Category Archives: poetry

a dance in mind

in reply to Brother Martin’s invitation to scholarly debate

1

When Jesus said, turn,
for Christ’s sake, turn
as though you believed

God present here, present
now,
he did not mean to say
to look the other way.

He had a dance in mind –
a circle with no end,
the turning, not

the turn.

2

Power is nothing
to fear, nothing
to dance about, nothing

but the weight of the world’s despair,
the wait of the world turning,
here and there, back to

love, imperfect as
it always seems to be.

Empty,
Jesus did not think himself

God.

3

Money is another story.

It does not make souls fly.
It does not make minds certain.

It does make certain minds
think themselves

God.

4

Love makes love,
not fear, not

nets with which to fish for the means of men

La lucha continua no terminará fácilmente.

Turn.

©Steven Schroeder

end of the line

A highway never meant to survive
a nuclear war draws a line
from the JC Penney Museum
through three childhoods –
Pershing, Disney, Twain –
before it joins Eisenhower’s system
on the other side of the Mississippi
with the unthinkable in mind
and barrels through Lincoln’s home town
toward the end of the line.

This is what Ike imagined
on the far side of Armageddon.
Pavement is a diversion. Washington

is a sideshow.
The end of the line lies
in Carson County alongside
the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway,

and this broken city scattered
by wind on the plains is the day after.

©Steven Schroeder

streams of consciousness

When we take a general view of the wonderful stream of our consciousness, what strikes us first is the different pace of its parts. Like a bird’s life, it seems to be an alternation of flights and perchings.
-William James

1

Two finches rise on a wave of sparrows,
perch on the stem of a dry thistle, rise
and rise again when the wave rises
over a scrap of prairie beyond

a temporary fence that stands between them
and a stream of traffic rushing the other way.

Finches glitter gold on the wave of gray
sparrows, like light breaking on living water.
A crumbling walk follows the fence, as do I,
perching when the finches perch until

there is an opening where I can cross
to a new path on the other side

that snakes around old trees toward Osaka
Garden. One broken tree has knelt
toward the water for years, and I
stop to pray with it while

a cardinal watches from the ground
before she flies to the top of a standing tree.

2

Just beyond Yoko’s lotus,
I pass through a gate onto a path
that makes it hard to walk

without leaving a trail
of sound. I keep my good eye
on the pond where a heron sometimes
stands waiting in shallow water. The heron
appears in the corner of the other
eye, and eye to eye we stand

until he turns and wades into the water
to wait for one god or the other
to trouble it with a miracle he can eat.

3

This whole scene rests on what remains of an exposition
that erected a white city and remembered an invasion
as a discovery four hundred years after the fact.

And this city began discarding
the ground beneath our feet long ago
to push back a body of water. I

stop again to watch the heron, standing on
long thin legs, still, waiting, on the other shore,
like a flood, I think, like a memory of water.

©Steven Schroeder

in memoriam 刘晓波

They say it’s always darkest before dawn,
and I say this sheds light on memory
and time. The difference between
dawn and what was before is greater than
the difference between dawn and what follows.

Time ripples like water, and every wave
circles back from shore to shore. What was is
present with what will be now and then.
Light seems blinding when it is nothing but
a new day, and every dawn traces an epiphany
in that moment between night and night. They
say men loved darkness rather than light, and I say
power is as fragile as the grip of a survivor
clinging to whatever is afloat when
a wave rises after a shipwreck, fragile
as perfect fear throwing love overboard
as though the sacrifice would soothe
whatever angry god has made this storm.

Tom was right. Fearful men clinging
to the remnants of a ship that sunk some time
ago will find a daughter or a son to kill in the name
of order. Men of reason will say this is the cost of doing
business, war by other means. Engineers may kill a wave
for now and push an ocean back a while. But they are nothing
without the water rising beneath them, sure as dawn.

©Steven Schroeder

revolution now

and then, in medias res, I am
walking meditation on city pavement
and a proliferation of uncertain Springs.

A car heading due north pulls over to the curb and I hear
a woman’s voice say excuse me sir I need to be
going south
through the open window
on the passenger side and, leaning
so I can see the speaker, I say
you need to turn around.

