CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN

     Three poems from Fig Leaf Sutras, a book in progress by Baan Hom Samunphrai's resident poet,
     repairman, secretary, gardener, reluctant guide and awkward husband.

 

                                                        C. & H. inside the Botataung Pagoda, Yangon, September 6th, 2013

 

 

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Address:
Christopher Woodman

P.O.Box 427

2495 North Fish Creek Rd

Wilson,

Wyoming 83014

U.S.A.

&

93 Moo 12

Tawangtan, Saraphi,

Chiang Mai 50140,

Thailand

 

telephone:

(307) 733.0410 (U.S.)


(66) 53.817.362 Thailand

(66) 81.885.1429    "


his e-mail:
christopher@homprang.com



for a bit of his prose:
www.cowpattyhammer.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLICK BELOW TO
RETURN TO

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Address:
Christopher Woodman

P.O.Box 427

2495 North Fish Creek Rd

Wilson,

Wyoming 83014

U.S.A.

&

93 Moo 12

Tawangtan, Saraphi,

Chiang Mai 50140,

Thailand

 

telephone:

(307) 733.0410 (U.S.)


(66) 53.817.362 Thailand

(66) 81.885.1429    "


his e-mail:
christopher@homprang.com



for a bit of his prose:
www.cowpattyhammer.com

 

 

 

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CLICK BELOW TO
RETURN TO

Homepage

Address:
Christopher Woodman

P.O.Box 427

2495 North Fish Creek Rd

Wilson,

Wyoming 83014

U.S.A.

&

93 Moo 12

Tawangtan, Saraphi,

Chiang Mai 50140,

Thailand

 

telephone:

(307) 733.0410 (U.S.)


(66) 53.817.362 Thailand

(66) 81.885.1429    "


 

his e-mail: christopher@homprang.com



for a bit of his prose:
www.cowpattyhammer.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CLICK BELOW TO
RETURN TO

Homepage

Address:
Christopher Woodman

P.O.Box 427

2495 North Fish Creek Rd

Wilson,

Wyoming 83014

U.S.A.

&

93 Moo 12

Tawangtan, Saraphi,

Chiang Mai 50140,

Thailand

 

telephone:

(307) 733.0410 (U.S.)


(66) 53.817.362 Thailand

(66) 81.885.1429    "


 

his e-mail: christopher@homprang.com



for a bit of his prose:
www.cowpattyhammer.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOP OF PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLICK BELOW TO
RETURN TO

Homepage

Address:
Christopher Woodman

P.O.Box 427

2495 North Fish Creek Rd

Wilson,

Wyoming 83014

U.S.A.

&

93 Moo 12

Tawangtan, Saraphi,

Chiang Mai 50140,

Thailand

 

telephone:

(307) 733.0410 (U.S.)


(66) 53.817.362 Thailand

(66) 81.885.1429    "


his e-mail:
christopher@homprang.com



for a bit of his prose:
www.cowpattyhammer.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MY FRANGIPANI TREE

"So that's the girl you want, is it?"
Homprang mocks me—
                         "the one you write

          Whispers woe
          In the grieving mead
          With the sweet white flowers
          And the bitter seed?

"But oh mai dai, Lung Kip, mai dai!
you have no taste—no culture!
The malingering one
cannot be grown
in a pleasant home like ours,
or grace a commoner's garden."

And then the Princess Sirindhorn,
that loyal Siamese angel sister,
changes the name, rewrites
the misbegotten tree's
girl-story.

She was too grim before, you see—Lan Tõme,
the older generation groaned—
'Storm Torn Tree of  Grief,' 'Sorrow's Thunder!'
Only the Wat could weather such regret,
the Princess recently announced
on government radio,
only the holy Wat could grin
at such despair,
                      or say, or bear it.

She knew before her gift no trusty Thai
would ever deem to have
              the Lan Tõme tree at home—
it only graced the temple yard or wept
its sweet white scent
at the village crematorium.
Now its mournful shade's been
cast anew as a lovely girl that says
"Come live with me, I'm Leela Wadee—

            My willowy breeze
            Plays in your gentle tree!"

it's springing up all over.

Oh, I'd love to say "okay, please do,"
but water too pulls worlds apart,
I know, and air makes rain
                                  and floods us—
the bright skinned undulating breeze
wrapped in the silk sarong
with the smiling limbs
and the black, black hair
blows up another sort of thunder.
I'm just a man who gets things done
and know that girls like this
                  shake down the oak and split
the hardest western beam asunder.

