Tag Archives: poem

Being “There” — A poem about the Redwoods

“The Cathedral” cluster of trees at The Trees of Mystery, a Redwoods park in Northern California. Photo by me.

Before the last ice age, Redwood forest covered over 90 percent of the earth’s surface. The remaining strip, along the California coast, was literally decimated after the 1850 Gold Rush.

“It is estimated that old-growth redwood forest once covered close to 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2) of coastal northern California.[22]96% of all old-growth redwoods have been logged, and almost half (45%) of the redwoods remaining are found in Redwood National and State Parks.” (Read more here.)

So of the remaining 4 percent, only half of that is protected, and only 1/5 of that is actual old-growth trees. My, how things change. Still, the vestiges are glorious. The trees are beautiful, strong and silent beings thousands of years old. You stand there and can’t help but think of bears, Paul Bunyan, native Indians, and Lewis and Clark. The air is of the highest caliber, fresh and leaf-scented, full of high-grade oxygen. You want to breathe deeply, as you stare at the 10-foot wide tree trunks and look up to where the tip soars into the sky.

Last week I went to visit the Redwood forest in northern California. Walking along a state park trail, I started to think about writing a poem that encapsulated what I was feeling. About the sadness of the commercialization I witnessed at The Trees of Mystery. About how hard it is to truly to be in the wild, a place that has no trails, no nearby roads, no signs at all, and zero people. About how different things used to look, how different and more authentic and visceral life used to be. And finally, the dichotomy between the white man’s GAINING versus the old way of BEING, as outlined in Mother Jones’s illuminating 1980 interview with the Indian activist Russel Means. The natives did not own their land, did not seek to dominate, exploit or monetize it. We have carved it up, but boundaries on it, developed it, drilled and fractured it, until there is barely any THERE left.

There

Fifteen dollars to see the trees

Signs marked the path.

A group of Asian tourists asked

“Take our picture, please?”

The way back led, as it always does,

Straight into the gift shop.

Take a trinket home

Commemorate this trip.

Down the road about an hour

We stopped again.

The place was quieter, I heard some birds

And wondered aloud about the bears.

The trail was marked but once

To note it had begun.

We met no one else and felt surrounded

By nature’s presence, alive and well.

These trees were free to see.

Yet as I trod along the well-worn trail

And stopped where dozens must have stopped,

I turned and looked into the wilderness.

You know, the way the world once was.

No trails or roads. Just you and God.

Could I ever step into it? Would I die?

Man no longer knows the ways of plants, the signs of stars

Isn’t one with earth as he once was.

My path is paved; it leads on.

I turn, resigned to parking lots and roads.

This is, after all, a state park,

With rules and camping grounds.

It is not mine. It is no place

To be alone, for long.

On the ride out I hate

The comfort of my seat

The stagnant air.

I long to be back in time,

Wild and free, out there.

Yes, you are special. Believe it.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” — Buddha

Back in the ’60s, a CIA investigator named Cleve Backster claimed to have discovered that plants can detect thought. More recently, a researcher named Dr. Masaru Emoto claimed that water can also detect thought and form crystals that reflect positive or negative vibrations. Both have been called pseudo-scientists and have acquired plenty of skeptics.

I don’t know if their claims are true or not, but I do believe that thoughts have power. This is the reason why hypochondriacs often fall ill and why people who are given placebos often quickly recover. The power of positive thought is huge. Likewise, when someone is consumed by negative thoughts, whether it be anger or depression, that energy is palpable to everyone within their radius. I believe that if you told yourself negative thoughts consistently, you would begin to manifest those beliefs. The same with positive.

Repeating to yourself affirmations or mantras like “I am beautiful, I am strong, I am healthy, I am well” can only serve to make you stronger, happier and more radiant. You should be able to love yourself and be your own best friend. This doesn’t mean that you are better than others. Indeed, there will always be someone more beautiful, smart, strong, accomplished, etc. But there are truly great things about you. For example, I have a spectacular belly button.

In Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” he says, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself … Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son/Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding … Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from/The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer … If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it … Mix’d tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you! … I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious/Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy/I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish … I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world …”

He loves himself because he realizes the gift of his body and of life. It may not be a perfect body, but it is his. Fifty years before him and across the Atlantic, William Wordsworth composed a similarly rhapsodic “Ode” about the miracle of life: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/Hath had elsewhere its setting,/And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness/But trailing clouds of glory do we come…”

