Category Archives: Poems

The Alba Madonna

I sit meditating
  before the Adoration of the Magi —
Fra Angelico and Fra Filipo Lippi
   together captured this joy
                     of Christ’s birth
     in a wonder filled circle.
An echo of hands rise up in Hallelujah
      here
                . . . and here
     . . . and here
             in the crowd of shepherds.
Blacksmiths shoe the Magi’s horses.
     Children dance on a wall
          to better view the new child.

I sense another, also unable to break away,
   from this vision of the brothers.
      We exchange glances but remain silent.

Galleries later I am caught by the same scene,
  this time by Botticelli —
       Magi bowing to Child and Virgin
   amidst Classical ruins.
    “Look, the Magi are the three ages of Man.
       This one mature
                     . . . him aged
    . . . and here the young one.”

It is my companion of the first Adoration,
   speaking a gentle brogue.
       We explore together, quietly noting
                          Joseph’s sweet smile,
    a Magi’s horse rearing with excitement.
I say, “Isn’t this human nature too,
              not just Auschwitz?”
He is Father Sean from Ireland,
   here on a Sabbatical of prayer and study.
I walk on alone.

Then another painting glows so intensely
       I cannot break away —
Dosso Dossi’s Aeneas and Achates on the Shore of Libya.
The crowd of Trojan sailors,
    two tall trees,
                 and the curving shore
        all an Impressionist dazzle,
   with the two heroes alone
        still living in Renaissance clarity.
And again Father Sean stands besides me.

   “Father, I am so baffled by evil!”
My hand sweeps around the bright scene.
      “How, when we have such beauty in us,
         how do we choose
                  to do so much evil?”

“That’s a hard one, son.
    St. Augustine wrestled with your question.
   His answer,
         Evil is a state of deprivation.
      You can only understand it
    in the context of the good.
                       It can’t stand alone.”

Then I come finally to Rafaello’s Alba Madonna,
               again a circle,
      a painting I thought I knew well.
The Christ Child’s translucent nakedness
    reclines against Mary’s thigh,
       holding a toy in his right hand.
His mother gazes serenely at the toy.
      Young John the Baptist,
             clad already in animal skins,
  looks up at the toy.
They sit upon wildflowers.
             Orchards and fields,
        farmhouses and forested hills
  stretch off behind the three.

The Christ Child
        is total peace
           flowing
                 in a circle
    of total peace
       and the toy He holds
                 is
              the crucifix.

July 1991, at the National Gallery

Sonoma Fog Light

268The last poem I wrote for Grace before she died.

I never managed to find a way
for you and me to live at the ocean
that and a thousand other dreams
I never managed to realize.

So now I drive up Highway One
through foggy landscapes–
you always loved them the best–
gathering the images of lupin in seas of grass
cedars and cypresses, sheep and cows,
barns and tacky vacation homes
all soft in their gray splendor.

I stop and walk along the Sonoma shore
pausing for you at the edge.
The sun breaks through the winter fog
shining the waves breaking up around black rocks
shimmering the water’s backwash
into flashing electric pulses
rushing to me through the milky air.
I know you’d know that vision
like you seeing your own true self in a mirror
like me looking into your clear bright eyes.

January 2014

Not a statue

We ran trips
              in the park
                  overlooking paradise,
    lost our way
               when every way was equal
forgot God
           while praising Him,
     thought we were
                 our shadows
         in the midst
   of all this light.

Then she swam
            in a man-made lake
       while I meditated
              by a man-made stream.

Little children
            crossed a bridge
                                  to me.
    “Come here! It’s a statue!”
          “No, he’s sleeping.”
                           “Touch him.”
  “No, you touch him.”
          “Look!
              His skin moves
                     when I touch him.
     He’s not a statue.”

                                     1973

Medicine Bundle

In 1971 Rolf asked me to drive him to the Greyhound depot in Sacramento so he could turn himself in to the police. He’d killed a heroin dealer in a shootout protecting his former wife and child. He didn’t want to return to Santa Fe as a prisoner. I made a medicine bundle to renew his mojo and wrote this poem.

Take down these things from the Shaman’s tree –
three hairs from a brave white dog
a thorny seed curved round in spiral form
from a place where the earth was soft as breast
two pieces of jerkey from the deer D. J. shot on his first acid trip
a bracken mushroom like a gray furry rainbow.

Go through the bag of rocks from La Playa de Buriana.
Find one that looks like the whole earth.
Lick it to be sure.
Look through the tiny shells from a beach near Algeciras.
Choose the perfect one, though all are perfect.

Take a piece of abalone shell from Schooner gulch
out of your shirt pocket
one with silver waves sweeping a silver shore.
Search in Grace’s drawer for the flowery handkerchief
she bought in Granada.
Gather everything up and tie the bundle
with the leather thong that holds your hair
a limpet shell on one end, a holey rock on the other.

Drive your friend to Sacramento to catch a Greyhound
so he can go home without handcuffs.
Listen once more to the story of the battle,
the bullets through the ear and right arm
of this flamenco guitarist and blues man.
Tell him how he taught you to see your strength
by just saying, “Man, you’re so hip!”
when you felt so seriously square.
Tell him the story of this bundle of charms.
Be silent now.
Be still.

