Sas Colby, Landscape and Zen, 2006
Author’s Note: Field of View was originally drafted during a long stay on the southern tip of Hawaii. Part of that time was spent at the Red Cinder Artist’s Colony where my room looked out over a field, a horse pasture, at the foot of Mauna Kea. Every day I would walk out into that field, that window, framing the Kahuku Ranch forest at the foot of Mauna Kea. I would walk the landscape for hours every day and then return to my room where every evening and every morning I would reflect on my walks. This physical and imaginative exploration of that field of view became the substance of the work. That said, the reflections were not a poem, and the reflections included many details not exclusively within the field of view.
Around that time I had been in conversation with Arthur Sze about forms, and long poem forms in particular. He had prompted me to consider what it would mean to invent my own form, to write a poem where every line, in its own way, like a haiku stretched to the length of a line, was a poem in and of itself. From this prompt a form started to emerge... initially just a very long poem made up of one-line poems. Over the next five years a form as part of a form within a larger form emerged... and so the symmetries of the line lengths, the number of lines, the number of stanzas, and the refrain took shape.
One of the artists at Red Cinder at the same time was Sas Colby. I reached out to her to see if she had images from our shared experience that might work as cover art for Field of View. I had read the first draft of the poem to the other artists at Red Cinder—so she was familiar with the poem. For that reason I decided to pair the two images from Sas from Red Cinder, zen and landscape, as a diptych as the cover art for Field of View.
There. There. The wind sneaks up on me, again, again. Two Color empties her feed pail. I’ve lost a friend. Memory of a memory: a still life’s Bowl of passion fruit, mango, tomato, fingerling bananas. She walks under the knee of a fan palm, a steaming field of the mind. The earth folds, the wild orchid of chance. What the flow covers is destroyed And what was possible is destroyed Replaced by what is not destroyed That is what is And what is possible. A handful of berries for Two Color. I’ve found an old friend. God of dragons, god of sharks, I have built my fire pit too near the sea. A roil of mist, a quoin of air. Erckel’s Francolin dashes aside the painter’s studio.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Why does the bird look mad? Why is the frame made out of wood? How long is the string? One road circles an island, two numbers, 11 and 19. Latitudes. The macadamia orchard is well ordered. Every walk a pilgrimage, a habit of curiosity, From here the moon will descend a whole hand. The sun rises an ohia tree. The fan palm at the end of the yard is the beginning of the path. The blue El Camino rumbles the cinder road. Depth of field pulled forward for the six-eyed, eight-eyed wolf spider. California grass taller than my raised hand, crickets aloha. Two Color turns her butt, looks back at me, takes a shit. A wild hog ripples through the culvert, rooting.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: All morning amid the hysterics Of goose, rooster, and francolin The doves mourn, mourn, mourn. A glimpse aside the wild ginger, beneath the ohia, a bird of paradise. In a long black overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, “Eileen,” she says. Mist widens a shadow, drifts across field grass in a wave of wind. “Oh a rainbow, again?” She turns away. Guidance is best unnoticed: the fence line leads. Red scoria, 'a'a, the road away, where the currents coalesce Banking around a slump scarp like sadness. When I bow down, the wild mouflon is gone before I look back. When I search for the bird of paradise it will not find me. Silvery copelandia picked from cow dung, set under Bodhisattva. I’m shocked to discover where the island ends is when the island ends.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: The red cap, red flash of hood, The sound of the neighbor mowing. Twelve miles south is the southern tip. The only place I see myself: The neatly arranged fields of rusting windmills Unplugged, unaccounted for, on account Of miscalculating the effects of ocean wind on mechanical turbines. I have seen one mosquito. The ragged mouth of the land open to ocean. “Jump.” I jump. “'A'a shout out to Hilo’s boys of summer from KAPA FM.” Vines creep the satellite dish. A gate with no fence holds Two Color. The plantation’s locked macadamia nut. The gate’s closed mouth. A woman says “David” to her cell phone. A 4.6 in Napa. Memory of a memory, the headboard about to snap.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: We never feel isoseismal events, our timing is perfect. Desire outflows, erupts. Bearded white goats in white mist. Sea turtle petroglyph—cicada sheath—ohia leaf. The circumference of an ohia expands one millimeter a year. The shadow of a man dancing on the moon. 'A'a, tidepool. Liquid basalt. What is primal before fire? Our ropy pahoehoe. I found a puka large enough to crawl inside. Inside, I am sintered by you. You silica me. Each puff of smoke from the old woman’s pipe is an island. Traces of olivine on a path along barbed wire’s cow patties. Stand near the edge of a pali, fall, don’t fall. Two Color nodding by the gate, an empty feed bucket. What part of volcano is canoe?
