“Twelve – Twelve Jars of Wine”


For the Tang Immortals

Especially for Li Po
One of my Favorite Poets
In a Style He’d Like

 

Twelve jars of wine beside a river bank,
each one a friend and for a friend to break
the seal of, letting out the breath of grape
and age and love and how all things must end.
My friends are never with me when I’m rank
and drunk beside the water, so I shake
my fist up at the clouds and let the shape
of all my sorrows flow like them again.

Shaped clouds, like vines, like rivers, and the wine,
divine in every way that heaven knows,
are always friends. I answer as they pass,
for drunkards hear cloud voices in sunshine.

The jars are empty. Wine’s like friends, it goes
away, and leaves me, cloudy, on my ass.

“Eleven – Dulce Denied”

An Elegiac Sonnet For Wilfred Owen,
One of My Favorite Poets,
Killed 4 November, 1918,
Canal de la Sambre à l’Oise, France

 

Eleven months, eleven days, and where
were you when they began to ring the bells
to tell the world that everything you had
fought with such horror for, was done again?
They’d stilled the demon war once more and there
was shouting in the streets and toffs and swells
who’d read your words, and thought them sad,
put them aside, to take out now and then.

Do you suppose they knew just where you’d gone?
That words were all they’d ever know of you?
Or were they lost in dreams of hope and glory,
not caring who had paid, and was withdrawn?

I read your words and know it’s never true.
Dulce’s never been pro patria mori.

“Ten – Nonsense on the Farm. A Sonnet. Sort Of.”

 

Ten little cabbages. Ten little pink pigs.
Ten times the whistle-man, whittled whistle twigs.
Whistle for the pigs, boy, whistle for the pigs.
Whistle till the cows come home, wearing piggy wigs.

Ten great big cabbages. Ten chickens lay eggs.
Everything time a chicken lays, the whistle-man begs.
Begs for an omelet. Begs for dancing eggs.
Begs for the cows to come, dancing on two legs.

Why not a rooster? Why not a hen?
Why not a rabbit-pirate, shooting up the pen?
Why does the whistle-man whistle piggies in?
Where has the rooster gone? How high? And when?

Ten little dancing piggies, et up all the omelets.
I wish they’d et up all these words, then they’d make sense.

“Nine – A Plea to the Nine Muses”

 

Nine times I’ve watched the ancient, sacred hill,
each time with more determination than
before. I knew that if I would only stand
there long enough, I’d see you come along.
But mornings passed, then afternoons, and still,
though I would praise your names, and praise again,
nothing stood upon that hill but grass, and
that’s not why I was there. So, was I wrong?

If I watch and believe, please, will you come
and speak to me in words of love, of lust,
of myth, of what you will? I’ve lost the sight
of you and without that, I’m stricken dumb.

Calliope, Euterpe, Erato, must
all of my muses bathe in mortal light?

“Eight – Saint Smart-Aleck and the Dragon”

 

” ‘ate ‘im up, ‘e did,” the storyteller said,
‘an spat ‘is bones out wicky-ticky tat.
‘e hewsed ‘is skin to line ‘is truckle bed,
‘is tongue to scrape ‘is toes there hon the mat.
Hit goes to show youse, hwoman, man an’ buoy,
that dragons isn’t naught to trifle ’bout.
An’ nuffin’ in the hworld, not purty gurl ner buoy,
kin stan’ ’em up agin a dragon’s snout.”

“Saint George did,” so I said, “and that’s the truth.
He killed himself a dragon, whiff a sword.
The princess loved him, so they say, forsooth!
And George got all the girls and all the hoard!”

His breath smelled like a dragon’s when he hissed,
” be ware the stoory-teller when ‘e’s pissed!”

“Seven – Laziness”

 

Seven long hours ago, I saw the sun
sprawling on my lawn, with no real need
to notice it beyond that night was done.
I watched it creeping up with no real speed.
I hadn’t dreamed. No work today. No cause
to roll out of my bed. I’m staying home.
Yet still it crept, according to its laws,
and still I lie here, all ‘not brushed’, uncombed.

Should I go out and see where morning’s gone?
Do I care if all the world is cooler
than I am, in my blankets? Is a yawn
all I need today? Or’s sleep the answer?

Seven hours from now the moon will creep.
But I won’t know it, being fast asleep.

“Six – Sly Boots”

 

Sics his brute dog, Sly Boots does, and he smiles
when all the children scream and run about.
Mails the bill, Sly Boots does, and he grins
when he gets both the goods and money back.
Sly Boots, the killer, spreads his webs and whiles,
and when the fly is trapped, oh, how he’ll shout.
Sly Boots, the temptress, spreads her other things
and captures those whose needs assuage her lack.

Oh, so many traps to keep us worried.
Oh, so many ways to pin a lie.
Oh, so little need for all the poison.
So much need for living life unhurried.

Sly Boots, Sly Boots, please, let your anger die.
Its nicer out here with us in the sun.

“Five – Poetry. Carrying On”

 

Five centuries ago, there was no Bill
Shakespeare. Cervantes. No Voltaire. Moliere.
Chaz Dickens hadn’t breathed and Ariel
had not left Shelley’s corpse in Leghorn Bay.
Lord Byron’s foot was not the club, his will,
stomping jealousy into the fair.
Elizabeth and Robert weren’t ‘The Swell
and Portuguese’ that we still praise today.

Now they’ve all come and gone and left behind
just scraps of what they said, pinned to the page.
One day I’ll follow them. What will I leave?
Just pages of my own, unloved, unsigned?

I hope to leave great stories. Plays to stage.
Words for future authors to quote and thieve.

“Four – Words and a Poet”

 

For almost all my life, I’ve known that words
were thick like leaves upon the cottonwood,
like starling feathers on a wheeling flock,
flashes on the water, glimpsed through the clouds.
For just as long, they’ve hidden like hedge birds.
I’ve had to chase them out, and beat them good
and hard with graphite sticks, with rope and rock,
to keep them from dispersing through the crowds.

But have you, though, ever felt them when they’re right?
Have you felt them in your bones or felt them break
every heart you have, then heal them back
into one heart that beats hard as you write?

That’s why I gather words and why I take
my bones and hearts and strengthen what words lack.

“Three – Choose Three Important Things”

– A Lesson –
A New Parable of the Buddha

 

Three mornings in a row, the Buddha sat
and sipped his tea beneath the banyan tree.
He waited for the coming of the thought
that would define this way, this life. What’s more,
his expectation was that he would know
not just the answers but the questions that
had baffled men for centuries. You see
he wasn’t born with wisdom. He was not.

But nothing came and though his mind, a store
of eagerness, cried out, he’d naught to show.
Just then a child sat by him with a toy,
Though the child smiled wide, the toy was broken.

He sat it in the sage’s lap and said,
“The only questions are the words unspoken.”