An Old Irish Lyric

At first glance this is a remarkably fresh and microcosmic take on the popular voyage genre, but in its lyric intensity certain hermeneutic features appear that might be obscured in the longer iterations of the theme.  The brevity of lyric in its sense of compact tension often produces a sense of heightened emergency.

For the text and notes, see p. 83 of My News for You: Irish Poetry 600-1200, ed. and translated by Geoffrey Squires, Shearsman Books 2016:

A busy yellow bee

who makes

a not insignificant journey

flying joyfully out

over the great plain

in the sun

pausing at blossom after blossom

cup after cup

and then happily back again

to rejoin

the orderly community of the hive


In his note Squires comments on the difficulty of translating the word he translates as “orderly.”  He notes that bees are frequently used to symbolize a social order that is in contrast to human anarchy.

From the journey tradition we know the existential journey touches at several bases of being as it happens: the wonder of the objective world — flying joyfully out; the route inward discovering values in the shared world  as the journey continues — “over the great plain / in the sun/”; and as the journey continues its dialectical way, ” pausing at blossom after blossom/ cup after cup” there is an increasing sense of “gravity” or worldliness,  which is relieved “happily” when the turning point is reached. The journey outward-and-inward reaches its “end”:  “and then happily back again.” The  “return” is not a figure of linear repetition but a return to the  community.

Is this a model of loss of self in the hive?

The vocabulary of value (ethos) —not insignificant; joyfully; happily —suggest a “natural” (the quotes mean to dislodge this word from its naturalistic anchor in modern evolutionary materialism) harmony, in which finite individuals both exert themselves and complete themselves in light of an Order that is both subjective — happily, joyfully — and objective in both the material sense — space and process (gathering pollen for the community)–and in the transcendent sense (as reflected in the aesthetic shaping of the poem as a free act). We might call the journey “intersubjective” or better “trans-subjective.” All the while the journey is “in the sun.”

So, yes: “orderly” but not in the reductive sense but in the “hyperbolic” sense: not ironic but suggestive of that of which we cannot speak because we are both too close to it and too far from it.




time & eternity

Time and eternity

until the next wave the tide-

pool utterly clear

green of beer bottle

rounded by the violence

of the waves gleams there

in the mercury

of the upper ocean thanks

to man's unkindness

and these syllabics

inwrought with a timeless but

timely distinction


A Second Wind

The haiku seems fit for the use I have in mind. A sort of catalogue of moments of presence here in this new place, the Pacific  North West. I have come to this region after many years on the East Coast, where I was closer to Europe than Asia, and yet my last series of poems, written in Portsmouth New Hampshire, was based on ancient Chinese poems and their Zenist orientation. So now I am at the Western end of the continent and exploring it through haiku. American landscapes have always been metaphysical places, starting with the Native Americans, then the Puritans, then the Romantics with their sense of apocalypse. This eschatological sense of place has political aspects, especially with Evangelical Christians. White Nationalists camp in Eastern Oregon.  Oregon is historically the end of the way West. Eschatology and apocalypse mix with rather dramatic rivers and mountains, so I may get a second wind of the energies flowing through the pond songs. The complex psychology of certain schools of Zen seem almost native to the place thanks to Gary Snyder and respond strongly to the disfiguring of the landscape by apocalyptic schemes.  Czeslaw Milosz with his profound engagement in European religious ideas was certainly affected by these facets of the local reality.  Potent stuff.


Between immanence

and divine transcendence this

day of cool bright mist

Looking back and forward: Pond Song 31 August 2013

In the midst of planning a new sequence –drawing on my experiences in Northern California in the 70s and 80s and now in Oregon — I look back at my Pond Songs  THOSE poems were written every Sunday for a number of years on a walk around South Mill Pond in Portsmouth NH. The texts I was mediating then included Emerson and Thoreau (and Cavell of course); the primary formal invention was rooted in my research in the classical Chinese poem and the philosophical texts relevant thereto, especially the Zhuangzi.  The epigraphs were all taken from William Desmond’s work, usually God and the Between. I think they repay rereading. Now reading Milosz’s The Land of Ulro I understand a little more about the impulse behind the pond songs: a hinterland other to Ulro. He writes: “Ultimately, only a time measured by sacral standards, and not mechanical clock-time, can sanction a belief in the reality of things” (122). The mysterious connection between “sacral standards” and “the reality of things” is always already the point of writing a poem for me, as I look back and look ahead. Rereading Milosz and Levertov has proved very rewarding so far.

Pond Song 3.63

“We distract ourselves with ‘meaning.’” G&B 29

nature’s copia nature’s baroque__still hot air of August

smudge of the morning moon__just enough clarity to lust

after more but nothing doing__the pond offers a few numbers

4 cormorants 2 egrets 1 heron__the count changes of course

driftwood gray satin stalker__did you croak just now

a glint a still wet beak__a cormorant’s under his shadow

this is that no longer holds__a still there dragonfly flows

over the tall dry grasses__three bees roll in one rose

The Cabbage White and the Between


IMG_3876Between earth and sun

O intermediary

moth I rest in you

The erratic zig-zag of the cabbage white moth is hard to follow. Like one’s mind, perhaps, in its daily wanderings. In its worm stage, this particular moth is a pest; as its name suggests, it feasts on cabbage, and also broccoli and Brussels sprouts. But in its winged state, it has left the bad behind, or so the story goes. So as it rests in the heat of a summer afternoon, it seems to connect earth and sun as it is still for a minute if that. The between or “metaxy” is a state of consciousness recognized by Plato and poets everywhere (strange bedfellows, but that’s another story). With clear consciousness/conscience, we may enjoy our short lifespans,  flitting around in the luminous between, conscious of dimensions and directions beyond our kin. So I address the common moth as a fellow traveler in the between. The echo of Augustine’s question about existential rest — until I rest in Thee– should produce that verbal shock that provides the judgment within the judgment, as Hill would say, and also the slight shudder of the haiku twist with its comic or high/low touch. Interesting to me how much cultural work the haiku form is capable of.

Aging Lovers

I had a cancellation today so reviewed some materials ahead of schedule for another client– some Merton and R.S. Thomas. Doing so gave me a rare sense of relief from the demands of my schedule. A relaxation and opening of time. A poem popped:


What makes this moment

a way is the smile between

those aging lovers



A Song in Passing

A sudden coolness

of ambiguous bright clouds

passes overhead


a chill interrupts

my breathing have I been here

too long I mean here


too long the light’s red

I’ve not left the curb I have

time to spare again


in the August sun

at the corner of Ivy

and N. Vancouver