The women on the Palmdale bus
Are so beautiful on Friday.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Blind mind feels its way through the grooves of the hole
Like they are accidents of design ...
That's the way it lives,
All sense and reaction, whatever is out there a black prompt
Which may or may not know, how tongues are predictable,
Draw limited conclusions, and how whatever crack is sensed
Can be re-sealed with ease ...
Is the perishable food, in a trap that sets it free.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
For everything of earth and sky must move,
For karma flows like clouds across the blue.
And pain too much the same to feel yours too.
You still believe in one almighty: light
Glorifying like your sight the tired afternoon.
Only love, aswirl in constant orbit, and too entwined to touch.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Friday, October 14, 2016
The dreamer wakes up, however, in the last stanza, with a man beside her that she can’t turn into a phantasy (a lighter and more willful form of imagination, where a loved one for example can be turned into a fancied hero rather than perceived into being). “Him for whom no phantasy moves” enigmatically describes someone who could be implacable, impossible to fantasize about, completely unimaginative, or dead.
The prevailing sense, however, is that when the curtains of the imagination are lifted, there is nothing behind it that is real. We construct love affairs out of pheromones and moonbeams, never thinking that is all there is to it, a trick to facilitate a shared delusion of separate minds. OK, maybe we do, but it is not a good feeling when we do, for it is like, as Stevens so aptly puts it, being “pierced by a death.” The inconsolable weeper truly cannot be consoled, because she is in a different realm.
Thus the grief of the first stanza is, in contemporary parlance, “paid off” by the death in the last. This leads many readers to conclude that the woman is weeping over her dead husband (or son). The widow trope, however, is only a metaphor for the real action, which is the death of a relationship (or the illusion of a relationship) through the awareness that it was imagined into (and out of) existence. Why else would she be crying before the death?
Still, the context remains ambiguous after many readings, in large part because the poem intentionally obscures the relationship between the speaker and the weeping woman. Do they know each other? Is the speaker the subject of her tears? Is it a veiled reference, heaven forfend, to Stevens himself and his wife? The poem exists in a nether world between an uncomfortably close personal – but undisclosed – conflict, and a rigorously strict abstraction about how all relationships are false. I guess that’s what we all do, poets or not, generalize our petty sufferings into universal truths.
Another great American poet, Emily Dickinson, was, in my view, the undisputed master of painting over uncomfortable life events with a luminous veneer of hermeneutic transcendence. Here is a poem* of hers that covers, I think, much the same emotional ground as “Another Weeping Woman.” It has it all – scientific materialism vs. religion, religion vs. occult spiritualism, fate vs. free will, skepticism vs. faith (and that’s just in the first 21 words!) – but in true Dickinsonian fashion, these concepts are conflated and problematized at lightning speed into something eerie and otherworldly: one only has faith because one already has doubt, our perception of memory and all the personal stuff it contains limits our notion of heaven, people are interchangeable and wholly indistinct at the soul level. But underlying all the metaphysical ground that’s covered – what makes the poem so powerful – is some unspoken personal dispute that creates a backdrop of tragic distance: The way “Sister” is repeated wearily, insistently, as the arguments are reconfigured, the way “Sue” and “Emily” are one, although Susan can’t acknowledge such a fact. That, my friends, is poetry.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
You're free of any dialogue,
That coupling thing's been safely put to bed,
No questions ring the hollows of your heart.
You've been redeemed again in water,
Returned to tempering fire,
Your memory is immortal.
You've burned through heaven once again
A gift you gave yourself to learn
What you have done, but will you?
My gift is not to know.
The infinite I gave must equal zero.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
At the indigenous resistance
The drummers are not putative,
They beat the drops of water stolen
And the law comes to enforce
Their submission into silence
The feathers on their heads
Came from copters that descended
At midnight on the pens
For the specialists with gloves
Who shoved the chickens into crates.
