Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gogyohka 5/27/09

Divorce makes
people out
of parents
and adults out
of children.

The row of
lilies behind
the gate
like locked
away sunshine

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gogyohka 5.26.09


Monday, May 25, 2009

Goygyohka 5/25/09

Silent and still
on a mountain trail
Crash! Two black bears
romp past and around
The leaves flash

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Goyohka 5/21/09

No matter
their origin
has to chase
the traincar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gogyohka 5.20.09

40 years old,
and still thinks
he can keep the
playthings on the other
side of the fence.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gogyohka 5/19/09

Gogyohka poetry!
I'm a child
in a sky
full of ribbons
Chasing the wind

Somewhere between
peace and war
there is something:
The rock, the smooth
lake, the plop!
The ripples at the edge.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gogyohka 5/18/09

I met Enta Kusakabe and Elizabeth Phaire today for a late lunch/early dinner and wrote these two on the subway on the way home:

This man
This man this
man. Who is
this Enta Kusakabe?
This man.

Guilt's claws
poke holes
through the
paper masks
of the past.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gogyohka 5/12, 13, and 14

The lines are getting too long, but i don't have time just now to clean them up and compress them.

The loungers in the square
the soft new-to-sun legs
and rippling cleaved mounds
The purple thistle's burst
stalks itself straight up

In New York neither the couples
nor the scowling old Boricua
leave their bench-spots
"Oh my God! It's not like
we're having /sex/!"

On a South Carolina river
in mellow strolling heat
the Creole band's slung
drummer leans shaded, bobbing
a cigarette and flailing brushes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gogyohka 5.9.09, 5.10, 5.11

She waters plants and piles
books, loves her children,
collects and keeps things alive--
smiles looking away:
My dad's new lady.

At one house, the cupboard
is full of tea!
All sealed in glass bottles.
In the other, only a few
bags sit in a basket--her favorites.

To drive through St. Louis
passing over muddy water
while passing under
the shiny arch
is to break the sky's egg open.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gogyohka 5.7.09, 5.08.09, and 5.9.09

I've been out of town (still am) so these are a little jet-lagged.

Landing in Charlotte
the Sun parts mellow clouds
in crystal shards
to shine on red dirt mountains,
tractors, waving grass, and me.

Visiting family
Wii time, TV, internet
going out every meal
No time
for each other's gifts

Three rose branches
one baked bare
one half a teabag,
half sun setting deep gold
The last dripping clover honey

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Middle Child

Almost done--took a while, but I'm starting to get happy with it.


It was a day at the end of April,
“Supposed to shoot up, near to ninety-two”
She said, her fan held still, her parasol
Open to catch the raining rays. “I heard,
And it might just be rumor,” the fan starts
Again, “I heard the record’s ninety-one.”
And shook her head almost around full turn,
As if to tell her, too, somehow, something
About how records scratch after they break.

“I was the youngest, so I never cared
for records—making them or breaking them.”
She wiped her brow. “Are you the youngest girl?”
(She was, but not the youngest of them all,
And guessing at the meaning, shook her head.)
“No,” and again, “No. I’m the middle child.”
And the across became an up and down—
Agreement? Comprehension? She stood still,
In the tight heat, and then, uncertainly,
As if that, that not knowing (or the sun?)
Made her legs engines, gave her fuel, she shrugged
And walked away. (She marched, to be more accurate,
Since accuracy is the rage these days.)

Alone again, her midday wanderings
Strayed off from sidewalks, strayed from pavement grooves,
And gazed into a stand of daffodils,
The perfect upswing rows of yellow cones,
Upended bells unrung; she gazed a long
Time, thought of that other between figure,
Or figurant, Narcissus, stooping down
On banks, or tidelines, marshy grass.
She thought of his eyes next, a pair of two
And both were looking for a rainbow bridge,
A light and sturdy transom strong enough
For body and image and that starboat
Of beauty, vanity (some call it pride)
Alike, a bridge to hold it all (an ark—
to be precise, but how can arks hold boats,
especially boats made of stars? How’s that?)
But, failing water-light, or arks, he drowned.

So too would these sun worshippers, in joy,
If they could, merging with what they reflect
And consummating color, name, and shape
Alike, at once recombinant, unselfed
(The blind man told him, he whose death feeds them,
“You stay alive as long as self’s unknown.”)
As they bent up and stretched before her eyes
In tip-toe straightlines, ruffled ends a crown,
The trumpets heralding and strident blast,
And narrowing the tube, the March windshield,
And out to petals. Here she noted on some
The extra bred-in ruffles, adorned
As to spread out the bell, open it wide—
Even the decorative, adored first bloom
Gives way to its own beauty ruse, she thought,
And, laughing, plucked one of them, to cup the weight
Of the selected for, of extra, trait,
And watched the rigid rows maintain their bask
As if to drench themselves until full drunk
In this, this chance to honor their Sun-God.

