Erat Hora is Latin for “That was the hour.” This poem is not only an adoration of the fleeting muse (Pound embraced unrequited love so long as it inspired his poetry), but also an ode to a moment that is so pure and permanent that it transcends the linear structure of time, encompassing eternity. Its delicate imagery, eloquent simplicity and pointed brevity make it one of my favorites.
“Thank you, whatever comes.” And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.
by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
He carried her a rose on a bicycle, through a snowstorm,
across a bay of splintering ice. She kindly let him down.
So much floods between two lovers you can wring them together
like two oil rags and ten thousand birds will spill their guts.
One by one the people made of onyx snuffed their torches. Looked.
The sharp, invasive shape of the moon: a hook in the lip of the dark.
We are here for such a short moment—so sweet, so easily
forgotten—laugh, weep, make love on a lily pad in a pond of honey.
There was screaming, and a big smack like a god had slipped
on the golden sky-lit floor; and in the cave of her mouth a small fire.
He came back to collect his things: axe, gaff hook, half
the coal and two wolf pelts. Loaded the canoe and left the baby.
by Ryan Dowling
Dogs here live in the streets, the filthier the happier.
They neither obey nor have behavioral issues, unlike ours.
I received a Quechuan blessing in a Colonial church
and felt the hooves of Spanish horses trampling my home.
Followed by police, a gypsy woman stormed
the Plaza de Armas, stabbing the city trees with a shiv.
In Arequipa, a 500 year old frozen girl, clubbed
in the skull and offered to the gods on Mount Ampato.
Eduardo handed me a machete though I was only
joking. He taught me to make it zing through bamboo.
Deep in Peruvian jungles they grow wealthy on cocaine
and peddle the sacred coca leaf to sick tourists.
Looking back at Lima I flipped over my handlebars
and bit the sand of the Pacific. Pachamama.
by Ryan Dowling
Passing Through Ghost Ranch
The clouds today are worth watching. The gods are up
to something. A bird entered the white and never came back.
The desert, it’s almost like when the earth dried up
it cracked like cheap terracotta, and all the water leaked out.
You can walk all day without water because the sky said so.
Cicadas make the sound of the sun on your lips.
Earlier I was mesmerized by Cerro Pedernal, blue mesa
in a rusty dawn. O’Keeffe herself added the gold.
Always checking my watch as if time had somehow magically
leapt ahead, because out here it actually does.
The West took us for a walk: come to be cowboys,
we’re nothing but cattle who’ve left the herd in order to die.
I’m so hungry I could eat a ghost. A branch bends
beneath a fat bird—a quarter pound of meat that flies away.
by Ryan Dowling
Flesh to Stone
Says K. in The Trial, “Like a dog!” and the stone
feels cool against his cheek until his blood spills over it.
Let us be clear: the average stone is a many-veined
cranium with as much blood and occasionally eye-pits.
Summer of 1996 I sunk a skipping stone in the Mississippi;
it’s still there, leaning into the current, a clean cut.
Soapstone in the bed of a brokedown 1983 Ford Ranger:
stone a million years old and—look—still going!
I have come to accept that I envy the centers of worlds,
that, dense as stone, I spin endlessly upon myself.
And here I sit, head spinning like a bar stool, stone
drunk at the peak of pity. Each tear a pebble at my feet.
by Ryan Dowling
I like the silence until it begins to turn everything so loud.
Silence in which a crumb explodes between an ant’s mandibles.
I like it like the captain of a ship drinking brandy in the tophouse
on the last night of a long trip, sleepy in the sea chop.
Often it is even better to eavesdrop on prostitutes at truck stops
than it is to be quiet. And for the price of a cup of coffee…
I think of the hermit philosophers, the ascetics of the deep woods,
all those words in their heads and nothing to say to anyone.
I catch a fly, muffle it between the vase to a dead bouquet
and a book by Nietzsche. Then I open all the windows and sing.
by Ryan Dowling
One of the most common mistakes I see among new writers is their tendency to believe that the speaker, or the “I”, being used in a poem or story refers to the author. With the exception of memoir and other autobiographical—sometimes called “confessional”—writing, this is almost never the case. Skilled writers understand that the use of “I” is only a tool, a narrative technique, to help them convey meaning. And although a skilled writer may draw from personal experience, and even add their own personality traits to a first-person narrator, we must never confuse the author with the speaker.
This misconception can lead to another mistake whenever new writers use “I” in a poem or story and assume that they must, in effect, talk about themselves. Although this practice can be therapeutic in a personal diary or journal, and even result in effective writing in the hands of a skilled memoirist, it should be avoided most of the time, especially for new writers. The reason for this is because most readers, to put it bluntly, do not particularly care about you—your sufferings, your dreams, your cuddly cats, etc.—and why should they?—they only care about how well you can express yourself in writing. Ironically enough, the more you can detach from your own ego and focus on better writing, the more people will take interest in you!
Take the following poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye in which she imagines herself as a dead person who consoles her loved ones by assuring them that she lives on in nature. The use of the first-person narrative technique is powerful here because it lends a voice to the dead person, reminding the reader that she is, in fact, not dead; it creates intimacy and authority by addressing the reader directly from the source; and it allows for all kinds of free play with personification as she identifies with specific aspects of nature.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004)