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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Ocean Majesty

In Hawaii, the ocean is never far away. Life is dominated by the ocean. Its power, its grace, its eternity is overwhelming.

Recently a friend (WI) sent me this poem about the ocean by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), from “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

Here in Hawaii, this rings true, every minute, every day, all the time:

THERE is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin,—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths,—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him,—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth:—there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee and arbiter of war,—
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee;
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play,
Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow;
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed,—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of Eternity,—the throne
Of the Invisible! even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,—as I do here.

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Twenty sixteen is nearly gone
Good riddance, I can’t wait for new
It’s really time that we move on
Of happy thoughts there were just few.

We’re stuck in endless war and strife
With no way out anytime soon
The world needs help and cherish life
But we elected a buffoon.

Let there be hope, we now need light
And thoughts that we look forward to
Let our days ahead be bright
Start twenty seventeen anew!

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I Come Upon a Golden Tower

attrump-tower

On a cold and wintry night,
I come upon a golden tower,
Stand there and marvel at the sight,
The trappings and the show of power.
Police and barriers everywhere,
I am in shock, I want to weep,
And turn away from all the glare,
With miles to go before I sleep.
With miles to go before I sleep.

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The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Poem: Your Seventeenth Birthday

Here is a poem I wrote more than ten years ago for my son’s 17th birthday:

Now that you are almost grown,
With arms more strong than mine,
You’re not quite eighteen yet and gone,
Let’s celebrate one more time.

I don’t know what to give you, son.
But gas and clothes and food.
You take your time, be with your friends.
When you are in the mood.

Let’s have some fun, let’s eat some cake,
Together while we can.
And celebrate your seventeenth,
Soon you will be a man.

Here is some money, use it well.
Just one thing I’ll make clear:
I’m proud of you, and you’re still mine,
For one more real short year.

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Here is a video of a German language slam poem with a powerful impact. There are no English versions that I could find. The title is Behind Us My Country. If you know German, you must listen to every word. If you don’t know German, you should play a minute or so to get the cadence of the poem, and how the two speakers alternate.

Below is my translation. You can see the speaker on the right and the one on the left. Both tell their stories.

This is a powerful explanation of the complex sentiments of Germans toward refugees, that an American will likely not be able to understand.

But it rings true for me personally, as I am the son of a refugee myself and as my entire life, the person I am, is shaped in many ways by the experiences of my father who often might have said himself: Behind Us My Country.

 

Behind Us My Country

Everything I am was born there

Everything that was home to me

The square, where we children played

The smile of my first love

The apple tree in our park

And the little lake hidden behind the mountain

The hot tea on the tin tray

Creased story tellers

Laugh wrinkles decorate their faces

Chattering on the way home from school

Night was until the parents slept and then out again

The squeaking bicycle of my brother

The poems of Rudas

And the smell of wet lawn

Radios that despite tortured tuning still carry out the melodies

The singing of my sister in the morning

My mother, my mother with her eternal money worries

And I don’t know why: Ladybugs

All that was my home

All that way once my home

But I could not stay anymore

Behind us the war

The fresh grave of my parents

The last clump of dirt is still rolling off

It hasn’t found it final spot yet

So fresh is my mourning

And nothing has been digested

I could not stay any longer

The spoke of us as the living dead

Our people forced into trains that slid along in the smoke of the locomotives

Our doors smashed

Shopping windows in shards

Our parents intimidated, our siblings abuse

Cruel news from friends that were still there

Most had disappeared

It was impossible to stay, not another day

The next step in my city is the last step in my country

And the worst step then onto this rusty boat

Next we turn, then we hold on, and then it will sink

Turned over to the sea

In the ocean, without consolation

The moon hides behind the clouds

The night so dark, you see nothing

For hours, nothing

And when I close my eyes in the dark

I hear the voice of my mother

Around us the lord is only the sea

As if our boat was the heart of all things

I open my eyes and gaze toward the sky

Prayers are our sails

Life vests will take over the rest

But the hope they cannot carry

A man swims toward me

Here, take him, I can’t go on anymore

He is one year old and his name is Berstin

His father slides out of the vest into the eternal dark blue

That’s how I became father the first time

In the ocean

He handed him to me

The man in the vest gave me his inheritance

Arrived in exile, I learned quickly

the most important words are permit to day, sorry, and thank you

Arrived in exile I saw a family reunited after a long time

How the father wimpered out of good luck

Deep from inside with the shame of a man who seldom cries

I followed that family step by step

But only with my gaze

Arrived in exile

But the earth of home comes along on the soles of our feet

I am from there, and I have memories

I was born like people are born

I have a mother that loves me

And it breaks my heart

In the letters that she writes I can see how meanwhile her hand has a tremor

When I say homesick, I say dream

Because the old home hardly exists any longer

Do we stay here, do we become beach again?