She sniffed and closed her eyes, and like a wish
The sky went gray, the billowed cloud shapes swarmed
Their deity and masked it, and let loose
Into the blooms turned buckets fat raindrops.
They splashed and pelted petals, and tested
The wishes of the congregants to drown
With tastes of rain to fill the flowers’ frames
(And she knew, wet herself, God had two names.
Of this, suddenly, she was now sure:
To punish and to give away were acts
Receiving letters at the same address.)
But she thought of the woman’s parasol
And laughed to wonder if its gossamer held.


It was about the first of May, and hot
Again, a little hotter than last time,
Some said. (She couldn’t say herself. She lost
Her parasol meteorologist
to sun-stroke’s calm.) Without the record scratch
she became more than middle; she became
lost. Doubly so, without measurement
or relationship, so she sought both
at once in her old haunt, the organized
display of botany, the sense arranged
in knowns, in pocketed themes, in placard facts.

She knew where, just where, she would go, first thing—
And, eager, nearly passed by the hillside,
Its bunches of drooped scallion shoots disguised
As scrubby ground, as cover, the stand gone
Despite the bright and blinding glow of light
The daffys honored through resemblance to
(Instead of family, become beloved).
But where had her beloveds gone? She asked,
And in the sizzling heat she saw shade stalks
That days ago had been ripe, butter-hued,
Hang shriveled as if on flypaper.
“I saw them flooded just the other day.”
(But when exactly she had no one to say.)
“And now. Now look!” She cried up to the sky.
Still soggy looking, sagging so, and shrunk
Down to half-size at least, a scorched bouquet.
“You look just like wet cats, the bunch of you!”

The daffys, though addressed, were still bare.
She pressed her cheeks in with her hands, her lips
Gave out a fish’s O. Not knowing why,
She shook her head until it would fall off
If not for triggering a thought. She turned
And let her cheeks go slack, gave her eyes room
And saw the visitors: the elderly
Smooth wrinkles out with bloom, and to her left
The mothers push their strollers, padding past
In brisk short sneakered strides. One of the old
Zipped up his windbreaker and muttered through,
Another spotted her, tipped his pageboy cap.
No one got her attention. No. Not one.

She was far gone by then, bent low over
A peony, a lone bud blushing past
In lavender plush nests. She groped and gasped,
“It’s not right. It’s just not.” She sputtered on
Past tulips, past their prime, thick waxy drips
Of red, or gold, the petals dripping down
In lazy candlewax streams. “Insect wings.”
Growing impatient, confirmation close—
Begonias? Check. Full blown, and early so.
The cherries, lilacs’ scent—all these belonged—
But this? She thought, beholding a wide blank
Of white, the mortarboards and tasseled tops
Of light green puff that signified dogwood.

She huffed, disturbed, and her reward showed up
As riot flames—the burst bloodlines in rows.
“Azaleas.” Said between question and cry.
The names came flooding through: rhododendron,
Blue bells. “Not cannas?!” Halfway peering out,
Afraid the whole thing would come tumbling down
At once—what if? She puzzled in her brow
What if at once? Like an instant message
Of some kind (right on the brink, cusping close).

She marched in broad daylight between the trees,
Appropriately pink flushed cherry trees,
Without seeing herself alone, the rest
Aside in shade and fanning, huddled close
Or posing, all tongues foreign to her
As she considered now. Now. Everything
Packed tight into a now, and here; if so
She must be here for it, here now (the sun
Is beating on her temples, sweat’s beads come).

For with this now so big, so suddenly
Apparently at once, it flipped itself
Over to near otherwise, too (wisdom’s
Sometime dancemate, the shadowboxed other):
It meant a big now must (at once) be small,
Be short, and quickly passing—and she thought
Of an eclipse, its now moment stuffed tight
And rare, and missed often (at least by her).

She thought of schedules of how to ensure
Next year she’d get in closer, here for more
(for a small now always has room for more)
And worried she wouldn’t adapt her time
So when the party came she’s have to check
The box that read “unable to attend.”

She fretted right over the stone arched bridge
A single humped piece—missed the cool water
Below, the stream flow dribbling old rain past
And just about tripped headlong exiting:
The fountain’s rim unleveled ground enough
To catch her back to earth, and sheets of drops,
A curtain drawn in shade around a duck.

