Here & There

Dorothea Lange's Ireland

Mass Rock, Killarney
The Goats Path
Irish Ecology
In Transit

NYT Dialogues 5-15-08





Zen Prize



Dorothea Lange’s Ireland

                                    photos from 1954

a graveyard of black and white eyes

haunting Cloonanaha haunting Calvery

haunting the body-strewn sea 

from Clare to Queens




missing smiles and teeth

mute over mugs of tea

over foaming porter

genes invincible

thatched houses shadowed

horse carcass fertilizing the field

rain falling on stone

still they stare

Mass Rock, Killarney

                            Keep the faith always.
                            Thaddeus Moriarty, martyred October 15, 1653


Wind and gorse bear witness:

from the secret lichened slab his flock

scatter to hide, but he not fast enough

or perhaps too fast in his beliefs—

how do those posted on the hilltop

not see the approaching priest hunters,

how does he suffer the fourteen-mile

march to Ross Castle, the two-month

torture, and does his faith stretch

to the end of the hanging rope?

And Father Moriarty, do you know

in that assured assumption to heaven

what your Dominicans have done elsewhere on earth?

Irish Ecology



The hills rise in a shawl of thin

mist, trailing silk ocean.  Spools

of bog cotton and pools of lotus

set the vision adrift.  A sail

plies its trade of wind-sifting.

Near the village, motorboats spray the bay

where drugged salmon fatten in fish farms

leaking disease to their wild kin.

In the village, clotheslines give way

to dryers, whirling, whirling.

Above the village, planes grind air

into mileage.



Unnoticed, loosestrife lights up

with white butterflies. 

Purple is the heathered night,

the blossoming sky.

The Goats Path


Aside a cliff over Bantry Bay

winds a paved but narrow road

straight up to the sky, and there

the world ends in a small cloud.

Waves gnaw the stones below,

streams swallow rocks above,

foggy sheep drop from sight

or perhaps stand in the way

to warn travelers that should they

continue their journey, they too will

disappear off the edge of nowhere.


In Transit


For the sake of seeing Pompeii we stay

in nearby Naples, site of escaped garbage

and crazed motorini.  Which, you ask,

is the lost city?


Ecco Santa Maria Sopra Minerva of holy Rome!

The art-packed basilica perches on a pagan temple ruled

by a goddess who was wiser perhaps, but less forgiving. 

In the piazza, Bernini’s petit elephant holds an Egyptian

obelisk stolen from the sixth century.  Inside the church

lies Fra Angelico, serene in his tomb.  Nearby stands

Michelangelo’s Christ, his muscled stone groin draped

with bronze by a later generation.  In flight from censors,

Filippino Lippi’s fat little frescoed angel waves his scrotum

freely, trying to loosen his blue wrap from the teeth

of a relentless lapdog.  And all the while a dove hovers

over Antonio Aquilio’s Mary, surprised by still another

announcement of humanity’s salvation.


Just for us Tuscany unfolds miles of sunflowered

fields, sheep flocks, spired cypress, umbrella pines.

Olives and grapes planted in slanting rows

await the barrel.  Square towers top round hills,

red roof tiles curve over snow-marbled floors.

An Etruscan writes on his wife’s tombstone,

“May the earth lie lightly upon you.”  Will

the deceased never cease to caress us?


On one hand is the Lamb of God, on another

God’s Dogs, black and white Dominicans

who savaged wolves and foxes of heresy

and thought without shadows of doubt.

The slaughter of the innocents goes on

while the Madonna beams on her Child

and enfolds the orphans of Florence

at the Spedale degli Innocenti.  Under

museum glass lie tokens torn in half,

one part tucked in abandoned infants’

clothes, the other carried by those

yearning for reunion with their broken





Creature with hair of Spanish moss and feet stretching

farther than roots should go, you’ve waited in memory’s

secret marshes till three below zero drove me back here.


My north-born husband sees only a tree, but I’m drawn

into a long ago six-year-old’s sense of heat-defeating

trade winds, turkey buzzard shadows wheeling on saw

grass, ticks and sand fleas, sunlight pointed by palmetto

fronds.  A wild gardenia enfolds me with lemon-sweet

scent and my mother calls, not too far, not too far, while

my father hacks trails with his machete.  Soon a campfire

cooks our bony fish, seasoned with mosquitoes. The tent

is braced with stones, the air mattresses blown, the toilet

holes dug.  At midnight my family wakes me to steal

down the beach and watch as sea turtles heave on gritty

flippers toward a mass burial of eggs, oblivious enough

(as we move slowly closer, closer, closer) to be touched

on their oak-hard backs, one as big as our kitchen table.

The turtles are soundless, but a spiral shell sings waves

of sea in my ears until it’s left behind for the pounding

surf to grind into silt . . .


Now my husband parks the car beside you, islanded

amid parched acres of mall, and appreciates the shade.




I Mapping the Frontier



Deep in the heap of Texas spreads New Braunfels,

home not of tacos and tamales but Oma’s Haus and

autumn’s Wurstfest: The Ten-day Salute to Sausage.

