The sonnet is resurgent in the Berkshires, thanks to the autumnal glory of Don Washburn's poetry. Here's a sampler of this fine poet's work, new and old
Word Dervish Bio in Brief:. I am one of the rays of the Divine Sun. Assumed this body in 1932, in the middle of the Depression, in the cheerful month of June. Endlessly young, like most Geminians, I have always been blessed with a summery life, with lots of time for learning, and running wild in the grassy neighborhoods. (See Boy From Under the Trees poems sampled below) Father and mother, decent people, gave me a good foundation. Being a football "hero" in high school got me to Yale. Fell in love with books. Became a teacher. Learned a lot from Alfred Korzybski. Did my doctoral dissertation on the work of Jung. Also fell in love with ten women, five of whom were willing to marry me. In the Eye of the Red-Tailed Hawk addresses one who wouldn't. In addition to my wives, I have gotten to enjoy four kids, three grandchildren, two Shelties, three bunnies, thirteen love birds, and two cockatiels. (Learned as much from the animals as from the people.) Studied Joseph Schillinger and started to compose music on the computer. Meanwhile, had time to spend twenty years hanging out with the Sufis. (Jamshyd is my Sufi name.) Did wonders for my spiritual life. Turned me on to Hazrat Inayat khan and Rumi. Became a Cherag and began presiding at Universal Worship services. All this helped me to learn how to offer wisdom and inspiration in my classes. In my seventies, I am still creating new courses at a small college. Have one on Rumi and two others called Divine Witness and Science & Spirit. Loving every minute. Right now at 77 I am enjoying my twilight years in a kind of monkish solitude and receptivity which gives me plenty of stress-free time to ruminate and be myself. With this kind of energy cooking in me, I radiate blessings on all I meet. If you are still reading this, have some.
THE BOY FROM UNDER THE TREES
I stopped to muse where a headstone said
in letters mutable and thin
that MUSIE, eleven, lay long dead
and would not see the sun again
Her name, muted and far away,
fluttered flute-like, but could not say
what silences she wandered in
or what the music might have been.
The Kitchen brothers with their cart
were as strange a pair as you could find;
the crippled one was very smart,
the strong one had a feeble mind.
This one pushed and that one steered.
The cart neither slowed nor veered
and in an oxymoronic sense,
repaired at once God's negligence.
Could I forget you at that last gasp,
my most companionable flesh,
body so near, so dear, whose clasp
is close as blood and breath can mesh?
But membranes burst, members dismembered,
and the electric memories disremembered,
divided by infinity,
what will our old friendship be?"
IN THE EYE OF THE RED-TAILED HAWK
T H E M O O S E
Your e-mail handle was “the traveling moose.”
I saw a moose in Maine one time on TV. A man
came out of a store. It kicked him to death. Who’s
going to mess with something like that? I can,
I thought. When my guides embrace me at the end,
I want no reproach for being self-absorbed,
too timid, too much alone. No, I don’t intend
to live in fear, the lion in me roared.
Ride the untamable moose. Perform your stunts
with hat in hand, my bucko. Do not take less
than the terror and joy at the crux of things. Once
you turned and said with a certain ruefulness,
“I see I have not scared you off.” Good guess.
Not even a chance, I answered under my breath.
F I R S T D A T E
OK, don’t call it a date. Say I just happened
to pull into the parking lot. And there you were.
Enough of patriarchy and the vapid
conventionalities that compromise allure.
Call it an accident, an act of God, a freak of nature.
Make it as unofficial as you like. And if I pick up
the check, stop me, make it something you’re
doing yourself, as impersonal as this cup.
Maybe it is just “hanging out,” something
that could easily dissolve and float away.
There are no meanings here. Just the ping
of dishes in the kitchen. Just another day.
Have it any way you want. My eyes look straight
to where yours look. With them I am having a date.
P E R S O N A L H I S T O R Y
God knows we’ve both been around the block
and stood in many lines. The old movies keep
cranking. When you spin your tales, the clock
stops. I need to concentrate and take a deep
breath. I listen as though my life depended
on it. Your ancient mariner’s eyes skewer me.