Gogyohka 5.6.09

When the subway's eyes
are too many
I tighten myself
into a corner
and stare back.

and some not by me, live and direct from japan:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gogyohka 5.5.09

When most lonely
two choices sit
tapping their fingers:
Walk into life
or walk out of it.

-by me


When people are angry with me
I want to smile
because I am sad
At those moments
I release the sun in my heart

-by Hinagi Kotosai, 9 years old

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gogyohka and Wet Cherry Petals stuck to Umbrellas


yesterday, Sunday, May 3rd, 2009, I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival, known as Sakura Matsuri, in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I went with Olivia, who was willing to go out in the rain. The Botanic Garden is right near my house, and even though it was raining we walked. I couldn't hear much Olivia said because her umbrella is huge and blue and perhaps magical (see her blog for more on that) and blocked her face. I have bad hearing anyway so the background noise of the cars on eastern parkway whooshing the water out of the way of their steel belted radials drowned out, and sometimes splashed out, most everything she said. This frustrated me, because Olivia is an interesting person and I like listening to what she says, so we tried to work it out so that she held the umbrella under her but at an angle tilting away from me. Eventually I just gave her my umbrella, which is smaller and broken and has lions on it and is probably not so magical, but allowed me to hear her better.

The garden was beautiful! Wet cherry blossoms are darker, and you can see time pass in the way the rain washes them off. Olivia said that she liked seeing an individual blossom kind of kamikaze off the branch, because the way each one spins to the ground is like its own dance. It's sort of like pink snowfalls under a canopy of cloud trees. There's a little spring in winter after all--it's no wonder they are neighbhors. The lilacs looked like whipped cream Olivia said (she wasn't using her umbrella at all at this point) and she stuck her face in one and tasted the lilac water, which if it was as sweet as the lilac bushes smelled must have been delicious. I tasted one but I can't smell as well as Olivia.

The thing we had agreed on seeing was the poetry reading they do at the festival. The first year we went, which was three years ago, they did readings by the Brooklyn Haiku Society or something like that, and it inspired me. They read at this mini-amphitheater carved out of stone right on the pond that banks the Japanese garden. There's one arching cherry tree that lopes into the water there, and it looks like a waterfall when it's in bloom. I think a duck was hiding under it from the rain yesterday, but not all the ducks hid on the pond. Last year the poetry wasn't as good or memorable--something about the atmosphere, which the first time had Japanese American girls in kimonos and sandals trickling through the amphitheater, but who I don't remember that second time. Maybe we showed up late that second year, which was last year. Can't tell. But THIS year it was held indoors, in the auditorium of the visitor center.

The stage was big and blank. On it was a very small man in a dark blue robe and the same sandals the Japanese American girls wore, with the same white socks pulled up so you couldn't see the color of his shin skin. He looked calm, gentle, and happy. The picture might convey that, I dunno. He's also old, 71, and beautifully so. His name was Enta Kusakabe, and he talked to us about Gogyohka, a five-line form of poetry that he created. He told us his voice was very coarse--he spoke softly and a little raspily, but I wouldn't call it coarse--and that three months ago his voice was beautiful, that he doesn't know what happened: poof! Voice gone. So a woman who was head of the first and only American Gogyohka Society (more on that later) read the poems for him. He talked a great deal, though, and introduced the Gogyohka form, how it's different than more traditional forms of Japanese poetry like Haiku or Tanka, which also has five lines. Gogyohka (which you say with hard g's in both instances, go-gee-yo-ka), though, allows more freedom in its "melody," he said, that it's tune is different, because as a form it allows for any subject matter and does not restrict syllables. The only thing gogyohka asks is that each of the five lines are short, that they are concise and the images very clear, and in this way they are very similar and in the tradition of Tanka and Haiku. The big difference is that you can talk freely and openly about your feelings, and you don't have to use "poetic" words or conventions, like referring to the seasons, though you can if you want to. It was very, very hard to hear him, but I sat forward in my seat because not only his words but they way he said them was very captivating to me. He said life begins at 50, which was funny to me because he started writing gogyohka, created the form, at the age of 19. He was very funny in general, and also very open. The woman would read a poem, which was of course very short so only took a couple seconds, and then she'd hand him the microphone back. Sometimes he said a few words, or almost nothing. After this poem:

