Ghost Dancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The burden you will always carry
has metamorphosed into your son, father.
And just as your father did to you
so you have tried with me, but failed.
I learned to hate lies and untruth:
before you ever had a chance to succeed.
I know that you have always had to protect
yourself; from the awareness of beauty shared:
you were taught by practical matters
the world could be seen
through a grid or matrix of black and white.
Wrong and right still dominate there,
where success is the highest pinnacle; but
who can hide from the long reach of death?

You live with the phantoms of an unrehearsed
youth; and I carry the corpse of my childhood
with me: the prison bars do not serve,
except to obscure our separate realities.
In this moment we are more similar than
different; comically we believe we hate
each other, at least you feel this about me.
I often wish I could be as unrelievedly
ignorant; without wonder too, absolutely certain.
You dismiss me as a cretin, an idiot at times, yet
who isn’t? And I confess I share that state of grace:
with you in your lovelessness, when you
abandon me to a fate you have never escaped.

Your mother is dead, as is mine; and my wife
has succumbed to another kind of cancer, but
one that is just as deadly: you don’t
know, until afterwards whenever it’s too late.
Between you and I, the battle rages; because
I cannot live your life,
while you resent the advantages of mine:
the comparison does not hold and we grow old.
You will never understand that I love you, a cliché,
the only way I know; and refuse to accept
that such care must take the form of punishment,
the denial of a life you do not own.
You are alone and a cancer has you by the throat –
there are no more stones left to throw: we
strangers are shadows now, ghosts dancing on the wall.

© Dean J. Baker

-excerpt from The Lost Canadian, Poems Selected, Vol. 2, 110 pages, $10.99

fist published in The Amaranth Review, Phoenix Arizona

“The Ghost Dance (Caddo: Nanissáanah,[1] also called the Ghost Dance of 1890) was a new religious movement incorporated into numerous American Indian belief systems. According to the teachings of the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka (renamed Jack Wilson), proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, make the white colonists leave, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Indian peoples throughout the region.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Dance “The Lakota variation on the Ghost Dance tended towards millenarianism, an innovation that distinguished the Lakota interpretation..”

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The Bull Calf by Irving Layton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing could barely stand. Yet taken
from his mother and the barn smells
he still impressed with his pride,
with the promise of sovereignity in the way
his head moved to take us in.
The fierce sunlight tugging the maize from the ground
liked at his shapely flanks.
He was too young for all that pride.
I thought of the deposed Richard II.

“No money in bull calves,” Freeman had said.
The visiting clergyman rubbed the nostrils
now snuffing pathetically at the windless day.
“A pity,” he sighed.
My gaze slipped off his hat toward the empty sky
that circled over the black knot of men,
over us and the calf waiting for the first blow.

Struck,
the bull calf drew in his thin forelegs
as if gathering strength for a mad rush…
tottered…raised his darkening eyes to us,
and I saw we were at the far end
of his frightened look, growing smaller and smaller
till we were only the ponderous mallet
that flicked his bleeding ear
and pushed him over on his side, stiffly,
like a block of wood.

Below the hill’s crest
the river snuffled on the improvised beach.
We dug a deep pit and threw the dead calf into it.
It made a wet sound, a sepulchral gurgle,
as the warm sides bulged and flattened.
Settled, the bull calf lay as if asleep,
one foreleg over the other,
bereft of pride and so beautiful now,
without movement, perfectly still in the cool pit,
I turned away and wept.

©Irving Layton

The economy of language, the spirit of truth; sociology, philosophy: the distillation of experiences reflected, and altered, in one brief poem – that’s the magic of poetry, and a great poet.
Irving Layton is a poet everyone should read.

Irving Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, twice. He was friend and mentor to Leonard Cohen. Looked up to by Allen Ginsberg, Williams Carlos Williams, Margaret Atwood, and many other fine and great writers for decades.

Disclosure: Irving was my friend for decades. He once said of my early writing, ” Dean is a combination of thought and torment that has made him write more than a baker’s dozen of fine poems.. he might produce a collection that could astound us all.” 

Sweetness – by Stephen Dun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
© 1989 by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright © 1989 by Stephen Dunn.

A truly great poet – with  any number of fine books to choose from.

©DeanJBaker

 

Fishnet by Robert Lowell

 

 

 

 

Any clear thing that blinds us with surprise,
your wandering silences and bright trouvailles,
dolphin let loose to catch the flashing fish. . . .
saying too little, then too much.
Poets die adolescents, their beat embalms them,
The archetypal voices sing offkey;
the old actor cannot read his friends,
and nevertheless he reads himself aloud,
genius hums the auditorium dead.
The line must terminate.
Yet my heart rises, I know I’ve gladdened a lifetime
knotting, undoing a fishnet of tarred rope;
the net will hang on the wall when the fish are eaten,
nailed like illegible bronze on the futureless future.

©Robert Lowell

-excerpt from The Dolphin

Just read the first two lines and know that is not only about poetry but also about how
poetry in the world is recognizable, and the contrary is true: what isn’t poetry is known as well.

The brilliant use of metaphor matched with the physical aligning into discovery: how important poetry is when with only a few lines
endless senses of intellect, art, and personal renewal can be seen and pursued in a manner that the world itself would never allow, and thus must be and remain an object of delight and study,
because in that moment of poetry where the lines resound the reader is forever altered.

For those interested in literary trivia, ‘Dolphin’ is the nickname by which Lowell would often refer to his wife.

Fitting then that I came across this volume and others I relate to it such as For Lizzie And Harriet,   Day By Day and History among others of Lowell’s great works.

©Dean J. Baker

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The mothership: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com

In Dispraise Of Poetry by Jack Gilbert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Dispraise Of Poetry

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
he gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual
that to care for him properly meant ruin.
Yet to care for him improperly was worse.
It appears the gift could not be refused.

Brilliant work.

Enjoy.

http://www.amazon.com/Collected-Poems-Jack-Gilbert/dp/030726968X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394995383&sr=8-1&keywords=jack+gilbert

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/1275

My books in print links

The mothership: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com

©Dean J. Baker

The Canadian Authors Meet by F. R. Scott

frscott1

 

 

 

 

Expansive puppets percolate self-unction
Beneath a portrait of the Prince of Wales.
Miss Crotchet’s muse has somehow failed to function,
Yet she’s a poetess. Beaming, she sails

From group to chattering group, with such a dear
Victorian saintliness, as is her fashion,
Greeting the other unknowns with a cheer—
Virgins of sixty who still write of passion.

The air is heavy with Canadian topics,
And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,
Are measured for their faith and philanthropics,
Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought.

The cakes are sweet, but sweeter is the feeling
That one is mixing with the literati;
It warms the old, and melts the most congealing.
Really, it is a most delightful party.

Shall we go round the mulberry bush, or shall
We gather at the river, or shall we
Appoint a Poet Laureate this fall,
Or shall we have another cup of tea?

O Canada, O Canada, O can
A day go by without new authors springing
To paint the native maple, and to plan
More ways to set the selfsame welkin ringing?

©F.R.Scott

Frank Scott has many fine poems, but this one I think applies not only to Canadian authors…

©Dean J. Baker

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Ithaca by C.P.Cavafy

cpcavafy1

 

 

 

 

As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

 

©C.P.Cavafy

 

©Dean J. Baker

C. P. Cavafy, “The City” from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

***NOTE – I used Keeley and Sherrard’s translation for this poem, and I think their translations of George Seferis and most ‘right’ I believe the book with an intro by W.H. Auden and the translation by Rae Dalven to be the absolute best:

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Poems-Cavafy-Expanded/dp/0156198207/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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The mothership: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com