Sunday, September 12, 2010

Letter To A Fellow Aspiring Poet/Mystic In The Full Assault Of August Heat, Dreaming Of Mexico

[An old bitch dog of Hieve al Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico. She begged scraps, would eat anything given and "dogged" heels thereafter, perhaps Thompson's "Hound of Heaven." Photo by Maria Cipriani.]

Hello J.,

Good to hear from you. Oh to be with you and F. now upstate on the mountain by the stream in this hottest of months. Ugh. I usually am in Mexico at this time to avoid the heat's rainy season there, Mexico's Springtime...the deserts are verdant, the mountains flushed with green, the rivers, the streams full of chattering water which revitalizes the land, cleans farmers hands happily stooped to wash off the dirt, the manure, assured of a full rich growing season. The milpas (cornfields) rattle tassels and sheaths in wind, wonderful aromas of corn pervading the valleys and plains. All are out working, harvesting, goodly busy and gone to market their fresh fruit, vegetables, spring animals, a bustling time.

The chapels and Cathedrals, the tiniest roadside shrines high enough for kneeling at the lintels, are people full with festivals spilling over processionally into the plazas and streets as some saint or other, or Our Lady, or Hammered Jesus or Radiantly Risen, are carried through the everyday "calles", a rag tag band in tow, marvelously off key and out of kilter timing-wise but lends a beguiling aura over all the town within ears.

Even the dogs which go on and on and on all day and especially all night cease their collective bark and howl. They hover in doorways or at a distant corner, or behind fences, a wary knowing look in their eyes that something unusual, some eventing proceeds which is about the Shining Stranger of Emmaus happily entering into the little lives of people, the doorways and corners, and ears so distracted outwardly most of the time...I'm certainly a Catholic in Mexico!! Something, too, about the poor, the extremely poor, and the hard working folks taking it all to heart and body, integrating the Shining Stranger and the Attendant ones into daily lives which still remain wrecked with all the human stuff (how could it be otherwise but for Strange Graces bestowed). Your poem, Liturgy, attests to this.

Ah. I've made myself homesick for Mexico and God!! but try like poet John Berryman and the many processional paupers of the pueblos, their shoulders weighted with an altar, a saint or image of God Full Weight, and Berryman the hard press of his addiction and the poetic gift of tonnage words, the rag tag bands still blowing and standing at dawn after literally marching slowly through the town all night with the Presence, I try to remember and regather this Presence; and many in the noisiness of holy night "peregrinos" (pilgrimages, purposeful "lost" wanderings in order that one may be discovered, found) must be forgiven, at least I must be, for mumbling curses into my tiny room flying out the window not escaping good Catholic restraining, censorious curtains; such curses are usually reserved for the all night dog "bands" howling off-key, barking canine choruses growling down the moon (that other Shining Stranger which drives dogs mad with predatory shadows, dogs wired to bark at strangers and defend their turf), distant stars defying the smoking volcano hovering over the town'.

I, the unfaithful or overly weary, try to sleep in the din toward the gathering weight and cares that daylight brings yet again. Begins the morning antiphonal bells and also antiphonal insistent roosters starting up the engines of commerce. Thus I relent usually, abandon my pillows stained with curses; I lumber sleepily onto the cobbled street and silently take the last echoing pew of the church redolent with candle smoke, incense and the sweated prayers of the all night mendicants returning their Holy Burden to Its Chapel/Crypt piled with colored ribbons and roses, other flowers bright and aromatic.

The priest is familiar with this gringo who shows up usually around the same time every year, takes his "reserved" seat in the back, for hoverers, God shy or wounded by the "godly" sneaking peeks at Deity but not quite shaking hands, O Michelangelo. One morning after mass, I never partake of the Eucharist literally, he shook my hand, winked and said, "In God's mind there is no first or last pew. Grace is even throughout, never lessened, but is increased upon kneeling. Knees are the greatest pews which are always first and last. Good News is this, that God reveals Himself with knees such are these." He points to mine, not dirty. His, dirty. Smiles. "Si. Si." I say, "Tis a mystery profound. Perhaps why my knees hurt so much, God's way of calling, "Here. Here. Here I am. So close." We nod. I leave.

