When Tess Gallagher was in the West of Ireland where she has a retreat cottage and Larry Matsuda was in Seattle during 2013, they exchanged nine interconnected poems during the summer and winter. Larry led off with “Careening Towards Forever-after” and Tess responded with “Dear Cloud, Dear Larry”. As the exchanges progressed, Tess remarked that the process was similar to the renga where poets work from and respond to what the poet before has written. There is a syllabic structure too at the end of each free form poem: one poet contributes three lines of seventeen syllables ( 5-7-5) and the other poet responds with a couplet of fourteen syllables (7-7) and the process continues in a repetitive fashion.
Since our original poems, though responsive to each other, did not comply with the renga form because we were writing in free verse, it was decided we would title our work, Wild-Haired-Labyrinth Renga. But to satisfy the purist in us, we decided to add an actual renga as a thumbnail coda or snapshot at the end of each poem.
For “Careening Towards Forever-after” Larry wrote three lines and Tess returned with a couplet. Then Tess gave three lines for “Dear Cloud, Dear Larry” and Larry replied with a couplet until all poems had an accompanying 31 syllable renga. As a result, each long poem is followed by a similar thematic renga, somewhat like a wine reduction of the long poem.
Since the entire work contains numerous footnotes because it was conceived across cultures (Japanese-American, Irish and Irish-American, Romanian, and Indian) it is recommended that the work be read first in its entirety, then read again with the footnotes. Or one might simply like to read the poem first, then the footnotes, which is Tess’s preference.
We hope you enjoy Wild-Haired-Labyrinth Renga. We had fun pushing our imaginations and connecting seemingly disparate and random thoughts into a piece that is both serious and playful.
Co. Sligo, Ireland
WILD-HAIRED-LABYRINTH RENGA [1. Renga: We are using “renga” in its purely collaborative element since a true renga bears no resemblance at all to ours. We call it “wild-haired” because it has thrown all the rules out except the one that says the poems must be connected to each other. Renga practice was a form of fellowship using poetry. The rules for true renga are extremely elaborate and can be looked up in any number of poetry cookbooks. We also herald the renga for its party atmosphere, gatherings which used to involve many poets and last for many days with a considerable amount of saki drinking.]
Careening Towards Forever-after
In reverse, I stomp the gas pedal.
Aluminum bends, screeches like
a wounded brontosaurus.
My shrimp fishing checklist for 5:00 AM:
license, lunch, and life preserver.
Open the garage door, not on the list.
So now what do we talk about when we talk about
crashing through garage doors?
Twisted rollers off track
Dislodged metal sections dangle
a dismembered tin man, dancing.
Dorothy and Toto would drop
their jaws in disbelief.
If my antiquated cell phone
were capable, I would tweet
and text about how to mangle
a garage door or I’d
post a photo on Facebook—
me flipping Luddite “Yellow Pages”
under a superimposed Eiffel Tower.
I muscle broken sections
like a Houdini weight-lifter act.
Chevy exhaust pipe belches a cloud.
Metallic echoes still pinball my brain.
A crumpled door, wrecked accordion
gleams sunshine behind me.
On the water fishing, my world is transformed
into a modern El Greco’s Storm over Toledo —
Space Needle and Seattle skyline
to the East, snow covered Olympics to the West.
Riding Elliott Bay whitecaps I fantasize:
small prehistoric armored warriors
with prickly swords—shrimp as sushi: fried,
grilled, boiled, poached, and barbecued
Bubba Gump style.
Tugging 400 feet of leaded line,
water trickles like icicles melting.
Arms burn, shoulders ache,
and I wonder, when will this torture end?
Color appears as the trap surfaces,
a caldron-boil of pink spot-tailed shrimp hop,
twist, and bubble out of the cage
like effervescent champagne.
I snap shrimp heads, peel translucent armor,
chomp crunchy tails.
As a child, my Aunt Mitsumori bribed me
with a nickel to release
a spider from a Mason jar.
What would she say about panic-cries
from shrimp destined for a dip into wasabi
and soy, now drop-kicked into my Nirvana?
Did they bathe in a loving tunnel of white light
and meet a friendly face,
or encounter infinite fields of emptiness?
Under the sign of two fish facing each other,
I pass myself resting in deep pools
and discover a Moon Child, Tess,
Pacific Northwest Dungeness,
Careening towards forever-after
and Grand Canyons of outer space,
Tess what do you think
when you think about crashing
through garage doors?
* * *
Shrimp heads asunder,
float up like dismembered feet
tight in orange Nikes.
Even a wave goes walking
on its one leg in fish feet.
Dear Cloud[3. Dear Cloud is just a fond invention of a name for Larry to indicate his shape-shifting capabilities and how he can reflect light or become rain, can float above or inhabit. It is a kind of metaphor for his having multiple possibilities of drift.], Dear Larry,
As Mick Connaughton from up Barroe used to say—
‘Ah ye’s a right common idjit!’ If only you’d been driving
a cart horse, Larry, your garage door would be safe.
