Vena Cava

in my vena cava
the surgeon found nanoscopic
relics of Portland

a tiny Victorian house
surrounded by roses

two rotting piers
encrusted in barnacles

and a rusted English Raleigh
bicycle circa 1940

in my atman
the nun found closets
filled with black vintage dresses

a wandering band of
Tuvan throat singers

an athenaeum of
illegible journals

and a wildflower meadow
humming with bumblebees

in my corpus
the oneironaut found the
ocean shore in summer

tinkled by
the bobbing music of masts

embroidered by seaweed
printed by paws

awash with the blue air
of distant tides

soon everything will change —
soft things collapse and die

soon only everything hard will remain
and skeletons emerge from frost

Willard Tidal Pool 4.28.19

Miniature Worlds


“Like a lamp, a cataract,
a star in space, an illusion, a dew drop,
a bubble, a dream, a cloud,
a flash of lightning;
view all created things like this.” – Diamond Sutra


What is it about these miniature worlds that fascinate me so deeply? The smaller and more intricate, the greater my delight. Perhaps a dash of color, an accent, or more vivid tones are needed to portray their strange biographies.  These flakes, stamens, stalks, droplets, buds, blossoms, fossils, desiccations, landscapes . . . form precious moments of frozen time, evidence of being. Their scientific precision is unconscious. Their imperfection is perfect. They are alive, they are dead, they are dying, they are transforming. I like to fix them in time by recording them on the page, extrapolating and refashioning them into reflections of my own inner frangible world made visible.


“When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu


Life is unreal, unfathomable, illusory. What we think is solid is a spider web. What we think is obvious is a delusion. By exploring these hidden realms and studying their secrets, we honor their fragility, and our own.


“Miniatures invite us to leave our known selves and perspectives behind.” – Lia Purpura


“I can be sure that even in this tiny, insignificant episode there is implicit everything I have experienced.” – If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino



Ode to John Keats

JohnKeats1819_hires“My imagination is a Monastery, and I am its Monk” – John Keats (1795-1821) to Percy Shelley

Even in our devastated and technologically enslaved world, the deep romanticism of autumn cannot be denied.  It is good to think about and celebrate the life of John Keats, who was born October 31 and died at age twenty-five.  Keats life was tragic. His father died when Keats was only eight.  His mother remarried disastrously, lost her fortune, abandoned her family, returned, and passed away of tuberculosis when Keats was fifteen.  Keats nursed both his mother and his brother Tom throughout the terrible illness of which Keats himself would die.  He abandoned a medical career, lived in poverty, and his work was reviled by the critics of the day.  But the mundanely tragic was transfigured and heightened by the flames of genius and romantic love into some of the greatest writing ever penned.

In nature and in art that which is fragile, delicate, complex and temporal may also be the most sublime. RoseGarden4

As I walk the streets of Portland, with its old Victorian houses, many of which are evocative of Keats (places where Keats lived, such as Wentworth Place and Hempstead Heath would not be out of place here), through the pearl-gray dawn and the rose-gold twilight, along gardens thick with purple asters, golden light streaming through red maple and oak, pine cones and acorns crushing underfoot as the last blooms of autumn glow with heightened color through the mist and rain, the warm sumptuous days growing ever more stunted, Keats and his poetry come to life, infusing the city with their presence.

10.5.13.purpleasters    DreamHouse

Selected Letters

Keats letters, though he often complained about the time it took to manage them (much as we complain about e-mail volume today), stand as a literary compendium in their own right and form a rich autobiography that is humorous, joyful and exquisitely intelligent. It is doubtful any modern e-mail correspondence could ever take their place.

“What astonishes me more than any thing is the tone, the coloring, the slate, the stone, the moss, the rock-weeds; or, if I may say so, the intellect, the countenance of such places.  The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance.  I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever, for the abstract endeavor of being able to add a mite to that mass of beauty which is harvested from these grand matrials, by the finest spirits, and put into ethereal existence for the relish of one’s fellows.” – page 167, Letter to Tom Keats, 25-27, June 25-27, 1818, John Keats, Selected Letters, Penguin Classics.

The artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that peaked 1800 to 1850 was in part a rebuttal to the Industrial Revolution, which one could argue was the beginning of the end for life on Earth. Today intense emotion is shunned and science is king – our emotional life is consumed by fears of terrorism, climate change, social anxiety, and fear of nature. Romanticism celebrated a love of solitude and contemplation and decried population growth, the dark side of urbanism, and industrialism. Individualists and artists were heroes and imagination was considered a freedom from critical authority. Ultimately Romanticism was eroded by Realism and the spread of nationalism.


“As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I m a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself – it has no self – it is every thing and nothing – It has no character – it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated – It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.  What shocks the virtuous philosoper, delights the calemion Poet.  It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation.  A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identify – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures.”

autumn3hinckleyWhile Romantic love is deemed by modern psychology as a toxin that poisons relationships by giving rise to unhealthy attachments, it continues to permeate our world. And in fact it stands as testimony to something eternal and necessary to the human psyche. What would Keats’ life have been without Franny Brawne?  Has there ever been anything more beautiful, fragile, or romantic than their relationship?  He often said the depth of his love was killing him, but it also gave him life.

“Sweetest Fanny,

You fear, sometimes, I do not love you as much as you wish?  My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve.  The more I have known you the more have I lov’d.  In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you.  I have vex’d you too much.  But for Love!  Can I help it?  You are always new.  The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest.  When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time.  You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov’d your Beauty.  Have I nothing else then to live in you but that?  Do not I see a heart naturally furnish’d with wings imprison itself with me?  No ill prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me.” — To Franny Brawne, March, 1820

FMFall13“Upon my soul I have loved you to the extreme, I wish you could know the Tenderness with which I continually brood over your different aspects of countenance, action and dress.  I see you come down in the morning:  I see you meet me at the Window – I see the pleasant clue I live in a sort of happy misery. . .” — To Franny Brawne, June, 1820

“The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me.  I cannot q——- My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in health, and I should have remained well.  I can bear to die – I cannot bear to leave her.  Oh, God! God! God!  Every thing I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.  The silk lining she put in my travelling cap scalds my head.  My imagination is horribly vivid about her – I see her – I hear her.  There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her a moment.  This was the case when I was in England; I cannot recollect, without shuddering, the time that I was prisoner at Hunt’s, and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day.  Then there was a good hope of seeing her again – Now! – O that I could be buried near where she lives!  I am afraid to write to her – the receive a letter from her – to see her hand writing would break my heart – even to hear of her any how, to see her name written would be more than I can bear.  My dear Brown, what am I to do?” – To Charles Brown, November 1-2, 1820

Autumn FlowersBut the Romantics weren’t all doom and gloom.  Bright Star, the astonishing film by Jane Campion about Keats and Fanny Brawne, is itself a metaphor for the Romantic Age, which, like it or not, has infiltrated Western culture. The film’s melancholia may seem morbid, but it is pierced with exquisite moments, illuminated by an essential “truth and beauty.” And that is the point.

A Thing Of Beauty (Endymion) 

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

— John Keats


John Keats Weather


John Keats Weather

by Annie Seikonia


rain globe –

long red worms

graze the soil


a startling lime-green haze

creeps from frozen brown



water sloshes in the lungs

and heart, thermostat plunging

from childish fevers to hellish chills


hot sun

beckons through weeks of rain

from imaginary islands


spores fire

weed and bud

fermenting the meridians


of dark brick corners,

coal midnights —

a ceaseless windy plash


soft unimaginable petals


the richest desires. . .


the outset of the walk was

through lush catastrophe and we

slept in a sodden sullen church


hovering in the dense

cheap sick room where

the living bacteria flumed


in the quay submerged

rhythms of forest and

marooned moons



arpeggios of

rocks in the chest.


lush wheels of geometric


provoke and set


foggy breaths

clink music as

a cat licks its lips


hoary poppy

leaves pierce

black loam


two crows toy

and drop

the bone


ribboning cove

bronchial tide

veins of muddy brine


time unfurls

the heat cruelly

exploding the farm


you both

kiss the wall

covering it with whispers


spectral fairies prance

over harsh

oaken moss


a red ribbon of flame

haunts your

alabaster neck


a purple dress

sails through

the heath of health


you were correct

to fear the scansions of love

without which


the verse would not


nor the world uncurl


yet still time? to

set things right

put the house in order


sweep out the larks

ashes beetles



though a moist

chaos infiltrates

the book




so one goes on

perhaps even marries

settling into the stitch


it’s nothing like

marrying the sea though

is it?


