There above, there is a skylight, and a trill:
one of the household birds over my head—that
little colony of customers we have
among the richer troves of neighbor folk
with ponds and fancy feeders.
Across the view, a line of hills, a line of clouds:
they twine, a marriage of sorts, an in-out
mechanism—as marriage is, as love. Dark day
of blessing. There’s plenty rain. There has not been
rain for a thousand years it seems to us, nose
dry, throat dry, smoke in the eyes for weeks.
Never they say, never it breathes but pours.
When the fires burned a month ago:
from the three States: north,
west of us, our own across the ridge—smoke
lifting haze, apocalyptic light, smothered
the morning. There is a sign among the trees,
as if some wore a robe of mourning,
the robe a desiccated brown,
a prophecy: the dead among the live, those
who’ll await the once and future discontent,
those who will sleep without awakening.
Out with the dog and it’s as if a world,
a world was ending, as if the bomb, [the bomb
you may remember,] had dropped at last. And not
a flower in the garden all this year, no single
flower to humor the dry heart. But, there above,
the trill. To understand! To understand something
at last: how anything is given. How anything
evolves, and where it gets to, to what end—
where all seems endless [endless in purpose,
teleology.] Will the bird’s trill be a trill only?
Only a trill and past forever? In the red future?
In the abyssal present? Here plunging down to
some concretion, some fabric below which
it is not possible to go—and there it stands, the
trill, [stands?], no: suspended rather, suspended
in the restless, resting, eternity of air. And so
above, the trill. If it’s not possible for me, life,
joy, in its most ancient, laughing habit—at least
the beak. Let the bird joy, live, signify there is
some purpose in the purposeless.
There is no movement forward. Despairingly,
you try to move but cannot. Yet everything
connects. Sometimes, you know, the poem can-
not stop: from day to day, a gift in fragments.
—Nathaniel Tarn (b,1928)
Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers (2008)
At Wovoka’s Ghostdance Place
I blow dandelion heads
across Wovoka’s ghostdance place.
Hear tractors whine through alfalfa fields.
Hear the call of deer continuing history.
Feel moment to moment
the river’s bend, shift of jetstream
bringing rain, heat in snakes
moving across highway.
I bow to magpies
drinking in light from dark,
old sediment, to grass waving
with resilience, to the force of everything
here long before us.
The way it was and who it’ll come back to be,
to all of it
that’s yielded me.
Walker River Nevada
Vernal Equinox, 1990
—John Brandi (b1943)
Shadow Play: Poems 1987-1991 (1992), also in Heartbeat Geography: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1966-1994 (1995)
“Tarn’s work brings together mythology, Western and Eastern philosophy, political commentary, scientific investigations, naturalistic descriptions and very personal love poetry. This poetry redefines nature and art for human culture, bringing a genuine psychological and linguistic curiosity about the human mind, about what it means to be human.”
~ Brenda Hillman, Jacket
To stop life’s turn to nightmare
adopt the colorful patience of birds.
~ Nathaniel Tarn
I love John Brandi’s ‘pledge to clarity,’ his politics in the sense of witness, his candor, his delight & heart towards children & friends, his terrific travel details…[his poems] sing with life.
~ Anne Waldman
Rumor has it he’s been tossed out of saloons throughout Bali & swamis lock the gates of ashrams when he’s in town, yet monkeys seem to like him.