Breath

 

(A POEM FOR MY GRANDDAUGHTERS TO GROW UP ON)

 

Breathing.

Listen.
The world is breathing.

Breathe through your ears
Breathe through your eyes
Stretch breath out
Beyond the skies.

The ocean is breathing
Breath never lies
Its rhythm like wind
that soughs and dies
Speaks of the weather
where the water sighs
at the end of each wave
that the tempest tries
to smash on the shore
Without pity
contrives
to continue its swing
with whatever the moon tides can bring.

Feel what it feels
This huge enterprise
of breath going in
of breath going out.

The wind breathes
with gasps,
with sighs and
with songs.
Who knows to what
tense it belongs?
The present. The past.
None of them last.
Just the breath
Breathing the breath of the vast
Breathing along with the breath
of birdsong
Breathing the air
Breathing the light
Breathing along through the death of the night.

Breathing the phrases of music
on keys
of pianos and harpstrings
and in wings of the bees.

Breathe with it all
Breathe with it, please.

 

 

 

 

There Is Nothing That I Know

Wind rocks the top of cedar tree
shivers its thin, dark feathers.
The warm damp smell of spring
as present in air as warmth can be
in cool wind’s weathers.
My bones are cold as only
some cold grief can bring.

There is nothing that I know.
Yet this is what I know.
At the beach today
I saw land slide
Abruptly down a cliffside
Poured from above by some unseen shift
Its roar erased by waves’ unceasing sift
of water against rock, a symphony with the wind.
Suddenly pooling earth as if just another drift
of waterfall.
Then done and as if it must
Just let one more rock come tumbling down
smug,
still, as if it had  just been a pile of dust
all along.

A twisted tree atop another sandstone cliff
with roots that hold it fast and stiff
above the open air.
Along the forest trail huge limbs of trees
Wounds gaping orange here and there
In some time past
were there above me with their papery leaves
still clinging when I walked here last.
It seemed they had been part of living tree,
suspended
against the pull of that firm gravity
gracefully from strong trunks.

I see in memory the big wind
I hear its howl
but in this here, this now
they never were but
logs, limbs spreadeagled
among the litter of leaves
and ginger sprouts and beetles.

There was an ache, a dull burning behind my eyes
from some night past when I remember worry
burned like biting flies
Even as they saw those things in some slight flurry
of what seemed to be the grey light
of late slanting afternoon
Tohee chirping, hawk in flight

Now a memory, gone.

Is it now, or was it then I felt the warmth
of those sweet patches of air
as choruses of song
that seemed to carry messages of spring.
Is it now or was it then
My thoughts rise on some cold wing
Chill and bare.

What I know is that big things
are always changing in the wings
Of time.
Moving imperceptibly towards some shift
Mountains buried in the drift
of sand in winds
Rocks perched on cliffs while cities come and go
tumble from the years of snow
pressing in their cracks.
And become a hidden hill in some forest below.
While the smallest things forever in and around
find some quiet movement in the ground.

What I cannot see is the movement of these
smallest things
The stir of atoms of the air, dust of star and strings
of dancing proteins in each cell
Light that glimmers as if  at the ringing of some clear bell
in their shift from state to state

I know nothing of the great.
This is all I can know
Cedar shivers when wild winds blow
Earth roars swiftly down the cliff
Then is quiet as a drift
in streams of time.

There is nothing
That I know

Yet this I know.

 

 

Autumn 1968

In the space

of an upturning

brilliant leaf

cupping the clear air

on the dusty autumn ground

The entire universe spreads itself

Beginning here

contained and unbounded yet

It is born

 

Briefly

We had flowed into proximity somehow

in that enormous space

full of goods, full of desires.

 

We were waiting, chocolate bars in hand

to pay the cashier.

Her skin was dark.

Mine white.

 

I noticed.

I listened

to some resonance of this 

inside me.

 

“What is this noticing?”

 

The flavor of this mixed 

with the flavors

of a young man/woman

I could see

standing beside that display

of Swedish Fish 

and chocolates, 

but not, certainly

in any 

desired

association with it.

 

Rugby shirt

covering a muscular chest.

Tattoos covering

the light chocolate skin.

Tight braids covering the roundness of head 

in rhythms.

Intelligence twisting itself 

through those eyes.

Strength sending out waves 

around that body.

 

They had stood together, talking.

Now one on line behind me, 

one waiting

with the taut patience 

of a tiger.

Mother? Sister? Aunt? This woman behind me, 

chatting to a friend

then touched me on the shoulder,

a touch

vibrating warmly through my shirt, 

my skin.

.

I turned.

That chocolate any good? 

was the question, 

spoken plainly, as to one 

known, familiar.

And in reply, I, laughing,

said I didn’t  know.

 

I’ve never been here before.

Never tasted it,

I said,

but figured since it’s not American chocolate,

it must be good.

 

Chuckling, Yeah

she said, Yeah,  

not Hershey’s!

And I’m not even getting it for me.

It’s for my husband,

Yes, and mine’s for a friend.

was my reply.

 

What generous people we are! 

she remarked,

brown eyes smiling 

into mine.

 

Yes.

Yes, we are. 

