Poetry Sundays

You Sly Universal Virus, You Psychedelic Mushroom Cloud at the Center of All Our Brains

“A Prayer for Us,” by Rob Brezny

his is a perfect moment. It’s a perfect moment because I have been inspired to say a gigantic prayer. I’ve been roused to unleash a divinely greedy, apocalyptically healing prayer for each and every one of us—even those of us who don’t believe in the power of prayer.

And so I am starting to pray right now to the God of Gods . . . the God beyond all Gods . . . the Girlfriend of God . . . the Teacher of God . . . the Goddess who invented God.

DEAR GODDESS, you who always answer our very best questions, even if we ignore you:

Please be here with us right now. Come inside us with your sly slippery slaphappy mojo. Invade us with your silky succulent salty sweet haha.
Hear with our ears, Goddess. Breathe with our lungs. See through our eyes.

DEAR GODDESS, you who never kill but only change:

I pray that my exuberant, suave, and accidental words will move you to shower ferocious blessings down on everyone who reads or hears this benediction.

I pray that you will give us what we don’t even know we need—not just the boons we think we want, but everything we’ve always been afraid to even imagine or ask for.

DEAR GODDESS, you wealthy anarchist burning heaven to the ground:

Many of us don’t even know who we really are.

We’ve forgotten that our souls live forever.

We’re blind to the fact that every little move we make sends ripples through eternity. Some of us are even ignorant of how extravagant, relentless, and practical your love for us is.

Please wake us up to the shocking truths. Use your brash magic to help us see that we are completely different from we’ve been led to believe, and more exciting than we can possibly imagine.

Guide us to realize that we are all unwitting messiahs who are much too big and ancient to fit inside our personalities.

DEAR GODDESS, you sly universal virus with no fucking opinion:

Help us to be disciplined enough to go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction.

Teach us to know the distinction between oppressive self-control and liberating self-control.

Awaken in us the power to do the half-right thing when it is impossible to do the totally right thing.

And arouse the Wild Woman within us—even if we are men.

DEAR GODDESS, you who give us so much love and pain mixed together that our morality is always on the verge of collapsing:

I beg you to cast a boisterous love spell that will nullify all the dumb ideas, bad decisions, and nasty conditioning that have ever cursed all of us wise and sexy virtuosos.

Remove, banish, annihilate, and laugh into oblivion any jinx that has clung
to us, no matter how long we have suffered from it, and even if we have become accustomed or addicted to its ugly companionship.

Conjure an aura of protection around us so that we will receive an early warning if we are ever about to act in such a way as to bring another hex or plague into our lives in the future.

DEAR GODDESS, you psychedelic mushroom cloud at the center of all our brains:

I pray that you will inspire us to kick our own asses with abandon and regularity.

Give us bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems.
Help us learn the difference between stupid suffering and smart suffering.

Provoke us to throw away or give away everything we own that encourages us to believe we’re better than anyone else.

Brainwash us with your compassion so that we never love our own freedom more than anyone else’s freedom.

And make it illegal, immoral, irrelevant, unpatriotic, and totally tasteless for us to be in love with anyone or anything that’s no good for us.

DEAR GODDESS, you riotously tender, hauntingly reassuring, orgiastically sacred feeling that is even now running through all of our soft, warm animal bodies:

I pray that you provide us with a license to bend and even break all rules, laws, and traditions that hinder us from loving the world the way you do.

Show us how to purge the wishy-washy wishes that distract us from our daring, dramatic, divine desires.

And teach us that we can have anything we want if we will only ask for it in an unselfish way.

DEAR GODDESS, you who just pretend to be crazy so you can get away with doing what’s right:

Help us to be like you—wildly disciplined, voraciously curious, exuberantly elegant, shockingly friendly, fanatically balanced, blasphemously reverent, mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, lyrically logical, and blissfully rowdy.

And now dear God of Gods, God beyond all Gods, Girlfriend of God, Teacher of God, Goddess who invented God, I bring this prayer to a close, trusting that in these pregnant moments you have begun to change all of us in the exact way we needed to change in order to become the gorgeous geniuses we were born to be.

