Tuesday, May 31, 2016

POEM: "A Poem for Tobermory"

A Poem for Tobermory

A cat is sleeping
beneath an apple tree
when an apple falls
from its branch
and lands next to him
with a thud
which wakes the cat
who jumps up frightened
and quickly climbs the tree.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Jim Harrison Poem (3)

Counting Birds

As a child, fresh out of the hospital
with tape covering the left side
of my face, I began to count birds.
At age fifty the sum total is precise and astonishing, my only secret.
Some men count women or cars
they've owned, their shirts --
long sleeved and short sleeved --
or shoes, but I have my birds,
excluding, of course, the extraordinary
days: the twenty-one thousand
snow geese and sandhill cranes at
Bosque del Apache, the sky blinded
by great frigate birds in the Pacific
off Anconcito, Ecuador; the twenty-one
thousand pink flamingos an Ngorongoro Crater
in Tanzania; the vast flocks of sea birds
on the Seri coast of the Sea of Cortez
down in Sonora that left at nightfall,
then reappearing, resuming
their exact positions at dawn;
the one thousand cliff swallows nesting in the sand cliffs of Pyramid Point,
their small round burrows like eyes,
really the souls of the Anasazi who flew
here a thousand years ago
to wait the coming of the Manitou.

And then there were the usual, almost deadly
birds of the soul -- the crow with silver
harness I rode one night as if she
were a black, feathered angel.
the birds I became to escape unfortunate
circumstances -- how the skin ached
as the feathers shot out toward the light;
the thousand birds the dogs helped
me shoot to become a bird (grouse, woodcock,
duck, dove, snipe, pheasant, prairie chicken, etc.).

On my deathbed I'll write this secret
number on a slip of paper and pass
it to my wife and two daughters.
It will be a hot evening in June
and they might be glancing out the window
at the thunderstorm's approach from the west.
Looking past their eyes and a dead fly
on the window screen I'll wonder
if there's a bird waiting for me in the onrushing clouds.
O birds, I'll sing to myself, you've carried
me along on this bloody voyage,
carry me now into that cloud
into the marvel of this final night.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Wang Jiaxin Poem


I cannot visit your grave to offer flowers
but am destined to spend all my life reading your poetry
across a blizzard of a thousand miles
days of celebration smashed to pieces, my soul trembling

finally able to write what's in one's heart of hearts
still unable to live what's in one's heart of hearts
this is the tragedy we share
your mouth is even more reticent, that is

a secret of fate, you can't say it out loud
all you can do is endure, endure, while your pen leaves ever deeper marks—
in order to obtain, you relinquish
in order to be born, you demand that you die, die all the way

this is you, from woe upon woe you find me
you test me, making my life suddenly painful
from snow to snow, on the roaring, muddy Beijing
buses I read your poetry, in my heart I

shout out all those noble names
all that exile, sacrifice, testimony, all those
souls meeting in the quiver of mass
all that glitter inside death, and my

very own soil! tears in the eyes of Northern livestock
maple leaves on fire in the wind
darkness in the people's stomachs, hunger, how could I
cast all that aside and talk about myself

just like you must weather the attack of a blizzard yet more fierce
so as to stand guard over your Russia, your
Larissa, the beautiful, the one not to be wounded again
Your adventure one dares not believe

with the cold of snow all over, right in front of your eyes!
and then, by candlelight, there's Levitan's autumn
and in Pushkin's rhyme there's death and praise and sin
spring is here, the bare black of boundless earth

turn your soul toward all of this, poet
this is happiness, it is the highest decree that rises from the heart
it is not hardship, it is all this that you shoulder in the end
still unstoppable, coming forth to search for us

to dig us up: it demands symmetry
or a requiem raging louder than its echo
and we, how would we be worthy to appear before your grave?
this is a crying shame! this is the Beijing winter in December

this is sorrow in your eyes, inquiries, interrogation
like a bell sound weighing down on my soul
this is pain, this is happiness, to say it out loud
I need ice and snow to fill my life


(Trans. Maghiel van Crevel)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

POEM: "The last line is great"

“The last line is great”

The last line is great
sent into outer space
for alien bacteria to read
illuminated by the 5 moons
then for a million years
before any creature invents fire
a rainy Sunday in Cambodia
before one creature invents fire
then for a million years
illuminated by the 5 moons
for alien bacteria to read
sent into outer space
the last line is great

