Loss leaders in shop windows,
fog spilling down the slopes
of Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, Tank Hill –
my name on everyone’s lips:
– August, they say,
with resignation and dismay,
pulling up their collars against the wind.
The student doctors in blue scrubs,
passing up and down Parnassus to the hospital,
now invisible, on top of the hill,
past the bougainvilleas and kebab shop:
18, 30 hour shifts, back and forth,
out on their feet, ghostly in the fog.
‘Coming Up the Hudson’,
the altered title of an old Monk tune –
why, when the interns and residents drift by,
must it be these particular words that assemble in my mind?
– Just let it sit there for a while cooking in its own juices,
my father used to say
of a dish newly taken hot from the oven.
[Garden out Back Window]
White, the jasmine and magnolia,
set off by the dark green shellac of its leaves;
red, the trumpet vine winding up the palm,
fuchsia and tequila sage;
the orange nasturtium flower, marmalade bush
and Hooker’s evening primrose:
the sphinx moth at dusk, the hummingbirds
dipping into its nectar wells,
the gold finch visiting for its black seeds;
the colour heightened in gray light –
neon along the fogbound Ginza.
On the wall of the darkened hallway,
not long before dawn,
horns baying out by the rocks
muffled by fog –
‘All Blues’ played through a Harmon mute …
Europa, the wild dog,
her snout in the Pyrenees, licks clean
the Gouffre de la Pierre-Saint-Martin
below the Pic d’Arles,
knocking sideways the steeples
then slobbering into the Río Jalón.
Two turkey vultures, wings unfurled like spinnakers,
dry and groom themselves,
late morning atop Yellow Bluff.
The decks of the bridge vibrate:
El Caminos, Acuras, Cabriolets –
within their plastic and metal housings,
in whose own housings, brain pans and soft tissue,
imaginings, dreams, the phantom conversations
are played and replayed.
Diadems, crab mites, worm larvae in the Bay below …
– Subhuti, are there many particles of dust
in the 3,000 chiliocosms?
– Very many, World-Honoured One.
The same, and the same again …
The oboist upstairs –
why does he insist on practising during my afternoon nap?
Why does it always have to be Ravel?
hopping this way and that in the wet sand,
skirmishing, posturing, poking around for bugs.
The vast, bruise-coloured fogbank
sitting out there,
spread across the horizon like some dreadful prophecy
waiting to blow in.
New York, London –
a great busy-ness and agitation in the streets,
offices, gathering places
among those who truly matter,
assembling that day’s world, disassembling it,
commenting at length on same.
I took him up to the Cloud Forest,
just behind the medical centre.
Snails crunched in the soft duff underfoot.
This upset him.
Water dripping from the eucalyptus;
the sharp tap-tap of a downy woodpecker,
its sound reverberating among the tree tops.
– Ischi, Issa, Issa, Ischi.
Try saying that ten times fast as you can.
The haiku master in his quilted priest robes,
the ‘last wild Indian’ in his bark knickers.
They took a good, long look at each other.
Actually, they could well have passed for brothers,
the heathen fitter and darker
by several shades. Gentle sorts, the two of them,
and taciturn as can be. No harm there;
not like an Algonquin Round Table was on tap.
Can’t really say what I reckoned was on tap.
Ischi, since they first smoked him out,
behind the slaughterhouse over in Oroville,
this is now his place, his home.
Every so often they come up the hill and fetch him:
some big shot out-of-town phrenologist
wanting to whip out the calipers, poke him, make him say ahhh.
Otherwise, they leave him be,
happy as larry with his grubs and chipmunks and handicrafts.
Issa much taken with the yellow banana slugs:
Readers will well know how he feels about gastropods,
54 haiku devoted to the snail alone.
The two of them seem to be hitting it off,
in their quiet way, just sitting there on a log,
the one whittling away, the other staring at the ground.
Don’t even seem aware that I’m around.
The dead zone –
headlights catch the fog pooling round the tyres
of oncoming traffic.
All-Star break, midsummer,
football still eight weeks away:
you hear it in the voice of the radio sports talk host,
the pitch half an octave higher,
the rush of words, the combativeness,
no one calling in but the hard cases,
the same sad, old bachelors,
chewing the cud, chewing the cud, chewing …
The sound of the wind awakens me,
I cannot say what time,
but in the depths of night.
I can tell by the absence of street noise.
The gusts seem to arrive in sequences of three,
two short, one long –
violent anapests, the last the most protracted
gaining in force over its duration,
tossing the big palm’s crown of fronds
until they crackle,
bending back the top of its trunk.
The building itself trembles.
Then a few minutes of calm until the next rush
of wind, each sequence more intense
than the last until it finally blows itself out.
I lie there struggling to remember a word.
It takes a while,
but it’s not far. As I begin to doze off
it comes to me,
as so many things do in this condition of mind.
Just the word,
not the ice-restoring machine of hockey arenas,
or Mr Zamboni of Paramount, California,
and his ungainly, lucrative invention.
It was necessary that I found the word.
Whatever else happens in the course of the day,
the important work has been done.
[Cabinet of Timbres]
From my Cabinet of Timbres
I remove two viols, one treble, one bass, a theorbo,
chitarrone, violin and, bless her,
here comes Ludmilla from the front room
wheeling the chamber organ down the hall.
I draw my bath,
as I do every morning this time of year
with the world outside having disappeared
but for the greenery out back, foregrounded,
bobbing and trembling in the stiff sea wind.
I shall have my chord,
even if I have to sit here soaking in this dark room
the entire morning.
Schmelzer, Biber, Kapsberger –
it’s in there somewhere
among the toccatas, sonatas, chaconnes.
I know because I have heard it there before.
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