Not quite sea, not quite land

Do we stay here, we become beach again.

Not quite sea, not quite land

Arrived in exile, a man welcomes me

The other waves foreign flags

Sometimes one feels the love, sometimes one feels the hate

They look at your head scarf

They look into my passport

But don’t be angry, forgive them

They forget the love, they forgot the love

I wish them peace

On the contrary, show them, stand up

Tear off our legs and we walk on our hands

Tear off our legs and we walk on our hands

We will make the best of our lives until our lives end

And who know, maybe one day I return home

I not everything will have changed

Perhaps I’ll see our old apple tree

Or the square with the brown rusty fence

And I hug my siblings and kiss my mother

And luck bites its little tooth into my heart

My name is Achmed Yusuf

Father of Berstin

And I am a refugee

I fled Syria

My name is Daniel Levie

I am a refugee

I fled Germany

The year is 2015

The year is 1938

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In my book purging efforts, I came across a book of poetry titled From the Berkeley Hills by George P. Elliott. My friend Michael T. gave it to me on Christmas Eve 1976 at 11:00pm, as he signed the book inside the cover.

From the Berkeley Hills

He gave me the book when the author was still alive. We were both boys only, just out of high school. That day, when he gave me that book, was likely the last time I ever saw him.

Yet, the friendships we form at that age last forever, and the books we sign for each other stay with us, until one day when we’re gone, our children pick them off dusty shelves, open the covers and wonder who “Michael” might have been. Then they might open up to page 46 and find:

At Midnight

My hemisphere puts on
Duncely dark again.
And what was it to me
What the world wore
So long as I had a girl
With a bed to her naked back?
So long: not long enough.

For recently myself
Have donned like a dunce hat
Doubt of the monstrous works
Twirling toward day. I,
Who could fall those mortal nights
Ignorantly into sleep,
This mortal night cannot.

 

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Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Everyone has memorable or favorite songs. When we hear them, we are instantly transported back to a time in our lives, sometimes to a specific period in our lives, like the senior year of high school, or even a specific day, like that first night with that special girl by the camp fire.

I noticed that when I hear such a song, I instantly mind-travel back to that period, or season, or day, when I first heard the song, or when it was popular on the radio. Some of the associations are so vivid, I can smell the air, I can see where I drove when I heard the song, sometimes as long as 40 years ago.

So I did something that I could not have done only ten years ago: I made a list of 50 songs that had special meaning to me. Predictably, many of those were songs that were popular in my youth and younger years when I tended to be more into music. To refresh my memory, I sampled collections of hit songs in some of the target years, and favorites jumped out at me that I had forgotten about.

Then I went on iTunes and bought the collection one song at a time (unless I already had it on CD somewhere). There are no artists with two songs on the list. I just picked the top 50. I called the playlist “Nostalgia.” When I play that list, in random order, I can literally mind-travel, jump around over the years and decades, and imagery of long past events flash bright in front of me, feelings and moods come to life, and the people of those days are suddenly around again – copies of their former selves, of course.

My mind always ponders mathematical implications. I realize that my list is unique in the universe. If a million other people all picked their own top 50 favorite songs and called the list “Nostalgia,” every list would be different. I’d venture to say that if I asked any random person about their list, I might not find a single one of my songs on their list. Yet, every one of us would have those unique, personal experiences when mind-traveling down memory lane.

Why can music do this to us? How is the melodic word, propped up by rhyme and rhythm, able to create such powerful associations in our heads to recreate the smells, the feelings, the places we lived when we were first imprinted with these songs?

