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Man With the Oxen (And Other Poetic Prose Poems) Part Two
1) A Pause in Life
(For Darla Dawn Siluk)
My memory thin as a grass-blade, in mist
I can’t remember much, but I do remember this:
She was laid down upon the sofa
No bigger than a small pumpkin-
There I sat beside her like a white wall…
Silent, we were both lost in silence, I hunched down
Thinking of this infant, but a few months old
(waves rushed up into me, then a pause-I was young
so very young, didn’t know what to do):
It had not yet come to surface that I had a child,
Yet somewhere down there, below the chest, I knew!
She who couldn’t yet look out over her life:
No map; senses in her eyes knew what I knew,
The crashing down of abandonment soon!
She was at the end of the galaxy, just waiting!
Yet I had love for this child who somehow floated inside of me!
Who was but a few months earlier, inside the womb of another!
Yet I knew, she knew, the breaking roaring of abandonment-
Was soon to come, I could feel it too… !
2) Winter Houses
(St. Paul, Minnesota, 1957)
Snow is on the sidewalks, and in the streets, a thin layer covering the Mississippi River, on top of four-inches of ice -the houses and buildings are all lit-glittery, excited, fires glowing in hearths, furnaces burning red hot-the frost on the windows are like shells and pearls…
The world, my world-as I rush out into the cold to meet it, this early Saturday morning-lies in a coffin of ice, brisk air, but I must go sell newspapers costing: “Five Cents!” thus, I head on downtown, I tell myself, I’ll make a dollar… (I’m ten, it is 1957).
I see people sitting in their houses as I walk by: men, women and children-as if their minds are unoccupied, at 5:30 a.m.!
Some of the houses are covered with blotches of snow; black iron fences now egg-shaped with delicate streams of flurry-white: not even one curl of grass rises around the sidewalk stones.
Walking in Minnesota snow can get heavy on the legs, feet, and upper torso, if not sticky at times: a mile or two can seem like an immense distance between solid ground and house to house plots…
I glance to and fro, from one white house to another, they all seem the same, the same whiteness that is, all with their shadowy silhouettes, as the sun rises.
I’d like to lay down in the snow and make an angel, but I’ve got no time, thus I pass, the snow covered boulevards reluctantly.
Every time I walk this way, at 5:30 a.m., it seems like an eclipse.
But I like the quiet morning cold, some houses seem to whisper to me- as I walk by, as if they have secrets to tell but I’m too young to stop and listen; plus people are still sleeping, hands and knees just awakening, old men clambering out of bed, holding onto railings and just plain thinking, thinking, of what to do next.
You can see many things, things that astonish a young kid, on a Saturday morning walk, just walking and minding your own business.
But I have luminous labors ahead-I’ll sell those papers for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, make a dollar, and perhaps then some, I know what I’ll cry out, I always practice it on the way:
“Come AND GET YOUR St. Paul Saturday Pioneer Press PAPER, only five cents!”
My fingers often get numb from the cold, I have gloves, but it’s hard to take the nickel or dimes, to make change: fingers fumble, like goats dance, I mean like goats leap…
Note: “White Houses” was originally a short story, No: 539 ((Written: 12-5-2009), remade into poetic prose 4-23-2013. #3870
3) A Gray Billed Bird
Garden birds; one is lost in the garden shack-driving his short dark-gray beak into the window intensely. Twilight is right around the corner, and the bird senses it. He is striding the windowpane, behind the curtain in a near frantic walk, with jerking wings-integrates motions of concentration, fixed on this one escape route: as I hear a yanking of feathers in the shack I go to investigate, see all this-, he lifts his head, hears me, then drives his gray to dark bill beak onto the window pecking at it as if this is his only way out. The whole body shakes; he doesn’t have sense enough to turnabout, and go back the way he came in-
Calm, alert, keeping watch-my breath pauses as I reach to grab him, his legs kicking, wings flapping, with a swift motion, perfectly in rhythm I turnabout to face the ajar door, I let loose of my fingers, he hops out of my hand, flying out the door, the same way he had come in. I see him perched on top of the garden wall now, proud and triumphed (as twilight falls).