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Friday, May 27, 2016

A He Xiaozhu Poem

Leftover Sounds, Leftover Peels


For so many years
I've dreamt of writing poetry like a conversation
Words just rolling out

For many years, I have also said
said many things, but what I’ve said wasn’t like that

In self-reflection I ask:
Why is this? Why can't poetry
ever be straightforward,
can't it be like the feathers on a bird,
like the leaves on a mulberry tree


When I was in Chinese class
I was still too small
but my courage was conversely large,
munching literature gnawing words, that starving look of
swallowing the jujube and even its pit

Only now do I know that
from early on language was like a sharp blade
cutting up my heart
never to be mended again
Cows die under the knife
and can never again use their tongues
to be near that fresh grass


Sometimes I am scared to sleep
Because after falling asleep language becomes cluttered
difficult to control and command
Some verbs go to ill-fitting places
As if apples did not always
hang on apple trees

But sometimes I also yearn to sleep
Yearn for that untimely verb
to enter the dominion of pondering day and night
That is the whole world speaking from back to front
All mirrors shattered to pieces
Words not always being spoken from one’s mouth
The time I was most pleased
was when the tips of my toes
poured out the prattling of lovers


I want to talk about fish again
This thing entangled with my life
Every time it swishes
it makes me shiver

It gurgles
making me continuously dream, those sounds
always want me to think
that I’m close to the headwaters
I already have no need to open my mouth,
don't need to open my mouth


Some sounds are left over
Some peels are left over, how do we deal with them?

When I was a child
I liked to break up Chinese characters, in those
meaningless brush strokes look for secrets
I am not Han, yet am also distant from my own ethnicity
I don’t understand my mother tongue, those folksongs
are only ever guests in the Han language

What else can I do?
maybe forever listen to those whirling maple leaves in my heart


(Trans. S. Dayton 2007)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

POEM: "The Scar House Factory"

The Scar House Factory
                                     for Greg Gamage

That will be a glorious reduction of heaven
without the buzzes of electronic space
shrunk to the size of the mote in the eye
then the way our dreams will wake us
to laugh together at the kitten who has
managed a climb to the top of the bookcase
and upside down is worrying a tasselled bookmark
to leave a claw-mark on a book of Chinese history
and the scar house factory is dark and boarded up
amid the cuts and brokenness and the missing whats
of all we held and all the gentleness we have left
a lifetime of books and animals that made us fools
while our birthmarks are the only words we study now.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

POEM: "Fancy That"

Fancy That

The animals the fishes and the birds fly

the emus scoot when they’re frightened
they were so big Als das Kind Kind war
the bugs plant life and the Swamp Thing
I think of them as I drink a strong coffee
the cheese pears bacon the satay sauce
the butter oils and chemical food flavours
nothing in the sky tonight no moon no stars
I see Dorothea Lange’s old photos of battlers
who entered the Depression for just a minute

now it's like we’ll destroy anything for a feed
O the expense by which nothing ever comes

to see the parting clouds the moon the mess
you want to write the poem that fixes Babylon.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Xi Chuan Poem


As I grow up, I begin to have a shadow. I cannot ignore it, unless
it merges into another, greater shadow — night. But whose shadow is
night? The earth casts its shadow on the moon, hence the lunar eclipse:
the moon casts its shadow on the earth, hence the solar eclipse. All of us
live in shadow. On the other side of the shadow lies fire; and shadow
gives us our only basis for measuring the sun. In daily life, because
there is only one sun, nothing can have multiple shadows; as for our souls,
the shadow is the sum total of desire, selfishness, fear, vanity, jealousy,
cruelty and death. Shadow endows things with reality. To strip a thing
of its reality, one only needs to strip it of its shadow. The sea has
no shadow; therefore it feels like an illusion. Objects in our dreams
have no shadow; therefore they form another world. Thus people have
every reason to believe that ghosts have no shadow.


