Original Heart: After Week-long Rain
I’m seated with three others. All students. A teacher hands out packets
in batches. We’re to place them in their proper order, “as fast as possible.”
I go easy, though carefully, at my own good pace— ply over ply, I think, half-waking.
But the dark’s accusatory. Stacks neatened and complete, I see I’ve finished, heartsick,
Rain also is of the process.
Today my son turns 33. My next birthday mere weeks away,
when I reach the age my father barely reached.
“Go slow, slow, he urged me, teaching me
to read, then left me alone to mysteries— “Minotaur,” “labyrinth,” “harpy,” “Thebes”—
and so fly free,
of home, of custom, even him.
As, too, EP:
The ideograms, as translated by Ezra Pound:
勿 [do not]
长 [to grow]
The Delaware at Washington’s Crossing
Bloodroot Maytime, and Cousin Catamount, our half-domesticated backyard cat,
hunches her tawny body, and slow-
springs sunward to the deck railing,
pads to the newel post, pirouettes, elongates, yogic, glowing, when the cat
walked the top bar of the railing…in the stillness outlasting all wars,
and it’s that
afternoon in May again,
me 14, my first-time dizzying arrhythmia of inner ear
and eye, looking out on the Delaware from Bowman’s Hill Tower.
green-tinted with the young-leaf, green tea-green of eastern Pennsylvania,
and the warm, wet soil scent of morning plowing, suffused with pine;
heron’s long, slow wingbeat above the tree-line; distant, wavery vapor trail;
a revenant crescent moon,
everywhere, in and beyond me, fathomless calm,
then a whump!
like a thick, soft door pushed shut, followed by a sudden sputter
of inner spin axis, a gyro-gimbal
staggering me, and someone jerking me
into a quick sit-down, though I thought I’d climbed those winding stairs alone.
I sat gut-clutched, nauseous, caught her laughter, saw her drift
to the center of air,
a shower of petals in a spring wind after spring rain, backlit, glimmering, barefoot
with yellow hair,
no fear in her as she, slipping toe-heel, toe-heel back to the rampart
and lightly, lightly up, skip-stepped the perimeter, slim feet on rough fieldstone.
“Those who of old got to be whole …
Heaven through its wholeness is pure.
Earth through its wholeness is steady.
Spirit through its wholeness is potent.
The valley through its wholeness flows with rivers...”
That was the spring of Blonde on Blonde, the Meredith shooting, the troop count mounting.
flat surface, gray-green glass,
its Mesozoic flow ongoing. From far shore Montandon, a heron lifts, drafts west/northwest.
Pre-dawn brume on Buffalo Valley, my father gone. Cf. the Analects:
“While standing by a river, the Master said, ‘What passes away is, perhaps, like this.
Day and night it never lets up.’”
Fish blip on the water. Another. Another. The morning
predicts nothing; nothing augured by bird, fish, mist.
One dank morning under Ben Lomond,
midway up the east shore of the long loch, I came upon a lamb on the Rowardennan road,
wet, dirty, rank with turd, strayed beyond the fenceline, & carried it until I found a farm.
An hour, maybe, it lay there warm, calm in the rhythm of the walking, & I walked on,
warmed in turn—
this, merely a series of pictures: man, murk, lamb—emblems of nothing.
Robert Louis Stevenson, first day embarked from Jersey City, August, 1879, thought the green
land seemed Eden:
“…when I asked the brakeman the name of the river, and heard that it was called Susquehanna...the beauty of the name seemed to be part and parcel of the beauty
of the land…that was the name, as no other could be, for that shining river and desirable
Flow ongoing, 25 billion gallons into Chesapeake each day. Old Taoist,
its work seems effortless mornings like this. Earth’s ruling principal level; human’s,
tranquil, tranquility lovely as this pewter moon, this skrim of cloud-scud, lifting mist.
