Saturday, June 15, 2013

From the Other Side of the Poem

—Drawing Given to D.R. Wagner 
by Tom Kryss, 1968


        all by all and deep by deep
        and more by more they dream their sleep
                            ...e.e. cummings

He caught the wind just coming through the door
But would not say he did for the sores
He saw upon its back were frightening
And more than that, no one would believe
A language made of such damp, of ancient
Lands and shards of stories cobbed
To that quick back.  There should be
More he thought and closed his mouth
As though it were a thicket through
Which one must pass to obtain
Even a partial view of what might, just
Might be a fabled castle and its keep
Or just a shape that dreamed itself:
A castle full of dreams of others
None of his own, not his kingdom
At all, rather a deliberate trick
Time might play, sunlight on a broken
Column and a mouthful of half-seen
Visions mouthed by an adolescent boy
Inventing a tale without evidence
At all.

“What was it lad?
Surely you can tell?”

But no, all we knew was that when
We reached the fires with their
Shadowy travelers and their liquor
And their crude speech, no one
Knew a thing of what we were saying.

They were plugged into their phones
And draped their ears with headphones.
The cities around them crowded together
Closer and closer in a vain attempt
To not look the same, not speak
The same, not have a thing to proclaim
That was not stuffed into their ears.

The thunder disappeared.  We would
Not stay.  We could not stay.
We must move with the bastard wind
To find some barren field where
We might speak to one another
And be understood as seekers
Of the light, shaking from having
Known too much of the sea.
And now this confused and over-ripe
Dream of civilization wrought in an exile
From the physical, from beyond the mainland
From what we once knew made up the world.

Now, only islands.  The sailors madly
Making their way from one to another
Place trying to convince one and another
That here they had seen the light.
Here they had heard a particular name.
Here they saw brighter fires, higher flames.

Stand upon this headland
And watch with me for a little while.
For now I can be with you
And then again in a little while
I shall not be with you.
And you shall believe that time
Cannot erode such a memory as this.
But it shall erode indeed and give
Itself to the mist and yet another
Shall see the back of wind
Come through yet another door
And once again declare it a jewel, not a wind
At all, but the clear light of the present.

“Keep this in mind,” the king declared
Leaving the executioner's block,
His head tumbling upon the floor.
The crowd cheering, more, more, more.
The visions opening up before
One can find defense, before
One can find one’s presence.
Can find love.
Can find no thing.
No more.

—Gouache by one of D.R. Wagner's
art students, UC Davis


Without my hat on, the moon looked different.
Ramon had said that would happen.
“Hats transfer energy in a peculiar way.
They make the tides leap back and forth
So one never knows if they will be high
Or low or if you will be welcome
When you get back to the camps."

I didn’t think much about hats when
We went out to hit the dam.
I felt that, if we were successful,
It would unite the groups living
Near the edges of the cliffs—
At least stop them from moaning for awhile.

I knew I could handle this, but
Hadn’t counted on what a difference
A hat might make.

I could not start the job without the
Wire comb that kept all the lines straight.
Ramon began to complain that I was too slow.
“Don’t scold me, Ramon.  I’ve got this entire
Thing just about ready.”

“Take your hat off, mister," he said.
"You are in the house of the lord.”

The next thing I knew all the power
Lines came down and a hole
As big as Rhode Island opened
In the face of the dam.
“Now put it back on and get the hell
Out of here,” he said.
He didn’t have to tell me twice.

We decided to head for the cliff
Edges.  Maybe the people there knew
More about this hat thing.
Ramon began to sing the mulberry song.



I have come to believe that
The words of this poem will
Be lost forever, that the language
In which it is written will
Also never be translated.

I will further place high winds tearing
Through forests of dark fir
Trees here.  Winds that will shriek
And drown these words beneath
Their terrible noise.

That one will not be able to read
These words because deep snows
Will cover them and wherever
One looks, only white will stretch
Away from the eyes in all directions.

That white wolves and white bears
Will dwell there totally unnoticed
Within these words until it is too
Late to stop their fury.

