RECENT POEMS (2012- )

Note: Poem Titles Marked with a Double Asterisk (**) Have Been Published or Accepted for Publication.

DAVIS AS A PLACE

The spread of earth here gently stirs our land’s
Skin, stretched out tight, flat, on slow churning stone,
Plunging sea-bed clay miles towards slipping iron;
All then propose life back upward as soil,
As field, encompassed east-west, northward
Thrusting steel rails: it has stayed where the skim
Settled, a notion beyond the Delta,
Rushing for brick-built Chicago and far
Seattle, a split, smoothed over, a space,
A mark replete with meaning.

NARCISSA PEÑA SWEEPS HER PORCH, FOURTH AND D STREETS**

If I solely confined myself
To constrained streets in angles,
And curbs and corners kept us
Closed, I could not notice
The Coast Range at sunset,
The Sierra at sunrise,
In their glow defining there
For my measure, there to lie
Invitation to horizons elsewhere
And otherwise still belonging.
The old family land grant, running
To each east and west edge,
Clenches me yet, no matter time’s
Alternation of building and falling:
My free gesture touches the mountains,
And their freer gesture touches me
Retrieval.

**Entering: The Davis Poetry Anthology, 2011, (Davis: 2011), 48.

PRARIE WIFE, 1910

Her face, the color and grit of sullen sand
Along that part of the Green, still like bluffs,
Was set long before in tight wheels of loss
And pinched gain, she knew no more than taking
Care of children, some dying, all gone, then
An infant yet nursing another still,
Tight wheels of food, water, clothes strung out, burnt
Gardens, thin chickens, disease and the wind:
The gray clapboard’s now nearly folded, piece
Lost on piece, the cemetery’s short nubs,
The blurred angel is hers.

VIDEO

A partially true story, in three parts

                           I
“Where’s my tape?” “What tape?” “The one in the box.”
“What box?” “It had some ballet on it—you
Know: dancers.” “You don’t like ballet.” “I don’t,
But it had a war movie, ‘Western Front.’”
“Why a ballet box?” “I lost the old box,
This was there, and now it’s gone—where is it?”
“I threw it out—I didn’t know.” “God’s
Sake, Muffin, didn’t you look? The tape said,
‘All Quiet of the Western Front’ on it,
Do you just throw everything away? I
Liked that movie.”

                           II
                           ‘Away’ in this case was
Thriftstore, so she in secret, ashamed, went
There and found it, paid her dollar, came home,
And rewound it for him; but it played just
A bit, to show it wasn’t ballet, war,
But smut, men standing still for just too long,
And busy women in one awkward
Pose after another, no story, no
Words but groans like grieving, though one
Girl, in Georgia rhythms claiming farm
Iowa, said she was glad she had married
Him, to which he grunted in surprise, back
Of a truck, didn’t they have a home? One
Cried, “Come dot com.” Roger wasn’t so long.

                            III
And she didn’t understand, nor could she
See why women asked for filth, when she
Could only imagine it would hurt, though
She caught one skinny cowboy greasing; they
Wore hats, they kept their shoes on, it made
No sense that there were people watching, filming,
Passing from one to another as if
They hadn’t been introduced. She saw them
In spurting—when she washed her husband’s shorts
After a wet dream, that was no stickiness,
No smell she wanted—the girls in their eye-
Lashes and liner couldn’t either want
It, and yet they pretended. She ejected
It, and put it in a bag for garbage.

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX FUNERAL
In Memory of Peter Janitzky

She is the priest’s wife, he circles
The coffin, chants, censing, ceasing
Censing, circling, she leads the choir,
Four notes, even before he’s done,
Setting four women’s harmonies,
God has been singing deeply
Over and over again, there
Is no motion in the tapers,
There are only intertwining
Circles intersecting, her hand
Rising in soft circles, falling,
Rising, Peter, and now falling,
As the City fell, not rising,
Constantinople, and exile
Courts in Nicea, Trebizond
Wept and were beautiful, and you
Intoning in my classes, touched,
Your voice falling in the telling,
Peter, in tears: loss has boneless
Hands. I have placed brittle, gray earth
On your coffin, there are flowers,
There are still her sacred, sonant
Ceremonies as enchanting.

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

I as a pale boy stood outside our Ford
And splashed water there where the sign had said,
“Continental Divide,” hoping to see
Rivulets part eagerly, flow off to swell
Both Atlantic and Pacific—it spread
Some two yards, stayed, surface tension and rough
Earth allowing it no further—I thought
I’d learned all masteries’ pernicious
Disappointment; yet now I know those smooth
Molecules, some of them, are even yet
Six decades on, tumbling East, coming West.
It’s not just cells that by dividing gain:
Fire, earth, air all break their bonds, reassemble,
Collocate great, roiled masses in their time:
We too imagine that our liquid, spilled
Psyches make for larger magnitudes, and they do,
But only later.

