Friday, February 18, 1994

PABLO: A PARTY OF ONE!


                                    —for Pablo Rodriguez

Comes the vibrato of human existence
pulsing with the florid energy of birds—
The audience in the balcony looks down
on the crescendo-climbing rainbow
graduating from the nightclub schools of the world.
¡Eso es! A savvy voice alights on the limbs
of trees tangoing with the juicy wind.
Liana vines against city streets.

In the language of skin,
we climbed out of the trees
to dance on the land, without caesura.
The timbre of lime, mango and blue notes
sing of tropical leaf structures.
The raucous flight of macaws
parrots the jeweled feathers of night
dressed in fireworks and champagne.
¡Alegre! Porque las estrellas bailan conmigo!

A delicious chill—modern fusion.
Oh yes, deep in the thighs.
He leans against the wall, cool
familiarity addressing us in the barrios.
The sound of night has changed the color of its dreams.
The siren rain finds us so civilized, so convivial,
it sambas out: Mueve, mueve, mueve.

On the androgynous pillow of sleep,
the pupiled eye of night is restless
as a blue guitar, for tomorrow will find
the world young and bright:
a glistening sun
in the heart of the papaya.



PRELUDE: UNDRESSING THE MUSE


Late at night, he hears the songlines:
nocturnes for two pianos wrestle
in the oceanic stillness of the studio.
Without name, they come unbidden
to chase the varied moods of evening.

But the sound of evening has changed
livelihoods, and the color of its dreams
is trapped in the engine of this century—
In the mechanics of the siren call, white noise,
and the evolution of light—
Where are the elemental songlines
when whales no longer hear the melody?

Camera obscura:
What exists before the film is developed?
A young child, at seven,
            before the piano,            
                        confronts the black notes—
The teacher metronoming:
The fingers need to remember the melody.

Over wine & chocolate we discuss Chopin’s nocturnes.
Night's lost notes scoring the darkness.
Liquid music pours from his fingers.
He learns anew: You don’t choose the music;
it chooses you. We listen for the étude,
words undressing the muse.

February 18, 1994


Tuesday, February 15, 1994

INTERVIEW WITH THE SEA


INTERVIEW WITH THE SEA


Sometimes I tire of the ebb and flow,
that restless cease, surcease of the heart:
systole, diastole, squeezing moonlight out of my skin.
Darkness descends, I am left with little
more than the definition of thin sheets
between my body and the ponderous weight of air.

Hot water vents, cracks in the floor, creatures with no mouths.
How barnacles stand on their heads and eat with feathery feet.
More time. The despair of those lost at sea. Full fathom five.
Coelacanths, coral polyps; that briny bath blooming.
Stromatolites. The first “I am” life uttered. The Bermuda Triangle.
Thalatta, thalatta. Basilisks. QueegQueeg’s tattoos.
I am fond of the gobies and those mudskippers.
If you want to blame someone, blame their ancestors.
If only they hadn’t attempted to breathe air!

I trouble the coastlines, ceaselessly nibbling at them.
I think of rain falling on my skin as a kind of poetry.
I miss the song of the myriad river tongues,
so many missing, shadows of their former selves.

My poor rivers. Less gossip from the heartland.
A bad taste in my mouth. The Danube, the Rhine, the Dnipr.
Those missing in action: the Colorado. The Sea of Azov.
I understand there are others. What of the mighty Amazon,
Old Muddy, The Yantzhee, The Nile? Are not their songs my songs?

I miss the music of whales that circled my body like an echo.
Where have my salmon children gone? My shoals of herring?
That incessant droning of engines, a continuous headache, there is no cure.
         Drift nets. Oil is only one problem.
                  There are others I don’t wish to discuss.

The equatorial sun drinks my skin. The way the stars dress me.
Starfish on the mudflats at daybreak. The origins of indigo.
Yes, I am aware the pH of their blood is similar to mine,
yes, tears and amniotic fluid. But they must cease.
No, I don’t hold it against them, for am I not their mother?

