To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Andrew Schelling: Four New Poems for & after Vidyā, with a Note on Landscape & Translation



Cold Stone Wheel


Fate has kneaded my heart, dear friend,

like a clod

of shapeless clay

placed it on the cold stone wheel—

set it to spin with bamboo staff—

again again

around again


I call

the bamboo staff uncertainty,

call it ought, could, should, might, may

cloudy moods revolve

on the cold stone wheel—

the shape the potter makes

I can’t yet see.


                              after Vidyā, from Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa




You in the Oakland hills

                              2:00 a.m. moon you call lopsided


must every wheel conceal some fate?


stars revolve, the roulette ball spins, the potter sends her

platter round


                                             beneath the sky coyotes bark—

                              moonrise thrills their clan


 this waxing gibbous Oakland moon

               enters Aries, now on Sugarloaf our eyes

                              meeting on the lunar disc, hoping to see—


                                             what shape the cold sphere takes.




               Clay    fate    wheels    moonlight


                                             & human love dear Amy—


cough softly in the night.


Dark as a Priest’s


Monsoon sky

the smoke & thunder dark as a

priest’s fiery sacrifice

tangled grass cloaks the dark earth

Then everywhere

bursts the white


kandala petal—

now is the hour for sweet pleasures

of fucking.

If your lover has left though,

what but death

offers refuge.


               after Vidyā, Śarṅgadhara-paddhati 3867




Each molecule

of rain

gathered where clouds mount or toss

has run its course

through living vein


Volatile minerals flare on the wind

that flushed a human

cheek or groin


Earth & sky

               from the beginning,

                              couple like black

& yellow dragons

as I Ching portends each shoot


of bluestem,

purple tuft, grassy floret, nub of antler

thickens with life

a kind of thinking

more fierce than any thought


such will to life & love the rain

as Vidyā saw

the dew sweet law is savage soft

white rash of blossoms


no loss no gain.



The Place Where Ed Dorn Lies Buried



Where does Ed Dorn

lie buried?

A lifetime he spent calling things


as they is

& things as they isn’t

that’s where Ed Dorn lies buried.


And his earthly remains?

Under the lever action rifle crank G for Gunslinger


a bite like an ampersand

that’s where they buried Ed Dorn.


Green Mountain graveyard

under a toothy ridge

no flower no crystal no sage bundle there


not where Ed Dorn got buried.


Urn into earth we ain’t been back since

not since they buried Ed Dorn.


Earth into earth, urn to the earth

what at last did they bury?

Ed Dorn was—


Amiri Baraka met my eye with his,

—a thoroughly honest man.


Where does Ed Dorn lie buried?

Don’t look for no flower no biting inscription the man

simply went down


that’s where Ed Dorn lies buried.



Two at Bears Ears



1. other people’s junk



Here’s a leg trap for coyote

                              tossed in a ditch


That’s Sleeping Ute Mountain to the hazy east


look at the book of rock art

dust jacket ash-yellow

a hand axe of green smoky stone

               I once used


to remove

my own heart

every spell that got me through life

               carved on the blade


I found it at Fortress Canyon

                              then buried it again


for someone else to find

that’s the way people always did things

recycle the few necessary items


of yellow dust



2. hand axe


The cliffs

the red old desert varnish

               this pole, pecked with masks    hands



a later hand filled the chisel holes


with white paste

waves of time in the sandstone

where John Wesley Powell reads

                              to his weathered skeptical crew

               “The Lady of the Lake” he’s pulled


from a rubber bag

keeping up with poetry on the Colorado River

               all these years the music


never stops


Time to recapture

               what’s beyond the troubled human self


look at the land, its just-so-nature

gave us birth

where else could we live


               homeland cradle tar & girth



A Note on Landscape & Translation

 Attention has gone in recent years to the tough juniper-piñon zones of the Bears Ears region,

Southern Utah. Tribes and eco-activists have worked to protect a million acres of pueblo sites,

rock art, & unique wilderness. Ruins and rock inscriptions of the Cedar Mesa district—deep flash-flood sandstone canyons—show how humans live in a tough ecology, learn plant & animal life, then use brush and pigment to make images that reach the future. The land, harsh, dry, unyielding, & thin, gives little room for error. Yet there’s art that “speaks” from the past; maybe not “art” but glyphs of far language.

 Far languages rise—lift into form, crumble, fall into layers like talus. Translation is part of thework of many poets. Comrades who wrote poetry centuries ago on distant continents are present through verse. Translation’s not for everybody—tough, sometimes scary—but the words or glyphs are alive.

 I suspect language & the wild world emerge from one source. Call it Dao, call it Dog Tank Spring.

               The wilderness has a mysterious tongue

               which teaches awful doubt...

That’s Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wandered Europe’s wild reaches two hundred years ago,imagining out-of-doors-poems would raise doubts about tyranny and law. You could say he sought the lokapāla (Sanskrit: eco-guardian-spirit: Latin genius loci), to depose the unjust. Shelleythought truly rough land able to “repeal large codes of fraud and woe.” I wish it did. The years since his death have not been good for wilderness. Strip-mines, power plants, dams, watershortage, land grab, heedless recreation, have brought woe to those who know or love a territory. Land use issues in the Bears Ears and elsewhere are instances of world struggle.

The first poems here have two sections. A muktaka, stand-alone lyric, by India’s poet Vidyā; then as people in her time did, a response poem. What remains of Vidyā? Thirty short poems inSanskrit anthologies. What’s known of her? Nearly nothing; two poems praise, another spits on a warlord who might be her lover. Her eye took in mountain settlements, village gardens, groves by the river. Possibly 7th or 8th century but some scholars place her earlier. Her landscapes reach soutto Kerala, and north to Himalayan torrents. She uses the name Kāndalī for a river, referring to Kandala Peak, glacial slopes where the Yamuna has headwaters.

 Near to hand is Subhāṣita-ratna-kośa, a 12th century anthology. Each time I venture into Vidyā’s poems a fresh nuance appears. It seems Vidyā and I have been talking forty years, about love, science, human trouble. About glacier-fed rivers, the planet’s ecologies. Some of the work I have done around campfires at the Bears Ears.




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