David McCullough’s commencement speech made the internet rounds a few weeks ago, shocking and delighting many with his seemingly refreshing message: “You are not special.” The speech made many great points, and the underlying theme is to stop congratulating yourself for merely existing and go out and accomplish something worthwhile. It’s true that life is hard, and that it’s particularly hard for today’s graduates and others dealing with the recession, and that it’s important to work diligently and be realistic. But I also think it is dangerous to tie one’s self-worth to, for example, a high-powered career title, a Nobel peace prize, a huge bank account, lots of Facebook friends, etc. Sometimes I feel like we feel so pressured to accumulate outward signs of success. If your personal goal in life is to earn an Olympic medal or a doctorate in quantum mechanics, than that is an admirable ambition. But if you really just want to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and don’t do anything that everyone else thinks is grand — if you don’t ever get on reality TV or lauded by Oprah or get mentioned in The New York Times— that doesn’t mean that you aren’t insanely special. And you should tell yourself, every day, that you are, and you should believe it. And when you do, you will eventually find your own path, your own life’s fulfillment, and lots of joy. We may not be perfect, but we have a whole lot of potential. One of my favorite quotes is by Nietzsche: “One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” And finally, from Edison — not anyone’s over-indulgent mother — “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

The inevitable passage of time

A train passes close enough to hear
But not to see.
My brother’s in the bunk bed.
A giant tree
I loved to climb but had to call my dad
Or neighbor’s dad to get me down.
I felt the spirit of that tree
It welcomed me. I returned despite the tics
And mother’s warnings.
Isn’t that the way life has to go?
Some calls must be answered
Calls from boys, especially
When you’re in full bloom
Your skin like dew, your hair like silk
Made for men’s fingers.
I still loved trees, more so at twilight
In parks, when it was just me and him
We could lie in the grass and kiss for hours
Entranced by mutual beauty: lips, eyelashes,
The scent of my neck, thanks to my mom’s perfume
Things went downhill from there. Don’t they always?
Isn’t that a common theme?
In life’s hills and valleys, is there a peak?
Some people seem trapped in an abyss,
But that’s not me.
Right now I live on plains, flat lands to the horizon.
There aren’t even any waves, imagine.
A lack of seasons, that longed for eternal summer.
Sometimes I dream of trees and mountains
And even snow
Of boyfriends of my past who are married now
Happily living with their precious son
On the opposite coast.
I’m glad. It sometimes seems things are
The way they’re meant to be.
I think about those scenes, of course.
And of little brothers, fathers who now are old
And I marvel at the age I have become.
It is sad but true. Do I wish I could rewind?
Go back to neighborhoods and silly thoughts,
Moms in kitchens, school tomorrow.
Do I miss my far-flung friends? Sometimes.

The Lady of Shalott

I once memorized this poem with my mother. It is a very mysterious, dark poem with elements of fantasy and magic. Why is the lady cursed and by whom? It is reminiscent of medieval times, and the imagery of the lonely, doomed, lovestruck Lady floating dead down the river is hard to forget. A very evocative tale from one of my favorite poets, Alfred Lord Tennyson, it seems to defy analysis. It is just a sad, supernatural tale told in beautiful rhyme. If I had to interpret it, I would say it has to do with the tragic nature of life and love itself: how we can lose so much when we choose to take a chance; the swiftness of time; the nature of regret and experience (do I play it safe or take the leap, and which is preferable); the intricacies of the human heart;  and how nothing gold — not beauty, not anything — can stay. As Edgar Allen Poe put it : “the death… of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” Another rich, interesting poem from the mid-19th century — that my mom and I also loved — is Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market.

PART I

ON either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
          To many-tower’d Camelot;          5
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
          The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,   10
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
          Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,   15
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
          The Lady of Shalott.
By the margin, willow-veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d   20
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
          Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?   25
Or is she known in all the land,
          The Lady of Shalott?
 
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly   30
From the river winding clearly,
          Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ”Tis the fairy   35
          Lady of Shalott.’
PART IIThere she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay   40
          To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
          The Lady of Shalott.   45
And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
          Winding down to Camelot:   50
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
          Pass onward from Shalott.
Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,   55
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
          Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue   60
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
          The Lady of Shalott.
But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,   65
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
          And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;   70
‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IIIA bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,   75
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
          Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,   80
          Beside remote Shalott.
The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily   85
          As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
          Beside remote Shalott.   90
All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
          As he rode down to Camelot.   95
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
          Moves over still Shalott.
His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;  100
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
          As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river  105
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra,’ by the river
          Sang Sir Lancelot.
She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,  110
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
          She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;  115
‘The curse is come upon me!’ cried
          The Lady of Shalott.
PART IVIn the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,  120
Heavily the low sky raining
          Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote  125
          The Lady of Shalott.
And down the river’s dim expanse—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance  130
          Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
          The Lady of Shalott.  135
Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
          She floated down to Camelot:  140
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Heard a carol, mournful, holy,  145
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
          Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;
For ere she reach’d upon the tide  150
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,  155
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
          Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,  160
And round the prow they read her name,
          The Lady of Shalott.
Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;  165
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
          All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, ‘She has a lovely face;
God in His mercy lend her grace,  170
          The Lady of Shalott.’

