Call It Sleep
The controlled language, the integrated images, the sense of connectedness with life are undeniable. H. A. Maxson transforms harsh reality into indelible art with truthfulness and beauty-and an edge of, if not bitterness, perhaps a tragic clarity.
There are also poems that continue to express Maxson’s hallmark interest in the natural world. Swans, ducks, goldfinches and gannets all get their own poems. The processes of nature are examined with astute feeling in poems like "A Braille of Ice" and "The Snake." A passionate conversion with the natural world is what this book delivers: deftly observed, and always aware of of nature’s human resonance.
About the author:
H. A. Maxson is the author of 17 books-5 collections of poetry (Turning the Wood, Walker in the Storm, The Curley Poems, Hook and Lemon Light); a book-length poem (The Walking Tour: Alexander Wilson in America) and a novel in free verse (Brother Wolf); two novels (The Younger and Comfort-co-authored with Claudia H. Young); a study of Robert Frost’s sonnets (On the Sonnets of Robert Frost), and seven works of historical fiction for young readers, co-authored with Claudia H. Young. Over 1000 poems, stories, reviews, essays and articles have appeared in periodicals, journals and anthologies. He has been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes. He holds a Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and has taught literature and creative writing for over four decades at the college level. Married to Maureen Maxson, a nurse and photographer, they are organic gardeners in Milford, DE.
FROM THE INTRO:
Our legs look broken when light bends them in the swimming pool. Once our heads are under, immersed in the experience of wetness, the illusion disappears. Our legs are restored to us in their wholeness, where they can be repurposed as impromptu fins to propel us elsewhere. Which of these sets of legs are our “real” legs? The broken set, the restored set, or the Aquaman set?
Entering a poem is like entering that other, underwater world. We are restored to a wholeness the pain of life and its deceptions has convinced us is missing. But, we can only hold our breaths so long before our imaginations burst! And still we go down like clockwork into the dark otherwhere of metaphor, easing past the shallow end of simile, our imaginations and lungs aching. However dangerous the journey, we will not be denied our diving, our entry into depths.
The act of writing is a way for poets to break the surface tension, to transform and explore with all of their sets of legs at the same time—water-skimmer and octopus at once. The act of, not just imagining, but creating the distortion of a written record, a pool for others to enter, is part of the mystery. This writing things down, however, is not what may be called a clarification; that’s a mistake many neopyhte divers make, arriving back at the deck of their exploration vessel with the bends.
FROM "Among the Whales"
Down came the feathered
And it was hot, hot as a kiss,
FROM THE BOOK:
Day After Tomorrow
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
Dark Poet, your pen scratches at the heart of life.
Nonsense is often the most sensible kind of sense. […]
What nonsense reveals, at its best, are genuine mysteries.
Seas and seasons on the edge of wetness "Either you decide to stay in the shallow end ... or you go out in the ocean." --Christopher Reeve .. all that we are destined to know, that the water is cold and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far. ~~Jim Harrison
Look into the tidal pool that stands so small, Licked into existence by its ocean mother; Look how sea and sky can stand together In the salt circumference of its circle. When at its edge and peering in, the dark Feels absolute. But, with a little waiting there, What was all sky or night begins to clear. --Look, a starfish, beating like a heart!
I Am an Anemone
A belated report from a seer of being
Living with the sea and surf is every New Jerseyan’s native inheritance. There’s a scrim of winning, of life triumphant, that inheres to such wild and wetted borderlands between the ocean and the dunes that no temporary imposition of boardwalk, beach badge, or scootered police force can ever fully erase. Last year one of the big movies was The Martian, based on a sappy book and executed with boku budget and zero imagination. Their Martian was a man stranded on the red planet, its only inhabitant. Do you want to visit aliens? See a consciousness estranged from our fingers and lungs? Look no farther than under salt water. Here are animals and plants endowed with an elemental difference from our landbound neighbors.
And there, of course, under the sea, we began our evolution to becoming the landlords of dry earth–prince of predators and queens of the eating regime of life. At least, of life on land. Is there another us still swallowed by the sea, still wrapped in a tube of fishy muscle and zooming through the blue? Some watery mirrory reflection of the zest to know all and to impose ourselves on all that we humans have?
When I watch a fish twitch at the end of my hook, its face all made at angles to reduce drag and be an engine in service of its Shopenhaur-like will-to-live, I see my own eye going from glassy to arid as it expends its final minutes on the grass. We are efficient in our environment, and strangers elsewhere. When we succeed in life or business beyond the home, after the lame dorm, strong in our suits and boardrooms, or ably outfitted with a plumber’s wrench and toolkit, it is the old world of going home for the holidays where we feel the most estranged from our daily selves. It is there, among the cranberry sauces and filleted turkeys, that we gasp after the mastery the aquarium of work and our married lives provide.
But still we go home. Still we outfit ourselves with our juvenile social graces, or a newfound awkward silence that puts parsecs between us and our siblings at the dinner table–the green skirts of the christmas tree feeling as alien now as once they were the epitome of comfort and safety.
And so, as a species, we are divers and explorers of our personal pasts, of our nations and tribes, of our civilizations, and even of our previous incarnations as beings zinging along under the sea. It is to that cold water we return equipped with diving gear and lights brighter than sunshine, recording new home movies of the old kelp patch, weighted at the belt to keep us on our visit, the old family, finned and eely, nearly unrecognizable.
I am an anemone–as good an underwater emblem for a writer as anything–a colorful eater of facts and dreams, a living sitter waving prayerful tentacles before this mixed magnificence given again and again until, finally, we start learning to see.
And to see, of course, we must first outfit our minds and hearts with open curiosity. Not to know the answer that will be divulged. Life is no simpering SAT test, but a real engagement with what is. And whatever is, is us.
For this voyage, let us be in love with fins and sinuous things; with the starkly sharp urchins, the deep sulfur inhabitants of poisoned vents, the wild things that neither roar nor fly. Let us be baptized in salt water, and raise our heads again from that furious, wet source of being that first broke us out of dim nothingness into suffering and ecstasy.
Gregg Glory Feburary 14th, 2016
*** The Tide is Wide ***
Voyage off beneath the trees O'er the field's enchanted seas Where the lilies are our sails And our sea-gulls, nightingales. ~~James Whitcomb Riley
Into Morning’s Quiet Overcast I Looked
Into morning's quiet overcast I looked: I saw a great grey bleak of sea-borne seeming, A pewter-cold and winter-empty snowlight that shook Into a wide wayside ditch, that was left sullying Until the sun the somber doleful ocean overtook-- Breaking light like a run of fishes surfacing. Then, every curve of every wave looked up, Brightness burned in every tilted cup, Brightness lifting where endless dim had been: Brightness, brightness in everything.
The September Bee
All along the machine-sweeper's leveled beach As along a lolling dog's long tongue of sand, Or mile-long emory board of luminous grit, I scuffed barefooted, belated, half Working on a late September tan. A bayberry bud, which night had shut, Held tight to something undisclosed, Something daylight's tapping hadn't resurrected, That moved untouched in little starts and fits; I heard a dull interrogatory buzz And stepped a step closer through the furze. Something of summer left unremembered Stirred inside the clenched flower-ball; Something smaller than a bloom gone rigid. When I shook that something--into my palm A something almost dead, almost golden rolled.
Out in a Rowboat
Out in a rowboat above fluorescent bones of coral I saw a sunken world waver as I passed; Rainbow fish and glimmering squid shone floral As the beat of my oars broke the water's glass. I was the furthest thing imaginable to them: An angel in the taunting surf with repeating wings-- As though I'd fallen bone-dry from desert heaven To be a backlit stranger above their swimming. What they were to me, I hesitate to say. The water that kept them, kept them estranged. What enters us truly comes from such a long way, What they were was what I could not name: Dense urchins rolling dark along the sandy floor, Alive with needles as a knitting circle; Sea-lilies waving at a beckoning shore; My own long shadow waving as it wrinkles....
There are images and images in the shifting witness Of the sea, in all that wetness yet unanticipated-- Shape on shape in pilings-on of whiteness That heap rocks blank until no color taints. The artist's canvas there is pure as grass That grew in Eden before Eve had fainted-- Save when Noah set forth in dockless darkness And God's skies a single swipe of blackness painted.
Pugilist at Sea
Up over the side came arms of salt water to deride The insolence of setting forth in so low a thing Where green angry seas swell over-high, Ready to swat what sculling flies try landing. And still the sailor tossed and tried, and still Found hard laughter in sails rabid winds unfurled-- Hands at hips, his face swept wet against The massed contempt of all that brawling swirl. Then night came round, and calm came round, And all the water round laid down a mirror Pearled only by his little boat, and the only sound Was himself cursing at the shrouds, as at prayer.
