Tuesday, April 02, 2019

More April Birthday Poems

Lama Lena is one of my favorite Western Buddhist Teachers. Here is my homage to her on her April 1 birthday:

Lama Lena
Fortress of Knowledge
Soft hearted warrior
with razor sharp mind
Secret emissary of Guru Rinpoche
We fortunate ones love 
the feral rove of your transversing 
unchartered pathways
illuminating our journey across 
the great reef of ignorance
to awaken minds
We bow down to you fearless one
May your life force be strengthened
May we meet you again and again
through our travels
Today we celebrate your birth 
in all its wondrous display of artistry 
and joyful sustenance
Thank you beloved friend and teacher

Today April 2 is poet Anne Waldman's Birthday. She was born in the Year of the Wood Rooster and I composed this with her in mind as part of my Losar series. 

Photo of Anne at an AWP conference 2010 taken by me

Such iridescent display
Cockadoodiling us awake
Each day without fail
As reliable as the sun
you rise to summon forth
Bright scrys of portend
Acuity for the larger meanings in the scheme
Of so-called phenomena
Beneficent scribe to the downcast
Outsiders, end stop
You set the bar high
A million hands in the fire
No task too daunting

Harbinger of new, always fresh
Our number one

This work is part of my Losar series with original art by Ingmar Pema Dechen. Many of my poet/writer friends are Wood Roosters including Verandah Porche and Richard Wizansky

Verandah another Wood Rooster poet

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova with a copy cat version by Jacqueline Gens

In recent months I started using favorite poems as writing prompts. Here is another selection with my copy-cat version inspired by the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. I was first introduced to the Russian poets in my early teens as the first English translations were emerging. While living in New York I was able to purchase their books in Russian which I asked my mother Olga Pakidova to read in the original. I was happy to see Ilya and Katie's translation --two fine writers who taught in the New England College MFA program I co-directed. 

The Last Toast translated by Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris

I drink to our ruined house
To the evil of my life
To our loneliness together
And I drink to you—
To the lying lips that have betrayed us,
To the dead-cold eyes,
To the fact that the world is brutal and coarse
To the fact that God did not save us.


Born in Odessa, Anna Akhmatova is one of the four most important Russian poets of the 20th century, others being Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva and Pasternak. She was associated with the Akhmeism movement.

The Toast (my Copy Cat) 

I drink to ruined lives
Ignorant grief mongers
To broken heartedness
And I drink to you ---
With your reptilian eyes
And forked tongue of lies
Flicked with hisses

I drink to your suffering,
I am sorry to say, that will measure for eons

To the fact samsara is all pervasive
To the fact that only we can self-liberate all sorrow

Jacqueline Gens
March 20-29, 2019
Highland Village

Friday, March 29, 2019

In Memory of Chogyam Trungpa and Allen Ginsberg

April marks the month two of my most significant poetry teachers died. I honor them here with poems which reflect my deep and abiding appreciation.

Allen Ginsberg and Chogyam Trungpa circa 1970's

Crazy Wisdom 

for Chogyam Trungpa (1939-1987)

Lone warrior on rocky precipice of sanity
Bearing the mindstream of ancient runes
To fickle lords of materialism

Riding your wild tiger of ferocity
Soft-hearted Bodhisattva true son of Padmakara
Wild horses couldn’t keep us apart

For decades the momentary clasp 
Of your crocodile hold kept me close

The first time I saw you I made the secret sign
You met my gaze and read my mind
Instructing me but I was too ignorant

Just recalling your luminous face now
Reminds me of our sacred purpose

In the great expanse of space may 
We meet again our minds conjoined 
Briefly in joy and sorrow
Amid this samsaric visage of heartbreak

for Allen (1926-1997)

A few days later I saw him
seated at a crossroad between
two dusty roads going toward a vista
of waterways reminiscent of cranberry bogs
or saltwater marshes I once visited—maybe the river Styx.

The crossroads bore a wooden hand nailed sign
unelaborate as though in antiquity
another land or simply barren.

A geography of immensity without habitation.

There you poured over books and papers

focused intently as you sat on an old wooden stool,
the one air of familiarity dressed in your Calvin Klein 
Goodwill navy blazer-- my favorite,

pens poking out from the pocket, white shirt and tie.
I stood quietly to your side waiting to assist you
yet not disturb your concentration.
Finished, you turned to me and handed me a sheaf of papers
“These are for you—for translation”.
Then, you got up and walked slowly down the left crossroad
I followed behind you, but then you turned to face me
And said “This is as far as you are allowed to go—
I don’t have the water rights
for your passage”—a hitch of sadness in your voice
Bell’s Palsy making your one eye bigger
your face a bit cock-eyed.
But looking straight on as we had finished our business 
one more time in clarity and respect 
our natural elegance together hung there for a second
staring at one another wordlessly.

Then I watched you go and knew that you were finally gone
on some other journey to some other place.

Jacqueline Gens

1997 Revised April 5, 2019
Revised May 20, 2019

Monday, March 11, 2019

Vipassana Scribbles

Forbidden Scribbles**
on a Ten Day Vipassana Retreat

Lying in Buddha posture
Outside I hear geese
Like me flying home


First Buds of Spring
Bird rustles in the underbrush
Can you ask a poet not to sing?


Old lady nods off
Drooping head signals torpor
Lion awakes without fail


Are clouds sky--sky clouds?
Where are you mind?
I looked everywhere and can’t find you 


Cars rush, Ocean of Dharma***
Squeaky door, cat’s meow
What’s real?