Sail beyond the sunset

One of my absolute most favorite, cherished poems is  “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is the ultimate ode to living life to the fullest: “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees …”

It is about Homer’s ancient Greek king Odysseus, but anyone with a case of restless wanderlust and an innate need for adventure can understand this mantra: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

The sentiment is echoed in this popular quote by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

All of us have to find a way to make our dreams come true. Our main enemies are time and resources. This is my main concern, always in the back of my mind, every day. How can I live life to the absolute fullest while still fulfilling my responsibilities and being a practical, level-headed person? After all, I can’t just catch the next plane to Paris, however enticing that idea may be. I guess I could go Into the Wild.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if I should act on instinct or be more logical; but if I am more logical, I am holding myself back unnecessarily? Am I conforming too much to society and constructing my own mental barriers? Should I drop everything and dedicate every ounce of energy to my dream, or should I simply send my intention out into the universe, like in The Secret?

When I was little I loved books like The Chronicles of Narnia, and I would often embark on my own make-believe adventures. Now I long to explore the world and connect with nature in uncharted territories (are there even any left?). Hopefully I can find a way to sail my own ship “beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die …”

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,– cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all,–
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
>From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

When you are old

Just want to share a poem that I love … one of the few I know by heart. It’s by Yeats and was inspired by his lifelong love, Maud Gonne, whom he proposed to five times — and I think banged just once. Ah, life.

 When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Vegas Nostalgia

I wrote both of these pieces a year or two ago, soon after I moved to Miami from Las Vegas. I was feeling rather wistful for a while.

Desert Lights

I shut the blinds on the incessant, high-grade sunlight and lie down. Replaying the night before, I wallow in the remembrance of desire. I drain my Grande Mocha Frappucino, picked up at the 24-hour drive-through Starbucks at around sunrise. Finally, I sleep.

In the afternoon, I go lay out. An unwieldy older lady lumbers around the pool, doing laps. “You’re lucky if you have family in times like these,” she is telling me, referring to the tsunami-like recession sweeping through our city. “I won’t be here much longer.” She’s been laid off and foreclosed on, but I’m fine. Cash covered the carpet in my rented, brand-new, freshly built townhouse at the foot of Black Mountain, with a sweeping view of the Las Vegas valley. A giant park was once planned, but it remains a stagnant wash. The neighborhood is nearly empty, and sometimes I go into — trespass, I suppose — the vacant houses, looking for traces of the strangers who used to be there. It’s like a set piece for a movie, or a ghost town. Except with flawless peach stucco facades.

I sip some wine in the hot tub as the twilight deepens and disappears. This place is only gorgeous at night. Suddenly, I’m awash in a sea of gems: emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. A familiar but striking panorama of silhouettes: the tall, otherworldy Stratosphere tower; the crisp pyramid with its pure beam shooting into space; the castle spires of the Excalibur, a childhood favorite.

I’m heading that way tonight. Out of suburban Henderson, where everyone has gone to bed, and onto the I-15, which sweeps around northeastward, taking you, eventually, into Utah. My exit is Sahara, up in North Las Vegas. Past the Tropicana, Flamingo and Spring Mountain, which take you to the Strip.

Richard is sitting on his couch, rolling joints, downing Red Bull, blasting Kanye West and half-watching Entourage. He’s mad at me for taking so long. He wants me to buy him a drink.

In Rain at the Palms, I lose him a couple of times. I can’t ever get him to leave. Finally were in the parking lot elevator, and he clutches his chest in pain. He’s had one too many somethings.

I take him home and he immediately passes out. I’m alone on his balcony in the warm, strange pre-dawn. There is a couple arguing on the street below; a homeless person. The corner 7-11 is open and busy. To my right is a pawn shop and bail bonds. To my left, the irresistible lights.

The Bull-Dozed Water Park of Pre-Pubescence

Time moved in a slow daze
the water park had closed last summer
not for renovation, but forever,
due to defecation
floating feces in the wave pool
a resultant mass exodus
or perhaps someone had lept from the Bonzai Bonzai
accidentally or suicidally
I recall the flashes of lime green light as I hurtled
through the Black Hole
Alanis Morisette singing all I really want
as half-naked, ungainly strangers meandered barefoot
over wet cement as if we were an ancient people
children stayed in the shallow end
our coming of age was at the other end
from the top of the slide you could see out
over the dead brown dirt and otherworldly facades
you went down so fast your back got scratched
and every ride felt like it could be your last
Dip n Dots were the ice cream of the future
pastel pink, mint green, snowflake white
melted together in a plastic cup
while you’re too young to care
how your suit makes your ass look
and whose boobs are bigger
I had a rose red one piece with ruffles
over the hips and a brightly colored floral print
that pleasantly deceived butterflies into sitting on my stomach
my cousin’s best friend Alicia would be a beauty queen
but back then she had braces
and the boys in back of us in line at Raging Rapids
told her she would only be pretty without them
at twelve I was invisible, but at thirteen even policemen called me jailbait
but where did Wet n Wild go? Forgotten like a bygone era, an adolescent fling,
a dead great aunt, and now, poor Vegas lacks its oasis.