It is salutary to deal with the surface of things. What are these
rivers and hills, these hieroglyphics which my eyes behold?
Men think they are better than grass.
~~W. S. Merwin, The River of Bees
How can I be close to you if I'm not sad?
SORROW IN A FALLEN FEATHER
Emotional suffering gives us access to the real world in a way that ideas, and even love, cannot attain
We turn death and generation into a fable of sacrifice. Plants are buried, and are honored in their going; the Crop King is executed, and from his everlastingly renewed body the spring stalks arise to be culled again. His death is willingly embraced by him, or by his stand-in chosen from among the farmers–and this freely chosen death is overcome, in the Christian story, by God’s intervention. Or the sacrifice is invested with meaning by the very act of undertaking the self-imposed burden of sacrifice. Perhaps the deadness of the death is overcome via the more pagan vehicle of the anti-wish-fulfillment of tragedy–their heroes marching off-stage with a chin-lifted “tragic gaiety.”
At a minim, in these stories of death, the dead have some future existence, some ongoing effect on the living who survive the sacrifice. They are ghosts, legacies, shapers of their children’s childhoods (and thus their later lives), fathers of countries, innovators and stage-managers of the theater of ideas in which our own living decisions seem to occur.
There is, however, a more reductive way of viewing these mechanics of life and death. A way in which immaterial ideas remain immaterial to the whole process of death and generation. In this view, death and life are entirely out of our hands, and are not even subject to some overweening concept, such as Fate. Death and generation are entirely out of our conscious control, contribution, or even comprehension. The grave is a wormy meat-locker, the womb a humid conveyer-belt on auto-pilot, churning and regurgitating material for the low grave’s open door. All the rest, all our imposition of pattern, our self-selecting and seeking of meaning, our elaborate institutions of culture, our games of play and mating, are no more than an con game that we play against ourselves–an inherently deceitful waste of time and effort.
No wonder no one has the time to read poetry books! Thin as they are, they make better coasters than guideposts; they are lies only, not metaphoric (or metamorphic) mile-markers limping off into the mists toward immanence….
There is one thing, however, that binds us to the earth in both of these scenarios. If we are meaning-making creatures who have impact and effect in our deliberate embracing of death, our use of tools, and our active management of history–or if we are simply whittled-down pegs, wooden-headed and wooden-footed as we hop the circuit and then hop off some cosmic cribbage board. And that one thing is sorrow. Grief over what is lost, or for that which is too soon to be gone, made irrecoverable by time and nature. In both cases, what is, is. And there is also that which will not always be as it is–or even always continue to be at all. The result of this fact is the unending sorrow that life presents to us. Tragedy or comedy, we cry at either when the curtain lowers, as the coffin to its silky mud, and the players disperse like invisible ink, all play-acting at an end.
Sorrow grounds us, keeps our beings seated on the earth. And it is through this special kind of on-going grief that we enter into our true understanding of life, and of the life of death. Sleep is our small daily adjustment toward incorporating unconscious revelations. When we are awake, it is sorrow that can let us break through the gates that hold the mind’s wild darkness away from day-lit acknowledgement–the gates that consciousness holds shut with our meaning-making, endless cognitions and wishes. Mary Oliver says, in her poem ‘Don’t Hesitate,’ that “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” So, too, with sorrow. We are not meant to sip the deluge. Sorrow, if it comes at all, arrives with tidal force–and the wideness of its bleak realization keeps our feet steady, blows the egomaniac mind down the staircase, and holds our elbows hard so that we must face each other in dire humility.
Poems grown from sorrow can perhaps gives us the momentary clarity to drop our pretense of control, the modern imperative that commands that we impose a single, often literal, meaning. Poems grown from sorrow let us sit abandoned among the dead leaves of grief. Poems can let us see the feather fallen from the raven’s wing, and can let us enter into the long dark tubes of mourning that flow so keenly along the detached shaft–the backbone of a feather that had once been capable of the terrors of flight.
December 25, 2015
LET US PRAISE WHAT IS ARRIVING
Today is barely here, it is so delicately
Arriving over the long scimitar edge
Of Earth, a single blade of light,
Beginning greyness and unfocused grace
Out of coughing darkness where
God said nothing to us in a dream
He was so busy with His wide dark wall
Of sky, hoisting each wild star up there
Like a kid with his stickers, just right.
*** A RAVEN’S WEIGHT ***
THE RED REED FLUTE
The reed flute is empty. Think of that!
There's no music in that hollowness, those
Snipped weeds dried and arranged and tied.
Where is the music? Ask instead, "who speaks
When I am talking?" I am not my memories,
Nor yet am I the I who I will be tomorrow.
The flute is light and ready in my hands.
Celebrants have gathered, the tent pole is raised;
Wine is on the lips of the barefoot bride!
Move the emptiness of your speaking through
The red reed flute's empty tube, again and again.
You'll hear the music soon enough, secret whistler.
WRITING THESE POEMS IS LIKE
Stars vibrate wildly in a tin dish.
I slide through the membrane of fire--
Wild ideas come at me, attracted by
My burned clothes, the cinnamon smoke
Of nearly dying again in my sleep last night.
The icy awareness of 4AM empty streets
Bathed in longing, their young lamps shining
Tender as snail horns.... Who knew that stars
Fell among us so easily? A few old poets
Stare about, aware as burrow owls.
TO THE READER
I kiss your ear with the tongue of my lips,
An oyster going home to his pearl.
UNDER THE STAIRCASE
A non-white non-ethnic man crouched under the stairs
Keeps mouthing indistinctly that I should stay asleep;
His eyes are like those small puddles punched
Among harvested corn-stubble fields in late autumn.
Catbirds beyond the bedroom's freeze-sealed sashes
Are singing in their sleep, under moving mounting shadowy clouds
Calm as gathered cattle in their long night pens.
I stand without waking and sing indistinctly, too.
THE DONKEY’S NOSE
Look in a drop of water you will see your face there.
The maple's snakes, its tendrils, its subdividing branches
Become arms and hands and fingers when we do the looking.
What's this hissing repetition that surrounds us like grass?
This going on and on about the point, without being explicit?
Is there no abstract, no definition, that we can look up?
Stars, every night, fall into my upward eyes and live there.
Every night, the coyote's lonely howl enters my doglike heart.
Darkness imbues me until my skin is oil-black enameling.
How many pieces of glass must we sift into the kaleidoscope?
How many turns, how many patterns must we look at
Before we see only ourselves there, displayed and dazzling?
Thirst drives me every night to every well, an angry donkey.
Stubborn, I nuzzle every gnawed-over weed again and again.
I kiss a donkey's nose as it bends over the full trough
AREN’T DREAMS AND SLEEP ENOUGH?
What is it that you must do with your life?
Isn't it enough to sit alert on the porch at sunset
In a swayback chair, drifting through NJ as through
A dirty river on your flat raft of fantastical thoughts?
To listen to Brandenburg No. 3, and weep a little,
And spill some Ali Baba tale to your Scheherazade?
