Notes From the Holy Forest

A poet of the Berkeley Renaissance, Robin Blaser (1925-2009) got some good coming-of-age parts into a single poem. Presenting a kind of Original Scene, he quits his job in “Quitting a Job” to devote himself full-time to writing. “Your apron lay in a wad on the counter,” I was picturing. Pictures he, “the moon shines through the straggly body of a / tree of heaven.” (1959)

To personify love in a forest teeming with siblings. Who besides love? Water among them is not like this being of love, even in motion, ever flowing. Hitchhiker here is love’s bride or husband. Does it have a penis? Maybe. A vagina? Hard to imagine. Your Self reconstructed, a boy steps forward to announce his and his sister and brother’s disappearance into a dark wood. What would I do in this situation? I’d improvise happy stories and dance to take my siblings’ minds off being late for dinner. It’s no big deal really. Decades before the hoax of it is made plain to me by a presence in a forest, I’d take death by the elbow and, on my siblings’ behalf and in the firmest voice I could muster, explain their indispensability to our family economic status without mentioning our emotional well-being. (Charms, 1964-1968)

One describes a moth as musical and why not? Do they not tumble and climb? Perishable wings in time. Riot. Dirge. Wordless singsong combined. Is it not silent rubato? Are there not musical poplars also? (The Moth Poem, 1962-1964)

The Old-World name for blackbird, you teach us in a Merlin poem, means an action between worlds. This is one of your primary realms of inquiry, isn’t it? People of my generation are only now looking forward into this birdlike dimension, so tell me something. What’s one good example of an action between worlds? May I close my eyes to receive your answer? I’m closing them now. Please yes, speak now. Keywords: flapping, fluttering, gliding, soaring, alighting, phrasing, strutting. (Charms, 1964-1968)

You write about the male womb. What could this be? What do men carry to term that means the world to them? And who’s this Mythro character mentioned in passing? Does it tend to love all humanity? No one can do this without emptying himself out first. But try explaining this to my wife. She goes deaf at my talking like I’m the only one in the house leading an inward life of the Spirit. One aches to have her own idea because it either belongs to someone else or labors under such apprehension. (“The Park,” 1960)

You dress up your dignity like a clown and pit it against a selfsame clown of games. I like this but one quick question about gender. Are they both males sitting beside each other on a bough in a forest whose true identity escapes me? Are those trees—standing tall, squatting down, turning away, facing forward, bending back, leaning back, reaching across, and brushing shoulders—celestial women casually interacting? Keywords: oak, alder, nettle, coupling, olive, cherry, pine, epicene, fresh take, wedding poems. (Cups 1-12, 1959-1960)

While you speak of Christ among the olives, I ask after trees, ‘Are you holy?’ I saw him once too, you know, but mine happened in a pine forest. So there’s your scent and the look of it, too: His noble mien slipping in and out of view amid dipping branches is more real than I would have imagined. His approach across the snow is, in one tired word, breathtaking. To not wake up is to go on living. (Les Chimères [translations of Nerval] 1963-1964)

Two poems coming in a row are an epithalamium and one called “a good return” from 1971. Both are good occasions for song, like jobs well done but held close to the vest, where good means humble and humbly ego erased. It hardly sounds like you though? Who says ironically unto the snow-lit night, ‘Heed the message or suffer the consequences’? ‘I always suffer the consequences,’ I smile. ‘It’s like a hobby of mine.’ Your paralyzed mouth shows disappointment every time I try coaxing smiles with self-deprecating jokes. How about this instead? A thyrsus, I learned, is a wand of giant fennel.

You begin a poem “The Soul” with the adverb someday and then list subjects, window, scream, and even a rainbow and a marriage procession. I crave a verb on a day like today. An action has yet to materialize. An exercise in schmaltziness on a dire topic, I once wrote about rainbows. A girl from my childhood Camila died from leukemia when we were nine. I knew she was sick from the swells in her legs but was too young to name it. My barrage of questions closed the door on my ever seeing her again. Camila Sentences, long lost, once I began them, ‘There’s something warm and welcoming about your room I like a lot. Something about a turtle passing under a rainbow pelted by felt-tipped arrows.’ The word bowshot comes to mind so many years later. Who can help but ask questions about arrows arcing through a gradually revealed sky with the rain tapering off then stopping? (Pell Mell, 1981-1988)

Your apron lay in a wad on the counter. Water plays the part of love ever-flowing. We are only now on the lookout for sacred bird migrations. I am not, I repeat, I am not the only one around here peering inward. Two discrete men sit in a tree who stand for neither dignity nor frivolity. One is amor and the other, nameless, accepts one-sided love affairs on the condition of reconsidering. Coaxing smiles is at last an obnoxious pastime for all but the coaxer. The forecast rarely calls for rain anymore. Later in life, when you are hospitalized for a disease you half suspect you’ve concocted, you will refuse to give your nurse a sputum sample but use the cup for your candy cup in honor of your sweet tooth. Keywords: O-friend, invisible pencil, la-de-da, orange, calendula, looks, like, smells, like