In the villages of Romania where ruled Vlad the Impaler,
cart and horse cover all distances, but plum brandy[4. Plum brandy is called țuică in Romania and is the common drink to offer a guest or neighbor. There is a custom in Romania when someone has died of taking a drink of it and throwing the last of it on the floor or into the fire. In Hungary, the drink is known as palinca and is often stronger; most Slavic countries call plum brandy slivovitz.]
puts drivers’ heads wrong so they abuse these canny[5. Having or showing a practical cleverness or judgment <a canny card player, good at psyching out his opponents>Synonyms astute, canny, clear-eyed, clear-sighted, hard-boiled, hardheaded, heady, knowing, savvy, sharp, sharp-witted, smart.] little ponies.
Hearing this, I immediately signed over my heart to them
as they tossed along the roadways, their red
blinders zig-zagging with the swing of their heads, the whip
at the ready over their backs. Even off duty their harnesses
are left on them—something never done to our plough horses
in Missouri, and pasture to gypsies scarce so young boys are
grass. That would slow you down, Larry, on some hot afternoon
to take over for one of those boys, the cart horse
pulling grass and your mind climbing the green mountains
for mushrooms, as in your childhood. Gypsies took my friend
picking. They brought out a mess of them which his wife cooked
with polenta for us—now there’s trust—eating wild mushrooms
in Romania picked by gypsies! To squander ourselves
lightly, to be in mad company, to drink dazzling
white wine from a vineyard we walked through at dusk,
the village pickers’ red and yellow shawls hung across
the row-starts above the roses, delicate sentinels planted
to warn of disease or insects attacking the vines. Instead,
there is list-making for exit or entrance—the most
tantalizing item on Ray’s[7. Ray’s: Raymond Carver, Tess’s husband who died at 50 on Aug. 2, 1988, and was called America’s Chekhov for his world-renowned short stories.] last list: Antarctica, thrown in
with cornflakes and spam. Here in the West of Ireland
we are dipping sheep, feeding carrots to horses, planting
red peppers in a green jug, listening to the log splitter
crack open the hundred-year-old beech that fell
across the avenue. Frazer’s field, fresh cut, has yoked me
at the window challenge my white newly painted cottage
to the neighbors to prevent blindness. Today Josie cut wild
jasmine at Kingsborough, mixed now with mint, lavender
and rhododendron in a vase. Reading Basho by firelight
I marvel at the poet’s stamina at a renga party—him
with a bad stomach, drinking sake all night on his knees, setting
the pace for eighteen others. Like him I am apprenticed
to clouds which move about carrying everything they
need. Never mind my luggage held over in Paris with bottles
of Romanian wine for ballast. The wine came home unopened.
Dear Cloud, let’s carry all we need and don’t need too!
listing in our 14 ft dingy all the way to Malin Head.[9. Malin Head (Irish: Cionn Mhálanna) is located on the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal, Ireland, and is the most northerly point of the island of Ireland.] I spent,
god knows, many the day as a child bailing my father’s leaky boat
with a rusted red Folgers coffee can. If your garage door or
tail pipe is listing, at least you’re only at sea in your mind, like
those on the hunt for romance or a good marriage match
in Lisdoonvarna[10. A village in Co. Clare where each year a matchmaking festival is held, usually from 31st August to October 7. The center of this festival is dancing but it has developed to one of the largest singles activities in Europe. “People don’t necessarily come to look for a spouse – they come by the thousands in search of a good time.” Originally the village was a spa town where visitors came to use the mineral waters as a cure. Its name comes from the Irish to indicate the enclosure of the fort in the gap.] of a September eve, ten thousand swelling
the village streets—again, right common idjits! Still, I too
would give a Euro or three to get that spider out of a jar in
your childhood. Dear Cloud, it’s Ireland here and raining on
spiders and children playing in the graveyard. Let’s float over to
the Arigna[11. These coal mines, located in Derreenavoggy, Arigna Carrick-On-Shannon, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, were in operation from the 1700’s until their closure in 1990.
Tours now show what it was like to work in some of the narrowest coal seams in the Western world.] mines where a man I met worked 29 years
on his side mining coal veins on a slant. Now he lists when he
walks and spits into a bucket. But his eyes—fierce enough
to bore their way to Rathland Island where the Campbells
tossed islanders to their deaths from the cliffs. He is sanguine
on his ventilator, smiles wanly as the doctor lights him a fag. Dark
air—he knows the hollow taste of it—his head with all the light squeezed
out is another kind of cloud or spider-jar or human cry as
the gelatin ignites and a chasm opens a vein he can chip at. What
he feared, he said, was mice dislodging the fuse so detonation
timing couldn’t be gauged. Yet mice, like roses to a vineyard,
could give warning—no mice meant an unsafe tunnel.