The Wounded Boat
Coming in blind by feel and raw belief Through a coral-crowded sound alone, Silence is no part of her who lays beneath The grieving whitecaps of this skiff. She is as a child's lone slapping moan, More real for being an unseen reef Panicked hands must guess at through the foam Of moonless midnight--the only shore a brief Invisible applause of leaves that signals home.
The Happiness Mast
The yawing mast above us is What happiness is within us. See it leaning like a needle does To touch the water as it sprays! See it stiffen toward the skies As if to find among those clouds Godhood's enigmatic prize. Of its own seeking it is proud! Climb some midnight with limber daring Into the crowsnest at the top. And there--for a moment's scaring-- Feel your breathing stop.
Brevity blesses By the littleness of its Hash of guesses. * A door ajar is more, in its intention, Than a thousand precepts' edification. * A limegreen wash of dawn, Daylight's eternal line of red Bisecting sky and sea, And day and night--and me. * All the limits of the lake's wide circle Sink superseded by the circle of the sea. A headlight's preening lamp is little-- Is least--when turned to face immensity. * Joggers stamp past on the sandy path; Yellow dogs follow them, oblivious; A startled bird; a shaken branch and bush; --And then the windless returning hush.
What was it that accidentally I'd thought? What, if anything, accidentally caught? Whatever came, whatsoever caught, I found I had to carry in mind alone. I had no other pocket it could call home. Ideas are a nothing that we always need. For all earth's endowment of dirt, they are seeds Light as kelp-spore, a minute's freight that breeds All we are into all of light we see, Breeding upward reach from dark inward need.
The Turnstile’s Lament
The weak ‘sweep, sweep' of marram grass Is enough to make me think of all who pass (Waltzing barefoot as they collect their badges) Out to the sighing surf, out to where they wade Half-mermaid atop green waves for saddle, And all the sea a sweep of pasturage. I myself, a sweeper of the edgeless stage, Turn in the wind, and am turned again, My own weak 'weep mocking as I turn in pain To the beaten sound of wet sandgrains Where enfeebled night kneels and cloaks the day. And all must leave, but the grass and I must stay.
*** ‘Come In, Come In’ ***
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.
They were familiar things in familiar places, Photos and postcards and long Xmas letters. Names known down the bones, houses called home, Dogs who, when called, always came running. Old fishing spots that stayed shaded at noon, That always walked catfish to the dinner table. Newspapers snapped back in Dad's wide lap, A porch hammock swung in summer-long napping. Skinned knees, a broken tooth, and brotherly love Tied tight to small fists as red boxing gloves.... Or dawdling at funerals while Mother was crying And Dad and Uncle Jim both restlessly pacing, Tying black ties that didn't really need tying. They were familiar things in familiar places, Familiar as pain in family faces.
‘Come In, Come In’
The coming storm Works its shoreward will until we hear Bands of tangled lightning sear And hurry near. Afternoon rain pats my doubled-over shoulder, warm, And lightly touches hands below rolled sleeves As if to say ‘Come in, come in, Before the final night arrives, Before the last light dies.' I leave trowel and pitchfork where they stick, Our acre subsumed in quick eclipse. Soon rain roars cold against an upturned cart-- Hammerheaded darts Thrown too hard to dodge or miss. All that light allowed to be Kept at bay is bearing down, That kept at sea the sea That's come knocking now. Soon lot, house, and all seem lost at sea, An empty pilothouse surmounting a silver surge, Battered branch and clothesline whistling dirge For all of me. Moonless windows moan and strain To be let in, let in, To not be witness to how outer storm and outer night Bend low to blow out every light. Crouched in our basement hiding place, Thrown shadows fasten cloaks around our heads Crowding eyes toward eyes. ‘When all is done and said, This is home, our home' we would doubtless insist If pressed for definition of our case. Cradled candles elongate cheek, chin and face Flickering underlit Like lightning in an uncertain fist.
The Driftwood Collector
All along the wind-honed blade of bay A nor'easter from upstate's conveying treasure Where sand was warm enough to roll in yesterday And water peaceable, and sleep a pleasure. Driftwood's floating in from a near hurricane; Osiris limbs that have drifted for years Hurry now to reassemble upon the plain: One foot stomping, one arm swimming clear Of all the crosswash late-season storms impose To lie in oafish somnolence on a beach, Turning up worn beards and weather-beaten noses Like trophies, themselves the prize they never poached. Before I retired, there was a log all knew Had been doing a dead-man's float a hundred years Past the point--and if no wiser, no worse anyhow, And bears him up no less then his first year When death pushed him rootless water-ward And time drained his strength like an hourglass And left him grey, and more useless than a board, Hissing where he is when the wind stiffens-- Should he ever drift to beach to my collector's luck, I'll lever him off, and paddle out upon his back.
When I walk early, for hours and hours Upon the beach alone, I watch my shadow shorten through the morn; I throw a stone; I watch it skip at first, then sink and sink. Sometimes a surfer, wet-suited in the dawn And on his own, Sits high upon a single wave unevenly alive As if half-enthroned, The sea all-colors under him, a swell of gasoline. The breaker he rides in will be immense, a wall As wide as eyes can go. Is it loneliness that has him paddle out As far as he does? Alone myself, I ride my dryer hill. I always wave hello.
A Wordless Conch
A wordless conch held at my ear Was a sea-snail's hollow caul; It endlessly sighs of landless wastes, Pulling air into its bowl. Smaller shells in double handfuls Come up in triumphant palms, A ladle dipped at elbows Dripping from nature's cauldron.... How many inching lives in shells Have footed home to death To give our morning walk this beach-- As grand a road as Rome's? Emptied of their residents The little mausoleums arch, Scalloped worn catacombs-- Fleshless in the flashing wash.
I'd thought to put my acre of ocean true, To right-angle the waves with a path for shoes, A promenade for boatmen to steady ashore, To find their way dry again, if lost before. The pilings we pitted deep into grey sand And (aware of parables from the holy land) We stayed that sand with marine cement. (Our pilings would not be wrenched from it.) Four-by-fours and long two-by-sixes next Were spun betwixt pilings to cast a rigid net To keep the sway-boned sea from dancing past When hurricane or waterspout would come at last. I stood back from the work and declared it fit; Looped my floating hopes fast with rope to it; Cracked my back and thought of no more than bed. There I dreamed the years of use that lay ahead.... Came the storm, and stood the pitted pilings fast; The boat by its noose was saved, swamped but clasped. The beach itself was wooed away and hammered back-- All I'd thought sure and trued was flat collapsed, No more than piled sand and rope gone slack.
Wintering by the Atlantic
A midnight ocean and a stippled snow Greyly perceived from a rail I know Shared the grainy dark of here and nearer. What water was above me seemed uncertainer. What rolled in mist below rolled solider. As snow and snow will in snowing meet, What slid down danced into a wild sleet And randomly clung, each to each, Resisting ocean's disassembling touch That undoes the individual who falls And in that fall returns to ocean's all. I could not tell just what my seeing meant Nor how long soundless darkness had been lent; There was nothing there in what was of sky, No help of light to help say why, Only usurpation's snow-deadened hiss That ended each self-formed singleness Distilled from upper vagueness and the cold. They did not fall because they had been told. They fell because there was nothing else to do But fall, and this the ocean knew.
I hold myself treading mid-ocean mid-June, Almost lost among soft flashes of lashless eyes, Loose ribbons of wrinkling waves that rise And through oscillation bend and bend Again, ending even with where they began, Myself a pendulum to their motion Of living hill and sunset ocean-- A golden head lolling in golden swells That lap the iron tilt of buoy-bells Swinging ringing their unattended knells. But who am I, in green abeyance held, Absent village clock and cocooning field? Flotsam in the great swallower, I, A mote of bladdered seaweed beneath the sky Flow myself outflung over rippled sands, Themselves unrolling in a treeless land Where nothing is and no thing walks But scuttles on points and pincers in the dark; Here my bouyed bones must sink, and sink to stay, White as the flippant foam confused in play. Like a criss-cross flag I'm blown about-- Shoreward winds first draw me in, then point me out, Uncertain to which country I am flown devout: One horizon mesmerizes which creeps toward sea, The opposite arc of cliff calls equally, Myself the pupil spot in horizon's round, A fleck of naught between deeps and ground. Not lost, unfound in all that swells surrounding. I float alone on the ocean's groaning-- From fathoms down lifts a gaping sounding, As if a whale's lung, mid-rib, were sawn Into a mouthless mouth too widely open, Blowing hair into eyes with rough inhuman shush. Lipless lips purse: sighing prayer, giving curse. I know not which I'd rather hear in the hush As wave berates wave in the subsuming wash.... If I address what holds me weightless, With head and heart so nearly stateless, I can't be sworn for either evil or good As original author of my flotsam-mood: "O Swallower, belched blanched from what Depth beneath your cold swash and cut Do I rise, a bubble in blown glass cupped? What answer will you make, but swallow all To that treeless dark where answers fall? Your great green page folds and unfolds on every side; On every side you pulse; I am kissed, pressed-- A shifty bookmark anchored in your aching wide: Marking what, beside what poignant passage placed? 'Mid ocean's tassels tossed crest to crest By your wrestler's wet, intensive tenderness, I stretch spreadeagled as blank bells confess-- Unsure of outcome but with a strength to bless."