But the pool of Siamese meaning says
mai pen rai, "make no ado"—
                                     that's better.
For flexibility in mind and limb
is always free just like
this groaning, gracious tree—

and wife Homprang,
now it's Leela Wadee,
is free
even with me
and let's me say
I love to grieve a storm—
and gaily with me grows it.

                                  published in  The Atlanta Review (Fall, 2009)

___________________

Homprang (‘delicate odor of the cheek’)  Chaleekanha is the poet’s doctor-wife.

Mai dai  means it can’t be done, that it’s never been done before and will never be done any time soon—or, for that matter, ever.

The poet is called Lung Kip in Thailand.  Lung means uncle, or any man as old as your parents, and Kip is the poet’s childhood nickname. (‘Kip’ is much easier to pronounce than ‘Christopher’ with its crush of syllables and consonants. His grown-up name sounds cacophonic to the Siamese ear.)

The Frangipani Tree was called Lan Tõme until it was recently  renamed Leela Wadee by the King's daughter, Her Royal Highness Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, as a gift to the Thai people. Before the Princess’ intervention this most beautiful and fragrant of all trees could only be grown in a Thai wat (temple) or palace. It was simply too risky to have a tree with a name like that around the house.

Mai pen rai means it doesn't matter--which it doesn't only because you've obviously already gone and done it.
 

 

 

 

 

 

A large proportion of Thai religious beliefs and practices are Hindu rather than Buddhist in origin. This is nowhere clearer than in the Spirit Houses that are so important to every Thai family and business, including our own. Small but elaborate, these miniature palaces often contain a Shiva figure in the innermost courtyard -- if you look carefully you can see him in there just behind the beautiful shy girl looking back at you in the shadows. In many spirit houses Shiva is attended by Ganesha, the much-loved elephant-headed god who makes things happen.

Here he is at our house waiting by the door.

       LIKE A LOVER, LIKE A MOTHER, LIKE A MOUSE

In my father’s house
there are many mansions
just as in my village
there are many poor houses
                 with mansions between them—

mansions with gables and finials
and small shiny servants
                                kneeling by elephants,
horses, buffalo-carts and palanquins,
peacocks unfolding their fans as the girls
with big breasts fall silent, and smiling
bow brightly uncovered like bells
as they bear at the banquet
                                    on small silver trays
tiny thimbles of whisky and water—

water-born courtyards of perfume
and smoky inhalations,
sacred waxed alcoves curtained off
with tall scented cushions
               in damask and rice-green velvet,
melon-shaped with vast muslin oceans
filled out on the spirit-born breeze
like a lover, like a mother,
                                         like a mouse—

and all of them quiet and assembled 
for the rare private blink
                               of the god in the house,
huge, whale-still, like Herod but holy
with those wide-awake eyes and garish
like a mountain in a peep-show—
the gargantuan trunk right there,
gob-smacked, stuck right in your face—
                                  yikes, the size of him!

So swing low, O God of Bright Presence,
Sri Power, swing O Prince of Pubescence,
O Bounteous, O Fat One—
         sweet the spectacular pink Substance,
the perfect round belly, wide hips,
the radiant pure mind and broad sceptre—
oh the long, spangled prepuce,
                 the swooning, the monolith pout
with the make-up, the swaying unseemly
back and forth on one massive leg—
oh the bells on the ankle, the tinkling,
           the trampling in time with the snout.

O Ganesha, to garnish life’s platter
                  with the wink of good fortune—
O Shiva, to shiver & lather us more—
O Brahma, to make it all happen,
what we want
                                      more than anything
that happens to the gods
everyday in these mansions
up there on the humungous dwarf leg,
garlanded, stage-struck & beribboned
with incense and candles—

                                         any morning at 8
with a glass of cool water,
and an orange on a blue plastic plate,
swaying in the mansion, up on one leg—

any morning in my father’s house, 
oh heavenly mansion for the passionate,
ponderoso and intelligent,
                             girly-sweet god of Siam.

                                                       Chiang Mai (2014)

____________________

Despite his huge bulk, Lord Ganesha’s “vehicle,” his spiritual companion or familiar, is a tiny mouse — he's as quick, unobtrusive, omnipresent and skillful as that (the ambiguous antecedent is deliberate, which is how both poetry and magic work).

The mouse is just visible under the god's poised foot below.
 