All this I miss from Mexico's bounty to me but I have it here in my own August way on the top floor, roof dweller, recalling. Simply bending the knee implies also bending the heart. The head resists but melts with years and tears, the Shining Stranger sitting patiently, friendly, understanding how difficult it all is, this care of days, the din of hounds and brass horns of processional nights, the press of continual departures.

Your poem speaks of this, this Liturgy formal or informal bestowing vestments of night sky, or dawn flares lashing out, or harsh noon's Blinding Light having the last word. Simply one must show up as you do faithfully to daily Mass. De Chardin proclaims the Mass of the World, Blinding Light, Shining Stranger pleased with daily knees and all our sneezing allergies that all life has to Life. Keep at the words as they come and care not for meters, rhymes, let come what may. I am, perhaps, a cup too full from a life too long alone but leaves me all the more vacant for infilling. But a cup is promiscuous, takes whatever pours in, the occupational hazard of cups. There are such brews herein. Bitter. Dark. But one drinks on his knees. At least, is best to do so.

Speaking of which. I have spent the morning and some of the afternoon here and back to some new poems I have written and then to some cups and spoons, the literal ones, which needed washing. Another espresso brews hissingly loud to my curtains closed to day, its heat. I should go eat something.

Below is poem from Lent/Easter this year saturated with Berryman's poetry, his run-on drunken argument with God, and often enough "god-drunk (Dionysus)", inebriated with the Word/Logos. These days I try to orient myself now thankfully out of the fluff of New Age belief system I wasted way too much time in chasing after childish magic tugging at skirts of self appointed high priestesses, mostly air and anorexia of soul. Now I rediscover the real meat and drink of historical religion with weight, gravitas. Such realism of body and soul to my great relief to be human again, one more unassuming, spiritually consumptive stray dog hanging on the edge of the rag tag peregrinos of Mexico, reaching out in vain to grab Berryman as he leapt to his death from the Minneapolis bridge...

Kind regards to F.

Now to the bitter brew!

Sallying forth,


Bare To Such Luscence - A Catfish Mass

for John Berryman, his Bones, Confessed


The original fault
Will not be undone by fire.
The original fault was whether wickedness
Was soluble in art. History says it is,
Jacques Maritain says it is,

- John Berryman, from 'Sonnet ix'

Introit then Lauds:

Punctuated surprise,
hosanna of rivers
sounding with
or without gills...

I could not make it there,
that 'pointed conjunction',
nor up to air. I, Catfish,
soft sift bottom mud, give up
on purity, on flitting civilizations
lifted or pressed between
surface and aspirant spaces.

Done with all that, some
have had no choice.
Catfish choices differ
from those of the 'Windhover' Christ,
'dappled, dawn drawn' though they be
(Hopkins implicate flights of resurrection) .

'Stead, Berryman, without art or Maritain,
out leapt his sonnets from sonic
height-bridge to river-fells and missed,
the fool, one last scansion - dirty trick -
'hisself, too, hit, Bones sans pomes,
hard mud, perhaps one foot or his
beard delicately dipped
in paginated river'.

Catfish Homily:

Witless old mud spawn, widest mouth,
no lips to speak of, pulled greedily from
black water to shore, there's a bark in
air that old Catfish makes in punctuated
protest at too much light or is it, rather,
ecstasy, final vision gasped dimly seen
in depths, hinted upon surfaces,
Platonic shadow plays portending?
Is it the latter, sparks of praise to what
is finally seen at the end, a life mucked
and mired in obfuscated fundaments?

Eucharist 1965:

Fate, then, heavy in a boy's hand
hoists dead weight to a nail on a tree.
His knife scores firm flesh yielding
beneath freshly limp gills - there is an
instrument made just for this, pincher-pliers
for catfish skin - he grips and tears,
uses his weight down-stripping smoothly
bare to such luscence little ribs of roseate

Only the overly large head, the ugly face
whiskered within gilded monstrance,
remain pure to form, thin-lipped and
mocking, restrained by depth pressures,
sustained on surface trash, dead things
that sink down it's treasures.

Tenderly sing, then, to a nail,
to a boy's blood catechism -
hands, minds, are meant
to be stained, mercy's quality
unstrained neither by will nor gill.
Scavenging flocks gladly fill their
gullets inhaling entrails tossed
in supplicant bins.