Reading Lines in the Sea Foam
The continuous white line of the surf Overwrites what was written there first With more of the same. More of the same Mid-sentence message: sans beginning, sans End, an incessant erasure of sea and sand, A crescive hissing as if, as if playing a game. So I walked, myself a man in the middle, As irresolute as unfinished, lulled By the sound, calmed by seeing my footsteps Misspelled as I passed, or stood looking on, Leaving nothing behind to trouble one Who followed tidelines, reading where I have read. If confusion arose which line was preferred The sea never, never slowed for loss of words, As unhesitant in writing as erasure. Indeed the beating thing seemed to be to be, To keep even the pace of newness with waste-- Profligate perhaps, but oh so assured.
*** And Savior Came There None ***
The toil of all that be Helps not the primal fault; It rains into the sea, And still the sea is salt. ~~A E Housman
My Dream of Reefs
More mossy than the stillest wooded pond, More grotto than all those Roman fountains, Quiet as a night without any end-- My dream of reefs, the sandy waters under them.
Roll On, Combers
Roll your rifle-barrels to the beach, Roll with steely reaching. Roll on, combers. Jericho of unfinished walls Roll on, I praise thy roar and fall. Roll on, combers. Crash dice against the jetties, Roll bones against our bleakness. Roll on, combers. Come thunder, come coil of storm, Roll on, voice of throats unborn! Roll on, combers. While time billows and music floods Roll on, repeat the resounding chord. Roll on, combers. Roll as you have always rolled. Roll on, toil, moil of echoes. Roll on, combers, roll on.
A Sailor’s Prayer
Let all not be but rock and fate, A necklace of broken backs Hung round the nearest outcrop. Let mercy guide me and my mates, Let ease enter with every tack Against stripping wind's constant strop. I guess all prayer's beseeching, A word into the wind, a keen Fear for what may come unasked. Hands in prayer clapped are reaching From wave's trough into the unseen, Two oars with lonely rowing tasked. I give thanks when the water's calm, The moon like a pearl upon it And all the slap of waves soft applause. Thanks I give to the Helmsman From Honolulu to Narragansett, Thanks for each wild swell and pause.
"Spray's no place to keep home in, Not for us, who, true, came from wet-- But must live dry with fingered fins." "And ears dry that'd rather hear music." "I'll sing all day, if you'll pull the net!" "Grab your side and heave, and we'll Sing together and call that music." "Oh, heave-ho, the day-o--Aw, hell I've no song for the work today. Janice hates the smell of fish When home I tromp. And that's the way I'm getting to get, too... fish." And so they trawled the silence in Until the sinking sun's oil slick Was well past its orange and golden Wallowing--the bay black, a drained sink.
And Savior Came There None
I bared my chest and brought Myself to the bitter brink; I stepped into two rubber fins, Strapped on a silver mask. Through a tube so narrow, My breath both came and went; A sound like someone drowning To my two ears was sent. Beneath a watery curve of sky I began to dive and glide; Sudden worlds of sunken wonder Appeared bursting at my side. Sandscapes of stranded castles, All colors and every size; Swift fins of fabled angels Rushed silent before my eyes.... What was home now I was here A weightless angel like the rest? Oh, that my restless breath would cease And I be more than guest!
Down and In
I fell into a deepening sea As a star falls out of the night; I fell to unskinnable knees From a too-urgent height. The cold that I encountered Flowed around me--within My star's carbon burning embered, All shining at an end. The seaward insistence of rivers Became ocean's dread suck inside. I rolled among those silvers; I sank into those tides. Now down, and in, and dark, I hang like a lantern suspended. Deprived of wire and spark, The sea inevitably enters.
*** Diving for Pearls ***
Alone 'mongst Indians in Canoes, Sometime o're-turn'd, I have been Half an inch from death, in Ocean deepe, Gods wonders I have seene. ~~Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island colony
Into the Deep Blue Sea
The handshake of an electric eel Could make a postcard politician feel; The Sun Fish, that seems but half a fish, Makes bullet-passage with its half-swish; Jellies that congregate maintain at noon A delicate transparency of moons; Sharks that mark the green sea-swath Inspire fear with props of fin and froth; The melodramatic dark of the Manta Ray Swings more cape than cutlass in the bay; The nippy urchin rolled on his hairy spines Won't be soon confused for a ball of twine; Flying Fish that scissor off Catalina Out-leap the terrible teeth of barracuda. For every ocean-going predator there is another Who knows an older (and bigger) brother. In this marine realm of fight and fight The old sun's sword cuts but filtered light-- Our salt-stung eyesight goes only so far below The sine of wave and gemmy billow. Although the wide ocean's vast is vast, Our ignorance sailed it centuries past --Our ignorance vaster than oceans! And still for our ignorance we have questions: Not how wide our unknowing spreads, But how deep it still can poke its head. To trawl and sound and step the depth of seas, First we name our ignorance ‘mystery.'
The sea before he entered it was swift, A rift of bright like an abalone shell. Down in, its dance and glimmer grew more dense, Grew nigh invisible, a fist enclos- Ing like glue, a push of rippled weight Buckling his legs behind, or else a silent pull... Waters willing him wade in deeper yet. Crenellations of the waiting reef were Circle on circle of green shingles piled, A pagoda for fishes' flittering sleeves, Keen to keep their wisdom and their world their own. Still he stooped to investigate what gaps Gave access, what recesses might show as Open when poked, kneeling almost where The darkness gathered him forward hunched, Wreathed with fronds or waving fans of coral, Spying spectacularly with his camera and flash --A startlement of light that washed all back As when cosmos first from nothingness was hurled.
Now down, I took my breathing easy, as I was taught. Still, I flinched at fins swiving past my arms, Watched dumb as trailing bubbles belled through wet light Where wide tides walked. Ocean's wounded sound was silence. That enveloped all. That tempered each crested crash of surface waters. That tucked me under--dull quiet--into an unrung bell Of amniotic salts. Slowly, what had galled, gelled into new norms.... Lassoes of shadow cinched, then pooled, without menace. New, hushed harmonies sang out when schooling swarms Divided round the fault I interposed by standing there, a weighted fence. Immersed in those bold blues the ocean knew, I felt at once insignificant and immense: A full and empty vault.
Beneath Actinic Light
Down into a darker level of the sea I sank with oxygen and spotlight; Lead-weights buckled like a studded belt To keep pants up, kept me sinking free. I passed a coral outcrop, color-flooded, And watched the atmosphere give up its glow-- A darkness swelling fresh from deep below Until the most innocent rock looked hooded. For sound I had a squeal of captive air, A tick-tick of equipment like a ladder round Clumsily fumbled going drunken down, With no soft rest of grass waiting there. Before a cave-hole I hung with bright device, The only apparition bearing any light So low below, to that deep under-height. I shined what sun I brought into the crevice: And there I saw a swirl or flash or spot Of more colors than my rainbow count Of red, orange, green, blue, indigo, violet-- A living ribbon of... I knew not.... I tried as many angles as I could access To see what went slippery behind dead coral, But left blind as I had been--without a moral-- Having shoved hand, eye, light into a recess.
No Upper Summer
Deep beneath all that light could bring of news, Beneath empty sky, and beneath the heavy Wet of the Atlantic shelf's continental pew (Where light is crushed into a black mascara jelly And what is seen is felt by eyeless thew), Small volcano smokestacks erupt from rock And pour their sulfur poisons, hid from view-- Hid from everything one would be led to think.... Yet gathered round each bare and broken vent, Arrayed as bloom-petals around a central stem, Plume and worm and life are duly bent, Studying the steady heat as old men Study the hearth-fire in their winter dens. Life hangs, even here, as a clef upon its stave, Singing silent psalms to purgatory summer when No upper summer gives what buried earth burns and gives.
Diving for Pearls
The gold fan-coral waved soft as Gretel's locks And waved me onward, way by way, To pearl-oyster nooks in the pocketwatch bay; Hidden places where none would look. Awash with calm beneath the sunny calm of day, With warmth that kept all doubt suspended, My querulous flippers flapped me upended; Kept nose grounded and sandy-cloudy. An oyster bed I'd found there for just myself, Oysters piled in unsliding mounds. I reached into the pearlescent hill's half-round For what I myself could grasp of wealth. With sack slumped full and hard lungs demanding, I came up fast to the raft for air. I took my short knife and jimmied rims right there, Cracked pulled oysters with rough handling. I poked discarded purple guts for pearls, Held soft sunlight cupped in shells-- Peeled mask and peered to see myself as well. What I saw reflected I would not tell.
