Sunday, December 23, 2007

St. Jerome

Bitter roots and Penitence
Jerome, with a book, writing
I dreamed of you last night or
Augustine, writing a letter, Jerome
I dreamed of you
last night I
dreamed you were dead.
Ring the hermit's bell
to scare the devil away.
The lion, alone,
now licking his paw.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ferruccio Brugnaro, Italian Poet

In Venice, Beth and I met up with native Venetian Beat Bard Alessandro Spinazzi. Sandro said to meet him on the Rialto bridge at 2PM, and when I asked him how we would know him, he said "Because I look like you!' We spent the afternoon at a very pleasant street cafe, and the next evening we went to the home Sandro shares with his wife Katy. Sandro had invited the poet Ferruccio Brugnaro and his wife Maria. A wonderful evening of food, wine, poetry and friendship.
Ferruccio is also a native Venetian, and worked for much of his life in the industrial zone of Marghera, just west of Venice, on the mainland. A Communist, an activist, a lifelong poet, Ferruccio has recently read at festivals in San Francisco and Cuba. His work is available here in the United States in a collection called Fist of Sun, translated by Jack Hirschman and published by Curbstone Press, and in a collection for his wife Maria, called Portrait of A Woman, also translated by Jack Hirschman and published by CC Marimbo Press.
Here is a poem called We Don't Want Bosses, Period (from Fist of Sun)
We don't want bosses of any kind,
They've already splashed around
in our blood,
already feasted plenty
on our lives.
Stop asking us so many questions.
Look at our injuries
the damage done to peasants
and miners.
We've gotta yank this plant out of the world
once and for always.
Don't ask anything else of us. We've really
made up our guts.
We don't want bosses
because they're
the same as ever:
because they want the land
all for themselves,
because they want the sun
all for themselves,
because they never stop
robbing, trampling,
and killing, killing
day and night under every kind of sky.
and a poem from Portrait of A Woman, for his wife, Maria:
Sometimes Maria sings
the most intense songs.
Songs I've never
heard before
that aren't heard
She sings, sometimes explodes
with her songs
packed with
She sings tirelessly of things,
she moves, sways,
she sings
profound joys to me.
Sings to me, invents, makes up
songs for me
does Maria
returning sometimes
in the middle of the night
songs that can't be described
can't be re-told.

italian history of the west

In San Gimignano, a hilltop town of many towers, we stay in a small hotel facing the central piazza. On a table in a common area I find, among the Italian fashion magazines, two issues of Mountain Gazette, where I find this "New History of the West":

Kill all the Indians.
Kill anything with fur.
Mine all the mountains.
Cut down all the trees.
Dam the rivers.
Ryan Dingus

Friday, December 14, 2007


nobody knows us here we're
moving down the mountain we're
looking for a river we're
looking for a cloud we're
looking for a language we're
looking for a sign we're
looking for a story that will
tell us when we're home
gary lawless

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Italian relics

Usually when we go to Italy I am on the lookout for relics, looking in the Catholic churches for body parts, pieces of saints, bones, teeth, blood, breath, pieces of the True Cross and thorns from the crown of thorns. This trip had a slight variation on that theme.
In Rome we went to the Spanish Steps, and the Keats/Shelley museum, the rooms where Keats died, facing the Spanish Steps. There they have locks of hair from Keats, Shelley and Milton, collected by Leigh Hunt, and also a piece of Shelley's jaw (with a quote from one of the women in their circle saying that she couldn't bear to see the jaw, as she would remember the lips that once covered it, and the words which came from those lips...)Shelley's heart, saved by Trelawney from the funeral pyre, is not there. Mary took it with her.
In the north of Italy, in the south Tyrol/Dolomites/Alto Adige we went to the city of Bolzano, to the Museum of the South Tyrol, where the oldest relic going in Italy is housed - The Ice Man. The Ice Man dates to 5400 years old, frozen into a glacier high up in the mountains and found emerging from the ice by two hikers. A storm in the Sahara had deposited a dark layer of sand on the ice, causing melting (of course, along with global warming) and the eventual exposure of the Ice Man. Italy and Austria argued over which country would house the relics, and the international border was surveyed, showing the Ice Man to be about 20 meters into Italy.
Relics have always brought pilgrims, tourists, and business. Bolzano has created a lovely museum to house the Ice Man. They feature, of course, a look at him, but also create a story and a context for each article of his clothing, his tools, his first aid kit, his weapons. The museum looks at everything from his tattoos to his bearskin soled shoes, from his fleas and tick, stomach parasites and blue eyes to his arsenic levels (high, probably from taking part in the smelting of metals). He has mushrooms in his first aid kit, to stop bleeding, and carried two birchbark containers lined with leaves. He was killed by an arrow in the back, and died clutching a dagger in his hand. It is an amazing thing to come face to face with someone from so long ago and yet, right there. I sat on a chair in the museum and wrote this little poem:

