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JEFFERY BEAM: POEMS SMALL & NOT SO SMALL

Poems awkward in construction and, I hope, as I write them, awkwardly human, profess a spiritual landscape which inhabits both inner self and outer ground – my“pelican standing guard” or those“crickets singing at eye level… me on the ground with their song.” My body one with spirit and absorbed into the world – which for me is not of warring dualities, but where the other and the here & now pronounce their inseparableness. The open-endedness I leave is a path. Antonio Porchia says,“A thing, until it is everything, is noise, and once it is everything it is silence.”

Unlike many of my southern brethren and sisters, I have few “stories” to tell, although I have often found myself drawn to sequences, and even making books of poems, which recount an interior tale rendered from the body, places, and in the living plant and animal world - such as “The Life of the Bee,”“An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold”,“Washing Linen in the River”,“Visions of Dame Kind”,“Honey & Cooked Grapes”. Lyrics for a Demeter & Persephone opera and“versions” of Corsican voceri and mazzerime songs presently engage my myth-making, sometimes, scholarly practice.

The small poem continues to fascinate me, too, and I am intent on making something new from the examples found in the literature and folk traditions of the East and West – Japan, India, China, Korea and Malaysia; poems of Islam, poems of D. H. Lawrence, and poems of the contemporary small poem movement in America and Britain. Over eight years ago I began experimenting with one line poems. Of late, they sometimes coalesce into loose sequences or linked one-liners. I’m trying to invigorate the startling propulsion of haiku’s accessible simplicity and minimalism, while creating a more active canvas. They frequently root themselves in places I have been and love.

I offer here a small anthology. Some small poems; then some others.


Tour de Faure (Lot Valley, France)

yellow green in gray dawn birdsong
one duck searching for summer’s worm


Neuse River Poem

long night belly empty mind full pen squeamish for each word
bird flight through lightning wind dark tree
whistle wind whistle rain black snake guarding the garden shed
bird bend low into west-ridden water gray crest gray sunset rain
coral snake slithering across porch where's my flashlight tonight
lightning bolt answer my question
show me my thought splitting black water-rain heartbeat
tonight Zeus tomorrow Thor midnights of the sun
afternoons of the storm


(Neuse River - Evening)

Friends cards table hilarity chance
Night falls wine glasses empty
Pelican standing guard
No one wins no one loses


(Neuse River - Morning)

Cool very clear clammy still but sun-quiet vacancies surrounding


Italian Scene (Sicily)
It is through celebration that we become part of what we perceive; the great arc of
birdsong – that runs around the world in the receding darkness and through which
we are swept into the light of day – is as much part of the dawn as the sun’s first flash.
Norman Mommens

Morning swifts piercing rippled clouds their circling narrows a blue tower
Cypresses between vineyards hillsides hung with goats and stormlight
Villas in rain figs marrying the vine
Perpendicular cliff footpath to cave rosemary midnight crevice
Pick up stone surprise eternal weightlessness how heavy
Straw whispers Goddess’s cold breath
Then falling water lemony smoke warm breezes
Pick up stone surprise eternal density how light
We pass a red blaze roasted pears honey wine
Under deepening sky a hundred candles in windows
Simple rapture woman crouching in the garden


Aurelius says (In the Blue Ridge Mountains)

Let the deity within you be the guardian of a living being
Red on the black gum leaves
Ants crawling on my neck skin tingling
Goldenrod’s green gold river wind


Drought (My Orange County garden)

Never mind the moonlight liquid on my eye garden
Divine light never ceases


(My Orange County garden)

Black moss a bird's still eye my infinite room


(My Orange County garden)

Humility nourishes everything
Do good so you would soothe
Your face should always be shining


(My favorite childhood woodland retreat)

In the childhood forest beetle in creekside mud
peering into their black holes seeing everything forgotten

What I came here to learn


Foggy Mountain Sutra

Black shadows in the room outdoor fog at bay

Fog drops shadow drops transparence window

In limitless fog branches silhouetted against gray dawn
Who are you now

Beyond thick mist sky beyond thick mist sun
Who knows where light sleeps

Close your eyes clock ticking
Open them clock ticking still

Fog night’s gray feathers down lifted
Fog dawn’s gray feathers at rest

Lift fog from gray-black beech limbs find black-gray fog

See me in the green by fog world’s ocean
Illusion doesn’t want me fog needs me

A fog hat on the fern fronds a frog plop on the frog pond

Marl grass blanket for winter’s beetles no birds fly

Halfway up slope spring burbles into fog morning
Not only water not only sound

I hunger for all I don’t see
What sees me hungers more
World without foggy end

Anxious to waken anxious to go out
What gray bones dance me to my grave

Mountain pillows to rest fog cushions in dream’s land

Why keep dreaming loss fog filters eye iris
Fog thickens blood love stiffens love

Still night lingers fog holds sun in its cup
Waiting for the right moment now


The Bamboo Thicket
For D. H. Lawrence

You have only to look
to hear

boys walking through you
The thwack thwack

of sticks
& stones


Live Oaks

I turn from the drowned
shaking my

wet beard
into

your isolated grove.


For Basho

In the circling of the minnows
red lights
from the signals &

the towers.


Poem

Remembering Spring
in the roses,
the horses
are silent.

Open the windows.
Let the wrens in!