4) Alone at Last
((Short Poetic Prose) (Discontentment))
Alone at last, on the rooftop of my house, drinking coffee, listening to the few sounds here and there, reading a book about World War One, some poetry, writing this: some construction going on, dogs barking in the background, they all blend into one; that is: the rumbling blending into silence! The human face has vanished this morning; thus, I can only blame my soul for my thoughts-, as I prefer to twist and refresh myself in the watery shadows-and solitude of this long moment… ! Let me recapitulate my life in brief: eighteen times I avoided death- No doubt God had something to do with it! Seldom thanking Him for his generosity- and the angels He’s sent… always on time… But still-nonetheless, I’m discontent with life not for what I did, but for what I haven’t done yet! And the problem is: I don’t know what it is. And with the corrupting vaporous world in which I live- who’s to tell me straight? What shall be my proof that I was here, if nothing else! What will be my story, when my time runs out? We will all have to give such an account.
5) Elegy for an Old Man
(For: Anton Siluk, 1891-1974)
It was finished, the funeral was over and that was the day before yesterday. And I suppose for the family it was a matter of fact, it was as if he had never been. Everyone grabbed everything he had to show, as if he had never been in the house he owned, and lived. The meager family, celebrated, pitied, but did not mourn.
After the wake, departing, separating, the gave of the old man, who had made little enough hold on our lives at best, whom all of us knew without any of us ever really knowing, was once more alone: this time in his coffin. It was to the family, as if none of him had ever happened.
Perhaps at the end, that’s all we all get, I got thinking.
To me, grandpa was more than an illusion, he was flesh and blood, and he was never young, always old. Wherever in life I’d go, he’d cast his shadow.
Poetic Prose, Confessional
6) Waiting on the Devil (Lima, Peru)
I sit on my patio roof, trying to read poetry, and what do I hear but the echoing of words by the devil, after a moment he’s silent, I resume my waiting (no need to ask what he’s saying it’s always nonsense; more of the same… ).
More of his current-his air flow of gobbledygook descends over my shoulder, some settling down upon my ears, knuckles. “Where is he?” I ask myself-“Leave me be” I demand but like a giant moth he leans his antenna-like-tentacles over one of those building roof tops over looking my patio-his gossip, propaganda again reaches me, touches my skin-the skin feels each touch long afterwards.
To fight him one must be, serrated, and have battlements “Oh, oh, how many visitors do we have today,” I whisper, looking about building to building. They all have masks on.
“All right,” I say out loud, and I hear a laugh from the building kitty-corner from my house, it’s him I’m sure, with his furious exaltation, and raging triumph, perhaps masquerading in one of those bricklayers, laying bricks.
7) The Hour of Calling
(When writing a poem)
When I write a poem, I don’t need to be by a certain spot. Wherever I am, I am, I remain, even if it rains, in Chicago at the Air Port, or in Jerusalem, or Jericho, or even on top of Cape Horn; wherever I am I am even if the great condor-flies low and slow and brushes against my umbrella reading a book on my patio, and that’s happened too. Come rain or shine, anytime for me is time to write a poem. I will be here, wherever here is: anywhere will do for here! It doesn’t matter if it is: morning, noon or night, I’ll still write, right where I am. The trick is not waking up, but having a pen or pencil and paper at hand, and any kind of paper will do; -I am no longer centered on the year, month, week or for that matter, not even the day, I am centered on God, and his hour of calling-that’s when I get my insights-that’s how I wrote my first poem called: “Who,” in 1959, at twelve years old. Most recently He told me about the bird lost in the garden hut, the sleeping dog across the street, the Red China Rose in my garden, the Buoyant Ocean, PAX Television, where he had Violeta bring me and my wife to His cross-they all became poems. Someone told me a week ago or so, “All your poems seem to have God in them, one way or another!” I said, “Is that so!” It really wasn’t a question or a statement, it was just something I took for common knowledge, and who else would they expect behind those poems?
8) The Son-in-Law
(With the devil’s tongue)
The shrewd one, so he thinks he is: the boaster, gossiper, the sad one: is who he really is.
Helpless to predict his next laborious task, next step… move!
He simply stands still.
Lazy as the day is long-and night!
Wider than a whale, far out to sea.
Unfortunately, he’s my son-in-law!