Ice Man Sutra (Bolzano)

where everything is revealed.
These are the mountains.
These are the mountains
beyond the mountains.
This is the sky.
This is the sky
beyond the sky.
This is the moment
beyond the mountains
beyond the sky.

Basket (Kimberly Callas, Gary Lawless)

Basket offers
the arms of the plant world
to hold you secure and
at rest, dreaming
in three worlds at once -
below the surface
at the surface
above the surface
breathing darkness, air
and light


breath of a wind from
another world -
cold air from
deep space through
the Pleiades, Sisters
give you a dream, say
here, hold this, fill
your basket your
emptiness here -

If you would like a free copy of our chapbook Basket, Notes Toward a Field Guide" with poems, drawings and notes from the collaboration, please email your mailing address to .

Thursday, May 31, 2007

poet in new york

Gary at Bowery Poetry Club
Gary with Judith Schwartz, Simon Pettet and Brenda Coultas
Beth and Gary, in Central Park Zoo, with Gary's poem
Gary with poem
Polar Bears in Central Park Zoo, from site of Gary's poem
So Beth and I went to New York City. We had not been there for over 30 years, but George Wallace invited me to read at the Bowery Poetry Club, so that served as an excuse, and some wonderful friends loaned us their apartment, so off we went.
I did read at the Bowery Poetry Club, where we met up with friends George Wallace, Chris Martin, Paul Pines, Judith Schwartz, Simon Pettet, and where we met Brenda Coultas. After the reading we walked with Simon to the Saint Mark's Bookstore, where I bought Brenda's book A Handmade Museum - what a powerful book. A real treasure.
The next day we went to the Central Park Zoo, to see a poem of mine on a wall near the polar bears. A couple of years ago poet Sandra Alcosser had some kind of artist in residence gig at the zoo, and did permanent installations of a number of poems (Old Walt Whitman thinking that he could go and live with the animals, Sappho, Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O'Hara, Naomi Nye, and here I am as we walk along toward the bears.) I had foolishly asked if my poem could face the bears, and not the onlookers, but if you turn around while reading the poem, the bears are there. The poem now, written maybe 20 years ago, seems prophetic when you consider the fate of these polar bears in the face of global warming.
Here is the poem:
Treat each bear as the last bear.
Each wolf the last, each caribou.
Each track the last track.
Gone spoor, gone scat.
There are no more deertrails,
no more flyways.
Treat each animal as sacred,
each minute our last.
Ghost hooves. Ghost skulls.
Death rattles and
dry bones.
Each bear walking alone
in warm night air.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day at Chimney Farm

Memorial Day at Chimney Farm. We have given Elizabeth Coatsworth a fox for her grave. Foxes appear in many of her books and poems, including her books Fox Footprints, The Fox Friend, and here, in a piece called The Fox-Woman, in Personal Geography:"Of what are you afraid? Of the loneliness in the heart of the fox, or of the beauty with which she has clothed herself on this spring evening? You would not be afraid if you saw me running along the ground with the dew wet on my fur and the stars shining in my eyes.
We are all visions, dreamed by the gods as they sleep."
There are many colorful birds at the feeder these days - orioles come for the orange slices, a cardinal couple and rose breasted grosbeaks at the feeder, among others.
We have a list of apple varieties planted here at the farm by William Hall in the 1870s: Baldwin, Fameuse, Foundling, Golden Russet, Gravenstein, Granite Beauty, Hurlbut, King of Tompkins County, Jonathan, Marshall, Minister, Northern Spy, Porter, Red Astrakhan, Rhode Island Greening, Sweet Bough, Talman's sweet, and Yellow Bellflower.
Several years ago we planted Golden Russet and Fameuse, and this year Nancy Holmes brought us Northern Spy, Baldwin, and Astrakhan, so we are on our way to restoring the old apple orchards here. If anyone has a line on any of the varieties we do not have, please let us know. We want to thank Nancy Holmes, John Bunker, Dr. George Dow and mary Sheldon for apple advice so far.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