When You Stop to Rest

The swallows
in you
remain
in you


Demeter’s Sorrow

A heart that never knows it’s broken
thus collapses upon itself
wayward & wan
its capillaries thickened
longing shaping

And so I strode the world bold & womanly
Motherlyrich
until then
when I knew sorrow becoming grief
grief becoming anguish
anguish becoming catastrophe

Meadows sickened under my breath
Rivers & lakes grew brown with muck
then
brown with nothing
Nothing was my heart
& nothing my gift to the uncommunicative earth

Where my sweet daffodil daughter?
Where my pomegranate? My red & orange scented
little me?

No one will answer me
Stones turn their backs at my pleading

Enough

From my breath which once spoke rain now comes
flame
From my womb which one birthed oranges & ivy now
descends
Nothing
Nothing Nothing Nothing & more Nothing

I hold back & will not give
I cannot give
All generosity flees me stolen by the unknown rapier
the wretched coward who shall know nothing but darkness
dry fire death
Surely, my brother Death will appease my suffering
mirror & enlarge it
as my futile womb shrinks & desiccates & I
detonate my fruits with my pain

Let’s see what mouths futility opens
what tales the flowers’ tender deaths will inscribe

I am my killing self now
Do not cross me
I am where you have never wished to come
& now
you are brought here by thievery
by the unheard soft cries of daughter, Kore,
my only my peach my white cloud whose nimbus
danced the meadow
whose song winnowed mine

Now all is Nothing
gone with the morning heat
blistering into coals
Ash! Ash! Ash on my brow!

I hold back & will not give
Cannot give

I detonate the earth’s fruits with my pain
Taste fire
Taste desert
Taste me in my anguish born of grief born
of sorrow

My last fruit

My final generosity


Demeter to Hecate

A heart unbroken cannot hold that which cannot be known
Tears fallen unclaimed will not leave your alone
Then alone welcomes you into its whole and populous vacancy

Blue does not blue unless you have been where you would not go
And, when you look with eyes that dare not see
You hear rain
And stars popping wildly in the whiteless night


That Night

That body
That face
That full moon
That hour
That grass
That night
That sound
That body
That body
That fire
That face
That you
That sound
That body


tree on a misty hill
fawn with dark eyes
surrounded by evening skies
pavement ending in dust
green with summer's black-green
coming over us with its breath
crickets singing at eye level
me on the ground with their song
another touching me with fire
round as the moon burning as the sun
fawn with dark eyes
speaking in tongues unknown and green
crickets singing in my ear
tree on a misty hill


A Stone Falling,
A Falling Stone

I am not afraid to fall.
Drop me from a tower and I
simply hit the earth. Hold on
to me, I am earth still.
I want to fall, it is the first
dream for me. And the earth
my drum that I play.

A stone falling, a falling stone.
Whether I burn or not --
that's beside the point.
The point, this:
when the earth
makes a stone
the sky still fathers it.
When the earth makes a stone,
it's made for falling.

I am not afraid to fall.


Millennium Approaches [The Life of the Bee]

That the world is painfully beautiful painfully sad
That spent blossoms recall earth under which they once slept
Remembering air into which they now fall


Worker Bee Prayer [The Life of the Bee]

Virgin daughter of toil
whose mysterious duties begin in light
now closely huddled
in darkness numbed it seems into
geometric silence
shimmering imperceptibly
unsuffocated by multitude
enlivened sacrificed entirely
to Republic to hive
to perpetual chastity
to manifold activity group mind
Instant pearl-diver
breaking out head first
through the living walls enclosing
into flowery expanse world
without blooming end
Return gasping for breath
into the syncopating mass
in which you freely breathe
Happy winged organ of your race
if ever isolated
dying from loneliness
tell us how among
our own adversities individualities
we might make something
whole
something
perfected by work
and sacrifice
something honey-gold


The Suicide
after Rilke's letters

The open lake,
indescribably open to all.
The dismal background.
This lovely prospect.

Nearly astonished,
I have been ready
to renounce
all its blessings.

Nature, if I am not yet
entirely lost to you:
penetrate
the mind.

Standing
bent
with unrestrainable
heart,

equally difficult,
sullen towards Death:
penetrate
the mind.


Against Sorrow
after Rilke's letters

No letter to atone for silence.
In unison with me,
space untouched,
angelic space.
Quiet lamps.

I am too full.
How I reproach myself,
no longer remaining idle.

I think of you.
I have words --
a tree.

And the poor rain.

I am absorbed,
altered internally.
A page
crossed and criss-
crossed out.
A future open.
Infinite
hopelessness cured.

I go out a lot evenings
against the chaos of time.

The maple trees’
fired leaves.


Jeffery Beam is poetry editor of the print and online journal, Oyster Boy Review, and a botanical librarian at UNC-Chapel Hill. His many works of poetry include Visions of Dame Kind (The Jargon Society), An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold (Horse & Buggy Press), The Fountain (North Carolina Wesleyan College Press), and two CDs. His new and selected spoken word CD collection, What We Have Lost, was a 2003 Audio Publishers Association Award finalist. His art song collaboration, “The Life of the Bee”, with composer Lee Hoiby, premiered at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and continues to be performed on the national and international stage. A studio recording including Beam’s recitation of the poems and the musicians and singer performing the songs can be heard on Albany Record’s New Growth. A new book, The Beautiful Tendons, is due in late 2006, and he is looking for a publisher for a series of children’s books. His current projects are the libretto for an opera based on the Persephone myth, and “versions” of Corsican voceri and mazzerime songs. Beam lives in Hillsborough with his partner of 25 years, Stanley Finch. You can read more about Jeffery, and see and hear more of his poetry at his website.


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