2/15/94

Sunday, February 13, 1994

FOR THE TWO OF US


                                    —for Marilyn & Kirk

Soft tracings of shadows on the sill,
late afternoon in the unconservatory.
The chocolate stillness inside
the voice rises up in place of speech,
small nuances, a brass color-note,
flared nostrils, the contact of skin.

Four-handed improvizational foreplay on the keyboards.
Two pianos discuss familiar phrases,
like the long-married, finish each other's thoughts,
sometimes in chorus, sometimes in tandem.
You're the yell in the forest, I'm the echo,
Kirk says to Marilyn as they play it again.

Imagine Casablanca, or Havana in a red wedding dress.
The mysterious marriage of two styles: classical & jazz
shape-shift into music for the end of the millennium.
He is a sailor leaning into the open octaves
of a turquoise melody: bluebirds learn slant rhyme.
She is the swimmer in pastoral snow fields.

Everything reduced to black and white
cleanses the palate & the roses bleed onto the piano keys.
The melody escapes, anneals the heart’s blood with opposites:
day & night, diamond & onyx, ebony & ivory.
Each seeks the other’s eyes through corbelled piano lids.
I can’t tell where one piano leaves off and the other begins.

Poco a poco, an echo in the forest
lifts the timbre from the pool's depths.
At the bottom of the well, cross-currents,
a vibration in the water, like electricity
when the wall comes up duet—
Both are one; one is all there is.



RANDY: NEON RAIN


                        —for Randy Frary

An echo in the darkness—
The endless stranger
inside the depths of night.
Each step paints a jazznote in the forest,
a path of low registers & signatures—

Three dimensional music
weaves the sky into ambiant patterns,
new nocturnes for this dragstripped century.
Trees bow to an audience of tinted leaves
in the asphalt jungle.
What color, the trees? the leaves,
or the sky for that matter?
Who’s reading the score?
The neon side of night, bits & bytes
in the dark forest paint alternate realities.

A hawk circling the field
for yesterday’s mouse
hidden in tall grass, spirals
against the well of the digital sky.
The orphan rain falls in colors,
patterns of rain on the cathode sea.
Eclipsed notes hug the shoreline.
Cross- and counter-currents
seek the beginnings of innocence
just before the dawn.
A child plays with his own hands,
an unending puzzle of fingers.
Neon rain, dyslexic writing
needs water as a mirror
to admire its own beauty.

Falling rain, steady rain on the piano,
a vessel to carry us from the past.
The simplicity of stones in the stream
both beautiful and plain.


HELEN: TANZANIA DRESSAGE


                                    —for Helen Tyrrell

1. The path misbehaves at the oasis,
a long way from the mirrored halls
of l’Ecole Vienna where a young woman
put Lippizan stallions through flying paces.
A vessel tumbles from her head
and the Tanzanian children laugh.
She has eight years to perfect this skill,
carrying water back to the cooking pots.
Water outwits the thirsty African earth
in a merry chase to the river,
becomes a dusty mercurial snake
seeking the source of the Nile,
finds wings, transcends air.
Lakes hunger for the sky,
swimming stars take flight,
approach the caravan of the storm,
& the shimmering sands of Zanzibar
harbor the illusion of water.
Billowing clouds return to the Serengeti
where riderless horses solemnly waltz
against the feast of sky.
Hooves against stone—
Sidestep to go forward.
Passage on the diagonal.
Once the ballet of dressage
—the lunge, the cabriolet
were movements for the dance of war.

2. Kirk screws on the legs of the piano,
wheels it into the concert hall.
Frees his music from the belly
of the wooden horse for this Helen, mother
of orphans whose mothers abandoned them.
His arms are snowfields,
an avalanche of notes crescendo
under the equatorial reign
of watermusic to slake us.
The ceiling of the sky
is crowned with thorns.
On the slopes of Kilimanjaro
the leopard, asleep, dreams
the eland is his lover. 

