Poetic meditations on place, specifically the San Bernardino Valley College campus.
Contents

Preface

Impressions

The Water Lilies

The Palo Verde Tree

After Daylight Savings

Pearl Walk

Regrets Only

Rainy Day

Meditations

This Morning, Millipedes

In Relative Shadow

The Diagram

Preface

 

The poems in this chapweb are held together not by theme, but by location and purpose. The location is the campus of San Bernardino Valley College, primarily the outdoor areas, encountered either on purposeful walks to and from my office, classrooms, parking lot, etc. or more frequently on the meandering walks taken as a break from grading or other office work. The purpose is a bit more difficult to explain, as purpose is often confused with outcome (especially these days, when everything has to have mission statements and outcomes and be “data driven”). Aside from writing poems, a fairly clear and measurable outcome, the purpose was simply to cultivate attention (an important quality for a writer, or human being), especially attention of where we are. At the writing of this introduction, I have spent more than 20 years working at Valley, spending 5 long days a week (and some Saturdays) there most of the year. It is where (often) I am.

 

The inspiration for this chapweb is the work of great haiku writers who had the attention and skill to capture images and moments. Many, like Basho, were influenced by Zen, which is sometimes simplified as “realizing reality”. So at first, my thought was to write these meditations as haiku. But it soon became clear that would be unworkable. First, I have never been a very successful writer of haiku (which puts me in very large company), though there are some haiku/senryu here (when those proved ideal vehicles for the poem). Though truly capturing a moment in a small corner of reality, allowing its own implications to ripple out simply and directly, as if the scene itself was its own metaphor is an amazing feat, which the best haiku manage, my own direction is to see relationships between a series of things or moments.

 

The idea of “correspondences” which I encountered in some early reading of Baudelaire (a concept which I believe he got, not without his own modification of it, from Swedenborg) has always been one of those poetic intuitions working silently within my composition. But all of this frequently needs a bit more space and an attitude which haiku do not allow. Helpful were some of the classic Chinese chüeh-chü (four line poems) which often had the right meditative focus and somewhat broader scope (and rhyme). And of course the long history of “walk poems” was useful to provide models for ideas that required a bit more space (though quite a few walk poems are much longer and more digressive than I am going for). While it would have been satisfying to have a series of poems all in the same form, I believe the constraints of location and purpose will provide enough unity, and what is lost in purity of form is compensated by the ability to follow a series of impressions as they build and unfold.

 

This is the shortest of the chapwebs in part because this is a project that began only a few years ago and because attentiveness is fleeting and the moments that inspire insights are few. But I have a dozen or so pieces that are not quite ready to post here. Like with all the chapwebs, new pieces will be added as they are written and feel complete enough for posting.

Impressions
 
The Water Lilies

 

Like newly sharpened razors,

the pale blue petals shine.

 

A breeze sways blades to slash.

 

I’m cut so clean and fine,

I cannot see the line.

 

 

The Palo Verde Tree

 

sunstruck

yellow blooms

sizzle with bees

 

After Daylight Savings

 

Though it is well past dusk,

the campus is mostly dark,

the timers not reset.

Nothing defies the night

but solar-powered lamps

along some sidewalks, casting

parabolas of light.

 

 

Pearl Walk

 

The morning sidewalk is bejeweled

by pearls, like scattered sunlit tears

of eucalyptus boughs above.

Up close, crow crap, the truth appears.

 

 

Regrets Only

 

The A-frame sign’s black arrow points

to the concrete cylinder next to it,

a trash can, where two sidewalks cross:

above the pointer, bold, all-caps “EVENT”.

 

And while I’m sure it’s happening,

a gas — sex, death, decomp — I’ll pass.

 

 

Rainy Day

 

The Tao teaches us

water seeks the lowest place;

wisdom soaks my shoes.

 

Meditations

This Morning, Millipedes

 

Across the sidewalk’s barren plane,

inch-long line segments march.

What could this congregation mean,

what weal or woe portend?

The angles of their courses vary,

seem random, purposeful:

the scattered web of pick-up sticks,

a dream of yarrow stalks.

Is some occult geometry

at work and echoed here?

 

I step with care across that maze

but feel a shiver through,

recall that day in traffic’s loom,

the flying metal shuttles.

I sensed conjunctions, cause, effect,

inevitable, then,

a moment later, collisions

some called an accident.

 

 

In Relative Shadow

November 11, 2019 during transit of Mercury

 

The widely scattered dark grey clouds

confuse the sky’s blue glass.

Some surly crows peck their shadows

and eye me from the grass.

 

A cloud’s dim umbra tints my path.

The sidewalk seems to cool.

It seems I almost feel the slowing

of every molecule.

 

And then I’m back in sun again,

two dozen footsteps on.

I see another patch of shade

creep across the lawn.

 

The phantom passes over me,

its filmy veil extends,

and as I pass beneath some trees,

a double gloom descends.

 

I rest a moment on a bench,

to watch the shadows play

while others walk by unaware

of the light show matinee.

 

And then I think of all the layers:

dense shade of closer trees,

the clouds at varied altitudes

tint fainter by degrees.

 

The variations in the light,

relations I can’t know –

distance, angle, opacity –

coordinate the show.

 

And higher still than trees and clouds,

I realize the moon

at times throws shadows on the earth:

the campus clock chimes noon.

 

So I stroll back, without the screen

of oaks or somber clouds;

the full intensity of noon

has shaken off its shrouds.

 

Then I remember Mercury

is transiting the sun.

Its faint antumbra, though unfelt,

shades me, and everyone.

 

 

The Diagram

 

The sidewalk angles out

from under olive trees

and I can see the sky

and think of arcs, degrees.

 

An airplane’s vapor trail,

a line of chalk, bisects

the dome of azure slate

along the x-axis.

 

The few, faint clouds seem more

the smudge of things erased,

attempts or errors made,

a lesson past, replaced.

 

The full moon’s pale and small,

but sharp and definite:

above the line, point one

on heaven’s unfinished graph.

 
 

© 1990-2020 Joel Lamore