The Uncomfortable Rose of Refugio

We were kids from the city hunting snipes.
We didn’t know a rose from a hedgehog.
It was night and dark green swells
broke into laughing curling soup.
The tide was in but we had climbed
over the rocks and around
the Point and couldn’t get back.
We came to a cave in the cliffs
where we waited for the rose
to bloom like the moon out
over the cove, light spreading
across the ocean near and far.

Our rose was not sick, like Blake’s.
It wasn’t full of worms or covered
with aphids. Through the hot
summers and cold winters
its mild scent filled the cave.

At night we first felt then heard
the train coming and by the time
it crossed the trestle the whole
campground was awake waiting
for the shaking ground wave
to pass through.

Tent flies opened and a few folks
went out walking in the night.
The night did not howl.
The rose’s name was not
Germaine. Her bed was blue
not red, unkempt and unread,
saltish, seaweedy. We peeled
back the pearl petals and spent
the night on the sandy bed
in the cave as the tide ebbed
and even the waves fell asleep
in the uncomfortable silence.

Not All Blues

Not all blues radical newfangled
greens in blues blues in greens
so what asphalt actually mostly
walking away sweet summertime
steps not very early carnival birds
sing to farther extant songperch
over lands & seas sands & trees
trills of trains fading away full
dress function over sidewalks
across intersections red gold
solos muted with olive tents
“Ineluctable modality of…”
commodities blues and greens
all that is seen right under
one’s nose walking to & fro
stopping in 16 blues bars.

Beckett Beatitudes

Happy are those who have seen Godot
for theirs is the kingdom of the circus.

Beat are the Monks whose clapping
hands lack priggish-holy rhythm.

Privileged are those who ask
and can’t get no answer.

Rich are the old who hear
sweet silence coming near.

Beati are the ugly the down
and out whose beauty stuns.

Blessed are the homeless
their room in heaven made.

Happy the captured silent
who wear pork pie hats.

Blessed are the busted
whose crime is alive.

Rich are the poor so
free from distraction.

Lucky are the fall guys
the players in the play of the play.

Canonized are the sinners
free from all rules.

Wealthy are the workers
whose tools are not words.

Blessed are those who fail
for they have their degree.

Happy the ignored their
ignorance unsurpassed.

Abite the teachers who tried
and failed to teach nothing.

Blessed are those damned
to fame and taken amiss.

Directional

You must work at the edge
of an ocean to know
your ebbs and floods

the absurd churn
of the daily news
tar between your toes

my sister Barbara’s
handmade cards
poetry without steps

Eric gave me a card
wild stone staircase
like a waterfall

spilling down
a treed hill
shade and light

neither the top
nor bottom
shown

the strides switchback
rise this and fall that
at the same moment

one climbs up
one descends
one walks around

town
the park
the neighborhood

here and there
makes no difference
which way you go

there is no peak
experience
no all-time low

each section
its own part
fragment of time


The Blob

It absorbed all
who approached
near its lovely light
who hid there
clearly out of sight.

It was a blob, its blue dazzle
embraced, encased
in its light shell
all who posed for it.

Like the moon
it was one’s own
reflection mirroring
all who imitated.

Hand held, powerful
like the spermaceti
candle when it lit
half the Earth.

The other half
of course burned
in darkness but
safe from the blob.

Say It Isn’t So

Say it isn’t so
whisper in my ear
it’s so soon for you to go
stay young with me dear
don’t make me grow old

Say it isn’t so
blue eyes once so clear
freckles on your cheeks
falling disappear
your skin where soft as milk

I used to slip the clutch
voluptuous your lips
your grip so loose
say it isn’t so
that now you’ve let go

There is no instant
metamorphosis
when bliss gives way
to the fish flouncing
in the bucket on the pier

Say it isn’t so
we’re all out of bait
you can’t remember
our last happy date
the old commiserate

but must go down alone
say it isn’t so
the best time of the day
when your eyes close
peace comes a wave

bubbles at the shore
at the tideline we talk
unsure is it going out
or coming in
say it isn’t so

On So & So On

In the beginning
it was so
and so on

Soon sown
then three
to party

Grown from seed
and so on
the invitations.

So the old fisherman
though years since his
boat out on the water
still sold more fish
than he caught
and when asked
by the economist
how this could be so
said so few are called
but many who so choose.

To the Lighthouse

It was not a real
lighthouse tho near
the ocean in Hermosa
and hornful of warns

Sunday afternoons free
we listened to hot jazz
players coming together
& going this way & that

And nights were cats
in the lot out back
came for scraps
a tuba sized cook

tossed evenings we
could afford only
one drink and out
for a walk on the pier

in a fog or clear breeze
round midnight round
about midnight waves
breaking into ivory

silk blouses blowing
below to the empty
beach behind us
and Pier Avenue

and to The Lighthouse
its beacon leading
light sinking in the must
of music business.



On Symbols

Symbols attract as well as repel, signal good or evil, nearness or farness. Roadside signs first used to advertise products, cigarettes or shampoos, evolve to say something abstract: Jesus Saves. A symbol is a belief.