Suspension, or The Diver
for Yvonne Montanino A liquid weightless zero pull arrives as She dismounts the boat into the moulting waves; Although she sinks herself as in a grave, Air would be with air and stay alive. All the push of nature pops her like a cork; To keep her curious nose nose-down is work. To reach toward treasure in the yeasty dark She rows against her buoyant heft, an anti-lark. Dimmer blurs emerge as old light lets go And water-deepness keeps her dull below. Then, a burst of breath for pearly curtain, Turns orientation less than certain. No longer can she feel a down in bones, The globe surrounding an emergent zone Of everywhichway arrows, striped and finned. All's confusion, hazard, a map unpinned. There is nor up nor down, but all is round-- And she the center of the spun ball, no less. And then begins a small bubble in the brain: I confess, I must dive into this weightlessness Again.
Swimming Around a Volcano
As if in search of revelation I Descended, dived Between dead cracks of an old volcano Island abandoned By all but reefs. The plunge undid me-- The world I entered Reeled unreal, slopes of black glass and ash: Pleated cliffs That slid at every angle like fallen wings. And the sea was grass, As in a psalm of inattentive shepherds lost In strange valleys Floods had closed. Glad rayed fans of coral Reached like wreckage-- Unpruned since the solitary cone had cooled (Oh, an age ago As far as new life proliferating might reckon), Lifting their neon palms To desert heaven. And, above heaven, silent, God, absent and calm.
*** Finding Lionfish Everywhere ***
Full many a fathom down beneath The bright arch of the splendid deep My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe O'er living myriads in their sleep. ~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Transparent Heart
Unclouded I sit at my tideline task. Hipless jellyfish pulse, intricately limbed Between my knees, beneath my diver's mask, Bell-bodies beating slow as living chimes. Their white summer dresses but lightly veil A teasing rictus of richer innards: A plume of brain like a peacock's tail, A transparent heart that shows the sand. Here's one who feels a nothing in my hand, Whose string limbs curl their inching purple Around a curved inviting fingerend As if a morning reminder tied--and lapsed. All I had forgotten floods to mind suddenly; Expelled thoughts that had been supple Cloud my mask with breathing ill-at-ease, Complexing a day that had been simple. No longer can I play easy as they seem, Letting tufts of plankton, water, light, and all Pass through me as through an open transom-- My heart beating transparent, clear and small.
The Hermit Crab
When he lets his inner curl of anchor go Like a weightlifter giving all that gravity back And leaves his comma tracks incised in dough Pointing like a murderer to his abandoned shack, He drags all of himself there really ever was Across the sea floor's unforgiving foreign sands Into some striped or spotted larger emptiness, And there drops anchor, there makes his stand.
Damselfish are farmers: kill coral bald, Then plow an algae patch on the barren spot. They'll bite an intrusive diver waving by, Tap angry at mask and gear until they weary-- So keenly they tend what they raise on rock. Toward every threat they flit: diminutive, bold. Their bluff of territory they domesticate, Chew wrong weeds away, howsoever small, And comb with care each ragged straggler spume. They fence close their field with a farmer's gait, Name the milk cow, chime the children home. They flit and flit unfailing, hovering over all.
The Clownfish and the Anemone
A clownfish, my dear, whose name is mirth, Lives laughing within neon harms of his host; Fans out orange scare-fins at butterflyfish; Grins his teeth and retreats--in home tentacles lost. The anemone herself, a squatting chalice, Throws her fist of poisoned arrow-arms to sting; And then into her central hive of malice Recalls sparred darts, her living victim entangling. Together they live, you see, together thrive-- The clownfish aerating and defending, The anemone parrying and providing-- A dance of two as intimate as anything alive. A dance as endless as a willful marriage; A dance, my dear, I daren't disparage.
Whales Falling like Leaves
An indigo shadow falls along the ocean floor That in shallows would be a beginning reef And start a coral flourish from a spoor And bring, in time, some tidy ship to grief. But here in deeps the ship of skeleton is cast, Lowering to be feed, and not to be fed, A blue whale corpse settling in at last-- A sleeping giant on a giant bed. And here for years will come the uncomely work Of claw and tentacle, enzyme and tooth; No bones left for an archeologist's pick, Who could admire such appetite for truth.
Wanting God in the Seaweed
Just beyond what grasp would give to want, Just where my shrunken horizon's foreshortened By kelp and eelgrass and water-logged sand, Till all I see's a greeny mix-and-mist Into which I adamantly wish to stretch and reach, And find beyond my finely granulated sight Something to hold to through the shade of night, Something to give assurance, however slight, However less a something than a pebble caught And kept in reminiscence in a handy pocket And petted for luck, or looked at like a locket, Something to calm the terror, as a beach By the ocean's attentive petting palm is laved, That keeps its variable fringe of whiteness crisp With the back and forth of wrist and whisk Of that invisible hand who never waved to me.
The Octopus’ Ghost
An octopus I had not known was there Jetted off--and left aloft his ink ghost Dancing eight tentacles in water-air Off a shoulder of coral, a foot at most In front of where I hovered unaware. It had, in ink, the shape of sagging brain-sac; It had the sly suavity of tentacles As well, believably beating in its track. Itself had long gone behind pinnacles Of dawning coral, and would not come back. With my own waiting sack weightless in hand, I prodded a likely cranny or two, Hoping to cull home what now coiled hidden In rock and nook. I poked, too, through what debris The octopus had left for hint about his den. What feasts from his dinner-plate were scraped! Crabs galore, as well as fans of scallop shells Like leaves blown in the wake of striding capes; An empty turtle rocking like a bell; Fish skeletons delicately draped. I wavered amazed, inked in my own surprise. What had I thought would happen here below? All morning I'd chased the octopus for prize, All morning observed camouflage and flow Of the watchful octopus, his goatlike eyes.
Finding Lionfish Everywhere
Watch the waving lionfish in deeply dappled light: His slender fins are batons conducting camouflage, Tricks of if adept at blinds as the coming on of night: Dimwit eyes see zip in passage of his wild extravagance. So he weaves, decieves, and is, with many gaudy brocades As a zebra's made to blend and be, a wave of the savanna; As aged great apes with false politesse share rare bananas-- Retitred prizefighters holding hands, retreating to shared shade.
The Goliath Grouper
What thoughts are gathered in a grouper's eye, Who watches quiet-gilled reef-life go by? Unstartled as a weedy rock, he juts A low slow-opening brown jaw that waits Until some swimming bits of mere scenery Focus into French Grunts, get bit as bait. What the grouper thinks, with his down-turned pout Jabbering wide between coral's teal rebuttal points, Is what's caught by him is caught for good, Beyond debate good Socrates understood. --His principle dissolves all beyond retort. Whatever he thinks, he lives by this inner acid.
Reaching After Stingrays
Stung by something about the whiptail ray (That mere leaning past my gunwale couldn't relieve), Had me slither under water a little way To unsettle sand, and give the sleeping ray a shove; And note which way, if any, it might move. As sand spread flat on sand it was well-disguised; An anxious angler had naught to notice Who noticed not its eyebrow-pleated eye-- No more than a black marble made of ice. I laid a bare finger down to stroke its spine. My eyes went shut, as when prayer comes, Or trigger-pull releases a clapping shot. The last I saw was a shiver of skirts; gone, The sudden nothing of a disturbéd spot Where sand had lain allayed--an untied knot. Its muslin, I'll tell you what, was mostly spurs, The petting of a sandpaper cantaloupe; Like hanging on bare-handed to a spar Too long, while your sailboat works a slope; Compelled to keep on hanging on to hope Without the relief of a defining splinter To remind sore palms what has been survived. For all my alien contact, I lacked a scar. I forgot to watch it fly to new disguise-- The ray's rough touch so froze me mesmerized.
We watched a barracuda through a drive of tuna Cull the moving grove like a narrow gardener Buzzing dewy hedgerows bloody with each pass. Like a needle neatly teethed it turned and passed, Its narrow head thrust neat as any tempered sword Into the passing banks of backs, the flanks of passing tuna. With more than death's blade it laid the silver sward-- With a tailor's attentive vim it slimmed the herd And let the hardy swim on hardly swerved. You'd've thought it would've had to look more hard, Swimming thick through such puffed clouds of blood.... We let hard breaths escape we hadn't known we held.