Modern human evolution covers only a very short time span, perhaps 200,000 years, perhaps much less. Until very recently, like only a few centuries ago, knowledge and experience had to be transmitted from one person to another, from one generation to the next, by spoken and most likely sung words. Music and poetry may well have evolved to be so important in our experience now because it helped package knowledge and experience by creating associations. It’s easier to remember a poem that rhymes and is associated with a melody than it is to remember just spoken words. Those of our ancestors that were able to make those powerful associations and benefited by surviving and passing on those skills were the ones whose tribes survived through the ages. That’s probably also why we have songs that get stuck in our heads. We call them earworms.

Our brains are not good at remembering strings of numbers or words. But they are excellent at recognizing patterns, like seeing faces in tree bark or angels in clouds or animals in the stars of the night sky. When smells, images, feelings about people and places, come together with sounds, rhymes and rhythms – in short music – then magic is created.

That magic can now fuel the trips down our memory lanes unlike any generation before us could – because we have playlists to arrange them, iTunes to buy the songs from, and YouTube to trigger our memories about periods or things we have forgotten. The Nostalgia playlist is like the shoebox of photographs in the attic on steroids.

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Alive Another Day

Alive Another Day

Her father served in Vietnam
Sometimes a year he would be gone,
Come back and visit a short time,
And leave again for very long.

Just ten years old she went to school
On base as always was the rule.
Hawaiian sun was bright and clear,
But in her heart the world was cruel.

When fathers died, then soldiers came
To visit school and call a name,
Pick up a child and take her home,
To be with family in her pain.

In terror with her small fists balled
She hoped her name would not be called.
With pounding heart as soldiers stepped
Past her room down another hall.

A thousand children froze in fear,
While steps of soldiers passed them near.
Then one poor babe let out a cry.
A wail, a scream reached every ear.

The little girl’s soul was dark
While cruelty around was stark.
She knew her father was alive
Another day, and in her heart.

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New Poem by Corey Taft

A new video by my favorite slam poet Corey Taft: Corey

Also, if you haven’t heard this one before – check out Say Anything to Me, also.

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War - by Corey Taft

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Tomas Young

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

— Tomas Young

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Die Zeit ist hin, du löst dich unbewußt
und leise mehr und mehr von meiner Brust,
ich suche dich mit sanftem Druck zu fassen,
doch fühl ich wohl, ich muß dich gehen lassen.

So laß mich denn, bevor du weit von mir
Im Leben gehst, noch einmal danken dir,
und magst du nie was rettungslos vergangen,
in schummerlosen Nächten heimverlangen.

Hier steh ich nun und schaue bang zurück,
vorüber rinnt auch dieser Augenglick,
und wieviel Stunden dir und mir gegeben,
wir werden keine mehr zusammen leben.

—-

Poetry is very difficult to translate into another language. Here is my humble and awkward attempt to convey the meaning to those of my readers that do not understand German:

The time is gone, you withdraw subconsciously
and softly ever more from my chest,
I try to hold on to you with gentle pressure,
but still I feel I have to let you go.

So let me thank you one more time,
before you’re far away from me in life,
and may you never wish back in sleepless nights
that which is hopelessly lost and gone.

Here I stand and look back anxiously,
as even this moment vanishes from us,
no matter all the hours we have spent,
we may never have another one together.

This is actually a song. Here is the music.

And here, thanks to J.S., the actual song:

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I have been following the slam poetry scene for some years now, and Corey Taft is my favorite poet in the genre. Here is one of his older poems, from a number of years ago. I saw it live at the time and it gave me pause. Enjoy.

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The Full Moon Poets have their poetry slam in Encinitas on the evening of a Blue Moon – Tonight. We just got back. As always, it was an amazing contest. Rudy Francisco and Corey Taft, the usual finalists, both superstars of the local slam poetry scene, were actually tied for first place at the end, something that had never happened before. So both pulled a fourth poem out of their mental drawers and blew us away at the end. Mind you, neither knew that they needed to prepare more than three poems, but both had one ready.

Rudy won in the end – and he deserved it.

If you have never been to a poetry slam before, do yourself the favor and go. Always, when leaving the event, I hear people say to their partners or groups that “this was much better than I would ever have expected.” A poetry slam is a different art form altogether, and some of these guys are amazing.

It’s a great way to spend a blue moon night in Encinitas.

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