I tramped along the bed of a dried up stream.
A downcast stork trudged toward me.

Without exchanging greetings
We passed each other by ...

Janis Baltvilks

Everywhere i traveled in Lithuania and Latvia I saw storks. Because i am here for the "Poetry Spring" festival, I am arriving as the storks arrive. The storks bring good luck, so nesting platforms are built to attract them. They are seen on steeples, telephone poles, and following the farmers as they turn over the soil in the fields.
Before I left Maine, I had been working with a group of Somali refugees in Portland, for an 8 week poetry project. One of the things that they told me was that storks bring good luck, and that they try to attract them to their houses. In Latvia I bought a book called "Latvia - Land of the Storks", which showed the migration routes for the storks. The storks fly two basic routes from Africa to the Baltics, one along tha Atlantic Coast, and the other eastward to the eastern end of the Mediterranean and down into Africa to, yes, Somalia, so my friends in both places could be seeing the same birds, their luck interconnected.
Unluckily for the storks, and other migrating species, their migrations take them through Iraq, and the beginning of the recent Iraq war, the "shock and awe" phase, took place just when the storks were beginning their journey north.

I had been working with Somali mothers and their first thru third grade children. The kids were writing poems in English, the mothers were writing poems in their native language and then I was having the kids translate the poems for me. The kids told me that the women had written a poem about me. The women would only laugh gleefully when I asked them about the poem. The kids said that it referred to a Somali story, and tried to tell me about it. I wrote a poem based on lines that the kids gave me. The white bird in the poem is, yes, a stork.

What the Somali Women Told Me

She tells me that my long beard
is as useless as the tall grass
surrounding my house like weeds.
I tell her that I
am a man of wissdom, and luck.
A white bird sits on my roof.
Once a woman carried me
on her back.
I could see everything.
I felt I could fly,
like eagle, like owl.
Her breasts are large with milk.
Her fingers are covered with jewels -
rubies, emeralds and gold.
She says:
Your beard is empty.
The wind fills your house.
The birds have flown away.

Janis Baltvilks

The poet I most wanted to meet in Latvia was Janis Baltvilks. I had been asking about nature poets, and everyone I asked mentioned Baltvilks. He was an ornithologist, edited a birding publication for young birders, and wrote short, compact, haiku like poems, many featuring birds, especially storks. I asked Janis Elsbergs to invite Baltvilks to my poetry reading in Riga. We did not know if he would be able to come, as he was recovering from serious axe wounds received when a friend lost control and attacked him.. Baltvilks did come to the reading. I was reading in English, and Ingmara was reading the poems in Latvian. In the middle of the reading I read several Baltvilks poems, and Ingmara read them in Latvian i watched a smile light up his face.

I suggested that we do a book of his poems in English, from Blackberry Press. Rita Laima Berzins translated the poems from Latvian to English, and I published a bilingual edition of his poems, Called The Skylark Will Come (Blackberry Books, 2004, 112 pages, $13.95)

Here are several poems from that book:

Forests, forests.
Bodies of water.
The church's reflection in the lake.

How gently,
how deeply
I am rooted here


At the end of a sultry day
a bitterish fog above the meadowsweet:
poetry that mends and heals


Warm mist
after a summer shower

How I love
this life!

