time travel & W. S. Merwin

Screenshot_2018-01-31-17-22-38-1In the spirit of the syllabic breakthrough I mentioned last week in the poem that inspired the title for my latest collection, Until We Are Level Again (Mongrel Empire Press), I share “A Letter to Su T’ung Po” by W. S. Merwin. Merwin has been an inspiration for over a decade. His lyric insight and meditative verve worked through in syllabics made me ambitious and had me counting mine own syllables regularly. The poem below is a fine example of how sometimes the words fall into place how we need them.

Revising from old journals earlier this week, I discovered the following note I made underneath where I had written out Merwin’s poem by hand. I share it now as a way to mingle with the time travel implied in the title and content of the poem:

I heard Merwin read this poem a week after filing for divorce from my first marriage. Ani was with me , both of us full of questions. This poem is a river in itself. The last line crosses centuries in a gasp, like one stepping away from the face of a river.

A Letter to Su T’ung Po – W. S. Merwin 

Almost a thousand years later
I am asking the same questions
you did the ones you kept finding
yourself returning to as though
nothing had changed except the tone
of their echo growing deeper
and what you knew of the coming
of age before you had grown old
I do not know any more now
than you did then about what you
were asking as I sit at night
above the hushed valley thinking
of you on your river that one
bright sheet of moonlight in the dream
of the water birds and I hear
the silence after your questions
how old are the questions tonight

from The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)

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* sparkling easily with Linda Gregg

Continuing on the theme of “can’t-believe-I-haven’t-shared-this-yet,” this week’s poem by Linda Gregg is one whose lessons I am still learning.

I know that I am still learning – which is to say I have much yet to learn (and let this always be so) – because I found notes!

In my notes on this poem from a journal circa 2009, I wrote that what moves me is Gregg’s ability to sneak in a bit of the metaphysical into a poem rich with narrative detail. It does so in the following specific lines:

 Love is not less because of the spirit.
Delight does not make the heart childish…

Let the spirit marry the heart…

These three lines – free of concrete description – hold the philosophical heart of the poem.

Alone, they make an small abstract poem.

Alongside the rest of the poem, these lines “sparkle easily.”

* white oleanders, yo *
* white oleanders, yo *

Glistening – Linda Gregg

As I pull the bucket from the crude well,
the water changes from dark to a light
more silver than the sun. When I pour it
over my body that is standing in the dust
by the oleander bush, it sparkles easily
in the sunlight with an earnestness like
the spirit close up. The water magnifies
the sun all along the length of it.
Love is not less because of the spirit.
Delight does not make the heart childish.
We thought the blood thinned, our weight
lessened, that our substance was reduced
by simple happiness. The oleander is thick
with leaves and flowers because of spilled
water. Let the spirit marry the heart.
When I return naked to the stone porch,
there is no one to see me glistening.
But I look at the almond tree with its husks
cracking open in the heat. I look down
the whole mountain to the sea. Goats bleating
faintly and sometimes bells. I stand there
a long time with the sun and the quiet,
the earth moving slowly as I dry in the light.

***

Happy drying!

Jose

* painting found here.