Monthly Archives: March 2015

After a Late Afternoon Run in Thornrose Cemetery on the Last Day of March

After a Late Afternoon Run in Thornrose Cemetery on the Last Day of March

 

I lie on my back on the eastern slope.
The clouds are close. Moving as if on an escalator.

When I get up, ten thousand blades of grass
do the same, rising slowly, bent in the middle

But straightening, unburdened.

The Other Ones

The Other Ones

 

When the ground is soft enough for the spirit to stretch
beyond the numbers of endings and the numbers of beginnings

And the numbers stiff in stone grow warm in the spring sun
the cemetery down the hill fills with people walking.

I can tell the ones who aren’t ghosts because they notice my children
playing on the one patch of stoneless level grass just inside the gates.

The other ones are distracted by an old song in their ears.
The other ones, the ones carrying a large number in their arms

that is always one number larger than the last number they had
when the number was invisible and weightless and fit in a back pocket.

Some numbers are meant to catch, it is why they are shaped like lures.
Zero doesn’t catch, zero falls out of your pocket and you never miss it

And when you see it fall out of the laundry with the dryer sheet
you don’t worry that it’s ruined the rest of the clothes.  A young

couple walk past us, hop over a stone wall on the way
to photograph tombstones. We see them come back, leaving

a trail of decimal points like breadcrumbs. When you’re a ghost
that stops you in your tracks, and you pick one up like a penny

and then spend the rest of your life trying to decide if the point
goes to the left or the right of your number.

March 27

March 27

The one way sign can point in any direction.
At day’s end I find myself looking to the east

down my street to the city’s end and mountains
above the shadowed valley flaring up

like the texture of your hand’s palm
seen under a microscope for the first time.

From here you can see the ridges but not the lines
that determine health, love, children, fortune,

retreat, duration. Only at a distance
does a line put up a compelling argument.

Tonight a spring flurry is coming and though
nothing will accumulate there is more

than one way to measure the countless departures.
The one way sign can point in any direction.

For Tomas Tranströmer

For Tomas Tranströmer

The ice on the road sees us with our own eyes
and is no better than we are at helping ourselves

as direction changes. In a winter far south of here,
the edge of still water is guarded by cypress knees,

like a tired army that lay on their backs for a nap
and never found a reason to get up. Beyond them

I heard the bellow of a bull alligator claiming the world.
By a cold spring corn field a thousand miles

away, watching the storm’s wind sprint across
before it could be heard or felt, I know everything

can be claimed, like these memories—are the endless
chances to say hello merely a shout over the slumbering?

Is the wind with its violence finally hearing us with our ears?
I will sit here with you for awhile and see what comes.

*

Re-posting this in light of the news of Tomas Tranströmer’s death. I consider it a privilege that this poem actually found its way into the poet’s hands earlier this year. See here for the translation of this poem into Swedish by film-maker (and Tranströmer’s longtime friend) James Wine, done spontaneously as he and Tomas read the poem together.

I could say a million things this night, but Elin Thor (@elinmiothor) said it best on Twitter today:

Saknar ord.

 

Spring Wind

Spring Wind

Old pine tree seems the only one
excited by the first warm wind

Empty-handed, the others barely nod
at his hundred foot tall child’s soul

Who remembers the world with no flowers
no leaves no bees who knows

What was and knows what’s coming

Night (for Ruan Ji) [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en]

Night (for Ruan Ji)

日從東溟轉, 夜向西海沉.

From the east the day comes spinning, revolving towards
the strange west, where descending evening colors the ocean’s every drop.

羣物各已息, 衆星燦然森.

Every living thing is resting, or holding its breath, it’s hard to tell
on nights when the toad swallows the moon –

蝦蟇將食月, 魑魅爭出陰.

Starlight glinting from every pine needle – or is it a million swords
unsheathed, our demons striving to materialize out of the dark cluster?

阮籍獨不寐, 徘徊起彈琴.

Only you, my friend, sleepless, pacing in your room, can sense it; only you
with a word, or a wave across your zither, can turn the knife’s edge back into night.

*

[Note: This is the most recent draft of a work based on a poem of Mei Yao-ch’en (1002-1060), about whom I have written many poems on this blog. The first version can be found here. The three between that draft and this one were too incomplete to share, so I’m sparing you those.

My continuing thanks to Chen Zhang, Chinese Literary Preceptor at Harvard University, for her explication and patience. She not only provided a word-for-word translation but important historical and critical perspective that helped me locate this work closer to the heart of Mei’s writing; she also provided her own enthusiasm for this specific poem. Sitting alone with a cup of coffee a few days ago in a Panera Bread with a marvelous view of the twilight saturating the Blue Ridge, I found a way into this poem through the voice of the poet I have appropriated/channeled/imitated in nearly forty other poems that were not attempting to be translations. That voice I was so used to writing in already helped me re-imagine this most recent version, which I think may be closer to a true translation of my friend Sheng-yu’s work. Again, the idea to approach the poem that way came from Chen, who pinpointed so well the difference between interpretation and translation in my many amateur’s questions.

Ruan Ji (210 – 263) was a poet Mei admired. He was also, some might say, an accomplished ne’er-do-well born into a prominent family who was unafraid of leveraging that prominence and wealth to support his chosen vocation as a poet. Some stories about him include him staying drunk for over a month to avoid having to get married, and so impressing an elder in his family with his zither playing one evening that his reputation was upgraded to ne’er-do-well-who-plays-a-mean-zither,-and-that-has-gotta-mean-something. ]