Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Three Ghazals

I had a "three ghazal" morning yesterday—just one of those things—& I’m posting them here. A couple of acknowledgments are in order. It’s been years since I’ve read Through the Looking Glass, so I’m indebted to Sandra Leigh of the fantastic Amazing Voyages of the Turtle for reminding me of this; & then Eberle reminded me that Lord Peter Wimsey also quotes that line in one of the wonderful Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries. Also, certain among you may notice the L Cohen rip-off at the end of “6 Impossible Things Before Breakfast”—I’m sure Citizen K at least won’t miss it.

Hope you enjoy these.

Ghazal 4/27

redwinged blackbirds trilling from willow
limb to willow limb as the morning unfolds most blue & yellow

a daffodil bouquet in a white & green vase almost gone past the
blooms slightly wrinkled & fatigued a consciousness

vanishing as it shrivels—a rest home in Florida the staff
puffing cigarettes by the walkway the morning light quiet thru

tall windows—not knowing the time or the day or the circumstance—a
boat in the grey Gulf of Mexico rolling across the swell the

cormorants the scarcity of things to say amongst the orange bouys &
white gulls an am radio tuned to the Ray Conniff Orchestra’s

strings in Vermont in a green July humming with grey wasps nests
suspended above the workshop’s screen windows, the tablesaw’s

dire hum the shellac's metallic fish presence a
summer evening grey in the garden amongst orange poppies

the pipe smoke’s choking sweetness dispelled thru the trellis this
Idaho morning shifting to grey above the blue blue hills

"6 Impossible Things Before Breakfast"

blue dahlias a bass clarinet strewed thru golden gate park that mango
california forenoon you didn’t drop by for java & poems & smokes the

orange tulip rufous hummingbird dreams in this April’s new moon
perigee midnight amongst phosphorescent solar lights afloat in the

ling garden—the hex sign sunrise emerging from Lake Erie a
yellow horizon swabbing brushstrokes across the harmonic
          convergence a

vibraphone nestled amongst yellowed birch leaves last October the
leaves afloat in the Weiser River’s troubled glass—magenta

ice plants scattered across the Ocean Beach dunes that lime green
Saturday you couldn’t make it for bicycling & java the Blue Ridge

Virginia brick walkway dotted with dogwood petals those fractal
Petrarchan sonnets scattered by footsteps speaking in off-rhymes

Distance Equals Rate Times Time

the distance between a grey stone diner in South Hero, VT &
this green salad day April 27th 2009—the unsettled sky

the goldfinches’ hollow whistle—the distance as
measured against the speed of light or any imagined constant—

I have nothing to say about the white cirrus clouds as they canoed
over the motley sky in a distant Vermont October—a Camel straight a

scarf a cream turtleneck an instamatic camera the wind de-
scending thru Canadian silver birches their fall leaves in-

congruous lemons shaken in a grey breeze—the cattle across the
road grazing on new grass the prussian blue clouds waiting for birds

measure the distance to & in fact my mind wandering—the
geese veering across the bosom of Sage Hill late last month

there isn’t any circumference there isn’t any
fixed center there isn’t any sky blue nothingness to fly back into

John Hayes
© 2009

UPDATE: Thanks for the positive responses. Upon reflection, I decided to get rid of the epigram for the "6 impossible things before breakfast" poem. Not that I don't like Lewis Carroll; I love his writing; but the epigram was about as long as the poem - thus unwieldy - & also what drew me was the phrase itself more then the context. THANKS AGAIN EVERYONE.


  1. These are all wonderful. Love the time/space poem especially.

    And all about you from yesterday's meme.

  2. Thanks Reya-- that was the last of the three to be written.

  3. Of course, I especially like the bit about the willow branches.

  4. Well, I was going to say that despite the Alice connection (thanks for the high praise), I like the first ghazal best, but now I'm not so sure. That line "yellow horizon swabbing brushstrokes across the harmonic convergence" is really quite delicious.

  5. Hi Willow & Sandra:

    Willow: There's a willow that grows right outside my study window-- I love to watch it thru the matchstick blinds.

    Sandra: Thanks, & you're more than welcome. I'm actually thinking about ditching the epigram on that one-- it's as long as the poem, & it's the phrase itself that caught me more than the context (just put the title in quotes). The "harmonic convergence" line is "true" in some sense.

  6. I think that last one is quite wonderful. It builds to a stunning close. (Or is it the first one?... "distance equals rate times time." did you write it first or last?) You seem to be tasting the words when you write.

  7. Hi Rene:

    I wrote the distance=rate x time one last-- glad you liked it.

  8. I would venture to say that this is your version of "The Pillow Book". I think they are wonderful! Are there any rules I need to know? I can't discern them from the actual works.


  9. Hi Kat:

    Per the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics a Ghasel (or Ghazal, the more common spelling) is a "poem whose theme is generally love or wine, often mystically understood, [& it] varies in length from 5 to 12 couplets all upon the same rhyme." Other sources point out that ghazals often treat themes of loss or separation, both in terms of physical & spiritual love. The themes of loss & separation interest me, & I'm trying to think in 2-line stanzas. As I did with sonnets I wrote in San Francisco (which I'll start posting late last month) I dispensed with the rhyme idea-- tho I wrote some pretty good rhymed poetry in Charlottesville, for a long time I've tended to think of forms that are rhymed in languages such as French & Italian (where rhyme occurs very naturally)as presenting an overall guiding structure that exists independently of the rhyming pattern-- for instance, a Petrarchan sonnet has the characteristic "turn" after the first two quatrains leading into the sestet. Same thing goes for the ghazals with me-- I try thinking in terms of two line stanzas, or units of thought.

    That doesn't mean it would be wrong to stick with rhyming couplets-- with your gift for rhyme, you might be able to do that to good effect. But it wouldn't serve what I'm trying to create right now. Finally, my big inspiration ghazal-wise is Adrienne Rich.

    & I think the Pillow Book analogy is interesting.

    After all that, hope you're not sorry you asked!

  10. Not at all sorry and thanks. I have "clipped" the passage and saved it for referral.


  11. that phrase about milk paint reminded me about someone i love very much - it took me back to a place a long time ago - just one of the many gifts of art and poetry - the places to which it helps us transcend. very beautiful, john. you're so talented, your vocabulary so rich. you challenge me.

  12. Hi Jen:

    Very glad that these poems brought up a special moment for you, & glad you find them worthwhile.


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