Yesterday

It’s national poetry month and I have some things indolently percolating in the notebook but nothing ready to post just yet. But the month is about to end and I’m nothing if not sensitive to the pressures of the calendar. So here’s a better poem, but the great mystical poet W.S. Merwin. It’s been living in the back of my mind since the 1980s, when it first occurred to me that it applies to me. I was in college studying literature when it was published so I probably saw it hot off the press. Those were days in ways that today and yesterday were not, if you know what I mean.

https://poets.org/poem/yesterday

I’ll try to get one of those new poems up by the weekend but no promises. I don’t think any of us is responding well to pressure these days. We know the consequences of our actions only in the protractions of time.

Things and Stuff

Things and stuff on my mind.

  • Survival mode
  • Shared life/Private life balance (boundaries)
  • Mindfulness in the Midst of Calamity
  • The (unconditional) Beauty of Others
  • Love in the Time of Corona
  • War and Chaos
  • The Persistent Illusion of Time

“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

What have you been pondering?

Shining Eyes

On every screen we see
the smoke climbing
reaching for the pity of Christ
and we realize
they dress their babies
just like Americans
their children have the same
expressions of uncomprehending
fear, the same shine
reflecting the pastures of Heaven
in their Ukrainian eyes
and is this some kind of trick?

I watch news in small doses
because plague time
has compressed my life as well
and my dull eyes fill with tears
because this is pure evil
and someday a screaming
may come across the sky for all of us.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

I made a few new year’s resolutions, which aren’t going well so far. I intended to focus on every good opportunity to shut the f–k up and stop giving unsolicited advice, to stop sharing opinions about choices or situations outside my own responsibility and control, and to write positive, grateful, hopefully uplifting poems. I’m still taking when nobody – least of all me – wants to hear me, still opining about things that are up to others from my family to global psychotic dementors like Voldemort Pootin’, and here’s another dark sad poem.

It’s not my fault. I would have been more than happy to write an ode to the wind clouds hovering over the coastal range this morning, and I’m not the demonpuke bombing innocent, defenseless people. Art has to meet the world where it is and tell the truth.

I would have been happy. I’m not sure I can see an opening in the funhouse mirrors of protracted chaos to find the exit to happy tonight but I can close my eyes and find reasons for gratitude. That’s something; in fact, it’s a lot. I’ll take it, gratefully, and hold fast to hope for the survivors of the massacre in Ukraine. Maybe they can use our hope more than our sadness and faith more than anger.

Peace.

Yes, Virginia …

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

After Two Years

“Am well. Thinking of you always. Love.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

What if there is no I, no not-I,
maybe only We, certainly no Them?
What if it is all one light, one darkening
into death, one ineluctable pain?

There is so much more to write poems
about than death, I know. But the birds
simply sing as the humans rise and fall
on waves of plague. Their music
hasn’t changed my mind. There are
nights I just want to sit here alone,
listening to dogs barking
at nothingness, and weep.

So let’s burn it all down, let it shine,
sing, walk down old roads, leaving
the dead behind to bury the dead
as they become more night than day
more peace than fight, more joy
than struggle. Of course I am afraid.
Aren’t you?

I don’t know what God intends to do
about it when I die but my house
will be occupied by not-Me.
Time will stop but continue turning
in its widening gyres.

Maybe we will sit in the dim coffeehouse
under the shaggy eucalyptus
but I will sit apart.
Maybe we will stand in the last bookstore
of eternity, listening
as all the old ink turns to rain.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

The Snowy Fields, More Silent Now

I am deeply sad to learn of the death of Robert Bly. He was the last of those late 20th century poets whose poems I loved in my college days. There were Bly, Stafford, Roethke, Kinnell, Wright, Jeffers, Strand and others. All gone now. T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound were already long gone, even then. And Robert Frost died when I was two years old. I have loved these people, tangentially; the way you love a cool pond on a hot summer day and driving past it, wish you had time to stop and swim. 