She says I need to get to 55th and Western
55th and Western, right?
and I can see
the question is for the guy sitting
in the back seat while what has
the form of a statement is
an urgent request

for direction directed to me.
I tell her again you need to turn around
and point to 55th Street, two blocks south.
Turn right there and point again to make sure
she sees which way – and drive west. You have
quite a way to go, but it will take you to Western.
Good luck.
The guy in the back seat says thanks and

she drives off and I walk away thinking
I should have told her the road would wind
through a park and cross an expressway and she
would probably think she was lost but
she shouldn’t give up hope.

But having left that unsaid,
I hope they make it. And I am again
walking meditation on city pavement.

Spring is everywhere, it seems,
since some journalist writing about Tunisia
thought to make a cipher of Prague and 1968. Here,

it comes with a stutter step and can scarcely
keep its feet when it steps over cracks
and fissures left by a long winter.

You’d think we’d take a good hard look
at what this pavement was meant to cover
before we called in a crew to smooth it over,
consider the dandelions, how they neither toil
nor reap nor for a moment think money
is speech but hold each other in the light
that slips through every crevice that follows
a change in the weather. They hold each other
in the light, and light themselves, a body of light,
they dig deep in dirt. Like water, they

turn and do what they must do to make a place
where they are standing now, a barricade
of flowers. And then

they die, sure-footed. And then
they come again, like light when
pavement breaks and yet another
Spring comes stumbling over them.

©Steven Schroeder

on the occasion of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in literature

e pluribus unum: the new Parmenides

1

We drove straight through from Wyoming, Minnesota to New Orleans on Highway 61 – not to avoid the Interstate but because we had it in our heads that one turn after another on a slow road pausing for every signal in every small town was the only way to get to Mardi Gras.

We made our way the way the river does, rising through blue, leaving some (not all) of our shit behind. Right through the middle of the crossroad where Robert Johnson sold his soul. If that doesn’t get you ready for Lent nothing will.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Must have been around Louisiana, Missouri, before we got to Troy – six hours or so from Memphis – that we picked up a hitchhiker, scruffy kid with a guitar. He said his name was Bob. Later, after the Irish whiskey he was sipping from a flask kicked in like Pentecost, he said he was Plato’s little brother and took to speaking in tongues, mumbling about some guy named Abe and running the other way when you see god coming.

(Yes. That Plato.)

The timeline was impossible, but anyone who’s ever driven straight through from Minnesota to Mardi Gras knows what it means to be out of time, surprised by nothing, even if the odds are against knowing what it means to get happy.

He could spin a tale. And that kept us awake, a better reason to pick up a hitchhiker on a dark road than some vague idea you have that something you can do with a machine you own or a machine you think you own on loan from a bank that owns you can get a lost soul closer to wherever it is they think they’re going.

I’m telling you now, it’s hard enough to know where you’re going without worrying about some stranger, especially when you find yourself in a dark place where two roads cross in the middle of nowhere on the map with no sign you can see, wondering if Ike had the right idea after all.

The best you can do is keep on keeping on, keep your eyes on the road, and do whatever comes to mind to keep yourself awake.

2

Bob strummed his guitar off and on all the way to New Orleans. He’d break into a little Woody we knew now and again and then we’d sing along. It rained hard – hard rain – for a while, and while the windshield wipers were keeping time, I thought of Janis and her Mercedes, of nothing left to lose.

But she never came up, and no one was holding Bobby’s hand this time.

Bob spit out names again and again, like they left a bad taste in his mouth that the whiskey couldn’t hide:

Glaucon, Adeimantus, Potone. Glaucon, Adeimantus, Potone. Not a word about little Bertie.

Nearing Memphis, he grew suddenly lucid:

That’s why I left, you know. Tired of being Nobody. Headed west. I ran into this old cat who said he used to be in politics. He said he got fed up with the bullshit and headed west, like me. Turns out he was tired of not being Nobody, not like me.