I’ll clear out now, like mice floating through a miner’s
Josie Gray, Irish storyteller (Barnacle Soup & Other Stories from the West of Ireland)& painter, companion of Tess Gallagher’s from County Sligo, Ireland.] is singing “her hair tied up in a black velvet band,”[13. One of many “transportation” songs about men and women being deported to foreign lands from Ireland and England. It could be catalogued as a “betrayal” song. It details the fate of an Irish lad who meets a young colleen who steals a watch from another lad, and having gotten the first lad drunk, she plants the watch on him. He is brought to trial, found guilty and sent to Australia, which is called Van Dieman’s land in the song. “Australia quickly found a new population with the English courts’ vicious sentences which ripped families and communities apart in all parts of the empire, usually for crimes as trivial as poaching or the theft of a bread. Tasmanian whalers are known to have had a version of this song, The Hat With the Velvet Band, which served them as a working, drinking and fighting song” (Loesberg II, 65). The repeating chorus of the song partially quoted here is:
Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair it hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band]
* * *
and Basho drinking saki,
Dim clouds eat pink lung lining,
mice scatter helter skelter.
Old Mick’s Wisdom
Airstream-trailer-shaped clouds that resemble your
glowing white Irish cottage float by.
Unlike Eskimos and their 100 words for “snow”,
in Seattle we have one word for “rain”
often paired with a thousand adjectives
including “horizontal” which incidentally describes
what fell like a torrent of garage doors
and flooded my Japanese maple planter in an instant.
Fearing the tree would drown like spiders in a jar,
and assuming the dead-pony position, I tip it sideways.
Thick brown fluid tinged with musk and earth oozes.
In Idaho, puffy cotton balls float like
the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade’s Marshmallow-man
tethered above basalt canyons and gorges
that Evel Kneivel jumps with his red-white-
and-blue motorcycle. Same black hole tourists
hungrily bungee into, an obliterating plunge reminiscent
of Dorothy’s Kansas farm house spiraling madly
down to Oz. Idahoans call it Magic Valley, formerly a desert,
now endless fields of potatoes and Black Angus cattle.
Ten thousand Black Angus de-gas and expel manure
a mile downwind from the former Minidoka Idaho
World War II Relocation center,[14. In 1942 approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens and Japanese nationals, without due process or the commission of any crime, were incarcerated in American concentration camps called “relocation centers” by the American government. Minidoka was one of the ten camps and at its peak housed approximately 10,000 prisoners. The camps closed in 1945.] place I was born,
temporary home of 10,000 Japanese
corralled in the desert like stray cats.
Nearly sixty-eight years since Minidoka
was shuttered, my Japanese-American artist friend,
Roger Shimomura from Lawrence, Kansas
and I return to Minidoka for a symposium,
sneak out at break to scour Twin Falls antique shops
in search of the fabled porcelain karate champ statue
that separates at the waist and becomes a sake container,
kitsch that Basho would have hated
even in his most inebriated state.
Back at the conference, they debate whether Minidoka
was a concentration camp or relocation center.
As discussion swirls, I steal the microphone,
what do you call a prison in the desert with guard towers,
machine guns pointed in, armed guards, search lights,
barbed wire and soldiers who could shoot you if you tried to escape?
Not a “Dirty Dancing” summer camp in the Catskills.
Afterwards Roger honors me with lapel buttons he created,
Minidoka Croix de Guerre trifecta:
Born in America, I am not Chinese, and I speak English—
reminders he thinks useful for travels in white America.
Our conversation slides from the sublime
to airstream-trailer-shaped clouds that resemble your
glowing white Irish cottage, then on to colonoscopies,
procedures we both experienced. We marvel
at how over five feet of scoping leads to enlightenment.
Then agree colonoscopies be administered
to every politician and bureaucrat so that
Romanian wine does not become ballast,
off duty cart ponies are un-harnessed,
and garage doors hang safely like glassed–in spiders.
who once thought to blast cobwebs
from his barn with dynamite, successful at first until he
enthusiastically blows up the entire barn.
Did I say “barn”? Or maybe it was “brain”—
like your coal miner friend whose dynamite you say,
“ignites a chasm and opens a vein he can chip at.”
Oh what would Mick Connaughton from up Barroe
say about exploding barn doors, airborne spiders
and mice munching dynamite fuses
in silver Airstreams of the mind?
* * *
Nisei rip electric
barbed wire fences in protest,
cattle status rejected.