Monday, March 19, 2007

to Latvia

After a wild week of poetry in Lithuania, with lots of vodka and little sleep, I take the bus from Vilnius to Latvia, to Riga. How many hours - six, seven - I don't know. No one on the bus speaks English, I speak none of their languages, and I am alone.
At the border men with guns board the bus, take my passport, and motion me off the bus. Outside, they motion me to the side of the road. We cannot speak to each other. No one knows where I am. I don't know what they want. Eventually I understand that I am to walk through a trough full of a couple inches of liquid, soaking my shoes. No soil diseases crossing this border. I reboard the bus, my feet wet and smelling of chemicals. Latvia.
My hosts in Latvia have emailed me and told me to expect a different kind of week. They do not drink. They do not smoke. They do not eat meat. They have no car, no tv. They are poets.
I love the world, and everything in it.
My hosts are Janis Elsbergs and Ingmara Balode. I met Janis at the Vilenica poetry festival in Slovenia (where I also met Liudvikus from Lithuania). We spent a week with a group of poets traveling around Slovenia giving poetry readings, eating and drinking. A story for another time.
Janis comes from a literary "first family" in Latvia. His mother, Vizma Belsevica, was Latvia's leading woman writer of the 20th century, publishing poetry, novels, works for children, and translations (including Shakespeare, Poe, Twain, T S Eliot, Hemingway, Vonnegut and Tennessee Williams). Through her work she expressed her condemnation of the Soviet occupation of Latvia, leading to the banning of her work for seven years. Another of her sons, Klavs Elsbergs, was a poet and singer songwriter, singing about freedom, who met an early death, and whose murder was never investigated by the Soviet authorities.
Here is a poem by Vizma Belsevica:
Words come to me in a dream. They gath-
ered around like little scamps, whose mother
had been summoned by the militia to an-
swer for their mischief. And the soft lips of
the smallest and sweetest of them grew stiff
and began to quiver and it seemed, at any
moment now, he would cry,"I'll never do it
again." But he wasn't a crying word. And
so I said:
Words, my words, don't hang your heads, when once again
we're put on trial. The dock of the accused
is just a worn threshold to be trodden
for a world with no walls to begin. A land not a room.
There comes a time to hatch from the egg.
All birds know this. Even the hen.
This is known by the bird. The poet. And the word.
Even the ultimate sentence bringss a freedom
that cannot be revoked. If brushed by open air,
don't look back on the walls, your life.
Birds die. And poets. The blow of an axe
can't fell a word that's been said before death.
A word that's been spoken can't be annulled.
Like a swallow in the sky, it can't be run to ground.
Words, my words, spare your pity!
The ground that supports the harvest
is not to be pitied by the seed.
With no new shoots, no ploughshare, the soil grows thin.
Hack deeper, painfully, for new thought to thrive.
Come praise or punishment: it's not your worry.
When the poem is done, the gates between us close.
Go on alone. I brought you forth to life,
and take full responsibility,
Words, my words ...
translated by Mara Rozitis
and another poem by Vizma Belsevica:
At Peace
I say, at last, all is well.
But the rose sheds petals of blood,
what does that red stream sweep away?
I do not know. All is well.
I say, at last, I am at peace.
All that is left of the rose is a stalk
and a grey scatter of pollen. Were there tears?
I do not know. I am at peace.
I say, I expect nothing.
This greyness is so soft and slow.
Time hangs mute. The clock sleeps.
I don't expect anything.
My life grows thin and drifts away
a quiet smile, no more.
One day you'll walk right through me
and not notice.
Then all will be well.
(translated by Mara Rozitis)

to the coast, to Nida

We travel to Nida, where the amber river meets the Baltic.

For Liudvikus

Amber in alcohol a resiny
sting on the tongue,
vodka on the run,
coke in the strip bar,
downtown, rivers run
out of Russia,
to the sea sand of Nida.
Drinking with your father,
fifteen years in Siberia he
hands me a glass,
Dusk, and it looks like rain.

Lithuanian Prophecy

Maybe he said we were going
to Kaunas, or Klepeda.
Maybe we had had
too much to drink.
Maybe we ended up
on sand beaches in Nida.
Maybe the river will stop flowing.
Maybe there will be amber.
Maybe the storks will come.
Maybe we were never
really here at all.

