Madison, Wisconsin

31 May 2008

Five Poems

Practicing Chi Gong with the Fish
The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
[All that breathing out we do—]
The Billboards in Bali
Pygmy Hippopotamus

About Robin Chapman



Practicing Chi Gong with the Fish

I’m at the dock, practicing the form
Flying Crane, Traveling East Over the Ocean,
when I see that the fish are gathering
below me— turquoise-tailed sunfish,
open-mouthed bass— all turned toward me,
gathering out of the weeds, the ribbons
and thickets of grass. I imagine expectancy
in their dappled finning, fanned scholars
of energy, as I salute the sun, give back
to the green world my fears.
The strike of the northern pike, called up
from the planked shadows, scatters us all;
though we return, minus one, for the still passage
called Observing the Full Moon, and my bow.



The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame

Some of these guys are dead, says the kid
watching the video of the 1927 championship game.
I’m roaming the retired numbers— each a shirt
with the dates, like saints. And relics, too—
the splinter they took out of Jerry Kramer’s gut;
Ray Nitschke’s helmet, pierced, almost, by a bolt,
that saved him when the filming tower fell;
the leather and sheepskin harness that held Ken
Bowman’s shoulder in place when he blocked;
Bart Starr’s rib protector, hard plastic enlarged
over his heart. The size 16 shoes, and the plaster cast
of Matt Willig’s outsize hand— I fit my own into his palm.
Letters from Catholic school children to Coach
Lombardi, saying they’ve seen him at mass,
will pray for the team. Brett Favre’s confession
of Vicodin addiction. And in the theater,
when the lights go on, the stadium crowd
surrounds us— owners and celebrants
in their cheesehead hats and green/yellow
jackets— sixty thousands faces watching
a play, time past. I walk the circumference, looking
for friends, remembering the crowds of fifteen
thousand at high school football games in the ‘50s,
faces I scanned as I sold hotdogs and they watched,
rapt, the touchdowns pile up. The heroes then
have finished selling insurance now, and the fans
recounting plays are faces in a yearbook I save.



[All that breathing out we do—]

All that breathing out we do—
adopt a row of indoor house plants, then
plant a tree for every car, whitewash
the parking lot, convert it weekly
to local farmers’ market, walk,
turn down your thermostat,
shingle roofs with solar cells,
replace your incandescents, surround
the steam plants with acres of hybrid
poplars that grow six feet a year,
or willow rampant in southern heat,
switchgrass thriving in arid plains—
burn them clean, carbon-neutral,
return the ash to fertilize the soil,
rotate crops, contour plow—and don’t stop
there—at the Gobi’s edge, plant the line
of trees that will hold the soil, water weekly,
then next year a new row for a new
Great Wall, believe one person
makes a difference— already
my rubber plant has doubled,
one woman in our midwestern town
has reroofed with solar shingles
and linked to the electric power grid,
a retired engineer is testing poplars out,
and far away in the Gobi, a man walks
the first mile of trees, carrying a bucket
from dawn to dusk.



The Billboards in Bali

It’s 1978, and birth control
is the hottest conversational topic,
the obligatory opening,—what form
have you elected? we’re asked on every
introduction to the local ladies. We blush
to answer, stammer condoms.
The island’s billboards chart
each village’s votes—
pills, then IUDs, the favorites,
as Indonesia campaigns
to curb exponential growth.

The drums beat nightly to remind
the women who’ve chosen pills
that now’s the time to take them,
monthly to signal the arrival
of a new month’s doses—and we, expatriates
accustomed to our small talk, hot again today,
monsoons coming, make a joke of how
it’s bad manners to talk about
the weather: it will be thirty years
before the hurricanes hitting home
lead us to think that the link
between small talk, condoms,
and force-5 storms may be
more than conversational.



Pygmy Hippopotamus

(Hexaprotodon liberiensis)

Small as hippos go, pig-size;
nostrils low, sweat oiling their gray-green skin—
two or three thousand left on the planet
in Liberia’s swampy forests, prized for their tusks
and bushmeat.

River-horse, relative of whale;
trail maker, late-day and night feeder
on succulents, roots, shoots, grasses,
fallen fruit, aquatic plants.

Fed, in the zoos, herbivore pellets, apples,
kale and bamboo. Are they friendly?
ask the children, thinking of piglets:
but no, aggressive in protecting their territory
with large sharp teeth. They open their mouths
not to yawn but to warn you away; move
to inside quarters as the temperature drops.

When large-scale logging
and subsistence hunting end their like
on earth, what will we lose?
Their babies,
born singly, the weight of our newborns,
their snuffling through the swampy routes
they’ve rooted out, their 30-to-50 year lives;
the stories locals tell of a mystical creature
that carries a shining stone in its mouth
to light its solitary way, with a skin so slippery
it can’t be caught.



Robin Chapman is author of ten poetry collections, including The Only Everglades in the World (Parallel Press, 2001); Images of a Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos (World Scientific, 2005, with J.C. Sprott’s fractal art), winner of the Posner Poetry Award; The Dreamer Who Counted the Dead (WordTech Editions, 2007); and Smoke and Strong Whiskey (WordTech Editions, 2008). She co-edited the anthology On Retirement: 75 Poems (University of Iowa Press, 2007). Recipient of two individual artist development grants and a 2007 Literary Arts Fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board, her poems have appeared in The American Scholar, The Hudson Review, OnEarth, Poetry, and The Southern Review, among many other journals. She posts poems from fellow poets with one of her watercolors on her blog, Robin Chapman’s Poem A Day Blog. Professor emerita of Communicative Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she has lived in Madison over 40 years.