A fine new poem from Gerrie Fellows, who also visited the Garden one fine day in September and wrote a guest blog (http://walkingwithpoets.com/?s=Gerrie+Fellows):
among the uncut grasses
of an almost wild place
quick birds in the undergrowth Betula ermanii
papery barked flares gold
as if in an orchard gone to seed
small dark berries of Prunus grayana
feathery grasses creeping buttercup Miyama Cherry
seedheads of sorrel
as we say of a garden run wild
in a season’s brief generation
a garden of the found collected, transported
as seed or cutting:
cinnamon-barked Rhododendron calophytum
carried from Sichuan
by ‘Chinese’ Wilson
felted leaves of Rhododendron bureavii
borne from Yunnan
to this damp island
where folded lichens grow
on the patchy barked Nippon Maple
native to the montaine forests
of southern Japan
Under my hand:
the peeling husk of a Flaky Bark fir
that might have grown
in Tibet’s high, slow altitudes
the corky bark of Sequoiadendron giganteum
resistant to the fires of its native place
(seeds falling from scorched cones regenerate on ash)
In the labels we rub for knowledge of name or origin
place is elsewhere
a suggestion of the exotic
yet Korean whitebeam
and Spirea japonica
grow in this shady glen
in starred and creeping mosses native to this place
and in late summer
purples cones of the Nikko fir
lie flared and empty
flung outward seeding perhaps becoming native
in this new ground:
to which after 8,000 years Pinus sylvestris
has become native
earth enmeshed by roots of birch oak
from invisible entanglements Cep, False Chanterelle
lifting on a swirl of wind
Do air and water (autonomous entrants
from the unaligned) partake of it?
Leaves silvered in air
turn light to sap vision to substance
Molecules of water restlessly
of tree, soil, rock of place
flow through this particular habitat
this particular climate of temperate cold
are themselves transformed
through tree, soil, rock becoming place:
late addition to the Anthology
from Dani Gill in Galway:
The Cherry Tree
You stooped over the roses like they were your children
Gloves, you wore none
and I knew each time
I watched you bend
that it would make your arthritis hurt.
And still you say you miss the garden.
In summer everything full bloom,
surveying your work
each shadow thrown
There in the yard you crossed gravel to prune
Dyed the wood for the trellis with your own hands,
fed clematis through terrace
Silently sowed things for all seasons
so that we would have colour year round.
You matched flower beds with the house
Plinths; cream magnolia
and weeded the ditches across the road
because they looked
On a dry summers evening I
Taking roots into my hands,
I put them in and fill and think like a gardener.
I shovel until even my arms are sweating,
Push rocks to the side,
Standing back, it looks ordered and right and in place
You will come and see my garden
a single pink cherry unbroken by wind
its branches still, centre, silent.
from Kathrine Sowerby:
On not visiting Dawyck
I’ve heard there’s a tree
that smells of brown sugar
branches known to weep
leaves the colour of biscuits
orange, yellow and heart-shaped
from Luke Allan – this beautiful, minimal poem. My post does not do justice to the stitched four-page original in two colours in its card folder:
PERPETUAL DEW CALENDAR
not yet dew
dew any moment
not yet dew
from Ellen McAteer
Walking the woods at sundown
a choice of paths
following the light
we find a lantern tree
the dying leaves
like stained glass
in the dusk
it gifts us a brand new conker
in its green wrapping
and a dry leaf
cupped like a hand
prompting talk of childhood Summers
family roots, branches, stalks
the freedom that Winter brings
to the leaf
from Linda France:
or maybe it’s a bed –
the world’s tallest headboard.
I install myself against
warmed by low sun.
Afternoons like these
we are never alone.
