poems


 

when I lean over the chasm of myself
it seems my God is dark
and like a web
-Rainer Maria Rilke

my days are flocks of starlings
there are howling wolves
the boy and the plain
containing prayer beads and Bangkok
the girl and the hours
containing prayer beads and Villa de Leyva
I live at the foot of tall mountains
containing prayer beads and Muscat
on escaping your toils
on the face of loneliness
antiphony on the plain
on being constantly civil towards death
antiphony in the hills
the names of my breath
when you come to me in the dark of night
 
 

 
 
my days are flocks of starlings
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my days are flocks of starlings
wheeling dark waves
of loud chatter

inside them I grope
for the memory of you

I think you are
a small flame embedded
in silence
 
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there are howling wolves
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there are howling wolves
among the poplars
their voices tessellate the night
and we vibrate

the moon is off course
sliding mercury drunk above us
in some blunt mistaken arc

who will rescue
the shattered constellations
who will pick up the pieces
of this night

who will tell the wolves
we are not coming
we never were
 
video based on this poem by Marc Swoon Bildos Neys
 
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the boy and the plain
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in a land of pouring cloud
a boy rides alone
over a wide plain
and finds one tree

lying spread-eagled
on pricking grass beneath it
he feels the thick soil
humming deeply

he remembers
a white stone monastery
on the edge of a chasm
under black mountains
and wheeling falcon

he remembers gleaming marshes
lit by dead suns
watched over by headless
stone lions

I am the golden snake
gliding into you, my inside
is wider by far
than my outside

eyes closed
he feeds this perfect thought
slowly into the brown earth

his horse shifts restlessly
beneath the tree
 
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containing prayer beads and Bangkok
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two thirds of people use prayer beads
for counting or reciting
prayers and incantations

Jao who has been mine lectures me
on the Chao Phraya river
sitting cross-legged, gesticulating
in the prow of the long boat
his yellow shirt and black hair
kicking in the wind

as we reach Wat Arun the temple
I who crave him
and oh crave him cannot speak
from the gold-shot pain
of sunset on the river on
his long fingers
and cinnamon eyes

in the temple Jao buys me
a japa mala from a prayer bead vendor
it has one hundred and eight
beads of orange jade and warm bone

we leave Wat Arun
when the river runs black
in pearl moonlight
and at the Tha Tien pier
Jao whispers his last thing
he tells me to find
my own mantra

a year later in deep Seattle
winter I pull the japa mala
from my prayer bag
and cannot speak
 
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the girl and the hours
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the girl lives in an iron shack
her homeland is red
it is dry

the passing of the first hour is rich
blue salt, the second
emerald oboe

the girl pulls up
a rough wooden chair
in hot wind

she observes the sleek hours
passing in single file before her
on a catwalk

one is smoking vermillion
another dream black and muscled
dark whale song

the striding hours are elegant
they have a fine sense of color
and they are not afraid

the girl watches deeply
under constant sun, never feels
she is alone
 
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containing prayer beads and Villa de Leyva
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it looks fragile in the sunlight
a thin chain of red garnets with a cross
linked in delicate silver

a rosary, says Luis Fernando
someone has dropped it
on the cobbles of the Plaza Mayor

a vallenato band plays in the crowded square
and the tall hills of Villa de Leyva
hulk blue all around us

Luis Fernando and I contemplate
the fallen rosary at our feet
its terrible adventure

then my tall love who tomorrow
will break my heart
bends in his lithe handsome way

and gathers up the rosary
he winds fifty-nine dainty
blood beads around my wrist

Luis Fernando turns my hand
and kisses it (why does he close
his silver eyes)

a vallenato band is playing
Luis Fernando is pulling me close
in the shadow of tall blue hills

and the prayer beads on my wrist
twisted tight red and beautiful
glint in sinking sun
 
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I live at the foot of tall mountains
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I live at the foot of tall mountains
where music is the wind
and a boy flies a red kite
on the tableland

but when the sea comes
onto the land like spouting whales
when it roars forcing
through narrow rock-face
seeking its shore

how like earth
are our skulls,
I will say
how we resemble each other
in our cruelty