And their warpaint isn't blood
But communion petrolatum
Still the fracking thunder comes
Like nuclear Kippur
Upon the burning man inevitable
That the organs of the well-informed
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
The bad black sheep seed
Trying to be good
By naming all the evil,
And the good scapegoat heart
Corrupted by belief
In its own goodness.
It's time for the posing of the problems
That can't be fixed by jumping off a cliff,
Time for posting some placard solutions
Pulled from the short-attention-span heavens
And shattered like china on the ground.
Despite all the snake-eyed lies
We still can't believe our lying-ass eyes
That the pain that begs among us is ours
Masquerading as another hand
Outstretched to our ruinous food,
And that the secrets of the few
Are still locked inside our hearts
Poisoned by the shackles once again.
We are the people who ring other's necks
And feel other's deaths as our own,
Who don't care about what's going on
(Much less whether it's right or wrong)
But who know the cost in our bones
Of believing in what we don't know.
Why not have faith in what cannot exist?
In dragons slain and starlets won,
In justice arriving on time,
In truth as an answer to the sickness inside,
In a voice we can feel as our own.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Through the green leaves of the woods, to the spring soon,
To the rock, where roses are in bloom,
To view the land from the hill, though nowhere,
And into the air all the words disappear;
Devout, I have only been with you
Yes, I’ve been far from you, face of an angel,
And in the fading melody of your life
No more is overheard of me; O where
Did the magical heartsongs go, that calmed
Me once with the stillness of the heavenly?
How long has it been? O how long! The youth has
Aged, even the earth, which gave me back
Always good! The soul separates and returns
To you each day, and it cries to you the eye,
That it is bright again, where you go,
Where you stay, wherever you gaze across.
Friday, October 7, 2016
As the lavender smoke of breathing clouds
Roosts in shadow for the night.
The palm fronds edged with rust
Were worthy of our imaginings,
The thick-fingered grasses
Have never stopped waving gold.
The fur-draped mountains
With moving silver crowns
Stayed fiercely protective
Like arrowheads poised in the sky
As the spirits were unveiled inside of me
On their flight to Polihale.
But there's a limit to the generosity
The stars so pure and piercing
In galaxies woven in webs
Are overwhelmed by blots of cloud
Like figures of a dreamed earth,
But the stars burn through
And the centurions appear again.
The homeland channel throbs.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Rooster rainbows in the dreadlocks of the waves,
Tumescent moss directs the dripping off the caves,
The bees are making love like surgeons to hibiscus
As couples narrow distances to share the pounding swells
In white release across the folding lace of opening shells.
They take photos of each other in their complementary chairs
Before the endless thrust of surf that vents what it bears
And just as endlessly receeds along the curves
Of long-suffering sand, its bite -- not preserved.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Who'd fled to Nihoa
And the faces on the cave
But they are still here
And I am still here
And the black rocks have their art
And still speak in a voice
Heard by ancient fishermen
That promised secret knowledge
If one could wear the crown
Of knowing form was only masking light.
The conscious color won't
Collapse like other facts
Into theories of mind
But is pitched at zero point,
Knowledge not for learning
But for action.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Every pore of her skin,
Moss on his rock like rouge,
Lipstick flowers on the limbs
That tremble with rain.
Giant leaves run their fingers up
Her tree trunks,
Every fern frond is arranged
To be admired,
Her rivers are alive
With quickened pulse.
Even the fallen green
Doesn't bear the color of grief,
But of held memories,
The dark rich lacquer:
Deep orange, rotten gold.
She lets the mist caress
Her every curve
And leaves a welcome mat of red
On all her shores
With cocks that crow
And offered palms.
The caves he left for her
Swirl with water,
The sound is hollow
But it's enough
For the green stars reaching
From his crags to heaven
To bloom as beauty's virgin.
Monday, October 3, 2016
Is the final sign, to those who'd know,
That the death of the world is near.
There's not even that here;
They communicate over distances by telepathy or mail.
Once a week the boat arrives, with food stamp rations
And propane, and a chance, Christ willing, for some shopping
In Kauai on the Robinson family dime.