Coil contract uncoil expand. Come home again after my long ongoing,
my rowing out & coming in. Never lets up, valley to valley,
Delaware, French Creek,
Genesee, Clyde—loveliness born of my first mornings, green froth of wild asparagus,
June nights like moth-flight. In fall the susurrus streams & leaves. Spring: skunk
cabbage & the riverroil. January monk-silent, the hunting ow1,
earthscape of my first
Dark’s long dull
the great barn door
by what iron
shoulder to let in
the flaming sun
each leg spring-
loaded on a lens
of air on water
a packed earth
the year scored
scrimshaw on the pocked
cave wall: 1921
blank. Empty coal
bin. A toppled stool.
in Lahaska Creek,
where no one
wrought iron hardware,
implacable oaken door.
Hour of the morning office,
reading Pat Rosal, “astonished by the lack of violence in American poetry,” & brutishness,
too, back in the country,
floodlit midnight men, up to their bloody elbows in the birth canals
of Guernseys, or, wrapped up in burlap & freighted with stone, litters of kittens let down
in the waters of Lahaska Creek;
the midsummer reek of blood-gout, feathers, chopped heads
about the hacking block, cruelty complicit with pragmatism, the latter a mask for the other,
as after our black lab whelped in the disused chicken coop out back, & her pups got their legs under them, tumbling around in nest boxes, tag-teaming each other down the ramp & around
the outside run, once a staging ground for fox & weasel,
a dryrot shelf let drop, an iron toolbox crammed with nails crushing one pup’s hindquarters, the 13-year-old farm foreman’s son sprinting home for his new 12-gague, not to ease its pain, or stop its keening, but to show us “what that thing can do,” his feverish aim
obliterating not one but two. We were days scraping bone- , and gut, and brain-fleck from the walls & floor, the report re-echoing in my mind
last night, watching women, children, men—
all Syrian—clutching each other & weeping in airports purportedly American, the phrase returning: small mark, big gun.
“‘Stupidity,’ said Immanuel Kant, ‘is born of a wicked heart. Repent’”
skewering us, our abuse of orcas. I put down her Nurture, go to the door & greet Mike Wilson, great-bearded Union County man, 40 acres of bear, deer, hawk, and cedar on the Little Buffalo, Susquehanna feeder stream, my cousin. Come down to lament
The River’s many maladies:
come down Clearfield Cnty downdip yellowboy, come down Lancaster farmland phosphates,
come down human
sewage; come down hogshitcowshitchickenshitPCBs to poison
channel cats; flatheads; smallmouth bass, w/their leprous lesions, come down Conowingo supersilted dam,
come down Ben Myers, daytripping w/family the dam’s construction in’ 28,
even then a 200 barge & steamship fleet dredging the North Branch, “hundreds of thousands
of tons” of particulate anthracite/year, The River’s
flat surface, grey-green glass. It’s Mesozoic flow ongoing
For years, my practice has been essentially Taoist. Up each morning between 4:30 and 5, William Stafford hours. Move through the house, most of the year in complete darkness, and settle into stillness and focused breathing, my guide, in this and in writing poetry, the Inward Training. No timer set to go off; when I emerge, I emerge. Then brief reading, rotating through a cycle of texts consisting of the Inward Training, Confucius, Mencius, and the five or six translations of the Tao Te Ching on my shelves (though I favor the LeGuin translation). Then my writing till 7:00, when my wife and dog and the cats are stirring and the work day begins. Midafternoon I’ll shut my office door and, for ten to 20 minutes, re-center. That’s the essence.
I’ve lived most of my life in Pennsylvania and for the last three years have been writing a long-line, slowly unfolding poem entitled Susquehanna Sequence, a “poem including history.” These three poems are from the Sequence.
Steve Myers has published a full-length collection, Memory’s Dog, and two chapbooks. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Hotel Amerika, New Ohio Review, Poetry East, The Southern Review, and Tar River Poetry. A Pushcart Prize winner, he directs the poetry track for DeSales University’s MFA in Creative Writing and Publication.