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Quizzical Elegy

Now it can be told as plainly as possible
According to the rabbis a life’s not to be told and cannot be
Painted till it’s done when it becomes a story a song or a wind
An interpretation sung by beneficent others in their various voices —
According to other sages death
Purifies by marking silent ends
And makes perfect the perfect tale once told
Then retold with different detail and structure
New and more outrageous interpretations far off the mark
So destruction overcomes peace is explained as peace
In the end once we parse its sullen fecundity
And the darkness all around you
Falls by the weight of the metaphysical lust for the it-will-be
Which never can be and isn’t
Except in the telling
So the perfect life’s the lost life as the perfect
Love unites lovers forever when they are
Perfectly gone     What is it
Now with me and what in the world
Have I become?      Gropes
Toward an end unknown
On the lake where leaves are falling
According to chance patterns known to all
Once they occur
You can’t predict the future but you can disturb an unknown past
Perfectly like beavers do both inside and outside
Their dams       Nothing is crossing wires
With something      Feel the frisson
So we say good-bye to our sad friend
Who chose perfectly his sad end
To a perfect sad life of ordinary chagrin
On a furry planet with bright stars above
And a head of steam to grab a guitar and madly strum




Buried in Any Landscape

And milky skies capping a day’s lurid resolutions
Silently thinking through the dioramas of ignominious haze
We must not inquire too curiously into motives
For desire’s inward flowing living melting bright and heavenly postures
Intimate something more than we know
We who see and feel one another
As if ourselves
A sense of a whole life not yet grasped but forever wanting and intending
An inward hidden heavenly love
And a forgetting embedded
In moment by moment perceptions and signs
Like a cloth covering a bird cage
Or the more unreal metaphor of a bridge
Connecting two points of dry hard land baked under blistering sun
At either end of a wide body of water
And then on from there to God knows where
The cipher continually turning in space —
It’s HUGE!
I mean this resentment apt to be the more feeble in its utterance if deeper in its ephemeral darkness
Felt by the many — all against all —
With reasons one would rather be silent about
While red and yellow and orange trees pass by the car’s window fully within the heaviness
Of the wistful paraphernalia of poetry at this late date
Peaked roofs of houses in this elderly port town in long slanted light
Tell us Fall has arrived not a moment too late
Allowing us to feel appropriate sorrow
For the end of the world that precedes its beginning
As criss-crossing curved roads full of horseshoes
And under- or overpasses with connecting exchanges and links
So anyone can go anywhere or around in circles again
Open to public participation and feedback
And consigned proportionally according to identity-shards
That substitute for simply paying close attention to road signs
That remain open to potential bright spots
Unusually hidden even in the darkness of unremarkable places




Further Scenes of Life at the Capital

The Capital more than usually full of foreigners
Blake was mobbed and robbed
Outraged to find everything he wanted already here
Eternally chagrinned about his endless visionary complaining
When there was nothing to complain about
But the endless bloody horrors perpetrated for perfectly good reasons
We cannot judge our neighbors
What do we know
And the true and the beautiful cannot be destroyed
We can’t get our hands on them
Because nothing really happened
Just the usual roadside flowers and weeds
The rough roses we see on freeway divider strips
Plant a few more and hire FBI men from Utah to defend them
My neighbor is one such decent chap
Can we blame all this on him?
Nara has a magic feeling or once did
You’ll get your chance later
Like the great plains or the town square
Did you phone ahead for reservations?
Like here, there are tame deer there also
And I see one now, a buck
Outside my window as I write
Produces the effect of an infinite territory
According to David Hume, no, no, not nomads
Everyone lives someplace all at once and forever
When envy and resentment blankets the whole world
Within which every concern turns vague then dark
And I take buses trains planes cars
To get to the places I prefer to visit
Where our friends temporarily exist
As long as they can still afford to house clothe and feed their shadowy human forms
In happiness and with variety
Otherwise in Paris or Kyoto, Boston and New York
Each of us does live within that conundrum
Location’s paradox a virtue seeming as a lump
Of knowledge that can be harmful
I throw myself on the mercy of the court
And before I know it catch up with whoever it was
That placed these cute creatures ever before me
What did he say I don’t know
If you want something hold out an empty hand
And gaze down from above at the green rooftops
And shattered trees
I can catch the sun in my hands if I keep trying
And the other day two black holes pursuing one another far away in space
Imploded causing many wrinkles in time
Between blinks of an eye
If not it would be dusk in Leningrad, no longer answering to that name,
Which I copied out longhand just for you

Later that same day in a fit of perspiration
I couldn’t pay attention to the golden perfume maiden
About whom the censors had had lengthy discussions
Orange haired person asks black haired person
Is this the road to China?
I’m drenched in jealousy for how could anyone
Do a thing like that so effortlessly
Perfectly and without even intending it?
I roll over in bed a white skull outside the mason’s house
Miles of polished temple floor
And the responsibility to explain in two languages a few simple concepts to my friends
Which are of course misleading (the concepts and the friends too)
The ruins of high culture dictate the violence that wounds us all
Knowledge produces it, that and the arrogance that comes with it
For what and whom do we know
If not broad-rim soup dish BLASH
There’s not an owl in the world
Who thinks or knows “I am an owl”
And no one to wonder over the sad results we all revere and pine for
That we once were so assured of so confident
In our puny disassociations we took for rational power
They say you’ve taken another lover
They also say you’ve eaten a pizza and guzzled
An entire bottle of wine to give you the courage
To write this
But they are wrong
Instead you’ve fallen off your chair
In the middle of your soup
And are no longer having any fun
Staring out from where you are across the sea
Toward Asia
Indeed most of the world covered with water
It’s dark down here under immense pressure
And there are creatures no one’s ever seen

(for Philip Whalen)



Norman Fischer

Norman Fischer is a Zen Buddhist priest, author, and poet who has published poetry and prose steadily since the late 1970’s. Philip Whalen was his poetic master. His latest titles (2018) are Untitled Series:Life As It Is (Talisman) and On A Train At Night (PURH, France).


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2018

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