Water from the Well

The Poems of Richard Dauenhauer

Spring/Summer, 1997

   Richard Dauenhauer, born (1942) and raised in Syracuse, NY, has lived in Alaska since 1969.  From 1981 to 1988 he served as the 7th poet laureate of Alaska.  In 1989 he received the Alaska State Governor's Award for the Arts.  In 1991 he was a winner of an American Book Award.  He is widely recognized as a translator, and several hundred of his translations of poetry from German, Russian, Classical Greek, Swedish, Finnish, and other languages have appeared in a range of journals and magazines since 1963.  He holds degrees in Slavic languages, German, and Comparative Literature.

   He is married to Nora Marks Dauenhauer, widely published and anthologized Native American writer, transcriber and translator of Tlingit oral literature, with whom he has co-authored and co-edited several editions of Tlingit language and folklore material.

   He lives in Juneau and works as a free-lance writer, researcher, and consultant.  Raised Roman Catholic, he was received into the Orthodox Church in 1977, and now attends St. Nicholas Church in Juneau.  He has served as a lay representative to the Alaskan Diocesan Council and the Metropolitan Council, and he was on the Board of Trustees of St. Herman's Seminary.  

   Much of his poetry examines the intersections of the natural and liturgical years.



Dormition:  we are now    
dealing with our own; not
with the totally Other, but with the human birth              
Giver of God, Theotokos,
crowning of the Old and Mother
of the New.  We celebrate her passing
from life to life, transfiguration,
the ripening of all
forms toward infinite potential,
always ripening, never
rotting on the vine.  And yet
all this must die, bound
by the very forms of life
that make it meaningful.  Dormition
and the church year
moving to its close.  Soon one
crisp September morning
from the darkness, frost
will wrap the garden with a shroud
until the sun clears
the mountains, trees, and fences,
unbinding it.

in memory of my mother and of our Godchild, Jessica

These flowers, too,
are blossoms of decay,
of seeds of death
planted in the flesh at birth
now come to life
as the floral fullness of life,
pregnant with death.

As flowers of death
now also go to seed,
the seeds of life are carried
over garden walls and fences
on seeming windless days
to boundless meadows
of eternity.

I am the vine, you are the branches
- John 15:5

The things the tourists do not want to know
about the Orthodox - that we are: #1,
the oldest of the Christian churches; 2,
the second largest Christian church, worldwide;
and 3, alive and well in Juneau - not
a tourist site, museum, anti-
quarian survival (God forbid!)
but living vineyard (sometimes parched, despite
the rain forest) and bearing images
of great antiquity (the ever-new
paschal vintage), always being pruned.
As is the case with ancient roots, the trunk
is often gnarly, not the tender shoots.

(June 9-11, 1997)

- in memory of Oscar Robinson

That turning point in life, when fathers can
no longer care for you, and you take care
of Dad.  In morning diners, middle-aged
children with their parents do the rite
of daily/weekly breakfast.  In empty
shopping centers, men's-store salesclerks, tapes
loose around their shoulders, move more slowly,
recovering from strokes.  And in my own
generation, cancer reaches down,
takes root among my counsins.  We weed in prayer,
and cultivate the garden of our lives.

- Syracuse, July 13, 1994

There are those who say "Good morning, God!"
and those who say "Good God! It's morning!"

Shipboard dialog, Lynn and Monica

I study morning scripture, try
to concentrate and focus, but
our ship is now surrounded by
closing pods of humpback whales, blowing,
spouting, breaching, rolling with pectoral
fin-slaps, and final, fluke-up dives --

the surface of my mind disturbed
by reality erupting
from the secret deep, each blow-hole
raising crops of silver palms or
yucca plants of spray in sunlight
like an oasis for the eyes
in a flat and desert sea.  We see

the signature of each in fluke
designs, unique and gift-like
in every disappearing dive.
I switch instead to Psalms:  "O Lord,
how manifold your works, the ships,
and that Leviathan you made
to play here."  I think of Jonah
running away from God.  This must be
God competing with Himself.










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