Amen
Om
Hallelujah
Shalom
Namaste
More power to you

Oh, but one more thing DEAR GODDESS, you pregnant slut who scorns all mediocre longing:

Please give us donkey clown pinatas full of chirping crickets,

ceramic spice jars containing 10 million-year-old salt from the Himalayas,

gargoyle statues guaranteed to scare away the demons,

lucid dreams while we’re wide awake,

enough organic soup and ice cream to feed all the refugees,

emerald parachutes and purple velvet gloves and ladders made of melted-down guns,

a knack for avoiding other people’s personal hells,

radio-controlled, helium-filled flying rubber sharks to play with,

magic red slippers to contribute to the hopeless,

bathtubs full of holy water to wash away our greed,

secret admirers who are not psychotic stalkers,

mousse cakes baked in the shapes of giant question marks,

stories about lightning strikes that burn down towers where megalomaniacal kings live,

solar-powered sex toys that work even in the dark,

knowledge of secret underground rivers,

mirrors that the Dalai Lama has gazed into,

and red wagons carrying the treats we were deprived of in childhood.

*   *   *

From Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings

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Categories: Earth-based Religions, Great Quotes, Healing, Poetry Sundays, Sex and Sexuality, Spirituality | 1 Comment

A Pact with the Living

Those who have died have never left
The dead are not under the earth
They are in the rustling trees
They are in the groaning woods
They are in the crying grass
They are in the moaning rocks
The dead are not under the earth
Those who have died have never left
The dead have a pact with the living
They are in the woman’s breast
They are in the wailing child
They are with us in the home
They are with us in the crowd
The dead have a pact with the living

by Birago Diop
as adapted by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Categories: Death, Poetry Sundays | 3 Comments

Snakecharmer

Before you begin, please read this comment, and heed its advice.
 
 
by Sylvia Plath

As the gods began one world, and man another,
So the snakecharmer begins a snaky sphere
With moon-eye, mouth-pipe. He pipes. Pipes green. Pipes water.

Pipes water green until green waters waver
With reedy lengths and necks and undulatings.
And as his notes twine green, the green river

Shapes its images around his songs.
He pipes a place to stand on, but no rocks,
No floor: a wave of flickering grass tongues

Supports his foot. He pipes a world of snakes,
Of sways and coilings, from the snake-rooted bottom
Of his mind. And now nothing but snakes

Is visible. The snake-scales have become
Leaf, become eyelid; snake-bodies, bough, breast
Of tree and human. And he within this snakedom

Rules the writhings which make manifest
His snakehood and his might with pliant tunes
From his thin pipe. Out of this green nest

As out of Eden’s navel twist the lines
Of snaky generations: let there be snakes!
And snakes there were, are, will be—till yawns

Consume this piper and he tires of music
And pipes the world back to the simple fabric
Of snake-warp, snake-weft. Pipes the cloth of snakes

To a melting of green waters, till no snake
Shows its head, and those green waters back to
Water, to green, to nothing like a snake.
Puts up his pipe, and lids his moony eye.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 4 Comments

Lay Back the Darkness

by Edward Hirsch

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 4 Comments

There Once Was a Writer Named Gorey

I love limericks. I quite enjoy the off-color ones (the one about the lady from Brizes is probably my favorite), but I think I delight in the limericks of Edward Gorey — he of The Gashlycrumb Tinies fame — simply because the macabre, and particularly macabre humor, is so rarely dealt with poetically. Of the very many limericks he wrote, here are the ones I treasure:

The babe, with a cry brief and dismal,
Fell into the waters baptismal.
Ere they’d gathered its plight,
It had sunk out of sight,
For the depths of the font were abysmal.

A beetling young woman named Pridgets
Had a violent abhorrence of midgets;
Off the end of a wharf
She once pushed a dwarf
Whose truncation reduced her to fidgets.

A nurse motivated by spite
Tied her infantine charge to a kite;
She launched it with ease
On the afternoon breeze,
And watched till it flew out of sight.

An Edwardian father named Udgeon,
Whose offspring provoked him to dudgeon,
Used on Saturday nights
To turn down the lights,
And chase them around with a bludgeon.

There was a young lady named Rose
Who fainted whenever she chose.
She did so one day
While playing croquet,
But was quickly revived with a hose.

