Grasslands

January 24, 2012

The way the world sways. Every leaf left
in place, its stance chiseled to each blade,
an iteration of time; each tassel of seeds,
thy bread, thy handmaiden;
as breath on the brink of disappearance,
becomes a wave become water; proportions so
large so as to stagger the seasons—
one winter questioning another.

We listen. We listen as if musical crabs are tracing a
giant sine wave across the dark mud flats.
We watch it as if a rotted rowboat, its oars like two hands
at prayer, is signaling a gesture
of permanence towards the sky. The grass
has turned from gray to blue to green.
The tide washes in. A bell is rung.
It’s as if the merry-go-round has turned it’s calliope on.
What Lao-tse has said is true.
The earth is a bellows. Use it.
The grasslands bellow and glow.

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9 Responses to “Grasslands”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Thank you, Oona. I appreciate it that you spent some time reading. I will look at your poems…soon. Very busy for the next couple of days.

  2. Oona Hays Says:

    The imagery in this poem is enchanting.

  3. extrasimile Says:

    One of the books I value most is a slim volume called ‘The Taoist Vision,’ an introductory anthology put together by William McNaughton. I suppose as a collection of Taoist writings, it is nothing special, but sometimes books just come to you at the right time (in this case, circa 1971). Here is a quote from a chapter called ‘the Emptiness of the Tao’:
    ‘The thirty spokes join on the one hub, and their usefulness to the carriage is just where it isn’t…The space between Heaven and Earth, well, it’s like a bellows: it’s empty and inexhaustible, it moves and continues to emerge…Use it. It will not wear out.’
    While we’re at it, let’s listen as Joanna Macy (from The World as Lover, the World as Self) explains the Buddhist doctrine symbolized by the Wheel of the Dharma:
    ‘All the factors of our lives subsist, then, in a web of mutual causality. Our suffering is caused the interplay of these factors, and particularly by the delusion, aversion, and craving that arise from our misapprehension of them. Hence, the Four Nobel Truths: We create our own bondage by reifying and clinging to what is by nature contingent and transient. Being caused in this way, our suffering is not endemic. It can cease. The causal play can be reversed. This is caused by seeing the true nature of phenomena, which is their radical interdependence.’
    So, yes, Thomas, I would say the idea that the earth is a bellows is important—though, of course, when the grasslands bellow…well, I hope we do pay attention.
    Your analysis is again stunning. The iteration of everything—the breath, the tides, the seasons—is of the essence. (Here is the place for me to say, Yikes! Did I really say that?)
    But really I’d say this poem points to something simple which is not so simple at all. John is quite right to watch the grass turn colors. The sun is coming up. The sun is coming up!

  4. Thomas Davis Says:

    Oh, ExtraSimile, an ocean that is really a grassland. The puzzles you love to tease us with, waving and dancing like a dancer in a dark tent with a hundred veils that keep moving and moving until we are in a trance.
    I am always glad when John gets here first. He always helps inform what I write.
    The key lines in the poem, at least to me, are toward the end:
    What Lao-tse has said is true.
    The earth is a bellows. Use it.
    The poem is about how the world sways. You said that in your first line. But in this metaphysical reflection where each blade of grass, its stance chiseled to each blade, is an iteration of time, part of a moment that is frozen in time. Even breath on the brink of disappearance is an iteration in this same sense. But, of course, in the act of disappearance, like the iterations of grass, breath, bread, tassels of seed, the waves of time become water, which spreads out through the iterations of all the blades of grass, all the breaths, into
    proportions so
    large so as to stagger the seasons–
    so large that one winter, like breath, questions another, wave after wave of time moving forward while still being frozen within the moment of themselves.
    As humans we listen to time’s waves,
    as if musical crabs are tracing a
    giant sine wave across the dark mud flat,
    creating the music of time. I love so many images in this poem.
    We watch time as if it was a rotting rowboat signaling a gesture of permanence (which, in the metaphysical sense of the being of all time is real) to the sky.
    The grass, and this is where John helped me understand the poem, the waves, turn within the movement of time, from gray to blue to green. The tide washes in. A bell is rung. It is as if the merry go round of time has turned its calliope, its movement, its lights and fantasy, on and swirls around and around.
    Then we get to the crucial lines, Lao Tse’s truth. The earth is a bellows: Like the bellows of a blacksmith used to heat up the fire for bending metals, except in this case for stirring through, living in, metaphysically being time. “Use it.”
    “The grasslands bellow and glow.”
    The final line takes us back to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the earlier lines:
    “Every leaf left
    in place, its stance chiseled to each blade,
    an iteration of time.”
    The question for Jim and John is, did I get this right?

  5. extrasimile Says:

    No, I’m not a mathematician either. I just wanted something that would show the wave action of the water, and illustrate the large even sound that was being played by the tides, the rising sun, the crabs picking about for food—the cosmos as vibration, the earth as a bellows—and the sine curve seemed to do it. A vast harmonium.
    Thanks again, John

  6. John Stevens Says:

    Yes indeed, these lines are beautiful: they sway and wave like the prairie grass or the reed beds moving with the breath of the wind …
    and detailed observation supports this, so it’s not just the sound of the words: each leaf chiselled to a blade, each stem with its tassel of seeds, the oars like two hands at prayer (but why a sine wave exactly? – never mind, I’m no mathematician).
    And the simile: the grass has turned from grey to blue to green (perhaps as the daylight increases) and the image of water, of the tide, naturally flows into the verse, and with that the bell, then the calliope, the bellows, and as you say we’re listening as well as watching.
    Lovely.

  7. extrasimile Says:

    Thanks to you both. I kind of like the two together. A little religion, a little science…though ‘We listen. We listen as if…’ somehow pulled it all together for me.

    A different world, huh. That’s interesting.


  8. this is incredible. i love the lines “We listen. We listen as if musical crabs are tracing a / giant sine wave across the dark mud flats.” almost transports you in a different world xx

  9. Eve Redwater Says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful.

    “We watch it as if a rotted rowboat, its oars like two hands
    at prayer, is signaling a gesture” – is my favourite line.

    A pleasure to read, thank you for this!
    Eve


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