Four new poems for & after Vidyā, with a note on landscape & translation
Cold Stone Wheel
Fate has kneaded my heart, dear friend,
like a clod
of shapeless clay
placed it on the cold stone wheel —
set it to spin with bamboo staff —
the bamboo staff uncertainty,
call it ought, could, should, might, may
cloudy moods revolve
on the cold stone wheel —
the shape the potter makes
I can’t yet see.
after Vidyā, from Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa
You in the Oakland hills
2:00 a.m. moon you call lopsided
must every wheel conceal some fate?
stars revolve, the roulette ball spins, the potter sends her
beneath the sky coyotes bark —
moonrise thrills their clan
this waxing gibbous Oakland moon
enters Aries, now on Sugarloaf our eyes
meeting on the lunar disc, hoping to see —
what shape the cold sphere takes.
Clay fate wheels moonlight
& human love dear Amy —
cough softly in the night.
Dark as a Priest’s
the smoke & thunder dark as a
priest’s fiery sacrifice
tangled grass cloaks the dark earth
bursts the white
kandala petal —
now is the hour for sweet pleasures
If your lover has left though,
what but death
after Vidyā, Śarṅgadhara-paddhati 3867
gathered where clouds mount or toss
has run its course
through living vein
Volatile minerals flare on the wind
that flushed a human
cheek or groin
Earth & sky
from the beginning,
couple like black
& yellow dragons
as I Ching portends each shoot
purple tuft, grassy floret, nub of antler
thickens with life
a kind of thinking
more fierce than any thought
such will to life & love the rain
as Vidyā saw
the dew sweet law is savage soft
white rash of blossoms
no loss no gain.
The Place Where Ed Dorn Lies Buried
Where does Ed Dorn
A lifetime he spent calling things
as they is
& things as they isn’t
that’s where Ed Dorn lies buried.
And his earthly remains?
Under the lever action rifle crank G for Gunslinger
a bite like an ampersand
that’s where they buried Ed Dorn.
Green Mountain graveyard
under a toothy ridge
no flower no crystal no sage bundle there
not where Ed Dorn got buried.
Urn into earth we ain’t been back since
not since they buried Ed Dorn.
Earth into earth, urn to the earth
what at last did they bury?
Ed Dorn was —
Amiri Baraka met my eye with his,
— a thoroughly honest man.
Where does Ed Dorn lie buried?
Don’t look for no flower no biting inscription the man
simply went down
that’s where Ed Dorn lies buried.
Two at Bears Ears
1. other people’s junk
Here’s a leg trap for coyote
tossed in a ditch
That’s Sleeping Ute Mountain to the hazy east
look at the book of rock art
dust jacket ash-yellow
a hand axe of green smoky stone
I once used
my own heart
every spell that got me through life
carved on the blade
I found it at Fortress Canyon
then buried it again
for someone else to find
that’s the way people always did things
recycle the few necessary items
of yellow dust
2. hand axe
the red old desert varnish
this pole, pecked with masks hands
a later hand filled the chisel holes
with white paste
waves of time in the sandstone
where John Wesley Powell reads
to his weathered skeptical crew
“The Lady of the Lake” he’s pulled
from a rubber bag
keeping up with poetry on the Colorado River
all these years the music
Time to recapture
what’s beyond the troubled human self
look at the land, its just-so-nature
gave us birth
where else could we live
homeland cradle tar & girth
A note on landscape & translation
Attention has gone in recent years to the tough juniper-piñon zones of the Bears Ears region,
Southern Utah. Tribes and eco-activists have worked to protect a million acres of pueblo sites,
rock art, & unique wilderness. Ruins and rock inscriptions of the Cedar Mesa district — deep flash-flood sandstone canyons — show how humans live in a tough ecology, learn plant & animal life, then use brush and pigment to make images that reach the future. The land, harsh, dry, unyielding, & thin, gives little room for error. Yet there’s art that “speaks” from the past; maybe not “art” but glyphs of far language.
Far languages rise — lift into form, crumble, fall into layers like talus. Translation is part of the
work of many poets. Comrades who wrote poetry centuries ago on distant continents are present
through verse. Translation’s not for everybody — tough, sometimes scary — but the words or glyphs
I suspect language & the wild world emerge from one source. Call it Dao, call it Dog Tank Spring.
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
which teaches awful doubt...
That’s Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wandered Europe’s wild reaches two hundred years ago,
imagining out-of-doors-poems would raise doubts about tyranny and law. You could say he
sought the lokapāla (Sanskrit: eco-guardian-spirit: Latin genius loci), to depose the unjust. Shelley
thought truly rough land able to “repeal large codes of fraud and woe.” I wish it did. The years
since his death have not been good for wilderness. Strip-mines, power plants, dams, water
shortage, land grab, heedless recreation, have brought woe to those who know or love a territory.
Land use issues in the Bears Ears and elsewhere are instances of world struggle.
The first poems here have two sections. A muktaka, stand-alone lyric, by India’s poet Vidyā; then
as people in her time did, a response poem. What remains of Vidyā? Thirty short poems in
Sanskrit anthologies. What’s known of her? Nearly nothing; two poems praise, another spits on a
warlord who might be her lover. Her eye took in mountain settlements, village gardens, groves by
the river. Possibly 7th or 8th century but some scholars place her earlier. Her landscapes reach soutto Kerala, and north to Himalayan torrents. She uses the name Kāndalī for a river, referring to
Kandala Peak, glacial slopes where the Yamuna has headwaters.
Near to hand is Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa, a 12th century anthology. Each time I venture into Vidyā’s
poems a fresh nuance appears. It seems Vidyā and I have been talking forty years, about love,
science, human trouble. About glacier fed rivers, the planet’s ecologies. Some of the work I have
done around campfires at the Bears Ears.
Poems and poetics