Left on this infertile island, spearing fish
In canoes they whittled, spending weeks
Gathering shells for the right shade of prickly pear pink
To braid a necklace for some mainland queen,
Finding water holes to grow breadfruit or taro,
Knowing every stone God by name, and all the grasses
By voice, in day-long prayers to the spirit of the flowers
No time, no money, no power & light, as inconceivable
To us as God delivering our food from our prayers.
But this can't compete with the Sunbeam hair dryer,
The guava cocktail and dashboard hula dolls
Of the needy people trying to help, be of use, be of service.
In pity, they fancy themselves the same,
Collecting shells before they're pulverized to dust.
Holding them together with unbreakable force of love.
The amniotic fire changes form, changes nature,
But is changeless just the same...
Hits the mountains here, and in its sweetness of smoke
The spiriteye sees rainbows across to the island
Always soaking in an indigo cloud, like an illusion
That like everything else important
Can suddenly disappear
Unless there's no more magic,
The sun rising in late afternoon
Can no longer be seen, and an island
Can no longer escape from its shroud
Into something we can learn from.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Families in sandals.
Must pain these creamy domes
How all the bloodshed was for naught.
The palm holds in its limp fingers
The history of the empire
The hands can’t write those lines.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
We disagree sometimes, fight like cats
And I get flummoxed by its hauteur.
But it's like a better mousetrap in the end;
Whacking pest ideas with a mechanical lie:
Some God to go before all else, like Kings back in the day.
Nothing it ever says is wrong, though everything is false,
Out-of-context, screaming, massacring elves and gnomes
And what is left of an open dialogue.
But I love the cleanness of its line, its springy step,
The way it conveys civility in a world insane.
I root for the truth, but it loses the game again and again.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
moving lines of force
In paper-thin intersections,
slow across glass,
as the lavender surf rolls in,
Rainbows in its wake,
the curtains loosen and tighten,
that exist for us only as beauty,
As purposeless as we believe
our lives to be ...
The last spike of peach holds on
against the human mind.
Everything else has been denied,
by being understood.
How could we ever be explained
by the mechanics?
Our lusts, our thirsts, our drives?
The wall called
Understanding has been placed
here between us
As the mystery still
You want to know
because you already knew
And were waiting for the moment
But now you are disputed.
The slut, the whore,
How could she
want me anymore?
Monday, September 26, 2016
Yet kind reluctance separates from your eye
This year, and the winter sky at evening
Your gardens, the poetic, evergreen.
And since your party I have pondered and thought,
What to give you as thanks, yet it lingered there
On the floral paths, waiting for you
The flowering crown of what you'll become.
But others prize you, high spirit, the greater
This more festive time, for the thunder resounds
All the way down the mountains, see? And
How clear, like the quiet stars, it goes out,
From long doubts come pure shapes; so it seems to me;
And lonely, O Princess, the heart of the free,
Born to a fortune wanted no more;
Joined in laurel with the worthy hero
The beautifully matured can be genuine;
Has worth, the unseen; the ancient ones
Look on from their rarefied life, solemn.
Shallow seems the dreaming singer to himself,
Like a child idly plucking at a lyre,
When from the noble’s joy, from the ply
And severe of the power awakened.
But I’ve glorified your name in song; the hard
Augusta! Dare I celebrate; my trade is
To praise the lofty, and so goes the
Friday, September 23, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
Often send their most beloveds to strangers,
Thus to recall the noble image
Of how delighted the mortal heart is.
So too you come from the Luisium gardens,
From a holy threshold where skies are noiseless
All around, and all around your roof
Peacefully the gregarious trees play,
Out from the joys of your temple, O priestess!
To us, for already the cloud bends its head
To us, long a heavenly tempest
... Changes us over our heads.
O how dear you were, priestess! Because you were
Protected there in the silent divine fire,
But you're dearer today, since your time
Among the time-bound is consecrated.
For where the pure ones stroll, perceptible, is
Drawn out of the spirit, and life's dawning forms
All open with a carefree blossom
Where a safe and a certain light appears.
