This week’s featured poet is Afaa Michael Weaver. His poem “Leaves” was inspired by the garden of a Zen monastery in Taiwan.
GELLERMAN: In April, we nurture nature with poetry. Today to commemorate National Poetry month, we hear from Afaa Michael Weaver.
WEAVER: Afaa was given to me by a friend from Nigeria. It means oracle, and in the Ebo culture an oracle is someone who, well it translates most correctly as a therapist – someone who can clarify the present for you, but not their future. The Ebo people believe that the future belongs only to divine knowledge, not human.
GELLERMAN: Poetry is often a distillation of a writer’s observations, emotions and experiences. It was a trip to the Far East that inspired Afaa Michael Weaver to pen his poem “Leaves.”
WEAVER: I was in Taiwan on the eastern coast of Taiwan in a Zen monastery and the gates to the monastery are about one hundred fifty yards from the ocean, from the Pacific. And, I was there in the spring of 2005 living there for about five weeks and teaching Tai Chi to the monks, or to the nuns, I should say. It’s a very beautiful place, on the side of the mountain, foliage everywhere, and, a giant statue of Guanina, Goddess of Compassion on the Hill. So I’d take walks through the garden everyday, walking through the flowers and the hedge bushes and under the trees and next to the bamboo and that’s where this poem came from.
[MUSIC: Various Artists “High Mountain And Flowing Water” from Chinese Music (China Recording Company 1999). MUX: excerpt from “Peony Pavillion”]
WEAVER: The music that comes to me for this poem is the music of a traditional Chinese opera.
Leaves: The lines that make you are infinite, but I count them
every day to hear the stories you carry. These are not secrets
but records, things we should know but ignore. If I commit
the sin of tearing you from the tree, I find another world
inside the torn vein, another lifetime of counting the records
of who walked here before, of what lovers lay here
holding each other through wars and starvation.
Some days I stand here until I lose focus and travel,
drifting off out of the moment, too full of it, and my legs
are now like trees, mindless but vigilant, held
into the earth by the rules of debt, what we owe
to nature for trying to tear ourselves away. I drift
and the pleasure of touch comes again, layers of green
in the mountainside a tickling in my palms.
The pleasure is that of being lost here in the crowd
of trunks and pulp, the ground thick with the death of you,
sinking under my feet as I go, touching one and another,
linking myself through until the place where I entered
is gone. When I am afraid, my breath is caught in my throat.
When I am not afraid, I lift both hands up under a bunch
of you to find the way the world felt on the first day.
[MUSIC: Various Artists “High Mountain And Flowing Water” from Chinese Music (China Recording Company 1999)]
GELLERMAN: Poet, playwright and professor Afaa Michael Weaver holds the Alumnae Endowed Chair in English at Simmons College. His poem “Leaves” will be published next year in his book “The Government of Nature.”
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