When an act is inhumane
it echoes past excuses.
your artist friend, for—but at the Irish renga party in Stokestown
following the opening of the new wing of the Famine Museum,[16. The Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, is twinned with Grosse Ile and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, Grosse Ile, Quebec, Canada. Over 5,500 Irish people who emigrated during the famine of Ireland are buried in mass graves at Grosse Ile. The Famine Museum is located in the original Stable Yards of Strokestown Park House. It was designed to commemorate the history of the famine of Ireland and in some way to balance the history of the ‘Big House’. The Great Irish famine of the 1840′s is now regarded as the single greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe. Between 1845 and 1850, when blight devastated the potato crop, in excess of two million people – almost one-quarter of the entire population – either died or emigrated.]
a smart aleck thought Basho had insulted Green
Peace and gave him a shiner. Indeed, Green Peach
was an unlikely name for a poet. As for me, in Ireland I need
a button proclaiming me not a banker where honest folk
lose homes daily and nationalized banks send a country
into debt while their managers join arms in a jig
singing “Deutschland Uber Alles!”[17. The National Anthem of Germany, composed by Joseph Haydn. This reference recalls the Anglo Irish Bank’s former manager’s singing “Deutscheland Uber Alles” in a taped phone conversation with former chief executive David Drumm. The managers knew that the billion-euro aid package from the European Union would not be enough. That’s why they swore about naive German savers… before singing the first verse of the song “Deutschland Uber Alles”.]
Thank the Berkley antique
store sincerely for the 1960’s ABORTION NOW button, though
I could not wear it with impunity to the Strandhill
Ballroom of Romance, even having re-adjusted
the baby-bump pillow in my trousers when I glimpsed the priest
and ducked into the Ladies. There, a 14-year-old girl held out
a crisp bag,[18. Crisp bag: potato chip bag. Here the reference is to the fact that women, especially poor women or women disconnected from family support who become pregnant and do not wish to have a child or cannot support a child or even with offered support decide for an abortion (rape and incest are not reasons for abortion in Ireland); the usual route would be to cross to England, usually on a boat. If they have no funds or support they have to collect that passage and cost money somehow. Holding out a chip bag in a pub is small indication of the desperation of their plight] collecting money to get her to England on the boat
for her solution.[19. In Ireland the question of whether a woman threatening suicide because she is pregnant would be allowed an abortion was brought forward during the vote for the so-called “limited abortion law” which did pass on July 12, 2013. Under the restrictive legislation, one doctor will be required to sanction an abortion in the case of a medical emergency; two in cases where there is a physical threat to the life of the pregnant woman; and three — including either an obstetrician or gynecologist and two psychiatrists — where there may be a risk of suicide.] Cut marks in a ladder on her wrist
had failed to convince a judge her life was
in danger, her attempts so ‘amateurish’. “Ah you’d
have to slice a jugular and then sure, what would be
the point? You’d bleed out then and there,” she sighed
and thumped my pillow as if she’d like to take a nap.
I dropped her a 50 Euro note and skint past her belly,
on her neck a cameo of Savita[20. Savita Halappanavar, an immigrant from India to Ireland, died in University Hospital, Galway, on 28th October, 2012, from multiple failures in treatment, but also because confusion over the anti-abortion law became a “material factor”. She had been hospitalized with an untenable pregnancy. However, under Irish law at the time, the life of an unborn fetus was to be put before the life of the mother. The baby’s heartbeat had to stop before it could be removed from her womb. Savita Halappanavar subsequently died of sepsis due to inattentiveness to her own care during this doomed pregnancy. There were world-wide protests in India and Great Britain and in Ireland. A full inquiry found that she had died as a result of what was ironically called “medical misadventure”. Her death became the stimulating factor in reconsideration of the affect of the anti-abortion law in Ireland, which prohibits abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Those issues remain the same, but a new law passed on July 12, 2013, gives better consideration to the fate of mothers when their lives are at risk in childbirth. ] secured by a black
velvet band. Savita, our lady killed by a heartbeat.
Savita, who took her degree as a dentist in India, and
came to Ireland to die of sepsis and neglect in a Galway
hospital, her untenable pregnancy gone wrong
in Catholic Ireland, her care put aside for her child’s vanishing
heartbeat. “Take my child,” she’d pleaded earlier,
to no avail, as she traded her heartbeat for her dying baby’s
silence. Savita, Savita our lady of longsuffering,
who believed her death would not be required. I drop
my not a banker button into the crisp bag and Savita smiles
shyly from the girl’s neck, as if she knows her husband
is taking her death all the way to the Court of Human Rights.
Outside the moon is so bloated I think its mirror-moon
in Lough Arrow will pull it down. Let me wear the button stamped
MOONBEAM all the way to the bottom.