Must you cobble a fable for the ages from your homey hugs?
Passion leads to catastrophe or triumph, true enough.
But life lives graveward always, where no laurels grow.
Aren't dreams and sleep enough, when cool night bends down
And pours her stars in your ears? Do you need to drink down
The daylight too, insatiably as lemonade in August?
Must you tell a tale of breathless loving with every breath?
Must you hold your little love to you so close she coos?
Must sun overrun the sun's gunnels to praise her, pattering
Pellucid down your chest, your T-shirt soaked through?
Must loving leave your lips too sticky for anyone to kiss?
Is this what you have done with your life?
THE THIRSTY VASE
Always I raced outside to see sweet night come on,
Long wheaten fences disappearing in a sweep of shadow
Faster than a horse out-stretched in gallop.
I used to need to know everything so badly,
I never asked what came to fill me.
I was an empty vase standing in the corner.
Winds blew over my openness and gave my voice longing.
Thirst pushed at the sides of my heavy vase, always
Outward, growing just to hold more soaking hollowness.
Stars were pouring in over the dim rim of clouds.
My hands froze blue on the invisible porch rail waiting
For the missing moon to veil my face with snow.
What pours into emptiness so eagerly open?
Has a spider, an evil, ever fallen in in some quiet hour?
My vase has stood its corner now for many years, full.
Lately, hoisting my vase up awkwardly on a balanced
Elbow, I'm satisfied if my lips let pass no more
Than the first touch of coolness on the tip of my tongue.
SHEDDING OUR WINGS
Every night we fall back to the rolling womb, nesting
In cozy ovals we fell out of long long ago, before
We were fools enough to think we could hang on.
You see how the birds are, always hustling for twigs.
A new nest every year, every year a better circle of twigs!
Or another fresher circle softening an old arbor
In a favorite tree. We fly, we fall. And sleep catches us.
We go under dark waves as under a worn blanket.
These worn waves are the tents we emerged from as infants.
Lying down, there's a comfortable smell of shorn feathers,
A defeat that feels like removing our shoes, resting our feet,
Letting the invisible heaven around us hold us close awhile.
How good it is to go home to the womb after a day of work,
Shedding wings from our heavy shoulders, entering the egg.
Sealing our eyes shut, bones yellowing to yolk....
NIGHT COMES SWALLOWING
Sleep was telling me: run away! wake up!
But night comes swallowing: my feet are water
Swimming in a starlessness I didn't choose.
I am Jonah, the dark everywhere like a mouth.
For hours the whale's ambergris breath flows
Over me and back, a field of wildflowers.
A motion of my soul comes out of me at once,
Dreams as elaborate as wet hairs on my body,
My body braided with tattoos of dreams
Stitching me, tick tick, into blood rosaries of stories,
My own and eternal: story of the running son,
The betraying brother; stories of my colonies of cells....
I never escape the magnetic gullet of the night;
Never sail the whitecapped seas, loosely numinous--
No name, and my body riven by whale tracks....
EATING BLACK BREAD
The ruined house; the broken window; the tired wan moon
Blowing through, dumping dust and ash everywhere....
Ruined objects call out to the ruin in ourselves.
Passing a graveyard on RT 71 certain days, I'll pull over
To test the springy green of eternal grass, sizing up
Scrolled tombs, plaques screwed in earth that seem
Those witches in Macbeth weren't all bad were they?
They held up the ichorous cave's proscenium well enough,
Dull Macbeth scurrying through like a startled spider!
My body is the ruined house I inhabit, failing daily.
Pallid moths follow me, eating my elbows to patches.
Every door clicks shut behind me like a coffin lid.
If I'm sad today, why do anything about it?
Sorrow arrives as vividly as love, leaves craters as great.
Living is just what you do with life while you're alive.
Let me sit in windy ruins sharing my black bread with Macbeth.
When I'm done with it, done eating and grieving at last,
Haul me out with the moon's ashes. Dump me anywhere.
COUNTING THE HAWK’S FEATHERS
Watching the hawk circle, I watch myself.
I am circling with that dark circle in the bright sky.
I am a dot in the immensity moving, moving.
Some part of the human eye is always measuring.
Somehow, myriad rice-grains get counted, the check gets cashed.
Somehow we fit our whole lives into a single grain....
When I see the hooping porpoises play, far off,
I swim beside them, my forehead smooth, my fins bright.
I am a comma in the immense ocean, curving.
Icarus grew tired counting feathers, tried flying
That human way; and Archimedes made some measured
Pretense of tallying each waterdrop in ocean's tub.
Rumi, seized by ancient ecstasy, threw his calipers away!
Mallarme gently beat azure sleeves against the infinite....
Reading them, one knows where the sea meets the sky.
Later, touching the fine side of a sleeping porpoise;
Later, seeing up-close the hawk's neat armor flowing;
I know I'm not ready to swim, not ready to fly.
WHISTLES AND DIDGERIDOOS
I think of you more often than you think--
Here in my ivory tower, quietly whittling away
At my balsa whistles and baritone didgeridoos.
My bellybutton slowly grows furred with loneliness.
All my hair is unkempt as a goat's beard. My tough
Mustache tastes its last meal for three days!
Whatever shivery mirrors there were that I lived with
Stopped talking to me when I started listening to rain
Falling, river water rolling, the sky dividing day and night.
And you are here with me among my little whistles.
The sky at sunrise shows your face, and the rain
Falling remembers your name: lispingly, lovingly.
Alone in my house, I walk out when I want to,
Talk aloud to no one when I want, and dance alone too!
I have been carving the one sad low note left within me.
I have been trying to give my lonely chest a voice,
A name besides a sigh.... Last night in darkening rain,
I rolled over and over, saying aloud your name.
A RAVEN’S WEIGHT
The early sun's aroused, dousing the dusky torch
Night carries alongside as the raven carries her wings,
Flapping black flames alongside her raven body.
The tree in our yard, from all its dream possibilities--
Those small branchings tentative as a net of nerves--
Settles greenly into its familiar delta of Ys at dawn.
Dreaming, a raven's weight had settled on every bough.
Awake, slight shadows hung from leaves are all that's left
Of the raven's restless wings; those wings are at rest.
So you, who I dreamed of years before meeting,
Arrive today as one woman on the bed in yellow light.
And I love you as that one woman, that one choice.
You hold yourself golden before me, pinning up
The raven fabrics of your long night hair, choosing
Your daylight faces like a favorite thought in the mirror.
Love, I love to dream. I love the raven night and all
The cinquefoil-spotted mystery of high stars--
You know I do. But I also love this day. I love you.
THROWING PAPER PLANES AROUND THE ROOM
Take these paper planes, these throwaway things I've made,
And throw them away! Press your fingers to your eyes
And see the lithesome dazzlings you are made of!
Why try and catch gliding words and get a paper cut?
Better to run through the window, smashing it--
Join real swallows scissoring and levering their wings.
