An Alphabet of Poets – C is for Crawford

To celebrate National Poetry Month I am featuring a new poet for each day of April. I will be at my abecedarian best and go through the alphabet from a to z, with a few letters getting more than one post!

The Gift

Eisnstein, an inner-directed man,
had no trouble explaining why his schnapps
didn’t float up off the table.
Gravity was a knot, he said, God tied our galaxy in,
forever, or if you like, energy bound up
in an eternal state of push and pull
and that’s what keeps our shoes
beside the bed at night,
our dreams mostly ordinary.
It’s only the child who points
to the invisible wind with delight,
squishes his banana into his ear
and expects it to talk. What’s given,
and that’s surely everything, some call grace.
I like that. It’s like I’m this marvelous gift
to myself I get to keep unwrapping.

Tom Crawford from wu wei, Milkweed Editions, 2006

Books  so often lead to other books. In the early 1980’s I fell in love with a “lifetime” book – The River Why by James David Duncan. This was the first book published by Sierra Club Books. An avid conservationist, a fisherman’s fisherman and man who says “ a pox on all their houses” to all fundamentalists, Duncan introduced me to the poetry of Tom Crawford.

The meditative West, the meditative east. Tom Crawford brings these two worlds so naturally together on the page. Born in 1939 inMichigan, and well travelled to places like California, Oregon, China and Korea where he put down temporary roots, Crawford now calls Santa Fe home. But a deeper sense of home, of place, travels with Crawford beyond any known geographical addresses.

Perhaps Crawford’s rootedness in spite of his peripatetic history comes from the practice of Wu Wei, which he describes in his fifth poetry collection titled Wu Wei as: To Let one’s mind alone. This is wu wei since wu means not or non and wei means action – doing, straining or busyness. In its Buddhist subtext, doing nothing is doing everything.

The author of six poetry books Crawford crafts a stillness from wu wei, between words, a stillness found in the mists of the pacific northwest, a stillness found inside a temple, its quiet bell, and even a surprising quiet inside a busy train on the way to Chengdu.

Yuan Fen

The worn bowl
we eat from is always home.
I took nothing from China
it didn’t want from me.
So, here is my heart
where the Jialing River
joins the great Yangtze.
The world here,
broken and dirty,
feeds me, sings.

from wu wei

In the House of Snow

This is our fate
to have to take our seats again
to be overruled by snow.

In here quiet settles everything.
All our noisy objections
come back white.

Is there a god or isn’t there?

We no longer ask

the snow piling up
against the dark buildings,
bare trees

the old woman
trudging through it
carrying her armload of firewood.

from The Temple on Monday, Eastern Washington University Press, 2001

And in his most recent book published last year, The Names of Birds, out of the silence of his observances he remembers to be surprised, filled with a boy’s wonder, a beginner’s eye, at a world that has birds in it. And within that silence and that wonder he lets grief seep in for a natural world that is diminishing.

Cincinnati Zoo

Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon
It’s more than hunger,
isn’t it, that wants us to bring down
what flies.

Like the magician pulling pigeons
out of his top hat,
I’d like to bring you back again
dear bird, to fly and multiply
in our world.

But we are dreamers
and the stuff of stunts and lies,
and this one, well, we can’t shoot our way
out of this one.

Martha, in your little shoe box,
soft feathers, the reds already in fade,
black eyes buttoned up forever,
meat bird, extinct bird. My god,
how rock-final is that?

What should we hope for, now,
the sky emptied of you?



He’s inside my mouth,
no, beside the road
clinging to a May cattail.
It gets confusing, what’s in,
what’s out, like saying the sun’s up
or down when we know it’s none of those
and words, even the good ones
can only pepper the edge
of feelings and that’s what we’re after
here which means going down
the throat to get to where he lives.
But if I start smiling because
there’s a bird inside me
you can guess how long I’d be allowed
out, alone. So, like a few others,
to remain free I sort of play that down
when pointing to a world
that’s not supposed to be
which only means
they’ve been piling rocks on me
for years – an old Puritan trick – to get me
to come around to their god.
I must be Buddhist. The bell
has its own words for it – water, wind,
the quiet world a bird brings.

from wu wei

One Comment

  1. Posted July 27, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Richard,

    I only recently discovered your good words about my
    poetry. Is this an example of blogging, not your writing
    the being reviewed on the internet? I’m news to the whole
    ‘business.’ I’ve never entirely adjusted to my obscurity as
    an American poet, if only because I still feel the need to share with the tribe. Never easy, that. I have a new book in
    the making, birds again, this collection entitled, Gaging the Robin. I’d be happy to send you a poem or two from
    it if you’d like. Nothing so portable in the arts as poetry.
    Best, Tom

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