Selected Poems from "Why Dragons Think Glitter is Theirs"
Foreword by Daniel Deardorff
At it’s best, poetry works like the imagination: by deforming what is presented to the senses. The best poetry gives new life to our “linguistically constructed world” by twisting the fixed and ordinary “forms” into images that startle us into canyons of deep memory and the sheer heights of wakefulness.
This particular, and perhaps idiosyncratic, idea of poetic function does not suggest that a poem need be declared “good” by academics and publishers—as medicines do not have to be “approved” by the government to be efficacious—making this kind of poetry is more like making a potion or a healing ritual; it is done simply because the gesture is demanded by know-how and circumstance. It is a kind of soul-work which requires a profoundly cultivated ability to respond—responsibility, empathy, courage—and this coupled with a healthy dose of abandon: “To write poetry “ in the words of Rilke, “is not wanting not desiring anything that can ever be achieved.” This is the situation that the old stories call “undertaking the impossible task.”
Jones comes weeping and raging, raving and crooning; out of the night, erupting abruptly into the circle of our awareness; suddenly the world is wider and wilder than we had thought, and there be dragons for sure.
From Elements of Travelling Back and Forth between Here and There
Two halves of a life
Two halves of a life.
And a hinge.
Where to put the hinge?
Tommorow, Today, Yesterday?
What? Used up your hinge?
Don't worry, here's another -
we call it a ritual.
You live in the hinge factory.
It's called a village.
There's a lot of expertise at the hinge factory.
Specialists in memory for one thing -
and additional skills in spark, flow
and grounding the concept.
This is the nature of things.
So I just thought I would mention it.
I'm not sure about today,
But it is beginning to look like
I might have lived
Earlier on, someone said:
"You know, there's still time to call this whole thing off."
And another wise one replied:
"Not only that, it's actually worse than you realize."
Just like us,
the old sages knew
how absolutely hopeless the whole situation is.
It's funny to say so, but there used to be an old proverb that declared:
If someone tells you there are two possibilities,
They might be lying.
She Will Tell You After Dinner
She said . . .
You know I’m not the kind of girl
that goes for censorship
or unexplained recommendations
prohibitions deletions book-burnings
they give me frustrations
I want the facts mister
Then I’ll make up my own mind
Like Calamity Jane
and Cleopatra and Madonna
I’ll vote, swear, think, dance,
fight, love, laugh, cry
Don’t—tell—me—where to go
Who to see
What to do
How to use my bo—dy
She said . . .
I’ve been to the river of tears
I’ve slept in the meadow of a thousand joys
I’m ready for the truth.
I thought you would — understand!
I thought you — would understand!
I thought you’d understand.
Braiding the Hair of the Warrior Monks
Foolish, but Not Awkward
foolish, but not awkward
out of control—but not out of bounds
crazy, but not insane
naked—but not defenseless
dirty, but not unclean
singular, but not alone
spirited—but not possessed
brotherly, but not familiar
dignified—but not comfortable
vulnerable, but not weak
These are the foolish, out of control, crazy naked dirty men
who brave to taste the sorrows of this world
I traveled into an unknown realm with men such as these
As night fell, our human bodies turned back
But still we continued with the determination of warriors
Some died in the mud
Some died in the fire
Most of the rest drowned in the water
And yet there were a few who survived all three
(I hate to tell the truth as much as the next man
But sometimes it's necessary.)
After that part of the story happened,
we were all left wondering
about what was going to happen next
things were going too well
for this to continue much longer.
By this time we were beginning to develop an inclination,
a general feeling of orientation,
one could say a burning desire,
indeed a serious longing,
some decisive plans—
toward going home . . .
Do you know how many miles I've walked
always coming home?
Songs from the Other World as Recited by Companions
From a Distance
A woman who smells like campfire smoke.
And lazily frying bacon,
with a hint of crisp early September mist.
And each one different
like the giant cedar
home of war canoes and longhouses and secret totem cults
who begin, by a hundred years of solitude,
to look like the merry grandparents,
seeing what is taking off from the once-dropped greenery.
Snuggling forest wolves and travelling bears
always visiting for fruit or deer
and the owls always finding an hour to drop in without notice.
You can see it even at 50
and occasionally at 30
But at twenty the saplings mostly look tall and lithe
from a distance
though if you approach closer
with an eye for the wind
you can see the twisting has begun.
This one flashing her white birch bark
and another one nearby with the wine red of dogwood.
There, some grace and flutter,
or, a little further on, a bit of stubborn peculiarity.
I say again—how they reach,
and what then falls,
is called singing and dancing in my country,
not exactly a smell,
more like a prickling sense of danger
located at the back of the neck,
which means either:
“Don’t go there,” or “You’re going there.”
States of Madness and Repair
What the Worthless Pagan Gods are Up To
Tonight, as the thunder—
and the rest of it—
the River swells
like mad wild horses
corralled against their dark natures.
The Other God of the river
has turned the whole thing into
a sea of flexing muscle which
slips between realities
over the banks of the shoreline.
You had a path there, a friend,
even a child
who could remember
your best and worst.
Like a bow
not curved enough in some places, too straight in others
it can only do good
when bent out of shape
Friends in This World
Laying in the Doorway of the Temple, Half –dead like a dog;
Exhausted from so many years in the Tavern drinking wine, whoring, praying, and singing out loud.
Friends, tonight the Friend has given us four lines to explain our lives.
Let’s damn well make them count.
Seditions to Overthrow the Enemies of Gods
In that dark French night
You wonder if
you are about to become
Your new companions
about to murder you
And dreams of love lay ripped apart.
The doorway is dark.
And no message clear . . .
save a friendly voice in the black shadows—
and from the dank smell of stone bursts
the nervous laughter of being alive.
How many times will the black crow
flutter behind your left shoulder?
Perhaps a few more.
Times you will be aware of
and times you will not.
Fools Shooting Arrows at Clowns
Those crazy Ravens
are back at it again
all around the garbage bin
they’re jostling for a position on this topic or that.
Sometimes I think they might be discussing you and me
there’s a percussion
in the beat of those wings
and the enthusiastic nods of agreement
that reminds me
of the way you circle around
and sometimes land right beside me
If I don’t startle you,
will you show me your shadowy graces.
or will you fly away anyhow,
in search of better pickings?
If we listened to the dark forest,
our path would be marked by trees.
Rough Graphic Language
I have questions
that must be answered in person
By the back of your left knee
requiring . . . consideration . . . investigation . . . improvisation . . .
Questions that must be asked by lips or fingertips.
The vague stage directions, like “enter, stage right,” or
“enter, stage left,”
The Costume Department, and especially the
and most importantly, the stage hands . . .
I have replies too private to be sent by any messenger
Even under the rules of the white flag
Only instant death would await
That foolhardy misadventure
A misty field at dawn with wild horses stampeding
They name that noise
Those horses were called a Wellspring
Because they came from the water land
They were given directions, very clear, like
“enter, stage left” or “enter, stage right.”
Why does it take so long for a script to get about its business?
Because all the characters have to have their say,
and according to Achebe,
There is no story that is not true.
Why does a poem head straight for wild territory?
Because everything interesting
Moved over there