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