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: The sinking island’s dawn departs. A painter sets stone aflutter in the colors of water. The dinge of manure luxurious in the rainy wind. The empty bowl Of an over-ripe passion fruit lingers on a limb. Bright yellow saffron finch on the telephone wire Strung between transformer and crow’s peak. I look down to look it up, I look up and it is gone. Listen. I hear its high-pitched weep, weep, weep. All I am defined like horst. All you are defined like graben. Our absolute age unknown. Two Color has a new pair of shoes. She trots across the pasture, tosses her mane.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Rain on the corrugated roof. The storm takes the shape of a mind listening , no, glistening , with demands. I write a line for each glyph at Puako. I will die. I write a line for each glyph at Pu’uloa. I will never die. Candlenut. Empty earth’s Domestic mind, chimney, bench, table, shelf, column, cradle, jewel box. The crush of cauliflower beneath my feet. Ashes. Splintered gourd. The roof is smooth with chocolate. What the bulldozer collapsed. What swallowed the bulldozer. Inside of the tube, draped cords of ohia root. Basalt’s gauze, subterranean finery. In The Manger the tube collects into an end stop. In the Long Hall light diminishes until The Chute. In Pillar Hall turn off head lamp.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: I said turn off the head lamp. Eyes closed. Absolute darkness. Eyes open. Absolute darkness. Take this, these many minutes of darkness. There are stories of the village sleeping in her mouth. She exhales a mote from her pipe And they all die dreaming. Droplets condense on ohia root, drip. If I could I would braid silence into the scroll. Can the mind imagine nothingness surrounded, Unseen, by only an idea of what is there? Can the mind imagine its own emptiness As an enduring pitter patter of rainwater Seeping through from somewhere else?
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: At the edge of our headlamps, blue sapphires Of Bird’s eyes, he follows, at a distance. Magnatite, mango. Hematite, puka. Thought of lava tube. Shape of dream-scat, images scuttling into the recesses. A petroglyph—circles and dots—an umbilical cord. The umbilical cord, the temporary flesh, the unending. What I saw: a dancing man, pushy child, tilt-wing hawk, Sword, waist and legs, gibbous moon, tadpole. Moon too bright to look at directly. Domino, stars, bees on dung. Sprung wild ginger. Cow hoof print in dung. Cow hoof print in mud. ( )...( )
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: At the end of thought, the empty lava tube, A stream of crickets sing moon shadow. At mouth’s exit the ceiling bites down In the last passage. Hands and knees, sprung With sharp gnarled 'a'a, make the Shark Tooth Crawl. In Jaws, what shark were we trying to kill? The belching of the sheep announces my return. Two Color ignores the fruitless body. The returning road rumbles the blue El Camino. In night’s headlamp: the puff of a tree on a wide slope’s grass. The empty well sprayed with rust. Moon light’s Littoral white bird, fractal pool of ocean, stroke of salt. The smooth glassy skin of the palagonite, your shoulder. Tears, hair, pillows, strain: soft septum of your tilt.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Viscous saliva, vitreous eyes: our water table shattered on shoreline. Cowpie, entrail pahoehoe, crossbed of mushroom coral. Memory of memory a blurred picture of a head in a hood. Who is it? The wind points in all directions. If I could I would braid silence into the scroll. Clots of spatter, the horsetail fruit of the banana tree. Hong Kong orchid, Chinese hibiscus, my desire, hers. Bird of paradise, bird of paradise, lobster claw: feather, flower, stalk. Do not mistake the wild hog for the pointing at the moon. Do not mistake pointing at the volcano for the moon. Do not mistake the pointing at the moon for the moon. Ohia sprites red. Night sky bound by the skylights falls earthward at the arc of Ama’u. I am mosquito, honeybee, cardinal, ginger.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: You are mosquito, honeybee, cardinal, ginger. 3600 wild mouflon roam Kahuku ranch. Two Color has new shoes. The gate is open. A wild moulon sheep’s 26"; horns curve, descend A derivative of fiddlehead, Fiddlehead, arc of Archimedes Uncoils a fern’s fractallized shade. 4:15’s flatbed races down the road Carrying what comes before sun’s brief set: Evening’s francolins, the trades, chatter. There is no radio for any rat not eaten by a mongoose. Can every line carry the whole tune?
