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Poems by Eric Paul Shaffer

Welcome To The Planet

a greeting to newborn humans

This day, we welcome you.
We teach our ways to greet you.

We are one kind among many the world encircles.
Touch all gently.

Our people are near us always.
Find yourself among the best.

Cities display our inventions and designs.
Watch, wonder, and wander away.

Highways are dark and long, concrete and crowded.
Make your own way.

Birds and beasts bring news of the planet.
Good news for your ears only.

The sea foretells the past and future.
Live now.

Soil is the source of the great and the humble.
See the small creatures close.

Mountains reveal nothing lasts.
Make peace with this.

Rivers flow in the direction of days.
Mark the many courses well.

Woods are where the world breathes.
Breathe deeply.

We greet you as your way begins.

Welcome to the planet.
Welcome home.

Reckless As Botchan

Coming to Okinawa, I am reckless
as Botchan leaping from the second floor
proving he could fly without dying
or slicing a thumb to try the bite of the blade.

What do I know of Japan?
Nothing but my address in Shuri, the number of my bus,
how to apologize, count my change, excuse myself, greet my neighbors,
and who is on the thousand-yen bill.

The people who live here warn me, "You will never be Japanese."
Fine, but I know where I am.
I only want to be native anyway--
to drink Orion or awamori and watch the moon,
gaze into the green and deep dragon waters of Ryu-tan,
know the birds, the trees, the rivers, the back roads, and the beaches.

No matter how hard I scrub my feet in the public bath
there is American dirt worn into the heel.
I won't wear shoes here either.

I know I'll never walk down the street in my own neighborhood
without taxis tooting
or finding myself the point at the end of a child's finger--
a curious man from a curious land.

"That's the way it is," I say to the children
standing at the bus stop
staring at the sky in my eyes,
"you are what you are."

But when I go back to America, I want my face
on the five-dollar bill
just like Soseki on the sen'en-satsu.

Clawed Tracks: Michigan, 1971

No wolf prowls this forest.
No owl questions my presence
in stillness frozen beneath drifts of icy white.
The sound of my passage does not disturb pine boughs
laden with patient showers of snow:
I am no intruder here
in these hallowed places men fear for their silence
and even the wind refuses to speak.

I roam between trunks that promise summer
and hang the green threat of youth
iced white by January stark above my head.
My trail is a series of clawed tracks
that will grow in the spring thaw
and hunters will be unable to explain.

A Portable Planet

from Shuri to Sarasota

Most of the time, we live on different days.
Our seasons match,
but your night is my day.

As I rise, you set a clock to wake you while I watch the sun set.
The only star you see when I sleep is the sun.
On New Year's Eve, we spend fourteen hours in different years.

For my birthday, you shipped an Inflatable Globe.
I unfolded seas and continents and wondered at a flat Earth.

A god who wanted everyone to see the same sun
would smash the planet to such a plane--
a single side, all edges, corners, and straight rivers.
Cartographers and generals would love it.

But the world I want is a ball,
tangled in the paradise of paradoxes
roundness generates.

So I blew it up and began to play.
The uses for a portable planet are endless.

With my fingers placed on our two towns,
I spin the globe on new poles,
a wacky axis for the plastic Earth to wobble on,
whirled without end.

Sometimes, I bounce the planet on my fist
with a rubber band looped through the North Pole.

And, yesterday, I arranged a rainbow
of plastic dinosaurs at the end of the hall
and bowled them over.

The world works really well this way,
with a little english on it.

On The Verge Of The Usual Mistake

I learned the same thing on the beach again.
Between the sea and the land is a broad white span
where the surf makes lines
and the lines are blank.
On the sand, hermit crabs, broken coral, and wave-worn shells,
a cowrie with colors fresh from deeper water.

This is the margin change demands of the world.

In the surf, there is a distance before the coral grows,
before the fish begin, where there is no rock or green.
The empty sand above and below the waves is the space
the tides mark for the moon. On the sea's blue edge
nothing grows, nothing rests,
nothing that comes here,
stays here.

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Biographical sketch: Born on the Colonial Coast, I traveled west till I settled on the edge of Asia for
eight years; then, I moved to the middle of the Pacific and live on Haleakala, "The House of the Sun," with pheasants, francolins, and pueo. Portable Planet, my third book of poetry, was published in 2000.

Eric Paul Shaffer recommends:

Ring Of Bone by Lew Welch

Reason: Lew Welch is one of the finest ecological poets of the 20th century. Read his "Song of the Turkey Buzzard" to revel in the possibilities.

Recommendations for writers:

The most important thing for poets is to make a point in a poem. The next is to read, read, read all of the poetry that comes to hand.


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