The plots thicken. You tell me how you fended
off one disaster after another.
Prisoner of catastrophe,
your life unfolds just this side of death.
Could be the astonished Caliph was heard to say —
when Scheherazade paused to catch her breath —
“I’ve hearkened to a lot of yarn-meisters in my day,
hawking calamities and close calls too.
One more won’t matter if she’s as plucky as you.”
H A R E M
What you called my “harem” was my curriculum.
I learned by rote the hazards of the heart.
She turned fire to ice. She loved anyone.
She longed to lie with women. She slept apart.
She was a money pit. She dated death.
She used me for a fool. She fondled me and left.
She taught waiting. She taught touch and breath.
Each came in time and with a precious gift.
She taught me constancy. She taught me peace.
The briar of bitterness, I watered with my tears.
The very life that shattered signed another lease.
And taking heart, I overcame my fears.
Embrace this rich history then. It is my tenderness,
my hard-won schooling. Would you have me less?
B L O W I N G O N C O A L S
After fifty, sex is like blowing on coals.
Our forgetful bodies want the heat of passion.
Only love, the great aphrodisiac, enthralls,
enlivens all seven chakras, turns ashen
lips incarnadine, and repeals
the floe of lassitude that cools our blood.
Then our Indian Summer arrives, feels
this warmth out of season. The untimely bud
of passion quickens like a match. And our hot
breath feathers the kindled flesh. Like seasoned
wood we wait for deepest burning. Is this not
good husbandry and the sweetest reason,
that frees the logjam of our lustful art
until a cheery fire is burning on the hearth?
To buy this poet's books...
THE BOY FROM UNDER THE TREES. Don Washburn.
The Boy from Under The Trees, first published in a limited-edition volume in 1982, is Don Washburn’s lyric poetry cycle — 128 poems in 16 sections — distilling the essence of childhood and youth in a town in Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1940s. The poet recalls “As a kid, I was allowed to have the run of my neighborhood. With that freedom, came the excitement of exploration and the joy of discovery. I was left with many memories, moments that still have a special power. The poems are in an eight-line rhyming verse form called the rispetto. They sum up what I still keep from these beginnings. I now realize that under the trees of my boyhood I first heard the other-worldly music that was to become a lifelong companion. ” Inevitable as comparisons to Ray Bradbury’s fictional Ohio of the same era might be, Washburn’s Pennsylvania is tougher — an ethnically mixed, blue-collar city on the Delaware river — less sentimental, yet full of poignant nature impressions and character portraits. The boy and young man of these poems would go on to college, then spend a lifetime as a teacher — yet during all this, the treeline of his exploration continued to expand, to the Berkshires where he has resided for many decades, and, spiritually to Sufism and other quests for the eternal and ineffable. Washburn’s poetry is prescient of a consciousness eager to expand, and the skill with which he employs his verse form includes an almost effortless, colloquial use of rhyme and rhythm, which sometimes includes a teasing line break in mid-word to induce a rhyme. It is a privilege to bring this delightful poem cycle into a new edition for the 21st century. Published June 2012. ISBN 0-922558-66-3, 108 pp 6 x 9, $12.95. CLICK HERE to order from Amazon.
IN THE EYE OF THE RED-TAILED HAWK: AN ESSAY ON LOVE. Don Washburn.
Love after 70? How about love, betrayal and the transcendant pursuit of yet another "Dark Lady" in literature? Washburn's sonnets, composed with amazing grace and fluency as a diary during his doomed romance, combines utterly modern language and a wry self-awareness with a classical ease. The reader is propelled into this taut narrative, nearly forgetting the formal rules and boundaries of the sonnet.
The poet's engagement with Sufi mysticism adds a special grace to the denouement of loss and abandonment. We are proud to publish this new landmark in the genre of the sonnet-cycle.
Published July, 2009.
ISBN 0-922558-40-X. 80 pp., $11.95 paperback.
CLICK HERE to order the book from Amazon.