Friday, May 25, 2012

afternoon beside the river deepens in its own silence

The only real work is to become grass

We stop somewhere beyond the last house
and grip spindly birches for balance
down a steep bank, to take pictures of ferns,

leaves a rich green, lace-like, dreaming,
condensed out of the spring air, rather than
pushing up through the wet debris of earth.

Fronds press like the open hands
of small women on the rough sides of fallen trees,
their leaves ridged with thin veins

like the tracery of fingerprints.
On my knees, I lift one to see the different,
paler green of the underside and then touch

with a finger the secret joining
where the smaller stems branch.
This feels like a valuable intimacy.

But I disappoint myself, becoming soon bored
with beauty, and drift to the edge of the river,
gray under the day’s clouds. Tough, ordinary grass

blows and rustles beside the water.
Nondescript twigs cross and rub together
on leafless bushes I can’t identify.

The river keeps flowing past.
It is that kind of world. No metaphor,
here at some distance from the ferns --

the grass is grass, the twigs
are twigs, and crows in the distance
gloat over some death they have discovered.

(Yes, it is essential to note death.
And the ferns were not really dreaming --
those organic engines for burning leaf rot.)

I lie lost, watching grass, for I don’t know how long.
on my belly, the coolness of dirt seeping in,
the wind and water moving.

Grass will grow through my hands.


  1. This week at work the back doors have been open to let what ever breeze might come in as the days are getting hot. As I'm trying to work my mind and eyes are focused on the trees and what blue seeps through in the open spaces. The air is filled with cotton flying all about. Some find their way into the shop and I reach out to play with them when I'm suppose to be working. My mind is floating along with the cotton. I want to let grass grow through my hands

    1. Liz: i see this scene very clearly. i think you have a poem here -- will you write this poem?

  2. I felt as if I was visiting a museum/art gallery. :)
    Have a good Sunday James.

  3. I just read at erin's, the piece about the sweeper of the stairs with a title about no titles, and it felt like just what I have been thinking. Then I come here and feel the same. Why do we get bored, ever, at all? I think it's because we expect that we should do something other than we are doing, with beauty even, as you say. In the case of this piece, your title is essential, part of it, what I come back to when the grass grows through your hands. Being human sometimes feel laborious—too much thought, too many metaphors, too much meaning. And I hear that Thoreau sat in his open doorway on a chair a whole morning, each morning. I remember that often when I chide myself for just sitting.

    Thank you so much for this. A connection. A root system.

    1. Ruth: as charles wright says, "don't just do something! sit there...." too often, we substitute action for attention...

      i think i am easily bored with obvious and expected beauty. of course the grass and twigs are beautiful, too -- but we go to the forest expecting beauty from the ferns, and find it too easily ... the other beauty takes slowness and contemplation ... (at least for me :-)

      the resonance with erin's piece was unplanned, a surprise, an enrichment. we converge, in so many ways, often underground, through the root system, yes :-)

  4. i think of three poems. two by michael ondaatje:

    Tell me
    all you know
    about bamboo

    growing wild, green
    growing up into soft arches
    in the temple ground

    the traditions

    driven through hands
    through the heart
    during torture

    and most of all


    small bamboo pipe
    not quite horizontal
    that drips
    every ten seconds
    to a shallow bowl

    I love this
    being here
    not a word
    just the faint
    fall of liquid
    the boom of an iron buddhist bell
    in the heart rapid
    as ceremonial bamboo



    The cabin
    its tin roof
    a wind run radio
    catches the noise of the world.
    He focuses on the gecko
    almost transparent body
    how he feels now
    everything passing through him like light.
    In certain mirrors
    he cannot see himself at all.
    He is joyous and breaking down.
    The tug over the cliff.
    What protects him
    is the warmth in the sleeve

    that is all, really


    and the third, shyly, is from body

    bodies like dandelions pushing. bodies waiting for dandelions to be pushing. bamboo will grow through bodies. there are bodies waiting for bamboo...will anything at all resist this body?


    only you do not question it. you accept it. it is a truth. grass will grow through your hands.

    will we have the patience then to sit and receive? ah, then we will lack the i. it is always this which gets in the way, always this which is the doorway to our receiving.

    what rounds this out for me is your finding the salamander (not a gecko) in the snow.

    i like what ruth points to, our boredom even with beauty, of course, you recognizing and pointing to it first. who are we to ever be without awe? blind, perhaps.

    i revel in your voice. i revel in your poetry, in your sight, in your being.


  5. erin: you give me too much here for me to respond in any adequate way :-) thank you for the poems. thank you most for the words from body -- i had not realized (or remembered) how close we were on this -- but of course, as i mention to ruth, this communication happens through the root system :-)

    it is, you remind me, a poem about the body becoming continuous with the world, once the resisting ego somehow manages to quieten for a time. such moments are possible, rare of they might be. i think we have known them together :-)

  6. what a beauty of a title! and I love this image so very much - "Fronds press like the open hands
    of small women on the rough sides of fallen trees". lovely to hear you read, such a soft poem and yet finishes with a kind of violence. nicely done!

  7. Marion: it is a kind of violence -- and yet i hope it is a necessary, accepted violence, a dissolution ...