for Lawson Inada
You'll have to visit your Hometown dentist
after a month in Europe.
At a Montparnasse cafe
passers-by wouldn't avert their glances
when you peeled the paper wrapping
off a long, white lump of sugar,
launched that solidified sweetness
slowly with thumb and index finger
from the edge of your cup
and watched it siphon up the liquid.
You were tempted, in that moment,
to taste of self-destruction
before foreign words
sank into your laughter.
(That week, almost undetected, French secret-service
frogmen tapped the Rainbow Warrior.)
So we have to face it. Over here
I've been assiduously flossing
and listening to pizzicato
ever since the November
lecture on the life of F. J. Haydn.
I guess by now we've both
had enough culture.
And who can afford a dentist
when tourists surface in their millions,
dissolving dreams of Paris
and sweet sounds?
from Searchings for Modesto (1993), first appearing in West Wind Review (Spring, 1986).
On Photos From My High School's 20th Reunion
Who are all these tired faces?
They smile out of defiance,
Mostly coupled and leaning
For the camera, as if life
Were nothing but a practical
Joke you might play on
The kid next to you on the bus,
Or later the same day, at school,
United as a class,
Against a weak-willed
For forty-two years now
I've looked out of these same
Two eyes, never really seeing
The ageing of my face--
Except in a kind of opposing view
Encountered in my bathroom mirror.
Without the shock of seeing
These faces, my inner world
Of photographic impressions
Might have been eternal.
But tonight is New Year's Eve.
Tomorrow marks the beginning
Of the end of the Eighties,
Which I only note here with glee.
Nothing really changes! Someone
Is bound to play a practical
Joke at a party--maybe one
Of our leaders, the ones who
Organize reunions, pre-emptive strikes
And photographic sessions. They were voted
Most likely to succeed and must prove it
For the camera, again, each morning.
from Beyond Modesto, first appearing in Calapooya Collage/13 (Summer, 1989).
for Bengt at four years old
Peer pressure can't do it.
It takes a large, blue pool,
and the right teacher
for you to bob your head
enough times to forget about the water in your eyes.
On Ted's suggestion, "How 'bout a beaver dive?"
your hands join above your head,
then fall to your sides as you jump in.
"Quite good, but remember to hold your breath."
And the conversation swims out toward big-arm strokes
and castings into deep water. from Beyond Modesto
If I Were in Besanc,on
right now I'd rent a car
and drive as far as Klamath Falls, Oregon,
and that would be Geneva; up to Bend,
and that would be Heidelberg. With a little more gas
at rather high prices, I'd show you the Basel Zoo for
the first time
not far outside Chemult.
Following the Belfort Gap past Crater Lake
might stretch our minds a little:
forty four and a half years into our century,
the American Seventh Army landed near Marseilles,
followed the Rhone, the Soane, the Doubs,
climbed toward Strasbourg in the Rhine Valley; then,
the war ending, settled near Stuttgart.
Today, after another forty four or five years
(and the Twentieth Century still ticking away),
U.S. troops are finally coming home.
That sort of thing can happen
at any divide
of waters heading toward different seas.
Out in the far Far West, it's all open spaces,
a monotonous wilderness, but clear breathing;
monolingual highway signs; fundamental asphalt;
perilous foundations for many endless trails.
But free wheeling as I am
and still with an eye for travel expenses
I'll simply mention biodiversity,
and drop you back in Ashland.
from Beyond Modesto, first appearing in Calapooya Collage
Response to Patrick Coleman's "Bell Curve and the Body"
for the "Unknown Poet"
Ageing complicates ad absurdum. A few of those tangled fibers
started rotting inside and had to be manhandled
by a surgeon, then extracted, then nuked,
with a phalanx of nurses to notice you were awake
and to suggest: "Try moving your toes."
The point became not what's inside, not volition, not free will,
but when and if you could enumerate in a timely fashion
the panoply of pains that body had become,
that ageing corpus watching the statistics of calendars now,
not counting on umbrellas for minor changes in the weather.
If we are talking bell curves, it is at the farthest end
of that downward slope after a brief era of frequent climaxes.
If we are talking probabilities, it is the asymptote of Death
and actuarial reports to insurance companies.
The Greeks said, "the body is a tomb," a case of consonance:
to soma sima. Eventually they claimed miracles
with Jesus: "Pick up your bed and walk--preferably on water!"
Let the nurses keep the charts, doctors discuss
your statistical chances. That near-hand glass of water,
full of ice cubes, slakes your dry mouth after anesthesia
and long afternoon naps, while you gracefully wear
your former body in a dream and use it
as that passionate lover you might become again
in another life. from Beyond Modesto
Poetry Slam, Uppsala, Sweden, 2 April 2003
for Lars Nordstrom
Nothing better than to hear a poem aloud
you have already read on a page in early draft
in your own native language, but spoken now
in the writer's, which you have studied,
translated, and restudied, but never mastered.
Your connections with this writer are a bridge
of words, ideas and phrases. They surface again and again;
you remake the effort to catch them off his tongue.
That's the way it ought to be with any
poem. You never know its language well enough;
you will never know it better than you do right now.
Relax! Most people, on the other hand,
when they hear a ring, think they always have to
pick up loose ends of cell-phone conversations.
from Beyond Modesto