Basho has written in my dream: “See you at Sun Ya Bar.”[21. Famous bar located in the Seattle International District attached to the Sun Ya Restaurant. Roger Shimomura, famous Japanese American painter, frequents it and also
occasionally other poets, writers and artists such as Lawrence and Karen Matsuda, Tess Gallagher. “At 4 on a Tuesday afternoon, the bar is half-full but pregnant with promise. Every patron is on the wrong side of 40, with blacks and whites peppered (or salted) among a mostly Asian crowd. Three television sets of varying sizes show Hurricane Isaac hitting Louisiana, Asian art adorns the walls, and red paper bulbs hang from the black tile ceiling, muting the lights. Against the back wall rest a wood stove and dartboard, both out of commission, and swivel chairs make for a potentially great bout of bumper drunks. The Bartender: Tall, dark-haired Gloria Ohashi boasts a deep voice and quick wit. A skinny regular comes in and hands her a small green pumpkin that he says he found on the bus. ‘We don’t have regulars,’ says Ohashi. ‘We have lifers.’” Reviewed for
Seattle Weekly, Sept. 11, 2011, by Mike Seeley.]
That ‘dirty vodka martini’ I had with you, Larry, at our
between-planes feast still beckons. But when, oh when!
will Roger inhabit the dark corner in the bar with a solitary
scotch so our glances can meet? I promise to engineer
an appearance if Kansas blows him our way. I could give him
some of my signature portable kisses for his next painting,
kisses imprinted with Irish poteen[22. A strong clear distilled potato whiskey made in Ireland privately and often available for weddings and special occasions or just any auld lark.] and red as a goldfinch’s
beak-rim. Irish Red let’s call it, though these finches migrate
from Africa, I’m told. Birds have no boundaries and so, dear Cloud,
they don’t agree to confinements, nor passports, nor
gun turrets, nor dispossessions, nor calling what was done to
Japanese American citizens during WWII anything but words
reserved for the worst injuries to spirit, body and mind.
Maybe though, along with a concept like ‘concentration camp’
to recalibrate the level of harm, we need more tellings, more stories
with exact details of what was suffered. Nothing substitutes for that.
Josie is humming the opening bars of “There was an auld woman
from Wexford, in Wexford she did dwell. She loved
her husband dearly, but another man twice as well.
With yah rum dum dum dum dee-ro and the blind man he could see!“[23. “The Old Woman From Wexford” (also known as “Eggs and Marrowbones”) is a traditional folk song which, like so many old folk songs, has origins lost to history. It’s a humorous ballad, wherein an unfaithful old woman is taught a lesson when her blind husband steps aside and she plunges into the lake instead of pushing him in!]
Which song ends in a bad way for the auld lady,
so I shall turn in my moonbeam for a javelin and cinch up
my babushka for certain travail.
* * *
Moonbeam, we need your
accusing light: Our Lady
Savita has died.
Slow death by bureaucracy,
civilized and remorseless.
Without borders, your gold finches
migrate like my Ficus Regina fig tree.
Undisciplined green Godzilla rises
above telephone wires and exports wild branches
over the neighbor’s white picket fence,
proliferation of celebratory leaves,
sentinels that could guard the modesty
of 100 Adams and Eves full of their apple-
induced knowledge of good and evil.
Pope Pius vaccinates impure thoughts
with aprons, fig leaves and jock straps
over marble statute genitals,
gesture that reminds me of my US army stint.
Government inoculates troops against:
typhoid, paratyphoid, polio, small pox,
black plague, but lets us catch meningitis.
I snip fig tree shoots and yank out
branches burrowing in the dirt.
Spider-like roots encroach
into my raised tomato bed.
I twist and turn tangles of fig boughs,
towards the trunk. I handcuff wildness
before it becomes a sweet-faced 14–year–old girl,
pregnant with an empty crisp bag gasping
for a solution outside Ireland.
Tess, as the phrase goes,
You gave a fig about her
or maybe 50, amount Buddha would
have dropped if he traded in Euros.
I too know empty crisp bags.
As a child l peer into my father’s cloudy eyes.
He rests in bed with a bleeding ulcer,
nothing beyond the clouds—
when he can’t stand and falls down at work,
nothing beyond the clouds—
when depression takes Mom away,
nothing beyond the clouds
except years of empty crisp bags
and hopes of finding a solution.
Under the shade of a sacred fig tree,
Siddhartha meditates 49 days.
Enlightenment flows like sap,
thunder bolt that bypasses Irish doctors
over 2,000 years later.
A bullet, spear point, or arrowhead would have
clanked in a metal surgical bowl,
but Savita, born in the land of Siddhartha,
dies as Catholic doctors
walk away from a lifeless fetus
lodged in her womb.
How their physician consciences must ache
knowing they and their oaths are shams,
empty like a flat crisp bag, even when
bolstered by misbegotten mandates.
Savita’s husband and family mourn
her senseless martyrdom, carry the indelible
weight with scars across their hearts,
face nothingness that remains
beyond the clouds.