He comes to a border crossing and while he’s fumbling for his passport, guard says I know who you are. Old cat says you and everybody else. Get in line. Guard says I’ll make you a deal. Write down everything you know about politics, and I’ll let you be on your way. Old cat says You’re putting me on. But he pulls out a notebook and jots down poems he’s been making in his head to pass time on his long march west. Nothing to do with politics. But no doubt the guard will find the politics he’s looking for written in ink and nothing to do with politics between the lines on the pages torn from that notebook.

Sure enough. Guard says that’ll do and waves the old cat through. Right then and there, that old cat decides to keep walking until he comes to a place where he can pass without a word about nothing he’s learned in politics.

I met him in Chicago, many crossings later, in a bar. Sign said Woodlawn Tap, but the locals call it Jimmy’s.

In Chicago, nothing says politics like nobody nobody knows. Coming out of nowhere as the old cat did, he found a disciple waiting where he never would have thought to look, a smart grad student who’d visited every crossing and gathered all the poems the old cat made into a system soon to be a dissertation. He was waiting for us at a table in the middle with a pitcher of Guinness. The old cat did his best to get us to do the talking. But, true to form, the disciple and the gathering crowd insisted.

Another border, another crossing – solitary, singing in the west…

3

There was an assistant professor at the next table (I’d know one anywhere and so would you) who’d read all the poems and been alerted that this old cat was passing through Chicago.

He was part of the crowd.

He had published a treatise on the poems, a little masterpiece of erudition, in a respected academic journal nobody read, and he laid it out for the circle of drinkers, who raised their glasses and cheered. The grad student, who had not found time to read it, made a note to cite it.

But, dazzled though they were, they still wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. We all did.

Someone brought two more pitchers of Guinness while the crowd pulled the tables together.

Another border, another crossing – solitary, singing in the west…

4

If there were a one, the one would not be
many. Not many, the one
would not have parts.
Not having parts, the one
would not be whole.
A part is

a part of a whole, one
missing no part.

One whole having parts would be
many. One that is one is not
whole. One that is one

has no parts. No
parts no beginning
no middle no end no

limit no shape
nowhere

neither in
another nor in
itself uncontained

uncontaining. One
contained would be one
contained and one containing: two.

Move and you are you
here and you there, not one.

Be in the same place and the place is
another: two, you and the place you are in.

One cannot be in the same place. Not
being in the same place, one cannot be still.

Not still not in motion not other than any other. One
cannot be other than itself or another, cannot be
the same as itself, as another. Neither

here nor there, never here now then there. Not
younger than itself not older not the same never in time.

Nothing doing nothing to do. This
one can not be can not not be.
That cannot be.

Begin again.

5

If a one is, it cannot be and not have being.
So there will be one and the being that one has.
One is, not one is one. Being, one has being. If one
has being, the whole is one and the being one has: two.

Each of the two is one that has being. No part is
one. One being is a multitude, unlimited. Say
one, say being, one being, a pair –

then there are two of us –
do tell. Each is
one, two

together another: three.

If there are two, two times
must be, two times three
and three times
three and on
and on

if there is one
there must be number.

If there is number
there must be many.

If there are many,
every one of the many

must be one. And not
being one, the one is many.

6

The parts of the one
are parts of a whole, Being
a whole, the one takes shape.

A whole cannot be
without beginning and
middle and end and the middle
can be nothing but what is the same
distance from beginning and end and so
the one having shape will be
in itself and in another.

If the whole were nowhere,
it would not be. Because it is
not in itself, it must be in
something else. As a whole,

the one is in something else. As
all the parts, it is in itself.

It is in itself and in another. Being
in itself and in another, it is
at rest and in motion.

Itself not itself,
others not others.

If there is no one,
there is nothing.

7

Chicago was not the place.

I continued west with the old cat until we parted company somewhere in Iowa. When I left him, he was in deep discussion with a farmer who’d gone to Oxford thinking he’d pursue an academic career. But now all he really cared about was horses.

The last thing I heard the old cat say was a white horse is not a horse. It is a white horse.

Most true.

8

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

__________

©Steven Schroeder

from mind the gaps: fragments. Chicago, 2014.