On the dying leaf: sand-blasted commentary on events


Sound of the bullets
The room was dark
Held his ground

You need not go

In front of the inevitable
Gathered up a large handful
Dreamed and planned and saved
Feeling his way with caution

I went back to my room

You need not go

Turned out the light

It was the mother

An interesting transition
Without restarting the bleeding
And there is always one
According to the fortunes of war

Hazy atmosphere
Two / twenty / two hundred of them synchronized
Eager to divert
She stared upward

Sudden decision to return
Almost meeting her now
Restless to be by himself
Resembling a wet bumble bee

A commentary on events
Tried to read
Sister, I am thirsty
The buses are still burning

Indeed, there is nothing
Affectionate and sociable
On this pitted road
Where is the pressure point?

A vastly disquieting smile
The room was dark
Hazy atmosphere
Running about amidst the flowers

To rent a villa for the shoot
Lay the child in the shade
He finished as he had begun
Asking the looking-glass

I have never heard of them
I dip the brush in water
But she always came back
Felt something new inside

He was accused of stealing
Whose are those twelve shirts?
She began to feel very thirsty
He spoke to her in all the languages

You are much mistaken
Laughing, eating and sleeping
The swellings in his legs went away
There were things no one said

Flow in our bodies
Her two month stay
The custom of not falling
I was a few months older

I was told to stand in front
True meaning of yin
Every day my mother tried to see him
In the bomb clouds

Valley below the window
In nameless valleys

Take trouble to the hills
Her beautiful phrasing swirled

Losing his shoes and coat
When that old metal tank blows
There’s no intent to sting
Putting my feet in the river

Enclosed by a stone wall
The distance from here to there
Kneel and kiss the ground
Subject of much thought

The unafraid air
A form of magic that delivered
The rabbits march through the village
She hears her heart over

Greased machinery of destruction
Almost possible to believe
She carries the water, milks the goats
They made a pyramid

This was the right gate
There I was cast adrift
Look what you’ve done
He’d walk from tree to tree

In the corner someone built a bed
The shock of the night
Monopolized the waters
Where my legs used to be

Like small vicious birds
After waiting in the streets
Tangled bits of wire
The way she was dancing

He refused to take it
When Mondrian began
Spinning generations of power
The rhyme was “rod”

Bones of leopards and lions
Painted the walls and pages
I kind of stopped thinking
This took me an hour

That was ten – eleven years ago
Sweetish perfume of the boneset blooms
Swallows sweep back and forth
It confused me to see people

And I had no water
Elsewhere in the trading center
The faint shouts of children
One of them ran away

Just once in his whole life
He opened his mouth to speak
He must have been immensely strong
Vitality of a dragonfly

Again on the mountain side
I focused on the Cecropia moth
Beads of moisture stood out
Aqueous breezes and underwater winds

The issue still struck her
The beetles have been whining away
Beneath the wide green umbrellas
Here is nothing but trouble

Then there is silence
Forcing her memory back
Cowering deeper in the bed
On the dying leaf

Books used:

The Near Horizons Edwin Teale
Nineteen Eighty Four George Orwell
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Kamkwamba
Around the World on Sixty Dollars Robert Meredith
Poets Against the War Sam Hamill
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Lisa See
Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm
Magnificent Obsession Lloyd C. Douglas
That Quail, Robert Margaret Stanger
Tiananmen Diary :Thirteen Days in June Harrison E. Salisbury


Notes on this poem:

I describe this style of poem (genre?) as a “sand-blasted”poem because it is comprised of stacked fragments that tell a story that isn’t all there, but enough of it is there for our imaginations to stitch together a dreamlike narrative. How do I get the fragments? I pull 10 books from my library, books on diverse subjects. I open each book to random pages, selecting approximately ten fragments per book without controlling the selection process, which is 90 percent random. In other words if my eyes settle on a phrase, “the cat went after a leaf” I might select the second half of that sentence, “which (the leaf) seemed to relish the chase”, so, I am just saying, there is some cerebration involved but not much. After I have a list of 100 or more fragments, I shrink the font so I can’t distinguish any of the words and I shuffle the list so that no three phrases are in the original order. Then I divide the list into stanzas, this time stanzas of four lines. Only then do I read what I have. Usually there is story or more than one story, like a palimpsest, but also it is like a damaged spider web. The last thing I do is move a handful of lines around and repeat one or two lines that seem to stand out such as the line “you don’t need to leave”. And I pick an evocative line to serve as the title and call it finished. But the point is, the story or stories (sand-blasted stories) are not my invention, any more than dreams are the invention of my conscious mind. I use this technique when I am stuck, when I am high and dry, like someone marooned on a tiny island with one palm tree in the middle of a vast ocean. What I have always done next is search the internet for some music to accompany my sand-blasted poem. I used to call these “oracular” poems, but sad-blasted is much more appropriate.

In this poem, the themes are war, birth and rebirth, mother-love and soul-mate-love. The feminine pronouns (she, her) pertain the “the mother” in the beginning but as the poem plays out, the woman is a lover (the one who comes to “stay for two months”). In this poem, I would also like to point out that the subject (masculine) is the man who, in the first few stanzas, “held his ground” and “dreamed and planned and saved” but it is also just as much the one manifesting or making the poem, the “I”. as in “I went back to my room” or “Sister, I am thirsty”. It is up to the reader to decide whether the “he” and the “I” are the same person, or, for that matter, maybe (by Freudian logic) the mother and the lover are the same woman.

Other themes that come up are water / no water, thirst, children / baby, and trauma. (At the end, she is “cowering deeper in the bed”. (In the end, the bed is a dying leaf, which might suggest to some of us the she is a faerie person.)

It is possible, in some cases, to identify which books contributed which lines. One of the most obvious is: “The rabbits march through the village” (Grimm’s Household Tales) and the phrases “vitality of a dragonfly” and “The beetles have been whining away” (Near Horizons, Edwin Teale. Teale was the Thoreau of the insect world.) Lastly, this poem is not about war. That is only one thread. The poem is, by its own revelation, a “commentary on events”. War is only one of the events that the poem is commenting on.