A Symphony of Limpets
I touch cratered spots of dead-ember rock Where limpets live and carve their days in quiet; They've left round fingerpads for flutes, mocking The silent sea with music quite as mute-- And I imagine them going so, notes without sound, A moot music that moves me as I ponder it, A gnarl of icy current coming down Stiff against my neck, a thrill like Mozart. The limpets pulled themselves away to graze Dispersed among wet wonderments of rock. Nightfall finds them home in full assemblage, Stone-gowned choristers in stone pews, their stops Shut up from the melodic play of day; Hunger's harried morning at rest in surfeit. Suckered to the deep rock's dimpled grey, They seem no more than a cluster of camp tents Returned to fireless quiet and nightlong wait. Nothing's happened here, I know, and yet....
a nudibranch ballet An interstellar cloud as red As a flamenco dress' drape Whirled alive from heel to head While I gaped. Every pulse of its skirt To love was spur; A rouge that had the look Of blood in water. Staring at my Spanish dancer I balanced less on tarnished earth (Such constellations are so rare) Than heaven's turf. Vouchsafed a glimpse (Temporary, reddish, blurred) Of all that love could wish: Ecstasy's the only word. I longed to throw away Myself with such abandon.... Instead distilled I stay, To life condemned-- An underwater witness To all her flare and flash, Hung embalmed in wetness As if in ashes.
Pins and Needles
A rubber fin disturbed an urchin With its wind, set it rolling on its pins Until, irked itself, it came to a tottered Stop, its rayed array of clockhands locked-- As when a seamstress pins her pattern Until her stitching ticks tight each seam And she shakes her gown in sunlight, and it gleams. So all that lives seeks an equilibrium; Like the talker who hammers hard his theme, Only to stutter it home to a glottal rest. Thus the urchin squats, itself its own wild nest.
When We Were Lungfish
The sea is our cold underworld for sure, Stranded from us by interposing glass-- A transparency through which we once had passed, And once only, tenderfooting to the lure Of being safely beached out of water's danger, Of being able to safely lay our eggs, and lie A moment unmolested before we died. We were lungfish lunging lustily from water, Away from the sea's dire dread and hunger Which sizzled at our backs as we basked, Reminder of the fire with which all life is tasked And to which, lungs burning, we went back under.
Sea Turtles in Moonlight
When our moon at perigee comes bobbing low, And dots of turtle hatchlings get tottering Toward eating surfs the moon's low blues arouse, We wake to watch such evening things carouse. We imagine magic moondust falling, Silvering starting life with its enhancing glow.... But such light we love is made of nothing. Such a moon--big, rare--is neither here nor there. Life does what life must, despite moon's baleful dare. Ridley sea turtles crawl flaring seaward, Killer whales calve when aches come nearer, No matter how far the moon is raised or lowered. So, too, we swim into the dousing fate we share: Forward, forward, however awkward toward.
Fiddler Crabs Walking Backwards at Sunset
A crab scrabbles in the sidelight like a hand Following the brown back-and-forth of tidal froth, Leaving crabbed cuneiform music in the sand. Broad-backed, elaborate in their armored masque They seem to play impervious to sympathy --Some Schoenberg concerto more like math Than music, tracing melodies beside the tuning sea That anchors their staticky abstractions With a patient mother's patient shush and sigh, A mother's low oboe-toned repetitions Calming crablike child-hands pulling at her hem-- A consonance like strummed guitar-strings coming then.
Treading Water in Mosquito Bay
the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico At midnight, the bay's a blue florescent iris. By day, nothing strobes the water but its sheen, Polished green like one large tropical leaf-- A royal palm, perhaps, or some other green. Later, sunset tips its bucket of jelly yellows, Drips its fist of melted crayons to belilac The unwary eye, as day goes wet away into the west And slews of broken inks bleed out veins of night. It takes a long while to notice, as one stands looking, The faint, hairy, spectral, disturbed bulb-glow begin: How slow to show that blue, like a deflated moon In the bay, or calm dead face tilted at the chin. Soon swift wakes of kayaks come with tails of white, And naked swimmers dim the eye, ephemeral Water-skimmers stirring a placid plate of lake-- Around their beating limbs, a phosphorescence: frail Wings and feathers.
*** Crying Ahoy! ***
When you and I and sunset go Away and come back Always there's the quick feeling "oh! Never again just that."
Making the Breakers
I swam until my breath was near unreeled, My tired feet beginning to blue with cold, My wet face raw, freshly peeled. I was almost back to where breakers crashed, In from the solipsistic serenity Of a farther sea's swollen wash. I made the float's spare deck, and flung upon it, Scrabbled uneven in the sudden rocking, then Felt hard waves hit as first I sat. All the horizon-line--where eyes would hold, could Hold in all the wave of world surrounding-- Was sea reeling, and so cold.
The weathercock is the wisest man. ~~Emerson, Journals The ocean flat as a ballroom Lied an idle unswaying blue, Unmoving as a quadrille Uncommenced, concealing still What turbulence might come. The storm's fox-trotting rim Encroached smoky and smeared, A hem of darkness lapping near. Despite our not wanting it Bad weather came--it came anyway, Its thunders en pointe in a troupe. The little craft's tango yaw And debilitating rapid pitch Dipped us jaundiced to our gills; Back-leading the lifted rail, We felt green horizons shift. Rod and line, set nodding, pressed Step-by-step into clipped chassé; Still stronger weathers threatened near. The captain tapped his radar clear-- Sweep and countersweep cried out Allemande left with a caller's shout: Cloudbanks do-si-doing there, our Dark partners bowing, fear to fear.
Versions in Runny Moonlight
I The moon like a run of soldering on calm water, A silver seam between two broken shelving shards, A liquid line that welds the world together; What had been separate has come to oneness, hard. I I Laying like a discarded satin tie, the moon upon the waters; All those bronze sheets of day torn off without a trace, Just this one loose dock-rope thrown from the departing boat-- A line of luminous paint on a dark and changing face. I I I A sparkling line of gunpowder leads to the furious moon, A barrel of spoons tipped into the slow smash of waters Beating on seas' wide knees a raggedy country tune. Whatever Song has brought me here, I say: let this one bring me farther.
Joyriding the Night Sea
In the pulpit of a powerboat, I pitched and passed the last black buoy. I was flying at hazard past bay and float Far into the dark, far past scraps of day. The trussed hull slapped and rattled like a bow Once the arrow's loosed, once the sprung string untwists Back into the normal tension life allows-- My thrashed spine raw as an archer's wrist. Spray that left the bowsprit in a whip Flash-froze my face to its forward task; Whatever thoughts might keep an inward grip Left no outward trace as they passed. Darkness was all, and darkness all I was. Above, no puncture appeared for stars to shine. Beneath, a deafening raging motor buzzed Driving the fiberglass arrowhead Blind into anything alive.
Meeting at Sea
How the running wave assaults the pebbles With polyuphloisbios on its breath, Sliding up in such hurried fluffed excitement You'd think the sea came reporting troubles. Yet the sea has no more to tell us two of death Than its usual haul of impermanence. No more floods from its mouthful bubbles Than yesterday's foam had told in brief, Or, indeed, what the day before that had meant. What I keep an ear for when we watch the wash Briskly sweeping the edge, is not belief, But to hear known news in doublement. The one cold comfort that comes with age Is how old saws still cut true with grief, How sighs race sands to bewilderment And go on sighing their wavery treble, Tide in and out sighing without cease In the same wet bliss as when first we met.
First Push, Then Pull
Sand flows slower through hands underwater, Meets more resistance, as a child her dad's cheek Kisses more carefully unshaven. Time itself seems less pressed to palter When flowed along through a tide's enlarging lens, The hourglass turned and turned again. Here a stasis friction where edges met Seemed to rule us all that long first afternoon, Keeping us standing like fountain shadows. We were just ourselves it seemed, and yet Slower, like sand in tidal pools at noon, Warmer where the sun flows oblique below. In our tidal stillness we standing stood, The sea as salt within us as it was without, All push and pull at pause. And that was good.
Together the Moving Waves
Together, quiet, we moved in the wake of waves, Together found the rhythm of how we were made To be together, and be together saved. All afternoon we lived in all the play of shade And play of wet and light as rayed sunset Summoned us to dinner beyond the cove's glade. Together before pineapple and pork we sat, Two dim humans alight with love of all The love we had, and in that light we ate. We sat until the stars themselves began to fall Singly into the shingle of the sea And so made place for still new stars to fall. It was as if we sat at creation's knee, Two serious children thrown into the all And settled on the ocean's verge to be.
Chihuly’s Illuminated Spears
Chihuly's illuminated spears line the gravel walk, Tossed from a florescent urchin's stegosauric back. The Seattle night is wet and fresh, a champagne wash Frivolous and spastic as the sea's moulting crash. Inside the glass house, a signature warp of light Douses the house's sides like a blue-whale's flukes caught Turning screwise in twilight off some far Pacific isle. We dare a side-room. Above, oddities bobble, quilled Radiant by strobes, directed lances of dapple-light-- As if we lived enreefed beneath such laser shapes of sight: Orange palm-fronds frozen lustrous in mid-unfurling, Razor aloe-limbs pronged and leaning gleaming Like licked licorice-sticks. Nearby, purple fluted gourds Gangle at all angles: ripe, overripe, engorged-- Trumpets, too, of red sponges, while canopies of eyes Pop surprised from indigo skeins of rind--corkscrew rays Of yellow intensity, the abrupt structures of cell Automata, endless whims of fin and tooth, flares of hell A drowning man, a man sans land, knows all too well.
