Monday, June 27, 2016

POEM: "Simply Trouble"

Simply Trouble

                             With your stomach pump
                             And your hook-and-ladder dreams

                             Neil Young, “Ambulance Blues”

I rocked up to the frame
I thought it was the fence

Give me a break next time
a little butter with the bread

Are there a million troops
shit, maybe, I don't think so

The barrier reef is a bed
the sandwich is my sleep

My arm is the baseball
that was caught in China

The mountain is sheep hides
on the cheap and elegant side

My horse is tomorrow
and the fences are imaginary

And the river is new mountains
and the old hill has run away

You can rock up anywhere you like
but you might want to avoid the street

The rooftop pigeons

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Saturday, June 25, 2016

POEM: "Event Horizon"

Event Horizon

Ebb and flow, nothing before
the event horizon fell on me
featherlight of a hot life with ice
the collected years, misunderstood

I chose her for the hair she wore
she laughed at the things I said

an alarming way of wearing pain
and sure an odd way with words

This isn't the story of the world
told by the fire, told in the wind
but of traffic, relapse, and delusion
old habits and misremembered love

At the table sits the air I breathe
the light is provided mostly free
once gifted in a silent transit
a most urgent universe of events.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Painting: Mark Rothko, "Blue Mark"

Thursday, June 23, 2016

POEM: "The Dream of the Snake"

The Dream of the Snake 

A horse shied from the track
I don’t remember any of that 
though a ghost once tried
to climb on top of me
I sent her back to mother
and my dreams thereafter
were merciful except for
when I was chased by the gods
it seems I had figured out
they had so fooled with time
that we could not be gods

I gathered all my poisons up
and going deep underground
I remember biting the earth
to remove all time forever
from the hinges of the world

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

POEM: "Gloop.Soup.Sand"


Sometimes a ditch
makes a body stop
gloop or soup or sand
one itch from staying there

one reason for altering a mind
anyway, this is my declaration
my didactic, my fierce invitation
it's the Sunday I'm in this bar

trying to write you this poem
it's a perfect autumn evening
I'm making notes to perfection
on the subject of making love

I wonder why more women don't
just make their menfolk laugh.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Painting: Edward Hopper, "People In The Sun"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

POEM: "I would enter"

“I would enter” 

                                for Yuhan

I would enter the gate
under the electric wires
and like Han Shan leave
the dust in the road
walk into the mountains
leaving no trace behind
except that I would take
my turtle and my cat
and at night by the fire
we would tell our stories
of reincarnation 

these desperate bids 
to live again
and how maybe
the Buddha got it wrong

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Monday, June 20, 2016

MUSIC: Stuart Rawlinson, "Eight Elegies" (2016)

...because you'll be happy you did.

POEM: "The Bicycle In A Tree"

The Bicycle In A Tree

The interpretive work
Of being human the dirt
Under those table legs the
Dirt under the speakers yes
The pretty dirt in our minds
The skirting boards the dust
That follows for ten months
The years that we just let go
There’s no point to it no 

All those bicycles in a tree
Being dumb seeking truth
A vacuum cleaning nothing
A loud monkey shedding hair.

© 2015 Rob Schackne

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Li Tianjing Poem

The Pain You See

See there’s a dark bone
our hero at the tip of a knife
in an old black and white movie

It shows an awful persistence–
the results are definitely positive.
The disease is in the bone.

The doctor’s report is written in cuneiform.
Birds come and turn over the leaves
before they leave a couple more.

Guess at the thing growing in the bone
some places more and some places less.
We wait for the numbers to be less.

In fear also dwells the pain.
My wife’s doctor holds it

a bloody stone in his hand.

What was taken out?
One pain that cannot be treated.
Such is the problem with ideology.


Version by Rob Schackne (2016)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Chi Lingyun Poem

A Kind of Poetry

To discover a tree's memories is impossible.

To seek a pebble's experience
 is also impossible.
We spy on water's motion

but in the end we still can't touch its core.

The cloud has always been there, we exhaust our energy
to understand its will, yet there's no hope
it will reveal the sky's mysteries.

Poetry also has the will of clouds

with words like rain, to avoid madness

it creates more madness. Just as when love

is written down, it loses half of its sincerity.
When explained, there is only a layer of sticky
mist left. No one is quick or deft enough

to capture poetry for long. Everything perfect
contains a dark cave.

I can't explain the attraction of this cave.

A kind of tranquility, which carries a greater sacrifice
undissolved by light. A kind of dizziness

from this shore to the farther shore, crossing freely.