Hold your breath, and dive into the waterdrop of being.
Sail away, up among the smallest misty pins of stars,
Grow into a sun that shuns them from the skies....
Don't study how to fly around in ecstasy, just do it!
Butterflies have no how-to books crowding their cocoons,
The veery-bird is virtuoso from the egg.
If you're still having trouble, just laugh at yourself.
Until echoes are a canyon all around, laughter the river.
Look: you are the gorgeous gorge you have fallen into!
LEAVING PROSPECT MOUNTAIN
Prospect Mountain had been tall and strong all morning,
A great stone tent with red and gold pom-poms stuck
All over, the climbing light a waterfall everywhere.
Soon enough, the mountain was a cocked hat shrinking
In the rearview, the valley mist growing dark:
From white, to dirty steel, to blue, to almost black.
Tonight's road comes reeling right up to the car
And creeps under the wheels like a shadow--
A doe in stabbing headlights, ducking under.
Moving on is like that; like this, I guess: rolling over
Whatever is right there in front of you, even if
It is afraid. Even if you, too, are scared.
Let me be as low as low water, I pray.
Let me fall from myself like shattered glass ungathered.
Let me be humiliated totally, right now, while I live.
See those trapeze artists spinning flawlessly in air?
See their powdered hands that never miss the bar?
See them stick the landing, slender feet relentless
They are passing like bleached sand through a narrow space
And into the grave.... Whatever I am is not whatever
I will become everlastingly in that last, lowly room.
My feet are not slender, nor strong as tent pegs.
My wrists cannot hold the bright bar I have caught.
My days overwhelm me, and no dream consoles me.
Let me be as low as low water, I pray.
Let my ashes be mixed with sand and flung away.
At least let non-existence not be a surprise!
KEEL, OAR, AND ALL
On my solo boat again at Gravesend, without moon,
Without moan. No one to lullaby, no one to lie to me
--All cause and causes subtracted to none, abandoned.
Sublimations and images fail me now, as heretofore have failed.
I poke the slow black water with a stick, without a hat.
I lie reflected no more in the tar below, the stars above.
I am me without a me, here, in my weary, merry boat--
The fine night sky clearing, no sign of the crooked coast;
Wetted darkness all about, and heart dark within.
There's my demarcation, my border, my pulling line
That orients me, prow and stern, even now, this night:
Without and within are all my worlds at world's end.
Shall I throw my bright bones about the indifferent stars,
Or swallow yellow suns within, to thin this film of skin?
To break without blood what's without and within?
I pull in my little pole tonight and sit quietly athwart.
I row not, and look not, and I refuse to sweat.
What wind there is--is there?--will not wait.
CLOUDS LIKE GREY MICE
The sad day you were waiting for has finally arrived.
Clouds gather like grey mice, and it is night
Everywhere and always, and you are crying like a cloud.
Late-autumn trees are mourning, too. Their black sap
The seas of the leaves have washed into dusky grass.
They mourn with their whole hollow bodies blowing at night.
And stars come twinkling with tears, mourning, too.
It is good to sit on the ground and be a heavy stone.
I mourn. The whole world is sad, and death is coming.
Coming with a small hole to put on your forehead
And stop you. Just an infinitesimal black dot....
Some people you loved and loved are already dead.
They lie under the leaves in their long tunnels,
Like the tunnels of a long curved wave breaking.
The wave is made of tears, and a wind rushes through it.
ROLLING IN OCEANS
I am sick of time, and the rusted bell, and the still
Cows welded to the still field like Hades' watchmen,
And never getting to go down into the earth myself.
If there is a meaning, a revelation, and not just this
Interminable terminus--let me be at the lightning's point, the break
Of the revealing wave where the whole ocean coheres.
Windily I wind the clock stopped on the mantelpiece,
Twisting time into hands and into the still bell.
How long is't since the winter when storm undid us?
The cows are in the sloping field, shadows so still
On the rushing green stream, clouds on a kite string.
I turn from the window to the mantelpiece again.
Again, I am standing in a room without revelation.
The only lightning here bleeds from standard sockets,
The only ocean is the salt blood flag waving in my veins.
I am sick of time, and the rusted bell, and the still
Gilded clock welded to the family mantelpiece,
And never getting to go down into Hell myself.
CHASING THE NEEDLE
How happily the woodpecker walks up the rotted oak's bark,
Striking dark star-holes with the needle of his hungry beak!
It's the same hunger Galileo had looking at evening skies.
When we follow the sewer's dark thread into dreams,
Where we go doesn't matter, we always arrive at daybreak.
What matters is that we feel the hard pull of the needle.
When loneliness besets the hermit, replacing solitude,
It's best to go square dancing down past the truckstop.
Are you sad? Lift your boots! If happy, stomp them down!
Finding nothing, the woodpecker turns his head, flies off;
There's more good rottenness deeper in the deep woods....
His wings flicker red-brown with whickering laughter.
When your dream-thread doesn't emerge in daylight,
Don't wake up! Stamp your feet amid pushed-back chairs,
Fly deeper into the strange stars of your sleeping....
Chase the hard needle, woodpecker, and it will feed you.
Keep peeping, Galileo, new worlds are circling above you!
Reader, keep flying into this poem as you fall asleep.
RIDING THE WIRE
How hard it is to be influenced! One was born alone,
The body's arrow let go whining from mother's bowstring
Long ago. Already it is too late to move the target!
One has blue eyes, or not. A taste for salmon, perhaps,
A certain happiness in high-wire risks, a feel for pearls
Or not. Too late to unwant what one wants.
A freshness visits the deep self, the turtle-self,
When Bach's B-minor mass moves through us, culminating
In a joy of ruinous tears, how the turtle-heart rejoices!
Our fletching feathers are calmed by the master's thumb,
Our shaft of arrow hand-held to the pointillist target.
We are not flying free, not arrows even, just turtles--
Blue-eyed or not, salmon pâté on our napkins, pearls
Pleasing or chafing, cultured or native, nacreous or not:
Our center, the target, was spotted by Bach long ago.
We are turtles, wingless and slow. Our turtle-hearts
Beat excitedly as music heats the cords of voice.
We are beads on those strings, riding the wire to the end.
I follow the spiders, like Charlotte's children,
On their parachutes. How I long to be saved!
Webs of work, and love, and work, pin back my wrists.
There is new life in the seeds of a watermelon, but not
For that watermelon. That one goes to rot and rind--
And from his black belly, the laughing blooms and vines!
I long to escape the heat of the soil, the toil of
To find the moony children laughing for no reason
In their sleep. To laugh myself, and to retreat
Contented to a corner. But, how I long to be saved!
To leap from the egg-sack high up in the corner.
To float away like Charlotte's children, myself
I hold my own belly like a watermelon and laugh.
Who would I be beyond my webs of work and love?
Sunset comes to corners first, small watermelon
Seeds of darkness; then sleep seeded by dreams.
In my dreams I follow the spiders, am a child.
