Thursday, April 30, 2015

BOOK COVERS: Gustave Doré (1884) / Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" (1845)

   Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
   For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
   Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Monday, April 27, 2015

An Evie Shockley Poem

du bois in ghana

at 93, you determined to pick up and go—
and stay gone. the job nkrumah called you to,
to create, at last, your encyclopedia africana
              (encompassing a continent chipped

like wood beneath an axe, a large enough
diaspora to girdle the globe, and a mere four
thousand years) was either well-deserved
               sinecure or well-earned trust

that your health was as indestructible as
your will. my mind wrestles with possible pictures:
the victorian sensibility, the charcoal wool
              formality of your coats and vests, the trim

of your beard as sharp as the crease of your
collar—how would these du boisian essentials
hold up to sub-saharan heat? would
              your critical faculties wilt in accra’s

urban tropics as i’ve read that westerners’
are wont to do? dr. du bois, i presume
you took the climate in stride, took to it,
              looked out your library’s louvered windows

onto a land you needed
neither to condemn nor conquer,
and let the sun tell you what you already knew:
             this was not a port to pass on.

your 95th birthday photo found you bathed
in white cloth, cane still in hand, sharing a smile
with a head of state who knew your worth—joy
             that this nation’s birth occurred in time

for you to step out of a cold, cold storm
into outstretched arms. would your pan-
african dream have survived a dictatorial
             nkrumah, an nkrumah in exile? you took

the prerogative of age and died without telling,
without knowing. a half-century later, here
in the country where you were born, i look
             into a screen and watch as, near and far, a pan-

demic of violence and abuse staggers the planet.
we seed the world with blood, grow
bleeding, harvest death and the promise
             of more. when i turn bitter, seeing no potential

for escape, i think of the outrages you saw—wars,
lynchings, genocide, mccarthy, communism’s
failure to rise above corrupting power
             any better than capitalism had, the civil rights

movement’s endless struggle—and how
you kept writing and walking, looking
for what you knew was out there. your memory,
             your tireless radiant energy, calls me

to my work, to my feet, insisting
that somewhere on the earth, freedom is
learning to walk, trying not to fall,
             and, somewhere, laboring to be born.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

POEM: "Deux Trous Rouges au Côté Droit"

Deux Trous Rouges au Côté Droit

                                        Arthur Rimbaud et les milliards d’autres

How long since war first broke out
vexing the moment, the tipping point
deux trous rouges au côté droit
was it ten thousand years before
shouting turned into bombings
deux trous rouges au côté droit
deliberate bloodshed that repeated
walks of anguish for the rest of time
deux trous rouges au côté droit
the real rage of being human
going to the village well for water
deux trous rouges au côté droit
the sudden soldiers of sharp death
and then the ditches filled with rain?

                                                Anzac Day 25/4/15

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Friday, April 24, 2015

POEM: "But You See It, Don't You?"

But You See It, Don't You?

The clouds perfect, reflected
in a pristine watercourse. Sunny
and warm. Interesting breeze off the hills.
They (the old ones) sit outside in the sun.
But every place there is a shop, people
scattering sunflower seeds and waiting
for the next busloads of you and me.
And you wonder, why duplicate beauty
and why do it like that? It was just itself
and minding its own business, like a cat.
No point to anything but its own rest.
But if you can take a photo of something
the people want to look at, it's real money.
(Spirit was moved, it took a real deep breath)
Money that the perfect clouds tried to stop
with intemperate rain. They thunderstruck 
the village, asking for it to listen up and mop.
To no avail. The river grew rubbish. Plants died.
Today, they (the young ones) spend their days
snotting on the steps, or fast asleep. Tomorrow
it's about their phones trying to talk with ghosts.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Jiang Hao Poem

The Shape Of The Ocean

Every time you ask about the shape of an ocean
I should bring you two bags of ocean water.
This is ocean's shape, like a pair of eyes,
or the shape of ocean that eyes have seen. 