Once I stood in the palace arena in Moscow, the frieze of horses and again in Vienna, in Budapest. As a child I couldn’t take my eyes off those horses. I have seen the ones who no longer care to dance, pulling tourists from one cathedral to another. I patted a sorry nag, the coachman snarled, Claudia intervened, saying it’s all right. The horse was too weary to even respond. Distant music caught its ear—a flicker of life. In front of the stature of the Plague, of the holocaust & cathedrals of venerable age. I have seen them listening to their own kind of music, briskly trotting the cobbled streets. I worry about their legs. Shin splints. This rough magic In Hungary no one can afford the dancing horses, they  become street artists conning coins from the tourists.

Saturday, February 12, 1994

JOE: SUNRISE AT OCCIDENTAL


                                    —for Joe Hoffmann
                        We’ve spent a few nights squeezing out our “day”
                         in the Sherwood forest of Occidental.
                                                            —Kirk & Marilyn

1.  Still lake waters, the swelling melody of other times
when the renaissance man walked in trembling mist.
On the other side—the twain world—the sidhe
swallowed the butterfly to beget the muse.
He finds her in dreams amid the fiddleneck ferns.
Bluebirds in the air weave arabesques and musical notes
until only the pattern is left; night’s curtain luffs,
is drawn aside, and on the dewy grass, imprints
of a waltz where one already knows the steps.
Cumulative memory tumults from the past.
A dark harmony gradually lightens into a lyric.
Morning meets the tail of night in the hallway.

2.  A cleft in the hills, quaking ferns
witness the breathing of fog,
where wild orchids bloom,
where we found the end
of the stream, the edge of night.
Only the birds know
the taut stringing of days,
the melody that lingers deep inside,
taking us down to the valleys,
where we find ourselves again,
strung beside the days of our lives.
There are no accidents.
In each of us, every branch, every leaf
leads to the center of the heart.
The path always widens—
There is room for more, for more.

3.  In the thick lemon light,
the dew stirs, learns the rainments of flight.
Over the night hills she comes,
bearing flowers for the sun.
Morning wears a dress of honeyed air
and carries her head high
for she’s proud of the sun’s accompaniment.
Everywhere, the renewal of day and scrubbed sky.
The harmony brightens
like a gentle aubade over the ridge.
The music begins as it ends. 
Each step, each breath
brings us closer to the light.


KATIE: THE NIGHTINGALE


                                    —for Katie Ketchum

The song of the nightingale comes in
shimmering in a bright soprano voice
as if having lived knowing the belly sounds.

The first few phrases are like that,
clear-crisp, like bells over snowfields—
Not only are we observing the nightingale,
we are testing the air with wings.

The way the nightingale flies,
how we view the bird,
how it views itself like a concerto—
A cadenza of towering lines.

The melody drops out
and the deeper rhythm comes in—
The heart of the bird.

Think of how snowy peaks mirror the sky,
purifying the foothills.
The multitudes of foothills
& the song of the nightingale are one.

How the dancer contracts, lifts up—
defies gravity for a moment. Fermatta
Slatted light falls
                                into the eyes of the sun.

I believe, I believe said the bird migrating to Africa
where feathered black notes dress the snows of Killimanjaro.

We flurry over the arpeggio of leaves
            you/I/we/yes
to the night itself singing solo:
a concentration of notes on the upper spectrum.

Without legs, the piano won’t resonate
or nest in the branches to lay small eggs.
Hatching in our ears, the piano’s children
direct us to the songlines; her voice,
an undercurrent of grace notes and rippling water.

A leaf caught in the wind
takes instruction from the flight of angels.


MICHELLE: A PATRIOT’S DREAM


                                    —for Michelle Marie

There is no room for ambiguity in a patriot’s dream.
The constitution of thought is a sacred text.
Alone, defining the perimeters of this space,
She talks to our eyes; nothing is held back.

To walk in a new land we can only muse
On the direction the sky has taken us.
Each dark step makes the road longer than memory.
She is the strength of a pine tree bending in the storm.