I have eight eyes and eight legs, and am flying!
WAITING IN THE RAIN
When the rain comes to check on me, tapping
Tip-tops of houses, reaching down to the green of trees,
I hurry outside to let it have a good look.
The first drop feels like a pencil's tip
Bipping the back of my neck, a schoolmate saying
Pay attention, take a good look yourself. Look up!
Then the next drop, and the next, draw and re-draw
My attention everywhere at once, and I
Become so many mes I don't know where to look:
Maples whisking water-shimmer from bare prongs,
Weeds fantastical as Tiffany pins, the golden
Retriever looking up too, then right at me....
All the greater neighborhood... a drear, a blur....
I remember I was waiting for something, but what
Was it? And then I breathe in--and fresh!
*** ENTERING A RAINDROP ***
DIVING OFF CLOUDBANKS WITH AN ALBATROSS
Where the body leans, the mind is leaping.
The diver prepares himself so beautifully
upon his plank.
The albatross like a floating cross stands still
upon the cloud....
Two hands mildly dreaming below a glassine stream,
Are they the water's thought or the water's body?
Is that sunset shyly diving behind blotting pines
A thought descending? When I hear the waterfall,
However far, however faint the chime, I, too, am falling.
Falling flotsam on falling clouds of the falling stream.
COOL DAY IN AN ASPEN GROVE
We stand shoulder-to-shoulder admiring
The wisp-white quick weak trunks of aspen trees,
Listening to the simple wishes of passing winds.
Beneath our feet, slow roots make a common net;
We feel their long tendrils sigh a counter-song:
Complex, contrapuntal, something dark of Bach's.
But we don't need to sing the song, know the notes,
Standing in the cool of the day admiring.
LAPPING ANGLER’S COVE WITH DAD
Of all the maybe Dads I had imagined,
This one stood elegant-legged as a stork
And walked the cove's shallow rim with me,
Water at his sandaled feet breaking brilliantly....
At the deepest cut, where a stream lost sand
And water sounds thudded slow as blood,
Hand over hand into the cove's curved mansion
We swam, brushing the water's face to brilliance.
THE OLD HANDS
Christmas is a pine tree that smells like aerosol.
After school is out, after TV loses its snowlike luster,
Dad carefully brings the old decorations down attic stairs
Like Santa descending. Mother coos and wipes a tear,
Opening the box where the sweeping glass angel sleeps.
Then photo decorations, macaroni ones, a few older
Than the house. Someone starts singing, an aunt
Perhaps, Angels we have heard on high Sweetly singing
O'er the plains. Around the tree, Christmas is
Our hands doing what the old hands have done.
ENTERING A RAINDROP
First, there's the mist insisting its moist say:
Into my hair, my cold clothes, speaking so softly
I'm whispering to myself by the end of the day.
Second, all those sumptuous puddles suddenly
Alive over muddy grass that were absent yesterday
--How they want to know what's inside my shoe!
Looking up, there's nothing but blue clouds
And rumors of clouds, inviting me in.
LEARNING TO BE ALONE
I give up listening to crickets, let
Leigh Hunt and Keats have all that creaking!
Instead, I listen to wind at the sash tatting,
Or lean in a doorframe until the desire for conversation
Passes; I overhear scraps of rattling when the fireplace
Grate sticks; the faucet shushing until the glass
Is full; tears in the corners of my eyes as I drink;
The sound of old slippers shuffling off to bed.
AN EMPTY MILKWEED POD
It bites the palm. The dry wedge-spikes
Bite, a ramming Greek trimaran.
Look at the long open place for rowers
Retreating back to the guiding stem....
No one is left to pull the shell forward,
Gracefully darting through the Mediterranean--
Romans must have invited them away at spearpoint.
Rows of unladen seats still dry, the ship tight
But empty. Everyone has gone on ahead.
Word has gone out to the war mothers walking
In the field, gathering the fine grains of death
In their skirts, pulling on the soft cottony flames
Of their sons' pyres, one by one, and holding them
Penitent in long skirts before their wombs.
How have the golden autumn fields become so full
Of grieving fire, of mothers walking on broken sod?
Their sons' faces are drawn in flame--in every
Burning grain they gather their sons are talking.
STANDING IN SADNESS
There's a sadness in standing alone
All day, and a sadness within that sadness.
Solitude comes to the fisher when he accepts
The place he's standing, himself in the place.
The frisky catfish follows the low hook
Not because he believes in heaven above....
The fisher, listening to the squeal of waders
Lives inside mud silence, sometimes just enough.
WHO RIDES BESIDE
Are we honest enough for the love we're given?
That writes hearts, hard, in the paper?
That spells our name?
There is one who waits beside us at the DMV,
One who takes the reins when we crumple exhausted,
And never asks the why of our having driven the horses
Too far into blinding snows that fall all night....
Look beside you now, unfold your wallet and remember--
The one who loves you is the one who rides beside.
THE SEA LION’S ROUGH VOICE
The sea lion's rough voice promises that love
Is dark; that growls and low ripening squeals
Will suffice all lovers on their sprawling rock--
No need for whispers when the sea takes you;
You slide loud, all at once, into the spraying deeps!
Champagne shoots the ocean liner from its launch!
Moonlight discovers two among long night swells:
Two sleek heads touching slightly, darkening.
THE BELLOWING SEA
Tired of work, I walk the boardwalk slats.
The sea is sunburst yellow all around.
The sea creams luxuriantly against the jetty.
Wildly unzippered sprays; sea kelp pulped
Green in wide tidal pools below bent rocks.
I have grown old; in work; in love;
A downward monklike sunflower unseeded.
I tire of the boards, jump down to gleaming sands.
The hills, and the hills beyond them:
Full of little towns, cluttered with people
Looking back over the even, velvety hills
As though their shadow-side were far away
As the moon--unknowable, dense with dust.
But the hills pile up like waves, like waves
Arriving, hill after hill, and you're the shore
Constantly lapped upon and lapped up and washed
Away by all those hills, the clutter of people.
STOPPING READING, I WALK TO THE SHORE
Standing at the slushy lake in a surprise thaw,
The deep breast of the heavy water wants to rise....
Its dark edges are deeply luminous, murmuring
As they clasp the raspy pebbles, push the small
Whitish bodies with a darkness that breaks and scatters--
Just as that flock of pigeons on the dead hawthorn tree,
With the sound of a thousand pages turning at once,
Breaks and breaks and enters the evening sky.
WAITING FOR HURRICANES
Thrumming the boardwalk with my black toe
Like an old softshoe dancer rehearsing, I hear
A drumming sound like rain, and remember
The deep swept fresh of it, holding this rail
While bone-white ball lightning rolled the ocean,
My face toward the hurricane's great rage,
And I as mild... washed clean of salt.
THE FOUR HUMORS
1. WHEN ANGER COMES
When anger comes, its red tides rising and breaking,
Temperatures rise with them, all the thermometers pop!
My blood's in a rage, my face will never be cold again.