I have little experience of snowbanks. It hasn’t snowed here since 1937 and I’ve heard I didn’t really stick. Far too little of anything has stuck to me. I’m a cozy warm in the house with a cup of coffee kind of guy. Far too often, I’m more adrift in Netflix than in the snowy fields of literature. Quel dommage!

“Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.”


You can find the influence of Bly’s poems all throughout my own. Like this:


“And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.”

Just last month I was thinking about Robert Bly very particularly and googled to see that he was still with us. That day, I wrote a poem that borrows from him, using the title of one of his books, “The Man in the Black Coat Turns.” My poem (below) is called “The Man in a Black Coat.” That’s not just influence, it’s outright allusion; you can see how much I appreciated his poetry. And here’s il miglio fabbro – the better craftsman:

Poetry Breaks: Robert Bly Reads “Snowbanks North of the House”

About 30 years ago a friend of mine was about to go to one of Bly’s retreat/workshops for men. I gave him a few of my poems and a copy of one of Bly’s books and asked him to take them along. He read the poems to Robert Bly and others, said Bly was complimentary, and returned with the book signed for me. Bly had drawn a figure which he said was meant to be “the shadow chasing Kyle.” 

So much gratitude from my shadow and me. 

Futility

In the cold kitchen of blue hour
I sit drinking coffee, echoing a song
you wrote for someone else.
The piano answers in a farther room.
Communication is impossible, just a myth
of the old oceans and their blue-black waves,
the early trees and smothered rock.
It depended on shadow and gladness.
It has always defied us.
We pretend, we orate and whisper,
weep and entreat the trembling air.
We unearth stones, carry weapons
to speak for us, beg the birds to sing
from the hedges to help us talk.
No, it’s not sound that matters.
It depends on shadow and the folding of distance.
Now the sun is down!
Light candles that smell better than reality.
Call every memory together
but in the sum of all parts, the parts fade away.

J. Kyle Kimberlin

Creative Commons Licensed

the view from here

The Man in a Black Coat

Citizens of hope & glory,
Time goes by, it’s the time of your life

— Genesis

Sometimes space goes on and on
as when we were children
whose feet didn’t reach the floor
from Grandpa’s chair; who grew up
and tried for years to reach the sky.

There are spaces where time goes
on and on as when we grow older
and can’t reach across the field
of flowers where a coffin stands
and the cold hands of our watch fall still.

These don’t account for the ocean
which is infinite space or the night
sky or Disneyland’s eternity.

So I measure the distance between us
in memories and longings,
in the desperate need to be held
against the shade of forgetfulness,
or simply in hundreds of miles.

The shapes of fear rise up in our dreams
like infinite rooms collapsing in on us,
expanding forever yet never big enough
for angels or lost dogs, or the name
we had before the world was made.

There are empty kitchens in this world,
vacant houses full of leaves, sheets
dripping on the line in dishwater light.
If the sheets block the fence and the fence
blocks the view of the trees,
isn’t everything an empty space?

Look, someone is standing there, waiting –
a man in a black coat, beneath the trees.
I’m afraid it might be me. What do I want?
For the world to stop spinning so fast,
for time to return us to people who love us.

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Autumn Equinox 2021
Creative Commons Licensed

Imagine Time

Imagine Time arrived one evening after dinner
and started pacing around the house as always
and I stood up and finally admitted sadly
that I have fallen out of love with Time.

We used to get along pretty well. We spent
long afternoons slowly reading books or listening
to the Dead or watching football with Dad.
But since Covid started and I’ve been

in isolation, Time has become passive-aggressive.
It rests on the rug in a melted pool of itself
then jumps up and runs away toward the end
of the dark street, where a sliver of waxing crescent

hangs in the still summer sky. What an eccentric
performance! Time must have gotten to the end
of the block and just stopped, exhausted. I can’t
go on like this, year after year, in this frenetic

stagnation, the mind steeped in hidden pools
of memory like cold pitch. It’s a toxic relationship
and it’s time to grow up, pack Time’s watercolors
and shards of the past, and go our separate ways.

J. Kyle Kimberlin

Creative Commons Licensed