Issue 88: Gary Young

Gary Young_photo by Peggy Young

About Gary Young

Gary Young’s most recent books are That’s What I Thought, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award from Persea Booksand Precious Mirror, translations from the Japanese. His books include Even So: New and Selected Poems; Pleasure; No Other Life, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; Braver Deeds, winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize; The Dream of a Moral Life which won the James D. Phelan Award; and Hands. A new book of translations, Taken to Heart: 70 poems from the Chinese, is forthcoming from White Pine Press. He has received grants from the NEH, NEA, and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America among others. He teaches creative writing and directs the Cowell Press at UC Santa Cruz.

Visit his website:

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Last night I fell asleep” and “Each moment blossoms”

Both of my poems are from a work-in-progress, American Analects, and revolve around my dear friend and mentor, Gene Holtan. In the Analects of Confucius, the author devotes considerable attention to right action, and takes pains to describe and praise certain friends and disciples who exhibit exemplary character. I had intended to write primarily about Gene, but I am at an age when the number of dead friends exceeds those still living, and there are many poems in the manuscript that address those who have died but continue to exert a presence in my life.

“Each moment blossoms” tackles the impermanence of the present moment, which can never be held or even apprehended, and the accumulation of moments into discrete aggregates that make up memories and the indelible proof of our having lived. I list several of these moments before describing the central action of the poem: holding Gene’s hand while he was dying. We can’t really know what someone else is thinking, but we can get close. Because Gene was such an intimate friend, and someone I loved dearly, I can believe that I knew what he was thinking. And though the sea at sunset only looked as if it was burning, it felt as if the whole world was on fire.

“Last night I fell asleep” depicts a situation that most poets have experienced: you wake up with an idea in the middle of the night, write it down, and in the morning you have at least the germ of a poem—or you don’t, as is the case here. Gene did not trust consciousness, and he taught me to be wary of the anything that I “thought”. Gene was always waiting for the real, “the authentic self” to appear. This poem offers a glimpse.

Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.

When the pandemic struck, our two grown sons moved back home with my wife and me—a blessing for us, perhaps less so for them. We live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’d settled into a comfortable routine when the CZU Lightning Complex Fire struck last August. We evacuated our home, and for two weeks had no idea if our house had survived. In the end, we discovered that the fire had burned all around us, but our house had been spared, a small miracle considering that over two dozen friends were among the 900 families on the mountain whose homes had been lost in the blaze.

All the buildings on the property suffered damage, and we camped in a friend’s condominium for four months while repairs were made and moved back into our home just two days after Christmas. Our oldest son, Jake, in addition to being a marvelous poet and critic, is also a sommelier and a superb chef. To ease his pain, and ours, Jake dedicated himself to cooking the best meals possible. For the past year, the four of us have dined on world cuisine—Japanese yakitori, Thai soups, miso noodles, homemade gravlax, marinated pork with a Peruvian aji sauce, Panzanella salad with watermelon and feta. This list could go on for pages. We also drank our way through boxes of wine kept under the house, assuming that if we were saving a particular vintage for a special occasion, that occasion had arrived.

Both our boys are moving on again, and though I will be unable to duplicate our culinary adventures, I hope that I will not slip back into the habit watching my diet or saving that special wine for another time. The lesson of the pandemic is clear—open the bottle now.

Willow Springs 88

Two Poems by Gary Young

“Last night I fell asleep”   Last night I fell asleep, and in a dream, I wrote a poem. I worked every line into place, and when I’d finished, I … Read more

Read More

Leave a Comment