using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : September 2005
112 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 ABOUT A POEM Natalie Goldberg on “The Red Coal” P R A C T I C E I S N O song in the park. It’s hard, consistent determination. Something burns in us that keeps it alive. In “The Red Coal,” Gerald Stern looks at the hot embers that propelled his poetry practice and also that of his friend, Jack Gilbert, who won the Yale Younger Poetry Series. Stern wonders about another poetry friendship—Ezra Pound’s and William Carlos Williams’. He asks, where did the life of writing bring them as they followed this deep internal blaze and trained with it? Let’s not fool ourselves—all of us need this passion to continue, even if it is to sustain the cool habit of equanimity and mindfulness. We have to want it bad. But how do our lives unfold, those of us who practice, whether it is Zen, poetry, mar- riage, being a lawyer, a mother, a car mechanic, a farmer? Because we have been good, worked hard, still we don’t know what the results will be. In the end we have to bite into what is given, with our particular childhood, insecurities, strengths, pure luck—call it lifetimes of karma, if you want. Whatever is our bundle, we get on our horse and ride. For Ezra Pound, life galloped him right into St. Elizabeth’s, a mental institution in D.C., where he was incarcerated for thirteen years. What did the two great poets—Williams and Pound—talk about then? The cover of The Red Coal (it's the title poem of the collection) has a photo of Stern and Gilbert walking down a Paris street in 1950. Each is about to take the next step, arms dangling loosely at their sides, shirt collars open, pants worn baggy. They are looking right at us, the vibration of this European city running through their jaunty limbs. Far from Pittsburgh, they are about to challenge the universe. When my Zen teacher took ordination in Japan back in the forties, eleven other men took vows at the same time. Later, he counted them off on his fin- gers: one became a thief, one committed suicide, one tried to murder the teacher and ended up in jail, one married and became a businessman. “We have ideas about what a priest means, but it’s only an idea,” declared Katagiri Roshi. However, this ordainee managed to shine as he sat before us and told his story. This is what the poem is saying: we spread our seeds on the “gray side- walks and the green ocean...” We are at the mercy of this great life force, which can glow but also smokes and scatters ashes. I read this poem to a group of eighty students in Manhattan, a half-mile from Ground Zero, less than a month after the Twin Towers fell. The group was inconsolable. Really, what could I do? I reached for something large and intangible. “ The Red Coal” calmed them. Something real was expressed, maybe about a different force and destruction, but the poem was truth. Later they wrote and poured out the knowledge of their city— and they wept. This poem helped them to achieve a measure of acceptance and generous understanding. Poetry can do that. © NATA L I E G O L D B E R G ’s most recent book is The Great Failure (HarperSanFrancisco). THE RED COAL byGeraldStern Sometimes I sit in my blue chair trying to remember what it was like in the spring of 1950 before the burning coal entered my life. I study my red hand under the faucet, the left one below the grease line consisting of four feminine angels and one crooked broken masculine one and the right one lying on top of the white porcelain with skin wrinkled up like a chicken’s beside the razor and the silver tap. I didn’t live in Paris for nothing and walk with Jack Gilbert down the wide sidewalks thinking of Hart Crane and Apollinaire and I didn’t save the picture of the two of us moving through a crowd of stiff Frenchmen and put it beside the one of Pound and Williams unless I wanted to see what coals had done to their lives too. I say it with vast affection, wanting desperately to know what the two of them talked about when they lived in Pennsylvania and what they talked about at St. Elizabeth’s fifty years later, looking into the sun, 40,000 wrinkles between them the suffering finally taking over their lives. I think of Gilbert all the time now, what we said on our long walks in Pittsburgh, how lucky we were to live in New York, how strange his great fame was and my obscurity, how we now carry the future with us, knowing every small vein and every elaboration. The coal has taken over, the red coal is burning between us and we are at its mercy— as if a power is finally dominating the two of us; as if we’re huddled up watching the black smoke and the ashes; as if knowledge is what we needed and now we have that knowledge. Now we have that knowledge. The tears are different—though I hate to speak for him—the tears are what we bring back to the darkness, what we are left with after our own escape, what, all along, the red coal had in store for us as we moved softly, either whistling or singing, either listening or reasoning, on the gray sidewalks and the green ocean; in the cars and the kitchens and the bookstores; in the crowded restaurants, in the empty woods and libraries.