Denis Mair - USA
Khaju Kerman Park
---Written while attending the Second Iranian and World Poets Congress.
Khaju of Kerman was mentor and friend to the poet Hafez.
This park is a nook of many nooks
Set in rock so humans can draw near
And grow friendly with the mountain
Nooks for all flavors of contemplation
Nooks as theaters for conversation
A secret system of water ducts
Lets greenery adorn each rocky scene
As if by handiwork of jinns
I stroll the rocky promenade at twilight
In velvety air heed that realm beneath silence
Where a poet’s heart-sounds echo forever
On Hafez Day the big heart of Iran
Opens to let me walk in Khaju Kerman Park
I gaze across the highway at a sister mountain
Its massiveness mirrors the size of this one
Above that massif, the moon lights up a cloudscape
Wreaths of silvery cloud are just as intricate
As whorls and furrows of any monolith
Each realm has been given a scale of time
To develop its own panoply of forms
Between cloudscape and landscape I walk in reverie
May our human works last longer than clouds
May we gracefully make way for people to come
Like travelers going out the gate towards Esfahan
Where a Holy Quran was once kept upstairs
We are all passing through a gate
Beneath the arcane book of Heaven
Wherein the scales of all realms are written
On this day dedicated to a poet
May my thoughts find a fitting place
Here where my kind cavort amid greenery
Along this edge of massive rock
On stone paths hewn by selfless hands
Riddles in Green
The central pillar is so solid and definite
The tier above consists of firm supports, each shaped like half of an arch
Above that, tiers are hypothetical, each limber tip bowed by its own weight
The furthest ends are held up and out toward the light
So delicate that light can shine into their interior
Though flat, there is depth in their will to gather light
They are a slow fountain expressing the quest for light
Where have I seen this shape? It looks familiar to me
As if it comes from somewhere inside me.
I sit on the stump of a chopped-down forest giant
It is hard to imagine the sturdy pillar that once stood here
Or to see a ghost canopy spreading above my head
The pillar’s firmness was a virtue in the plan of a living thing
Now wrenched into a different scheme, it becomes a trial
To my posterior, an armless armchair of discomfort
Why does it seem familiar, and why did I gravitate to such a seat
As if I too had gone through a history of being chopped down?
The gash in a steep mountainside in Chiapas
Is the big brown scream of patient lives that once anchored this slope
Is the big brown scream of farmers who can’t take products to market
Is the big brown scream of fields in the valley, now buried under mud
Further down the valley, a whole mountain buckled and slid into basin land
Because green canopies were wrenched from dreams of gradual growth
Why do they seem so familiar, those howling machines with steel teeth?
Now on the valley floor, smashed by boulders from a landslide they set loose?
The samiras whirl down in bucketfuls I gathered as a child
Winged seeds, or packets of possibility are otherwise spread
Into caches, to be forgotten by scrambling scavengers
Or to fall from lips that were licking sweet pulp
Most of the pips and nuts have to be squandered;
Only a few can lodge in special folds of earth
Why does it seem familiar, seeing all the living nuggets
Hurled with hopeful intent into the maw of void?
After a Talk with Lo Ch’ing
Chinese literati landscape painting is fading away.
The rabbit from which they plucked fur for those wispy brushes has long ago
gone up to the moon.
Tang Yin got light-headed from painting fans and was brained by a butterfly wing.
Fan Zeng’s noble hero got a sore neck from the autumn wind.
C. C. Wang accidentally crumpled his latest masterwork and soaked
it in ink.
Wu Guan-zhong cannot find a pupil to inherit his mastery of white walls.
Chinese literati painting is fading away.
Painters have been known to stare at asphalt roads, forgetting
One was even seen dallying at a betel-nut stand, talking to a girl
dressed in red.
They tie rice paper in knots, or beat it against the Great Wall.
They paint crowds of stick-men with eyes, while drunk and listening to
Chinese landscape literati painting is fading away.
The security guard has activated the alarm and you have to
be out the door in twenty seconds.
Chinese literati are no longer seen on the landscape, because
Chinese literati no longer paint landscapes.
There are no landscape literati
And there are no landscapes to be seen by literati.
There are missiles in Wang Wei’s mountains.
Chuang-tzu hid the universe in the universe, and literati painting
was in that universe, so it is safe.
But in our universe, literati painting had to swallow
a load of scrap iron.
It was wounded in soft places; it was broken and couldn’t pass down.
Literati painting is fading away, but so much the better.
A ghost is softer than soft, and will not be harmed by sharp edges.
A ghost occupies any shape, and assumes more forms than steel.
Literati painting is dead, heya heya
Long may it occupy men’s dreams!
Me And George
My life lies splayed out across the years
In serpentine course through town and city
I need an old friend to prod the memory-snake
And let me feel it stretch into the past.
The tail goes back to industrial suburbs
And a sad-eyed boy
Who studied the scenery on the stage
To avoid being drafted into the sound and fury;
Then the story bends toward a college town
Where he missed some friends that fate appointed
Being rapt in imagining the hearts of others
Inside the many marks he learned on paper;
Then it makes its way to a Far-East sojourn
Tilting at windmills of someone else’s culture
Hitting the wall of Third World awakening;
Then making a loop to the Midwest
To weather the storm he brought back with him;
Then lost windings homeward, coast to coast
One coil always wrapped tenderly around a child
Many convolutions abysmally submerged.
Finally it climbs out, shakes off the flute-song of ancient books
Winding schoolward again to study its own land’s culture
Allowed to crawl into a classroom, to teach
Which is how it ran into George.