November 1971

Rolf performing in 1963

Rolf3

The towers falling

I poured water for morning tea,
                    hearing Larry Bensky
           say “Airliners have crashed into the twin towers
                                          of the World Trade Center,
              the towers have collapsed.”
    I go into shock,
        dead to emotions,
                    before I even start the obsession
         of seeing the towers falling,
                                   the people running,
                the smoke rising,
            the towers falling
            the towers falling
                                               the people running.

Tonight Jimi sings
               “The sky is hellfire red”
         his guitar screaming
                   a healing theme for this day.

The distinguished panel
              of presidential historians and PBS pundits
        affirm our national resolve,
                  our strength as a nation
                                       to rally our forces
                                              to address this threat
                                   to seek out and punish
                                              the source of this attack
                        on freedom.

I shout “Get Kissinger!”
                 I see the bodies of Salvador Allende,
             Patrice Lumumba,
                                Mossadeag.
          I read the hit lists the CIA gave Suharto
                        to guide his slaughter –
       hundreds of thousands of Indonesians –
                                                      when he “assumed power.”
   Eliot Abrams affirms, once more,
              our support for the freedom fighter death squads
                                 we armed from Iran
         the freedom fighter drug lords
                            who free-based our ghettos.

The smoke rising
the towers falling
The smoke rising
people running.

“America was targeted for attack
because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity
                                       in the world.”
                President Nobody

Jimi sings Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.
                              “There must be some way out of here.”

Finally, I can cry
           for my thousands of dead brothers and sisters.
      for my millions of dead brothers and sisters.

                          Ernest Lowe, September 11, 2001

Notes:

This next morning I remember that many people with whom I share my life and poems have witnessed only a fraction of my two-thirds of a century. Perhaps they know the name of Salvadore Allende, in the news now as the courts of several countries, even including the US, consider the prosecution of Henry Kissinger for his leading role in supporting General Pinochet’s terrorist coup in Chile and the murder of Allende and thousands of his compatriots. (Nixon administration.)

But who is Patrice Lumumba? In 1960 The CIA assured a brief tenure for his democratic socialist regime in the Congo, protecting the multinational corporate interests in the rich minerals of Katanga Province. Through his murder the US put Mobuto in as a dictator who raped his country for the next four decades. (Eisenhower administration.)

Mohammed Mossadegh was the Premier of Iran who nationalized his country’s oil reserves in 1951. (US media ridiculed him because he cried in public for the pain of his people.) Alan Dulles, Director of the CIA and attorney for major oil companies, provided US support and direction for Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi’s royalist coup. The Shah of Iran’s dictatorship tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of his people. This is the basis for the rage against the US of the Ayatollah who finally threw him out. (Eisenhower administration)

This morning the SF Chronicle’s local section headline reads: Bay Area somberly wonders why. The media are piecing together the details of yesterday’s terrorist attack on America. An Arabic flight manual in a car abandoned at Logan Airport. The intercept of Bin Laden’s cell phone calls. But who speaks of the long context in which these “madmen” murdered my brothers and sisters in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania?

I misremembered Jimi Hendrix’ spelling of his name when I first sent out this poem. I can never forget his guitar’s shrieking of the Star Spangled Banner. His recording is perhaps one of the most deeply patriotic works of art in our country’s tragic history. Jimi felt the soul-ripping distance between our American Dream and the nightmare of our napalm and agent orange in Vietnam’s jungles. His anguished song calls us to live the dream.

September 12, 2001

(For these notes I refreshed my memory from a 1984 book by a renegade Wall Street Journal reporter, Jonathan Kwitny, entitled Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World. “How America’s worldwide interventions destroy democracy and free enterprise and defeat our own best interests.” Published by Congdon and Weed, NY. This is only one of many works telling the stories of American state terrorism.)

This clear space

Ten years ago I struggled to live in the clear space
                           between hope and despair.
           Chinese tanks
                  had crushed the Goddess of Freedom
                                      in Tiananmen Square.

Now, just eleven days from the turning of the century,                  
                                  I am filled with hope,
              growing feelings of hope
      that we are at a great divide.
                                  I fear I’ve lost that clear space
                where true actions flow like water.

But I’ve walked, at sunset and twilight,
                      the high desert land of San Cristóbal.
          I’ve watched Julia Butterfly climb down
      from the redwood she named Luna.
                      Only two years of her young life up there and
                Maxxam bowed to her pure will.
   I’ve breathed the perfume of tear gas and pepper spray
                                             on the streets of Seattle
           and I’ve gone home
                   to campuses and neighborhoods
       organizing around the world,
                  calling my brothers and sisters
    to the great task.

I walk the skies
                       the waves
                                  the rivers and
                                the fields.
                  I am the deserts and the forests.
                                     No need for hope or despair.
                          I am this world
             this universe
    this clear space.