Until I’m startled back
from my sequoia dreaming,
the cushion of stilled time –
a pheasant’s rusty alarm –
home from that sweet home
when trees are all
the furniture we need.
image: Tris Tolmie
A poem from Mark Weiss (New York):
Processing the common data. These sensitive appendages are what you see. Prehensile prebucal grabs and bites, comes forth like the tongue of a hummingbird. Motu perpetuo of tiles of the distribution of weight a study, weightlessness, symmetry become the natural order. World and garden, there are rules to be found. Naming fingers. 2 cows = pig. Let us assume an abstract finger. Many arguments. I am the lord or lords of disorder. Hunger says the cat brings down the bird Amphibians? Bought it. And mosquitoes rejoice. The disappearance of figure into ground a result of experience unmediated by inhibition–that all phenomena are equal, absent the interests peculiar to the moment and the observer. The world devoid of sentiment or choice, outside ourselves at best become unnavigable hallucination. Which is to say, if you can’t reduce it to a map and a path you can’t walk it. Champêtre. Champing at the bit. Befall the fell fate. Pecks its way forward on the grass. Paths rich with the ooze of slugs. For obedience threaten the wayward child with abandonment. Confusion of horse and horsewoman. Not so much self as trajectory. Where else have you found this degree of order? I am he who walked from tree to tree, tore off shreds of cloth to mark a passage and all that was left was shreds of cloth. My wife that was. Put it behind me—wind’s in the sail and the car lurches with impatience. What freedom compares to a tank of gas? Its liquid grace. Soars downwards, wings vertical, flap flap. Contact. And hops, not sticking the landing.
Book of the Peony
by Gaspar Orozco from Mexico, translated superbly by Mark Weiss:
Flower, no flower.
It arrives like a dream of Spring
for how long?
Flower, no flower.
It leaves like the morning clouds
The first page of the book of the peony is lost. Something about mirrors and snow and roads found after long travel. Something about slow architectures, fires that leave the walls standing but the interiors reduced to ashes. Something about the lost lights of the city or cities lost in the light of dawn. Something about the most delicate aromas and a tingling. It’s useless to try to remember. I have tried. The words too fast, too slender, too passionate, for memory. Compelled to return to write this page again.
The first page of the book of the peony is always still to be written.
I built a city around the peony. Its first ring opened onto the water—red gold—and spread outwards: circles upon circles. First I built a bridge that was broken in half and a pavilion facing north. Then I built a temple white with the salt of the sea and planted a garden white with the salt of the wind. The radio antenna that transmitted encoded messages at midnight was the refuge of birds that flew over the island. A moment came, without my noticing, when the city began to design itself, growing as much awake as sleeping. Other buildings followed, among them a zoo filled with animals with a blue gaze and a glass planetarium to witness the trajectory of a single star. Now there are too many places that I don’t know, too many streets without names in unknown neighborhoods where I will never go.
I don’t remember when, but there was a night the peony disappeared from the center. I don’t know what energy held it together, but the city remained standing. From a distance—because I write from a distance—the city sparkles like the shards of a broken bottle in the sand.
I cover the windows of the room facing the river with black paper. No light, except for what comes through the small tear that I made in the paper. Camera obscura. The weightless film of the world seeps through a pinhole. The inverted image of the island sticks like a damp salt to the ceiling, the wall, my hands, and the back of my neck—to the white page: the infinite peony that glows in that moment—copper changing to nocturnal gold as I watch.
Within the flower
the firefly burns:
there is no memory
The idea of that peony unfolds fully-formed in the mind. Then the brightness comes forth, the unimaginable energy breaks free. Touched and overcome by so great a discharge, the skull becomes transparent and is filled with light—a vessel overflowing with the singular glow of that image.
made visible: the night
in the mirror
Facing the mirror, the peony bends its empire. It demolishes and rebuilds its double in the depth of that water. Nonetheless a slight fracture between the two hemispheres of the fire is noted. Two times, one light. If forced to choose, favor the reflection—it’s the truer.
The black peony shines brightly on the final sharp edge of the moment. Its escape scorches the surface it reaches—the sky of the mouth, the white of the eye, the parietal violet. You will find its outline scratched on the wall of the furthest cell of the empty madhouse, on the only image rerun on the blind television. Its diagram burns on the smoky mirrors of the leprosarium, on the x-ray of the inferno that hides in your entrails, on the garden tattooed on the corpse’s fingers.
The black peony shines brightly with the total silence that covers the earth in the aftermath of lightning.
in memory the flower
a dark fire
Watching the peony’s light until it vanishes. Watching the vanishing until one vanishes. Then and only then, within your eyes, will the peony be.