If she is the solemn hymn of the flower arranger,
The music is the hand held out to the child.
If she is the power of the masseuse's hands,
It is the arms offering shelter to those in need.

If she was once the bartender pouring the final round,
Music is the soup bowl offering hope to the homeless.
If she is the metronome of the dancer’s last movement
It is the archangel seeking justice for those who cannot fly.

Imagine the piano’s pledge of allegiance to black & white keys.
No segregation of sharp & flat; or everything in the key of C.
The notes make words and find us wanting.
The melody echoes in the forest, in the street.

We need the nuances of the dark and the light
to show us the way is infinitely more complex
& vast than previously imagined.
There is more to it than seizing what’s left of the night.

She carries the burden of freedom forward.
In the way light falls on the summits
We learn there are more mountains to climb.
We come to the beginning on solid ground,

Learn anew how our feet measure the way.




UNCLE AL’S CLOUDSCAPE


                        —for Allaudin Mathieu
                        Our referee, our Uncle Al.
                                    —Kirk & Marilyn


One day, Uncle Al
Walked up the hill to his studio.
Dreamily, composing, he looked up—
A cloud, and nothing else in a blue sky.


A cloud;            a quarter rest!



He stopped,               took a one-beat rest.


                                          Allowed
                                    in pause
                            & further
               instructions

from the sky.

                 Sighed,

                   took a step,

                    went  on

              with the
         music
    of his
           life.


UNCLE AL’S CLOUDSCAPE


TAKE TWO:


A cat’s cradle of music finger-weaves the sky.
The bright wind lifts us from the depths,
            carries us,
            cradles us in this taught stringing of days.
The clouds know the ocean,
it repeats the rocking motion.
Remember to breathe.
            Each step up,
            each thought takes us toward the summit.
The interior of the heart, of the eye,
is related to the weaving grasses.
We are kites tugging the wind,
our arms, wings of angels.

Tell us, tell us, tell us:
            climb up,
            climb the mountains of the sky.
We are flying to the mountains of the sky.
Take us up,
            push our legs down into earth.
Take us up,
            so that we may grow back down to the ground.

UNCLE AL’S CLOUDSCAPE

TAKE THREE:

Three notes occlude the distance the ear takes
in knowing the melody of night.
Uncle Al referees
 the sky
arranging clouds to fit the composition.
Ask about harmony and structure.
A composer composes the sky
with a beatific hand to the clouds,
orchestrating the rest stops and black notes
and the wings of cherubs wait their cue.
He wears a gioconda smile as clouds direct the score.
Take a one beat rest. Live in the now
for the now is all that there is.

ILÀ: DEEP OCEAN WAVE


                                    —for ilà Benavidez


1. In the cathedral of the ocean
beneath the marriage of waves and sky,
ilà dances tai chi’i with the sea,
the deep undertow, the movement,
the voices and vows of long waves,
is where whales sing the first
and final notes of the songline.

The edge of the continent
pulls the surf over her like a bride,
so that we may be ready for the wedding.
Gossamer filaments of the priestess.
What once was dark becomes light,
night’s secrets spread beneath the moon.
A bioluminescent genesis lifts the hem
of this beach into the realm of the stars.

How to slow down in this rapidly rising world?
Once light slept, didn’t know
the nocturnal soul of the heron,
and stars were the tears of angels.
Now city light stains the sky,
upstages the stars.

Once we were all islands.
The weight of who we are in this century
sinks us knee-deep into the sand
until we can do nothing
but walk in time with ourselves.
This is the first study for breath:
The burden of air, ponderous
and precocious.

2. ilà, I’d want the cool night air
because the sky is the ocean
and I don’t know the words
for the direction the voice takes.
The struggle is in transcribing
the right notes in the sand
so it can find true night.
The sky is your country
and the sea, your house.