Atheist, lightly touched by the devil, he’s nothing but trouble.
I repeat: he’s a boaster, gossiper, and what little he really knows proves a little more than gossip, other than day from night.
What he makes up along the way, is by no means his own, boasting belonging to the devil’s crowd.
His walled-in head, and thoughts, and under whose earth he will be buried, he Laughs: as if he is unconscious to the fact, that there is such a being called the devil, and for that matter, God.
And so I say, with all sincerity and sorrow, let the wrenched be with the wrenched, the fools with the fools, all doors sooner or later close.
9) The Barrack’s Remedy
(1970-Augsburg, West Germany)
He removed an obstruction from the canteen; it was empty, and he poured red wine into it, picked up a glass, a tall glass, put the decanter down by the canteen, heated the canteen up, put water and sugar in it, looked about at me.
“This is an old southern remedy for a cold,” he told me, “hand me the little stove, in back of the bed.”
Then, as I turned and started to play the guitar some, two other southern boys were in the four room barracks, all of us privates, one locked the door, I saw Private Small reach and take the canteen with the sugar, wine and water in it, plunge a spoon into the opening and stirred madly:
Heating it up on that little electric burner stove- It looked as if he was making some kind of a hot toddy: taken aback by him putting sugar in with wine and water to boot.
But my cold was bad, real bad, and I had guard duty in the morning, and I was willing to try anything.
It had now all, dissolved, but it seemed to me when he poured the contents of the wine into a glass container, the sugar, some of the sugar, fell to the bottom of the glass, like sand: liken to a ritual almost, he handed it to me, “Drink it down fast now,” he said, “you’ll be like new in the morning, my grand-pappy, he been making these hot toddies for seventy-years, or per near… “
And I remember how I picked up the hot glass, and thought it was one big joke, drank it down, hesitated a long moment, and never realized, or realized too late, I jerked my head back a tinge, and sprang toward my bed and hurled facedown onto it, and there I remained till morning.
The little remaining contents of the large sixteen-ounce glass I evidently hurled into the air, I heard with thud, and in the morning, Smiley said “… you flung the glass in the air, and it came crashing down onto the floor, splashed wine here and there, faster than whistling Dixie, but there wasn’t much left.”
And I grabbed him, said “Did you pour all this water on me when I passed out?”
I was wetter than a fish in deep water, soaked from head to foot and my mattress was like a flooded sponge, but I was fine, I wasn’t sick any longer.
“I done told you, my grand-pappy’s recipe always works.”
Then all three of them were standing over my bed assuring me I sweated it all out.
10) Watching Dogs
The dogs, I’ve been watching them across the street in Cherry Park, now, going on seven years- I feel affection for them, I really do- (there are several of them at any given day or time).
They don’t seek or demand or expect eternal life, -I’m sure if they knew about it, they’d not throw it away.
But what I really notice is that they ask only to eat, sleep in the course of a full day, to be: loved, played with, appreciated, respected, each looking at me (or perhaps any person will do). Wondering, with bewilderment (large and small alike). All with lit lanterns inside their fluttering eyes, wondering, always wondering and always in bewilderment, on a windy night or sunny day- I’ve come to the conclusion-all dogs in Cherry Park (or for that matter, perhaps in the world). Yield to the doors of mystery, and die in the unknown, (knowing all along, man had the answer they were looking for).
11) Visiting the Ann Frank House
The front face of the building, reddish brick, resembles a Candy Shop, it is April, of ’93, Amsterdam, and everything is clear and dry, a sunny morning, a few bikes chained to a nearby post.
The Ann Frank House is in front of me.
This is where she lived near the end of WWII.
The stairs seem to be an immense distance between the first steps to the empty bookshelf that leads into her room…
The distance through which Nazies and their helpers rose and fell, the distance between heaven and hell-
It is all felt in residue chills, left by her, after her death to remind us, she once was-
In her room on the wall is a picture of Alexander the Great, perhaps it reminded her she had to be strong like him, which I passed reluctantly: you’d be astounded how narrow the room is… !