In unison Gregorian they scream:

There is a nail for me
plain, a chorus of barks** -

splintered lips
punctuated surprise,

glossolalia of rivers
now given weight.

One can only will
praise to 'The End',

and spill, post-pliers,
one's silken guts in offering.

**A catfish when brought to shore barks, a rasping, barking discharge of air.


[The poet's brief commentary about 'Bare To Such Luscence - A Catfish Mass':

Thought one might be informed of my inner dispositions, theologically and 'Other-wise', by this piece in refers to John Berryman, one of my poetic masters who, brilliant, alcoholic, tried Grace and tried out Grace - Grace never tires though we do and sometimes expire seeking for it - took a leap off a boozy bridge, a true 'whiskey priest' to Poesy and That which he praised and bruised to purple if not completed purpose...the Catfish is referent to my southern roots and the Fundamentalist 'perch' (stance and fish!) which can n'ere be rooted out of me no matter the plier-pinchers...

Also, poem refers to Gerard Manley Hopkins, his poem, 'The Windhover' which is one of his most praised...a phrase, 'dappled dawn drawn Falcon', of course inflates me, Falcon, to the elegant and predator Christ he sings hymns to, 'Windhover -Wingedhunger' for souls if not for bodies which Lord Death takes good care of.

...I've learned to be brutal in editing my poems but, alas, not my sins and both deserve further 'edits' now and to come...thus the universe will spill my guts in the end from slimy rooftop perches of enthroned roof dwellers.

In spite of guilt I still praise...]

Saturday, September 4, 2010

And Yet Poets, Too, Bestow Meaning-Making Blades - Transcriptions About Poetry & Counsel From A Tamarind Tree Greatly Pruned

[Not a tamarind tree but a shady mimosa whose leaves resemble the tamarind. My friend Maria Cipriani took this photo from the platform of a ruin at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico when I pointed the "shot" out to her (my camera on the fritz). This photo visually depicts a point I make in the essay about the interdependent relationship of trees and psyche.]

[This essay is inspired by a friend who was to care for a beloved tamarind tree that I grew from a seed I brought back from one of my many trips to Mexico. It flourished in my one room dwelling on the roof but due to my mis-communication Tamarinda (my name for her, the tree) was drying and dying when my friend arrived to water it. The tree is reviving with new leaves and supple limbs now newly conformed by much needed pruning, the radical surgery it needed to survive the long dry season of neglict while I was away.]

What are the roots that clutch, What branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
--T.S. Eliot, from "The Wasteland"

"Sweet Christ, rejoice in my infirmity;
There’s little left I care to call my own.
Today they drained the fluid from a knee
And pumped a shoulder full of cortisone;
Thus I conform to my divinity
By dying inward, like an aging tree."
- Theodore Roethke, from "Infirmity"

My tamarind tree is the only living being I share my life with full-time, such a wonderful healing presence, too, making no demands but for water and some loving reverie. Ah, but people are another matter, not easily watered or cared for though I do my weekly part hour by hour with clients. I must see them as "arboles tamarindos--dulce y amargo estan las frutas" ("tamarindo trees--sweet and bitter are their fruits"), and is not good counsel (therapy/healing/wholing-containing) knowing when to make healing cuts paying attention to those parts in need of pruning to allow for new reaches, new aspirations, new grasping toward space and light, and welcoming night, each leaf tightly folding as darkness gathers revealing tender skeins and veins veiled by day's brightness reflecting from their surfaces? But darkness reveals even tree mysteries unnoticed, unseen until gleaming day recedes when backsides of leaves, shy as monks or new lovers, display inner structures and threads hinting at movements made unseen but for time passages then the thing is grasped as a result expanded.

And as in the tamarind tree's recent fate, presence is the "water" which nurtures, attention and timely pours in a dry season when too much light--insight and inspection of psyche--can parch a soul as did the summer sun magnified by the window glass upon my sweet tree as yet without flower. It is a delicate balance, soul work, 'psyche' work, the word 'psyche' borrowed from ancient Greek referring to the concept of the self, encompassing the modern ideas of soul, self, and mind. The Greeks believed that the soul or "psyche" was responsible for human behavior.