(Trans. Xi Chuan and Inara Cedrins)

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Yang Lian Poem/MUSIC: Gong Lina and Shina

FADO: Return of the Sea 

Thread drawn from the flesh 
Is like a sleeping child    softness of the child 
Demarcates how far I must look into the distance 

Endlessly stripping off a piece of gleaming dolphin skin 
Ripples of light sing    from birth 
Scattering jade blue    sundried words 

A million years of song await that return 
A million years    every instant is a cliff 
The silvery white of fish bones suddenly penetrates the body 

Fine sand diffuses the speed of light underwater 
Light from the lamp on the sunken ship’s mast 
Night after night plumbs    the depth of the heart’s dead seabed 

Sing    on the locked sea 
The wrecks’ love stabs blind the eyes    wounds 
Ripples of onlookers surround the wound in the home village 

Sing    a thread of blood in a sexual encounter 
Does not deny the child’s pain 
Scorched orphan splashed up by the reef    at birth 

Is shattered    and in life is shattered while growing 
My focus follows the tides within the name 
Growing to maturity    goblet with the sea’s bitter saltiness 

Always being removed    at the edge of the sky 
An open louvered window    sea gulls 
Fly towards it always    returning to a single singing voice 

100,000 years of brilliance    100,000 clouds 
This cloud holds tight a small face    burnishing it with gold 
To love the sea is to love you    and the fate that I swallow


(Trans. Mabel Lee)


Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Qin Fei Poem

A Qin Fei Poem

I've written 10,000 poems     in 5 years 
and my treasure     hasn't yet been found
I don't believe     in literary circles anymore
broken into pieces     it's the hard truth
rubbish is stacked     on bookstore shelves
never once     was there a family of poets
shit     shit     shit     goodnight


Version by Rob Schackne (2016)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Rui Xiao Poem (4)

The Madness of Crowds

The madness of crowds
in this world of chaos
we the people clearly
made ourselves crazy

In the cacophony
you who seemed like
a gun of calmness
you kept misfiring

Wearing white linen
in full mourning now
losing mother and father
you entered your dark age

Where there is nothing
to be done about the dark
or the consequences of dark
the dark just the dark more dark

Living in the same flow of time
different places switching
loves like floating wood
moves toward a dirty future

Life goes on fast and broken
from the dread and déja vu
and in every bad dream alas
you will open fire on yourself.


(Trans. Rui Xiao and Rob Schackne)

Friday, May 20, 2016

A C.P. Cavafy Poem (2)

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.


(Trans. Edmund Keeley)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

POEM: "When It Stopped"

When It Stopped

Almost summer 
on a gentle night
you can kill a poem
writing it too carefully
anyway by writing too easily

When did Shanghai stop loving you 
was it at the train station
was it in the hotel room
did a malignancy grow
out of the subway system?

Name me a street and spit 
kill the heart and disconnect
disappear in the twilight

walk your invisible walk
past me I am silent

If you can kill a city 
keep the countryside intact
wander the fields of the mind
kicking stones like poems
down a dark and endless track

It was between the rains
yes it was one summer night
when I asked for laughter
for a kindness and a kiss
when the city stopped loving me

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Shuijing Zhulian Poem

Where The Disappearing Stops

the first thing to disappear was a name followed by
         endless road-signs
the hand I hold out the window is urged by an opposite wind
              to stay
if it’s not Beijing that becomes a ruin then it has to
          be me
in the joy of my one-woman disappearance, as far as everyone
          in my past is concerned
I am nearly as secret as decease.

through identical entrances we return once again
                to Beijing
Beijing’s clock time Beijing’s air temperature
             Beijing’s anxieties
none of these stop simply because of my momentary

in the time that I’ve been out of town
I have not been mourned
have not be called on
have not been asked after
the sun we use now is the same one we used in the past
once more Beijing has brought me
unforeseen lightness and heartache

Trans. Simon Patten 2003

Monday, May 16, 2016

POEM: "Imagine"


                         for John Lennon

Well I wonder if you can
imagine all the people
hungry imagining you
the children who are beaten
imagine the next cruelty
the tears the terrible fears
the million factory stiffs
imagine the mine workers
well I wonder if you can
go underground hear the siren
feel the weight without religion
now imagine you can't move
well I wonder if you can
imagine a world without music
the end of sound and song
of sight and thought and colour
imagine the rocks and walls
the enduring pain and sorrow
imagining all the people
well I wonder if you can

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Sunday, May 15, 2016

POEM: "I walked too far"

“I walked too far”

I walked too far I didn’t go far enough
the miles stretched so beautifully
at the end of you I guess was me
well shit I think it’s in the blood
the past is a leaking water bottle
how I loved to watch you sleeping
your breath was always milky
how many days was I thirsty
I dressed warmly for you
mountains of joys and cares
that long track what perils
took your hand and ran away

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Saturday, May 14, 2016

POEM: "P.S. Palestine"

P.S. Palestine

                              for Ghassan Zaqtan

That knowledge can kill you

If your day doesn’t begin in

Torrents of breath and blood

Plants get rescued the sprout

Natters on about tomorrow

Ignores the shells and sparrows

Before the demonstrations

None of us quite believed in

The shouting made us hoarse
The final moments wavering

Of course violence mounts slowly

Looking back out there rocks thrown

We practise it too poetry is dangerous.