The deepest arcanum of the peony isn’t its light, its untameable flame, its boundless sparkling palace. Nor does it unfold in its opalescent shadow, that small nocturnal opera. You won’t find its enigma in the open sea of its fragrance, in its perfume of a thousand petals that storm and mountain, snow and sand take turns with.
The peony’s ultimate art, its mystery, is given to you in its trembling.
It was given to me to cross each leaf of water, to overcome the wax aromas behind whatever hid the wild honey. I was granted the power to loosen the knot that binds the circle of mirrors. Prenatal privileges I owe to my opaque and incomplete constellation. When I crossed the threshold of this warm room my responsibility was to search within the flower for what it sought outside itself. A communion of the found and the lost.
When I reached the depth of the peony, it opened itself to the sea, it broke in an endless wave that annulled all distance.
The end of night leaves beneath your eyelids a peony’s slender glass. This happens when the dream withdraws but still retains its power over you. The flower is real, each petal a vivid truth—a sorrow from the first fire. But it’s not about that peony. Enclosed within this flower by the magnetic dictate of the dream, though separate, though reflected: the lightning.
I follow your scar:
a thread that guides me
through the labyrinth
The poet Ou Yangxiu wrote in 1034 his “Account of the Peonies of Luoyang.” Somewhere he mentions the peony “Wei Huang,” one of the most costly varieties then, with as many as 700 petals. Its rare color he defined as “double pink,” the same term he used to describe the most intimate hue of certain courtesans. But it was also the name that he gave to a kind of dream, in which beings and places are seen once and never return. A kind of dream, it is written, that change forever the lives of those who receive them.
Remake the ocean from a drop of water. Raise mountains from a stone. The leaf contains the forest within it, as a grain of sand retains the memory of every dune. The history of time can be reconstructed from the fading patch of light on the wall.
I rebuild for myself an empire from this petal.
They asked him the color of the peony. He didn’t answer. The conversation turned to other subjects. A little later, the man—of whom nothing is known, except the power of his pen—quietly retired from the place. They saw him take the stony path toward the southern mountains. Nothing more was heard of him. On the table was found a wrinkled piece of paper on which these words were written: The color of the thin wound that the eclipse may open in the water only once. And it remains in the gaze.
The invention of the this incident is attributed the the poet Meng Haoran. It would appear on a page of his “False Memories of Hanshan,” an album that brings together drawings, stories and poems. The only known copy was lost in 1864 in the fall of Nanjing, the final incident of the Taiping War.
From your scent
the vanished city
The peony, unfolded on my body. Like a centipede that sticks its sweet needles into its enemy, thus are odors submerged in the skin. With eyes half-open I come to see how amnesia crystallizes, how its weightless quartz is formed in me. In the fullness of time, a brief flight separates the peony from my body: the rising of a dragonfly above a mirror, of a hummingbird whose ember iridesces above a snowy path. The shadow of the ascension: union. I closed my eyes to flood myself with darkness, to keep the attendant fire beneath that black wave. The suspended peony consumes the eye that dares to touch it.
Alchemy of open eyes. The peony seen before birth. Its light left suspended in the gaze until it finds its unique shape on the surface, its identity among the ten thousand beings. Then the other color of history begins to flow, to blur—a hovering copper, the briefest cobalt of disappearances. Alchemy of closed eyes. The flower that never stops unfolding, never stops fading. Phosphorescence that beats within the hearts of all shadows, sharp dew that covers the island in its disintegration through the night.
The flower’s darkness
between my fingers:
a lost aroma
The butterfly has lost its little battle. As it’s about to approach the peony the wind overwhelms those frail bronze wings. The infinite distance of that which is closest to us. Traversed by the same force, the flower trembles. The butterfly will attempt the impossible once more. And again. And yet again. You know it and I know it. The creature and the flower subject to the empire of the wind. In this one second film Hokusai reveals to us the exact mechanism of fate.
Crossing the island to get to the peony. Every voyage to the peony is secret, every glance at it will be both enigma and risk. So it’s a matter of a silent journey in the dark interior of noon. To approach this fate you rid yourself of past lives, skins tattooed by styluses of other waters, by the shadows of other winds. You will arrive thus before the peony, stripped of memory, all language lost, a page unwritten on which the only light proceeds from the memory of a tree. A traveler without memory, you will never be sure if you returned from this voyage once before.