Guadalupe River runs quiet as tourists shriek in

Schlitterbahn Waterpark. Mythical streets of Laredo

flaunt names like Freiheit, Rhine, Fredericksburg,

Dittlinger, Klingermann, Schoenthal, Blastenhoff, Zipp.

Citizens reading their Herald Zeitung shop at Marketplatz:

Heilbig Music, Jahn Cabinets, Lindheimer Fachwerk

Construction, Breustedt and Wagenfuehr Homes.

Bienvenido a America.


60 % of eldercare residents get

no visitors in the lone star state.


On the way out of Texas runs Muddy Boggy

River, then Clear Boggy River, and last of all,

North Boggy River. Somewhere, South Boggy

got lost.


II Road Trip


Tennessee signs warned us of

the winding downward plunge:

Runaway Truck Ramp, Right

  2 miles    
    1 mile  
      200 feet

hurtling off the mountain sideways, rocks

flying, bushes crushed, trees waiting, possums

staring, headlights flaring, horn blaring, bodies

thrusting through the glass, together we crash

from the past into the last years.

Stopping is harder than starting.


III Cosmography


At Greater Kankakee

the road peels away

like sycamore bark,

leaving gray planed

patterns that make only

private sense. We exit

the town, past its expanding

edges, where twigs and pieces

of trees will age and break

one day on the merciless

plains, will stoically molder

in face of disaster and bliss,

forcing us to know what

surpasses lesser Kankakee.


IV Navigation


In the middle of

nowhere, Illinois,

stands a brown sign:

90 ° longitude

1/4 way west

around the world.

From where? I ask,

but no one answers.


NYT Dialogues 5-15-08



Juyuan, China—

My daughter was a very good student,

he said, fixing her pants. She was a quiet

girl, and she liked to paint. We’re putting

her in these clothes because she loved them.

My little daughter, he said quietly,

you used to dress yourself.

Now I have to do it for you.


Los Angeles, California—

Every day I just see that boy

laying in the street dead, he said,

sobbing. I just want to get him back.

That’s why I can’t stop. I’m on a mission.

I can’t stop.


Juyuan, China—

Our grief is incomparable.

We got married late, and had a child late.

She is our only child.



Bogale, Myanmar—

I have nothing, he said,

I will do anything to survive.


Razansai, Kyrgyzstan—

Our garden is free, she said smiling.

The earth is good. That’s how I survive.



Xiahe, Tibet—

I was beaten for two hours

with sticks, and kicked all over.


Central Square, New York—

It’s everybody’s responsibility to try

and do what they can. And for most

of us, it’s not a lot, it’s the little

things. The march is one of them.



As he speaks, clay ovens in a shape four thousand

years old bake bread, and smoldering tamarisk roasts

shabbut netted from marshy waters that are fathered

by the Tigris and Euphrates.  “This is how we were

and how we are, from the reeds to the river’s mud,”

says sheik Obeid Jabbar Hlayil.


Two hundred souls live here, eighteen children

belonging to Shabeeb Hassan whose father Karim

Hassan has two teeth and nine thin fingers, one severed

by Iranian shrapnel.  Somewhere in Basra and Baghdad

loom giants he has never met.  “If they saw me

in America, they’d throw me in the garbage and burn me.” 

[Interviews by Anthony Shadid, New York Times 1-29-2010]




In the cellar shadows hides a tribe of gigantic black crickets

which never seem depressed by the severity of their situation.

Neither damp nor cold nor mold nor thick dusty webs nor life

imprisonment in gray concrete subdues the sudden athletic

leaps that freak me out as I load and unload laundry. What do

they eat? What eats them? Which one first gave up the outside

world to avoid a wintry death and doomed its heirs to this

gloomy underground colony? How long will they last? How

long will we? The machines swirl, beep, whirl, shake, and stop.

The crickets crouch, soundless. They have lost, along with

a natural habitat, their voices. I collect the clothes to carry

upstairs, clicking off the light and closing the door behind me

on a basement infested with questions.


The question is will
we share this sweater because
I won’t give it up.


It’s warm and loves me

in a gray, low-fat way.  We

digest each other.




One whale is lonely.

One pea is not enough.


A grasshopper hatches.

A spacecraft cylinder detaches.


The Internet broadcasts its media.

“They’re here already. You’re next!”





One to sleep and two for pain,

three for sorrows none can name,

four for hate and five for fear

of hidden danger slipping near,

six for starving, seven, rage

at unfair illnesses that age

and ravage, leaving loved ones caged

in duty, eight for loneliness,

and nine for guilt that’s unconfessed,

but ten for death.


If only they had told me in primary school

about the axis of reflection, I could have followed

a trail of numbers instead of words and found

symmetrical peace, some lotus pond and not these

unsettled seas of words misspoken, misread,

misunderstood; could have learned how

structural patterns mirror, glide, rotate, repeat,

each shape the same on either side of lines—vertical,

horizontal, diagonal.  Geometric translation moves

every point a constant distance; verbal translation

moves every point uncertain distance.  But if words

can drive crusades and deliver ultimatums, equations

can be as deadly: f=ma projects the force of cannon;

e=mc2 drops atomic bombs.  Might the sum

of mathematics be zero?



Zen Prize


If it's now,

you've won.

What you've won

is now.