George: quick-witted student and instant pal
You kept our class alive,
Late-met friend to remedy my lonesome youth
You stood out like a ‘Bud’ sign in a dim bar;
Nothing was serious or simple to you
And the rest of that Warren rat-pack
From the favored heights of rusty Youngstown,
But you were good-hearted and tough-minded.
Your remarks were cloud-enclosed captions
In a comic co-written by God and Satan;
You played your thoughts on heavenly piano
(no talk of your tormented fingers).
When my marriage exploded, you and Dave Kelly
Let me and my daughter move into Animal House;
You taught her duets and Beatles tunes
She guarded Dave’s keys so he wouldn’t drive drunk.
Three wild undergrads and a grad-student father
Kept house with a sweet-tempered first grader.
Of course our household scattered soon
I went to work in Philadelphia, then on to China;
You went to law school, then on to New York
Piles of letters have passed between us
As I continued my wandering ways
And you served, and made a life for yourself
As Public Defender at a courthouse in the Bronx.
Now you’re getting prickly and hard-bitten
Still you’re best for sharing thoughts and poetry.
That’s why I don’t need this moment’s tyranny
And I think of George, to touch the memory-snake
To help me keep what’s mine from ten years back,
To give this memory-snake a nudge
So I can know the road I came on
And own it every inch of the way.
I am more than these sensations through beady eyes
Sidling up distractedly to flowers and grasses
To flicker my tongue at the wind is not enough
A friend helps me live in the snake-body of my whole life.
"Cows in Mysore"
In that district of cow stalls, their haven is a palm-grown promenade.
They return at twilight from their routes, alone or in twos and threes
They thread their way past intersections, all motorists giving way
By day they comb the city, browsing on provender left in baskets
Each cow has a route; checking for kitchen scraps at certain spots
South of Mysore's city center, there is this special palm-lined street
Every few addresses is a stall for cows, right among people's houses
The contentment of cows is not a commercial slogan here
This interspecies street brings back my fondness for cows
I learned it from my father's long deep sniffs of appreciation
In Sirsi's Marikamba Temple, also at twilight, I see altar-stalls
Where a pair of cows are rubbed down with ghee each week
I feel fondness, expressed by someone else's buttery hands
In Banavasi's ancient temple, the cow-statue breathes delight
It sits before the sacred lingam, on the same level with visitors
Humble at Vishnu's feet, it is the true storehouse of a special spark
From its expression, I know it was browsing on fragrant flowers
This thousand-year-old cow sculpture was touched by many hands
Each day worshippers touch its face, then touch their head or heart
After centuries of touching lightly, just a patina on the still-rough stone
Just a blush beginning on skin of fruit, not like in Hangzhou
Near Tiger-Run Monastery, where Happy Buddha's belly and face
Are rubbed each day, with covetous touch, for good luck
After a thousand years, the marble shows a glassy sheen
Bait of Pity
Earthworm, poor earthworm
Poor earthworm crawling on the cement
You are burned by sunrays and can’t go back
You came up when dew was in the grass
You and your kind try to crawl everywhere
Earthworm I feel sorry for you
I bend over to pick you up
You still have a little moisture
Like lover’s lips in a daydream
I lay you in a patch of damp grass
Let you die with your nose in the dirt
Earthworm you remind me of something
Like all the things that venture
Onto hard, unwelcoming places
Like a song that makes no difference
Earthworm do you know what you are losing?
If you don’t, I’m here to know it for you
I lift you into shady grass
I’m not angling for anything
You and your kind ask for little
Yet you serve as muscle for the soil
Earthworm you are not just a symbol
I’m not dangling sympathy in front of anyone
I am on the pavement too
Los Angeles, 2003
The hard poem I’ve wanted to write for a long time
Resembles a beggar-child in my mind’s eye
Wandering the streets of Rome after WWII.
He has big, gleaming eyes.
An American soldier gives him chocolate
Sneaks away with him to roam the city.
A school-leaver makes the best tour guide
Especially in a place with many ruins.
The soldier brings the boy nylons from the P.X.
You can speculate on these stockings in Rome.
Maybe the kid has an older sister at home,
Or maybe he has no home at all.
That child’s eyes can pull your heartstrings
His money-angling tricks will make you laugh.
In normal times such a clever child
Could surely make something of himself.
For a time the American soldier is tempted
To adopt the boy and take him across the sea.
But red tape in the service is three times thicker
Than civilian bureaucracy.
Later, the soldier is discharged and sent home;
One day he sees this headline in the paper:
“Youth Gangs Run Rampant in Rome”
And the next wave of Mafia activity
Is now expanding to American shores.
So Says the Peacock
Get a look at this ornament. How does it make you feel?
See how my eyespots can look at you from all angles.
See how kaleidoscopically I enjoy the beauty of your crest from all compass points of my tail.
With all these eyes I know where the best seeds are. Come and I can show you the
best forage spots.
All my eyespots sway gently in the breeze. Imagine how we will gaze together on the perfect garden!
The refracted light from my feathers gives an appearance of liquid depth.
My neck-color reminds you of a pond seen through the trees at twilight, or your nighttime hideaway in a thicket.
My tail feathers snap closed, then suddenly fan out again.
I’ve been told the sensory effect can be overwhelming.
It takes a lot of testosterone to keep these feathers growing long and bright. It’s said that
testosterone in my blood increases my risk of infection.
But I have a strong enough constitution to parade these feathers before you.
If you select a well-ornamented specimen like me,
you can feel rest assured: many peahens in the future will be hypnotized by the tails of our sons.
As their father, I’ll give them this gorgeous advantage.
Even the humans who keep this garden have taken a cue from us.
(That poet in L.A. who calls himself Bowerbird has the right idea.)
Ludicrous apes, they suppose that with gibbering sounds they can mimic the effect of our resplendent tails!