Idiocy lands like a fly on my nose; fingers ache
To tear each miniscule grey limb apart and fling it!
My head is chock-full of thundering drums!
Teeth interrupt the thick tongue, grinding blind apocalypse.
Mad mad mad! There will never be an end to anger.
2. THROWN DOWN AN ELEVATOR SHAFT
How sad, when I sit down, to keep going down
Into boundless sorrow, rabbit-screams down an elevator shaft....
Tears that take away the breath, and keep weeping;
The widower on a train no one will sit near.
Brown shadows of rot streak the dilapidated barn;
Old dead hay spits out, and a shabby badger moves in
Under the cornerstone. How heavy my father's casket was!
Wherever I'm driving, I feel his weight in my wrists.
3. STEALING SECOND BASE
Sheer happiness keeps the hummingbird going back
Babies slapping the bathwater; millions of bubbles rising
So quickly in my diet coke, I can't keep from laughing!
Picking who goes first by trading hands on the bat;
Stealing second base while the pitcher fixes his cap....
On our second date, a sad movie, I kept smiling in the dark.
When a dog finds his master again after many years
Of wandering, his heavy tail keeps on wagging!
4. THE COYOTE’S MOUTH
When coyote's mouth is full of tailfeathers
Even the raven's eye shows its whites in fear.
The dead sound of the phone at 4AM, trauma calling;
Falling headfirst on a ball of needles, getting dumped.
The intimate terror when you've failed your children
And they sail into life listing like a wounded boat....
The executioner will call your number one day
Too soon, a perfunctory voice from behind the counter.
WHAT BREAD DO WE EAT?
What bread do we eat? What water do we drink?
When light rises with the moon or with the sun,
It's the dark curve of the hill that rises to meet it.
Some dark stays buried in the hill with Arthur.
His friends are dressed in moon livery and loyalty,
And when they emerge, they jangle fishy scales.
Lights along the riverbank show us fishes dancing,
But within them a darkness is swimming.
The bee is a dot of busy shadow going
From light to light in the flowery field.
When we eat the wheaten loaf, what do we eat?
A dark yeast is buried in the bread.
JUMPING INTO PUDDLES
Look into a puddle on a moonless night.
No moony reflection; no gleam; no face.
Here lies the true, dark puddle; no illusions.
Darkness pulls away from you like a thread,
Deep into the center of Earth--a pupil
Boring into the source of all thought;
Plato's black rat-hole out of the day-world....
I look a whole minute into the puddle's little
Oblivion--then jump over it, and on to bed.
*** BUILDING A PROSY NEST ***
FOXES BUILDING A NEST
Turning around and around, building a nest, foxes make a place for their lives with the small black daubs of their feet. Birds use their mouths to carry fallen twigs and stale straw into the heavens, and build their own clouds there, threading carefully. Crows steal what they need, recognize the faces of those who do them harm, and appreciate having glittering things in their straw castles. An Austrian invented the waltz after observing the nesting behaviors of several kinds of animals. Turning around and around, the pair must carefully step where their partner has gone, tamping down a safe place for the two of them to dance arm in arm, face to face, the world outside their circle whistling past.
A SNAIL ON THE STAIRS
It is morning. A green crevice gives him easy purchase to greet the wet day, his long uncoiled foot holding steady on a loose broccoli-like moss. When yesterday went to bed, and I came up these concrete steps in my daily tiredness, the snail was still at the bottom, swirling dangerously in the rain overflow, a pale comma in the weak stream of words the muddy drainage uttered. How simple for him to have drowned into silence! Instead, he is in possession of his green crevice, a Spanish conquistador in his snail helmet, holding the Mayan king hostage in his own temple for ransom. His horns go up gilded in morning light. Last night’s near drowning is utterly forgotten, the religion of fear and dread struck from the temple walls by dint of the sailors’ invading chisels. His tiny horns sound their brazen call at break of day….
WALTZING WITH DRAGONFLIES
Circles appear in the pond’s lap; centered in each, a dot of color. Past my knees, a new circle starts, its color dot enlivening to wings. A dragonfly hovers and drops to the pond-top, our ancient swimming-hole… there are dozens here in the heat of the day. Many colors moving in many circles. Is this a living vision of the afterlife, done up by Dante? Instead of his great yellow rose moving its wheels, bloom within bloom, my miniature angels have exoskeletons. Wings sheer and stiff pass over the humid brown water in low circles; alighting, making prismatic rings. So much light and shape in this forgotten recess of the wood! The little guardians watch me warily, warily dart from my fingertips. Each circle evokes light from a dark surface. Is there sunlight hidden beneath the pond? They never answer, but settle on the dark water lightly; they drink the silence, looking everywhere wide-eyed.
A HEART DIVIDED
The owl’s flat face is so large–a heart divided–the two dark moon-eyes blinking in systole and diastole. If a floodlight were suddenly clicked awake, a fiery torch tossed onto the high throne of the antlerlike branches, we would see the whiteness of the snowy owl. White as lice! White as beetle larvae! If a strong light came on suddenly beside me, I wonder, what would be seen? Have I done right by those who love me today? The purity of the owl’s downy, droplet-shaped body sits inverted. The narrow end of the teardrop sprouts two wiry black perching feet wrapped like Halloween decorations around the stripped walnut branch…. When the owl comes down, much later, alone in the silent night that we have turned away from toward our beds, its wings engulf silence; it is an electric engine of hunger honed to machinelike perfection. Only the howl of the shrew, if there is one, will be heard.
LEANING OUT OVER A FALLEN ASH TREE
The risen roots stand out like a black-and-white medical diagram of human sinuses. The fallen ash tree has been dismembered, the tall elegant body that embraced the sky chopped and removed, and only this sleeping grey elephant foot remains. The dirt below the roots is black, beaten up; like rough seas at midnight, no moon to show the way over endless waves. Down in the deepest part of the hollowed-out bowl, something indistinct is burrowing, moving the crumbs of earth aside like an invisible root, exploring the exposed softness the fallen tree has left beneath itself, and from which it once grew mighty and leafy. Burrowing… or is it swimming, throwing up a dark spray? The small dark opening the movement creates is calling to me insistently, like an itch in my right ear. In an instant, I am determined. Wherever this low route travels, I’ll go.
EMPTYING THE LANDSCAPE
Looking across the Delaware Water Gap, I see the mountain twin that matches this one. It’s like the raincoat of an old man turning away, his feet in the misty stream, his grey head bare, tufted randomly with cloudy hairs. He’s in the other world, past the switchback salmon tail of the emptying river. The trees up here are nothing now, sylvan forks stacked in a display case for the next feast. I settle irritably with my drawing pad on a great sloping rock hard as an emptied brainpan. Having ascended with friends, I am alone; they hiked energetically away, going over to the other mountain, leaving me to my art. I sketch their faces with broken fingers of charcoal: oval and lively, putting in ruddy touches with my thumb. I tilt back and let my thoughts flow out to a few black carrion birds, silent as priests, circling high.