Two peonies. One, imprisoned in its cocoon, a jade eye, waits. The other, an apparition, a ghost peony. An anemone set in the water of a previous morning.
Bada Shanren painted this in March of 1699, a present for a friend on the day of the festival of flowers. He accompanied that image with a poem about the flower to come and the flower that ruled in the light of former days. At the conjunction of those two times the peony that trembles at this moment is born.
A locked garden:
the peony burns
its secret light for you
The burning edge of the petal. It’s there the danger lies. Evidence of a dawn immobile on the sand. Proof of the end of a world and the birth of another. On the reverse, the emblem of salt on its last voyage. Whatever may graze this cutting edge will be cut in two and lose one of its halves forever.
is extinguished on the petal:
there’s no forgetting
Writing the remembered peony, coming back to mark the path of its labyrinth, I won’t come to the end. It’s not that the bottom of a subject which is perpetual transformation is unreachable—memory, I know, is a drop of water that changes and evaporates its landscapes every minute. Rather, I believe in leaving the door ajar, neglecting to close the windows so that the sea of night may enter and change with us into day, that the land of day may end by changing with us into night. There’s no conclusion. No end. The peony leaves unfolded on our eye its incomplete outline, perfect in its imperfection.
You call it peony. I call it emptiness.
New York, Autumn and Winter 2010
Red enveloped in a reddish light. Facing me, only half the peony. The other half hidden in the impenetrable obsidian of this nocturnal return. Thus, half-open, the divided flower invited me to detach the flame from its flame. And I didn’t do it, mortally wounded by the kind of weariness that had separated me from that apparition. I asked myself, of course, what fire would burn in the invisible part of the flower? What letter of fate would have been inscribed in that zone forbidden to me. What part of me would have been boiled away in that aroma, in that unreachable dampness? Like being at the gates of a city impenetrable in the beauty of its half-light, but that now you would have no interest in entering, because you know that there’s nothing there.
Here I merely note the red and black: colors of the final dream.
Los Angeles, October 2011
At the stroke of a midnight in 1765, Master Ito Jakuchu discovered the unstable temperature traversing the territory of the flower that breathed in the half-light. It’s not clear if the discovery occurred in one of his dreams or in one of that summer’s vigils. What’s important for us is the detailed record he made of that vision, the first of the 27 that he gathered under the title Images of the Colorful Kingdom of Living Beings. There is a violent stillness in the petal, an immobile turbulence that spreads its phosphorescent venom like a wave washing over the onlooker’s nervous system. Time changes from snow to flame and flame to clotted blood. Daiten Kenjo, poet-friend of Ito’s, noticed this, and named the painting Beautiful Mist and Fragrant Wind. A luminous, revealing mist, an iridescent wind that causes what it touches to boil. Time like the peony, like the peony that melts within our eye.
In the powerful unfolded petal he could see its fall, and in its fall his own disintegration. Could this not be an early image from the pen of the poet Bai Juyi, his first lesson of beauty? Since we will never know beauty entirely, however, the poet gathered from the soil of the Empty Gate a handful of those petals. He sent them to his friend, the Buddhist monk Wang, to learn whether another answer to the infinite enigma locked in that flower could be found.
We have no record of the monk’s reply.
Here I leave the flaming peony, burning in its transparent flame. Unfolded in the darknesses of its aroma. Wounded. I leave the peony in the disarmed water of this night. I entrust it—like a light maybe never to be seen again—to the time of this blind moment that melts away as I write.
I leave it here, illuminating you.
The outline of the map is made on the apex of an egg with the tip of a hair. It’s a secret garden of Suzhou, known to a few for the rarity of its peonies. The garden of the master of nets, according to the tiny letters on the gate. At the far edge of the eastern side, on the shore of the lake, the melancholy walker, touched by a thirst for clarity and a yearning for oblivion, will find the Cabin of Belated Spring. Because of its remote location, it’s the best place to witness the moment when the petals unfold. Its name comes from a verse by Su Dongpo: “Only the peony flowers even in a late Spring.” It’s said that the solitary wanderer will find there what he looks for, once the last flower of the year has dissolved into the air.