Spontaneous Summer Haiku


forget daily life
go to the pond
and sit there

this place
as perfect as
any other

in the park
surrounded by leaves

sublime the ducks
gliding through

sketching in the park
suddenly I understand
the language of ducks

there’s no end
to this richness
no end

shadows pour
down oak leaves
over the summer pond

close your eyes
and listen
to the green


The Universe in Three Lines


I wrote my first haiku in Sixth Grade and have been an aficionado ever since. Haiku has been referred to as a “restrained mirror of the universe,” and its jewel-like quality – that essence of a shard that reverberates to encompass the entire world – is stunning in its highly compressed brevity. Therein lies the challenge of haiku.

English haiku has been somewhat crippled by the early attempts to mimic Japanese haiku, which included the erroneous idea that the 5:7:5 formula of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables, needed to be employed, and that the first and third lines had to rhyme, in order to mimic the rhythms of Japanese haiku. However, Japanese use “onji” or “sound symbols,” which refer to phonetic characters that do not actually correlate with English syllables. The 5:7:5 formula is an easy template to follow, but it does not represent the true art of haiku. Great poems have been written in this manner, but they seem hobbled in comparison with the Japanese masters.

A structure of two beats/three beats/two beats, with a break after the second or fifth beat (to mimic the grammatical pause or “cutting word”/kireji found in Japan, yields a poem that is truer to the traditional haiku form. The Japanese typically use a kigo, or “season word” as well.

In “Learn From the Pine,” the master haiku artist Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), wrote, “Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo. Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought. The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. . . Make the universe your companion. . . The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and the vacuity of the world. . . When you are composing a verse, let there not be a hair’s breadth separating your mind from what you write. . . Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter. . . The bones of haikai are plainness and oddness. . . Eat vegetable soup rather than duck stew.”

In a great haiku an implosion of music, image and meaning creates that state of “no mind,” the “reason of unreason,” that echoes the Zen moment of awakening. Translation is difficult. Even scholarly translations may fall far short of the original intent of the poem. I’ve read many haiku that didn’t impress me, only to find that in a different translation, the same poem blew my socks off. Oddly enough, one of the best haiku anthologies I’ve come across is a thin paperback volume published by Dover, titled The Classic Tradition of Haiku, edited by Faubion Bowers. It contains a survey of original Japanese poems, extensive footnotes, and a variety of translators (and, on occasion, different translations of the same poem.)

The writer Richard Wright discovered haiku during the last 18 months of his life, proceeding to write over 4,000 of them. For Wright, haiku were “self-developed antidotes against illness” that allowed him to further his art in spite of diminishing health and stamina. His poems suffer from the 5-7-5 curse, which makes them stilted, and at times he seems to be over-striving to mimic the Japanese masters, yet there are some amazing poems interspersed in this incredible body of work.

Here are some examples of what I consider to be “gems” of the haiku world:

Iio Sōgi (1421-1502)

mono goto ni                                 everything that was
oi wa kokoro no                     has vanished from my aged heart
ato mo nashi                                   leaving not a trace

Arakida Moritake (1472-1549)

asagao ni                                           My span of years
kyō wa miyuran                    Today appears
waga yo kana                                    A morning-glory’s hour.

Anonymous (1600’s)

tsunu mo oshi                                   I regret picking
tsumano mo oshiki                                  and not picking
sumire kana                                       violets

Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693)

tai wa hana                            Villages may lack
wa minu sato mo ari                Sea bream or flowers
kyō no tsuki                           but they all have tonight’s moon

Yamaguchi Sodō (1642-1716)

yado no haru                                In my hut this spring,
nani mo naki                                 There is nothing –
nani mo are                                   There is everything!

