I Dream Awake

This August, the Italian record label Ravello Records released composer Bill Whitley’s wonderful cd of new music, I Dream Awake. The recording includes “Little White Salmon,” a piece on which Bill and I collaborated (the music is all Bill’s) , and on which I also perform the vocals.  Since the poetry has (as poetry does) a music of its own, I have transcribed the lyric it below.


But oh do listen to the recording itself also– it’s such wonderful music! In fact, I just learned that the cd has had thousands of listens on Spotify, and “Little White Salmon” its own thousands. TEXTURA online music review also just named the cd as one of it’s picks for the top ten classical albums of 2017!  (Read the glowing review here).

You can listen to a sampling from the cd (including the opening (“White Water”), read about the composer and musicians, and then buy cds for everyone on your gift list! All at http://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr7971/


Meanwhile, “Little White Salmon”:


I. White Water

I stir awake—  

my restive limbo.

I stir awake—

my restive limbo.

I stir awake—

and sleepless, rest

a restless stillness

slips off like a sleeve, a spell

released I stir I shake I

swim and leaves swim, loom

and turn with me a swirl I

stir from sleep remembered

by my cells, by ancient selves…

A spiraling of cells and selves

remembering the snows and thaws and

humming summers’ roar and thrum

of falls continuous with us,

our very sinew even as

we’re new…

A gleam of blue, a bloom of green

they shimmer-glow

I go


II. The Eddy


wake inside a room of brown

and red — no sound I

wake inside a shadowed

leafy lake, still whirl of fallen alder,

maple leaves, of bracken’s ferny



III. Flow


Oh sleeve of sleepless rest,

Oh longing’s limbo, slide

away and I’m alive again

I rise

a dash

     a rush

it tastes like tin.


IV.  Mouth


Oh stun dissolved, oh nervy

stir of urges free to forge a way, re-

calling as we go, re-knowing

in the coalesce 

and press and flow

of cells

and wet

and light.

I plunge I slide I turn

I writhe through green and blue

with light and shine I push

against the current’s rush the pull

of time.


V. Flows In, Returns


Then: stone taste of the past,

a past when stone was flow

I waken into this: the ebb

and flow of all that was before

the stone that goes,

returns, is now.


I do not know this shape

I am, this red! Awake,

I try to shake it off

and fail.


I dream I die

I dream in yellows, blues and reds

I dream awake

I dream I-84 east.

VI. Eddy (Reprise)

The soundless room so brown,

red, shadowed, warm, a swirl

of warm and brown and leaves and

motes and ferny curls, so soundless

brown and warm.


VII. White Water (the return)

I stir awake—   my restive limbo.

I stir awake— my restive limbo.

I stir awake— and sleepless

rest, a restless stillness

slips off like a sleeve, a spell

released I stir I shake I

swim and leaves swim, loom

and turn with me a swirl I

stir from sleep remembered

by my cells by ancient selves

a spiraling of cells and selves

remembering the snows

and thaws and humming summers’

roar and thrum of falls—

a gleam of blue, a bloom

of green, a glow continuous,

the past and us,

the now, the flow.


Little White Salmon River, Washington (photo credits: Wet Planet Whitewater)

The Passionate Poetry of Pattiann Rogers

Pattiann Rogers writes some of the sexiest science poems I know.


And that’s saying a lot, given that the eros and mystery of the material world  has been the favorite subject of many poet-mystics and their poems…as it is mine.

So as I found myself wrestling recently with some nascent new work of my own, I suddenly wanted to re-read Rogers’ poems in particular, drawn to the complex, textured intensity of her imagination and gaze. Her poems reveal a deeply science-informed knowledge and almost forensic attention to texture and detail which become, in her poems, not a means by which to distance from the world, but to immerse in it more deeply…and from that immersion, rise to praise. As such, these are poems what are at once “science text and psalter,” as the poet Albert Goldbarth has described them, representing (and drawing the reader into) the kind of surrender to that passionate, vulnerable wonder by way of which we re-find our deepest, truest selves.

If angels were to agree upon a language to describe creation, a tone of voice and a point to view that would adequately celebrate the divine,” Barry Lopez has written, “these would be the poems they would write. For they would know that without love there is no divinity, and without passion life is dust” (italics mine).

Below is a personal favorite of mine among her poems, originally published in Splitting and Binding (1989), and included also in her 1994 “selected poems” collection, Firekeeper  (1994), the dedication to which reads,

                                                   “For the celebration,

                                              and for all the celebrants,

                                          every one of them, everywhere.”



For Passions Denied: Pineywoods Lily


Who knows what unrelieved yearning

finally produced the pink-and-lavender-wax control

of these petals, what continual longing

resulted in the sharp arcing of the leaves,

what unceasing obsession became itself

in the steady siren of the ruby stigma? That tense

line of magenta disappearing over the boundaries

of the blossom is so unequivocal in the decision


of its direction, one is afraid to look too long. 