From Number Nine, Penwiper Mews,
There is really abominable news:
They’ve discovered a head
In the box for the bread
And nobody seems to know whose.

There’s a rather odd couple in Herts
Who are cousins (or so each asserts).
Their sex is in doubt
For they’re never without
Their mustaches and long, trailing skirts.

Categories: Holidays, Poetry Sundays | 2 Comments

The Epitaph

Yves Bonnefoy (b. June 24, 1923) is a French poet and essayist, the son of a railroad worker and a teacher. His works have been of great importance in post-war French literature, examining the meaning of the spoken and written word. His name is regularly mentioned among the prime favorites for the Nobel Prize. This poem was originally untitled, though usually referred to by its first line: “Le passant, ceux-ci sont des mots. . . .”

[Words on a Tombstone]

by Yves Bonnefoy

Passerby, these are words. But instead of reading
     I want you to listen: to this frail
     Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.

Lend an ear, hear first of all the happy bee
Foraging in our almost rubbed-out names.
     It flits between two sprays of leaves,
Carrying the sound of branches that are real
     To those that filigree the still unseen.

Then know an even fainter sound, and let it be
     The endless murmuring of all our shades.
Their whisper rises from beneath the stones
     To fuse into a single heat with that blind
     Light you are as yet, who can still gaze.

     May your listening be good! Silence
Is a threshold where a twig breaks in your hand,
     Imperceptibly, as you attempt to disengage
               A name upon a stone:

And so our absent names untangle your alarms.
     And for you who move away, pensively,
     Here becomes there without ceasing to be.
 
 
From The Partisan Review LXVII(2), Spring 2001. Translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers. Copyright 2001 by Partisan Review Inc.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 2 Comments

Lyric Earwig

This song was in my head a great deal this week. And by “in my head” I mean that every time I woke up in the night for four nights running, this song was playing on my internal soundtrack. I found myself humming it when my mind wasn’t on anything else. I sang it, always in French, though I have only half-memorized the words, so there was a good deal of mumbling inside my head. Over and over and over. For four days, all day, all night, even in my sleep. Even in my dreams.

It’s always been a song, not a poem per se. The music was written by Kurt Weill in 1934, during his exile in France, as incidental music for the play Marie Galante.

The music, which I adore, is a tango in the style of a habanera. It’s sweet and sad and exactly captures the longing for escape from what Europe had become in the 1930s, or was about to become. Within a year of writing this music, Weill would flee France for the United States — one of the lucky few.

The song was given lyrics in 1946 by Roger Fernay. Fernay, the son of a music publisher, studied to become a lawyer but decided he’d rather be an actor instead. He worked on the French stage for about a decade, then became a writer for stage and screen. He spent the rest of his career unionizing writers and working on international copyright law. “Youkali” is his principal claim to fame.

Here is the exquisite Ute Lemper, the German chanteuse and actress renowned for her interpretation of the work of Kurt Weill, performing it exquisitely:

Youkali

by Roger Fernay (my translation interspersed throughout)

C’est presqu’au bout du monde
Ma barque vagabonde
Errant au gré de l’onde
M’y conduisit un jour
L’île est toute petite
Mais la fée que l’habite
Gentiment nous invite
A en faire le tour

It was almost at world’s end
That my vagabond little boat,
Wandering at the will of the waves,
Conducted me one day.
The island is very small
But the spirit that lives there
Kindly invited us
To take a walk  around

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Youkali, c’est la terre où l’on quitte tous les soucis
C’est, dans notre nuit, comme une éclaircie
L’étoile qu’on suit
C’est Youkali

Youkali, it’s the land of our desires
Youkali, it’s happiness, it’s pleasure
Youkali, it’s the land where you leave all your worries behind
It’s like a shaft of light in a dark night
The star we follow
It’s Youkali

Youkali, c’est le respect de tous les voeux échangés
Youkali, c’est le pays des beaux amours partagés
C’est l’espérance
Qui est au coeur de tous les humains
La délivrance
Que nous attendons tous pour demain

Youkali, it’s the respect from vows that are exchanged
Youkali, it’s the land where loves are shared
It’s the hope
In every human heart
Tomorrow’s deliverance
That we all await today

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali

Youkali, it’s the land of our desires
Youkali, it’s happiness, it’s pleasure—
But it’s only a dream, a madness:
There is no Youkali.