REFLECTION

Anxiety’s jackrabbit, shaggy-legged,
She rattles her eye at two long dogs
Beginning their lope, what at fifty yards,
Invisible, unlikely, she hopes brown
Earth will mother her, and at forty yards,
They wait, advancing, she avanches out.
And now the worry’s over, now useless
Death and life atremble follow, now hearts
Go plunging, yet the instant, irretrieved,
Lasts forever.

CATARACT

This is no precipice, no incessant
Rough hissing water in Scotland, lashing
A dubious Mendelssohn, closeted
Bruckner, but there is vapor hanging in
Vapor, a gray soft chalk, powdered, gone fine,
Suspended in my seeing, my left eye
Become stone, a way to perceive, yes, but
Dimly. God in his humor let the weak
One harden first, over months I had
Not noticed, the right in compensation
Covering for it. And now I visualize
What I will sometime be, a cloud, a noiseless
Sound through the strain of air, the pull of earth,
Haphazard, vague in its spin, surge, eddies,
And, on occasion, whirlpools swirled backwards.

ASSIGNED TO WALK MY GRANDMA HOME

From my case-hardened, San Franciscan,
Italian Grandmother I learned
Pace is just illusion, others’ flowers can
Be gathered—stolen—if they are
To wrestle meaning from their mere,
Grounded stems and rediscover pure
Life at her belonging, that Dickey
The careless yellow canary
Trills not for any missing mate,
But for a sweet plush provision
To my Grandma.

“THE CRAFT IS FROM SOMETHING, THROUGH SOMETHING, TO SOMETHING, IN SOMETHING”

Blackbirds whistling as swinging some red
Rusty gates, presenting each self a scarce
Reason to socialize—each must have fed
And drunk, each must have arrayed its feathers
In hard sufficient gloss, and had no more
Impetus for flying. At spaces they
Fill a tree, and slurry their souls’ burden
In music arhythmic, wildly atonal,
Pitched to comforting only on themselves.

A BLIND, MASSIVE ALSATIAN, IN COUNTY CLARE
For Seamus McElroy

A dark dog in the car park in earshot
Of the sea, in his purpose crossing lanes,
Spaces set apart, and no one sees
He cannot, no one wonders at him there
Crossing through dim ocean shuffle, stone
Scraping, scents of pickle, onion, lost blood
Of remoter times, when all knew blind poets
And blind dogs knew their way, our way,
The clean of the sea’s way, the land’s somber
Minutely pulsing, granite-slipping way.

RICHARD JOHNSON, ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY, NEW ORLEANS

Nobody should die, least of all you,
Dick Johnson, who burned so many
Sophomores with heart-heatedness
In one short story, recasting
Their ungiving and pragmatic
Cool into radiate, flow-out
Through dynamic—Saint Antony
The hermit showed Greek Philosophs,
Coming to mock him, for his books
An open window to desert;
You, Dick, drove those young unaffected
Onto that desert, to cull life
From scorching, streaming sand, energy
From the riffles seeming devoid,
Sparse, expanses of passion.

ORCHESTRAL WARM-UP:
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY, 12/6/2014

If their music will be later joined,
It need not be so now: a difficult
Magic will do, chaotic interplay,
There is chat, spar, there are random spasms
To appear, there is weaving among stands,
Wandering a way among stands’ ordered
Plantation; they take new pictures of each
Other cradling unlikely lengths of wood
And bright brass or glossy silver. The First
Cello gimps, seats, and once again lengthens
His spike—he, too will exercise and probe,
Add and elaborate; later he’ll belong,
But now he has his notes, and they proceed
Out of touch with pieces of melody
Fractured surrounding him.

TOP KICKS AT FORT ORD, 1973

Sure, let them take those thick steaks out
The fort’s commissary kitchen home—They
Are the Army, not clueless officers
Ruined from deciding by college, parents
Cherished them. These Sergeants, Midwest morose
Before then, thin, no-jawed, they left
Homes empty of all but booze and abuse,
Found a place in bases just as drugged, tight
And abusive, so familiar; but Dad,
Woozy and terrible, Dad wasn’t there,
And they could have a better, if still caged,
Replica of home. So they tow their wives,
Being towed by Japanese, Korean,
Viet or Filipina women grown
Pudgy like them, and losing out their sex,
But just stealing bloody meat to serve them
Sacrifice.

