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Norman Fischer

Three poems

Silliman Pass Song / Surprises / The Contestant

Silliman Pass Song

                   … look, the gray sky!!…

…  around the house
by the lilac bush
I’m picturing now…

                        In my thoughts
The sky is pale blue just over the top
Of the mountain & then a deeper blue
The higher up the eye goes

Blue until the still white cloud
Perfectly etched, more there than there, with curvy billows
& absolutely not moving at all
In the aforementioned blue sky…

There’s actually no
Lilac bush here
                   I haven’t seen a lilac bush
In years, they don’t grow around here
Though I think
In the forest
I saw
In the distance
Behind a tree, some trees
A wild lilac in bloom
If it wasn’t some other bush…

                        Here where there’s granite
                                    Sheer above the quiet lake
                                                Choked with silt
            No lilacs
            So what, why, do we have
        Lilacs in this poem
                   What are they doing here
What house, what lilac bush?

Ok the sky’s gray, foggy, it’s always
Foggy around here this time of year
You can’t even see the sea…

From the hill
If you know where you are looking
You can see the house

From the house you can see the hill
That’s how it is
Around here
                                   Lilac bush or no…

The lake
It is on its way
To becoming a meadow
Tall thick grasses sucking up the water
Soon trees will creep out into it
& meadow will become forest
See granite peaks reflected in memory water
Still, everything’s so still, time slows & stops

                      One little fly buzzes
Around my head, lights on forehead, again & again
            Or on arm, hand, neck
Very annoying…

                                           Sun beats down
                                    Turn around & see the view
                                     Peaks, lots of peaks

        What makes a mountain?
            I don’t mean geology, yes geology
            What happened when no one was looking
                 I mean seeing a mountain
                                     All these peaks & ridges fading
                                     Into paler being
In the supposed distance…

            What makes a mountain seeing it
             Sun beating down, all those
                               Many stars at night

How quiet it is just beyond the forest
With its pines & firs & cedars & hemlocks
Some stand tall & hale, some stand bare & dead
Some fallen onto the forest floor, spent giants,
The living dead,
                                                no house
     no lilac
                                                no music

Silence, Ok maybe some wind stirs branch or needle, but no birds, no water trickles
Silence in which things seen’s starkness
Is exhaustive

Brings you beyond desire which is
Always a little noisy & here we are
Way beyond noise..

                                  In the meadows such dear wildflowers
                                         Red & white & yellow
                                                 In the wet by the spring
                                                     Bees, birds busy…

Did not think the body could carry us this far
Oh so far from ordinary things

Out here & there,
Out in the air of everywhere
This mountain, this lake, that


Surprises are surprising — we don’t know
What will happen next
Despite the data…
Data, data …  here comes a storm washing o’er the plain,
Caused by a plant straining in a pot

Can you predict the future can you anticipate
Disaster? Only that it will come.
Can you manage fate?
Lets discuss
The ins and outs of this, the details
Let us cogitate upon the potential implications
We bright informed creative individuals
From round the world
At a shining table
Stocked with food and drink
In a glass room
In a tall building
In a timeless city
Flashing with air and steel and light

The Contestant

Whatever anyone has said,
Any way at all

Would sufficiently be
A simple enough place to crawl out of

To get along & to keep along,
Things becoming even more quiet

Who would worry about
A projected future state

Where there isn’t
The time for it?


Water dripping everywhere
Such prodigious self-encompassing damp
As could moisten thoroughly

History’s tawdry disrepair
Blowing this way and that
In transparent soggy patches
Across ethereal landscape

Like subtle particulate smoke
Human concern of yearning
Blows the corners off rooftops
The plaintive violin strains mean
Something like that, lots of soft tears

That could account for the dramatic weather
Promising loose-lipped others
The chance to croon


What if
You had to find out

Or if not
Everything become as testicle

Not Latin anymore
Nor the crudest word in the vernacular

A miracle of incarnation
But the investigation lingered far too long

Like the effect of prunes

Norman Fischer, photo by Christine Alicino

Norman Fischer, photo by Christine Alicino

Norman Fischer is a zen priest. He is a former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, and the founder and teacher for the Everyday Zen Foundation. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, where he studied with Ted Berrigan and Anselm Hollo, and made the acquaintance of many poets, including Barrett Watten, Alice Notley and Bob Perelman, he has been active in the poetry universe since the late 1970’s. Charles Bernstein has written of his work, “incandescently tranquil, his poems neither confront nor confirm, preferring to give company along the way.” His Zen comrade and poetic daddy, Philip Whalen, compared his work to “a Baccarat crystal paperweight, a smooth clear ball of glass containing intricate designs in many brilliant colors.” The latest of his many collections is Questions/Places/Voices/Seasons from Singing Horse press (2009).

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