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Lions Roar : July 2006
Burning the small dead branches broke from beneath thick spreading whitebark pine a hundred summers snowmelt rock and air hiss in a twisted bough. sierra granite; mt. Ritter— black rock twice as old. Deneb, Altair windy fire IN “BURNING THE SMALL DEAD” any implied “I” viewer has no self, save perceptions from moment to moment. These perceptions may share various energies present and/or be those energies. The poem has points of view that fluctuate depending on what energy/mind is present. The poem then is a collection or intersection of sights and voices. Think of its motions as a movie. One imagines Snyder arriving at a sense of the interpenetra- tion of all things, including body and mind, while experiencing body–mind as a universe’s voices and energies. With a fluid sequence of vocal and visual perceptions the poem pans from close to far, from small to infinitesimal, from below to above, and unites in a moment of interpenetrated perceptual time. From a fire on the ground an anonymous point of view moves up a bushy white pine where broken, dry limbs were harvested for fire. And a biological voice speaks of the pine’s hundred years of growth in such conditions while a montage (“snowmelt rock and air”) of that site’s stark elements show. This montage with voiceover is then overdubbed with a sound–voice of the fire below: “hiss in a twisted bough.” A pull-back views mountain peaks above the campfire at the same time that a geological voiceover identifies their rocks, then names the mountain (“mt. Ritter”) in sight, and adds a perception on its volcanic rocks’ age versus the age of “sierra granite” presumably underfoot. As our anonymous point of view tilts and pans up to the clear night, an astronomical voiceover names the stars, while noting that these create from their fire their own unheard winds, just as do the boughs hiss- ing on the ground. Fires seen/unseen and heard/unheard are simultaneously subjected to and create the same galactic forces, interstellar wind. At that instant this cosmic perception closes “Burning the Small Dead.” ♦ KEITH KUMASEN ABBOTT teaches a Zen lineage course at Naropa University called Mind Moving, which features poetry by Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac. “Burning the Small Dead” first appeared in The Back Country (New Directions, 1968). About a Poem Keith Abbott on“Burning the Small Dead” by Gary Snyder PHOTOILLUSTRATIONBYLIZAMATTHEWS