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In the Words of Philomene Long:

We want to present some of the many Philomene Long poems that have appeared in the Mirror, however, since they are lengthy (and brilliant, of course), some have been edited. It’s not that we want to mess with the great words of the great Beat Queen of Venice, it’s just that we want to print a nice sampling of her work. We truly hope Philomene, wherever she is, is okay with that. We chose two works – “Nuptial Tanka” and “The Ghosts of Venice West” – that never appeared in the Mirror, but seemed appropriate to print here. She penned the essay “On Beauty in the Face and Hands of a Reader” for us in 2005.

In selecting the poems, we tended towards the familial, and included poems about (or for) her late husband, John, daughter Maureen, son Patrick, grandson Aidan, granddaughter Tara, her beloved ancestral homeland Ireland, Easter, and even a wedding poem for the publisher and editor of this newspaper.

Cold Ellison I (complete poem)

I, who once was proud

That they called me

“The Queen of Bohemia”

Now blush, ashamed

“John Thomas!” I call

“I’m trying to bring myself

Out of something –

To nothing…

I’m going to pray

To embrace this poverty!”

“Pray to embrace silence

We already have poverty!” he says.

“Hey. We’re doing pretty well

For a tired old man

And a crazy lady.

Tomorrow I’ll get you

A crown of rhinestones.

Do I give you enough?”

“John, to have you

For my companion

Through the glass centuries

Your diamond body

Calm, enormous land –

This is the only center

That I seek.”

* * * *

Nuptial Tanka

For Laurie & Michael

(complete poem)

Bright marriage banners

On April twenty-second

Streaming in sea breeze

Wedding mirror sways gently

In the mirror, two are one

Philomene Long

John Thomas

* * * *

Ireland (excerpt)

Ireland

The land itself

A phantom

Of grass and stone

As if dropped

From the sky

From what rain

What mystic’s ecstasy

From what stern night

Celtic crosses strewn

Across Ireland

Like stone blades

Wind into stone

Into grass

Over Ireland’s first dead

Queen over

King over

Warrior

The gilded dead

The clamorous dead

Druid beside Viking

Anglo, Norman

The grass received them all

The blood ran

The blood ran

The land was drenched

With this blood

The land burst

Into tears

Mist rising

From the grass

* * * *

Can A Bug Be Smug?

for Aidan Sandman-Long at four years old (excerpt)

Can a bug be smug?

Usually bugs are not smug

Although they have every right to be

They’ve been here on earth

Much longer than we

Why are bugs small and not tall?

There would be no tall if there was no small

And when you are small, you might recall

You can crawl

Into many interesting places

Can bugs bite?

Some bugs bite

I think because they are small

Can you hug a bug?

Possibly. But I have yet to find a way to do it

Perhaps you can

Because it is sad, so sad, that

You can’t hug a bug

* * * *

Celtic Nursery Rhyme

for Tara Sandman-Long (complete poem)

I had a mother

Whose name was Maureen

Who dressed me in white

And taught me to sing

Songs of fairies

That lay over my head

And she read to me stories of Queens

I have a daughter

Whom I call Maureen

Who likes to wear white

And to sing

And be Queen

And she tells me of things

In the sky that she’s seen

Now my daughter has a daughter

Whom she calls Tara

After the olden Celtic Seat of Power

In her eyes there are miles and miles

Of skies

And in her smiles I often see

That Ancient Golden City

* * * *

The Nativity (A Litany)

(complete poem)

Impossible white hush of winter

The complete forgiveness of snow

Golden blade of sunrise

Burning grape

Seed of wheat and wind

Incurable wound of compassion

A blossom, poor as the moon

And then the small revelation

Is forgotten, but AH!

The sleeping arrow

The love that flashed

Through the air!