Before her spirit touches Nirvana,
did doctors say, I couldn’t give a fig,
abusive remark that dates back to Shakespeare,
an obscenity that stains
like Savita’s outrageous death,
a bleeding ulcer on the breast of Ireland
a thousand fig leaves could never cover.
In this medieval forest,
where is the sunbeam from heaven
and the righteous button slogan, Remember Savita,
that begets a solution?
* * *
Modern Holy wars,
righteous deaths, aerial
lightning from drone strikes.
rains down on the innocent.
The Paper Airplane of Justice
On Caroline Street the seven-year-old boy
across the fence floats his paper airplane over
to me. At eight I must seem exotic.
One lands in my hair and lodges between my
pigtails, which to the airplane launcher could be
Mozambique. I’d heard a lot about Justice
since my father belonged to a union
and I knew the Airplane of Justice (name
scrawled in my mind on the airplane’s inward reaches)
did not belong in a girl’s hair. Naturally I reached
up and freed it and tried to wing it back to him.
But Justice being unwieldy, it veered off into the dahlias
to be immediately commandeered by earwigs. They must have
thought it handy indeed with its pristine streamlined
folds and pointed fuselage sans propellers. Justice
in the 1950’s was rudimentary, only a matter of
getting the folds right. Un-fazed,
I knew my duty and retrieved the plane and its cargo
of hysterical antennae, then zinged it back to the boy—
Edward I think he said his name was. This time it took
air and soared until it nose-dived miserably to his feet
and turned upside down, the earwigs having braved all this,
now considering themselves its crew. The boy, Edward,
like an Englishman I would meet much later in life,
wanly smiled and, in a mysterious show of bravery, smattered
the earwigs on the sidewalk. Justice often took no hostages, or
if it took them, did so on trains in broad daylight,
allowing its participants one suitcase each, as happened to
your parents, Larry, sent into the Idaho desert. Edward and I
could have stayed like that for days, for years—buoyantly,
precariously floating the Airplane of Justice back and forth
across a picket fence, except that it began to rain. We took
little notice until the soggy paper splayed open to its creased
center fold. Edward stroked his fingers again and again over
the faint imprint of the Engine of Justice to no avail. It
sputtered rain and grime from his dirty finger tips. No,
flight was out of the question. It was then I managed to
flutter lightly over the fence in my flour-sack dress sewn by my
grandmother in Missouri, and together Edward and I
performed an impromptu rain-dance burial right there,
in Edward’s front yard, strewing dahlia petals and
pansies like crippled butterflies over the collapsed remains
in respect for all the effort at flight its paper had made
that long ago afternoon. I recalled today the simplicity,
delight and matter-of-fact acceptance at the crumpled
outcome of our serious play. Edward grew up to be a coroner
in a tidy Eastern Washington town, whilst I came to Ireland
to write poems and live in a cottage by a lake near
an ivy-covered abbey. Daily I read The Irish Independent
where Savita, dead of “medical misadventure”
as the examining committee determined, became
the victim of her unborn baby. Now with Savita’s memory
to propel him onward, her father in India announces
he will sue the Galway Hospital.
‘No more women in Ireland must die as she died,’ he says,
though he knows suing won’t bring her back—Savita
with the vermillion bindi, her smile like white diamonds
beaming in life all over Ireland in the paper Airplane of Justice
in The Irish Independent. How frustrating
Irish weather must be to young boys and girls
floating their paper airplanes, I think, as I fold this poem
into its hopeful winged shape, lift it to soar above Jimmy
Frazer’s field toward America, where by another form,
you Larry, will click it up unhindered by rain and struggles
with the intricate water-seeking root system of your fig tree
from which I must beg some cuttings.
* * *
Justice, my paper
airplane, delivers earwigs
from the dahlias.
First class shadow passenger,
injustice demands its due.
Justice is a paper airplane
fragile in its twisting flights
and break-nose landings,
design not meant to defy gravity for long.
In the instant before paper strikes rock,
mother earth claims victory. Those
entitled are served justice like soup du jour,
innocent late-risers routinely
crushed like earwigs after the fall.
Falsely we believe all deserve the fruits
of flight, as if our names are Wallenda,
leotard clad bodies forever cart-wheeling
without nets.[24. The Flying Wallendas, circus performers for the Ringling Brothers Circus, from the 1930s, were famous for the seven-person chair pyramid act on the high wire without a net. The “flying” label was earned when four members fell and survived relatively unscathed. In 1962 they fell again and two died.] As an eight-year-old,
you stand alone by the white picket fence
on Caroline Street in Port Angeles.
What a sight—frayed pigtails
held tight by red rubber bands taming
a wild splay of brown waves. Woven strands,
ideal for inkwell dipping and butterfly landings
as the West wind rises over the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
With outstretched arms you embrace each gust,
your homemade sack-cloth dress billows like a sail.