It has enslaved every golden finger.

A wild cave, harboring minerals, ice and feathers

a few symbols, and I still don't know what it is.


(Trans. Eleanor Goodman and Shengqing Wu)




Friday, June 17, 2016

POEM: "It Looks Like It Hurts"

It Looks Like It Hurts 


I watch a friend 
killing mosquitoes
in a Shanghai restaurant
tonight with an
electric tennis racket
and yes me too
the slowing time
a minute watching
fifty years to remember
an owl came out at night
and I remember
the cat racing out
and still I wonder
what we would give to
go on living if we would
give up love and joy and art
and good food and learning
if most of us 
(say this very quietly)
would even give up
our minds


It looks like it would hurt
but of course Coke is the real thing
and the consumer is always the sucker
Coca-Cola & Disney the perfect marriage

What do they need us for?
Do I really want Minnie’s phone number?
When she finally takes off her costume
she spends the next four hours naked 

Mickey comes home at 3am 
with a dozen stolen Cokes 
he mixes with Bacardi and passes out
she poses like Barbie for a minute
and then cries for an hour 

it looks like it hurts

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Thursday, June 16, 2016

POEM: "Before Heaven"

Before Heaven

This time
I really thought
I would go to heaven
praise God
exhausted in victory
the sword slipping
from my grasp
O eternity
God is great
while the beams
of angels sing
my hand reaching
for her smile
and all the horrors
receding into morning
in a garden
full of flowers
there is only one God
I go for a walk
my sargeant calls

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A James McMichael Poem

The Cabin North Of It All

You build it where you will be heard only by chance
And at a great distance. The hammer is moss

And the saw moves like the wolf’s shoulder,
Smoothly, and with no sound. It is a good start.

The seasons themselves come singly, and you are still
North of it all, north of brooding on that later time

When it will be quieter, when the door will not hold,
When the raccoons, on their first night inside,

Will not trouble to be afraid, their heads
Bent in the squares of moonlight, dreaming of the north.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Linda Pastan Poem

After an Absence

After an absence that was no one’s fault
we are shy with each other,
and our words seem younger than we are,
as if we must return to the time we met
and work ourselves back to the present,
the way you never read a story
from the place you stopped
but always start each book all over again.
Perhaps we should have stayed
tied like mountain climbers
by the safe cord of the phone,
its dial our own small prayer wheel,
our voices less ghostly across the miles,
less awkward than they are now.
I had forgotten the grey in your curls,
that splash of winter over your face,
remembering the younger man
you used to be.

And I feel myself turn old and ordinary,
having to think again of food for supper,
the animals to be tended, the whole riptide
of daily life hidden but perilous
pulling both of us under so fast.
I have dreamed of our bed
as if it were a shore where we would be washed up,
not this striped mattress
we must cover with sheets. I had forgotten
all the old business between us,
like mail unanswered so long that silence
becomes eloquent, a message of its own.
I had even forgotten how married love
is a territory more mysterious
the more it is explored, like one of those terrains
you read about, a garden in the desert
where you stoop to drink, never knowing
if your mouth will fill with water or sand.


Monday, June 13, 2016

A Yuhan Poem

No Windmill Is Real

The red wine and coffee
the Alfred Hrdlicka stone carvings
the vineyard, the medieval castles
they all display a different light
painted in a pool of country green

When the thunder comes
half the sky is dark, the other half is bright
with the blue and red of space

Then I see a rough red hue along
a window that doesn’t belong to me
liverworts growing in concrete windmills
not Oedipus fleeing his divine predictions

The mysterious mood is stolen
order confronts the mess
a little old, a little depressed
the sun visits Le Corbusier’s chapel
and removes my breath and stomach

The Just reside on Easter Island
where metal towers and gypsum mines
will gladly crush the Spirit

I’ll give you both of them
I’ll give you the madness
of kindergarten children

This morning a boy didn’t eat his breakfast
he smiled at me in the Garden
he said he didn’t know the name 

of the sweet fragrance from Heaven.


Version by Rob Schackne (2016)

Sunday, June 12, 2016

An Osip Mandelstam Poem


Not One Word

Not one word.
Purge the mind of what the eye has seen:
Woman, prison, bird.

Otherwise some wrong dawn
Your mouth moves
And a sudden pine
Needles through your nerves,

A trapped wasp crazes
In your brain,
And in the old desk's ink stain
A forest mazes

Inward and inward
To the unpicked
And sun-perfected

Where you now and now always
Must stand,
An infinite inch
Between that sweetness

And your hand.