12) The Old Ancient Law of Dying
So much of nature gives up their lives without complaining: the birds, dogs, the ants and frogs, the China rose that lives but a day, and the leaves that fall off trees, they all say: ‘All doors yelled to time,” but we hang onto Jacob’s Ladder with brass fingers… unwilling to let go, die; perhaps afraid (?) – one foot up, one foot down… trying to avoid the grave!
And in doing so, we stand on that ladder a long, very long time in the dark…
My mother, when she knew death was not far off, when she could no more accomplish tasks, lay down by life, God and others, cried out: “I’m okay with it, who would want to live like this anyhow, you?” And she gave up life without a complaint!
13) An Ant Hole
How dark is it for an ant in an ant hole, or on an anthill, inside an ant hole? Surely there tunnels are no bigger than a vein or one of my arteries-, yet, they go, to and fro, up and down, east to west, north and south and never seem to get lost; even when crowded all together. What is it, I question? What am I missing? Perhaps it’s all got something to do with humility…
14) The Cross-eyed boy from Ranquitte
When I left Haiti, in the summer of 1986, after doing some missionary work in the mountains with eighteen other missionaries, in a small village called Ranquitte, I sat on the back of a small truck, with the other missionaries, and the cross-eyed boy who had befriended me during my stay, ran after the truck, waving his little hands and fingers as I sat there looking at him the truck accelerating, the small face of the boy began to move farther and farther away, clashed with the road and foliage and dust, drawing him from my sight, enclosed in the powdered-earth of the road, leaving upon me a sense of finality, irrevocable; yet he was wearing that expression, questioning, yet unalarmed: willing, serene and weighty. He was no more than eight years old I believe. Now it’s been twenty-six years since I’ve been back to Haiti, I plan on returning soon, thus he comes back to mind. I remember he did not want me to leave; almost like a doglike devotion. Yes, the boy is now a man. And I am an old man, where at that time I was perhaps closer to his age now, and more fit-so I haven’t got no time to waste, I tell myself, if indeed I plan on going back: Plaster Naason, a dear friend, has been asking for twenty-of those twenty-six years: “When you coming back? He says, and I tell him, “I’m trying,” but here I am, still not in Haiti. His words are getting louder and louder in my head though, and every time he asks, my heart is uplifted.
15) The Tor of Avalon
(In 2004, the author and his wife visited Glastonbury and the Tor)
As we rode the train from London to Castle Cary, through the slow, cozy green countryside, I began to fancy England had gone back to its old medieval days. All the little towns outwardly no more than pinnacles, dotted here and there, sort of. Set delicately at the top of rising mounds.
From Castle Cary, we went to Glastonbury, where King Arthur and King Richard the Lion Heart, long ago, both drew their swords in the glistening light of the far-off meadows, of Summerset and on top of the Tor of Avalon, where the Celtics practiced there magic.
And there I stood too, on top of the mound, looking down, on the hurried past.
In one way it was a long afternoon on top of the Tor, now long past. The old ruined Abbey Tower always in sight, I wondered up and own the mound exploring, paused long enough to stretch, came to a herd of humongous cows-broad and tall, lazily eating the long grass, and my wife paused, frightened somewhat. Then exploring its sides, I got thinking of an old legend, from the days of the old monastery of friars: and I came to imagining looking down at the extending roots in a crevice, when the three friars hallway up the mound found a tunnel on the wall, below the ruins, young and ignorant they wanted to search it from end to end, in spite of the precisely dangerous calamity it might bring-and as they did, currents of air snarled among the stale winds that spiraled in, from the mound’s exterior, it was all they had to breath, besides the endless tunnel’s mud and dirt and moss-shadows. Thus, throughout the labyrinth: roots tumbling everywhere, body snagging on old useless rocks: only one friar ends up alone at the other end, half insane, half dehydrated, after a day’s wondering. His mind dry as his mouth in dire thirst, scrapped into crumbs never to be pieced back together again: appearing to have no more sense than that of a mosquito.
#3888 (April 28-29, 2013)
16) The PAX Cross
((PAX-T.V., Lima, and Channel 17) (Poetic Prose))
The room where they serve the mass one can almost walk past the tall cross in the dark corner, when not in service, easily overlooked. But vivid when noticed, and resembles Jesus Christ quite well. His body limps back, loosened here and there against the wooden shaped cross, sleek and dark, smooth to the fingers. It is clear, the life size body serves all, resembles Christ’s vows.