Proudly you sport red-striped knee-length socks
pulled over stork legs that poke out
of a pair of black bone-dry school patrol
high-tops. Leather shoelaces crisscross and sprout
from copper-colored eyelets, and snug tight
to the hooks near the top of the tongue.
You are a young boy’s vision of first love, part waif,
part rustic wonderment, facing Edward’s
two story house. Ruled by latitudes and longitudes
of earth’s magnetic fields, momentarily your body
assumes a twisted pose reminiscent of Wyeth’s painting
of Christina in a pink dress with dark hair. She crawls
crab-like in a field of dry grass, grasping
and stretching towards the house on the hill.
You tilt your head and stand frozen at the fence,
hold your breath for Edward to appear
and zing his paper glider.
His missiles mean to lasso your heart but
fall short, close enough like horseshoes
to lure you over the barrier
for an impromptu mud and dahlia dance.
Continuing the jig could have landed
you in a small Eastern Washington village,
wife of the town coroner, official who each day
touches those that gravity has overtaken.
He might have listed Savita’s passing as
“an overdose of injustice resulting in death,”
an admonishment to people of differing ethnicity
who should know better than to attempt
a risky childbirth in Catholic Ireland.
That imagined marriage union between you
and Edward is light years from where you left
your boots in a heap to pose barefoot on a mare
named Butterscotch for Annie Leibovitz. In the photo,
your long hair glistens like a horse’s mane, precious image
not unlike Whoopi Goldberg’s face and limbs
peeking from a bathtub of milk, and Meryl Streep
pinching and pulling her white mime face
into a Kabuki actor’s visage for a Rolling Stone cover.
You are Icarus’s sister at undreamed heights.
With a 20-foot wingspan and rack of a 1,000 bald eagle feathers,
you glide above green seas and blue hills
to warm hives and stone temples among distant stars that flicker,
place where paper airplanes go to die, beyond the pull of justice.
Air so thin only Fate, Karma and ghost dahlias reside.
* * *
Sack cloth hunger pains,
transform silk dreams into yachts
and Mercedes Benz.
Pack my bag like Rosco Gordon,
blues man kicked from a fountain.[25. Rosco Gordon was a famous Beale Street Blues man who as a child was kicked away from a water fountain by a white man. When he died his bags were packed for his next gig.]
If Your Brother’s Wings Are Melting
one might hope for a sea beneath him, except
that, you guessed it, he can’t swim: thus
he drowns and has to live on in the useful
form of a warning—that if your wings are
made of wax, make sure to wear a life preserver
over your wet suit and do your flying only over
the Irish Sea where the sun is sure to have gone
elsewhere. Sadly the lives of cats are similarly
instructive. I recall the demise of my first cat, Tiger Lil,
explained to me at the age of two as caused by her
having eaten too many snakes. I vowed then and there
never to eat snakes and have kept to that. One’s survival
does seem fraught with advice, which, however well intended,
often fails, in its expression, to catch our attention. Why,
flew near the sun he’d simply end up as
“skinny-jeaned indie landfill” or swamp him with
“an inconvenient flow of parliamentary
language” if he proposed flinging himself from the nearest
castle tower or crumbling abbey: “Take a trial flutter
from yon fallen bog stump, me lusty lad,” is what he
should have said, “and let’s see does this contraption
work.” Or, the odd threat might have caught his son’s fancy:
“if you fall you’ll be considered nothing but a poor
misguided wannabe and whatever is left of you will likely be
traded out to Hungarian sex traffickers as relics
for pagan rituals.” Thank you Brian Boyd,[26. Brian Boyd is a columnist for The Irish Independent on music. This paper is generally perceived as being politically liberal and progressive, as well as being center-right on economic issues. (Wikipedia)] whose sashays
through the music scene in the Irish Independent prove
that, had Boyd been the father of Icarus, the boy
would likely have listened, then told his dad to take
his wax-winged affliction of comic inevitability and strap
it to his own backside and jump off the Giants’ Causeway
at high noon imported from an African heat wave.
But no, we get lost in what a good, obedient, trusting son
Icarus was to—yes, yes daddy—strap on that pair
of perishable would-be wings that even
a queen bee’s laziest honey-drunk drone would have
recognized as a death-buoy. The successful
warnings of my own childhood usually began “If
you don’t” followed shortly by endearments such as
“you’ll wish you were an angel on a burning
Christmas tree in hell when I get finished with you!”