THE PAGE-TURNER AT THE PIANO

The only piece he’s playing involves
Rising a bit too early, or too late,
Separating two stuck sheets from the score;
Note after each enchained note, he consumes
Care, but moves only when he’s nodded to.
As editors, Jack, this is what we are,
Turning another’s pages, that one who’s
Fixed in type, imprinted programs, when we
Are but thanked off-stage, in prefaces’ last
Unmarked paragraphs for aid; if we are
So ripe indispensable, why do we
Afterwards gather up loose pages,
Self-consciously, then slither from the stage?

NEVER DIFFER WITH YOUR DAUGHTER

Never differ,/argue with your daughter
Or if you must,/ try remonstrating so
Tentatively,/packing in such weaslesome
Subjunctives, just/as many as syntax
Might allow, so very/wistfully she may
Not even hear it,/ if you’re lucky. There
Might be comfort /in your knowing, if strained
Comfort you seek /on such an errand, that
She hasn’t shifted /fealty, doesn’t
Now belong to some/off, seductive voice,
Some other’s system/ so unlike yours as to make
“Alien” insufficient,/ no, she doesn’t
Belong over there,/ take this taste comfort:
She never belonged,/ either, here, to you.

AND IT IS PASSING SHIMMER

You can tell me / where are Jack, Lucy, and Elaine,
Who squealed in convulsions / over the Brothers Marx,
Jumping and hooting / like miracle-play demons,
Roiling beyond the confines / of their flesh,
Young and pink and vibrating / inside a riot:
All narratives stand memories / unreal, untouched,
This way happened, / this way did not happen at all.
Go this way, do not go, / just effervescence has
A truth, this does not, / and yet you know where they have
Done.

PUTTING AWAY DISHES:
A KITCHEN WALTZ

No Strauss could have orchestrated the dance
Better, no moustachioed young Hussar
Dangerously tamping a most lovely
Partner’s corseted waist, of melted eyes
And overflowing breasts, either, as our
Constant crossing in the kitchen time,
Stepping through vacancies appearing, just
To, in seconds, disappear: The passion
May now be running subtle, yet a waltz
Is itself no step to passion, to heart-
Beat, drawing to the other, closer heartbeats;
Rather, circles unconscious, still in hand,
Slight, almost impalpable, inward twists,
Acknowledgements of all that meaning is.

BRASS POSTAL WEIGHTS

The contrast can be called theatrical:
Swedish weights hammered with crowns everywhere
There might be wear, to the loss of a gram,
Stamped as well with regular, intervaled years,
When some smiling postal inspector weighted
Each against sets meticulously turned,
Nested in velvet. And, amid the gossip,
Punched in the truth for validation.
Such kind solace was only winter warmth:
The goal wasn’t the weight itself, but just
The upper boundary a letter might
Approach, but not exceed: the minimum had
no meaning. The envelope’s slight, straight womb
Mattered nothing to the brass, and so weight
Will succeed, whatever lives have been
Affected. Lunch was fish, bread, beer and cheese.

Italian weights stand dull, bored, squat, mute,
Perfunctory, registered dekagrams
A nervous, unhappy, fumbling clerk, lone, unchecked,
His native poetry lost in tearing stamps
Nervously, and counting out trembling change,
Sighing with the weight’s oppression,
Miserable their cold bearing, artless touch,
Even in the caress of soulful sun
In summer, temporizing until one
Siesta departure, for pasta, ripe
Fruit, the joy of his wife, waiting, olives
In her eyes, for softness, the smack of sweat,
The rhythms of sending and receiving
That ponders, weighs and gains and loses weight.

ANA- KAI KATABASIS: 1812

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Book 3, 2; Book 4, 14

Not Tolstoy’s condemnation, but there was
His wonder: Napoleon at the brim,
Too occupied to mark Polish Ulans
Gamely plunging the Vilna, exclaiming,
“Vivat!” and some of them slipped to drown.
Did any one of those, as he and horse
Went down, reconsider what that “Vivat!”
Meant, whether the horse and he deserved some
Equal attention?
Equal attention?Perhaps, but later,
Such surviving Ulans, longing for that
Same Vilna, crusted, crunching, might cheer less
Pregnantly at a marshal’s fogged carriage
Rumbling by; and one, one night, might edge
Quietly, away, to set himself off,
Turning toward a thin-lit farm, a distance
Too far for looters to rape and return,
And, tossing his weapon, come to a house
Holding no surviving husband, father,
To be both, with the added prize of what—
A few loose, bright rubles, of Czarina
Katerina, Czar Paul, Czar Alexander,
Liberated from far-away Moscow.

