Clouds, like Toledo (edit 2)

Riding south on the Major Deegan, across
the river, a mile below the George Washington
Bridge, see?  The tower, bluffs and an island of
tree-covered hills.

And today, sun-painted faces of rows of fast-
moving, sullen clouds — like El Greco’s Toledo.
The wind shapes branches into masses of gray
and shears them to the west, and the sky moves
east.   It’s early in December.  Someone’s been
shooting paintballs into the trees, or so it seems,
the way leaves glow in sheltered nooks.  When
you swing around to the Triborough view, see?
Three cities at once.

Manhattan’s in shock, threatened by
banks of huge clouds that dwarf its towers.
Brooklyn’s still asleep, its heavens lit with
pale fire, a boiling rage of ocean, wind
and sun that runs fast to sea.
And Queens?  She swoons in tatters
of soft pink floss, while overhead, smears
of blue say winds are calm over
the Sound.

Like that, this
view’s for you.

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Clouds, like Toledo (edit 1)

Riding southeast down
the Major Deegan, about a mile
below the George Washington Bridge,
there’s a heaven of driven clouds,
like El Greco’s Toledo.
The clouds rise over the river
and the hills of Manhattan beyond.
On the bluffs, the wind shears trees west,
molding twigs into gray billows.
The clouds move fast — they seem
to bend the sky to eastward — and
in their shadows, leaves (some are still alive)
glow in sheltered nooks.

We swing around to a Triborough view —
three cities at once —
Manhattan: shocked and overhung
with massive banks of grays,
its towers like toys.
Brooklyn: asleep while ranks of pale fire — boiling
rages of ocean, wind and sun —
run out to sea.
And Queens: soft in pinkish floss under
smears of blue that say winds have
calmed over the Sound.

Heading down the eastern span,
I’m thinking how to share the view with you.

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Prescriptive (edit 2)

If happiness is honey, tickly-thick
enough to make you choke,
if happiness is wine, a smooth swallow
and a short-lived high,
if you’re defended against joy,
and now you’re breathing faint for want of it,
the remedy is to take happiness anyway.
You already know life will trip you up
and slap your smile away — don’t
give it an assist.
If your secret is that joy’s a fleeting presence,
if you don’t like loss, and you know
joy’s as insubstantial as leaves in the wind,
the remedy is to catch it, even so.
Open your arms,
stretch out your fingers,
and catch good times as
they whistle past your ears.
Flying leaves land and crumble.
But they’re tender, too, and
when held up to the sun
offer shade in red,
green and gold.

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Prescriptive (edit 1)

If happiness is honey-like,
so thick that it tickles
or makes you choke,
if happiness is wine-like,
a smooth swallow
and a short-lived high,
if you’ve defended yourself
from joy, and now
you’re breathing faint for want of it,
the remedy is to take it anyway.
Life will trip you, push you around
and slap away your smile — don’t
give it an assist.
If your secret is a fear
of joy’s fleeting presence,
if you don’t like loss and you know
joy’s as insubstantial
as leaves in the wind,
the remedy is to catch its moments,
even so.
Hold your arms wide, open your fingers to good times
when they whistle past your ears.
Most leaves will crumble to dust in the hand.
Sometimes, though, they’re tender and, when
held up to the sun,
shade you
in red, green and gold.

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Prescriptive (original)

If happiness is honey-like,
so sweet and thick
that it tickles the back of your throat
and makes you choke,
or if it’s wine-like, something to swallow,
but never to languish in,
if you hold up your hands to keep happiness away,
and you’re growing too thin and your breathing is faint
for want of joy,
the remedy is to take it anyway.
Real life is rough, and will trip you up,
push you around, and slap your smiles away.
This you know.
Don’t make its jagged textures steeper
and more cutting by forgoing
happiness.
If you secretly fear the loss of joy, because
you’ve seen that it’s fleeting,
and you don’t like to take losses,
if happiness has proved it’s as insubstantial
as dying leaves on the wind,
the remedy is to catch each happy moment even so.
Open your arms and flatten out your hands,
to trap the good times as they whistle past your ears.
Like leaves, most will crumble.
They’ll be fine, light dust on a sunny day,
or darkened mud when it’s pouring.
But sometimes they’ll be translucent and tender,
and, held up to the sun, will umbrella your life
with shades of red, green and gold.