Et la vie nous entraîne
Lassante, quotidienne
Mais la pauvre âme humaine
Cherchant partout l’oubli
A, pour quitter la terre
Se trouver le mystère
Où rêves se terrent
En quelque Youkali

And life carries us along
In tedium, day by day.
But the poor human soul,
Searching everywhere for oblivion,
Has, in order to escape the world,
Managed to find the mystery
Where dreams burrow themselves
In some Youkali.

Youkali, c’est le pays de nos désirs
Youkali, c’est le bonheur, c’est le plaisir
Mais c’est un rêve, une folie
Il n’y a pas de Youkali

Youkali, it’s the land of our desires
Youkali, it’s happiness, it’s pleasure—
But it’s only a dream, a madness:
There is no Youkali.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 1 Comment

What’s in a Mistake?

One reviewer called this poem “deceptively simple, direct, moving, and thoroughly astounding, full of political, religious, and cultural truth.” Wowser. I’m sure I haven’t yet plumbed its depths, but I certainly love what it says about human error, and the work of correcting it. It reminds me of the art of making a Persian rug, though this is a rather different take on the subject.

The Printer’s Error

by Aaron Fogel

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer’s Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers’ errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.

Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer’s trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.
Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.

Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers’ protest,
and errors by
God’s touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
typographer
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
whatsoever
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.
 
 
From The Printer’s Error, 2001, Miami University Press, Oxford, Ohio. Copyright 2001 by Aaron Fogel.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 3 Comments

While We’ve Still Got Feet

Inspired by classical Chinese hermit poets, David Budbill dispatches poems from his remote Vermont hermitage, Judevine Mountain, but cannot escape the complications and struggles of a modern existence. Loneliness, aging, and political outrage are addressed in poems with blunt honesty, humor and keen insight into the human condition.

Weaving throughout While We’ve Still Got Feet is the peace of a wilderness home, the pleasures of daily life, and a perceptive melancholy over the passage of time. As in his previous bestselling volume, Moment to Moment—which was cited by Booklist as a “Top Ten Book of the Year”—Budbill confronts opposites: solitude and loneliness, contentment and restlessness, the allures of the city versus the country, and the tension between engagement with and withdrawal from the world.

Tomorrow

by David Budbill

Tomorrow
we are
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
poking through
our skulls.

Today,
simple clothes,
empty mind,
full stomach,
alive, aware,
right here,
right now.

Drunk on music,
who needs wine?

Come on,
Sweetheart,
let’s go dancing
while we still
have feet.

From the book While We’ve Still Got Feet by David Budbill, published by Copper Canyon Press.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 2 Comments

Skookum

I have officially achieved coffee Nirvana.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Raven’s Brew Coffee Roasters, a marvelous coffee company in Ketchikan, Alaska. Easily the best coffee I have ever tasted. Extraordinarily high-quality beans, perfectly roasted. Even better, they’re big proponents of sustainability: they use shade-grown, organic, and naturally-processed coffee beans in most of their blends, and support small family growers through their buying practices.

aeropress Last week I stumbled upon the Aerobie AeroPress, an espresso and coffee maker that gives French press quality coffee without the bitterness or sediment. The reviewers, even jaded coffee connoisseurs, were going overboard in their praise (as one friend would say, “raving, foaming at the mouth, falling over backward”), so I ordered one, and made my first cup this morning.

It was, as I said, Nirvana. Silky smooth, full-bodied, rich, incredibly flavorful, and bringing out all the subtleties of the coffee as well as its strengths, even with cream added. A new shipment of Raven’s Brew arrived just yesterday. So today I had my old standby, Wicked Wolf. But I also ordered an old favorite, Skookum Blend.

When we read the Skookum Blend motto—“Halo Wau-wau, Muckamuck Kaupy,” which they translate as “Shut up and drink the coffee”—Adam was as fascinated with their use of Chinook jargon as I was. I had been familiar with only a few words and phrases before: tilikum (friend), tumwater (waterfall, literally “heartbeat water”), potlatch (the great gift-feast which underlay the Pacific Northwest Coast people’s economic and political systems), and of course hyas muckamuck (the “big dogs” who sit at the head table during feasts), but reading the Wikipedia article on the subject was nearly as stimulating as the coffee itself.

