The poet Frank Watson has given humanity a gift, a collection of poems entitled In the Dark, Soft Earth: Poetry of Love, Nature, Spirituality, and Dreams.
Book One is called “Within the Weeping Woods.” Each poem, very short, conjures the spirit of the nature haiku. Here, we are offered a chance to forest bathe the mind. Reading these poems is a wilderness adventure that tangles up desire, and I feel myself hearing my heart beat inside the forest and beneath its soil. This inner forest is dense with secret glades in which a reader can hide within forest Silence. There is intimacy but also distance that soothes. Though many scenes revealed here are absolutely terrifying, the language is so stunning that terror is totally erased by beauty. We become like the fool who, “entranced / by the beauty of a rose / he falls off a cliff / blown only by the gentle breeze.” Here, terrifying things are delivered gently. Also, it’s remarkable the way each stanza feels natural and not crafted, as if words simply blew in through the poet’s heart on the breeze. Effortless poetry! Ah!
The poems in this collection can also create a sense of being a speck of dust, traveling free upon the wind and upon the wind’s whims; can I be so quiet, content, and unnoticed, even as I am thrust upon violent storms, even as I am settled home, longing we meet in a crowded jazz club? I read the collection while sitting under this tree in my front yard. I hear jazz music through the kitchen’s open window. Crows laugh. Dogs bark. Insects crawl nearby, and the wind is moving the trees. I notice nature with nuanced perception while I am reading Watson’s poems. This is reason enough to give this book a read and to read it again. I love the mood each poem evokes in me, like I am making love to the Mystery. It reminds me also of time I have spent sitting in dark temples, and one distant memory of practicing “Grave Meditation” with yogis in the Himalayas.
This particular poem welcomes the reader to witness a moment where the she of the poem confronts a secret she has been keeping from herself. She realizes an ugly truth, an inner truth that she had tried to ignore or suppress; yet, she had also stored it away in her treasure box. What a provocative juxtaposition! Then, an image arises in a simple phrase that hints at mischief, but it’s the sound of the words that is more important than their meaning: “sunlight broken / into a thousand little sins.” Then, the best part of the poem, is that the speaker, the I, the narrator of the poem, is but an invisible speck, some kind of micro-organism, somehow bewitched and floating “between the eons of her eyelashes.” This is an incredible shift in perspective. As a reader proceeding through a few short phrases, I have even forgotten to wonder what is the secret in the treasure box because I am now enraptured by the wonder about myself as dwelling between the eons of her eyelashes, contemplating myself as a floating micro-organism. Whoever “she” is in this poem, she is of goddess dimensions, and I am filled with awe.
This is just one poem from this collection. Every poem takes the reader on vast journeys through perception. Yet, the poems are immaculately short, distilled moments that trigger ancient contemplation. Spiritual awakening gets slammed together with lots of kissing of the Earth, kissing of moonlit waters, even kissing of the dead. The whole experience satisfies Spirit and sense perception all at once. And the Spirit world and the sensual world can be one, and this is absolutely OKAY, dear yogi! Plus, for viewing pleasure, the book contains artwork by a variety of masters, ranging from Keido Fukushima to Wassily Kandinsky, alongside the poems these works inspired in Watson.
The collection is divided into ten “Books.” Each book has its own title, such as “Between Time and Space,” “The Percussion Mind,” and “Stories Before I Sleep.” The ideas and moods that these titles provoke invite me into contemplative space. I sit quietly, and I am content. That’s it!
While there are weeping woods, there is also jazz. And these haiku-like poems create a sense that the primal cries before humanity, with Earth always expressing herself in infinite variety, are not separate from the contemporary moans of urban music. We enter a consciousness where desire is a dream state, and I find myself longing to reunite with my Lover and give him the world’s last drop of rain, or the raven moon, or a road he may travel that will never end. I imagine the I of the poem to be my happy lover telling me that he lives his life in a butterfly’s dream. He reminds me of the Taoist adept, Zhuangze: keep life weightless. I wish I could say this to someone: if I am in your butterfly dream, may I be perceived as the nectar?
Finally, with this book, I find myself retreating again to the yogi cave within me and welcoming a gang of midnight philosophers to help me light the One Heart Fire at the hour when all across the globe, each has agreed to light his own lamp. If we build up enough nerve, we’ll all whisper: “We know how to guide the stranded souls. Look, over here! See how there is so very little distinction between what is a human form and what is Earth form? Be guided by the rhyme in twilight! See poems pouring tea for the Haiku that breaks the rules. Understand that which feels familiar is a bridge to mischief! Let’s cross together!”
In the poem “apparition,” there is a broken violin and some shapeless wonder that is rolling from one end of the world to another. Is it the poet that kisses Earth and moonlit waters and sunflowers? Or is it that the poet has become the foot or the lightbeam or the raindrop that touches the forest floor, the lake’s surface, or the flower’s petal? I have got to remember to be grateful for these poems that give me a fleeting chance to release my attachment to this human body. Be a drop of rain. Be a moon beam. Be a bear paw. And once I become these things, what does it feel like to touch flowers, lakes, and dirt?
who am I?
Who is the poet? He is “neither man / nor phantom / between the worlds.” Who am I? I ask again as I re-emerge from the dream of reading this collection. I stand up from sitting beneath this tree, and standing up after having read this book is the realization that this was not a dream. This deep peace within me is the real deal.
Frank Watson’s In the Dark, Soft Earth is a beautiful book. I hope you will read it, and allow it to guide you to enjoy your Self, thoroughly.