Dream in Which Kenneth Rexroth Counts to Eight
So that dream where Kenneth Rexroth
and I raise coonhounds together.
Eight nights straight. And I recall all
details at 8 o'clock a.m.—
precisely, each morning—somehow
surfaced from infinity's sleep.
Chinese history is full of
accounts of eight—from yarrow stalks
stuffed in the spleen, to amorous
courtesans dampening the dreams
of rickshaw men, their teahouse time
misspent. Or from those eight milk goats
who mysteriously carry
in their udders an antidote
to the plague. Come. Position your
mouth so the liquid universe
might cleanse the Wuzhishan moon right
out of the monkey's teeth. I might
finally raise most marvelous
hound dogs, with Rexroth dreaming me
holding the merle galactic splash
of bluetick coonhounds on my lap.
Eight days straight as if Chinese T'ang
poetry finally mattered
to the plumber, cashier, wise-ass
poets who adore irony
and suspect death in anything
synchronous or visionary—
as if poetry didn't mean
new life bearing upon the tongue.
Rexroth says the octopus has
eight hearts, that if we count fingers
and exclude thumbs it all adds up
to Jupiter's eight fluid moons.
He tells me the coonhound whelped eight
whimpering storm clouds disguised in
fur. Says eight ounces each adds up
to sixty-four, the number of
hexagrams found in the I Ching.
And now Rexroth is strangely both
eighty and eight years old at once.
And the nipples on the coonhound
are oddly nine, one left over
perhaps for me? I can't drink in
the perfect eight words Rexroth says
to supposedly assure me
that each of Tu Fu's lines contains
just eight syllables. That if we
peer tonight through the moon's work,
something will be missing there yet gained.
Tell that to the plumber, he says.
Place that in the lap of wise-ass
young poets whose only concern
is jokes yoked to their urge to speak.
Still, eight nights straight and eight coonhounds.
Rexroth, eighty and eight at once.
Deaths So Possible They Are Alive
Based on a photograph of Heidi, a two-and-a-half year old black and tan coonhound, and her litter of thirteen pups, Greenville, Texas, February 28, 1971
Let's not assume the coonhound was happy
giving birth to thirteen pups. I've said
death so many times, it is alive.
Scuffling away. On my tongue.
In my toe. In my left big
mouth, steaming, still,
on the sill. I said her name as mine.
I said myself into her, the way a hound
scratches forth a bed and suddenly bleeds
people-sticks and smudge. We sometimes think
ourselves into the crimes of rocks or
into shaming thoughts in the tight black top
of our favorite waitress. Often I don't know
where I'm headed. Even when I write
as if I do. Know this:
the poetic line determines the world's great ache.
Just ask the ends of our words, closing off
all we sing possible. Just ask your mouth
as you back off into it the phrase's
pain. Let's cook breakfast, poach two eggs
in the broth of a coonhound's afterbirth, cleansed
from the eighth century Chungnan Mountains
and cave-moments of Chinese solitude
we might think unworthy of our busy lies.
I say this. You say sat. Standing there
in the dumb-struck. Nothing is true. Everything is
as it should say. Because it came from the tongue
of childhurt, it is accurate and it is long
best strained. Let's not assume the best's
worst. Case ourselves, as if observing
an all-night scenario for sixty, seventy
years. We sometimes whelp a passel
of possible pups, just in thinking thin
skins of words as we read
the weather or the shell of a crow
thousands of years before
it evolved into flight, transparent as butterfly
ash between this world and its cover. The other
life we live—the one we could have had but didn't—
is said so long and often we tire
its delicious wattle-weight. Rocks
tied to our quicksand sleep. Sunk
to the upthrust and struck. The improbable
dust. The impossible way the dark
of a woman's blouse invites us
into curves so calling we want
to give all our hardness unto that
which eventually makes us soft
and impenetrably sad. The afterbath
of throwing ourselves headlong
time and again into birth.