That oceans of incredible depth
Will cover these words and even fish
Will think the pages upon which they are written
Will be washed away, or the page devoured.

Or that these same words will become
Part of the body of a great fire
That destroys any civilization capable
Of making sense of the marks
Made here,  the paper curling
To gray ash with only the voice
Of fire as its own voice.

No one will ever know this poem
Is a most beautiful love poem
That tells of my longing for you,
That speaks of your beauty as no one
Has ever spoken before,
That the hearts of birds stop dead
When they see you in the green,
Such is your beauty.  The stars will
Bow down to you and the Angels
Become as dumb as these words
Upon setting sight of you.
No one will ever know.

 —Photo by Taylor Graham


He took the fish out of the water
As if he had put it there.
It was yellow.  He didn’t want it
To be yellow.  Aaron, the one with the lazy
Eye, said it first. “It’s a yellow fish.”

“Yeah it is.”  He looked at the hook
Coming out of its gills, sucked in
Through the mouth.  That must
Have been when he felt it and pulled
The line tight.  There was red coming
From the gills.  Fish blood.

"Are you going to keep it?’ Aaron asked.
“No,” he answered, “I don’t want a yellow fish.”

On the way home he talked to himself.
Sun, yellow, corn, yellow, squash, yellow,
Peppers, some of them yellow,
Cheese, yellow, lemons, yellow,
Her hair, yellow.  She said it was
Blonde but it was yellow.
The Tailor’s cat with the bent tail,
"Yellow, Yellow. Yellow. Yellow.”
He said it over and over, “Fucking yellow.”



“Do not believe the cards,” she said.
These belonged to people who kept dragons
But could not untwist their own tongues
To make words one could understand.

They drew comets in the sand and waited
For them to come across the sky.
They did.  Then they would simply get up,
Make a couple of marks in the sand
And go wash themselves in the sea.
They left the place by roads
We did not know were there.

When we saw all the pictures on the cards,
They brought bouquets of feeling to us.
Some were red like blood or love
And just as difficult to understand
As both these things.  Jason
Did cut his arm badly, shortly after
Seeing the red card and insisting
On cutting wood for the fire.

Another had a picture of a man
Planting something in a field.
There was a grand house
In the background,
But no one in the picture seemed
To notice it.  There was no smoke
Coming from the chimneys.
In the foreground there was a large
Blue bird sitting in a tree and at the bottom
A picture of a ripe apple that my sister
Said looked like it was an afterthought.

The last one I remembered was
Of a great fish.
Three men are in a boat trying
To pull the fish aboard with their hands.
Two little check-mark birds flew above them.

A depiction of the wind as the
Face of a man blowing air was on the left side.
The fish itself was blue and green
With big teeth that looked sharp.

“Watch out for that one,” Mary said.
I had no idea what she was talking about.

 Sara Kline
—Gouache by one of D.R. Wagner's
art students, UC Davis


The poem only awaits the words
So it can begin to exist.

It cuts as a border between
One kind of emotion and another
Or merely to entertain the shadows
Of what one once felt for another,

A love for a brother or a sister,
A friend who lived on the other
Side of the poem and who could
Only imagine what he might
Discover once he got past those
Final few lines and got a good look.
What was really going on there?
A description of a place, perfectly said?

Suddenly everything looked like a city
He had seen before, but which
His memory refused to identify
So that wonder might have a home.


Today's LittleNip:

The last poem that was this
Beautiful wasn’t allowed to stay
In the world very long.

It was put in a drawer and later
The house burned to the ground
With the poem in the middle
Of it all.

This one stands a better chance.
It doesn’t have any tricks
Or difficult words in it at all.

It will just sit here before you
Staring back into your eyes
And will be far more beautiful
Than anything you’ve ever seen so far.


—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner (and Taylor Graham, Tom Kryss, and D.R.'s students) for today's poems and pix!

—Gouache by one of D.R. Wagner's
art students, UC Davis