A psyche in Greek mythology also means a butterfly.

How often I saw in Michoacan, Mexico, psyches, their annual destination and return. Monarch butterflies adorn tamarind trees, others, living ornaments reproducing and at rest on trees whose limbs and trunks wear dappled orange brilliance, winged cycles of transformation from silky cocoons to eventual births with stretching of damp wings to dry once windward then ever onward, more orange flights and flight patterns repeating, yet never redundant, lilting passages along invisible trails which only psyches can ken. There is no life without gravity and wind, and the press between.

Butterflies, ancient symbols of metamorphosis, have still living relationships to trees. I witness this vibrant relationship in Mexico and out my window even in New York City, a butterfly all the more psyche in context of brick and steel, a living symbol of intimate interdependence between psyches/souls and trees. The word for 'tree' in Greek is dentro referring to roots which penetrant soil and rock as well as buildings. Dentro in Spanish means inside, within; cocoons, wings, trunks and limbs of trees, penetrate roots boring inside, making within-ness , all these etymological nuances, psyche and dentro amplify dynamic realms between presences in variegating qualities which are rarely seen in action but only when their solidity which is not too solid at that sits, sifts or stands formed for eyes.

Tamarinda, my little tree, strives, proves again to me and my clients, it's branching and greening in the window, that even in dry moments, in intense isolation, she can still revive and recall, as only a tree may in due time, those waste moments of accidental abandonment not only with the evergreen wisdom of a philosophical attitude but also with compassion and a conscious agreement to not be a victim of the harsh aspects of existence which are relationships of all kinds, the not showing up, or showing up too too much when presence then can become a burden, an affliction, driven by a mistaken notion that physical presence is all that is needed rather than the refining qualities of nuance/dance between presence and absence, that very real need for solitude, for quiet to discover that which is within these mulching aspects which are the greater shapers of soul and--I project--of trees.

Tamarinda also mourns, perhaps as only a tree can and "knows" how to do, the loss of leaves, the drying of soil and limbs, for this, too, is tree-life, dying into itself, conforming to its own inner nature, its entelechy, Greek for the potentiality and potency latent/nascent in each particular seed, and to that Great Mystery of Great Nature who has deemed Tamarinda a tree misplaced from her natural environment (Mexico, India, and other countries) to one inherently alien to her, an East Village, New York City window overlooking stalwart etching ginkgo trees true to their own entelechies. Do they converse with Tamarinda peering down at them, their tree tops only an arm's length from the sill, do they speak of exile and adaptation, of longing for return or is all dirt everywhere home so there is no return but that of seasons and the annual return every Fall, as predictable as homing geese, elderly Asian women to gather from the sidewalk the ginkgo fruit whose aromas are those of liver and bark, the pulp and seeds bring a good long life and fertility?

It is no accident perhaps that mythically Adam and Eve, after partaking of forbidden fruit, were exiled awakened, self conscious, to Tree Knowledge, to awareness of the opposites which expels/exiles out of the Garden of Infantile Sleep into dance and dirge, into duende (deep song), into world sorrow found in every existing thing, some memory remembered in DNA but unknown by minds but glimpsed as I did in Mexico's brightness formed to wings shaped by, and shaping, invisible currents of wind...trees and exile, then, are woven mythic tapestry, entwined incarnate life, people and things with or without roots and wings always 'leafing' and leaving, as the poet Rainer Rilke writes, as "creatures who live on departure" (Duino Elegy 9). Gabriel Marcel, Christian existentialist philosopher and writer, refers to the human species not as homo sapiens but as homo viator, man the flyer, man the traveler, man on-the-way. We dream of wings yet need rooting things to catch our free falling into space and time. Tamarinda climbs my pane, twists her delicate limb-ends against the frame, turns them back to herself which is a form of flight pressing and conforming, assenting to limit which locates her own dream of space.

