Li Po, Mid-October, Gray Light Streaked with Rust-Colored Glints Over Silver Water

by Colette Inez

He lost his chance in Chang-an,
his great height above six feet
fearsome on a horse, two wives or was it three
in varied outposts of the empire.
Hadn’t he arrived at the palace wine soaked and disheveled?
Hadn’t lackeys bowed low to scrape dung from his boots?

On another path, Li Yang-ping, calligrapher,
one who collected poems for posterity
held his friend’s head to more cups
of wine when night began to swallow the road, and Li Po 
wandered like a stream into the shine of  water-
yellow leaves trembling at the quake of boots,
fish staring up from his kettle.

Friends–for he valued friendship–take me home
wherever my name is known. He called out to sloshed boats
of reflected stars, to untamed horses on the moon,
and woke to the next morning, its peach-colors
the face of his youth in the lordly mountains. 

Flying Home From Burma

by Colette Inez

Crash landing into a rice paddy, 
through flames our Buddhist neighbor
pulls his wife from the plane.  

Buddha appears on the tarmac with a stretcher.
Bandages, unguents, grafts.
Their wheel of suffering turns

towards astonishment; oozing of the wound,
blisters disappear, gone with Buddha’s fold-away
cot in the hospital room. The couple journey home

to “Welcome Back” posted on our lobby wall.
Sometimes Buddha appears in their apartment
eating a hot chili. Light filters through his body.

His patience sustains them. He has come with them
all the way from Burma.  

Knotholes

by Colette Inez

The knotholes hear our confession.
We imagine them as priests of vanishing trees,
lords of birds and clouds
giving absolution to creatures of the forest.

Will we flinch when the axe falls,
bow down to devil horns of flames?
We pray, buckle at our knees.
We, too, are vanishing.

Is it the wind that makes the branches creak?
Fleshy tongues mumble through plush moss. 
What are our penances?
We run from these confessionals

toward a door in cracked light.
There all who wronged us are waved away.
Nothing can save them
from the jaws of  fire, the silent stones.  

Mountain Retreats

by Colette Inez

Blue Mountain,  
Miriam, painter, coal scuttle black eyes.
The Dipper fills up with days of being
noticed, opinions listened to,
talk of naming the moon.
I tell her of the runny white of my childhood moons.
Sunday, one egg beheaded and served in a cup
when I was swallowed by the rule of nuns.
She speaks of easel and brush, Rouault, Leger,
her atelier high over Paris. 
“Fritatas and soufflés in the Santa Cruz,
rooms over the lake, the Canadian Rockies,” I say.
 “Mountain are made of fire and rocks,”
Miriam stands her ground when I speak
of gods at the summit.
Later we point to pines, Loblolly, White
and then to these rugged elders, the Appalachians
leaning in to hold us  before we flicker out.   

Review of Colette Inez’s The Luba Poems

by Alexis Levitin

The Luba Poems
Colette Inez, Pasadena, CA
Red Hen Press,
2015. 90 pp.

Fifty years ago, dining at the Eberharts in Hanover, New Hampshire, Robert Lowell leaned towards me like a stricken man and said, with painful gravity, “Macbeth is very, very dark. The only thing that saves it is the poetry.”

I would now like to add that whether we contemplate a tragic or comic vision, a realistic or fanciful one, in the end what saves all poetry is the poetry itself. Nowhere else in our efforts to communicate do the musical qualities of language contribute so intimately and inescapably to the so-called “meaning” of a text. In poetry, without the sound there is no sense. There is no salvation.

Colette Inez’ new book The Luba Poems dwells mostly in the realm of the capricious, the witty, the gaudy, the playful, the comic, the spritely, the joyous, the fun-filled, the exuberant. Mercurial Luba, her name the Russian diminutive for Love, bounces around the real world and the world of diction with the spontaneity of a puppy dog. However, all that effervescence, that undeniable joie de vivre, springs entirely from the language in which it is rooted. Without that language, Colette, Luba’s confidant and puppeteer, might be filled with an incredible élan vital, but we would never know it.

If I had to place Colette in the modern poetry scene, I would say she is a most mischevious kid sister to Wallace Stevens. Listen to this:

They sang to choristers        
Who swayed like trees
In the rush of huzzahs
Before rain crashed down 

Luba Quince at the Clavier, no?
We all have feelings. Only poets have words. In any case, here is a poet, armed with words, and delighted to fulfill her role as Homo ludens. Playful, delightful, and serious at the same time.

Let us watch and listen as the adventurous journey begins:

“When the name
                       Luba lifts away
like a leaf in hard rain
                       or goes missing
from its cage—
                       a parakeet not answering
or a scrap of light
                       snagged by a cloud…

How about the pure music of this lightly lilting phrase: “in a frangipani-scented mist,” drawn from a poem about poets called “Noting Names,” in which
“her known identity  [is] named
by the pull of the tide, the unlettered sun.”

Or, in “Din Spool, a Bibliophile,” the lively contrast between a harried world of “drill, whine,/buzz, bang,” from which she “longs to be soothed by anapests at the crest/ of the waves”—and there they are: anapests and waves together.

Often enough, the titles of her poems refer to music:  “Cadenzas for Johnny,” “Serpa Bell Song,”  “Luba Looks at a Menu and Thinks of Music,” and the concluding poem in the book “The Singers.” As for pure sound, here are just a few whiffs drifting among these poems: “Coco Chiroco,” “the moon/frazzled blue jazz in riffs     over    the river,” “disco, jazz, twist, funk…plunked bumpty-bump/from a neighbors whoopee room piano…,” “swerve on like the moon-June jackpot/ of dicey days in the mean meantime,” “in the freeze-grip-crunch of their last bang,” “hunters/ of springbok, dik-dik, antelopes,” “ hey hey di hay… glory wa wa… Doba dee da doba da dee.” Yes, the lady loves sound. And does she sing scat!

However, I would like to note that mixed in with the joyous life-affirming music, there are reminders of the grave side to the human condition. In a poem imagining an abandoned polar bear cub, she concludes “How can he know she, too, /has lost her mother/to blue infinities?” To readers familiar with Colette’s life work and life story those “blue infinities” suggest a poignant sorrow, never utterly healed. In “Luba Reads Merwin,” the conclusion is both valiant and philosophically rather desperate, as it portrays in lovely language our lovely, lonely pathos: “knowing words are tireless and travel/out of nothing to a vacancy of stars.” And in the important final poem of the collection, she concludes with a paean of praise to song and an acknowledgment of its dark source:

We sang
glory wa wa to the highest
bird lit by the sun
Stones applauded
from the stream
clouds leaned in
gathered that dark
where singing comes from
Doba dee da doba da dee

If we are saved, our salvation is both exultant and fragile, a salvation fresh with stream, sunlight, and song, but all in the moment.

Read this book. It is a book of love, as the title suggests: love for the world, love for language, love for us all in our painful, glorious human condition.