An abandoned roadside sign, the billboard, its wooden legs leaning askew, its paper layered panel weather faded, becomes a symbol of change, of nostalgia, its country road long ago bypassed by an interstate highway, its message no longer visible or intelligible to the passing strangers, one of whom, at a quick glance, scratches his head and wants to shower or reaching into the glove box finds the pack empty and begins to watch for a filling station, motel, or cafe to appear on the horizon.

A series of signs spaced along the side of a road at planned intervals may form pieces connected to frame a storyline, like a sentence connects words to form a complete thought. The symbols pass fast and furiously. The whole edifice constructed by some outlier becomes part of the local landscape. In town, the abandoned grade school is converted to a micro brewery and bed and breakfast inn. The old one room church is now a real estate office.

The romanticist, who loves symbols, is a quick change artist who substitutes his own for the ones he was given:

“It is always, as in Wordsworth, the individual sensibility, or, as in Byron, the individual will, with which the Romantic poet is preoccupied; and he has invented a new language for the expression of its mystery, its conflict and confusion. The arena of literature has been transferred from the universe conceived as a machine, from society conceived as an organization, to the individual soul.”

Edmund Wilson, “Axel’s Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930,” Scribner, 1931.

That soul comes and goes like the moon, now new, now waning, and the reader might be caught in the moon illusion, where symbols appear larger when closer to the tree line, where a tree is traded for shade or a home.

In today’s political jargon, as writ large in media, classicism is conservative, romanticism liberal, the symbols of the conservative fixed and permanent, those of the romantic fluid and ambiguous:

“Blake had already contradicted contemptuously the physical theory of the eighteenth century. And to Wordsworth, the countryside of his boyhood meant neither agriculture nor neo-classic idylls, but a light never seen on land or sea. When the poet looked into his own soul, he beheld something which did not seem to him reducible to a set of principles of human nature.”

same as above

The classicist looks at the billboard and sees an advertisement upon the landscape; the romantic looks at the billboard and sees an advertisement as part of the landscape:

There is no real dualism, says Whitehead, between external lakes and hills, on the one hand, and personal feelings, on the other: human feelings and inanimate objects are interdependent and developing together in some fashion of which our traditional notions of laws of cause and effect, of dualities of mind and matter or of body and soul, can give us no true idea.

same as above

And, as science advances, the soul retreats. It’s difficult if not impossible to register and catalog the movement of the soul:

“Every feeling or sensation we have, every moment of consciousness, is different from every other; and it is, in consequence, impossible to render our sensations as we actually experience them through the conventional and universal language of ordinary literature. Each poet has his unique personality; each of his moments has its special tone, its special combination of elements. And it is the poet’s task to find, to invent, the special language which will alone be capable of expressing his personality and feelings. Such a language must make use of symbols: what is so special, so fleeting and so vague cannot be conveyed by direct statement or description, but only by a succession of words, of images, which will serve to suggest it to the reader. The Symbolists themselves, full of the idea of producing with poetry effects like those of music, tended to think of these images as possessing an abstract value like musical notes and chords. But the words of our speech are not musical notation, and what the symbols of Symbolism really were, were metaphors detached from their subjects – for one cannot, beyond a certain point, in poetry, merely enjoy color and sound for their own sake: one has to guess what the images are being applied to. And Symbolism may be defined as an attempt by carefully studied means – a complicated association of ideas represented by a medley of metaphors – to communicate personal feelings.

same as above

The classicist wants to be sure of things, and has a fixed point of view, wants to demolish the target; the romantic lives with variable viewpoints, ambiguity – it’s enough to get close. The symbols of the classicist do not suggest beyond convention, but can only denote. In any case, neither seems satisfied with what unwritten laws they develop. A tree at an oasis to a desert nomad is not the same tree as the one under which the family on vacation parks its recreational vehicle in the state forest campground, not to mention the one in the wilderness no human has ever seen. And, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” Blake says in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”

Or a billboard, for that matter.

The Hottest Day

Looking about for something cool to read,
for today is scheduled to be the hottest day,
and I recalled Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha,”
its beginning lines:

“In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured into his black eyes, when playing as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father, the scholar, taught him, when the wise men talked.”

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse, 1922

Sounds cool, but Siddhartha,
as we now know,
had a long row to hoe
before attaining coolness.

Siddhartha might have been a member
of what Gertrude Stein named
“a lost generation”:

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits…. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”

Ecclesiastes, King James Version

The wise men in my youth
would have near
a cool drinking beer
to go with the flow.

Honeydew beach
and rollicking surf
in the morning
chores in the afternoon
sit out with the family
in the evening
when the sun goes down
in the shade of the olive
tree, the Chinese Elm
and the three carob trees.

Meanwhile, waiting for rain,
Walt Whitman:

And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d, altogether changed,
and yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own
origin, and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,
Reck’d or unreck’d. duly with love returns.)

The Voice of the Rain, “Sands at Seventy,” Walt Whitman

Of course, “the voice of the rain” in places today
is not so quiet and “soft-falling,”
but seems on the attack;
something absurd
has been disturbed.

Likewise, the blue sky
and this week’s yellow period
we for months awaited
comes down today
like a cast iron lid
where we sit
like a cake
rising
in an oven.