ELEGY FOR KOSAL LONG: SUNSET AT ILSANJO

 
                                    from Elemental Portraits: Nocturnes for Two Pianos
                                    composed by Kirk Whipple
                                    —Kosal Long: 1975 to  June  7, 1989


1. The end of a classic American dream
confronts the runner coming over the rise
of blond hills & dark trees mirroring the lake.
The drowned laughter of classmates
horsing around on a summer outing—
Their blind eyes, and the sun cresting each ripple,
the silent “O” of empty inner tubes,
punctuated the end of the sentence.
At the bottom of the lake a fisherman’s net
casts a game of cat’s cradle for things lost
and the sleek young diver—
The boy who, with his 14-year-old eyes
sought the true identity of light
on this side of the world:
the names Refugee &
                                    Cambodia
                                     whispering homeward
                                                                           in his ears.

2. The runner’s legs measure
each step, each breath, bearing witness
as if life depended on it: systole, diastole.
The indifferent ground answers, Decrescendo.
No overtones to clear the ear’s palette.

The boy left the killing fields for El Verano.
We survived the war, saw death and hunger every day.
Now, the youngest and sweetest taken from us.
I dream of walking that lake bed clad in citrine light.
A constellation of bubbles escapes, takes flight.
A velvet foot upon the blue throat of the California sky,
the lotus flowering in the mind,
            a journey taking us home.
                        Home, could he whisper it?
The long slender vowels of the soul,
no distant jungles to flee from—
Refugee camp, the bodycount and the hunger
       of foreign syllables.

                 The harmony shifted
                             in the final depths:                                   
                                                               an empty raft in deep summer.

2/1994

Thursday, February 10, 1994

Letter to Johnny Otis, re: RRWG Scheduling SNAFUs

Dear Johnny,

date? He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Jan. 20, 1994.

First, let me say CONGRATULATIONS on your well-deserved awards! YES! I hope you enjoyed the African Poetry & Mother Earth issues I left you. I left some for Nick too at the café, but I don’t know if he got them. I didn’t put them in his box

About the Russian River Writers’ Guild poetry series—we’re facing some restructuring because David Bromige is quitting out of shee frustration due to conflicting communiques. Problems include finding another MC for Tuesday night, or switching to Monday, door percentage, and communication—the chain of command at the club. I have two people who can participate on Monday nights (they teach classes on Tuesdays) and I can’t carry the burden of the series alone (see P.S.). If we can quickly find MC’s for alternate Tuesdays, then the problem is temporarily alleviated. I realize Jim Kohn’s a key link for your weekly scheduling—maybe it’s merely a case of too many fish (or chains) in the stewpot but we are having a communication problem. Hence this letter.

Ironically, the idea of booking poetry on Monday vs. Tuesday night came up when Jim was thinking of moving us to Monday nights. He said the music nights were so financially successful (& overbooked) he wanted to expand the music programming.

Faced with the prospect of being bumped from the club, of course we agreed to switch to Monday nights, and booked readers on Mondays beginning in Feb.; we already had Jan. schedule in place by Oct. 

Then in Dec., I guess Jim either forgot or changed his mind, telling David, “What am I going to do with Tuesday nights? Go dark?” To accommodate Jim we changed back to Tuesdays. To make a long story short, just like in the game, “telephone,” the story kept changing each time we talked to Jim (or his machine), which led to David’s quitting. Jim told David that I’d requested Mondays when I said “Monday were always our first choice and yes, I’ll ask the other coordinators about switching.” They agreed to it, and I told Jim, “OK, we’ll switch.”

We were asked to give the club $1 per head (1/2 the pot) in Jan. by Jim, but you said we could begin paying our $1 tithe in Feb. not Jan. We’d already promised Jan. door to scheduled readers, and publicity (including admission $) was out Oct. (At the last minute Jim told us we had to charge $4 starting in Jan.; the Jan. calendar was late; it was impossible to reach him in Dec. so we couldn’t deliver mailing list to him, etc.—were other bones of contention.) In retrospect, it would’ve made more sense to meet with both you and Jim in Nov. to work out the details together. (A note: if the club is losing money, may I suggest using only one counter person on poetry nites?)