It even prompted Adam to write a poem about the coffee. The poem, appropriately enough, is called “Skookum,” which is Chinook jargon for “strong.” (I sent a copy of the poem to Raven’s Brew, but they must have never received it, or surely it would now be printed on their coffee bags or displayed prominently on their website.)

Here, then, is Adam doing a public reading of “Skookum,” from his forthcoming collection Identity Theft:

Skookum

by Adam Byrn Tritt

I had this dream.

A longing. A thirst.

I would go to the Pacific Northwest
And live among the tall trees.
Wake to cedar and coffee,
Fish for salmon,
Create.

I would learn from the Chinook,
Keep my mythos close to me,
Prosper from the green land,
Take life as pleasure.

I even learned their Trade Jargon,
The Chinook Wau-wau so much the
Creole of the Pacific Northwest.

I am called there but
It is a battle upstream
And I am exhausted,
Humpbacked,
Old.

I am too busy working to spawn.

Listen to me.
As we sit here across this table,
As I decide what to wear,
Think about how long my day will feel,
Taste the dry breakfast I eat of need
And not desire,
I sip the strong splendor;
My salvation in a cup,
My blessed Skookum.
As I listen to you drone—
Your day, our life,
How good it all is—
All I want to say is
Halo Wau-wau, Muckamuck Kaupy:

“Shut Up and Drink the Coffee.”

Categories: First Nations, Food and Diet, Poetry Sundays | 5 Comments

Elephunnies

The first poem I ever remember hearing, and certainly the first I ever memorized, was written by Laura Elizabeth Richards, born in 1850. Her father was a social reformer who later gained fame as an abolitionist; he was the founder of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind. Her mother was the poet Julia Ward Howe, who is best known as the author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Eletelephony

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant —
No! no! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone —
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee —
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)


Which reminds me of my second-favorite Monty Python sketch (my favorite being “Premise and Conclusion”):

Elephantoplasty

Announcer (John Cleese): Tonight on Who Cares? we examine the frontiers of surgery. With us is the international financier and surgeon Reg LeCrisp and his most successful patient to date, the elephant Mr. George Humphries. (Elephant trumpets.) Mr. LeCrisp, the surgery on Mr. Humpries is truly remarkable, but — why an elephant?

LeCrisp (Terry Jones): Well, that was just a stroke of luck, really. An elephant’s trunk became available after a road accident, and Mr. Humphries happened to be walking past the hospital at the time.

A: And what was Mr. Humphries’ reaction to the transplant of the elephant’s organs?

L (interspersed with trumpeting): Surprise at first, then later shock, and deep anger and resentment. But his family were marvelous, they helped pull him through —

A: How long was he in hospital?

L: Well, he spent the first three weeks in our intensive care unit, and then eight weeks in the zoo.

A: I see. . . . Is Mr. Humphries now able to lead a fairly normal life?

L: No. Oh, no, no. No — he still has to wash himself in a rather special way, he can only eat buns, and he’s not allowed on public transport. But I feel these are very minor problems —

A: Mm hmmm.

L: — when you consider the very sophisticated surgery which Mr. Humphries has undergone. I mean, each of those feet he’s got now weighs more than his whole body did before the . . . elephantoplasty, and the tusks alone —

A: Er, some years ago you were the center of, er, controversy both from your own medical colleagues and from the Church when you grafted a pederast onto an Anglican bishop.

L: Well, that’s ignorance of the press, if I may say so. We’ve done thousands of similar operations, it’s just that this time there was a bishop involved. I wish I could have more bishops, I —

A: Is lack of donors a problem?

L: There just aren’t enough accidents. It’s unethical and time-consuming to go out and cause them, so we’re having to rely on whatever comes to hand — chairs, tables, floor-cleaning equipment, drying-out racks, pieces of pottery . . . and these do pose almost insurmountable surgical problems. What I’m sitting on, in fact, is one of our more successful attempts. This is Mrs. Dudley. She had little hope of survival, she’d lost interest in life, but along came this very attractive mahogany frame, and now she’s a jolly comfortable Chesterfield.