I look up to the right ribcage, then to His face, there is something in this figure, in life that doesn’t know it is just fiberglass, I drop my eyes and touch the feet, and my body trembles inside. I touch the back of the cross, swirls of energy comes, rushes through me. All at once I am transfixed. I love wherever is happening to me. I withdraw my hand, fingers.
Last night I dreamt with a heavy chest, of the cross, not often have I.
Notes on Poetic Prose and the poem: First, the function of poetry is to nourish the spirit. I think this poem does. Second, he story in poetic prose is more important than the language, I believe. Third, the poem should grip into the reader’s skin. Forth, come close to the object. Five, focus is on the changes the mind goes through as it observes. Six, the poem allows the poet to be intimate; this is where its strength is. Seven, often spontaneous. Eight, the poet is allowed to stay with his senses. Nine, between the personal and impersonal, there is no tension, as one can see in “The PAX Cross”. Ten, the current has taken out most of the: it, it is, or it’s for the o’s or oo’s or ow… allowing for a better flow. Of the 153-words to the poem, 40-have o’s.
17) Rats along the Mississippi
(St. Paul, Minnesota, 1958)
By the Mississippi in the early afternoon on the city-side of the shore, bums and rats have left their litter and dung especially in the caves and crevasses- but debris everywhere: at night the place must look like a war-zone. But its summer and school is out and I’m eleven, my friend Mike Rossert, a little younger, we always romp this area, along the cliffs below the city, no trees just caves and crevasses, and humongous rats: brown with rustic fur, eyes that pierce like needles, when they spot you, hurrying from the shadows beside the cliffs to the strange new light along the edge of the river. Steadfast I stand; let them pass-I say, soundless in front of me!
More often than not, -the bums are still sleeping, Mike and I kick them in the shins, the feet, trying to wake them-ready to run, but they just toss and turn and yell, they want to be left alone.
This morning I’m alone, the rats follow me carefully with their eyes, already lit, and sloped as if ready to attack.
Three rats today, some moving some hardly.
The air is dry, -far up the cliff is the City of St. Paul, inside those cliffs is like a fortress, old Civil War storage rooms, iron gates now locked, I’ve climbed them many times, alone and with my pal.
Climbed and climbed and made it all the way up to the city proper.
But today, this very day, I’m alone and the three rates facing me, grimly snarling, maybe want to devour me; no songbirds around, it’s a long summer, I step back, slowly step back… back… back, back to the river, with my shadow and the shadow of the rats: they don’t attack.
18) The Temple of Diane
(Evora, Portugal, 143-miles from Lisbon, 8-1998)
Evora, and the Temple of Diane, which was built by the Romans, still stands today, unmoved, drawn into something like sleep-yet it has its victorious past. Roman engineers, built this immoral or almost immoral temple, perhaps dreamed how to place ever stone, giving a new shape to the air, and when they approached it I’m pretty certain the people breathed sparingly, some with a hush, others with a whisper. Today, in the fall of my life, or perhaps more towards winter, the steps are now crumbling, perhaps in a generation, a handful of grains, in a another hundred years or more, no more than a melted down hill of sand, but today, today I climbed those steps without falling off its rundown edges, or its wide-brimmed rim, around its platform. It was impatient to write this to you, because I do not want to waste time.
19) Hungry Shadows, in Ranquitte
What colour is hunger? I don’t really know myself, but I do know it has a thin shadow, and with sunlight it has none-
It looks sort of like a starved old lion, maybe a horse, and a camel with dried up humps (I’ve seen them in Egypt, too).
I discovered these shadows in Haiti back in 1986-in Ranquitte!…
People there live on a dust and dirt floor; like in the market place, the inhabitation in Ranquitte, is a story unto itself.
One of my idle wishes was back then, was to feed some…
But I found so many, scraping the dirt and stone, squatted in the marketplace, sweet faces, infinite: uncertain with painful care! Selling: a few eggs, nearly skeleton fish: I bought some, alone with some hard breaded biscuits, picked out a family with many kids and gave it all to them… And then went to eat my goat stew, which was delicious!
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