 
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containing prayer beads and Muscat
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when I kneel before her so she may know me
in a dusky backroom inside the souq at Muttrah
the fingers of Hassan’s blind grandmother
are cobweb breath and leaf fall

I offer my face
to her small grandmother’s hands
which are gold brown and as light
as any small bird singing
in any far-off tree

sit with me, she says, behold
foreign girl, this is misbaha
she shows me a glowing string of ninety-nine
amber beads which, she says, are for being mindful
of God

her thin fingers click the beads thirty-three times
for the greatness of God; thirty-three more
deep brown in his praise; and another thirty-three
bright amber clicks with her bird-song fingers
for his glory

now the names of your God
she orders Hassan, who drives a fast car
drinks whisky and is oh
lustful and Hassan obeys
his grandmother

the Compassionate, the Merciful, he begins
his voice deep and easy and suddenly
new to me

the hot Muscat afternoon falls away
in swirling amber silence
into a great gold clicking
and the unknown voice of Hassan
reciting all the names of God

the Compeller, the Shaper of Beauty
the Forgiver and Hider of Faults
the Constrictor, the Expander
the Watchful One
the Finder

and we are neither sleeping
nor awake by the time he gets
to the Timeless, the Patient
to ninety-nine

Hassan and I stumble out into the bright
afternoon into his fast car
and speed back to downtown Muscat
but for many hours

I feel cobweb breath and leaf fall
on my face, hear brown
birds singing all the names
of God and finger lightly
my new amber misbaha
curled gifted and gold
long asking and holy
in my pocket
 
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on escaping your toils
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of all things
I would be a church bell

I would be cast in bronze
and copper and tuned

for tenor I would be hung high
inside a church tower

and the seasons would march
over the land

under my indifferent eye
and I would not notice the fuss

of nesting swallows in the belfry
or lovers and murderers

enacting old stories
in my ringing chamber

I would hang high and be tuned for tenor
to ring birth death danger

and love
quite indifferently
 
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on the face of loneliness
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the door of my heart opens today
on blasted forest

I walk into the emptiness
of myself in cold starlight
and crunching footsteps

you flit thinly up ahead
through dying trees
all pale charcoal
and dark silver
disappearing

when I turn my back on you
you should fall empty
you should fall spreading
in ashen dust
so how have you sharpened

into this thin bright hook
pulling me after you still
as though you
were some great moon and I
some helpless tide

all washed up again
inside this blasted forest
 
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antiphony on the plain
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my love has left me

across a plain at noon
the curve of giraffe neck
or distant blue volcano

sickness is upon me

the white flowering
of coffee trees
after rain

how the world vexes me

the olive sheen of mamba
noiseless in the acacia
stalking the nightjar
 
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on being constantly civil towards death
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deep underground
in great black stillness
she lights a small candle hoping

to see the rich colors
of darkness
and hear its breath
 
 
video based on this poem by Dave Bonta
 
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antiphony in the hills
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bruise-dark over the mountain pass
thunder rolls down to us at dusk
as hot embrace

I have changed my name
I am a great unwinding

the clouds are gargoyle
the hills swollen black
with promised rain

enter the rooms of me
they are your rooms

the Angelus bell weaves
its copper web
across the valley

your step is like a small flame
and a song unfurling

 
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the names of my breath
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pathmaker
because I follow
my breath which is an orange beacon
lighting all of my country
from singing moor
to murderous coast

mustang
because I ride
my breath which is wild
and owns the geography
of the plains, answering in detail
the winter sky

healer
because my breath enters
the rooms of pain
with a light step
and bows to pain, calling it
by its name

home
because my breath ends
in silver plainchant
and woven silence
in you
 
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when you come to me in the dark of night
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when you come to me in the dark of night
and bid me rise up and disrobe
I drop my garments like skin

and step into you as into a warm pool
ringed with birch trees and linnet song

you receive me as battered nerve
as troubled blood and muscle

but when I have stilled myself in you
when I have readied myself

I rise whole from the pool at sunrise
and step onto you as onto a straight road
lined with cypress trees and warbler song
 
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