* * * *

Ancient Buddhas Then and Now (complete poem)

As a young boy

My son Patrick

Saved the lives

Of neighborhood

Insects

Once I saw him

Press on

A drowning beetles’s

Abdomen

A bubble popped out

Of its tiny mouth

It lived

And always, with him

There were the frogs

Each would gaze

At the other

Silently

And for a long time

Then the boy

Would extend

His gentle hand

And the frog

Leap lightly

Into his open palm

Patrick would exclaim:

“We love crickets

So there are crickets!”

Patrick cried:

“You just stepped on the best

Worm I ever had!”

Patrick sang:

“I feel like a hippopotamus

On a diet

In the spring.”

Patrick philosophized:

“If you wake up

And don’t touch anything

It won’t be a real day.”

The pounding machinery

Of religious ideas

Deafens me

It was from rugged mountains

And still waters

That the Zen ancestors first emerged

It is there I would return

And to my son, Patrick

Whose lightness of being

Outweighs theology

* * * *

Easter (complete poem)

Death is in collision

With life

His ripped palms and feet

Luminous

Both flesh and spirit

This ascent of Love

This sudden spark

Which leaped

This day

Leaves the world

Guttering

Like a dying candle

Transparent

All smoke and

Smoldering dreams

* * * *

The Ghosts of Venice West

(complete poem)

They are already ghosts

John and Philomene

As they pass

Along the Boardwalk

Where ghosts and poets overlap

As they pass, the gulls

Ghosting above their shadows

Everything’s haunting everything

Already ghosts

John and Philomene

Under the ghostly lampposts

Of Venice West

Their cadence

The breath of sleep

At rest

Lost at the edge of America

Already ghosts

And each poem

Already a farewell

Everything’s haunting everything

The sea is the ghost of the world

* * * *

On Beauty in the Face and Hands of a Reader

The image of someone reading a book, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful in the world. But why? Physically, the physiology of it suggests all the factors in enlightenment. I wrote these down and every one of them is visible in the face and hands of a reader: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.

The life of imagination is to live at the heart of oneself and others. I can see this, the image nation of our culture, the city of imagination, in the face and hands of a reader, in the act of picking up books, holding them, carrying them, taking them out of pockets, sitting, one person handing a book to another. Reading involves the hands. The hands become the tools of enlightenment. The image, alone, of someone with their head in a book, a book they are holding in their hands, is the image of enlightened mind and enlightened body. Both are equanimous – quiet feeling / complete feeling – arising in the term “gentle reader.” Gentility arises while one reads, seen reading by others. The four-year-old and the 48-year-old: the back straight or bent, and holding the book at a distance the hand gently touching a phrase or gripping it, turning pages, a bear hug, devouring.

The quiet act of reading is not only freedom of mind embodied – required for a democracy – it is free, beyond all categories of age, economics, gender, degrees. It is both selfless and self-contained; you’re entering an author, the whole world, another time and place. Some might see it as selfish, but at its core it is all-inclusive. It is the gentle and tumultuous flow of images that build and deepen the mind, giving birth to the individual. It is not by chance that, at the moment of the formation of our constitution, libraries were being created everywhere. Free books, for free. The spread of democracy is the spread of reading and the spread of freedom. It is the spread of mindfulness.

Sor Juana Inez (The tenth Muse of Mexico) walking the streets of Los Angeles, Bashos, Borges, Lorcas, Dickinsons, Yeatses… Los Angelinos all over the city picking up, reading a book, reading a poem – embodying thoughtful spirits, revealed by radiant faces, even if just a line, all in motion. Living with lines of poems moving through us – giving each other appropriate time… We ask: “And what line are you in today?” Not the one at the supermarket or the insurance company any more, and perhaps even there!

The image of someone reading is contagious. It resonates and deepens beneath the barrage of media and events. It cannot be stopped. It has the power to create readers everywhere – a city with its citizens going through their dailyness with immortal words and phrases running through, stirring their minds and faces to life. Perhaps, will you, gentle reader, consider this line of mine:

There is one book, one writer

And the reader, the writer, the book

Are one

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