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.