**Generally one is discouraged from writing or reading on a traditional Vipassana retreat. These mostly composed in my head outdoors during walking meditation, then jotted down on scraps of paper later
***Part of my Bodhisattva name

Monday, February 25, 2019

Ode to Tibet: Motherspeak


In my youth I loved the poems of Carl Sandburg especially his robust  poems about the American urban landscape---remember his “Chicago” of Hog butchers? ……For some time I’ve wanted to write a poem of homage to Tibet celebrating the country’s unique qualities in all  its gritty reality rather than our fantasies.

 I wrote this on the occasion of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu’s publication of the first volume of  The Light of Kailash—when  such an occasion arose and this Ode came together in a jumble of extravagance and love drawing on three decades interest in the country from which I benefited so much and in honor of the Master who has been a tireless steward of his country’s history and my inspiration. 


For Choegyal  Namkhai Norbu (1938-2018)

Top peaked mountains
Roof of the world
Land of Drala
Bare elements alive
Blazing naked breasts 
Belly and thighs
In darkness of modern demise
Wrought by imperialism
And petty bureaucrats
Squinting in luminosity
They can not bear.

Tibet O Rugged Haven 
of saints and rogue bandits
hard working herds women and men
home to rebel daughters and sons
derelict monastics, secret yogins
imperial kings and queens alike
not without rival clans and despot warlords
cut throat greed mongers
or masters of intrigue, murdering their rivals,
soft spoken sycophants in robes 
or fresh faced soldiers wielding
batons of torture.

Here in the Land of Dakinis at play
among scant clad yogis and yoginis
who move through rock like clouds 
incubating primordial wisdom
in the heart of your iron fortress
poised at the barren plains of Northernmost plateaus
or remote mountain caves
far from worldly efforts 
eating air for sustenance

O Tibet you are mother to all human greatness and failings

Once empress of vast kingdoms 
Your mantle flung
Wide from Taksang to Yarlung
           in Glory

Now, beaten down 
yet standing tall
Land of Healing
where flowers bloom
redolent with special properties 

I praise your still splendid beauty
your haughty stance
now just a memory

Tibet –How you wound us with your suffering
woo us with your Cantata of  Universal Love
Om Tare Tutare Ture Svaha
Mother of the Universe
You astound us with your learning
where fresh head waters still roar with  torrents of blessing
to quench universal quests for knowledge
filling the coffers of  impoverished seekers 
from the West, thirsty legions
parched by lords of materialism
and so unhappy with too much of everything

Our open mouths a house for your poured out waters
replenished eternally from your flow of Bodhicitta

We bow down to you Tibet
We thank you brave Mother
We praise you
We cry for your rightful offspring
Your warriors inspire us to abandon all grasping
Vain pursuits that evaporate like mist
In azure sky
Vibrating with sacred sounds.

May we prove worthy of your bounty
May you live forever
through your bastard progeny 
your blood coursing through us,
nurtured by the milk from your 
teats of loving kindness
May your river of nourishment never run dry.

Younger daughter of geo history
and elder crone among hominoids
ignited from bone and stone flints
littering uninhabitable plains
          24,000 years ago
your footsteps skipping across time
embedded at the edge of pleistocene glaciers

O Mother Dear, arise—for 
You will be the last one Dancing 
in your bower beyond time
forever Queen where 

Tibet Lives!

In loving memory of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu 
by his humble student ... I taste your mind..........

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Light of the World

In preparation for our March Poetrymind writing group, here's a draft based on Ginsberg's famous early poem "Song" with the haunting refrain The Weight of the World is Love. I'm finding that the greatest writing prompts come from works I love.

The Light of the World
                  is Love
Shinning forth
                            outside Time
With no aim other than
        creative display

The Light of the World is Love
                                     beyond boundaries                                                                                                               
In the grand expanse        of   Space
                    Incomprehensible ..........Presence             
Not a place

The Light of the World is Love
                    Heals all hurts


Jacqueline Gens
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Highland Village

Monday, February 04, 2019

Great Clips

The following poem draft was written for my poetry group based on Gary Snyder's "Bubb 's Creek Haircut," one of my favorite poems

Great Clips Mohawk Trail Plaza 
hair salon in GreenfieldMA next door to Big Y
a uni-sex cut arises out of shorn chemo curls
carpeted in arcs on linoleum floor
I may not spit like a man but I got me
a man's haircut still burning with shame
silent chants of Tare Tare Tare to calm 
my already bad day worse
deemed an ugly visage staring scornfully back at me
earlier check up at Valley Medical
blood glucose higher than usual
blood pressure ok
looking forward to Mississippi trip 
practice with Ingmar and Sergio
moderate meals eaten same time everyday
thinking of snakes awakening seeking reprieve
from winter cold
can they really come into the house 
through plumbing to curl up
under toasty bed covers
sneaking about a common feature 
of Mississippi life
I read on the internet
now, I'm decades back 
at Tara Mandala siting on the banks of San
Juan river naked with the Methodist mom
Rocketeller wife as we watch our friends
across the river squealing in joy playing with Ute mud
said to be healing
then a snake swimming upstream towards 
the embankment with ladies its flat torpedic head
hideous sensing targets
crackling twigs behind us as two men 
with heavy boots stand above us
while we cover ourselves best we can
then evaporate into the bushes
were they real or another snake vision

Pondering all this jumble
snakes real or not
as I tip Jesse at Great Clips Hair Cuts.

February 2, 2019
Revised May 21, 2019
Highland Village
in Shelburne Falls, MA