Each item is very minor and is certainly workable—but it’s stressful when the changes affects so many of us; we’re already donating countless unpaid hours of our time, and coordinating so many people. As an organization, we’ve been in existence for nearly 25 years; it’s always been a labor of love. 

Working too long with a shoestring budget means the string eventually breaks. Something as minor as raising the door to $4 could be our swan song, the death of the series—if the audience won’t come. Even at $3 we’re running on nervous! (We’re still adjusting to the fact that we need to give 1/3 of our pot to the door—at the Senior Center our rent was $5 per night.) 

And because we pull in so little, we’re not eligible to make use of some matching grants to pay poets. Since you do need door money from us, we’d like to try to find a way to eventually underwrite the series—someone to pay the “rent”—like the Sonoma County Community Foundation as we are a non-profit arts organization. But we won’t see any funding until summer when the awards are announced.

We’re grateful that you’ve allowed us the opportunity to use the space. Because of your generosity, poetry in Sonoma County has been seriously revitalized, and we’re just now developing a strong poetry audience after years of benign neglect. It would be a shame to quit. We love the space, the ambiance—and the fact the your counter people also like poetry—we even booked Rose Halliday for Feb. I hope we can work out the details but at this point, if I can’t replace David, I may have to drop out too. I’d like to see the series continue. I hope you’ll bear with us until we can work out the logistics.

Sincerely,
Maureen Hurley


P.S. On a more personal note, since I work in the schools as an artist in residence, (and schools are really broke this year), I have to generate jobs—my situation is critical. My father’s death in Dec. has tapped all my reserves—his assets were signed over to a co-worker (it looks like fraud, but I can’t afford legal advice)—leaving me with the burden and no recourse. I can’t absorb the time/cost of running the series.

Thursday, February 3, 1994

TERRA INCOGNITA


TERRA INCOGNITA
            —from the movie, 1492, Conquest of Paradise

At the edge of sunset lies infinity,
and beyond the darkness of dreams
is the chasm at the brink of the world
where sea monsters and dragons wait.
Or so it is said, who’s to disprove it?

But the sailor thought, Life has more imagination
than what we carry in our dreams. On the other side
of day is night, and I can prove it by sailing west.
Imagine the world as round as this orange! 
he said to his son, peeling it, 
as the ships sank beneath the horizon.

Clipped wings of independent minds:
to think was to sin against the church.
To purge the heretics in her midst,
Spain’s fires burned with an unholy passion.
The pyres illuminated the night of the soul.

Columbus confided to Queen Isabel,
There is another route to Marco Polo’s eastern paradise.
Stubbornly, he clung to his contrary belief.
From Castille & Aragon, his tall ships chased sunset,
months at sea, never falling off the 28th parallel.
I can no longer measure the distance of stars to horizon & sunset. How much longer will this new land hide from us? I cannot keep count of this endless chain of days and nights, the doldrums in this circle of fog engufing our very thoughts. What new words for my crew who have lost faith? 
He swatted his cheek. 
Stared at the blood. 
The first clue: a mosquito.
On October 12, we landed on Guanahene Island, gave thanks to God, to celebrate San Salvador, the first naming. Islands everywhere. We must be close to the mainland, but where? 39 of my crew stayed to build La Navidad on Haiti, but did not survive to tell their tale of inquest.
I returned in high hopes with 17 ships, a thousand men, I returned with horses, tools and, guns, grain to build the cities of Nuevo Mundo where we would be allowed our own thoughts. But God and the weather have conspired against me. 
He never discovered the mainland,
but the mosquitos, the malaria,
the hurricanes of Terra Incognita,
and the infinite greed of Spain devoured him. 
Inquisition of the soul.

He returned, a shadow of a man, to his courtly enemies.
The gauntlet of the old world squeezing him.
He spent the familiar prison of his days gazing out to sea.
The conquistadors who followed his footsteps,
climbed the growing mountain of bones
to plunder the origin of of sunset.

2/3/1994