Jack Foley


do we sing to the deaf
non canimus surdis
the woods
answer all
respondent omnia silvae
all the woods come to our call
shepherds on the hill
piping our rural sounds
here in the West
respondent omnia silvae
we do not sing to the deaf
the woods
echo all
the redwoods the oaks the eucalyptus the pines the palms
non canimus surdis; respondent omnia silvae *

     * From Virgil’s Tenth Eclogue: “we do not sing to the deaf; the woods answer everything.”


Sleep well.

Dream well.

Dream of wells.

Dream of water.

Dream of bells.

On water.




the door,
which had been stuck,
sprang open.




Dream of.






I would say
I love you
But the bells
Drowned out
My voice

Madly the archer bent his bow. She answered, I’m not in pain I’m in Philadelphia. The last man out the door closes the door, as we all close the door. In Pennsylvania no one thinks of the woods. Beauty is its own double feature. When the screen darkens, the lights in the house come on. The man with the gun turned the corner before opening the door. He smiled. I saw the flicker on the edge of the building just as the sun went down. When the gods fail you know there is a naked woman waltzing out the window.


The function of memory
                My name is Jack
is to soften the blow of death
                I was born
to create the illusion of a self
                far away
though it is also memory
                on the east coast
that creates
                of america
the fear of death
                in a city near the roaring sea

This is the function
                I live
of memory:
to soften
                in the far, far west
the blow of death
to create
                the roaring
the illusion
                of another
of self


Going, going, going on beyond
Always going on beyond,
Always becoming Buddha
Going, going,
Going on beyond,
Beyond this beyond
Always going on beyond
Always becoming
In the dark of our lives
This song
Awakens life
Awakens me to longing
A longing song that rises
In the heart of the morning in the sudden flush of love for Sangye
As I see the Buddha (Sangye)
Not as a person but as a possibility
As the never ending
Always beginning
Always going on
Arising in my heart in the deep ground
Of being

shadows move across my table
old age does not mean
difficulty with thought
(though names may disappear)
old age is to be ravaged
by memory, people alive once,
no longer yet
present in the mind (from this
the notion of ghosts?)
people who can no longer answer
but whose words stay lodged
in the web-filled smoky attic of your
busy consciousness and at times
if they were dear
bring tears
and thoughts of the strangeness of death
that something that was
could cease absolutely
and without recourse
of any kind—no longer “there”
shadows move constantly in the room
against the wall
at this time of day
at this moment
this closed particularity
in the vast river we call

     * Mantra from The Heart Sutra. Variously translated. One: “Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond. O what an awakening.”


with your face in the light,
Lady of light,
blessed by the sun,
prayer flag whirling before you
blue of deep night
you stand smiling
as colors gather around you
at a height of love
dreaming of benefit
to all sentient beings


How do we mourn for children
How do we mourn for these defenseless ones
How do we cry out against
A future cut off at the root
We call it senseless and look for reasons
Blame the victims blame the authorities
Blame everything except the true cause
Which lies all around you as plain as day
In every television show in every news story
In every comic book in every political statement
In every action hero in every piece
Of parental guidance in every song in rap
Hip hop pop old movies all university syllabi books
Talk shows in every assassination and
Every assassination attempt in the National
Rifle Association in any political party left
Right or center in every attempt to better the situation
In capitalism in socialism in radical in conservative
In the banks in auto dealerships in my mother’s
Complaints about my behavior in prisons in freedom
In the latest movie about love in Christianity in Judaism in Islam in Buddhism
               in the KKK in the Young Men’s Christian
Association in the collision of all these things
In the consciousness of a young man paralyzed
In his need for action and self assertion and who can see
No possibility of action other than the annihilation of
Everything and everyone he sees so that a new heaven
And a new earth may be born so that the new may be
Announced and the old may perish and himself
The sacrificial instrument—the Christ—through which
These long-desired things may be accomplished.

How do we mourn
The culture the values the world
That makes all this
A possibility.

