Friday, October 21, 2011

3 Poems: Rengetsu, Merwin, and Charles Wright

What follows are three poems that somehow this week all gathered themselves around my feet, so many wind-blown leaves. They seem all to have the same tinge of color, or fragile tactility, or perhaps epistemology. Maybe, just maybe, the randomness of this gathering is the filter of the consciousness that attracted them or was attracted to them.

Maybe not.

   Your absence has gone through me 
   Like thread through a needle
   Everything I do is stitched with its color.
                                                               W. S. Merwin

Self-Portrait in 2035
   The root becomes him, the road ruts
   That are sift and grain in the powderlight
   Recast him, sink bone in him
   Blanket and creep up, fine, fine:

   Worm-waste and pillow tick; hair
   Prickly and dust-dangled, his arms and black shoes
   Unlinked and laceless, his face false
   In the wood-rot, and past pause . . .

   Darkness, erase these lines, forget these words.
   Spider recite his one sin

                                       Charles Wright

Mountain Falling Flowers
   We accept the graceful falling
   Of mountain cherry blossoms,
   But it is much harder for us
   To fall away from our own
   Attachment to this world.
                                                              translated by John Stevens

The Merwin was sent along by a friend who knows how much I cherish Merwins's most recent book, The Shadows of Sirius.   It is the second time in recent weeks I've delved into China Trace, Charles Wright's early 1977 collection, prompted by his sensational recent volume, Sestets.   The Rengetsu, which comes from the book Lotus Moon (recently republished by White Pine Press) was a library gifting from still another friend, who brought it to my attention.  I, of course, snapped it up upon its return to said library.

I'm rich in friends as well as poetry.

Over the last month or so, I've been trying to find the time to write about a little collection of Kenneth Rexroth's entitled Sky Sea Birds Trees Earth House Beasts Flowers.  I'll get there one of these days, along with perhaps an overview of Sestets, which I was so completely taken with that I returned the library copy I'd taken out and bought one of my own.

So why these poems?

With the Merwin poem, the first two lines seem commonplace, almost pedestrian, than he wacks you over the head with the iron skillet of a third line ... no, let me try that again.  With the Merwin poem, the first two lines are commonplace, almost pedestrian, than he seduces you smoothly with a touch of warm breath behind the ear.

That's better. 

If the thread, pardon my borrowing, that binds these three works together is loss, it is Wright's poem that does the mixed-metaphoric slamming.   What comes to mind for me is, when we speak of loss, can death be far behind? No, I think not.  Death is the off stage character here, though in Wright's case maybe not so off stage as come and gone.  Rengetsu's poem is another kind of seduction, reminding us of the first two Noble Truths and how very difficult they are to surmount.

All of this and not a haiku in sight!  The Rengetsu is a waka, so that will do nicely as a distant cousin. 


This week's poem from the Lilliput Review archive comes from #180.  The poem, Earth-Poet, is by the wonderful Joseph Hutchinson, whose blog, "Perpetual Bird," keeps many a reader on their toes, lyrical or otherwise.  Enjoy.

The Earth-Boat
  The ocean's susurrus....
  In its sun-soaked pod the brain
  ripens.  The Earth-boat:
  for a few breaths
  we can feel it drifting.
Joseph Hutchison

hey boatman
no pissing on the moon
in the waves!
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Charles Gramlich said...

The "absence" line sure resonated with me, as I think of how I feel when I miss my sweet pie.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yes, indeed, Charles.

Lyle Daggett said...

I haven't read much by Charles Wright, but I like the poem of his that you've given here. It reminds me of some of the poems one of my early poetry teachers, John Caddy, would sometimes bring into class for us to read -- dense with imagery and evocative sensual words, and intricate sounds.

The Rexroth work you mention here, Sky Sea Birds Trees Earth House Beasts Flowers, is a marvelous poem sequence. It's also included (as I recall) in Rexroth's book of poems The Morning Star (where I first read it), which I believe was his last book of his own poems to be published while he was alive. And it should also be in Flower Wreath Hill, published by New Directions in 1991, which combines his last two books. As well as the Collected Poems Copper Canyon published a few years back...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I have both Flower Wreath Hill and The Morning Star on hand here and I will double check - I'm sure you're right.

I will be posting on Sky Sea Birds Trees Earth House Beasts Flowers this Friday - I finally had time to finish up the mini-review. I'm quite taken with the book - the Unicorn Press presentation is just fine, evoking the spirit of the work, if only by handmade analogy. More soon. And thanks for the info.