Ritual gifts of food, water, flowers and incense are offered up at shrines and spirit houses everyday all over the country, and if a prayer is answered, the supplicant leaves in return a tiny ceramic elephant, horse, dancing girl, or some other useful object as a gift for the spirit who has obliged. In the shrine above you can see a large hand-rolled cigarette, a small bowl with a pellet of  fragrant incense,  a betel leaf, and a seven tiered umbrella which is not only a sign of great respect but very useful in such a hot climate. The  forehead, trunk, belly and hands of the god have also been rubbed with bits of gold leaf by grateful devotees.

Homprang spends the first hour of each day preparing food and ritual offerings for our spirit houses, and at the end of each day what's left is carefully gathered together to make a feast for our chickens and dogs -- or even for the children if there's something left over really soft and sweet.

Christopher has written more about Spirit Houses quite recently  here and here.

 

          

The ceramic water pot at our gate is porous, so it's green with moss and always damp and cool. It is also in the shadow of a large Bo Tree which is covered with  ferns and wild orchids A beautiful nang faa carved in teak leans against one of the posts while Lord Ganesha kneels beside her on very sturdy, very human legs. He holds a mortar in his left hand and a pestle in his right in order to prepare herbal medicines for sufferers. The pestle is, in fact, Ganesha's broken right tusk which he willingly sacrifices for our well-being. And of course he writes with it too, helpful words, needless to say -- for openness, generosity and encouragement are his gifts.

 

 

               


              
MONSOON WATER

The gracious draught in the cleft shell,
the cool reprieve, support, belief
dipped from an old clay pot
held out at noon
with torn hands
under the corrugate,
that's pure celestial water—
though every western winner knows
the village well is far more controversial,
the undressed orchid's
purple parts and linen
more dramatically confessed
and soapy moss around the edges
positively pubic.

I wai.
I drink the lot.

Even the sweaty jewels of last night's
frog-storm chorus
cling to the moist hope
that living
may be worth
the heart-breaking thirst
that's sure enough
to follow.

                                    published in  RUNES: A Review of Poetry (2004)

___________________

A cool drink  of water is offered to the visitor at every Thai portal and  doorway, however exalted or humble it may be --  from a crystal glass on a silver tray at the palace or corporate office in Bangkok to a coconut-shell scoop from a moss covered pot in the village.

The wai is the quintessential Thai greeting in which the palms are placed together at chin level,  fingertips  pointing upward. The gesture denotes respect, gratitude and prayer -- the only universal human gesture close to it is the hands raised high up over the head with the palms wide apart, indicating surrender.

 

 

 

                                                                           BIO

CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN realised at fifty that he was still an amateur at everything he did and set out to try to master just one thing before it was too late. He published his first poem at 52, and now 25 years later has appeared in journals as fine and diverse as The Atlanta Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Chariton Review, The Cumberland Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, The Kenyon Review, Phase and Cycle, Runes: A Review of Poetry, and Visions International. A graduate of Columbia, Yale and Cambridge Universities, he has taught, built houses, and sailed boats all over the world but is only now getting to grips with his real vocation. Although a resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he spends most of his time in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, and says he's never done anything so hard in his life! (You can have a look at the rest of this site to see what else he does.)

Fig Leaf Sutras is new work in progress attempting to create poetry that anyone can understand about subjects that nobody understands -- Christopher Woodman is experimenting with quite new styles in this project. In addition, he is also still working on two very different collections called, provisionally, Yet Still It Moves! and La Croix Ma Fille. Many of the poems in these two books, quite distinct in their styles and themes, have been published over the years -- you can see a few examples below (have a look at their dates and places to see where they are coming from.)

At the very bottom of this page you can read "He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse."  It was published in the Fall 2009 issue of The Beloit Poetry Journal, and subsequently nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize.

On the following page you can read his long poem, "Connemara Trousers." Although 6 parts of it were published in The Kenyon Review in 1992, Part VII was only recently added to it. Called "Why Up So Late on the Village Green Then, Pietà, After All those Flags, the Honor," it is among his most recent, and most political, poems.

Christopher Woodman says of himself: "I've never been workshopped, you see -- they were a rarity  until I was over forty, and I never encountered one during all my 11 years of degree work on both sides of the Atlantic. That means my poetry almost certainly lacks the multi-layered elliptical density that the new, highly trained critical mind needs to keep itself fully engaged while  teaching it. But I'm a writer, not a teacher, and I don't read like a teacher either, not in real life, so I wouldn't know where to start. Indeed you have to read me as I am, a kind of new old-world wheel-wright. I've reinvented it, so to speak, spokes, grease and all, and for me that means it has to turn, and it has to go somewhere. A poem's a service thing for me, man's most accomplished tool -- older even than the axe, and sharper. It's fire, it's water--it's what makes life wake up and know it's alive, and good, and truly worth dying for."