                [for two voices, spoken as a round]



though i slept i seen
EOLDPALAVERTHEFIRE(“none will loc but the wind will cum” )“THEWAECEND”





There are things we don’t know
                There are things we don’t know
about what we know
                about what we know
There is an element
                There is an element
of ignorance in the midst of our deepest gnosis
                of ignorance in the midst of our deepest gnosis
Woody Guthrie, obsessed
                Woody Guthrie, obsessed
by Lead Belly’s song, “Goodnight, Irene”—
                by Lead Belly’s song, “Goodnight, Irene”—
and no doubt by Lead Belly—
                and no doubt by Lead Belly—
reproduced that tune
                reproduced that tune
in a number of his own compositions:
                in a number of his own compositions:
he didn’t know
                he didn’t know
until someone told him,
                until someone told him,
“Woody, you done it again”
                “Woody, you done it again”
A friend, a deeply self-aware poet,
                A friend, a deeply self-aware poet,
wrote “dark” into almost all his poems
                wrote “dark” into almost all his poems
until he was made aware of it
                until he was made aware of it
What word is he repeating now?
                What word is he repeating now?
Another poet friend
                Another poet friend
is obsessed by “blue”
                is obsessed by “blue”
which appears
                which appears
more than any other color word
                more than any other color word
in her work
                in her work
Is it the color of the Virgin Mary
                Is it the color of the Virgin Mary
the sky
                the sky
the “blues”?
                the “blues”?
Half-noticing perhaps
                Half-noticing perhaps
she titled an entire section of her book,
                she titled an entire section of her book,
There are these words
                These are the words
that haunt us—“haints”—
                that haunt us—“haints”—
no matter what we write
                no matter what we write
no matter the subject
                no matter the subject
If we could read them
                If we could read them
we might know ourselves
                we might know ourselves
as others know us
                as others know us
but all we do
                but all we do
is write them down
                is write them down
“Blindness and Insight,”
                “Blindness and Insight,”
wrote Paul de Man
                wrote Paul de Man
in a marvelous moment
                in a marvelous moment
of blind insight
                of blind insight
What did he fail to see when he saw
                What did he fail to see when he saw
the negative element
                the negative element
at the center
                at the center
of consciousness
                of consciousness
the black hole
                the black hole
which captures light
                which captures light
but will not
                but will not
set it
                set it


Dear companion of my heart,
It has been two years since
You have been in the world,
Now in the nowhere
Of endless memory
Spinning a web of nothing new.
How often I speak to you
To the you that was and is no more
How often I go back to the nothing
Of the life we shared for fifty-five years
The life no longer there
And I wish I could tell you, dear ghost,
Of the new things in my life,
Of the lovely woman who shares my bed
And my heart—though you will never be
Undone or forgotten, not after fifty-five years,
Jamais je ne t’oublierai—
Though the happy smile
In the photographs says,
Not now, not ever again, not
Ever again.
Ma chère,
Je veux que tout le monde se souvienne de toi.
Two years.
Can all that history—that burden—    be gone?
Dear, dear ghost,
It saddens me beyond measure
That you will never see
The publication of your much-loved son’s
Second, hard-won, born-of-struggle book:
How often we listened to him tell
Of the immense difficulties in the production of that book.
I think it will gain him, at last, much praise and fame.

When someone as dear, as tangled in my life as you dies
One wishes to feel that
Not everything is gone
And so one clings
To objects
That carry spirit.
My love, Sangye,
Might say, from a Buddhist point of view,
This is only “attachment”
And perhaps should be renounced.
She may be right.
But I tell her,

Life is a sword that kills
And gifts the living
With an endless                shadow

If I could believe
That your spirit
Lives on
I would rejoice
But—as you knew—
I always found
The Bible’s great definition of faith,
“The substance of things hoped for,
The evidence of things not seen,”
To be a definition of wish, of fiction
Of, at its extreme, delusion
So I remain
An irreligious man
A man of the darkness
Whose only light
Lies in this world,
Where you came
And cared for me
And loved me
And vanished with the wind.

Jack Foley has published 15 books of poetry, 5 books of criticism, a book of stories, and a two-volume, 3,000-page “chronoencyclopedia,” Visions & Affiliations: California Poetry 1940-2005. He became well known through his multi-voiced performances with his late wife, Adelle, who was also a poet; many of these performances are on YouTube. His selected poems, EYES, appeared from Poetry Hotel Press in 2013. His most recent books are The Tiger & Other Tales, a book of stories, sketches and two plays; Riverrun, a book of poetry, mostly experimental; and Grief Songs, a book documenting his grief at the death of his wife, Adelle. He currently performs with his new life partner, Sangye Land. Since 1988 he has presented poetry on Berkeley radio station KPFA. In 2010 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Berkeley Poetry Festival, and June 5, 2010 was declared “Jack Foley Day” in Berkeley.
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