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

It’s not like anything
they compare it to –
the summer moon.

a nameless hill
in the haze.

furuike ya                                       old pond. . .
kawaza tobikumu                        a frog leaps in
mizu no oto                                   water’s sound*

Or is this better?                                    Th’old pond – a frog jumps in. Kerplunk!

yagate shinu                                 Nothing in the voice
keshiki wa miezu                              Of the cicada intimates
semi no koe                                  How soon it must die**

natsukusa ya                                The summer grass
tsuwamonodomo ga                       Is all that’s left
yume no ato                                 Of ancient warriors’ dreams

tsuki sumu ya                              The moon is clear –
kitsune kowagaru                             I escort a lovely boy
chigo no tomo                            frightened by a fox

hamaguri no                               A clam
futami ni wakare                           separates lid
yukuaki zo                                               from flesh as autumn departs

The sea darkening –
the wild duck’s call
is faintly white

The jars of octopus
brief dreams
under the summer moon.

petal by petal
yellow mountain roses fall –
sound of the rapids

More than ever I want to see
the god’s face
in these blossoms at dawn

year after year
on the monkey’s face
a monkey’s mask

*This is quite possibly the most renowned haiku in the world. An entire book has been devoted to its variations and meanings. It exemplifies the height of satori and “eternity in tranquility.”

**I disliked the translation that went with this (“It gives no sign/that it knows its death is near/the cicada’s cry”) and recalled this translation, which made a deep impression on me when I read it during my teens, used in the J.D. Salinger story “Teddy” in the collection, Nine Stories.

Kasugi Isshō (1652-1688)

mi tsukushita                           My eyes, which had seen all, come back,
me wa shiragiku ni                 Back to the white chrysanthemums.
modori keri

Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707)

kojiki kana                                There goes a beggar
tenchi no kitaru                             Wearing heaven and earth
natsu goromo                          As summer clothes

Uejima Onitsura (1661-1738)

gaikotsu no                               Oh! flower-gazers, who have decked
ue o yosotē                               the surface of their skeletons!
hanani kana

Tachibana Hokushi (1665-1718)

kaite mitari                            I write, I look, I erase
keshitari hate wa                     And in the end
keshi no hana                       A poppy of erasure***

*** Hokushi’s death-bed poem.

Ogawa Shūskiki (1669-1725)

mishi yume no                        Even after waking
samete mo iro no                  From the dream
kakitsubata                              I’ll see the colors of irises

Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775)****

koe nakuba                               but for their voices
sagi ushinawanui                   the herons would disappear –
kesa no yuki                             the morning’s snow

wakakusa ya                            green grass –
kinema kirema ni                  between, between the blades
mizu no iro                              the color of water

tsukubcte                                 squatting
kumo o ukagau                      the frog observes
kaeru kana                              the clouds

akebono no                             dawn’s separation
wakare wa motanu               unknown
hiina kana                                to dolls

**** Chiyo was a popular haiku poet, a married woman who later became a nun.

Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

nusabito no                            a thief
yane ni kieyuku                   vanishes over the rooftops —
yosamu kana                         night chill!

furuike no                               In an old pond a frog ages while leaves fall.
kawazu oiyuku
ochiba kana

among twenty snowy mountains
the only moving thing
was the eye of the blackbird

blow of an ax,
pine scent,
the winter woods

in the summer rain
the path
has disappeared

bats flitting here and there;
the woman across the street
glances this way

Lighting one candle
with another candle –
spring evening.

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

The lights are going out
in the doll shops –
spring rain.

Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)*****

aki no ya ya                          autumn night. . .
tabi no otoko no                a traveling man’s
harishigoto                          needlework

utsukushiki                          gorgeous kite
tako agarikeri                     rising above
kojiki goya                           a beggar’s hut

mata mudi ni                      Once more in vain the stepchild bird opens its beak.
kuchi asku tori no
mamako kana

shi ni jitaku                         Being born the lowest of the low, I view cherries at night.
itaseitase to
sakura kana

shi ni jitaku                        Get ready, get ready to die, the cherries say.
itaseitase to
sakura kana

tsuyu no yaw a                The world of dew
tsuyu no yo nagara              is the world of dew, and yet
sari nagara                        And yet. . .

In spring rain
a pretty girl

on a naked horse
in pouring rain!

writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art

what’s said of snowmen
doesn’t last any longer
than the snowmen

let’s ride
on the duckweed flowers
to a cloud over there

the sold horse
looks back at his mother. . .
autumn rain

never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers

the distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the dragonfly

*****Issa is my favorite haiku poet. His earthy, compassionate poems are the most beautiful in the world.

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

harusame ya                          spring rain
kasa sashite miru                 browsing under my umbrella
ezōshiya                                  at the picture-book store

WhiteIrisichihatsu no                          this lone iris
ichirin shirōshi                    white
haru no kune                         in spring twilight

yuki furu yo                         snow’s falling!
shōji no ana o                       I see it through a hole
mite areba                             in the shutter. . .

jōbutso ya                              Buddha-death:
yūgao nokao                         the moonflower’s face
hechima noke                       the snake gourd’s fart

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

A cathedral bell
Dimming the river water
In the autumn dusk.

