When he published “Black Coffee at Noon” in Tikkun last summer, we republished the poem here. He’s done it again, with “Empty Air” in the current Tikkun, online here. This one has a local angle: he was inspired by a recent show at the Cantor Arts Center. Even if you didn’t catch the exhibition, those familiar with Cantor will recognize “Stone River,” Andy Goldsworthy 320-foot sculpture on the campus of Stanford University, constructed of sandstone from university buildings destroyed in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. And of course, we’ve written about Stanford’s Auguste Rodin collection here; the sculptor’s remarkable “Gates of Hell” is arguably the best thing at Stanford.
It’s not the usual Valentine’s Day offering, I’ll admit, but for the slow pleasure of reading and rereading again, it matches the spirit of the day. Ken has kindly given us permission to republish it. (Thanks, Ken!)
For a show at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center
Well, I’m standing next to a mountain,
Chop it down with the edge of my hand.
. – Jimi Hendrix
Here in this empty air we reckon ink,
Color and volume as a way of life,
Leibniz’s chain across the galaxy,
A string and a spiral. China and Japan
Whirled to our coasts millennia ago,
And Hockney brought Matisse to West Hollywood,
Bright slanted bars and palms. Everything’s possible.
We move the universe.
. Rain or shine
We rain destruction on the world. Kabul,
Hiroshima. With elegies on canvas:
“Black is death, anxiety; white
Is life, éclat.” But there is a light we’ll see,
If it ever comes, right through our eyelids. The Delta,
Watered in rhombs and rows, reflective, calm,
Will slide away; likewise, Potrero Hill,
Whose trees and poles and shadows, upright against
The downward slope, will disappear, while the fire
Takes the shape it wants.
. These are fragile
Treasures we walk among, our memory,
Children holding hands against the glare,
Clouds of blossoms on a stream. Du Fu,
His world falling about him, said he wrote
On empty air, alone. This worthless paper
Trembles in the room of beauty. What
Will survive, I wonder, at the very end?
Stone River, outside, in the drying grasses,
The bronzes, maybe, the gate of agonies—
No bigger than a hand, regretfully
A mother kisses her child, on the edge of doom,
Just above your head, on the left side.
Fat man in a hungry world, I read these lines,
The glowing page effacing the hand that made it.
Last night an old man slept across the street
From the Gates of Hell, snoring on muscatel.
A short walk from my house, a Jim Dine bathrobe
Hangs in a living room. My dog and I
Pause in the darkness often, feeling the glow,
The rich red wonder of it, wishing the warmth
Pouring from that beauty were enough.