Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nyi Roro Kidul

A popular story in Java tells of a queen, Nyi Roro Kidul,
who from time to time sends ashore a large wave that carries
people out to sea. Occasionally the queen returns a few of them
alive to tell of her existence.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

Did the Greeks mistake, was Atlas born giant
in order to shoulder, not heaven or earth
or firmament, but the vast underneath?
Can one shrug—his—let slip such dogs
of subcontinental drift?

What part of this Japan-wounding havoc,
in Cerberus-speak, means these exact
savage barks? What three-headed whelp’s
chain-jerk from Avernus
must each anguished seismic yelp be like,
to so hurt us?

Rift after rift in the people-crested crust:
from quake to tsunami to meltdown,
a last gargantuan aim stun
vents atomic cloud steam,
sent jet-stream;
and all this from the slip
of an underworld’s inch,
what amounts, in earth-terms,
to an understammer.

As with Atlas’ drink (was his fumble
a drunk one?), is hubris the cup slipped us
on the abysmal lip? Does our ledge,
or our no-ledge, crumble?

What must our next worst lapse
cost us? To our sorrow,
cost fallible us our error (perhaps) must,
but in fate, love, or rubble?


—Tom Goff

This is the smoke that doesn’t burn the eye,
except the internal one (“where the meanings are”)?
—this forest fire no forest ranger spies.

A burning dark, invisible as lies,
can scorch a wilderness of rods like stars.
This is the smoke that doesn’t burn the eye,

exposing cores no pool can soothe or quiet
though chill as glacial Himalayan airs.
No forest ranger spies this forest fire

high in a tower, neighbored by tree-sighs.
Long alarms waft on soft steam: distant shofars.
This is the smoke that doesn’t sting like lye,

that bloods no cloth or liquid with its dye,
nor spots the dyer’s hand with instant scars.
Such fires, passing tracelessly forest-wide,

with hurricanes and firestorms will not vie:
yet this thing burgeons like Dresdens, boiling not far
offshore, this fire whereby folk slowly, subtly die.
The news of it smoke-reddens the eye.

with sorrow and respect for the Japanese people, 3/18/11


—Chris Piper, Napa

(“. . . preceding a tsunami strike, the sea often
recedes temporarily from the coast. Around
the Indian Ocean, this rare sight reportedly
induced people, especially children, to visit the
coast to investigate and collect stranded fish
on as much as 2.5 km (1.6 mi) of exposed
beach, with fatal results.” Article: 2004 Indian
Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami, Wikipedia)

Soft morning light on softer waves
that lazily caress the shore,
the island and embracing sea
at drowsy lover’s play,
the sunrise birds cacophony
like children’s happy laughter . . .

Dull morning lingers on the strand
declining to become the day;
quick sprites of light dance pirouettes
across a blue-gray becalmed sea;
warm, humid breeze plays in the trees,
and then, the birds are silent.

A rustling of wings, the birds
take flight for harbor inland,
a hush breathes from the sea
and falls across the pastel beach—
the sounds like faintly whispered words
survivors will recall in dreams
that wake them with night terrors.

The sea recedes, the sea recedes,
the sea recedes by feet and yards,
and only that low haunting hush
tells of its cruel withdrawal.
The sea recedes two thousand yards
and gathers in reflection.

Bright colored fish bereft aground
in harsh unfiltered sunlight glare,
they spasm gasping in the air,
and village boys rush eagerly
to grab them up to sell or eat—
an unexpected bounty on
an unexpected sunlit morn.

The scene is painted in the mind,
a still life of a mystery—
the sun, the shore, bare ocean floor,
astonished faces wondering
has somewhere Moses raised his staff
and God displaced the waters.

And in the distance waits the sea,
beneath white clouds and hazy sky
dispassionately gathering.
The mind would hold this image still,
but no amount of human will
could slow the forces working there.

Not sound but shadow makes them pause—
a shape, a movement barely glimpsed.
The sea, as if an edifice
of shimmering translucent stone,
appears to rise and rise some more,
and then it starts to move to shore;
with growing speed, it moves to shore.

There should be sound, some dreadful sound—
a rumbling, a crack of doom,
or Gabriel’s bright golden horn
resounding with the end of days;
but there is none until the cries
of those unlikely fisher boys.

They scramble, scuttling like crabs
across a rocky wet terrain,
still struggling with squirming fish
as if they cling to hope itself;
some stumble headlong, trip and fall,
none makes a pace to match the sea.

There should be sound, horrendous sound,
not terrifying silent calm
through which the sea, not like a wave
but like a growing wall, comes on;
and then there’s sound, but not the kind
the mind would conjure for the scene.

The moving wall displaces air,
an exhalation loud and long,
as if God sighs with grief to see
such things played out in providence.
The wall of water climbs the coast,
reclaiming its domain and more.

The fish grabbers are overcome,
submerged and tumbled helplessly;
they spasm gasping in the sea,
and all their hope, released, swims free.
The ocean surges onto land,
a crestless unrelenting force.


The dead are mute; the living grieve
with wailing or with quiet tears
or cursing God for what He did
or didn’t do or should have done;
and others speak of miracles
they witnessed or experienced.

A story makes the evening news
in cities far around the world
about a boy found in a tree
some thirty feet above the ground,
alive, but just, and clinging to
an uhu fish as big as he.

Among the plots of loose-packed soil,
small plain white stones mark unturned earth—
the empty graves of landlubbers
who, at their daily enterprise
and solidly on stable ground,
disappeared, went lost at sea.

A low and careless morning surf
beneath a yawning cloudless sky
rolls unremarkably along
a distant peaceful pastel coast,
and even landlocked Iowa
knows the guilt of survival.

(Written in 2005 in response to the
Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami
of December 2004.)


Today's LittleNip: 

Jets tic-tac-toeing
over the nuclear plant
fear should be grounded

—Michael Cluff, Highland, CA