And how on a dark cloud the silent one,
The beautiful crescent blooms, it is a sign
For a future time, a remembrance
Of days of bliss and blessings, that once were,
Such is your life, O holy stranger! If you have
In the past encountered Italy's shattered
Pillars, if you saw in the new green
Fiercer ages grow toward the future.
An eine Fürstin von Dessau
Aus stillem Hause senden die Götter oft
Auf kurze Zeit zu Fremden die Lieblinge,
Damit, erinnert, sich am edlen
Bilde der Sterblichen Herz erfreue.
So kommst du aus Luisiums Hainen auch,
Aus heilger Schwelle dort, wo geräuschlos rings
Die Lüfte sind und friedlich um dein
Dach die geselligen Bäume spielen,
Aus deines Tempels Freuden, o Priesterin!
Zu uns, wenn schon die Wolke das Haupt uns beugt
Und längst ein göttlich Ungewitter
... über dem Haupt uns wandelt.
O teuer warst du, Priesterin! da du dort
Im Stillen göttlich Feuer behütetest,
Doch teurer heute, da du Zeiten
Unter den Zeitlichen segnend feierst.
Denn wo die Reinen wandeln, vernehmlicher
Ist da der Geist, und offen und heiter blühn
Des Lebens dämmernde Gestalten
Da, wo ein sicheres Licht erscheinet.
Und wie auf dunkler Wolke der schweigende,
Der schöne Bogen blühet, ein Zeichen ist
Er künftger Zeit, ein Angedenken
Seliger Tage, die einst gewesen,
So ist dein Leben, heilige Fremdlingin!
Wenn du Vergangnes über Italiens
Zerbrochnen Säulen, wenn du neues
Grünen aus stürmischer Zeit betrachtest.
Friday, September 16, 2016
The title may derive from the British dialectical term "gubbin" or "gubbins", which, no surprise, has three distinct meanings. It is a derogatory term denoting simpleton or country bumpkin. This makes some sense in that the poem at some level is complaining about the understanding of its readers. The term could also refer to gadgetry, so the poem would be "like a gadget." This makes sense too, in that the reader feels subjected to a Mobius strip of repetition that doesn't seem to mean anything concrete. "Gubbins" can also refer to fish parings or refuse, more broadly scraps or bits and pieces. Adding -al to this sense of gubbin seems to this poet a fine way to incorporate lines and fragments lying around unused into an invented poetic form, in this case something resembling the mournful French villanelle, where the 2nd and 3rd line of the first stanza are alternately repeated at the end of subsequent stanzas. Or, all arcane etymological research aside, "gubbinal" could "simply" be a nonsense word—Stevens was no stranger to making sounds into words.
The title could very easily mean any or none of these things, as we shall see. It's a testament to the poetic way information is offered and withheld in it that we truly have to use our own leaps of imagination to interpret it. This is a quality that intrigues with many of Stevens' poems, but this one in particular seems to be about that. Here's the poem:
That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.
That savage of fire,
Have it your way.
The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.
What gives the poem its particular cloying quality is how the narrator offers bold, unusual and challenging metaphors for the sun (“that strange flower,” “that tuft of jungle feathers,” “that animal eye”, “that savage of fire,” “that seed”), and immediately foists them off for interpretation onto the reader, concluding they are just what “you” say they are. In between he repeats a seemingly unconnected thought, “The world is ugly, and the people are sad.” So this unnamed “you” who must contend with exotic poetic metaphor must also face a blanket abstraction that the world and its people (all that we know) are in dismal shape. Add in the pervasive repetition and the reader gets the feeling of being hypnotized by ambiguity.
But don’t worry. You can “have it your way,” like a giant, sickening Whopper. As if to seal its hermetic obscurity, the poem does not resolve into the larger statement about belief, reality and/or the imagination that are hinted at. Such implications are truly left to the reader to ponder.
