Thursday, April 30, 2009
Two From Craig Arnold (Or: Sweetbitter Leaves)
Possibly many of you who read this blog know of Craig Arnold's disappearance in Japan by now. About an hour ago, there was his unmistakable voice, from a recording, reading from Made Flesh on NPR's All Things Considered. I've known Craig since 1996, and since then there have been many Craigs--and I mean that in the best sense. Wouldn't we want our friends to keep changing over time? But the thing that's stayed constant is the depth of his artistry, the rigor and audacity of his poems. Sometimes it can be hard to see just how gifted certain people are, especially when you take their ongoingness as a given. But I've been reading him for the past 24 hours, and I can't stop going back to the work. I've been amazed by it, all over again. I'm hoping he can hang in there.
I. A Hermit Crab
A drifter, or a permanent house-guest,
he scrabbles through the stones, and can even scale
the flaked palm-bark, towing along his latest
lodging, a cast-off periwinkle shell.
Isn't he weighed down? Does his house not pinch?
The sea urchin, a distant relative,
must haul his spiny armor each slow inch
by tooth only--sometimes, it's best to live
nowhere, and yet be anywhere at home.
That's the riddle of his weird housekeeping
--does he remember how he wears each welcome
out in its turn, and turns himself out creeping
unbodied through the sand, grinding and rude,
and does he feel a kind a gratitude?
II. From Volcano Pilgrim: Five Months in Japan as a Wandering Poet
April 26, 2009
In the parking lot of the restaurant, the island’s only restaurant, a crow is perched on the hatchback of a pickup truck. A cat leaps out from under the truck, makes a grab for it, but the crow is too quick, launches itself into the branches with two flaps of its enormous wings. As the crow is almost as big as the cat, with a wicked sharp beak, it is not clear which has been luckier to escape.
Your lunch arrives. You have no idea what you ordered, as you cannot read the menu, and neither of women working speaks any English, so you pointed and grunted and hope that you haven’t ordered entrails or sea cucumber.
Afloat in my soup
sweetbitter leaves – a flavor
I’ve never tasted
The same leaves have also made their way into the tempura. You have eaten deep-fried flowers before, but never a deep-fried leaf. What is this? you ask. The server smiles, pleased at last to have been asked a recognizable question. Ashitaba. Your phrasebook is entirely useless for conversation, but it does have a good glossary of food terms, and there you find it – ashitaba, angelica. It seems like a fine thing to eat in spring.
To read Volcano Pilgrim, Craig's blog of his months in Japan, click here.
To read "Dear Steve," Craig's poem for the Starting Today website, click here.
[Some of you might already know that Craig's been missing for the last three days in Japan. To read about the search--and to see how you could help--click here or join the Facebook group "Find Craig Arnold."]