apollo, God of Light
When you misjudge your step
He shows you wisdom before the drop
Gives eloquence, takes reason away − and kills you
You squandered your best mortal chance
You looked back over your shoulder

No wonder it’s the world’s great fear
Speaking vacantly in public before strangers
Staring without inspiration
Stuttering after a wish list of words
Sorrow coming crashing, vision dimmed
No applause, no applause − then the laughing

When you carry the heavy club of Herakles
Even climbing up on the stage is hard
And the divinity of wine will slow your feet
The mask will protect all foolishness
While you declaim glory and awe and terror
And it is only the middle of the week.


Yes, I’ve got the song and dance, watch me
We link arms, high-step, a-one and a-two
You just sit there happy and watch the pain
It looks so easy, doesn’t it, sitting down?
Terpsikhorê! And my ass is sorer than yours
Cutting a rug is really cutting my shroud

It’s not really like that. The chorus is always us
Dancers are the chorus who’d dance if they could
Without any pause for the spoken word
Cycles of sound catching in the round
People moving their forgotten feet, patched
As the sun is setting, the breezes coming

There’s fire on the stage, nightfall
And more are dancing, there’s singing
Each old dance breaks into the new
The listeners can’t bear to sit anymore
Touching their companions, gazing into
What they know about the hurting of the world

Finally, finally we know stillness is a sham
Only the moving can be at rest
Arguing the distance, approaching the limits
Working with the broom and the shovel
Feeling the golden coin at their feet, lucky
That they found it there at last.


Eratô, you’ve copied the erotic moment
We re-live our most intimate times
You showed us how depiction works
How words mount the page, aflame for
Readership, or the way a book opens up
How a poem makes her think of you

Ardor is mostly memory confused by time
You need me. And I need you. I want you
To take me somewhere I’ve never been before
We’ll be together by the slowing sea, waves
Will not represent any other but us, tumultuous
I won’t lead you by a gentle hand to bed

How it takes you when you don’t expect it
Suddenly a flush of awareness, the stirring
Of the horse, need to enter, expansive
You comprise it all − you have gone erotic
There is only desire to be connected
O what a spinning steady rhythm!

You’ll block all but the most immediate
She’ll be there peeking out from under
And you will remember it wasn’t like this
And you hope you never forget how to get there
And with a shout you find yourself in a distant place
Wherever that could be, neither of you comes back.


She of the sublime hymn, of all moments
Your search in the sacred grove of wonder
Polyhymnia, even-handed, circular, neverending
She loves you more than you love yourself
Never so mysterious that she won’t pay the bill
She looks up at you and smiles she knows

You see her in every crowd, dressed in white
Immaculate and stoned with fresh origin
I guess you could fall in love with her
You could park the car on the footpath
Get out right there and walk up to her
OK she’d even be in the same spot waiting

How do you know what’s going on?
It’s like she speaks without using the words
Tenses and punctuation are unimportant
Around her the world is halting
The parade is stopped, the marchers
Thinking of something they didn’t know

The shopping list you misplaced, wait
The job promotion you missed out on, wait
The anniversary, the school fair, wait
The early appointment you had, wait
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait
It all will come to you.


Ouraniê looking at stars, almost speechless
After the accident left her with the headache
And a diminished appetite for the news
She still craves what we hear in planets
Singing above the crash of matter, because
Astronomy needs your game away, not at home

She lies on a big flat rock next to a waterfall
One noisy moonless night, warm summertime
Gathered in a rolling nocturne, she swears
Birds are awake and speaking to her
About the lights in the sky, asking questions
She tries to answer not leaving anything out

How do they fly, the stars? And the Moon
Where did she go tonight? What is that Red One?
Why can’t we fly down to it all? What stops us?
They fly because they still love, she tells them
We have created such limits that test our hope
Selênê is also stopped, she sleeps in a cave nearby

Where the moon runs wild through the clouds
Moving in a swirling, shuddering in silver winds
Tiny points of light pulsing hard to a beat
Late night waves taking the message back
I am missing you, come closer to me now
All is music, all is poetry and missing sound.


Thaleia − the banana, the truncated bed
Sure, we laughed until we almost died
But comedy will never taste the same
Recovering the beef steak from the dog
The in-laws in stitches in the kitchen
Bringing it solemnly to the new husband

You say that art isn’t the same but equal to
Arguing a sense of parallel punditry
In the myriad ways the mighty always fall
The ways the impoverished and misinformed
Always fall sooner rather than later
No one bothering to go to and help

Curious we see the tragedy out of you
See the funny side of dread and fear
A wreath, a staff – you could be the snake
That reconnects, confound it here, and then
The calls of distrust by the phones of hope
Jammed lines, people laughing on desperate trains

No tragedy is big enough we won’t repeat
And for that we thank you for light relief
Our dull moments shoved aside for a minute
The shriek of the braking, the oooh of the minions
Your most considerate hour, saying it’s too much
Hoping no one ever laughs again at love.


My lovers, sitting confident on their cards
Licking lips as if we could taste you again −
We do, we tease from you the smallest look
At the late taxi when I turn to you to tie a kiss
You turn away because your hand was good
It was merely the game I played for you

Ladies of song, do me, there is no tomorrow
Spread your love like bees make honey
For there is no other time like now, was
No time like then when the world was clean
We would speak to Gods like to grocers
You would sell us the magic fruit we ate

O but no returning to that knowledge
Of careless nurturing − instead we rail hard
Against this game we play for keeps, O Loss!
A hundred devices show us that we’re wrong
A million drops of water feed us before we’re gone
And we won’t ever thank the sky for that

I get into a car with you and we drive
Wind the windows down, turn the music up
Comment on change and colour, follow the clouds
Eventually tiring of the simple path
We look for a long road without the usual fences
Your hair touches my face, I imagine being without you.

© 2010-2014 Rob Schackne