In recognition,

that opening in my chest.

That greatness.

 

Turning to take my place again in line,

looking ahead to a  blond woman

busy

behind a metal counter,

heart still open to her eyes

behind me.

 

Friends had found each other for those moments

now passing with reluctance.

 

Those friends.

They are everywhere.

We have come here somehow

together

and flow into each other

casually

in this marketplace where we find ourselves,

wandering,

trying to remember.

 

 

 

Photograph by Brassai 1955

Art Institute Chicago

A Cantor deep in song of soul, lost.
Mouth open with the form of sound,
eyes closed to find the core of self
in some secret place
within.

The black of  a yarmulke blends into
sacred shadows all around.

Standing with prayer shawl
softly hung around a neck
tilted for some call to prayer
white wool fallen over striped robes
he wears to mark the sacred nature
of his song.

A tapestry draping the edges of the ark
glows with the reflection of some light
as if a mass of candles burns just out of sight.

A silence touches some
deep fluorescence.
The corner of a painting hanging
in the synagogue, a harbor for vibrations
of his song
suddenly becomes a window revealing clouds
against grey sky
the darkness behind the covering on his head,
the plump seat back
with white cover meant
to keep the tops of
those upholstered banquettes
of old trains
safe from grime of endless hands.
The tapestry, a fine coat draped
over a seat on which he leans,
belonging to a woman facing him
we do not see.

His sleep is one of dreams.
His mouth open
in that lovely relaxation
of old men.
The clacking of a train we do not hear
a sense of revelation
and that peculiar ecstasy induced
by long train rides
taken through an unfamiliar
countryside.

 

Poem VI

 

 

 

 

What shall we do in the face of all this beauty?

Standing on a rock overlooking the fast flowing river,

wind touches our face, blows through our ears

Washes our eyes.

The great leaning manzanita tree

does not move.

What shall we do in the face of all this darkness

pushing in all around? This danger?

The harrier comes to visit for a reason, the white

patch at the base of his tail flashing in the early

morning light as he careens through the air,

cutting it in a smooth curve as he descends.

That bird inhabits my chest,

swooping towards the field below, fierce

in graceful, silent beauty.

Grey head with sharply focused eyes,

bright. Gliding over the earth.

See each thing that moves

as if with a magnifying glass.

From above in your flight, really see

all that is happenning there

in the grasses.

Come to alight with grace

in the branches of the highest tree.

Wait.

Now that you have seen

Your patience will speak to you

of doing.

Conversation of the Poets

Why is the small more important than the big? It was a challenge, written on a slip of paper and left on her dresser.
It was a riddle that threatened to uproot all justifications, all questions.
“Why is the small more important than the big?”

It was itself a question that contained everything, and there, perhaps, the answer.

The Great Owl hooted in the night. One call. Then silence, perhaps only silence. Another call. A short hollow note, a shorter almost grace note, a longer hollow tone. Silence. It was the call that gave the silence its existence. No other owl answers.

The big is contained in every atom of the small.

The silent, infinite expanse is contained in every particle of matter. The matter itself is barely there, if it could be said to be there at all.

A second question, on the other side of the folded slip. “Why is death preferable to life?”

Death is the infinite which expands within every breath of life, every pulse, she answered.

The three-quarter moon rising in the east and the eagle, white head barely visible, coming to perch in the top branches of the big cottonwood as the sun was low in the southwestern sky behind him. If I had not seen the tremendous motion of its wings as it flew to the tree and settled, I would not have noticed even the great mass of it as it became part of the dark stillness of the branches. Every few moments, I returned to the window to look as the colors of the day faded slowly, then quickly. His presence became less and less distinct until, when the last gold of the sun had completely extinguished, it had melted into the gray and black of encroaching night, I, unsure whether his presence had actually been or whether I had noticed a particular vibration of the night, barely visible in the light.

It is the night that is the ground of all being, light but a temporary condition of speeding vibration that passes, stirring the emptiness with its weightless breath, through that infinite space without boundary, without definition. Are we the breath or the emptiness? Who? The hollow tone. Who, who?

Apparition

The branches of the wild Hawthorne
are so laden with blossoms
the bees become confused.

Stunned, they cannot complete
the siphoning of each blossom.
slowing tumbling from branch to branch
in some intoxication.

Restless in the act of love
she swings her arms
now back and forth
now up and down,
head turned.

They cannot be shaken
from such total absorption
from such resonance of vibration.

Memory

 

Struggling up from muffled night

was hard enough.

What would it be to rummage in the dark

for sweaters, pants, socks

tie shoes

And walk out into the darkness of

Buffeting rain and hidden, blurry moon.

 

Only the knowledge that

halfway up the hill

Ego would awake,

Pushing back layers of

gauzy film

Taking over the steering

and lighting  mitochondria with

the sound of a pilot light

clicking on.

 

Only then

do the particles align

with the known world

after flying around forever

over plains of waving grass.

 

Eagle screeches penetrate

Through long tunnels

to the electric networks of neural tendrils.

Dire thoughts ooze from

houses where glowing early lights

transmit poisons soaked up by days of boredom

and dreams of endless black freight trains

then blow off

in rushing

gusts.