An Osip Mandelstam Poem (2)

"Yet to die. Unalone still."

Yet to die. Unalone still.
For now your pauper-friend is with you.
Together you delight in the grandeur of the plains,
And the dark, the cold, the storms of snow.

Live quiet and consoled
In gaudy poverty, in powerful destitution.
Blessed are those days and nights.
The work of this sweet voice is without sin.

Misery is he whom, like a shadow,
A dog’s barking frightens, the wind cuts down.
Poor is he who, half-alive himself
Begs his shade for pittance.


(Trans. John High)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

POEM: "A tree somewhere"

"A tree somewhere"

A tree somewhere
three naked women
they look tired
of being looked at
a poem cloaked
in splendor
at the bottom
of someone's mind
the wind was cold
and somehow
they talked about
the angels of rain
things close to love
how that is
sometimes hard to see

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Friday, June 10, 2016

POEM: "Humans start"

“Humans start”

Humans start in different orbits 
like planets migrate over time
across different seas of love
the distance is immaterial
the wind inside the weather
touches a piece of fruit on a tree
and its short story is detached
the distance is immaterial
vanished by a summer rainbow
you lie in bed and remember
the distance is immaterial
rounds changed circles changed
space gathered up on a black map
what you really hear is gone.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Ben Maddow (David Wolff) Poem

The City

Children of the cold sun and the broken horizon,
0 secret faces, multitudes, eyes of inscrutable grief,
great breath of millions, in unknown crowds or alone,
rooms of dreamers above the cement abyss, —and I,
who all night restive in the unsleeping rain,
awoke and saw the windows covered with tears.

I heard, like the noise of melting rivers, the concourse of the living
all hours mingled, violent, murmuring, or bright:
the cheers; the radio; the metal shriek of the accident;
the whisper of hired affection, hit of the week,
applause; gunfire on the screen; and at night the tragic houses
issuing like voluble flame the outcries of the city.

Yet none pronounced the truth, no hand disclosed
the heartbreak behind the muted door, denying all.
I longed to read letters therefore which were never sent,
to pierce walls, covers, silences, part the sad lips,
to stand by warm bed and witness the instantaneous dream,
put my hand in men's foreheads and clasp the beating spring.

The girl in the park cried Juan! Juan! but it was not I.
None answered, but I felt the breath of unknowable love.
Dawn silent: an old woman climbed with dry hands
the iron stoop where her daughter feared to give birth.
None spoke, but waited to watch the discolored twins drawn forth,
wrapped on the bed together, born to neglect.

Light on the painful eyelids, agony of beginnings;
the assault naked against the edges of the world;
then the long childhood inexplicably kind or cruel;
the boy fingering himself, the flush of the blind pulse,
the maiden touching the first blood of sex;
still ignorant of desire, the double wilderness.

Life smiles with heavy breast: her children run
forward with shouts, hunger, the impulse of free affection;
but each gets punished for his open face, each falls
twisted, twisted returns, gets dreaded blow, and turns
back screaming into that room at last, into himself
obscure, restful with lonely forces, like the sea.

The young return, —but cold, with skin-tight mask,
seeing this city honors most the most false:
the lady behind glass, untouched by human hand,
with plaster pubis, thigh, and docile belly lifting
the admired fabric up for sale, —
while the living long to wear her enameled eyes.

Within is dearer merchandise: men and numbered words
cold, vehement, or admiring, as the price demands;
where the painter hangs for sale beside his work,
the critic, the peddler, and the smiling acrobat;
toady and plagiarist for the price of one;
and a masked surgeon offering jars of happiness.

The sheen, the glamour, and the marvelous fanfare,
the alluring neon and the porcelain smile,
the arranged caress of furs, the forearm blazing with dollars,
the headlines bought in advance for the subnormal beauty;
and all life long the shoppers with laboring hearts
desire and possess at last: the corpse in cellophane.

Black halloween! I walked with the crooked nun;
heard the cruel father sob in the empty room,
and households dining together in daily hatred;
the posed hysteria, and the idiot calm; and those
whose love was poisoned with delay, I saw still smile,
— and felt in myself forever the anguish of understanding.

0 lost people! 0 vendors of desperate myths!
Who prints the cold path of stars that promise voyages?
Who markets the daydream to the tubercular,
puts obscene clothing on the frigid wife,
makes woman its soft automaton, and man its bed,
and brands the false face on the living flesh of the child?

