Limitation

The poet who commits to fourteen lines
Finds focus and a certain inspiration,
While words that don’t conduce his destination
Can have no place in sonnet’s strict confines.

A marriage, or a pledge made to a child
Can focus life, as poems focus art
A parent pares all that cannot be part
Of life that son and daughter have beguiled

He feels he’s both the finder and the found;
His yoke is tight, but surely it is his.
He bucks and starts, acknowledging what is
His lot and manifest, to which he’s bound.

The sum of his creation stands or falls
On what transpires within these prison walls.

— JJM = #60 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

Iching60

Sometimes

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
that have no right
to go away.

~ David Whyte ~

The Wellfleet Whale

It was the tag-end of summer.
From the harbor’s mouth
you coasted into sight,
flashing news of your advent,
the crescent of your dorsal fin
clipping the diamond surface.
We cheered at the sign of your greatness
when the black barrel of your head
erupted, ramming the water,
and you flowered for us
in the jet of your spouting.

All afternoon you swam
tirelessly round the bay,
with such an easy motion,
the slightes downbeat of your tail,
an almost imperceptible undulation of your flippers,
you seemed like something poured,
not driven; you seemed to marry grace with power.
And when you bounded into air,
slapping your flukes,
we thrilled to look upon
pure energy incarnate
as nobility of form.
You seemed to ask of us
not sympathy, or love,
or understanding, but awe and wonder.

That night we watched you
swimming in the moon.
Your back was molten silver.
We guessed your silent passage
by the phosphorescence in your wake
At dawn we found you straned on the rocks.

There came a boy and a man
and yet other men running, and two
schoolgirls in yellow halters
and a housewife bedecked
with curlers, and whole families in beach
buggies with assorted yelping dogs.
The tide was almost out.
We could walk around you,
as you heaved deeper into the shoal,
crushed by your own weight,
collapsing into yourself,
your flippers and your flukes
quivering, your blowhole
spasmodically bubbling, roaring.
In the pit of your gaping mouth
you bared your fringework of baleen,
a thicket of horned bristles.
When the Curator of Mammals
arrived from Boston
to take samples of your blood
you were already oozing from below.
Somebody had carved his initials
in your flank. Hunters of souvenirs
had peeled off strips of your skin,
a membrane thin as paper.
You were blistered and cracked by the sun.
The gulls had been pecking at you.
The sound you made was a hoarse and fitful bleating.
What drew us, like a magnet, to your dying?
You made a bond between us,
the keepers of the nightfall watch,
who gathered in a ring around you,
boozing in the bonfire light.
Toward dawn we shared with you
your hour of desolation,
the huge lingering passion
of your unearthly outcry,
as you swung your blind head toward us and laboriously opened
a bloodshot, glistening eye,
in whch we swam with terror and recognition.


Master of the whale-roads,
let the white wings of the gulls
spread out their cover.
You have become like us,
disgraced and mortal.

Stanley Kunitz, born this day in 1905

 

Biology is not Physics

You’ve found the spark that makes the sun burn bright
and tracked the orbits of the distant stars.
You’ve harnessed energy for planes and cars—
success convinces you you’ve got it right.

You think the rule of physics must be strict,
yet only in the aggregate do maths
apply to living things. Their single paths
take twists and turns that you cannot predict.

Man’s thirst for knowledge never can be quenched
while minds refuse to grant the role of mind
that regulates the quantum. You won’t find
broad truth while narrow physics is entrenched.

What sort of physics would it take to know
how neurons fire, hearts beat, and grasses grow?

— sonnet by JJM (not part of the I Ching)

Jia = Family

Your isolation, not inborn, was taught
To you. You had to learn to feel apart.
Contracted and alone within your heart,
Connection is the soul of all you’ve sought.

Pursuing one who’s worthy of your love,
You’ve known great blessing, calling her your wife.
And then this child, whom you love more than life
Has taught you lessons you never dreamed of.

That love is not a thing one can deserve
That will-to-power yields to will-to-serve.
Your family is a microcosm where
You need not pose or try to prove you care.
All roles are tried here, dreams and visions nursed
And to the end, your family will come first.

