Monthly Archives: January 2014

After a Moment of Silence for a Sudden Death

After a Moment of Silence for a Sudden Death

Who are these birds gathering the empty branches
outside my window into a tree again?

Thirty feet above the roofs of a hundred mourning cars
they wick out patterns of mid-afternoon orange and black

that amplify the slanting sun then come back to settle,
at ease, as if already new green leaves protected them.

As if all our thoughts about our departed colleague
had gathered outside to look back at us, prepare

as memory does for flight, disperse to the future
wherever winter thoughts fly to in spring beyond sight

Drinking Sake with You

Drinking Sake with You


Remember that warm anticipation
before the red dust obscured our ease
and the houses blew the sky down?
On this night the walls are so cold and
distant peaks enshrouded, I know what I’ll do:
I’ll sit here nearby. Sip a cup with you
as a star comes out. Let it all settle
until the world is clear again.

On Saying Goodbye

On Saying Goodbye


Trying to catch up with the hills rolling
beneath my feet I’m lost to your light

then at the mountain’s top you are waiting for me
unmoved by the ruckus and dust below

in this valley I’ll hear a bird, catch my breath
then keep running west til the Star River

laps at my feet–who would not climb mountain
after mountain to keep saying goodbye to you?

[new translations] Grasses, by Po Chü-i



Parting and parting the grasses on the plain
which one year withers and one year flourishes
which burns again but is never destroyed
a spring wind blows over this life resurging

its fragrance trespasses old paths in the distance
even to the abandoned city comes jade clarity
as we part again, my friend, separated by world’s wind
it’s as deep grasses parting on a crowded plain

–Po Chü-i (Bai Ju-yi)
translated by Jeff Schwaner


A poem by my son

Note: the family is sitting around trying to write verse inspired by music for a contest (“The Writer’s Ear”) sponsored by the local schools. Here is what my six year old son August came up with. It should be further noted that this verse is illuminated in magic marker and that the poem’s narrator is a fire-breathing monster of some kind. But regardless of that, I think the last couplet is a keeper for all of us.

I’m tearing down a building
my friend is a skunk

I need a little friend
when I’m in a big fight

Lament for a Black Dog

Lament for a Black Dog


Here’s grief again–summoned by absence
it comes and even when absence flies it stays
taking the shape of the tree nothing is perched on
later this shape appears everywhere

without warning in full form as if it had been there
growing for years and years and we only
now just saw it—how did it grow so big
rooted so deeply in the middle of the road?

Years Ago, At This Very Spot

Years Ago, At This Very Spot


I sit at the bottom of a shallow sea.
Above the surface, the old mountains are all wavy,
leaning down. They are stooped and as patient
as the deserts of wizened lizards they will become.
The new one, the one I will drive over to work
the one on which I will see the maple’s early change
the one on which I will see the brown bear’s lazy gaze
the one on which I will stand  with my aging father
has still not taken its first tectonic steps.
It’s not even the apple in extruding lava’s eye,
yet by the time I am old enough
to put on these eyeglasses
it will already be ten-times diminished
from its highest peak.  I miss this part as

A big thing blocks out the yellow white sun above me
and swallows an ancestor or two.
When it is gone only the Star River shows the flow.




I know these  petals unless pressed
in your own life’s book will not survive
and even then as a shadow of love’s shape
or unless adrift in your river’s endless flow
come to outline any eddy worth circling
and even then could gutter off a bank or
regret’s cold stone where air
tears at life’s evaporating edge
or unless emblazoned with wing
of robes softly opening to heat and
even then burn only as a blindfolded
assurance of need, need:
or unless left alone a becoming
drifts around it, swirls it down just so
like snow a mile up lands finely
at the foot of the sky