The Quiet Tide
In the lonely presence of the quiet tide There's a wisdom the cawing gull derides. Look about you: in life, in death on every side. There is wisdom in subside, subside, subside.
*** Essay ***
Eye of the Devilfish
Finding large nature looking back. Grand Cayman, circa 1974
It was our first winter in paradise, as the flair-panted travel agent had named it. Perhaps, if our cranky memories could be searched, or sifted, we might be able to rehearse other names, other colors. It was a strange island spot, a stone in the ocean; a black volcanic liberated of its native Caliban until my dad winged in. Or maybe, dwelling in the distracted haze of the past, it is actually some type or taste of an involuted, infolded space, like a physicist’s undone laundry, and not the island haven the glossy brochure proclaimed at all, with no long stretches of unblemished sand tastefully spiced by ripe brown native boys singing hymnals after dark.
Whatever it was, our squeaking wheels touched it and our silver wings groaned when released by its buoyant being of their humid load of air. The airstrip’s attendant, whose dark trousers were enlivened by nimble piping, and who had rolled the streamlined stairway to our squat airplane’s door, lifted his blue policeman’s hat in greeting before hunching off with all of our crammed winter bags under his thin arms. He trundled them to the custom-officer’s desk in a cavernous aqua-blue room, disturbing the game of Caribbean solitaire in which he had been immersed (in that quaint island version, voodooic queen outranked staunch aces). A frowning queen of hearts pinned my still snow-booted toe as he gave our bursting bags the standard shuffle and no lurid contraband emerged.
The five of us had trouble getting all the cases through the far door that dawned on palms which our porter-cum-custom’s-officer-cum-police-chieftain had managed to wrangle to his dinged desk with a gibbon’s ease, and had to wave goodbye with only four stiffly wiggling fingers, all of our thumbs still stuck through slipping handles.
Once at the huts, adorably florescent and fashioned of an enduring type of concrete, we let our northern layers of zippered skin slither from us in a sweating frenzy that eventually pooled at our feet in a species of languid gratitude. Old skins and old whims (as represented by the fragrantly sticky multi-hued stain of a forgotten popsicle picked up at the Newark terminal and allowed to bloom thus darkly on my dark December coat) were left in a soggy stack by the front egress, not to be re-touched or re-donned until the last, lingering tick of the vacation had passed and we were ready to reassume the cold masks and colder duties of our remote, home, higher hemisphere.
My brothers and I, all boys, spent a few gummed moments twisting out of our snowpants and screwing back into our handy mom’s proffered shorts before racing out the pliant backdoor towards the hunkered gem of the ocean. Looking back down the cross-hairs of time’s telescope, I spotted the droning outline of my dad (already on the phone conducting his sinister business) and the docile, backlit slide of my mom, methodically filling the empty drawers with our horded summerwear, and efficiently slipping lifeless thing onto thin hangers. From the dark, angular closet, a ghost-white shirt shook its sleeves in parting as we scampered headlong down the sweetly simpering beach.
We were met at the drooling lip (or perhaps it was knee-deep on the lascivious tongue) of the peacock-blue sea by the two underaged representatives of a blonde quartet that composed the entire tidy family of one of my dad’s harem of business associates. The dissolving names of the two before us, standing in the photo, as it were, long and tan with white shorts, come galloping up from memory’s transmogrified mess, in one of its babble of reassigned languages–which correlates strangely (do not ask me how) with its hazy tendency to switch beloved heads and plop them on the glimpsed frames of IDless bodies, giving some blonde and tanned cousin a pale and darkly furred torso, or worse, wrenching some ebon-haired past-love with a classic nose and twinkling eyes onto the still grinding pelvis and shoulders of a cheap pick-up (one of those fated matings tinged with incestuousness) whose active legs were patched together by a starkly orange pubis–come galloping, as I say, these names, to the tip of my still remembering, still trembling tongue to tumble out in plain prose, this far from the original inspiration of the actual beach, as King and Courteous. Well, it is obvious that I have misplaced somebody’s bags and tags, but it is as close as I can get, squinting into memory’s dim box. As the men of the Fire League say, or chant at their bachelor barbecues, A hose is a hose is a hose.
It was not very long before the older of the pair, courteous King, not royally lonesome Courteous, got the idea of hopping into his bleached dad’s Boston whaler, the Sun Temple, and hailed the rest of us, still swirled in sand, to abandon our half-melted castles and sagging minarets and join him where the tingling, tangled water thumped his prow. We jumped from our tepid tidepools, abandoning our squids, and leaving cruelly declawed crabs in our wake, and slogged against the rising tide to reach the uneven gunwale out of breath.
As we whisked along the island’s edge, Courteous kept us entertained with stories of the family doberman pincher, often caught thrusting its whittled head into the neighbor’s mailbox to retrieve shampoo samples, or of Courteous’ own innumerable rescues from neighborhood hoods at the trained teeth of the dog, which died unattended at the end of its chain, barking at a lark. Soon we were looking into lunar reefs, navigating purple hazards, tooting creatureless shells that stank of brine, yodeling and crooning at top speed over the liquid undulance from which we had spilled out of bed as hubris-stuffed dollops of kaleidoscopic slime.
After an afternoon freshened by our escapades, we had wound up in a luminous little cove where the deep bottom sand pulsed blue in time to the lulling swells; monstrous turtles frolicked and played at semaphores with their four fleshly underwater wings. Our original excitement had quieted to occasional oohs by this time, and we were content to drift between measureless sea and measureless sky, or in and out of a fluttering sleep, trailing lazy limbs in warm sodawater.
There are rare moments, fugitive instants, that glitter with a recollected condensation when our span is wished up upon us again in sullen reverie, and time collapses like a circus tent down an unshakable centerpole, the radiant nodule of a nodding minute or sparked millisecond, reducing rounded shadows of events to mere flats, bringing us flush with the twilit distant past, erasing accreted differences between our current selves (a treacherous fiction) and the doomed, slavish selves that we were, which, although they seemed complete at the time, intense, capable, undecided, they must now repeat our ruinous film upon command, decisionless ghosts dissolving halfway up the same stairs forever, kicking out the stilts that keep our feet dry and separate us from the marmoreal, miasmic, mammalian mire of memory, reducing a vibrant now to a sanded then, collapsing space. Or, actually, I suppose, such magnetic moments enlarge us from our vague potentials and unrealized wholes into exact fractions, infinite in their compactness as failed stars–as opposed to the puny view which history with its crooked stack of flashcards affords. Well, however it is, one such zinging instant was about to descend upon me then, nine years old and in a boat, watching clods deform and defoam above me, my tingling hand grounded in live currents.
But what if this sacred event were merely baptized in tired bathwater and Mr. Bubble? So what! In my mind the constellation of differing blues takes on the fixed geometry of a premonition, a blue five of hearts licked to fate’s crinkled forehead, pale sky, robust blue trunks warmly pasted against me, neutral blue bench plank before me, hopeless blue cloud-shadow diffusing and re-fusing all around my lightly flecked, heavily targeted, heavenly blur-blue eye. I can see now that I was ready then for the unknown next. There was a faint wrinkle-wrinkle sound in the water. Coeur-hearted Courteous, I think, snorted, while stately King squinted with sleek regality at the horizon from his pose on the prow. I still had my bright eye on the everlasting. And then, out of nowhere, out of an illusionist’s hidden hat, out of the invisible ocean, it came.
Having no taste, or, at most, a fading aftertaste, or burp’s hint, for the bilious and overblown, I suppose that I should simply present my phenomenon, have done with it, and click to the next slide. Very well. enough ghoulish suspense. Dimensions: twenty-four feet if an inch from blunt front to whiplike stern, side to side another shadowy twenty perhaps. General shape: flapping diamond. Skin: slick, oiled oil in shaded, rough under magnification. Mouth: a surreptitious incision invisible when not gaping wide enough to swallow in one convulsive gulp a pumpkin the size of a human head. Gills (for it was, indeed, a creature of the sea I met): a terraced series of similar incisions, following the graceful flow of line of the calculate-in-the-direction-of-infinity sign in calculus (a lower-case italicized f minus its horizontal stripe). Have you got these disparate parts firmly in hand, or in mind, rather? Very well. Toss them and think gestalt, gestalt. Has the monster materialized from your foam, or is the puzzle still jumbled? Oh, all right, all right, quit tugging my sleeve, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you.