© 2012 Rob Schackne

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Dean Young Poem

Bird-Shaped Cliff

Sometimes I think about climbing
a telephone pole but then what?
Telephone poles now have almost nothing
to do with telephones but I liked
how a curly cord went into the receiver
then a sturdier black wire went into the wall
through the wall out to a pole then
miles and miles of wire pole wire pole
sometimes underground underwater to
whomever you needed who’d dry her hands
thinking Gosh now what or Thank heavens
or Oh no then say Hello as a question
or a lie then the intimate negotiations
and sorry confessions and flat jokes
would take word form from excited electrons
moving through the wire and sometimes
a cowboy would suddenly gallop to town
through dust and cactus Yup a storm’s
a-coming to call someone but the fates
always intend so the cowboy must listen
for the rest of his days to the phone
make a funny insect-performing-Beckett
sound until the operator comes on and says,
Sorry but that calling area's been hit
by the blast and the cowboy thinks,
What blast? What blast? riding off
into the moonlessly blue chaparral.


Monday, May 9, 2016

POEM: "Of The Silence Before Dawn"

Of The Silence Before Dawn 

                 Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.                                                                                         Pablo Neruda

Tonight I can write the saddest lines 
you wrote when you remembered losing her
the sky is still there to see her starry eyes again
I sit at my desk feeling the spaces of the infinite
the memories unfold like fresh sheets on a bed
night is almost finished and the birds start to sing
when at last I lay down my pen and try to sleep
these words settle on my soul like dew on a pasture
you wrote when you looked for her voice in the wind
I fell down in the street, I got up in the street
I fell in love with the morning of the street
its sick airs and purpose, just another day
that didn't care much what I did, if my walk
was to here or there, to sit, or watch, or wait

in all the silence and the poems I can't keep
it didn't matter where I was trying to get
I was in a vague path in her direction, she was
sleeping while I was floating, and we almost met.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Sunday, May 8, 2016

POEM: "Red Confucians"

Red Confucians

I lean towards the radio
(I'm waiting for someone)
I drive a taxi in Qufu
77th descendant of Confucius

around us the streets are lit
it’s the dawn of a new era 
exemplary model workers
at the end of their shift
the sun rises in the yard
and all so kissed by sorrow
the laughter of the rich
the neglect of the poor
I can hardly read a book 
now the fares are rising
and everyone is mad.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Thursday, May 5, 2016

POEM: "Adventures Of An Incognito"

Adventures Of An Incognito

                                                for Andrew Duguid

Prestidigitator, smoke and shaman
Out of the shadows, from the outside
Carter, butcherman, cowboy, business
Of poetry and slide, the sun is setting
When the flocks of birds wheel away
Never was a man so incognito, he says
With a pint in hand and a dry stilletto
Parks his ass on a stool and tells them
His stories of in-between, the outback
Min Min lights and the Visitor he saw

Never was a man so incognito, he says
The night has fallen low, the bar flies
Will insist on buying him many drinks
He will struggle for less than a minute
Tomorrow is only Thursday, excuse him
He needs the dark to get ready. Thank you.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

READINGS: Pascal Quignard Quotes

Pascal Quignard

Without solitude, without the test of time, without the passion for silence, without the excitation and retention of the whole body, without a frightened stumbling, without wandering into a region of shade and invisibility, without memory of animality, without melancholy, without isolation in melancholy, there is no joy.

Who does not love what he has lost? We must love the lost, and love even the Erstwhile in that which is lost.

Human societies, derived imperceptibly from animal societies, are doomed to a cycle of predation and wintering – of war and respite from war – which is increasingly out of attunement with the linguistic, technical, mathematical, industrial, financial, linear temporality that humanity believes reflects its nature but that produces a rhythm by which it does not live.