In the history of religion, the history of roots and wings, great internal shifts come from outer strife and striving, happen on or near a tree or within forests of trees--Siddhartha Guatama sitting at his Bodhi tree until, as he insisted, he "awakened", of which there was and is no guarantee but only that remaining impermanence, to become a "Buddha", his back against the tree, his thighs and one hand upon the earth, mirth or mourning, man goes ajourneying each for his/her own awakening not by imitating Buddha but by heeding the force of entelechy and Fate, then sits, flies within, and waits, roots; Jesus of Nazareth, worked wood with Joseph his step father, had an ambivalent relationship to trees (he cursed a fig tree which bore no fruit and perhaps had glimpsed that he would die upon a tree) and also to fathers human and divine for he was but a bastard child, though often proclaiming that he "and the Father were One", was killed by the demands of God the Father to redress the imbalances of Law and Love. He was born on a journey, fled soon after, traveled in adolescence, and returned a wanderer, one who was passing through, proclaiming another kingdom not of this world but of a kingdom awareness brought about by a literal tree, a broken man casting his vision down to those hapless clowns wreaking of fish guts who did remain to drift and dream, to eventually proclaim the Tree Man who frees those who may find his entelechy resonates with theirs.

My little Tamarinda is both my Bodhi and my Cross, my green and groaning aspirations to be true to my own "tree" nature, my entelechy not made or formed at all by me, as well as to just be, no matter the weather, "inwardly conformed" to inherent nature even when Death will inevitably parch me too or pull me up by the roots...all or at least some of this I hope to bring imperfectly, but as shadows do, to my clients, a shade tree, a lean-upon, a tree house, a rooting place, and even kindling, at the same time a pruning force allowing tree nature in clients to be what it is more freely, for is it not always/already what it is though part of human tree nature is to argue, to fight and push against forces greater than embodied selves always seeking and escaping roots, and that all this struggling, too, is as it should be, winging improvisations attended to, at last, by dreams of wake and sleep?

And meanwhile we flourish enough until the final parching, the lightening strike, the forest fire, the killing bore and, yes, the man made and human-wielded hammer and wedge, ax and saw, which fell not just one tree but a forest entire...and yet poets, too, bestow meaning-making blades, and to this I aspire in writing as well as in counseling. Since some form of waking is found in Nature (though not guaranteed) and at Her trees, both Bodhi and Cross, the poet Theodore Roethke's words are fitting:

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

And these Her doings are how to live and how to die all the while as rooted incarnate beings reaching in all directions, other bestowals of yearly deposits of leaves, of seeds, sowing affirmation of more life which is Freud's "Eros Principle", "life wants more of life" and that life wanted is steeped, too, intrinsically, in Death...the "Life/Death" force the more accurate is Roethke's poem entire:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

And so I, too, go where I have to go even if I do not fully know for now or what is ahead. I am perpetually exiled in spite of laying down roots and I know only as one expelled and expanding from places I would never have consciously chosen to go and "I learn by going where I have to go" trusting and arguing with entelechy which may be the me of me. This I know - I will be a tree until I am dead yet still I will be a tree though dead which is a part of tree and certainly a part of Her, Great Nature.

As I write this now on a slow moving train whistling through a Carolina night with its lesson in impermanence and in what remains, the Witness always green, I see my own reflection staring back at me amidst sleeping strangers, other dim shapes fleeting beyond the window wavering while I grow blinder, slowly slowly, in both physical eyes. I will continue to pray Gerard Manley Hopkins's prayer as I do now, for Tamarinda and me, for those passersby whom I serve, my beloved clients:

Lord, send my roots rain.

"For the Sake of a Single Verse" - Words of Rainer Maria Rilke


Ah! but verses amount to so little when one writes them young.
One ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness a whole life long,
and a long life if possible, and then, quite at the end, one might perhaps
be able to write ten lines that were good. For verses are not, as people imagine, simply feelings (those one has early enough) , - they are experiences. For the sake of a single verse, one must see cities, men
and things, one must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly
and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning.
One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to
unexpected meetings and to partings one had long seen coming;
to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents whom one
had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it
(it was a joy for someone else) : to childhood illnesses that so
strangely begin with such a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars-and it is not yet enough if one may think of all this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in a room with the open window and the fitful noises.

And still it is not yet enough to have memories. One must be able to
forget them when they are many and one must have the great patience
to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves.
Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture,
nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not till
then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse
arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Translated by M.D Herter Norton. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.