Like Botticelli’s Aphrodite, flying from the hysterical slalom of the sleeping sea-soma, this awful shadow emerged, breaking the cursive crest of its sheltering wave, and sledded, an awesome twenty-four-by twenty of sea-beast, no more than four feet over our rickety deck. I recognized it instantly as the sweaty, living version of several smaller miniatures (all fearsomely detailed) I had seen printed dinkily in my well-thumbed Field Guide to Sea Lore. There it was called, in the all-caps title to its own article, THE MANTA-RAY OR DEVILFISH, by Wally Stevedore. The poor, lost fellow, out of his supportive element, seemed to sag and waggle a bit at his skinny tips as he loomed for that brief, hovering moment above the boat. Was there terror and fire? White cowardice in our young hearts and rubbery limbs? There was shade and sky, a shuttle of bright and dark that I now replay, a dripping instrument of the miraculous followed, in its pop-up appearance, by clinging tendrils of stage-smoke.
And then, poof! it was gone. The apparition dissolved that, probably, the tuna sandwich on Courteous’ breath (combined with our raw boy-smells) had called at a stroke from the zeus-azure depths. The placated boat, still sluggishly full of gas, wobbled like a robin’s egg cradled in the inquisitive palm of a girl with glasses; this palm was attached, I am, sure, to my ghost half-sister who never quite managed to get born, but who I have always had, in my head, the most stubbornly glowing image of (nimbused or coronaed by a lucky sunset touching her hair with its radiant bubble). My heart, wrecked and wronged by nine years of wear and tear and care, seemed, for the moment, drained and spacious, a tapped swamp relieved of its dreams. One could still see the awkward shapes of clouds going divinely by.
Here the hesitant gesture offered by the dissipating trunk of a swollen elephant-cloud uncurling towards a shy mouse- or grouse-cloud retreating into a misty skidmark. There, the missed clasps and forgotten hugs of busy vapors, demonstrating as in a classroom nature’s purposeless stridency and demand for estrangement. But closer to me than even those immaculate splotches, closer, and nearer and dearer, was the monstrous darkness that had hovered for its soaked moment over my soul, sea-musty and heavenly, silent and wet. And there it still hovered over my sunken kid’s chest, skin intact, unlike the one I had gaped at later, less willingly spreadeagled, and which I had taken an older, grotesque interest in, as if peering at myself in a queer mirror, dead an vivisected on a dock in Miami. Huddled together as we were under that cauled shadow, my monster and me, I myself having been almost bundled off into sleep by the sea’s queasiness, I felt, or think that I remember having felt, some gelatinous tentacle of the thing’s being reach down towards me out of that black diamond, and something slippery in me leap up.
Also, and this I have concealed until the penultimate minute, I had spotted, in that torpid solstice, folded in our communal awning of shadow, up in the instantaneous blackness that had come whispering out of the sea to bury us (or save us, as I once overheard in some terrorist ceremony at a Satanic Church revivalist meeting held, covertly, in my own basement–without my consent or foreknowledge–from my pinched position behind the umber altar where I had been laying ant traps, and stuck under an inverted cross where the carved blood flooded up), and in the backward abyss of memory still spot, the slow, maddened revolution of the great creature’s moist sustaining eye.
It is salutary to deal with the surface of things. What are these rivers and hills, these hieroglyphics which my eyes behold? ~~Thoreau, Journal 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? ~~Robert Bly
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.
Gregg Glory 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 of water.
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 so small. 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. Laugh 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 as pegs? 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 is mourning. 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, so rarely! 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, floating away 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 the web. 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 a child. 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 and forth; 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 completely, 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 to sleep. Curses had softened, somewhat unexpectedly, to "So what?" 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 contention: They each grabbed an end, went to their corners, and slept.
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 Spotted pelts.
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 Leaping 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
for Jax 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
1. My youngness thought forever was Days and days like that day. The even light in the grass, the youngness leaping Right to my fingertips! 2. 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. 3. 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.
Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty All I'm saying is I'm not ready For any person place or thing To try and pull the reins in on me ~~Mike Nesmith, Different Drum Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all. It is the little rift within the lute, That by and by will make the music mute.... ~~Tennyson, Merlin and Vivian The first harp came from an empty turtle. ~~Robert Bly, Meditations on the Insatiable Soul For I am made of stardust, and it hurts. ~~Jennifer E. Stahl
DIMMING THE LIGHTS
The Western World is giving up its heights, but its long unspoken depths are not so easily put aside….
The grandness of day and civilization recede. We are in the twilight of the gods, now, reentering realms discarded since The Church was the sole authority on science. Unprepared for the transition, but having thoroughly abandoned reasoned discourse, empirical methodology, and the idealism of Enlightenment systems, we glare into our subconscious with iPhone flashlights–and the litter is a mash of ancient rites and yesterday’s emails that we are wholly unprepared to untangle.
We have an incompetence in living with our unconscious depths that will not be easily shaken. Our politics proscribe forms of wrong behavior, (and prescribe forms of right behavior) without any comprehension, or any attempt to comprehend, the breadth of human experience. Each side races to shrink hosannas and tragedies into some rigid public liturgy; any deviance in individual recital is seen as disobedience to the herd norm. Yet these litmus tests are so narrow and empty they cannot encompass the brainwaves of an amoeba, let alone the million prismatic instances of genius and peril that constitute just a single human life.
These are atrocious generalizations, but I feel in desperate need of a map, any map– and what greater generalizations are there than a map’s North, South, East and West? These poems begin to reclaim the dark of sleep, the deeps of unconscious material, for the use of individual guidance toward meaning and action in the broader world. When the buildings have gone down in flames, when the roads are empty, and traffic cops are pointing everywhichway with the feverish inconsistency of spinning tops…well, one must do what one can to re-establish an inner order that hugs the whole of one’s experience. The inertia of dreams is a good place to begin because they go back in time and temperament to the earliest human societies and circumstances. Dreams can provide a kind of inertial guidance system for the burnt-out modernist–anyone suspicious of the narrow “naked truths” on display in every shopfront, on every blogpost, every idiot bumper-sticker slamming its brakes in front of us.
In our private dark–sleeping, dreaming–we may still find a way to put our faces toward the dimming light.
Gregg Glory November 25, 2015 POEMS
THESE WORDS ARE ON FIRE
These words are on fire--on fire in you-- On fire really, literally, not like in a story Or some metaphor for life, but really burning In the sugars of your brain; in the caloric heat Of your expressive breath, too, these words Are on fire, exhaling my ontological being Like bones thrown on a campfire, scraps That flare in the conflagration of your night, The fire alarm that is your life today Clanging and busy with every human misery And mystery, every human thing that you are. Your thoughts scatter and leap in sparks, Engulfing your neighbors and lovers and children In the emergency that is your life. And into this conflagration, this catastrophe, Word by careful word, you have thrown me. Taste my happy ashes on your lips.
*** FINDING A LIFE RAFT ***
A WASH OF LIGHT
A wash of light soaks through the frozen-over windshield: It's enough to write poetry by while the car warms. Grievances, violences. My mind is full of angry violins --Scratching attacks, mad growls of tones. Fingers warm, my speedy breathing disappears Into the general heat of the moist, closed-in space, writing.... The sun resembles a snowball through the cloudy windshield, A cold headlight coming on through incomplete dawn. Last night was here so recently! Lying straightened in bed, Feathers of darkness fell all along the asphalt shingles above my body.... As I write, a baby's aggrieved cry becomes an inaudible coo, An old man's life-grief moults into acceptance.... We come to welcome the sleek black of our scuffed coffin The way we'd welcome an unexpected wedding guest Who shows up late and anxious, pigeon-toed at that, But all dressed up and ready in his rented tux.
LOOKS IN A DYING EYE
Dark veins open, and a shadow goes forth over whiteness, An eel moving out of its cave over clouds of coral; Sea winds sound in the ears of shoals of living fish; No air, and no rowing home to shore ever again.
SCANNING HEADLINES FOR MERCY
The needles of terrorists' bullets are burrs on our eyes. Blind with pain, we slap our heads frenetically. We lodge the bullets deeper with curses repetitious as prayer.
A BONE HORN
Marrowless, this black-ringed femur, Rigged to blow one resounding note forever Crowing the winner's standing exultation ...Lies where Indians left it on their mountain. Around the long horn unburied by rain, a few pines Gather, dark mourners on a ring of bland rocks. A low wind shrugs through heavy serapes. I pick up the tarnished roadside bone, delicately wipe Particles of dirt until it gleams in my bare hand-- A tube now only, without meaning, A dead white weight of death and silence.
HOLDING ONTO GRIEF WITH BOTH HANDS
Who was the one I was grieving for today? I went to the mountain forest to find the body. I walked straight up those hills until it was night, Held a candle over my head in the dark and wept. I followed that river down out of the mountains Where valley slopes slow like white flocks landing.... With both hands, I held to the earth for my only comfort, And the wind there whispered: "Nothing is saved."