Stork sky amber river

Inside the bear
there is snow and cold water.
Outside, storks fly north,
from the desert,
bringing good luck.
Everything comes to the river,
following a map of amber,
ancient pine forest resin flow
rivermouth lagoon.
I will return, encased in amber,
when the black storks
fly home.

We have driven for miles, away from the city (Vilnius), forty odd poets in a bus, to the farm of the man who makes the best beer in Lithuania. We are on his lawn, drinking beer, and eating strips of smoked pig's ears, which I find delicious. I remember the feed store at home, where I buy grain and shavings. They sell pigs' ears as chew toys for dogs, not knowing how well they go with beer. I am in a new place, and always learning.
When it comes time to go, the bus is stuck in the sand driveway. We cannot push it out. Drunken poets throw themselves in front of the bus, not wanting to leave. Local tractors are sent for, and pickup trucks come to take us to another farm, where there is grilled sausage and beer. We eat. We drink. The night grows darker.

the forest

I am asking poets where are the nature poems. Who are the contemporary poets writing about the natural world? Late into the evening one poet tells me "We cannot write about the forest. The forest is where they took us to kill us."
Vilnius, Vilna. Stalin was here, then Hitler, then Stalin again. The center of Jewish learning became the Vilna ghetto. Some escaped into the forest, to fight against the Nazis. A young organizer in the ghetto, Abba Kovner, escaped to the forest and later to Israel, to spend his life on a kibbutz, and to write beautiful poems. I have seen the documentary The Partisans of Vilna, have seen Kovner's face, heard his voice, heard some of the old songs.

in lithuania

publishing party
Liudvikus/meandering stream

After the reading, a party. A large Russian grabs me by the beard, shaking me and screaming "Fucking American. Fucking American." I don't resist, and his friends get him off me, telling me that he likes to fight when he gets drunk. They call him a cab, and he is taken away. The next morning he is found naked, and badly beaten. He said something to the cab driver, who radioed other drivers and took the Russian to the outskirts of town, where he was beaten and abandoned.
Everyone in the city uses cabs. You call on your cell phone, and they call you back when they arrive outside your door. The streets are dangerous after dark.

A little amber in the blood,
a little vodka, and
how do you say hello?

The stripper is from the Ukraine,
or belorusse - a large
Russian grabs me
by the beard,
yelling "Fucking american,
fucking american" but
How do you say hello?

My translator is drunk.
Someone has locked him
into the outhouse.
Now we will talk about the river but
How do you say hello?

Patron saints and sewers,
boxcars and murder -
we cannot talk
about the forest -
they took us there to kill us but
How do you say hello?


It is my first night in Lithuania, in Vilnius, Old Vilna -. My friend and translator Liudvikus Jakimavicius
has invited me to the Writers' Union, to take part in a publishing party for his new book. He wants to have " a happening".
The room is full, and no one knows who I am. Liudvikus reads the introductory poem, in Lithuanian, and I rise from my seat in the audience and read the poem, in English:
meandering river
sifting through nets
searching for fish
Liudvikus, Mindaugas the sculptor, and a musician are doing something shamanic with drums and wood and sound - I think of the statue in the central square, just blocks away, a giant warrior with his horse, the national hero, leading the pagan Lithuanians, the last western European country to resist Christianity, leading the people against the Northern Crusade, called by the Pope .
(and not far away, in another square, a statue of Frank Zappa.)
I rise again, read another Liudvikus poem:

A Conversation
in the memory of old hippies

now above our heads
green chestnut sky
slow summer thoughts
pinkish fluff
fallen burned out
on the blue ground
I don't ask anymore
if you believe in me
there was no God among us

one by one
you haven't said a thing to me

taking my time
I'll drink to you
cheap red wine
do you know that you know what you know
about what's really far out

birds gather there to take a breather
black boats float
flapping their high-set sails
do you know that you know what you know

babe for now
on this shore we both
speak without hearing
and listen how Vilnele carries through the rapids
pinkish chestnut fluff..

the evening ends with the poem's return:
meandering river
at a quiet bend
finds white bellies of fish.

caribou poet

I get my news from poetry.
I learn about the world through poetry.
I learn how to live in the world, how to behave in the world, through poetry.
Let me tell you a story, read you a poem ...