BEETHOVEN’S BIRTHDAY
DECEMBER 16th

The worst day on which to be born
Yet there are worse—by human rough
Aberrations, and other days
Might brood more, and be less moving.
Here the sun, just short of solstice
Nearly horizontal slants light
Across rooms, impinge on random
Motes, as less-than-obvious flow
And measures impel them, as sharps,
Flats, spheres as droplets composed
On a score. You know that seasons
Have each their own glorious voice,
Their movements; that triumph is choice
Allowed the sun, seeking ether,
A glass incarnate, or obscured
In ensheeted cloud covering
To glow somber, but, above, burst
Ready for your ears to lift up
To it.

PROCEDURE
After all we are amateurs
as we have not lived our life before

Jack Weiss, October 25th, 2015

Seekers have observed new planets
Proceeding from their belly-taut
Mother suns, innocent pure blaze,
Hopeful as bird swarms, cavalcades
Of mountains, wind-shepherded waves.
What cannot be observed can be
Assumed, beyond the wizened tyrant
That the past is, sour memories
That no longer express except
Through constructed guilt: these bodies
Aborn are emerging, begun
Cooling, participant in all
Affectionate intermeshing
Galaxies tied umbilical
With each other; the Time Before
Is, like the single self is not,
Not, but Now is burnished perhaps,
Stretched into risk, spun in fresh love.

VISITATION:
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

However unexpected, the boys in their wombs
Conjoined couldn’t separate them, so close
As they already are were as women.
As connected, as communion in the touch
Slight at their arms—it is by way of this
Tremendous love all of us come out, forth,
Into being, the angelic closer
Attachment that streams from wine, blood and chaste
Water.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Item: "The [Chinese] State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 prohibits the reincarnation of a monk without a permit." (Barbara Demich, Los Angeles Times, printed in the Sacramento Bee 7/6/2015, 3B).

To Incarnation, once again,
A registration must attain,
Bureaucrats, enslabbéd, judge
Him whom Buddha gave a nudge
Into altared states of being
Those with other eyes for seeing;
Protocols will right respond
To requests to fetch beyond,
Certain is the Bureau that
He’ll return to where he sat,
Younger, yes, but still so loyal
To the politburo’s moil:
No Tibetan freedom matters
To the formers and the latters.
Harmony is sure celestial
When the soul’s not there to wrestle.

LA VEDOVA: THE WIDOW

It has been so many months, years it seems
She’s traversed unremarkable two-lane
Roads, to the hospital to wait and watch
In loving scrutiny, accommodating each
Smiling, gyrating staff and pursed doctor
For whom death is familiar: it isn’t
Familiar to her, stages undergone
In decay scarcely noticeable,
His face-lines deeper, but then they’d always
Been too deep.

"I KNOW THEE NOT, OLD MAN. FALL TO THY PRAYERS"

Crowds still shout at me about Allende,
Cambodia, Nixon, yet Allende
Was a Commie, Cambodia, the dark
Enemy used it, shouldn’t I abuse
It? The past’s a mist, no one can remember
What it was like, in grave rooms called for war,
Where gravel in voices crushed some dim lives
So that we were proven right—I have not
Outgrown power and seduction,
Stymied fitness for presidency, I
Travel and am puzzled that crowds appear
To hate me; have they not wealths of nations
At my earning? I’ve no reason
Acceding to the flaccid, wasted man’s
Temptation to confess, bent down, "Master
Shallow, I owe you a thousand pounds."

ON IMAGINING THE DEATH
OF AN OLD ENEMY

Though we tangled in another life, I’ll
Mourn you now, knowing that, had we both been
At Dachau on guard, I would be glad not
To be in Russia, you’d be simply glad
Just to obey; even if you knew them
To be crazy, still your loyalty let,
Combined with my cynicism, children starve.
Now you are among them, and I soon will
Be as well, forgiven by them, but not
By each other, not by ourselves, so damned
If no one else cares enough about us
To do the damning.

COMING UP POWELL STREET, SAN FRANCISCO
MARCH 14, 2013, 5:47PM

“Note that when it [Romans 11:36] says ’all things are through him,’ the sense of ’through him’ is that he is in all things” Meister Eckhart, Sermon IV: The Feast of the Holy Trinity, 20.

In the passage of so many, the crowd
A clump standing, squatting, surround the white-
Haired still man, scarlet, not burgundy, blood
Splashed about him, it was not his heart’s blood,
But there were cups of it, and a policeman
Heavily stood over it, him, confused,
Perplexed, awaiting: he could be still, still
Alive, he could be still, though, glimpsing I saw no
Breathing, no tremble; but there starred God shone
In that unmoved pyramid, the cool wind’s
Spirit whispered, recited still, more
Unknowable stories.