Thursday, April 20, 2006

Fred's Poems: "Asking," "Syzygy," and "Encounter"

I know I said I wasn't going to post again until tomorrow night at the earliest, but I have to tell you quickly about a terrific event in which I participated tonight, as both reader and listener. Close friends of my friend Fred Pfeil—who, as many of you know, died last November—organized a poetry reading for late this afternoon, where his wife, several of his colleagues, and a generous handful of students paid tribute to him by reading some of his favorite poems. It was so moving to hear people with whom I work every day, many of them poets or fiction-writers in their own right, lending their voices to a group of poems that represented Fred and his spirit so well. Some were sad, some were funny, some were canonical but most were contemporary, and a smattering were by Fred himself, or by the readers who delivered them. Happily, every single poem shone to sensational effect within the context of the whole event, but of course I had my favorites... and since they piqued my interest and raised my spirits so much, I'd like to share them with you, spread over a few entries in the next several days.

"Asking" by Hu'u Thinh
I ask the earth: How does earth live with earth?
—We honor each other.

I ask water: How does water live with water?
—We fill each other up.

I ask the grass: How does grass live with grass?
—We weave into one another
creating horizons.

I ask man: How does man live with man?

I ask man: How does man live with man?

I ask man: How does man live with man?

"Syzygy" by Arthur Sze
I notice headlights out in the living-room window
then catch the bass in a pickup as it drives by.
I am shocked to learn that doctors collected
the urine of menopausal nuns in Italy to extract
gonadotropins. And is that what one draws,
in infinitesimal dose, out of a vial?
I remember a steel-wool splinter in my finger
and how difficult it was to discern, extract
under a magnifying glass; yet—blue mold,
apple dropping from a branch—it is hard to see
up close when, at the periphery, the unexpected
easily catches the eye. Last Thursday night
we looked through binoculars at the full moon,
watched it darken and darken until, eclipsed,
it glowed ferrous-red. By firelight, we glowed;
my fingertips flared when I rubbed your shoulders,
softly bit your ear. The mind is a tuning fork
that we strike, and, struck, in the syzygy
of a moment, we find the skewed, tangled
passions of a day begin to straighten, align, hum.

"Encounter" by Czeslaw Milosz
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.



Blogger Dr. S said...

I am falling in love with Milosz, myself, having gotten one of his books while I was in Canada and having photocopied one of his poems last night. "Encounter" is perfect. And "Asking" is perfect for me right this minute, right this very nighttime minute.

10:03 PM, April 20, 2006  

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