When you laugh
your eyes narrow
Isn't it strange then
how the world

he said almost nothing, just, "You get it? Yes!" And then he kind of exploded with his hands and his little eyes got huge. Even from my seat in the crowd I could see it (my eyes are much better than my ears). One time he said a great deal, got carried away, walking stridently from one end of the stage to the other, very animated, was after the woman read one of his poems:

It wasn't the Americans
who dropped the bomb
it was the consciousness of the era
If Japan had had the bomb
we would have dropped it too

he got so animated in talking about this poem, about how important it is for all of us to change our consciousness, that he forgot to hold the microphone close to his mouth, and the woman on the stage, who was much younger and had beautiful eyes, kind of gently and hesitantly with obvious respect sort of nudged the microphone back toward his mouth. He smiled and kept going and going and going, but I could see a lot of people getting up and leaving and answering their cell phones or just talking and ignoring him. Maybe they couldn't hear, maybe they had other preoccupations, or worries, but I struggled with my enmity toward what were after all my fellow people, not just my community neighbors but my fellow citizens. I felt, and still feel, they were very disrespectful, but what can you do?

Well, if you're Olivia you buy me a book about Gogyohka that Enta Kusakabe wrote and signed for me (he signed his name in English and Japanese, which was super cool). I had asked him a question at the end of the presentation and reading, and as he was leaving the auditorium he walked up my aisle and smiled very warmly at me and shook my hand. I told him his answer to my question was like the poem I quoted up above about the laughter and the world widening with it (he talked a lot about gogyohka widening the world of Japanese poetry, that it could be a very small package or door that opened into a much bigger world). He smiled even bigger and let go of my hands and his hands exploded again. I remembered after he walked past that when I had asked my question he had shaded his eyes so he could see who I was past the house lights, and when he was done answering he looked right at me from the stage to ask, nodding, Yes? Which meant to me did I answer your question. I nodded back and said, out loud because who knows maybe he has better ears than me, yes, thank you. And then he came down my aisle because the presentation was over and shook my hand. I think Enta Kukasabe must have good eyes, too.

One thing he talked about extensively, emphasized, was how accessible and easy gogyohka were to write. How in Japan there is no distinct separation between "poets" and "lay people," that something like half a million people are writing gogyohka. He publishes a monthly poetry anthology that's 400 pages long! Even more people write haiku. It's easy, he said, and with gogyohka you don't have to worry about syllables, or translating japanese "sounds" in their language to english syllables, and so he hopes more Americans will write gogyohka. He said he has already seen many wonderful gogyohka written by Americans, some of which were read at the presentation. My favorite was this one:

It is not
a sin
to be miserable
It is
a diving board

At the end of the reading and presentation his last words were, "I hope all of you go out and write gogyohka yourselves. Go! Write!" So I decided to give it a whirl. It's not as easy for someone like me, who is so long-winded, to write such tight poems, but equally I like the challenge. I also wanted to honor the experience and inspiration the day had provided, and since we forgot to bring the camera I wrote mainly nature poems about the botanic garden. I share them with all of you in the hopes that you will listen to Mr. Kusakabe and Go! Write! Your own gogyohka. It's pretty fun, actually.

At the dam
a pink algae foam
of cherry petals
Oh! An orange koi
thinks it's food!

The pond refills
with pocks
of droplets:--
---: Full-the duck
sits on the rain.

The gloom of rain
droops the camellia
drops petals
loud in the glory
of wet birdsong

Careful prop
to umbrella tent
under the cherry tree
Headbutts blossoms

The rain and
the lilac bushes:
the wet smell
you taste like a bee


So wet the smells
become tastes
The lilac water
you eat
like a bee.

In the shiny rain
black umbrella people
become flowers--
open arched thirsty
and coated with pink petals.

One dog circles fast
while the other stoops
in the grass
Around and around like a buoy
three legs struggle to shit

(i had that last one in my head last night before I went to bed and wrote it just now)

Finally, the image I used of Enta Kusakabe is from The Gogyohka Poetry Society in Westchester, New York, who hosted his visit to the botanic garden yesterday. If you want more information on the form then check out the website, or ask me: I read Kusakabe's book Olivia bought me last night. He wrote it in English, his first time writing a manuscript in the language! He's a small man, but he's pretty mighty. And it occurs to me that in his poetic vision, in his warmth and urging to use poetry to share ourselves, our inner light with each other, in order to bring us all into understanding and a cosmos of peaceful communication, he is like a Japanese Walt Whitman. He embodies his soul, anyway, to me, partly because I felt so moved at the prospect of shaking the hand of a person who had a puff of the soul smoke of Walt Whitman. With any luck I inhaled some of it!