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: I forget how tall I am. I have no predators. How is a soul not a batholith? Sail, current, lift, trail: Two stones in a kukui grove sink into earth. Candlenut, hollowed shell, bowl. Flame. How does hunger work? Passion fruit shorn of its seedy pulp. What wobbles the newborn lamb? A spoon stuck in a bowl of frozen coconut milk. Ghost flames: side flash, hood spread; The details only visible from the right angle. A small brown lizard, slick as a tongue, slides under the foundation. The tallest ohia tree, gnarled roots exposed, draped in dodder. To all the monarchs I did not name.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Sharks are their ancestors. The descendants of the Pleiades returned to the Pleiades. The screech of two mongoose quarreling. The body leaves behind gifts for the gods. Gobble of the wild turkey, chicks call, call. When the fence line disappears, distance expands. Peahen, peacock, bedded down, flushed. Crown of the peabird, the rut of tire tracks in soft earth. Sway dances in the wind’s ohia. All night Psilocybin mushrooms ride the back of a cowpie. Morning’s francolins court, preen, bluster, settle. Two Color looks colossal in the pre-dawn gloam. The dove’s tail angled up, down, Out for balance on the thinnest of wires.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: The memory of a memory, the forgotten walking stick Leans against the wall. Two Color lips a fist full of grass. I turn my hand, the tiger moth’s octagonal Eye turns its body to keep me in view. Though lost, I am held. What part of mother is moth? The horse in the horse is white or brown? The bird in the bird is flight or song? The poem in the poem is hog or god? Hog god, hog fish, hog grass, hog— The slant of roof fills the catchment. What hollow scaffolding frames the house. Hapu’u near the ti leaf trees, a wooden ladder rests on its side. Another honeycreeper finds another corolla. Lemons ripen on the lemon tree.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: The adaptive radiation of volcano tubes, hollow gourd of mind. A white-tipped ocean collapses on a black sand beach. Echoed birdbone tapping in burnt kukui nut and sugarcane juice. The map’s legend, serial seamounts, stepped ridge, islands. Minutes rollover. Sibilant ant hill. The timing belt on a wooden workbench. Mango halved, coffee bean ground, night’s moth Wide as my hand framed by the screen. 100 words for rain. The skylight’s sumi ink, the tephra spray of night. The Ninole plateaus prismed in paint. The ice cello played until it melts. Paint on a tilted canvas. Extract the pigment of any place, any moment at any time: Plant leaf, dirt, urine: dry to powder, grind. Volcano black.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Two Color grazes, the cock crows. The dried seed pods seed the decanter. The plantation’s cracked macadamia nut. The gate’s open mouth. Sun ranges up the far hillside at dawn, The shadow line approaches my window. Rats and cats busy themselves with morning’s arrival. In the shade of the mountain, Two Color eyes the sun Creeping over the fence. Checks her empty feed bucket. The middle of the pasture, a tree stump. I am stumped. A pile of basalt points out the log between the studio doors. The pasture fences 50 fence posts carrying 4 lines of wire. Yellow, the color of death, of a dying leaf. Indian Yellow Supposedly distilled from the urine of cows overfed mango leaves. On the porch, afternoon rain’s white eye greens into its yellow death.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Safe in shadow, morning’s coastline has receded from the far plain. Doves appear, disappear on their dive line beyond a stand of ohias. The francolin’s yellow legs. The forgotten walking stick leans Against the wall. Grass taller than corn, the francolin bigger Than a chicken, what does that say about me? I am the no-eyed, eight-eyed wolf spider. Specially adapted: The pasture lit by sun has already forgotten the littoral shadow. “And now for what Confucius could have said but never.” Soon enough, the sun will be at my back. The tip of tall field grass splits into three threads. Two Color has herself a bright new yellow bridle. A bamboo stand wet with the air of goats. The barb of barbed wire catches on a calf Like a shirt caught on a nail.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Half a station wagon, the top half, swamped in field grass. Bamboo pops in the breeze and the wind Hums as I walk, hums as I walk, hums My skin electric with the buzz, hair On my arms alert like a horse’s startled mane. I turn toward a common Ironwood Pine, Aware, awake to the vibration of its shape As from peak to pivot in no wind, in no motion, I am joined to its ohm. All the branches, All the nettles, loop and settle, Each twig shivers, shimmies With the slight gesture of particles Leaping from the surface of gravity’s pool.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Pointillism’s idea of the tree in the sun’s cinema. I track perception’s sense of an oscillating sprig of light. A ray’s chord plucked— Until the whole tree’s fir is lit with yellow and black particles, Every stem, every nettle, every V, buzzing with vibrating Dazzle, a cone of fluttering wings. A vibrato of resonance: A swarm of short period events, then a harmonic tremor. I see one bee at the tip Of a nettle, settled at work. And then I see another and another... There is no nest, only the swarm At work on resin—the tree’s voicebox sings— The entire tree hums one extended, braided, unbreakable note.
Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing: Sings blue sky into its roots, Sings the myna birds on a nearby fence post. Sings the ohia roots Deep in the a’a’ finding the tube’s mind. Sings El Camino chasing Two Color Up a pasture road toward the volcano. The sound of the bees takes the shape of the sound The trees would make if I was not me. Sings me away until I am nothing But the memory of a mongoose stalking a bird. Until I am nothing but the surface Of my skin, and a hum. Skin’s wing, wing, wing, wing.
A slim volume of David Koehn’s Catullus translations, under the title Tunic, is forthcoming in November of 2013 from speCt!, a letterpress imprint. His chapbook, Coil, won the Midnight Sun chapbook contest sponsored by Permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His full-length manuscript, Twine, which has won the 2013 May Sarton Poetry Prize, will be released by Bauhan Publishing in the spring of 2014. Koehn’s poems have been published widely and well in magazines including Kenyon Review (online), Volt, New England Review, New York Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly, Cutbank, McSweeney’s, Carolina Quarterly, Del Sol Review, and Painted Bride among many others. He is a featured contributor of essays to OmniVerse, Rusty Morrison, publisher, and his prose has also appeared in such magazines as Jacket, American Letters & Commentary, New Hampshire Review, and New York Quarterly too. Koehn received his MFA from the University of Florida. His website can be found at: davidkoehn.com.