Between earth and sky
25 August 2014
MODELS IN LIFE AND POETRY
A friend’s message
leaves me not knowing
how to respond.
Out for a walk
Bashō in my back pocket
I pull it out,
reading until I forget
about the whole thing.
Reading notes at the back end
Yuasa says count vowels
to count syllables—
Japanese breath counts
into breathing groups
five or seven syllables.
22 August 2014
40 YEARS AGO THIS DAY
And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling?—but enough of that, I’m off to bed.
—The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling, Bashō/ Burton Watson
My wife gave birth to twin daughters,
and I, helpless and overcome with joy,
passed out copies of a poem in the street,
distributing them too,
to doctors and nurses
in the hospital. The poem,
by Williams Carlos Williams,
is titled “The Gift” and it reads
as wondrous this day as it did
40 years ago. Among the lines,
“hard gold to love a mother’s milk” and,
“…all men by their nature give praise,
it is all that they can do.
Three years ago this day,
my wife and I moved into a new home
one level, smaller than the home
where we lived for 39 + years,
the only house our children knew
during childhood years.
We slept in the new house for the first time
on our daughters’ birthday.
On this day, this morning,
I sent that poem out again,
first to my wife and our daughters,
beginning my 70th year.
The house is in a development near the airport.
First homes for young people,
last homes for the elderly.
The house was non-descript,
the one standing when the others sold,
but it had what he was looking for.
He liked the modest entry into the houses.
One turn off the four-line
shuttling people in and out of town.
A row of duplexes and rental houses
accessing the development.
He had long noted humble entrances
into the nation’s sacred places.
He saw outside sanctuaries
where others saw nothing.
The poor and rundown before national treasures.
He believed he could build a garden of trees.
He saw sanctuary at the end of the road.
A monastery that belonged to literature.
This is how the trees came to him.
Landscapers in developments
wanted three things:
put in underground sprinklers
and roll out grass over clay and rock.
Plant one non descript shrub
in the middle of every lawn.
He had them transport his rocks
by tractor. They would take out the lawn
and put in a forest floor.
A mountain landscape
would emerge in miniature.
He tried to tell the woman at the nursery
about groves of trees at the end of railroad tracks
in his childhood. It’s a small place
he told her. I may even have to plant
outside the fence to make a ring.
A grove of trees in the middle of nothing.
A hideout for a boy. A place for an old man.
I want you to help me plant a grove of trees.
How could he explain a North Dakota childhood
to a tree goddess in an upscale nursery?
He broke through her impatience
with a single utterance. Zen.
She led him to the beautiful trees.
He picked out four:
Yoshino Cherry, Canadian Chokecherry,
China Snow and Serviceberry.
These trees planted oval-oval shaped
would make North Park.
This is the beginning of how the trees
came to him, how they surrounded him
and took him in, the ancestors.
This is how the pine trees, beloved by Bashō,
entered his life. It was all gift,
as the physician poet had prophesied.
It is all that they can do.
Surrounded, neither priest
nor ordinary man, as Bashō wrote walking,
he would give praise from here.
21 August 2014