In a drizzling rain,
In a flower shop’s doorway,
A girl sells herself.

Leaving the doctor,
the whole world looks different
This autumn morning.


A night of spring stars:
Waves breaking beyond the wall
Have a dark blue sound.

The blue of this sky
Sounds so loud that it can be heard
Only with our eyes.

A freezing morning:
As sharp as an aching tooth,
A long icicle.

A spring sky so clear
That you feel you are seeing
Into tomorrow

How lonely it is:
A winter world full of rain,
Rain raining on rain.

The neighing horses
Are causing echoing neighs
In neighboring barns.

Of generations
Comes this wild red rose to me,
As I come to it.

In the summer haze:
Behind magnolias,
Faint sheets of lightning.

I had long felt that
Those sprawling black railroad tracks
Would bring down this snow.

Factory whistles
Bring flurries of fat snow
In a winter dawn.

Over spring mountains
A star ends the paragraph
Of a thunderstorm.

The sudden thunder
Startles the magnolias
To a deeper white.

The lighted toy shop
Seen through a frozen window
Is another world.

This well-thumbed novel
Was the tale she loved best –
Fields of autumn rain.

Beyond a sea wall,
An occasional wave flings
Foam at the autumn sky.

I saw the dead man
Impatiently brush away
The flies from his mouth.

Spring snow melting,
But under the dark hedges
Are patches of white.

The ocean in June:
Inhaling and exhaling,
But never speaking.

Golden afternoon:
Tree leaves are visiting me
In their yellow clothes.

With nervous pleasure,
The tulips are receiving
A spring rain at dusk.

Annie Seikonia

I have been writing my own haiku for over forty years. Even now, I find myself tinkering with haiku I wrote decades ago. Sometimes I fantasize about starting a Kickstarter campaign through which I would ask subscribers to pay $100 a year in exchange for haiku-a-day emailed to them for 365 days. Three hundred subscribers, and I could almost quit my day job.  Then I could become a full-time haiku master!  In any case, here are some of my own recent haiku:

I would have missed
this nautilus dawn

three gray squirrels
early Sunday morning —
autumn’s trapeze

rainy Friday night
rooms festooned
with heavy wet laundry

invisible in white
blossoms: the cardinal’s
red song

blue cold gold
bee green
spring throne

a theater of blossoms
unfolds in the opera
of spring rain

white blossoms
on a cold spring night –

white blossoms
cold black sky
fugitive galaxy

rain at dusk
the dogwood trees
in blossom on the trail

finally home
a pocket of rose petals
recalls the ocean rain

after the summer rain
a crow walking
through mirrors

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Photographs by Annie Seikonia

The Poetry Ambassador


When PortTix at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, made the free tickets to hear Richard Blanco available, all 1,800 were “sold out” in a mere four hours. The free tickets were courtesy of the Quimby Family Foundation, PortTix, and Creative Portland, with a two-per-customer limit. Not since the days of Henry Longfellow have so many Maine people flocked to hear a poet read his poems. Of course much of the draw was due to two factors: Blanco read at President Obama’s second inauguration; and Blanco now lives in Bethel, Maine. No matter the reasons for the swell of intrest — the February 26, 2013 event was a huge coup for the world of poetry, and Blanco was a perfect ambassador for its behalf.

Blanco’s poems are accessible but artful, with sufficient nuance, craft and depth to satisfy both Ph.D. and proletariat. This is no mean feat, and part of the reason for Blanco’s popularity was immediately apparent when he commanded the stage. Charming, well-spoken, with a tinge of self-effacement, Blanco read his poems carefully, introducing them with colorful segues that were humorous and sincere. (His good nature extended to the book-signing line that followed the reading, where progress was slow because he wanted to talk to every person.) Before President Obama’s recent inauguration, Blanco was a relatively obscure poet not widely known beyond the poetry/literary world. In interviews he himself has expressed surprise at the outpouring of adulation befitting a rock star for. . . a poet.