For more like this you can visit Christopher Woodman's blog, Cowpattyhammer.com. You'll find there some of his most recent writing on philosophy, politics, travel, art, history and, of course, poetry. Indeed, he would be delighted if you would like to join in the discussion.

 

 

 

    A Short Selection of Published Poems in very different styles, 1990 - 2016
                                   "Just as a poet has to live with what gets published, however
                                           dated  or inadequate -- he grows with what doesn't."

 

 

 

           'GRAVITY AND GRACE'    

The naked figure that you see
struggling from this rock
embraces his despair
with every mallet blow
                        and marble flake,
shouldering his way
ever deeper into form.

The chips that fly are free
but he
            little by little
freezes in the aspect of revolt,
complacent in the notice on the base
which reads upside down as

            Bondage is release    
            from Freedom.

This is the trap of art,
to promise flight in stone or steel,
the gravity defying act
that would escape the politics
of weight and mass and fault
which fill address books
with the names of those
who have died,
               or disappeared,
or simply moved away.

Yet had the artist left those chips
assembled in their caul of stone
this particular slave
could have slept
the unconditional life
                         ungrieved
the rock rested,
and for all eternity
even the manacles of stress
that crack the earth's mantle
could not have sighed a path
                                   to his release.

                                             published in  Phase and Cycle (1990)
 

 

 


 

          PASS WORD

The trick is
to stay outside
even when it’s lonely,  
cold and not the thing to do
at all.

The trick is
to stay outside
even when there’s  
no one there to say
it’s so much better weather
where the well is,
the depths plumbed
inside.

With such encouragement
who would not try the door,
and even now I feel the knob   
flower in my hand,
O those hundred-thousand gentle sea-fronds
nestling in the palm,
curling slowly up the thigh
in arcs of flame
fire-fraught with wanting
only this.

As for me before the door,
belted and distraught,
hoping only for a turning,
must I know this       
sloughing off of petals
gilt and master work for
ancients in those towering days
before the shutters closed upon
the vault beneath
the floor?

But the secret now,
then as now,
O best beloved,
is to stay
outside—

where the word is more
than ever
even when it’s wet
beside the Seine.

                                                                                                                                           published in  Fire Readings,  A Collection of Contemporary Writing  from the Shakespeare & Co.
                                                                                                                                                                         Fire Benefit. (Paris, 1991)



 

 

 

 

 

             Like Every Angel Born

Your old lover comes to you
when your face is to the wall.

That's why he’s damp and mossy,
that's why his eyes are sharp like mice
venturing out just after all the noise
has died down in the country kitchen.
His hips are narrow like the cellar stairs
he eases himself down slowly, step by step—
his German shepherd's crippled grace
is eager to please with its dark slouch
even as it frightens the children
dreaming like lanterns on your lawn.

He scents your confusion in the doorway—
even when you’re hiding your smile,
even when you’re keeping your hands
securely occupied with not having
anything to do once you’re in bed.

He can smell your breasts cascading quietly
under the fresh sheets like waterfalls—
their odor is round like wading pools
that reflect last summer's softest clouds,
and the picnics too, with the white doves
tumbling at the back of the orchard.

You roll over and straighten out
your legs—your hips are ramparts,
your moat is filled with water.

He turns away, back to work as usual
with all his hands under the hapless car.
You see only his Reeboks in the grass
sticking out irreverently beneath you.
You hear the clink of his tools,
his breathing, the wires and filters
unraveling your secrets in his fingers.

The nuts and bolts are all that matters
when it's coming apart in his hands.

You phone him up in the silence
to be sure he's still there
under the jacked-up wreck.
You ask him if he loves you.
He says he's not too sure
but it's coming apart
like it should.

Such greasy reticence leaves footprints
all over your freshly washed resolve—
down on your hands and knees again
you’re washing the stains in widening arcs.
Like wings greening in the battered snow
the strokes show how to wipe clean
a sweaty heart bent upon its own
ungraciously divine descent,
how to release the grime at last,
to groom like every angel born.

                                                           published in  The Chariton Review  (1994)

 

 



           Leadline

Sound out the falling fathoms,
sing as the markers fold back
and slip each beneath the surface

until the last strip stops short,
catches its breath as it spreads
its wings and flutters thanks.