PUTTING SPECTACLES ASIDE
I put down my glasses, and the world goes blond–a sunspot floating on the long wooden worktable, mottled by lobs of paint. I am tired of scrawling my way forward like a worm rubbing a branch, line by line. I am seated, dazzled, before a pile of sewing needles burning in Monet’s Giverny light, their eye-slits smeared shut by hopeless myopia. My consciousness hovers, carried in a canvas sedan chair, held up by invisible bearers. I am a gold haystack of heat, a nightbird drowsing on noon straw–only vaguely sensing the details before me. Is it enough to live among such fuzzy guesses, to navigate by instinct and inertia? I rub the runnels alongside my exhausted beak. I hear my avian pinions stir against the canvas vaguely, a sound of camelhair bushes and gesso. Beyond the golden ball of sunspot on the table, a blue hue-blur of sky wavers vaguely, a square of second-story window. Or is it a painting left half-finished? I remember hearing a bird hit it, when morning popped the apartment building out of night’s comforting shadow and into abrupt day. Its small beauty hit the pane hard–confused by reflections, determined to fly.
*** from Chaos and Stars ***
ALL POETRY IS MIDDLE CLASS
It’s as if our house had shrunk around us in thickening drifts. Curious walls lean in like a solicitation, or, less importune today, a confidence no words betray. The place fills with things as with light, a thumb pushing the pale dough full.
Somehow, having this place so long among pines has become us. We’re the salvage that the house has gathered. At first, only for an accent beside the piled shelves, a flare of flowers, just there–and then more centrally, more needed–the only object that catches the light right.
Roots pulled from our knees, our heels, go down into these things. What surrounds us becomes us. Carefully the cat, a patchy calico, goes along the windowsill. Inside, but looking out.
BLACK HAT, WHITE HAT
A snapping turtle slow and fierce as a drugged bear, revolves her claws in a rusted oil drum. We caught her back from the garden one dawn, putting her eggs in with the carrot seeds. We followed the dragged steps to the high grass that waved around her alert as flag majors. She was slow out of water, molasses churning in her dark joints; her pace amiable as a memorized prayer.
But her head’s still fast, her beak as purposeful as a hook. Dogs whine at the edge of the oil drum, echoey cries when their heads go down and in to smell her. Somewhere a Middle Eastern man is held by soldiers grown in America, their bright and bushy tails wagging like guns. A cigarette goes down into the dry can with a thin papery trail of smoke. The questions the men ask are clear and loud, but what do they mean?
When the time came to release her back into the belly of her world, she left our pale bread and carrots julienne like an offering of inedible leaves strewn at the bottom of the barrel. I put on my sneakers and walked between the sole-slicing stumps up to my waist in the water and put her out beyond myself, heavy as a sewer lid, my back straining.
WHAT IS SAID
Sometimes the words come from deep in and are seeds. They catch and grow into things, into tall people. They become themselves. Sometimes what is said has this genesis. It exists both before and after it has been said, and it goes on growing lonely and lovely for a long time. What is said can be a teenaged daughter awkward in the presence of her own beauty. Mirrors, other flat, shiny words, increase her self-consciousness, yet leave herself untouched.
The tongue moves so assuredly in its cave-mouth, a snail completely at home in its white winding shell. The tongue slowly shapes its house the way a host makes things ready for strangers at Christmas. The carolers on the snowy porch hope for mugs of hot cider; the spice of the cinnamon surprises them. When they tell themselves the story of singing, later, their boots steaming and their dewy coats heavy on wooden pegs, using the words of the host inside themselves carefully enough, they go on being surprised.
NOTICING THE NOTICER
Not understanding, and wanting to. The edge of an eye, the unseeing white, curves ambivalently around the pupil, its darkness, its direction. But helping anyway, rounding things out, making a backside to the flat stare, tying the brain, like a stone in its apse, to wild vision, to the everything-of-what’s-up-front, the insistence of things before us.
All day long I have moved words toward their funeral pyre, toward fire, illumination. I am helping to build something. I don’t know what it is. Like when my father put my hand under his hand to hold the wood while he nailed it in place, something large is helping me to help it. A tobaccoy, fiery breath is in my ear.
The place I am making behind my own pupil is full of beetles’ wings and angels.
A MORAL STAR
Once we stole the stars from themselves and named them, mischievously, they became ours. Night after night, the house asleep and unwatchful, they try to escape back into the sky. Every day they return to our chests, our thin ribs, burning guiltily.
Something stolen is never forgotten. Those who lose it may forget it, let it go into the place they have prepared for lost things, old ownerships. But those who stole may never let go. The history of the thing comes with the thing, even if it is only the history of its theft.
The jaguar treads with his pelt of sunspots all night, mourning and remembering his meals. His eyes, dimly lidded, hold in the golden day. Each breath taken steals from the breaths around it. Exhaled back into the world, it is never the same. Water that passes through us, and becomes ours, becomes us. When we feel it again, it smells stolen, yellow with use, with history. When the thief forgets what he has stolen, he becomes sick. Society is sometimes like that, sick with millions of small thieves and thefts, forgetting what’s stuffed in their pockets. Then what’s stolen stays with us and inside us, but is neither ours nor themselves. These things rise up strangely, alien and without grief. Our breath denies us, denied by us; our lungs swag with wet cement. Zoos howl with animals caged but without their own minds, crazy and ungrieving. The dry straw is torn, the water in its steel bowl is overturned, the food, pawed and neglected, becomes poisoned.
The animals will lie down in the moon and rot. Their starved breaths will float into roses. We, who have stolen and lied to ourselves, will die.
THE WHY OF A FENCEPOST
Why are two men arguing at a fencepost? Perhaps it is three men. The two themselves, and the shadow third they are together, the argument. Let’s pretend it is evening. Three shadows then and a stubble of cornstalks. A grey stone the heft of a skull knocks the post as they talk. If they disagree, why do they need to be near each other? Why does a mountain start from a flat place?
I think most people mean what they are.
The feeling they seem to be talking about would be immanence, or impermanence. I guess they would call it expanded consciousness and permanence. A part of it here, a part elsewhere. But both really here, or really there, a metaphor. Tat tvam tasi. Thou art that. I like the stone being itself, unowned and unknowable. I like being myself, a little too personal, a little forgotten about, even by myself.
Somehow too, like they say, like they show, using my feelings in their argument, which makes the argument part me as well then–somehow, too, the stone is inside me, rattling my ribs, pushing my blood limbs, weighing on inner things. And I am curled inside the stone, a small man asleep in the granite like this feather, just here now, on top of it windily.
