Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

what poetry gives us

courtesy Google

courtesy Google

Today’s poem is actually a three-fer. I’ve been writing to prompts from NaPoWriMo, one of the national sites for National Poetry Writing Month. The poem today is written from yesterday’s prompt, which asked writers to do a riff on a poem (Black Stone Lying On A White Stone) by César Vallejo. To show those writers who might wonder how the heck you write from/ to another’s poem, NaPoWriMo offered a 2nd poem by Stephen Burt (A Nickel on Top of a Penny).


All of this is by way of remarking: poetry is another kind of web. Like Buddhism (you KNEW I was going to say that), like life. If all that I’ve learned from reading & writing poetry could be measured and sold? I’d be so rich! Oh wait ~ that’s the whole point of poetry…

Seriously? To look so closely at anything — poetry, a bee, the surface of a cup of hot tea — is to learn. Just seeing the moment clearly is, as all meditation teaches (in any faith tradition) a form of reverence for life.

So here is my poem today, a tribute to both poets, as well as my own childhood, and the differences that were obvious very early.

Lam Son Park, Saigon in 1960s, with Saigon Opera House in background Courtesy Google

Lam Son Park, Saigon in 1960s, with Saigon Opera House in background
Courtesy Google


Dust On a Tropical Breeze

after César Vallejo


Old Saigon will claim me

after I fold my wings, after decades of flight.

Probably on Monday moonday, Lundi, at the grande marché

I will collapse in feathery dust beside the leper at the gate.


I knew this even as a child, watching the leper’s outstretched hands

knew I was already half-erased, only a dusty ghost

like the hungry bụi đời[1] who float upon the wind.

I am half Saigon still.


‘She is gone,’ they will murmur, in breathy whispers.

My words will unravel like the silk of cocoons


and they will weave a sieve to catch the wind.


‘We didn’t mean to hurt her,’ they will say.

‘Who knew she would fall to dust?

She seemed so much more solid…’

[1] The Vietnamese term bụi đời means”dust of life”; it has come to refer to refugees vagrants, as well as Amerasian children left behind after the Việt Nam war.

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