And then of course, there is the poetry itself, which extends beyond the personal to the universal, which is why his “One Poem” inaugural poem is so deeply moving. “Who hasn’t felt like a stranger in their own hometown?” Blanco remarked during the reading. And, “despite not living a perfect life, we’re living it together.” He also noted that in the past he had thought his poetry was well received because of the subject matter, but had come to see it was truly a question of craft: “It’s not what you write about, but how you write about it.”

“Shaving,” which Blanco read at Merrill, is an example of a seemingly pedestrian task brought to rich philosophical life through this fine poet’s artistry:


I am not shaving, I’m writing about it.
And I conjure the most elaborate idea—
how my beard is a creation of silent labor
like ocean steam rising to form clouds,
or the bloom of spiderwebs each morning;
the discrete mystery of how whiskers grow,
like the drink roses take from the vase,
or the fall of fresh rain, becoming
a river, and then rain again, so silently.
I think of all these slow and silent forces
and how quietly my father’s life passed us by.

I think of those mornings, when I am shaving,
and remember him in a masquerade of foam, then,
as if it was his beard I took the blade to,
the memory of him in tiny snips of black whiskers
swirling in the drain—dead pieces of the self
from the face that never taught me how to shave.
His legacy of whiskers that grow like black seeds
sown over my cheek and chin, my own flesh.

I am not shaving, but I will tell you about the mornings
with a full beard and the blade in my hand,
when my eyes don’t recognize themselves
in a mirror echoed with a hundred faces
I have washed and shaved—it is in that split second,
when perhaps the roses drink and the clouds form,
when perhaps the spider spins and rain transforms,
that I most understand the invisibility of life
and the intensity of vanishing, like steam
at the slick edges of the mirror, without a trace.

From City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

My signed page from Directions to the Beach of the Dead (“For Annie, to a fellow Rilke fan”):

Blanco Signature

The free reading was made possible through the support of The Quimby Family Foundation and Creative Portland, with inspiration from Andres Verzosa.


Night Storm

bone dark                         dark lesson
vertical lesson                           tree psyche
iron anvil                                                     quilling ring
grey flock                    wet sodium
lattice ring                                    sleet flock
bee sleet                   bee sky
mattress sky                                   frozen nest
frozen dusk           spiral arcade
quilling nest                                                 bone snow
wet silhouette                   hatchet rain
stone psyche                              ice mattress
white festoon                                      vertical burial
rain tree                 anvil why
skeletal melt                               iron shadow
sodium shadow                                        grey lattice
ice hatchet                    dusk rapture
snow burial                              lamp festoon
lamp arcade              silhouette melt
spiral rapture                                         stone quiet
why quiet                         skeletal white

poem & photograph by Annie Seikonia, 2013

A Child’s Christmas In Wales

Child'sXmasinWalesCoverA Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas is a deep exercise in nostalgia, one of the great evocations of childhood as idyll.  Originally inspired by a sketch written for the BBC in 1945 called “Memories of Christmas,” five years later Thomas expanded it, incorporating some sections of a 1947 essay, which resulted in its current form, published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1950.  During his 1952 tour of America, while staying at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, he was approached by two recent graduates who believed there was a market for recorded poetry.  Unable to find backers, the two women funded the project themselves, under their new company, Caedmon Audio.  Thomas appeared drunk and unprepared for the reading, but over time the record became popular, and is credited with launching the audiobook industry.  A Child’s Christmas in Wales became one of Thomas’ most popular works.

Last weekend I heard the book read aloud by Abraham Schechter in the cozy library of the Irish Heritage Center in Portland.  Abraham is a photographer, poet, speculator and librarian who maintains a picturesque and thoughtful blog called La Vie Graphite.  It was delightful, and authentic Welsh pastries were served.  The presentation included Abraham singing a lovely Welsh lullaby, accompanied by guitar, and a slideshow of Abraham’s trip to Wales, where he and his wife had the good fortune to stay in Dylan Thomas’ house.  Happily, Abraham is the kind of writer who brings his own portable typewriter with him on a trip to Wales.

I am enthralled by Dylan’s poetry, which resonates throughout this short fictional memoir, rescuing it from schmaltz through such airborne passages as:

“Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.”


Hearing the work read aloud brought the rhythms and descriptiveness into rich and pleasurable focus.  As new snow billowed through the frozen air outside the historic church, the past and present merged and blurred as we sat quietly receiving a great gift of  imagination and artistry, transmitted across the decades to us.

“And on Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers.”