The sought after tiara of fear meant to drip
its scalding candle-wax of obedience somehow never
seeped into my brain. I saw myself rather as a kind of
interplanetary octopus grabbing up alternatives
as fast as anything failed me. Of course
Daedalus did fly successfully off Crete with those same
un-microwavable wings, and for the myth’s sake went on
to engineer temples and serve other kings. But now we
have stumbled into the labyrinth, one of his better inventions,
though the seven virgins devoured yearly by the Minotaur
might not agree, and I must return on their behalf to
my Independent to check out the disgruntled visage of
the Fine Gael Party Whip, Lucinda Creighton,[27. Lucinda Creighton disagreed especially with the suicide provision in the proposed and ultimately adopted “limited abortion law”. When a party whip goes against her party she can not continue in that position and must be dropped from the party.] who has been
dropped from the party for voting against
in childbirth, Savita smiling diamonds as Lucinda
clears out her desk, scoops up her €40,000 severance pay
and clatters down the long hallway of Justice, Savita
snacking on the Minotaur, pulling out the virgins one
by one from his gory maw by their hair, Savita stringing us along
until we stumble into sunlight, tethered to an ant
who led us free, not knowing the way.
* * *
her tormentors: limited
abortion rights gained.
White covers sweet coat-hanger
victim, sepsis odors swirl.
In Memory of Kip
Tess, the day I received your last poem
from Ireland about your brother’s wings,
my friend, Kip, died of a heart attack
casting trout lines on a small Whidbey Island lake.
Shocked and brain tired,
I consult your imagination
where Native American visions reside.
You instruct me to build a driftwood bonfire at midnight
on Alki beach, near the stone lighthouse on the Salish Sea
where silver salmon school in green kelp beds.
Orange flames explode gnarled limbs and branches
as they spark into crackling fireflies.
Smoke sprints north over the bay
like skywriter vapor trails, leaving charcoal
for war paint and petroglyph drawings.
You share a prayer with me,
Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo,[28. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is a Buddhist chant intended to awaken enlightenment and the Buddha within.]
mystical Buddhist sutra of the Lotus
unfolding to enlightenment.
I strike the brass singing bowl.
Clear like a cast iron bell it rings. Then
crisp high pitch fades to a thin thread.
Echoes call bald eagles nesting
in cedars above the sandy cliffs.
Under a full moon,
above roiling whitecaps,
black and white messengers glide,
dive and summon the Orca pods.
A fisherman king has died.
* * *
Husky football stands,
purple and gold, your daughter,
my guest, waves crimson.
Bonfire sparks fireflies of night
into which we leap like deer.
Tess Gallagher’s ninth volume of poetry, is Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems, from Graywolf Press and Bloodaxe Press in England. Other poetry includes Dear Ghosts, Moon Crossing Bridge, and Amplitude. Her A Path to the Sea, translations of Liliana Ursu’s by Adam Sorkin, Ms. Gallagher and Ms. Ursu came out in 2011. Gallagher’s The Man from Kenvara: Selected Stories was published fall 2009. Barnacle Soup—Stories from the West of Ireland, a collaboration with the Sligo storyteller Josie Gray, is available in the US from Carnegie Mellon. Distant Rain, a conversation with the highly respected Buddhist nun, Jacucho Setouchi, of Kyoto, is both an art book and a cross-cultural moment. Gallagher is also the author of Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray; A Concert of Tenses: Essays on Poetry, and two collections of short fiction: At the Owl Woman Saloon and The Lover of Horses and Other Stories. She spearheaded the publication of Raymond Carver’s Beginners in Library of America’s complete collection of his stories published Fall 2009 and is forthcoming as a stand alone volume in 2015. Most recently she shepherded the use of Raymond Carver’s poem and story in the 2015 Oscar winning Birdman, directed by Alejandro Inarritu. She spends time in a cottage on Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo in the West of Ireland where many of her new poems are set, and also lives and writes in her hometown of Port Angeles, Washington.
Lawrence Matsuda was born in the Minidoka, Idaho Concentration Camp during World War II. He and his family were among the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese held without due process for approximately three years or more. Matsuda has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Washington and was: a secondary teacher, university counselor, state level administrator, school principal, assistant superintendent, educational consultant, and visiting professor at Seattle University (SU).
In 2005, he and two SU colleagues co-edited the book, Community and difference: teaching, pluralism and social justice, Peter Lang Publishing, New York. It won the 2006 National Association of Multicultural Education Phillip Chinn Book Award. In July of 2010, his book of poetry entitled, A Cold Wind from Idaho was published by Black Lawrence Press in New York.
His poems appear in Ambush Review, Raven Chronicles, New Orleans Review, Floating Bridge Review, Black Lawrence Press website, Poets Against the War website, Cerise Press, Nostalgia Magazine, Plume, Malpais Review, Zero Ducats, Surviving Minidoka (book), Meet Me at Higos (book), Minidoka-An American Concentration Camp (book and photographs), Tidepools Magazine, and the Seattle Journal for Social Justice.
In addition, eight of his poems were the subject of a 60 minute dance presentation entitled, Minidoka performed by Whitman College students in Walla Walla, Washington (2011).
His new book, Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner published by CreateSpace was released in August of 2014. It is collection of Matsuda’s poetry and Roger Shimomura’s art.