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The value of dissolution, part 2 (edit 1)

Chhoti Bahu, she of the biggest eyes and motion
most honey-like, begs you to stay.
Here is she:
bound by your space, still at your whimsy,
her desire ‘broidered and enfolded in silk,
now softened to the lateral by draughts
of sharaab, throwing petals.
How could the asking be more gentle?
You stiffen and flinch as if roses are made of flint,
as if to your ears her song
is a loud and acid vibration.
You wince under the petal-storm, duck,
lay the blame on her, and reach down to stay her.
She catches your hand. She wants a touch
of attention and respect, nothing more, just
a little two-way conversation.
You let yourself be held, then tear yourself away.
Note, you let yourself be held.
Meena Begum is never more beautiful than when she’s
at your feet in this role, her hair a river
of dark silk, made by God to cool your irritated skin.
Her love’s stronger than the laziness and self-contempt
I see in you,
and when you’re ill and honest thus, you remember her
and let yourself be gathered to her breast.
She can’t save you –
not one of us can save another, forever.
Her sacrifice is a gift you say you don’t want.
But you take it anyway.
In time, far away in some
limitless place,
her dissolution is going to soften
the harshness you learned to breath.

(part 1 isn’t written, and maybe never will be.)

Note: This is an ekphrasis on the picturization of the song Na Jao Saiyan Chhudaake Baiyan from Guru Dutt‘s 1962 Hindi film Shahib Bibi aur Ghulam. The actress is Meena Kumari, the actor is Rehman. Chhoti Bahu means little or younger sister-in-law, in an extended family setting; sharaab means wine; Begum is a term of respect, similar to the old formality Mistress.

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The value of dissolution, part 2

Chhoti Bahu, big-eyed, liquid-limbed,
held by inner-space, broidered and decorated,
sharaab-hazed, throwing petals:
what could be more gentle? He flinches, even so.
Are the roses carved from flint? Does he hear her song
loud, an acid vibration in his ears? He winces, ducks,
and lays the blame on her, then reaches down
at last to stay her. Lit up, she catches his hand.
That’s what she wants,
a voluntary touch of attention and respect.
Nothing more: just a little two-way conversation.
He lets himself be held,
then tears himself away.
Note: he lets himself be held,
then has to
tear his hand from hers.
Meena Begum was never more beautiful than when
she’s at his feet in this role,
her hair a river of dark silk, God-made
to cool his jumpy skin.
Her love’s stronger than his lazy self-contempt,
and when he’s ill, and honest thus, he remembers,
and lets himself be gathered in.
She can’t save him – not one of us
can save another, forever. But we try.
Her sacrifice is a gift he says he doesn’t want,
but takes. In time, far away in some
limitless place, her dissolution softens
the harshness he had learned to breath.

(part 1 isn’t written, and maybe never will be.)

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Like a fall of earth (edit 3)

Like a fall of earth in a tiny cave (a beetle’s home)
or sweet soft rain
on pinnate leaves — quiet like that, he slips into the sea
and froths up a dance, and the sea turns blue,
and the dance goes on, as the sea and the man
bring love to the center
of the earth.

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Like a fall of earth (edit 2)

Like a fall of earth in a tiny cave —
a beetle’s home — or fine sweet rain
on pinnate leaves,
something small slips
into the sea and kicks up a swirl,
a frothy dance, till the sea turns blue.
Then,
hand in hand, the sea
and the man make love
the center of the earth.

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Like a fall of earth (edit 1)

Like a fall of earth
in a tiny cave
dug by a beetle,
like a raindrop
making no splash
on a delicate leaf,
quiet and soft,
something small slides
into the sea
and twists and swirls
a dance of self
till the sea turns blue.
Hand in hand,
the sea and the man
make love
the center of life.

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