You touch them, as if wiping away two burning tears, 
as tears are the ocean’s shape, too, the clarity
springing from the same deep soul.
Putting the bags together will not
make the ocean wider. They are still fresh,
as if two non-fish will soon swim out.
You sprinkle the water to the sand of flour,
the bread, also, is the shape of the ocean.
Before you slice it with a sharp sail
it leaves, like a departing boat. The plastic bags
left on the table also have the ocean's shape, flat
with tides retreating from the beaches.
When the real tide goes away
there’s salt left, shaped as the ocean too.
You don't believe? I should bring you a bag
of water and a bag of sand, the shape of ocean.
You affirm, you deny; then you non-affirm,
and non-deny? Go on and try out yourself,
as this is your shape too. But you say
“I’m only the image of myself.”

(2003) Tr. Ming Di and Afaa Weaver (2009)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Fanny Howe Poem

A Poem For Ciaran

The stroll from my cell
along the path above the donkeys
past a door open, a door shut
and a strong smell of wood
and cigarettes ends where
music helps white marguerites
cut through the masonry.

Dark for words with a clicking wren
a yellow tit and over the clover a
shovel and a rustle of grain.
He's training calves with shouts and food
to follow him to another field
before the second bell.

Broom loops over the buttercups.
These names
give birth to cones and needles, ferns
with mini-sacs of pollen attached.
It only takes one shot of spittle on green
for my brother to explain the sexual life
of the forest and honeybees.

Simon says he would like to live alone
in a cottage with a garden,
no humans, no obligations. Solitary
I prefer a pod while he likes hives.
We confess we both wear armor
outside our habitats.

Water was our first armor before our skin.
Then came the bristle of sunshine.
And a thickening of blood into oil
or syrup in the lower veins.

I hate the thistledown
covering my prototype now
interior layer cowering at power
or shout, but can laugh
with the one who has sap under
his skin pouring the bucket
the hand is carrying.

Brother, help me find an animal
who will rescue me from
sharp delirium of fear beyond armor
and my friends the birds
by an open window: to be clear
would be wonderful.
A sigh without the ghostly gasps
that accompany a certain voice.
Still I still do desire more
of the kind no one can see or hear.
Not that second, rasping breath of triumph.
Find me instead
more like the breathy Saint Bernard.
But a little dog
A cask of brandy hanging at his neck


Saturday, April 18, 2015

POEM: "When The Show Is Over"

When The Show Is Over

Special applause for
the sunset on guitar
the nightfall on drums
the after-party on bass
& Orpheus who's done
a runner with our money
thank you all for coming!

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Friday, April 17, 2015

POEM: "Pick A Flower, Any Flower"

Pick A Flower, Any Flower

The farthest star is moving
flowers strangely disappear
dans les champs de l'observation
le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés

it is well that we work the fields
we've looked closely at small things

a little dog with its tongue out
the beggar with her hand out
a sick man with his dick out
no prize for guessing wrong
risk sleeps upon the plains

but if it were finally possible 
I mean lasting relief from pain 
liberation from confusion 
would you actually do it?

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Jennifer Militello Poem

Ode to Love

Place its toothpicked pit in water, watch the grist
of its insides grow. Witness its populous bloom,

honeycombed with rough. Its cobblestones grip
the heart in its mitt, a closed fist thickened

and gritty as silt. The swamp of the plumb beat
adamant as weeds. The dish of which is salted

by complexities or cries. It is a house in which
we cannot live, the quiver on the arrow

we cannot launch. It grows late over Nevada
as we watch. Strikes its gullies: we grow burnt

as a moth. Mimics a sleep of archives and
the small lies all forget. Mimics all laughter

broken by the time it leaves the mouth.
With its moving parts, its chimes, its gleam,

it muddies our archways, lying low, gives off
noise and steam; its mechanics clear the fence.

It must be wooed. Must be quieted. Hush. It must
be soothed. Has a snag. Has a bleed. A drape.

Flaps awkwardly, at its edges, a heron. At
its center, a wide bottom perfect with fish.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Marianne Moore Poem

He Made This Screen

not of silver nor of coral,
but of weatherbeaten laurel.

Here, he introduced a sea
uniform like tapestry;

here, a fig-tree; there, a face;
there, a dragon circling space—

designating here, a bower;
there, a pointed passion-flower.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

POEM: "Prologue d'un Conte de Fées"

Prologue d'un Conte de Fées

In that blue corner lies an exception
A pretty brief rose and a brief squirrel
But not just any corner of forgotten dust
Never to be found again, nor just any squirrel
Bushy-tailed, eyes gleaming, chewing nuts

Is this a containment of a natural situation?

