Tag Archives: poetry

a dance in mind

in reply to Brother Martin’s invitation to scholarly debate


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

God present here, present
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.


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.

Jesus did not think himself



Money is another story.

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

It does make certain minds
think themselves



Love makes love,
not fear, not

nets with which to fish for the means of men

La lucha continua no terminará fácilmente.


©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


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.


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.


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

manifestos 4: a work of the hands

Don Ihde maps language as a process that begins in sound and moves through music to spoken and written word to silence. Sonically, we first encounter language as music and arrive gradually at word; through word, we arrive gradually at silence. Visually, we arrive by the same route at emptiness. Rather than beginning with silence and filling it with sound – or beginning with an empty page and filling it with writing, we begin with a world that is full and press toward emptying it. In a world of words to the end of it, we make our way toward silence through sound.

In its subtle rejoinder to Adorno, for whom music, though like language, is not language, Ihde’s sketch proposes a relationship between word and music, word and silence, in which there is no outside for human being vis-a-vis language: we may speak or write of language as though from outside; but in so doing we speak or write in language. If we try to step out, language comes with us.

This turns on pressing from music through word toward silence, which, following Paul Friedrich, Wallace Stevens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake, I associate with imagination. Imagination plays through word in two directions, from music toward silence and from silence toward music. The play is a tension that, as in Peirce’s explication of the sign, means a world experienced as an external force and a mind pushing back against it. More properly, what is experienced is tension between two forces. Both are internal to the tension, and neither is independent of the other: there is no experience that is not in medias res, no world that does not contain experience.

In the direction of Ihde’s analysis, children enter the world through a wall of sound, which they experience first as music. And this is the experience of anyone who is a child vis-a-vis language, regardless of age: when we encounter language we do not understand, we can hear its music long before we can decode meanings it might contain. In this direction, as we come to understand, we leave the music of the language behind and push toward a limit, silence, that is presumably opposite. But both are always present: edges give shape to centers, meaning that word emerges in interplay of music and silence.

Friedrich reminds us that poetry is language that calls attention to its own form and that all language is poetic. All language calls attention to its own form; and its form is determined by the place it occupies between music and silence. This is Stevens’s poem of the mind in the act of finding, the poem of the act of the mind. It is metaphor at work, and, as both Percy and Lakoff have argued, it invariably involves saying one thing while meaning another. Though it is saying, it is not, strictly speaking, about language. It is a cognitive function making use of language (the ultimate artifact, as Andy Clark puts it), particularly concerned with mapping. As such, it is a matter of making our way.

I am concerned with poetry as manual labor (to borrow an image from Thoreau by way of Stanley Cavell), a work of the hands that makes a space in which human being can dwell, finds a way in the process of making it.

“Finding a way in the process of making it” resonates with a number of religious traditions, including Christianity and Daoism, and is an important basis from which to consider ethics and literature, particularly poetry. As a work of the hands that makes a space in which human being can dwell, poetry is more than a “container” for ethics understood as a doctrinal system. It is more properly a locus in which ethics takes place, an ethos in its original sense as a dwelling place for animals. As the close connection between Aristotle’s ethics and his poetics (and between both and his politics) suggests, the constructive process, the praxis, of poetry is potentially a source of insight into the construction of character. More to the point, it is a construction of character that, by making a space in which human being can dwell, is the making of a city – the architectonic art, politics – within which ethics is to be understood.

©Steven Schroeder