* * * * *
A ‘HELLO KITTY’ ORNAMENTSWINGING FROM AN XMAS TREE
The kitty’s eyes are dead dot predator eyes as she swims through the turquoise tinsel on a tabletop Xmas tree. The pink hair-bow and pink jumper are the pink inside of a youngster’s lip, turned out to tease her brothers. The pink of sliced fish. Green and red box presents bulge seamlessly reeflike beside the oddly bulbed feet, her daubed gold nose dead center as a diver’s air-regulator. They shine squarely, full of the hope that keeps angelfish darting out from dark coral recesses–making hungry moues in sparse tropical waters. Under the blue intermittent light, Kitty’s ears slit alertly, sharp as a lieutenant’s salute, perfect white fins jutting from a saw-toothed barracuda’s long jagged back.
THE RED AND THE BLACK
On the bright poinsettia leaf is a beetle with a dark back! It is the Christmas Spirit. It’s black, hard as a thumbnail, and, in oblique light, has a rainbow sheen. The beetle walks like a small tank over awkward rocks–tilting first this way, and then that. I bend closer to the red star of the poinsettia, a white spaceman dipping down to scoop up a ladleful of sun to bring back to Earth as a souvenir. The beetle’s compass-point feet touch the inferno’s surface lightly, dancing on a star. The point of the leaf shivers under the weight of its dancing, the hurry of its feet through the red desert. Two black feelers, agile, insistent, tick over the hot sands like a pair of blind friends out for a stroll. Everything is new to them! This is the star that calls them to Bethlehem, two of the Wise Men traveling far to witness something important.
AN EMPTY WASP NEST
Picking up a paper wasp nest outside my front door, it is weightless as a burnt-out lightbulb. I see an array of cells that had been birth chambers for warriors, a miniature air force of living fighter jets. The white hospital corridors had burst into a fury of activity, and then were abandoned–alien babies clinging briefly to round sills, taking off to hunt and kill. A few doors remain unopened, smoothly sealed as missile silos. The papery nest dithers in my palm, a lobe of cauliflower, or the blown-out brain of the caveman who first discovered how to make fire…. When these flying bullets were sleek embryos hunkered in their dry catacomb, did slim unopened wings resonate against the monkish walls? I see in the illuminated holes a paper lantern used by Japanese samurai for going far down into the earth, seeking the cold depths of their warrior selves, exploring deep crystalline caverns by aggressive stabs of lantern-light.
I lean in. I go down, far past the cave-mouth of my angry self. I hear squads of absent wasp wings humming….
MONARCH CHRYSALISES ON A POPLAR BRANCH
Green as milkweed leaves curled into themselves, a half dozen chrysalis pods hang from a smooth grey poplar branch. The pods resemble chaise lounges for caterpillars swaddled against too much sun. The caterpillars have been rolled onto the narrow wooden deck of an immense passenger liner. They are on a long sea journey south, taken for their health, reading novels or dozing. The eye travels easily to the crown end of the chrysalis, closest to the branch, and a hand follows. A thumb runs gently along the light brown crown-bumps, waking happily napping passengers briefly. Cool fingers collect room signatures politely as mimes. The ship rolls on into a permanent fog bank besetting the Falklands….
When they arrive in Cape Verde a week later, it is revealed that they’re a class of traveling art students: they have been painting in their cabins at night, secretly, by painful candlelight. The students unroll their still-wet canvases, orange and black, on the docks of a new country. Everything will be different here! No more eating whatever teacher feeds them, acres of sour milkweed leaves. They flitter their translucent wares confidently in the shore air–as if they had already been discovered by a collector, as if they were already duly famous.
ALBINO TIGERS IN NEW JERSEY
You look them over casually, then you’re straining, staring at twin presences behind the chain-link. Your looking moves through obstacles, and you are standing–no, lying–beside the big cats breathing evenly on worn earth. Near-sighted sensitive eyes follow their noses blindly, goldfish bowls dosed with bluish milk. Paws open like giant white rose petals, leaving spirograph clawmarks swirled in the packed dirt. There is nothing you could give them besides the flesh of your hand, the blood running in your limbs. You realize that you came here searching for something, but what is it? Their elegant bodies twine around each other with the huge laziness of power–fields of stripe and counter-stripe, white snakes folding into a Christmas bow; the ceremonial tree beside them stands stripped of bark, naked and exposed, a frozen barb of black lightning. Is it love? You feel your face blushing hard, a burning bush. Something surreal in your body blossoms outward, toward the furred beings before you, so comfortable, so at home in their natural world. Suddenly one mouth opens like a snapping turtle’s, red gobbets of tongue unfolding rawly in her heavy breath. She chews the hard bare dead tree root for practice, to clean her teeth. Blinded orbs sight you vaguely, uneasily; the nose lifts, a hungry image rising from within the mists of her crystal ball….
You remember the chains of the cage, link by link, and step back, safe.
BECOMING A METEOR
My body feels weighted, sacks of wet salt-water cement formed into an identity: a cast-off David discarded in the garden. The face, all smooth possibility once, craters and snaps, a haze of fine lines, cascades of whited dryness. Magritte’s painting of a stone candle with a stone flame comes unbidden to mind. Deep inside my body, moist patches still struggle with an urge to change–to push out spikes and become a sea urchin, or go back to the cocoon of college for a decade and emerge an astrophysicist. Instead, I am learning the stillness of hard places from the skin in. Becoming one with the inertia of my trajectory from the cliff I flung myself off of years ago… arms outward like extended antennae, the steel ball of my being grudgingly confirming its decaying orbit. Red glares trail behind me, emanating from my hot skin for miles….
ONE FOR THE GOALIE
So many books--hardbacks, rugged and thumbable.
How many times have I come here just to watch them
Open and close, carefully as a field of butterflies.
Or to fly away with them, riding their spines!
A GOOD RAINY DAY
A white feather, bedraggled, on the wet doorstep.
A good rainy day--no need for poetry.
SO MANY STORIES
People have so many stories to tell about themselves!
Sometimes a sadness in their story sends them down
Into an oak's root, and they live among weevilly things.
Our stories about ourselves can warp us, the way
A prevailing wind keeps the mountain's trees bent over.
My uncle, listening hard, bent so close the radio
Static made him jump!
If we were the sea, we'd always be dancing...
Rhythm from beneath and a breath from above,
Foam of all those stories rolling inside us at once.
But people are not the sea--or, somewhat, but slower.
We need words as grape vines need a stake.
Sometimes, with words in their ears, people think
They can fly, and the red roofs abandon them.
But sometimes, somebody has a story about themselves
That sends them out to catch you when you're falling.
HOLDING STACKS OF OLD PHOTOS
An important, particular something I forgot--
Not a mortgage payment, or whether gas
Left on was slowly turning our home into a bomb....
Important like smoky silhouettes of mountains
You've been striving to climb your whole life,
The missed step that sent you down in dust
Covered in ignominy's dead clay for a moment.
Remembering that you can't remember
Your dead brother's face, your father's voice
Loose with tobacco juice, or the name of the woman
Who first showed you a woman's ways
In that awful dorm of cinderblocks, the past.