I take the object carefully in hand and observe it for a moment in silhouette. Translucent, orange, almost blood-colored. Afterwards, I leave it on the surface of the pond.
The egg, and the tiny garden, sink slowly into the green water of a pond.
The cage fits in the hollow of your hand. It’s an imperial prison made especially for a fighting cricket. Delicately carved out of red wood, a peony spreads its petals in a labyrinth with no exit. Stamped with the year 1725, the cage belonged to Prince Bao, before his ascension to the throne in 1732 as Emperor Qianlong. The prince kept in it his favorite insect, a cricket with a purple head that never lost a single one of its innumerable matches.
They say that on the shortest night of the year its song can be heard escaping through the holes in the lid. They assure us that the cricket waits still for the gate to be opened to face its final battle.
And that all those who have been at any moment a prisoner of the flower may live forever.
I close my hand: I capture the burnt flower.
I open my hand: nothing.
Poems from Alec Finlay:
after Ezra Pound & Samuel Johnson
trees die and the dream remains
the dream dies and trees remain
On his Tour, Johnson bemoans the lack of trees in the Highlands, goading Boswell, as his friend recalled: ‘As we travelled onwards from Montrose, we had the Grampion hills in our view, and some good land around us, but void of trees and hedges. Dr Johnson has said ludicrously, in his Journey, that the HEDGES were of STONE; for, instead of the verdant THORN to refresh the eye, we found the bare WALL or DIKE intersecting the prospect. He observed, that it was wonderful to see a country so divested, so denuded of trees.’ In the Dictionary Johnson quotes Shakespeare to characterize the rooted quality of a tree. The second of these poems in homage to Johnson follows a ring in Ezra Pound’s Canto 90.
A long walking poem/ meditation from Juana Adcock from the Camino de Santiago:
The Science of Perambulation
1. Orisson, horizon at the edge of the valley
The first thing you notice is pain, of course.
Aching thighs, coxis turning slightly. Pain
au chocolat. Tiny muscles in your bare feet
elasticate against angular gravel
brought from elsewhere.
Looking down at the sea clouds
frothing between the peaks.
The horned sheep’s long, grass-coloured hair
swaying in the wind drawing thin stems.
The act of balancing what was brought
against what others have.
The house that hangs from your shoulders,
the washing line from the strings of your sunhat,
the stones that roll from your toes up to your hip socket,
How to walk until you’ve used up the last grain.
How to sleep, small, alone,
watching the tail of the Milky Way turn
on the earth’s axis—a staff of almond wood,
its smooth bark in your hand.
2. Roncesvalles, valley of prickly shrubs
The Song of Roland was all about horses,
about drops of Saracen blood hanging from thorns,
and oliphants singing heroes where only death –
I drink from Roland’s fountain and watch
the water get stuck between words,
oui le chanson meaning nos vamos
pa’l otro lado
how the erdara letters were carried in gourds and wineskins
in the bellies of lutes and the jugulars of juglars
through txabolas and akelarres
over mesetas, valles y campos
3. Irotz, the other iron-clad
Between the oven of Irotz and the mount of Nerval
there is a swarm of straw-coloured locusts.
They fly bloodwings in the air around your shins,
bump onto your blessed pilgrim toes.
You crouch through the dusty stridulation,
knees creaking, hips clicking like locust.
I want to untie your sandals,
wash your feet in my tears like a mystic.
You know there is abundance
in having nothing.
4. Ciraqui, the circus of surplus
A monument of haystacks
red-struck by dawn. Castle-like.
And a cohort of knackered sunflowers,
bowing their heads for our sins.
How I wished to be alone.
How I left behind a man
dragging his suitcase.
5. Alto del perdón
The hill of forgiveness isn’t much.
It’s more the round stones, coming down,
castigating knees. Little olive trees,
giving and giving. The metallic growl
of industry, eating away at the land.
The packs of humans, descending en mass.
Pretty leaves, I wish I could keep you.
6. Grajera, grains of higher
SW W NW, floats the compass before my eyes.