Sprig of green, you mark
the summit of my need that rises
gabled from the latest depths.

You signal just how high a man
must roll his trousers up
to walk home across the flood,

or how to stay put even when the
humped tide hangs over the edge
like water hanging in a glass—

while far below your cupped lead
charged with tallow gently lifts
whatever stain such limits hold,

a trace of flecked shell, or sand,
or mud settling back behind, or just
nothing signifying rock.

And all the while the thankless keel,
poised between your greased root
and the empyrean

strokes its
blind shadow
on the bar.
                      
                   
                                    published in 
The Cumberland Poetry Review  (1997)

 

   

 Interment

Open up the sheets, fair weepers,
roll back the stone from this bed.
Yes, we've been on strong medication
and taken heavy punches too
to come down to you dutifully like this!
No mother wants a grown-up son
more perfectly assured, more naked
yet perfectly disposed across her lap—
all hard ardor emptied from his side,
blent knees drawn-up to let him hang
from his two hands in greater comfort.
No bird bows between two wider wings,
no swallow stoops more gracefully
in heavier, more final light,
no paper-dry carapace of the cicada
hangs more split silent at the hatch.

So open up the sheets, shining weepers,
roll back the stone from this bed—
we embrace your loosening resignation,
we take refuge in the white marble
churchyard of your ever-widening lap.

St. Gervais,
Vendredi Saint

                                                            published in  RUNES: A Review of Poetry (2002)

 

 

 

 

 

LEONARDO AMONGST WOMEN

The bulk not the vectors
is what old Merlin draws,
the wash of his own weight
shot through silk in motion.

Thus the kneeling girl that
God wants even more than he,
sheen of eggplant fish and
satin light on rose paper.

Yet even the new faithful
schooled to ask too much
study not the secret in the folds
but just the pale hands clasped
in prayer, the inviolable eyes
raised to praise everything but
the veiled act taking place
preposterously below—

precisely where the raw clay plug
cradled in that lone man’s hope
lingering turned, sweetly bound,
dignified in clinging drapes
and tight swaddling clouts
the immaculate desire to be
defined not by what we do but
like a mute maiden what she is
wound in her cocoon.

And so with unfurled wings
folding back like perfumed letters
in the dark, virgin lips signing
in the last low light and every
flute and hollow, genius spins
the miracle of thighs with down
so light it only lifts to knowledge
stroked the other way, leading
the man's hand of God
to know those things
it never sees or ever thinks
but only dies to dream.

And if we priests and doctors
cannot bow our heads to live
draped amongst the women thus
we cannot hold God’s absence
live nor like the genius maiden
be the empty vessel it desires—

and then we only die to dream
no more—  
and all our saints are peeping toms,
and all our gold, lead.

               "Les études de draperies,"
                                Musée du Louvre

 _____________________
“Les études de draperies”
was an exhibition at the Louvre in 1990 of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s experimental sketches.
The artist wound damp muslin strips around a small, featureless lump of clay and then drew just the wraps.
 

      Published on-line: "For Franz Wright," Cowpattyhammer.com  (Jan 21st, 2010)
             [You can click on the citation for a discussion of this and the following poem.]

 

                         

 

 

 

 

LIFE CLASS WITH KANT

The merest daub you say
will do it.

This undressed girl beside the vase
will satisfy my lust
for meaning even if
her unlaced body wilts
upon the stand.

Afterwards she draws her belt
tight about her waist
and leaning slightly forward on the stool
gazes at my work.

I explain that relics
start like this—

the silver mantle is for later,
the mirror last
of all.

The still god-wrapped girl meanwhile
like all the rest
bows down in yet
another’s arms.

                     "Why I Wrote How Bad is the Devil," Cowpattyhammer.com  (March 26th, 2016)

 

 

 

He mistakes her kingdom for a horse

He heard horses
when she meant writing,

he heard sweat,
the creamy lather where

the taut skin
works against the leather.

He heard writing
when she meant

riding her journal,
the words a broad back

beneath her, pressed
up and caught between

her long phrases and the
need to be heard by him,

the naked verb,
the taut joy ridden

but prepositional,
the taut thorn,

a word, a horse 
working between them.

                                    published in  The Beloit Poetry Journal  (Fall 2009)
                                   Nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize: the Best of the Small Presses
 

 

 

CLICK HERE to see an example of Christopher Woodman's more ambitious work, a long poem  from his new book: LA CROIX MA FILLE, A Book of Poems & Relics.