I can understand, perhaps, having a hopeless

passion for gliding beneath the sea, wanting to swim 

leisurely, without breath, through green salt

and sun-tiered water, to sleep all night, lost

and floating among the stroking of the angelfish,

the weaving rags of the rays. And I can understand

an impossible craving to fly unencumbered,

without effort, naked and easily over sandstone

canyons, through the high rain of river-filled

gorges, to feel the passing pressures of an evening

sky against the forehead, against the breast.

And I can understand the desire to touch a body

that may never be touched, the frenzy to move

one’s hand along a thigh into a darkness

which will never have proximity, to take into oneself

the entire perfume, the whole yeast and vibration

and seethe of that which will always remain

aloof, a desire so unrelenting it might easily turn

any blood or pistil at its deepest crux

to majestic purple.


I don’t know what it is that a pineywoods lily,

with all her being, might wish for. Yet whatever dearest

thing the lily was denied, it’s clear

she must very greatly have suffered, to be before us now

so striking in her bearing, so fearsome

in her rage.



(For more by and about Pattiann Rogers, visit https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/pattiann-rogers )



On Hesitation: A versay


(A “versay” is a form I invented; a kind of essay which considers its subject by means of the sort of reverie by which poetry thinks things through. This one was originally published in the Seven Thunders  newsletter [Autumn, 2006]. 

On rising this morning, two readings gave me     pause                                                             on the dogged course set by my “Tuesday” lists.

The first:

A Good Habit: You can add “intentionality to your day by pausing and taking a breath and then saying to yourself what you are just about to do. By placing these little pauses between tasks you bring heightened meaning to oven overlooked, so-called mundane things. Just before you answer the phone, take a breath and on the exhalation say that you are answering the phone with gracefulness. When you sit down for meditation, tell yourself what you are going to do, and then take a breath, sit down. This way, you nurture the subject self and avoid the automatisms of being an object self–that machine-like you that does just one thing after another without being present as a Thou. In time, you will not even have to put out the effort to do this; it will become “second nature.” (from The Way Through: A Contemplative Companion. #22, Spring, 2006, p. 2)

The second was this poem:

Hesitation: An Assay

Sometimes only a slowing                                                                                                                  

so momentary it can scarcely be seen–                                                                                          

as if a dog,                                                                                                                                  

chasing something large and swift and important,                                                                      

were distracted by the white tremor of  an overhead moth.                                


Other times a full lifetime tentative, lost.                                        


The line of the roof in the child’s crayoned drawing                                                                    

can show a hesitation almost fatal.                                                                                              

The rain                                                                                                                                          

comes to it hard or less hard,                                                                                                

knowing nothing of hesitation’s rake-toothed debate.


And the two lovers                                                                                                                          

now concealed around the corner?                                                                                              

They fool no-one, not even themselves,                                                                                    

pausing in their own shadows outside a locked door. 

If pleasure requires prolonging, then these lovers.

Yet slowness alone is not to be confused                                                                                          

with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens.

(–Jane Hirschfield, After)

When I read A Good Habit, I am gently chastened and directed, told how certain behaviors might bring me closer to (w)holiness. The words are met by the mind, and the mind is grateful: grateful for the focus toward behaviors which, practiced, might instruct the heart.

Reading Hesitation: An Assay (by poet and Zen Buddhist Jane Hirschfield), I am illumined, in-formed– a different quality of experience. In Hesitation, the very reverie which the poem contemplates –of which it speaks– is the one through which it also sees (this, I would argue, could define “a poem”). The words are met by the heart, and inscribed there, and the heart is directly instructed (from the Latin, in-struere, “to build into”). That is, it is transformed. No need, after (or not the same need) to willfully direct ones’ attentive behavior; the self which attends and behaves is changed.

On this difference between the effects of poetry and prose, Theodore Roethke wrote,

The novel can teach us how to act; the poem, and music, how to feel: and the feeling is vastly  more important. […] Once we feel deeply […] we begin to behave. 

And I feel so grateful for both of these: for the power of prose to chasten (which means “to purify”), by way of the mind, and for poetry’s power to aim from and for the heart. Grateful to prose for its power to effect, by way of the mind, the heart’s receptivity. While poetry is the way by which my heart (once receptive) actually receives.

On the dogged course set by my Tuesday lists, I hesitated,                                                            veered into this.

Then this:


Isn’t fixed       (I saw, and cut the                                                                     

“The” from its name above)

Nor does it change–

Truth is always in motion,

Belongs nowhere, to no-one–

Doubt’s its receiver,

Certainty the deaf ear

(What does certainty offer?

Only anxiety,

Only itself to blame)…

–Donna Henderson



1. The Way Through, edited by nancy and Marv Hiles, is a seasonal publication of the Iona Center, Inc., an organization housed in the Santa Sabina Retreat Center in San Rafael, CA, “dedicated to the nurture of contemplative life through publications, retreats, and programs.” Correspondence and requests for sample copies may be directed to the Iona Center, P.O. Box 1528, Healdsburg, CA, 95448 

2. Hirschfield, Jane. After (Poems). New York: Harper-Collins, 2006

3. Roethke, Theodore, “On the Poet and His Craft.” Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965, p. 26.