On the one hand, the rich metaphors show the interpretive possibilities for the commonest objects (in this case the sun, perhaps the most common object of all). On the other, the metaphors are only as insightful as the eyes of the beholder. If one can't imagine the sun as an "animal eye", for example, one is indeed not only outside the meaning of the poem, but lacking in the mythic intelligence that can use known things as correspondences to inquire about what is unknown, the ultimate nature of reality.
A simpleton, or gubbin, would not see how the eyes of a tiger could be peering from the sun. Or perhaps only a gubbin would, as the prevailing religion of scientific materialism has foreclosed the possibility for respectable thinkers to seriously entertain such fantasies. Without engaging with the person on the other end of his words, the poet seems to be throwing up his hands (or is it quill?) at the possibility of a common understanding. "The world is ugly, and the people are sad" is all one can say, like "how was your weekend?" or "times are hard." It might as well relate to the poet—a mass of humanity that has no comprehension of his beautiful poem—as to the reader—they are missing out on the opportunity to rise above the limitations of earthly life to perceive a meta-reality through the powers of the imagination.
Yet the poet is grafting his perception directly onto theirs. This is where the second sense of the word "gubbin", as a poetic gadget or contrivance, might come into play. "Have it your way" is the inverse of "you can never see it from my perspective." And "[it] is just what you say" is of course the opposite of "I'm telling you the way it is." The poet accedes to the reader as master of reality, free to make of the poem anything they want, but the reader still must accept the poet's reality of the sun as all manner of chimerical figures. It is a dance, in other words, where the refrain is a general opinion that, because it is unargued perhaps, is the only agreed-upon thing: "the world is ugly, and the people are sad." And, of course, the poet is the one playing the harmonium (the title, not coincidentally, of Stevens' first volume of poetry).
To truly become a poet, however, one must leave that stage of approval and agreement and seek a solitary path. And this is where the third sense of "gubbin" comes in. Scraps of lines where he has described the sun in all kinds of uncanny ways will, if enough will and faith is put into them, harmonize with scraps of overheard conversation (like "have it your ..." and "the world is ..."), things from the mundane human realm that have floated up into the poetic aethers. The poet collects them all to make some kind of music of them. There is no need for ultimate meaning. The poem speaks for itself. It is whatever you want it to be. And the you is no longer outside of the poet, but within.
As we mull through these trajectories of meanings, a sense of freedom is slowly unveiled. The freedom of the poet from the outside is no longer something to be pitied but celebrated. What the poet has—however elliptical, uncooperative or nonsensical—is of such a high degree of perception and expression that others need to—and will—seek it out.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
The shadows wax more poignant than the leaves,
And the tree hears every word from the gossip birds
And shudders as if to turn the earth
With wren and bumblebee.
As the green suds swirl around.
For something that may or may not be coming
Or sweep off the changes on the rock.
They look so heartbroken
But cannot say anything.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Whatever figures in robes you remember
Have reduced to characters in script.
The stories where orphans are kings in the end
Blacken the names of eyes brightly gazing.
You are not any other;
The invisible they hang across your face
Has peeled, and something that cannot escape existing
Is finally free from the fear.
It sees the illusion's perfection
When it realizes it is real.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monday, September 12, 2016
Friday, September 9, 2016
Des airs en ce moment a troublé le repos;
Et du sein de la terre une voix formidable
Répond en gémissant à ce cri redoubtable.” (1507-1510)
Thursday, September 8, 2016
There are no second acts
Only a past that never was
Projected on a dim screen
The proof is only in
An over-egged pudding
The not having it
That's the dream
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Lightbulb eyes peer
Like voyeur whores
From street corners,
And listening dishes rest
Like pigeons homing
Above the towers
But no one watches
Or is listening
It is white noise
What we say
What we do
As we cruise
For signs of our humanity
As does the semi-nude
On display before
The barber pole at Rudy's
Looking for communion
When watching is
No longer prosecuted
For the same invisible
Despite the best
Better mousetraps can buy
The eyes of God still
Glare at us
Behind the blackest