A Tribute to the Ashokan Farewell

Of a Particular Piece of North American Music

                      (Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar, 1982)

Listen to the Ashokan Farewell

 

Its first       utterances     stir me,

open, display, flatten      me,

as if            I were a ship’s mast.

Then           the others

begin their phrasing,    accompaniment,

expanding            the single voice

into       a conversation.

It’s as if a beating heart

found                   lungs, blood,

and I am a rocky bluff,

a green field strewn with stone,

a wooden fence along a dirt road

graced by a spray of tiny flowers.

Then, the swell          of repetition,

the deliberate climb

to            the overlook

high        on a mountainside,

and my soul is laid bare,

and I am gone

as gone could ever be,

riding the wind.

Solid gone.

C.M. Rivers

Bobcats and Big Sur

Reckoning appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Stonecoast Review (University of Southern Maine).  This poem came about as an amalgam of a few different things that came together in my mind to create a snapshot of a character.

The first was from a visit to Yosemite National Park, when three friends and I were walking near the village and saw a bobcat.  This wasn’t a “sighting”, it was realizing a bobcat stood six feet away.  It behaved just as I’ve described it in the poem, having almost no reaction to its close proximity with us, affording us a great close-up look before it walked away.

The second came out of camping in Big Sur and experiencing the infamous stretch of highway there.  This combined with my affection for big moustaches, heroes and villains both fictional and real, pirates, desperados, bikers, hippies, unknown legends and lovers who sweep through town with a devil-may-care attitude.  This combined even further with a contemplation of the connection that exists between the Big Sur/Monterey area, American literature (Steinbeck, Henry Miller, Robert Louis Stevenson), poetry (Robinson Jeffers) and the Beats (Kerouac).

The final image in the poem is “the temple of well-fed lions”.  It’s become a recurring phrase in my poetry; I’ve used it three or four times, and now it threatens over-use, so I should probably leave it alone for a good long while.  It came about one morning after a solid night of sound sleep, when I felt so deeply rested I thought about how lions look, lazing about after a feast and sleeping away the majority of the hours in a 24-hour time cycle.  That same morning I happened to be looking at Maxfield Parrish’s “Daybreak”, and the temple image merged with the sleeping lion image in a moment of inspiration.

Reckoning

Picking my way along a path

passing through mountains,

I suddenly came upon a bobcat.

It yawned, barely acknowledged me,

sauntered past, six feet away.

As I watched it evaporate into the forest,

moving as if to say the world is mine,

I was struck by an overwhelming desire

to grow a hedgerow moustache,

covering the expanse of my upper lip

like Mark Twain, Sam Elliot,

or a rugged musclebound hippie biker

who wears a rolled-up yoga mat

slung across his back

where you’d think

a double-barreled shotgun would be,

hugging the curves

of Highway One through Big Sur

on his sweet, sweet chopper,

all at once a sage, recluse,

iconoclast, beatnik, mountain man,

swashbuckling heart-throb

and unknown legend,

inviting you to join him

at the temple of well-fed lions

in order to empty your spleen

of accumulated dreams.

C.M. Rivers

Fritter in the Bookshop

Just because we’re sentimental about a household object that used to belong to a grandparent, doesn’t mean the dog won’t eat it while left at home alone all day.  To him, a coaster with the Notre-Dame cathedral painted on it is – while not the preferred afternoon snack – quite suitable to chew on.

“To think of all the grand plans you once had”, he says, smiling up at me one day as we walked through the park, with an expression indicating that he is at once a wise sage and a mischevious trickster.  “You were trying to be more than you are.” 

He’s right of course.  I am only a wanderer, like the kind you see sketched on a Chinese scroll, small and off to one side.  I am the reader in a chair, in the corner of the bookshop with tea and an apple fritter.

There’s just something about a hot cup of tea and a warm apple fritter, when you’re perched on the shore of the Milky Way, fiddling with the margins that exist only in your mind.

 

 

Winter Light

In whirlwind of winter night,

a heart keeps warm and glowing bright.

Who holds this light, I ask of you?

That traveled on and greater grew,

in amber-white and silver-blue?

I ask of you: who holds this light,

in whirlwind of frosty night,

however dim, however bright.

Who holds this light, nobody knows…

only that it stronger grows.

Yet weak or strong, the smallest flame

can light the darkness just the same.

 

What the Seagull Said

You think you had a bad day? the seagull said.  Try walking a mile on these feet with an injured wing.

While you get to have a sandwich and busy yourself with your life of a million unimportant things, I have to stand in the wind and watch the coastline, listening to the endless silence of my own hunger.  All I know is survival, how to stand guard against death, and capture what small pleasures I can, when I can.

The poets can make their lofty comparisons all day long, but we are not the same.

 

 

Another Day’s Work

We get it, everything dances.

Everything is vast, simple, unfathomable, a transcendent oneness emerging from all pairs of opposites, glimpsed at times through the burning blaze of the spectacle of the human spirit in all of its messy tortured glory.

We get it.  The dust and the stars are remembered, forgotten.  You’ve entered the noun of your choice, ruminated upon it with adjectives, and yes, it is illuminating, clever, insightful, heart-wrenching, life-vivifying.  True for someone, somewhere, for us all.

We can relate to that bit about surgery, about something broken, something mended.  And that middle stanza, especially, helps fulfill our longing to feel connected even as we maintain our illusion of separation.

We’re with you.  We are so, so with you.

Tell us again how everything cycles, ripples, dreams of itself, contains something unexpected, possesses a sudden softness, an impartial hardness.  Tell us again about the immigrants, the patients, lovers, neighbors.  Tell us about the rising smoke, windowpanes, birds, seasons, positioning of planets, democracy.

What is sacred, broken, metamorphosed, alchemized?  Who will remember your great grandfather, grandmother, and the way they were?  What enters us, consumes us, abandons us, eludes us?

We trust that you will give us the answers to all this, and more, and that it will not be tiresome.

We’re prepared to embrace whatever you put before us, as long as it seems relatively extraordinary.  We want to hear about the rain’s toothache, the collective consciousness of house keys.  We want political shouts, spiritual hymns, soulful rants about things that mustn’t be forgotten.

We long to know better the depths of ourselves as audience to your light-shedding, enthralled in the predictability of our own fascination with what is – to you – just another day’s work.

 

 

Changing Stones to Feathers

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that before you can get down to the nitty-gritty business of saving the world, you must tackle yourself, tend to yourself, save yourself, overcome yourself – so you can get out of your own way and just be yourself.  Not the you anyone else wants or needs you to be.  Just the true you – simple, clear, free.

Sometimes you travel back in time, inside, and you search for something lost, and you get caught there.  Part of you wants to stay there, to escape having to confront your fears in the present.

Whatever you hold, carry, store: roll in it, study it, get closer to it, embrace it, absorb it, accept it, celebrate it.  And finally, love it.  If you love it instead of trying to reject it, it’s power over you will be diminished, broken like a spell, and you won’t have to carry it in the same way after that.  The stone will become a feather.

Watch it evaporate, dissipate.  Give it all away to everyone, free.  Soften your grip on the balloon string, open your hand, open your heart.  Watch it float away, up into the sky, and fade into the ether.