Recently retired from nearly 45 years of teaching college writing, literature, and peace studies, D. R. James lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His latest of ten collections is Mobius Trip (Dos Madres 2021), and his work appears in many anthologies and journals. https://www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage
Sisyphus Loses Track
His round trips triggered the technology
of counting: clouds, moons, planets, galaxies,
his rank breaths dusting the eternal groove.
But erasure of future, easing of
scars inflicted playing strung-up puppet
to the gods, echo sweet gestures tendered
like rain. Compass missing, mirror of death
broken into windows cheering on chance
encounters with the playful world, he looks,
he touches, he glides the electric land.
Wait for It
The forecast hovers between soggy and
gratitude, verges on awe, balances
muted light against lopsided gladness.
Meanwhile (though Cosmos clatters its remote
stones, and Existence casts its Theater
of the Unheard from among the docile),
the man’s morning’s pouring itself into
day—and he stares off, fathoming the frayed
front sliding past outside has flagged in him
imponderable streaks of fleeting joy.
This life of separateness may be compared to a
dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop
of dew, a flash of lightning. —The Buddha
The heat kicking in at precisely five a.m.
stirs the shirred glass chimes dangling over
the open vent, their fragile song reminding me
I am alone. Outside, where I know too-early
browns loom in the dark where constant white
should lighten this time of year—here, far
north of the end of Mardi Gras—one car
purrs by per hour. A semi ascending the hill,
up-shifting its dissonance across the cushion
of the dumb neighborhood, will turn left
at the next intersection, head east to open road,
and merge with the world. This separateness
is indeed a dream, though priests today will call
the many to mourn whatever separates them
from God and from each other, then swipe soaked
ash across their foreheads in remembrance that
we’re all just dust. Which is true, but in this
blue mood I prefer the Buddha’s drop of dew
and picture its sole self temporarily resting
upon a palm leaf before a breeze shivers it
earthward or the desert sun draws it skyward—
in either case to mingle it by absorption
or by evaporation into the eternal system
of one. Which is really only a better way
of getting it wrong. Poor sentient drop, alive
in the thought it has ever left its sisters and brothers,
who in their own dreams manufacture fantastic
bubbles but imagine wry shadow, or lightning.
Beyond Compliance, Beyond Resistance
When asked once who his greatest spiritual teacher
had been the Dalai Lama responded, “China.”
The cat’s reactions to my fingers’
scratching, remind me I’m often
automatic: twitching skin of each
thank-you-very-much, arched back
of jockeying for a slender compliment,
submissive flop-and-grovel of every
please, please, please. But then
that prance of defiance across
invisible piano wire spanning
table to out-of-bounds countertop
to stove controls, my dainty paws,
claws approximately withdrawn,
picking out the touch-pad tune of
bake, broil, clean, clock, and cancel.
Lately I’ve been working on my
up-and-walk-away, my saunter
and dusty-sandal forefoot flick,
my vertical tail-like-a-flag of
nonchalance—which I plan to plant
somewhere pacifistic, somewhere
beyond this rage against my own Beijing.
Petrified shells slowly emerge, moisture
the magic potion exposing six sides—
cloned hexagonaria, extinct
in clear shallows of the Big Lake, ice-plucked
cement, ground-off and rounded, deposit
of glaciers erasing an age, pockets
of planet anatomies, those throw-backs
to the sibilant sigh of a sea—as if
in finite gazillionitude docile
fossils mass as Devonian witness.
Let It Go, Buddha
Let it go, Buddha
keeps saying, still so attached
to detachment that veins
I imagine at his temples
throb like the chanting
of ancestors on a CD
I bought cheap for $7.97.
For once again I’ve had
the wrong idea, Calvitholicism
an indissoluble oil slick floating
on Buddha’s smooth sea
of equanimity. Try
as I might – and well,
there it is: attached
at the straining hip of effort.
Zen Master Seung Sahn says wanting
enlightenment’s a big mistake.
I say add it to the list:
the first marriage, the first religion,
the second – trying to save
the whole world with words.
Walking the Beach, We Show Our Ignorance about Stars, Constellation
before mentioning the dead ones
the snuffed ones,
how they’ve guided the race, we figure,
since long before the faintest flicker
of a first-hand myth;
but dead, even then,
and now, this side of infinitude,
this side, let’s say, of
the discerning words
of the long gone
still illumine our forever
Poems are never completed—
they are only abandoned.
So as I begin this one—
vowing as an experiment
not to give in to the vice
of revision, that sumo
of manipulation I so try
to apply to my life—
I wonder where I’ll leave it.
Will it be in some sun-warmed clearing,
a rocky outcropping in an old pine forest?
And will I have set out earlier
this morning with getting there in mind?
Or will it perhaps fall out of my pocket
along a downtown sidewalk
and blow a few feet
until it lodges under a parked car,
the puddle there and the dark
intensifying the metaphor:
a poem’s being abandoned?
Thus bookended by country and city,
both speculations in future tense,
the claim neglects the unfolding—
as if completion weren’t
every word as it emerges,
means and ends at once.
The cone is not container
of future tree. It is cone.
Nor is an old cone empty.
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