A: Mm hmm. I see.

(Sound of car crashsirens blaring)

L: Oh — excuse me. . . . (Rushes out)

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 8 Comments

Kombu/Konbu

Today I am making miso soup. Authentic, from scratch, miso soup. And I’m making my own dashi, or soup stock, as well. No mean feat, you’d think, since 67% of Japanese use instant dashi granules.

I spent the morning reading recipe after recipe after recipe, with their similar ingredients lists but wildly differing proportions and cooking times, and now I’m more confused than ever. Many have no measurements at all, or say things like “three strips” or “one square” for an ingredient that may come in sheets, in twisted strips ropes like licorice, or any number of other arrangements. I’m going to wing it, and keep careful notes so that I can revise and tweak the recipe in the future.

I’ll write later this week about my relative success or failure at the project, but since today is Poetry Sunday, I thought I’d post something I found in my research. It wasn’t a poem when I found it, but simply a discussion of one of the soup ingredients.

Kombu/Konbu
by Issendai

A kind of kelp
which is used to flavor broths and sauces.
It starts off looking like
a grungy dried banana leaf,
and turns into
a massive, pulsating tentacle
which hangs out both sides of the pot,
writhing and thinking dirty thoughts
about your Rei figurines.
Japanese porn is instantly comprehensible
when you use kombu for the first time
and see what every Japanese child grows up seeing
in Kaachan’s kitchen.

If you’re still willing
to use kombu after that introduction,
wipe both sides of the dry kombu gently
with a damp cloth, taking care
not to wipe all of the white powder off—
it’s the powder which provides much of the flavor.
(The kombu is safe to go near at this point,
since it has no power in its dry state.)
Place the kombu in the cooking water or broth to soak,
and witness its mighty expansion.
Two minutes before the recipe tells you
to remove the kombu from the water,
pick up your weapons and psyche yourself for battle.
You will need both minutes.
At the appointed time, enter the melee.
When you have wrestled the kombu from the water
and it hangs, limp and flopping, from your knife,
nail it above the kitchen lintel
and mock it while you bandage your wounds.

Buy it at a Japanese grocery.
Groceries of other nationalities
are sometimes foolhardy enough to stock
this menace to life and virtue,
and American supermarkets
occasionally indulge in fatal innocence
concerning this ravage,
but you’ll have the best luck at a Japanese store.
Kombu is usually near the nori and wakame,
where it terrifies the delicate and sensitive wakame
into fits.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 4 Comments

Mantra or Spell? Winter/Spring 1976

Carrion Comfort
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

     Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 1 Comment

The Poem that Broke Up a Relationship

I knew I was finished with the relationship when the individual for whom I had moved 450 miles away to be with, the one with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who periodically threatened suicide, gave me a book of poetry with this particular item marked for me. He didn’t have to tell me the poem wasn’t about dogs at all, but about co-dependence.

Biscuit
by Jane Kenyon

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can’t bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems
© 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 2 Comments

Welcome to Poetry Sundays

Each Sunday I’m going to post a poem I like. Some will be short, some will be long. Some will be old favorites, some will be pieces I just stumbled over accidentally. Some will have famous authors’ names attached, some will be by relative unknowns. A few may have some commentary, if I can’t help myself (mostly of the why this is important to me variety), but pretty much it will be just the poem, speaking for itself.

Today’s arrived in my email, courtesy of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.

Respite
by Jane Hirshfield

Day after quiet day passes.
I speak to no one besides the dog.
To her,
I murmur much I would not otherwise say.

We make plans
then break them on a moment’s whim.
She agrees;
though sometimes bringing
to my attention a small blue ball.

Passing the fig tree
I see it is
suddenly huge with green fruit,
which may ripen or not.

Near the gate,
I stop to watch
the sugar ants climb the top bar
and cross at the latch,
as they have now in summer for years.

In this way I study my life.
It is,
I think today,
like a dusty glass vase.

A little water,
a few flowers would be good,
I think;
but do nothing. Love is far away.
Incomprehensible sunlight falls on my hand.

From The Lives of the Heart: Poems.
© 1997 by Harper Perennial.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 3 Comments

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