December 20, 1999

Theodore on the porch of the National Gallery

Forty-five minutes to wait for Allen —
 who never did plant trees for the White House —
   sitting on a bus stop bench facing Constitution.
Homeless black guy approaches and I stand.
 “Don b’fray.”
   Face of a monster! Fire? Nam?
   One eye gone.
    Mouth so burnt
  his words are a puzzling blur.
“I’m not afraid. Here, Sir.”
 I hand him a ten
    He holds it up to his one dim eye
  and smiles.

We shake hands.
    “Hello, I’m Ernie.”
 “Mm Thrrrrr.”
    “Pleased to meet you. Say it again, your name?”
          “Amm Thdrrrr.”
          “Theodore?”
          “Ssss, Thdrrr.”

Rain starts falling
   so I move to the porch of the National Gallery.
 “Don’ bfray!!”
“I’m not afraid. Just wet.”
    He offers me his bottle
and tells me his story
 on the porch of the Gallery.
I understand one word in ten,
    looking into his one dim eye,
           asking him to say it again
      and again.

From time to time
       fear does flit through my mind.
   I might misunderstand
         say the wrong thing to him
     trigger an attack.
I tell him my story
     to relax from the stress
  of listening to words from a ruined mouth
        I can hardly understand.

Then he seems to tell me about
 a man and a lie.
   I look at the valleys down his face
      and hear about a man and a bottle of lye.
He offers me his bottle.
Little white flecks of spit hit my blazer.
      I move to the side, out of range,
  and tell him how Ely, my bro in Atlanta
         was a freedom fighter in the Sixties,
   freedom fighter even now.
      Theodore points to his chest,
           “Freem fire too.”

He waits with me, telling his story.
      I understand one word in ten,
    and look into his one dim eye
       wondering when was the last time
  anyone had looked into his face
 or listened to his words.
Allen’s car pulls up and we shake.
    Theodore holds on tight to my hand,
  telling me one more story.
 I pull loose.
    He offers me his bottle.

         June 8, 1992

Stereo poem for my lady

I originially performed this poem on stereotape
with two channels of words dancing back and forth.

My Lady taught me life. 
My Lady taught me love. 
My Lady taught me to be 
myself.      She feels. 
     She feels. 
     She feels. 
     Deep, deep, 
            like a bear’s bite, 
     she feels.
 My Lady sings old juke box songs 
and drinks white wine in the afternoon. 
When she drinks white wine 
she talks like a bulldozer . . . 
or a bear.  

        In a forest 
        or a prison . . . 
 

             My Lady hangs 
             mirrors in our house, 
             magic mirrors 
             blazing out 
             eternity. 
 

My Lady’s name is Grace. 
She walks along behind the tide, 
throwing stranded starfish 
back into the water. 
She talks with clams 
before she cooks them. 
She’s kind that way. 
I think I’ll stick around 
and light her fires. 
 

                                     Deep, deep, 
                                     like a bear’s bite . . . 

 

              My Lady taught me life. 
              My Lady taught me love. 
              My Lady taught me to be 
              myself. 
 

A bear 
runs through 
her dreams. 

                         Deep, deep, 
                         like a bear’s bite . . . 

      Laughter, 
      my Lady’s laughter, 
      shapes the universe. 

 

Laughter, 
my Lady’s laughter, 
shapes the universe. 
Love laughter. 
Bear’s laughter.          Magic mirrors, 
         she hangs magic mirrors 
         in our house. 
                      She talks with clams . . . 
 

    Love laughter. 
    Bear’s laughter. 
 

A bear runs 
through her dreams 
eating mother, father, 
sister and brother, 
all except My Lady. 
 

                          Do not 
                          leave me, 
                          says the bear. 

 

Magic mirrors, 
magic mirrors 
do not lie. 

                  Love laughter. 
                  Bear’s laughter. 

                                   My Lady sings 
                                   old juke box songs . . . 

Do not leave me, 
says the bear. 

                My Lady’s Hexagram 
                is K’un, The Receptive. 
                She would flourish 
                in a forest or a prison, 
                in a castle or a desert. 
                She receives life 
                wherever she is. 

Magic mirrors 
blazing out 
eternity. 
 

My Lady’s name is Grace. 

1971

“Momma’s waiting”

Crewcut hitch-hiker held out his sign,
“Momma’s waiting.”

“My mother worries about me a lot.
If she knew I was hitching
she’d really be upset.”

“It’s okay for you to be a soldier
but not to hitch?”

“Oh, no. she called the President,
told him he shouldn’t take me.
Talked with one of his aides
at midnight. She couldn’t sleep.
She used to call my commanding officer,
you know, was I getting enough to eat?
But she means well.

“When I got out she told me
I should come right home,
my dog has pups and she needs me.
I said, “She can handle it.

But she said,
‘She’s emotionally upset,
can’t be a good mother.
The pups will grow up disturbed.”

1970

Anna Moon’s song to the poet

You tell me we’re one,
the two of us are one,
but you keep on forgetting
I’ve got to be me
before being you.

You tell me we’re one
with your eyes soft and warm,
but you never have seen
I’ve got my own way
of being everything.

You tell we’re one.
Your words suck me in,
but you push me away
for dancing my foxtrot
while you’re trying to tango.

I tell you I’m me,
shaped with great care.
Don’t tear me down
with your mystical eyes.
I’ll find my own way.

                        1970