I read the smooth journals, but they gave no news of this.
Who rents the cells of this city? Whom shall I learn to kill?
The mysterious pencil? The dealer in abstract food?
Or past the chrome-steel and the politeness of corridors,
with row of buttons summoning tears or flattery,
at his old powerful desk, the immaculate imbecile?

As I walked on the glossy avenue, and with morose fire
thought the immense proud fraudulence to vivisect,
I heard the derision and the girls' duet of laughter
of two who stopped before me with flaunting hair,
insulting the photo of the noted man,
who, finger in his printed cheek, could not reply.

All three we drank together, mentioning love,
delights, friends, quick passion, and the fine pale sky.
So rapid cognac glittered in our heads,
while I to each gave sumptuous years; to one
her house with windows full of the green sea light;
and foretold one to have love wherever she goes.

And late, after the headlong passage of first desire,
now two alone, we lay awake in murmuring ease,
and spoke again of happiness, and of the elan of flight,
and as outdoors the high branch yielding to invisible air,
so she to her wish to learn the touch of that wand,
hold motor, and ride on the immeasurable gestures of space.

Night dwindling, from how many tranquil hands, white
morning extends the beautiful directions of the word;
luminous chasms, city of vertical south, north,
upward, dark march of windows, inlaid each by that star
softening with precious light in streams of dawn
toward the close court, the black leap, and the suicide's open eye.

Like a fall forward into time too fast, is death,
springing in each the coil of irreversible years:
the lymph and architecture of the self,
unique delirium, lust, and dreams of lightning,
the body remembered in luscious movement or at ease,
names lost forever, and childhood of wonderful snow.

Knees broken backward, refugees from life,
leaving behind the houses they have lived in,
the sweat on the walls, the toilet, the hateful embrace,
the colored mottoes and the step of the insane son;
or failure driving like point of dynamite into the heart
lifelong, till they enter the impossible wall.

0 space that lifts the monoplane strong did suck them down,
this act upon this stone; and shadows on it of living people,
noon, and dark twilight, and night with argon peaks,
matchless city, terrible, and I cried aloft
What monster, 0 what monstrous foot
here trod, leaving in blood the measure of its corruption?

Rages in this packed town, in this wilderness of hands,
beast over mankind, ruling with cruel mark;
on the delicate mind, on the beautiful mouth like syphilis,
sometime on everyone, on myself horrible I have seen it:
the perversion by money, wasting, mad, and universal,
measure of humanity, and its heavy assassin.

Here the strict labor of the many must support
the monotony of the useless; and luxury is got
with smiles, false kindness, marriage, or embezzlement;
he who can feign desire, praise poison, or hang by his teeth,
lives well, accumulates the powerful bond,
receives inhuman honor, —but the kind man is strangled.

Vaulting metropolis, under whose diagrams of eloquent light
wrestle decay and energy, both blind —
I went in your purest hours, and met with friends,
some with familiar calm, or gay, or drunk in the bright rooms,
but I heard the terrifying pulse of other selves:
on the face of each I touched unknown the invisible tear.

In the membranes of the skull there lie in millionfold
powers and memories, and I find them forth often:
the deep smile, and the simple day at the zoo,
the voices over the bay, the avowal, and the window with leaves,
the joint of the thigh of the beloved person,
and the wish to live calmly on the highest level.

Yet who is it crawls on the subway's iron floor to sing
where all must give or listen, since the door is shut?
0 in the proud mirrors of the brain, the ugly clerk
I see is myself! and the murderer trapped on the fire-escape;
and the desperate salesman; the thief; and the pale girl bought
to open herself again to the stranger's thrust.

I see a boy's hand move as pale as glass,
and women sleeping with infinite eyes, and all, all
I see are innocent; not walls, nor men
brutal, remote, stunned, querulous, weak, or cold
do crimes so massive, but the hideous scheme
stands guilty: the usurpation of man over man.

Thus in the grating rack and torsion of society
the inmost being cracks; gulfs there with groaning cliffs
disfigure hope; and secret fires grow; and chasms
unknown hold paralyzed the maelstroms of love; despair
with frigid pinnacles, hatred, silent catastrophes;
crevasses of self the self dares not discover, —

Between the inner and the outer face,
between the cold palm and the incestuous mind,
between the thought, the pleasure, and the indifference,
between the bright talk and the solitude,
between the oratory and the massacre,
between the music and the soundless scream.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An Odysseus Elytis Poem

The Mad Pomegranate Tree

                              Inquisitive matinal high spirits                                  

                                à perdre haleine

In these all-white courtyards where the south wind blows
Whistling through vaulted arcades, tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That leaps in the light, scattering its fruitful laughter
With windy wilfulness and whispering, tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That quivers with foliage newly born at dawn
Raising high its colors in a shiver of triumph?