A snail, translucent in the morning sun
slops that slowness is the quick of the ambulator.
A sprig of lavender in my hair, and how we woke
by the lake, on cracked mud, phosphorescent blue
mould, like the sceptre of that blue
flower of thorns. But that’s not
what I wanted. I always knew what I wanted
My legs, spread out in front of me
I rub medicinal oils in preparation
for a day’s work.
How did I never know?
7. Burgos, land of burials
I ride my stone horse to the cathedral –
those stone carvings pointing up to the sky.
Like the cementery cypress
sending sick souls up. My hips closed,
flirting with the fall. Tall windows,
to watch the red rooftops,
the windmills flying away.
8. Meseta, table plain
¿Caminante no hay camino?
Worst lie in poetry.
The path is well marked
in yellow arrows of urine.
Toilet paper strewn around edges
in case you weren’t sure.
Lest you stray
A poem from Andrei Dosa, from Romania, a poem concerning both gardens and a bestiary . . . in a way:
positive. comparative. superlative
you got me into this mess you get me out
fool here she lives loved by a fuckin rat
there’s a golem in the back of my garden
i feed him sawdust and horseraddish
i’m taken down by opium all the time oh
there are only neon lights at the mall now
the church militates against our generation
i slip inside her a grip vice full of oil stains
the tv’s on a man’s sitting at the table
he says we’re out of supplies out of ideologies
A poem by Eileen Ridley, who visited Dawyck (a companion piece to her poem below):
It was like the taster to the meal –
the painting of the Jesus tree in the lobby
the books of wod
and the benches of ash.
The butterflies are in my belly
as I consider the mains of the arboretum –
its veins of paths running up through
the massive, the meaty, the lush
and the spiky and the silky.
And for afters, squinting in the sun,
writing on a tray,
replete with green.
A fine walking poem from Bridget Khursheed, who visited Dawyck today:
Our path’s geometry through the purple-headed grass
is mappable strong lines and blunt angles
a point of divergence when the stream is dry
or if we are in a hurry
an irregular quadrangle coinciding at the entry
to the rugby field
Its four corners marked by
fox’s territorial dropping
the nailed-shut gate of Bessie Reid’s field
a dead hedgehog
a sign prohibiting canine fouling
Within this structure are the dandelions
whose stems we can only kick free to convert
after the clocks have ticked away
swallows pink bellies just above them
that I always mark as martins
falcon pellets in the dried-up burn bed
or wet all-terrain sandals
and a plank bridge that does not fit the water
It doesn’t connect
a balanced spring dislodges
the wren’s nest
the kestrel and one fieldfare
pine cones and the worn-out path
the council try to discourage
salvageable litter on Abbotsford Road’s pavement
The weather we have learnt always and never perfect
in the scheme the nature of things
Two love poems from the Garden
1: Happy childhood
It’s looking back.
You gain one way.
He doesn’t even notice
2: The Essence
I didn’t know it was a hard life.
I was an only child; mother lost a child.
Music has been my life; music running through my brain.
She had a warmth of brothers
I discovered the essence, an awareness
I discovered what real love is.
Beats and Surrealists in The Garden
I love these cold flowers of laughter
Paths where the light has slipped
Breezes from Eden cover us
The nasturtium is one of ourselves
Grown grass, grass green growing
Flickering forest leaf shadows passed
Fruit, seed & flower dance equally
In the moist chilly warm yin air
Hedged about with primroses, with promises
They plant seeds, they smile
Aria for the dancing light
The sound is of bees
The blue & the wind
Use our garden in a beneficial manner
Sunbeam perpetuates a steady ardour
Her heart of herbs
Alice Rahon, Diane Di Prima, Nadja, Hettie Jones, Emmy Bridgewater, Janine Pommy Vega, Jeanne Megnen, Joanne Kyger, Anne Waldman, Maggie Graham.
A man in a grey-flecked hat
has an old Begonia grandiflora
that his father once gave him.
He waters it
with his long beard hanging
or his face in shadow
or his dreams unravelling,
the thin spout of the can
splashing at least eighty years
into the present tense,
the taut stems,
the flowering heads,
their resistance to humanity,
upward breaths from
the one point.
That centre where we
Meet all other beings.