Ah, but still more a box than a wrecked bed
Though less than a coffin (though much more)
It’s my old collection of lambent red, I speak
Of those years together, of all the time it took
To reassemble me, and when she saw it.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Elaine Feinstein Poem

The Medium

My answer would have to be music
which is always deniable, since in my
silence, which you question, is only a landscape
of water, old trees and a few irresolute
birds. The weather is also inconstant.
Sometimes the light is golden, the leaves unseasonable.
And sometimes the ice is red, and the moon
hangs over it, peeled, like a chinese fruit.
I am sorry not to be more articulate.
When I try, the words turn ugly as rats and
disorder everything, I cannot be quiet,
I want so much to be quiet and loving.
If only you wanted that. My sharpest thoughts
wait like assassins always in the dry wheat. They
chat and grin. Perhaps you should talk to them?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

POEM: "For The Territory"

For The Territory 

Lights out for the Territory 
one day (you know it's coming)
speaking with snakes as he crosses
the riverbank, and shakes the grass
and watches how the horizon moves

Carries a heavy old pack, a G.I. poncho
impermeable enough, and clothes around
a single book that keeps changing its words
the poetry of the world busy in a storm, cars
passing him by, sometimes the driver honks

Direction suggests itself in wind
the wind is directed by hope, which
could have been indicated by love, if it
hadn’t just started to piss down, if he hadn’t
just seen a bolt of lightning explode a tree

After a while he starts laughing hard
with what has to be a certain divinity, gods
just as wet and cold as he is, the Territory
receding and succeeding till the gray sun rises
and when he rounds the bend you’re waiting.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

painting: Mark Rothko, "Blue, Green and Brown"

Monday, April 6, 2015

MUSIC: Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" (1969)

One look at her publicity photo and you'd think that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Then you might study her eyes, her nose, her mouth and her chin. Ignore the illusion. Here the great Peggy Lee interprets a Leiber and Stoller song, "If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing, break out the booze and have a ball..."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Frank Stanford Poem

Cotton You Lose in the Field

Some bad whiskey
I drink by myself
just like you
when this wind
blows as it does
in the delta
where a lost hearing aid
can be taken
for a grub worm
when the black constellations
make you swim backwards
in circles of blood
stableboys ruin their hands
for a while
and a man none of us
can do without
breaks his neck
jumping over some hill
chasing the fox
of a half-pint
and a fine-blooded horse
is put out of its misery
even the young sisters
of the boys we run with
we would give our fingers
to touch them again
but this war
seeps back into us
little insecticide
and the white cricket of those days
drags itself off the hook
there are no more fish
there is no more bait
the rivers are formed by the tears of sports fans
we try to pour a trail of salt
as if making a long fuse
with a gunpowder keg
we try to swim away from the gym
like slugs with gills
the girls from the other school
step off the bus
the clouds are weighed in at the gin
there is a pattern to all this
like a weave of a skirt
we all go crazy from looking

(ca. 1975)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

POEM: "Over The Mountains, Blow!"

Over The Mountains, Blow!

                                              for Philip Levine                                               

                           "Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."
                             from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Charlie Parker, Bird, a cautious bird
though he was a man, with a tail of music

It is sixty years away. The updraught here
waiting for more filler, killer of time...

…they later wrote, all that rising passion
a footnote to others,
” wrote Philip Levine

(I wouldn’t feel bad either. A better man than me
walked him up the stairs, pulled off his boots)

That’s the problem. Rise, to hear it magnificent
then come back down, to find you can't play it

Lover Man, where did you go
   high as an Asian goose?

The others bang their pots and pans
to make sure some birds will never land

Certain flights will have nervous captains
and instruments lie at the bottom of the sea

After the Dial recordings and the gigs, Bird 
took his few dollars and didn't fly to NYC

(Probably a more dangerous place to score
but California had sunshine and oranges)

I lay me down, this could be my last one too
I would also have a memory more than a dream

A seagull decides it wanders off the sand
then the road decides it lands in feathers.

© 2015 Rob Schackne