On plains where the naked girls awake,
When they harvest clover with their light brown arms
Roaming round the borders of their dreams — tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree,
Unsuspecting, that puts the lights in their verdant baskets
That floods their names with the singing of birds — tell me
Is it the mad pomegranate tree that combats the cloudy skies of the world?

On the day that it adorns itself in jealousy with seven kinds of feathers,
Girding the eternal sun with a thousand blinding prisms
Tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That seizes on the run a horse’s mane of a hundred lashes,
Never sad and never grumbling — tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That cries out the new hope now dawning?

Tell me, is that the mad pomegranate tree waving in the distance,
Fluttering a handkerchief of leaves of cool flame,
A sea near birth with a thousand ships and more,
With waves that a thousand times and more set out and go
To unscented shores — tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That creaks the rigging aloft in the lucid air?

High as can be, with the blue bunch of grapes that flares and celebrates
Arrogant, full of danger — tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That shatters with light the demon’s tempests in the middle of the world
That spreads far as can be the saffron ruffle of day
Richly embroidered with scattered songs — tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That hastily unfastens the silk apparel of day?

In petticoats of April the first and cicadas of the feast of mid-August
Tell me, that which plays, that which rages, that which can entice
Shaking out of threats their evil black darkness
Spilling in the sun’s embrace intoxicating birds
Tell me, that which opens its wings on the breast of things
On the breast of our deepest dreams, is that the mad pomegranate tree?


(Trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Monday, June 6, 2016

POEM: "Sex tonight"

“Sex tonight”

Sex tonight is like the rain
or a bowl of salty Mongolian tea
and it’s sort of like boarding a train
ah there is chaos and there is mystery
write it the way water flows down a hill
do it like the train gets us where we're going

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Sunday, June 5, 2016

POEM: "Talking To The Rock"

Talking To The Rock 

I became 
an enemy of the state
when I told the truth
the same as I always do
how many birds
did you see today
I saw the ones you
did not bless us all
the end of space is not
the limit of the face
though edges betray
the commons the space
is still unoccupied 

my family my friends
the state became
my enemy when
they took me away
though the edges betray
I will not mourn you
I hope this is not your life
god bless us all

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Saturday, June 4, 2016

POEM: "Stari Most"

Stari Most

In southern Bosnia
where I first knew you 
where there was so much death 
there was a beautiful bridge 
you can't kill memory
where there is a beautiful bridge
this is a story about Mostar
a story about Stari Most
but no, it's a story about us
and the fight we had 
on the beautiful bridge
and how I swore to you
we would both grow old
there would be no war
you didn't listen (I remember)
you kept on slapping me
we got home we didn't speak
we made japrak and chorba
we cried and held each other tight
later they tortured you 
then they killed you
it was a beautiful bridge
all the water gone
of course I write this.

© 2014 Rob Schackne

Friday, June 3, 2016


“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again: The real enemy of my people is here. ... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. ... I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”


Thursday, June 2, 2016

POEM: "The Sky Beneath The Stars In The Rain"

The Sky Beneath The Stars In The Rain

The notion of no second chance frets 
the guitar, the history of Peter Pan
a treasure that goes forth to be lost.

A lessening of spirit? Perish the thought. 
You and I have a few more chances left
and, at any rate, actuarily speaking
you’ve got more riding your way than me. 

So now please let us not conflate 
the fiction that we like to read
with the fictions we like to make.

You can travel the seven seas.
A piece of weed, a piece of shell
a thousand sunsets, all were different
in every one a restive breeze.

Faraway the future, countless dreams
ships underway, the holds are full

everyone waiting for the winds.

A song to ring your ears.
Mountain, anchor, whale
bird, water, engines.
Friend. Every heart.

© 2016 Rob Schackne

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

POEM: "Wait a minute"

“Wait a minute”

Wait a minute
how can there be
a confusion of tongues
if we are wise and kind
and we speak with love
imagine that my dear
I spoke and you heard
no babble and likewise me
language like a sweet fruit
in an orchard kissed by the sun
and everybody blessed.

© 2016 Rob Schackne