George Kalamaras


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.
Hound dog and pups photo August 14, 2017101.jpg
 

Author Bio

George Kalamaras, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series (2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.