AFTERNOONS FOOLING WITH AN EMPTY BOAT
As boys we'd watch the flat-bottomed aluminum boat
Pendulum on its yellow nylon tether in the water,
Ringing against ground at either farthest arc--
Our bare feet dug stones in mud, ears and
Lips bobbing at the waterline as we laughed
To lift such eely smoothness, heaving with our feet:
Our greatest stone a toe-clutched double-fister
Swung in dripping triumph up between bent knees.
. . . .
Other times, alone, I'd breast-stroke far from shore,
Holding the rough tether like a bell-pull swimming
Till I tired, face upturned on lucid sunlit sheets,
And float exhausted,
The empty boat and I circling each other.
CLIMBING PEACH TREES IN CHILDHOOD
Overhead branches shook in the wind, brushes
For the sky's blue bottle--scrubbing restlessly until
White clouds were nibbled away, and it was night.
Our orchard moon was a white marble rolling
Loose in the deepening sink of night--the wind
Pealing alive with trumpets and speeches....
How we scrambled up those sweet scraggy trees
All night, our hands reaching out like giants' hands,
Touching worlds in every peach!
THE WINDY HILL
The windy hill is waving,
Waving me onward
Toward whatever lies under
Its green dome,
Its loop of purple shadow....
Perhaps a hidden hill
Inside my body
Is waving back.
I don't know.
But, I feel the wind.
A BOX OF SNOW
I keep a box of snow beside me
Made of winter days, of air
Stamped cold like prismed tin,
Of clouds as thin as hair.
In the box lie frozen puddles
We skated on in sneakers,
Shoving off like seagulls
From shiprails, taking a header
Carefully into the wind.
Our scarves as we wheeled
Carved shapes of glass behind
Us, invisible but real.
SHINNY, OR ONE FOR THE GOALIE
Crossed hockey sticks kept clacking;
Like an open page, the frozen pond was wavy;
We boys went at the puck like bees
Around the proverbial daisy.
Winter battered our faces pink,
Left ice-crust on eyelash and tongue;
Angling elbows grew raw from falls
Attacking the goalie before his fallen log.
A hacking scramble, then shouting
Left Dave like a beetle, flat on his back--
His mittens knocked unknitted to bushes
That surrounded our quick play with dark.
Above us glazed the intermittent
Asphalt bridge of the county access road.
A car rolled by, windows down.
All our music rose to it, and echoed.
TWO FRIENDS, ONE BOTTLE
They had discussed things a long time without going
Curses had softened, somewhat unexpectedly, to
Laughter got the better of them both around three
in the morning,
And followed them right up to the rooster's rosy cackle.
Dawn spread out, a white flag, on the old bone of
They each grabbed an end, went to their corners,
CLUBBING HARP SEALS
Dressed for everlasting winter
The men do it with methodical efficiency
Walking calmly back and forth among the icefields
Of dark large eyes, clubbing them so as
Not to damage the beautiful
Initials carved by lovers in a birchtree's heart
Sink in like sap, strain to wavy lines until the heart
Breaks open--and the paired letters, once linked and
Ampersanded, swim off into the tree's slow history,
A ring marked dark by a year of terrible drought.
ASLEEP IN THE BACK SEAT THROUGH THE CAROLINAS
Shadowy, shouldery parents are not talking still,
Their backlit profiles separate and sober
As important Egyptians laid in vinyl sarcophagi.
Outside, miles of somber pines ashen into mountains
And the sound of running water grows fainter than the wheels....
I nod off sitting under a dry beach blanket,
Half-wrapped up like an old movie Indian
And imagine them still talking--
Their unmoored voices rush through happy waters,
High sprays of rapid laughter
Whenever intervening rocks appear in the stream.
The boy with tattoos down his arm like briars
Climbing, briars creeping down, life-talons
Creeping into pinched flesh, beaks eating....
The hard beak of Maker's Mark eats into me,
Makes me see bleakly, intimately, the amber
Illumination of day going damned into ashes.
THE OLD OLD MAN WITH WILD HAIR
My coat is patched and touched with tears,
My hands resemble the road of years.
My head is light as a dandelion seed
And drifts in dreams.... White memories
Stick to the sap of the dark... seeds
Grown into green crowns of trees
From eely children, their games of chase
And evade. Some of those, though young,
Have quit their drifting. They wait for me
Whitely in the lost mud of the road. Almost,
I'm ready to drift down and meet them....
AMONG THE BURLS
All light is emptiness
Until it intersects even
The tender translucence
Of a baby's fingernails.
How like white rosepetals
The little fingertips there
Growing to brush the mother's
Face, grasp the father's nose.
When the light finally
Settles among the burls
Of the baby's blanket, it
Feels solid, creamy and heavenly.
A DREAM OF LITTLE CABBAGES
My father came to me in a dream
Holding a silver tea tray.
On it, three heads of cabbage.
I unwrapped each cabbage and saw
Three baby heads inside,
My two brothers and me.
The baby heads blinked at me, looking.
RUNNING IN DREAMS
Father is waking up in my dreams again
Splendidly persistent after many years away
His tobacco-breath sweet and tannic at once
His small face gruff, gopher-furred, the eyes
Black tacks pushed in by thumbs one tick
Too far; resiny, observant.
All night I run through quicksand,
My flipper-long feet lost under
Granular surfaces curved as an orange
Rind; my voice pants hoarse in my ears:
"Father, let me wake up this once alone.
I promise to forget you forever."
TO SAY SNOWFLAKES
To say snowflakes melting on noses
Are chilly angels returning home,
Or to believe a sailor wearing
An earring cannot drown....
To sit alone together and talk,
To pass you patted mud and say:
Pancakes! And you take the mud stack
From me politely and say: delicious!
What we say together is real that way
For all the days our childhood is.
And then the snow falls, and we're alone--
Years in the whiteness, the only witness,
And all those cold angels going home!
SUCH GREEN APPROVAL
My youngness thought forever was
Days and days like that day.
The even light in the grass, the youngness leaping
Right to my fingertips!
Riding my bike, I kept seeing white clouds
Flying out behind. And I was flying, too,
Surrounded by gulls high in the air.
It was as if I would never fall asleep again,
As if I would never need to wake.
Maple trees nodded alongside in rows
With such green approval. Even that red bird
Singing on its dead-lightning branch
The same phrase again and again.
A birthday is something you're given
Without having to ask for it.
Suddenly you're here, crying, red,
And everyone else is smiling and cheering.
Fifty years later, you're counting
Down instead of adding up. Cheers
Diminish, but so do the tears;
Everyone around the bonfire cake
Singing and inserting your name....
There isn't much movement
At the fulcrum, the center--
You can see as far forward as
You've lived backwards.
FOX COMES OUT
Fox comes out of greyness, a bright shadow
Pacing filtered pre-dawn mists--his feet
Neat black and his teeth neat white.
His eyes and ears are lively all the time
His low body lies arranged under the brush,
A pattern matching patterns in the shadows.
No matter how many times the careful eggs
Are laid away in the farmer's straw, this will happen:
The black snout thin as a pencil nib, snapping,
The soft nose doused in silky yolk.