Writing brings into being a gap, a discrepancy. It disjoints dialogue which was previously indistinct and continuous. The letter is the staying, the deferring, the sabbatical, the – transitory or fallacious or mendacious or fantastical or fictitious – other world. Writing institutes the contre-temps -- the delay.

Those who try to collude with the system will become its images.

Humanity can no longer entrust anything of itself to anything.

Suddenly infinitely amplified by the invention of electricity and the multiplication of its technology, music has become incessant, aggressing night and day, in the commercial streets of city centers, in shopping centers, in arcades, in department stores, in bookstores, in lobbies of foreign banks, even at the beach, in private apartments, in restaurants, in taxis, in the metro, in airports. Even in airplanes during takeoff and landing.

All is not said.

That which claims not to be concealed is mere semblance.

One reaches an age when one no longer meets life but time. One ceases to see life as living. One sees time in the act of devouring life raw. One’s heart seizes up. One clings to driftwood just to see a little more of the spectacle bleeding from one end of the world to the other, and yet not fall in.

The person who writes is someone who tries to redeem what has been pawned.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

POEM: "Once In A Hawthorn Bar"

Once In A Hawthorn Bar

I once said you should be
able to look along any line,
keep the light, grab hold of

its angle, and the hope on it.

Only this world, so full of 

objective correlative, and
with these days, I’m not sure 

whether that promise can be kept.

Dissociated sensibility shall 

abjure the lines and thoughts
that set you apart from the 

objectified world. Forget the promise.

Instead, the keen eyes amongst 

us are in a hide, peering out,
wondering whether this is all 

and whether the goodnight is final.

Or if, like it, we share the same 

impulse to know ourselves.
It's a large thought. Damn it, 

I am stunned by all I haven’t learnt.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Monday, May 2, 2016

POEM: "Aurum"


                        for Amy Liu

Man’s good fortune
and entitlements
remain unknown
amidst all the bounty
when incompletion
is the sullen news

When tedium replaces
the last dinners
of what we hold dear
by dearness missed
whatever is, is not
consequence is no cook

Picture please
an open-mouthed girl
moving sleep
quietly dreaming an arc
beyond the rainbow
beyond discussion or love

Picture please
ice walls and frozen gold
inside the standard
we teach the children
who hide against
the day they have to pay

A wise friend told me
keep a distance
and it soon becomes
the only way between people
as meanwhile
the world gets colder and colder.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Sunday, May 1, 2016

POEM: "An Ape's Raincoat"

An Ape's Raincoat

I.   Stella Fugio

There are stairs to take
and steps to consider, after all
the slender things we are
stars can wait a little longer
distance must be reached
love is met on the landing
(a demon black cat flashes
past, between our future legs)
we recognize each other
one going up the other down
we hardly have time to speak
platitudes of stairs and star
a bad day ahead of us or behind 

a meeting later, always later.

II.   An Ape's Raincoat

No more going back
it's a playful galaxy
(all majestic dress)
stars are mine and thine and we
their celestial seawrack

Still more vintage wine

upon the leaning trellis
(takes a year to press)
a star gently climbs the stairs
as he waits to hear her sigh

Still more petrichor

on the breasts of a woman
(a star to caress)
who so loves each sleepy rain
her lover listens to her snore

Still more empty shells
that listen on the seashore
(still the seagulls' mess)
to time in its giggling core
pumping stars from distant wells.   

III.   Bashō Was The Snowball

I just wrote a poem
about reaching space
at the speed of light

Three bags full of
cock & steam. I guess
that’s all. Empty shovel

We try remembering
every memory to forget
which ones are special

Enlightened thought
the chance that physics
has always waited for

The possibility exists
somewhere. The translation
looks into a cold mirror

Bashō was the snowball
sharp-shooter of hats. But
that was then. It’s still winter

I’m still writing. So
are you. The next one
comes at the speed of light.

IV.   The Extra Weight

I don’t believe the
writing on the wall

Mixed bird offerings
or that insects wake

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

Even if the meal is
found wanting is

Counting gematria really
the dessert of wisdom?

My mind's made up
the spring is cleansed

My life is the sum
of all my choices

at least the choices
that waited for me

But         the       weight
       extra      but

When birds come closer
when mountaintops are sand

When the scales
are finally settled

How do you return
the angel’s stare?

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Joan Miró, "Une Étoile Caresse Le Sein d'Une Négresse" (1938)