Robin Coste Lewis’ publication party was magical, right near the LA River, in the courtyard of a restaurant with fairy lights and fabulous food. David St. John and Anna Journey were there and Kim and I had pink vodka drinks. Today Stephen gardened all day although I remember how much I hated toiling in the fields as a child, my small hands pulling at the weeds, getting sore and bloody while picking up stones every spring. I remember dreaming of fields. Now when I dream of fields, they are full of peonies which are the happiest flowers. I ran away from fields, but in California, I planted my own garden.
I never did that whole tearing petals off a flower to decide if a boy liked me or not. I tried to decide if I liked the boy. Whether I wanted the boy to hang with me. I tried to decide if the boy and I would climb trees together. No need to tear petals off flowers. I do not wait for love. I work in the love and poetry gardens. I grow things.
When giraffe babies are born, they have far to fall, and they’re a bit stunned when they get there. Life is a stunning wet fall. As a child, I loved watching clouds, they were animals, people, trains, ships, they were places of magic. They were dogs, they were cats; they were elephants. I watched the clouds for giraffes.
When I was a little girl I had mittens attached by a string going from one to the other through my jacket. That way my mittens didn’t get lost in the snow. The mittens were made of yarn and got wet quickly,and then I would slap my hands together. My sister and I only played together until I was nearly four, then we were at the cult. When I saw her again briefly months after we’d been separated, she asked what I was doing. I had been playing our favorite game all by myself which was taking care of our eleven children. I told her that I was trying to take care of the children by myself. She told me she was marching and sleeping on the ground and breaking ice to wash her face in the morning. Her hair was cut off. I still had mine, but I would have given up my hair, would have broken ice and slept on dirt to not find myself walking in the yard, drifting between snow banks, talking to eleven children, trying to take care of them, telling them that everything would be all right while my hands slowly turned blue.
Sit quietly while others eat.
Understand. This is not personal.
Walk the gutter.
Note sunlight on street. Not for you.
You were born without arms and legs.
You were born without face.
Without money in your pockets.
You have no pockets.
You were sowed on rocky ground.
Your parents had no land.
They are landless. Will never have land.
They are not an island. Or water.
They are not. You are not. Of this earth.
Nothing on earth conspires to sustain you.
Chalk it up to bad genes. And no lamp.
No meadow. Wood. Glade. Dappled sunlight.
Make the best of your red checkered tablecloth.
Of your corn. Canned fish.
Crackers. Tomato soup. Onions. Garlic.
You have eggs. There will be more of you.
Pray without ceasing. Imagine writing.
Or painting. Imagine music. Or don’t.
You don’t have time. You don’t have eyes.
Or ears. Your hands work furiously.
But produce nothing. You can’t reach
the sill of the well.
Consider the lilies.
From 2nd and Church
Write in Ireland,
sing in Ireland
drink in Ireland
sleep in Ireland
find a spouse
find a way into the creative universe
come to Ireland and save your writing life
I have never written a successful poem about a pet or even an animal. I’ve written a few poems about chickens since I’ve always had hens, but none that even came close to really feeling like they worked. I admire animal poems and I read dog poems, cat poems even chicken poems beside wheelbarrows, but it still feels strangely out of reach. This poem has a tone that is both sad and resigned at the same time. Neruda is a high standard.
A Dog Has Died
BY PABLO NERUDA
TRANSLATED BY ALFRED YANKAUER
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.
Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.
Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.
No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.
Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.
Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.
There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.
So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.
What Do I Know
Babies, irises have to push their way
into this world, meringue beats lighter
in a copper bowl, ants avoid alum, cast
iron pans are best for frying fish or potatoes.
I know how to prune a peach tree, cut suckers,
drop dead from laughter once or twice a year.
It is possible to darn a garment with human hair,
stitching so fine you will have trouble finding the tear.
My husband will become amorous when I prepare his
favorite meals. If he should die first, leaving me alone
with arthritic hands and knees, I won’t be able to trim tall
hedges, move ladders, solve the thorny problem of the second
pond. I will miss him; then I won’t.
On some days you run, you read, you want to write but your brain is shaky.
You say to yourself, it’s just a day.
But the way you finish a book is by writing on the on days and the off days.
The way you run is to run on the off and the on.
I am not counting the days.
I am writing through them to the other side and there will be another mountain.
My mother-in-law says that when you are old, you are surprised to be old. She says you look in the mirror and you are surprised at the old person staring back at you.
The face I see staring back at me feels like my own face. I don’t look at younger pictures of myself and think that’s me.
In civilized life, we spend far too much time looking at the mirror. Without mirrors, we don’t see ourselves and perhaps we are better for it.
Soul searching is a lot of work, but it involves looking in the soul, not in the face. I believe in silence and soul realignment, but I have a long ways to go.