— JJM = #37 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

37. Chia Jen / The Family [The Clan] | I Ching Community

The Secret Muse

Between the midnight and the morn,
To share my watches late and lonely,
There dawns a presence such as only
Of perfect silence can be born.
On the blank parchment falls the glow
Of more than daybreak: and one regal
Thought, like the shad of an eagle,
Grazes the smoothness of its snow.
Though veiled to me that face of faces
And still that form eludes my art,
Yet all the gifts my faith has brought
Along the secret stair of thought
Have come to me on those hushed paces
Whose footfall is my beating heart.

— Roy Campbell

A TRAVELLER FROM ALTRURIA

He came to us with dreams to sell—
⁠Ah, long ago it seems!
From regions where enchantments dwell,
He came to us with dreams to sell,—
⁠And we had need of dreams.

Our thought had planned with artful care,
⁠Our patient toil had wrought,
The roomy treasure-houses where
Were heaped the costly and the rare,—
⁠But dreams we had not bought:

Nay; we had felt no need of these,
⁠Until with dulcet strain,
Alluring as the melodies
That mock the lonely on the seas,
⁠He made all else seem vain;

Bringing an aching sense of dearth,
⁠A troubled, vague unrest,
A fear that we, whose care on Earth
Had been to garner things of worth,
⁠Had somehow missed the best.

Then, as had been our wont before,—
⁠Unused in vain to sigh,—
We turned our treasure o’er and o’er,
But found in all our vaunted store
⁠No coin that dreams would buy.

We stood with empty hands: but gay
⁠As though upborne on wings,
He left us; and at set of day
We heard him singing, far away,
⁠The joy of simple things!

He left us, and with apathy
⁠We gazed upon our gold;
But to the world’s ascendancy
Submissive, soon we came to be
⁠Much as we were of old.

Yet sometimes when the fragrant dawn
⁠In early splendor beams,
And sometimes when, the twilight gone,
The moon o’er-silvers wood and lawn,
⁠An echo of his dreams

Brings to the heart a swift regret
⁠That is not wholly pain,
And, grieving, we would not forget
The vision, hallowed to us yet,—
⁠The hope that seemed so vain.

And then we envy not the throng
⁠That careless passes by,
With no remembrance of the song,
Though we must listen still, and long
⁠To hear it till we die!

— Florence Earle Coates, born this day in 1850

Altruria was the setting of a novel of social reform by William Dean Howells

The Soul’s Defiance

I SAID to Sorrow’s awful storm,
That beat against my breast,
Rage on—thou may’st destroy this form,
And lay it low at rest;
But still the spirit that now brooks
Thy tempest, raging high,
Undaunted on its fury looks
With steadfast eye.

I said to Penury’s meagre train,
Come on—your threats I brave;
My last poor life-drop you may drain,
And crush me to the grave;
Yet still the spirit that endures
Shall mock your force the while,
And meet each cold, cold grasp of yours
With bitter smile.

I said to cold Neglect and Scorn,
Pass on—I heed you not;
Ye may pursue me till my form
And being are forgot;
Yet still the spirit, which you see
Undaunted by your wiles,
Draws from its own nobility
Its high-born smiles.

I said to Friendship’s menaced blow,
Strike deep—my heart shall bear;
Thou canst but add one bitter woe
To those already there;
Yet still the spirit that sustains
This last severe distress
Shall smile upon its keenest pains,
And scorn redress.

I said to Death’s uplifted dart,
Aim sure—oh, why delay?
Thou wilt not find a fearful heart—
A weak, reluctant prey;
For still the spirit, firm and free,
Unruffled by this last dismay,
Wrapt in its own eternity,
Shall pass away.

— Lavinia Stoddard, born this day in 1787

Kan, the Deluge

Arising torrent sweeps away the past.
The cleansing of some ways is overdue,
But must inspired beauty perish, too?
You’ve known that nothing physical can last
Forever, yet you mourn the senseless loss,
The indiscrim’nate dissolution of
Your culture, nature, people that you love
Along with the corruption, lies, the dross
Of institutions that outlived their use.

There’s no resisting any tide so strong.
But is your substance pure enough to be
The water that diffuses and renews?
If not, then you, too, must be swept along
Recycled into new reality…
It may not be your place to choose.

— JJM = #29 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

29. K'an – Abysmal (Water) | I-Ching Ponderings from a Modern ManSonnet + One

Hex29_Denise-Weaver-Ross

Art by Denise Weaver Ross
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/hexagram-29-kan-denise-weaver-ross.html