The graveyard air is faultless--clear White stars shine through it, crisp sandgrains Still wet with huge intimacies of the sea. Wave after feathery wave, they sift loose shyly.... My dead live here, talking in their sand house Under the groundhog's old mossy hole. Oak roots knuckle outward, sheltering the soft door. Their voices are light as paper shifting in darkness. For a long time I stand still as a star--I listen As if the dead were delicate, held in a child's palm, Lips parted with curiosity, a feather.
A TREE FALLEN INTO WATER
I walk straight out along the fallen trunk still solid With the life that had left it years ago, before I was even born. I put my arms out for balance, walking down toward the calm water And then over it, my bare feet feeling the hard beaks of bark ridges that run like seams down an old man's face. Where water touches the long trunk, some gets sucked Into open seams, like an eyedropper preparing its dose. Smaller branches radiate smoothly out from the main body As if to keep the fallen tree's balance over dark water. There's a charge, a power in the water, like the cold potential of snow, That touches my face when a breeze wrinkles it. Kneeling down to drink, I see those branches that reach below the clear Surface of the black reservoir are slick with green algae, green moss.
THE SENSE OF DEFEAT
The field mouse with berrylike eyes has bedded down For the day. Carefully placed leaves cradle Ears that could be flooded by an eyedropper. What music is small enough to entertain his dreams? For years I've watched the same great tree in the yard Divide and subdivide its massive wheel of roots until Even tiny blossoms can bend it down in spring. What is greatness or smallness in living things? A single match can burn down an entire house! Surely there's that which I desire as the tree desires the sky, As the mouse desires his contented littleness in his hole. What, besides friendship, and a few things more?
THE UNSEEN QUARRY
“the mountain seemed… raw materials of a planet dropped from some unseen quarry”~~Thoreau
1. The mountain pinnacle has seashells in it. The climber's powdery hand touches once-living swirls. With his feet on the old ocean floor a mile underwater He sees a hundred miles of our world easily. 2. Peering with a glass-bottomed bucket along the shore, A child sees his bare feet touching mountain snow. The snow is soft and warm as in his dreams. Small tinselfish swim between his naked legs above the snow. For the moment everything seems calm and clear.
Lie down in the soft ‘no' of the snow forever.
TWO SMALL POEMS ON MY SHADOW
My shadow leaves trails of smoulderings... Wherever light has fallen through me Focused by my magnifying glass. . . . . When sundown comes yawning its shadows... When I and the tree and the grass-crested hill are one... It's just my shadow waking up to dream.
A man who is suffering invites friends over. A small bottle of rum sits dark as a pupil In the green felt circle of his poker table. Kings and queens are taken up and put down in silence. The men might be sleeping under straw hats, Bobbers nodding unnoticed between bare, rough feet. Dark summer blows in through a window.... And the men hear the night train passing With a sound of jail doors sliding shut On row after row of the condemned.
SEASONS OF MEN
Each day men drink the rich griefs of their lives Silently after work--each word widowed In the half-light, winnowed in elbowed bars Crowded with the grunts and hups of football. Other men, ones with the delicate balance Of rarefied ballet dancers, make parabolas Explode at half-field--one extended finger enough To call the drilled ball down from heaven.... Enough to hold the pigskin seed in the belly And feel beaten men fall all about and upon you Heavily as grain-sacks. Enough to know they're defeated, That you and the grass and the held seed have won.
THE WAY BACK
She bent around the fender, low, Filling her eyes with the injured wing-- Snap and struggle; slow, then slower... Her eyes all tears and shining. I stood quiet beside her, knocked A slender Pall Mall from the pack-- Silent till the burning reached a knuckle, The hum of the engine gone slack: "The sun's getting gone, dear." Her shoulders tightened at that. She folded herself back in the car And we drove that way all the way back.
WAKING UP SCREAMING
We wake, pulled by our hairs into the light, screaming. Every one of our hairs is standing up and screaming! The dream we had loved is dead, but we are alive.... Hair roots, curled in their dark, hear muted echoes Of the never-ending grief daylight brings us. All day, dreams without a dreamer run loose. In brain dark, in mind dark, uncut thoughts Grow shaggy and obscene. Thoughts wrestle Inside us, hairy bears fierce and dark. Hairy hands With long yellow nails smack the dream belly.... When we rejoin our dreams, lying back in the spitting vat, They scream all night, jungle parrots nobody hears. We ourselves are deaf to them, to the dark Magnetic thoughts, the inner things we think While our eyes rest and our hair is pulled inward, Reverse lightning folded back time-lapse into earth-black Clouds; the brain, heavy and hairy, raw as a blind potato.
All day it was night inside me. I was a shuttered Building, my sides afternoon red, with only Flash touches of deep night showing In windows--black eyes turning shyly away That had been bold the night before.... And then Night arrives: night from under eaves falls Cold into cornfields: my hidden self Rides out into it: escaped darks everywhere Cut only by squares of window-light.... Quiescent grass is laid open by pallet knives Of yellow pigment like a tire skid--fugitive lights Now the loud car of day has made its getaway.
WHITE BEAK OF THE MOON
I wake at midnight. There, through the dim window, is the Fiery haunch of the moon! The window was black before the moon came by, My thoughts buried in busy sleep. And now, in moonlight, I see A bird asleep in the juniper nearby, its white beak Under its wing, fierce songs under freezing feathers, Each feather dipped in the moon's ladled mercury. What are days that they become nights such as this? Already the answer is eating up the question.
ROLLING OVER AT 3AM
The moon--unstrange, unexpected, intrudes. There are no clouds. Just a few Indistinct corners of dusty wisp lit up By the moon's nude bluish flashlight. I have chronicled my life With the moon's comings and goings, Which everyone can see for themselves! I can't even see to swim in this rivery darkness!
HOLES IN THE LIFE RAFT
Mist hovers on the night lake like a life raft. Blue urgencies of the afternoon have faded, Pewter shades flatten the world to a picture. Onshore, my shadow and I play tag by moonlight, Chalky figures in a dim Rembrandt rendition. We touch first at one foot then the other: this foot, that foot, Then chase along the unchurned rim sand, water lapping, Then just hands touch as I cartwheel once-- Can't take this mortal coil too seriously While cranberry wine stays so cheap! Meanwhile, out on the lake, Holes in the life raft appear and close without sound.
THE FRACTURED PATHS
Time has gone on for so long, I no longer know what to think! Angry drums of the car wheels flatten to shreds; A jaybird crouching in his hovel of branches Cracks a nattering song.... Day again; and ochre, cerise and pink fingers Reenact Homer in the long trail of clouds Whipping past the back of the dark ShopRite.... Sun has not yet tarnished the lower waters of puddles. The surrounding dead no longer throng my dreams. The fractured paths they wander have returned to bed. They wait politely for me to finish up, their hands folded, At the edge of the grass.
DUST OF FROST
Going out for my morning paper, I see The first dust of frost on the stone stoop. How quietly summer must've danced away!
THE SLOW PRESENCES
The slow presences of winter clouds in these hills. What hand behind the cloth? What windshield Keeps them from pressing into the earth?
*** JOINING HANDS WITH THE GRASS ***
I HAVE BEEN DRIVING LIKE HELL TO GET HERE
Pastels of pastureland flit rapidly past The window that closes over my life Like a dome. Am I the motor of my own going? Doubts flick into my face, hands full of car-wheel As though carrying a doughy wet baby awkwardly From the pool to the sun-porch, slippery being, A freight of sunshine in my burning arms.
SOME PEOPLE LIVING ON THE PLAINS
Some people who live on the open plains Think like sailors. Their lives sail thorough waves of grass, Eye-high stalks of waving wheat, Familiar with squinting at horizons. They sway-stand, Feeling earth unstable beneath them.... The barn enlarges like a frigate nearing, Horses gorgeous as mermaids, Dogs happy as sea-otters. Even at noon They know they are alone on vast wastes, No sextant to show the way.
THE BLACK TADPOLE
The tadpole is bulking up its black bulbous head; Huge thoughts protrude and the eyes bulge. Its long tail, once subtle and swift as a ribbon, Reels in, shrinks to a cape, then A small triangle hood, a judge's black cap, Then no tail below hunched shoulders. The tadpole, a black rock, is all brain now. Like a rock's shadow it sits all day In the mud, motionless Until it leaps!
POETRY, THE OLDEST HUMAN ENDEAVOR
1. Don't write what you feel, that's not enough. Don't write what you see, you're being deceived. Write only what you feel when looking closely. That's best, though painful. 2. Man is a herd animal. Follow the bent grass, and you'll find him Muddying the river, his head low, Drinking deep. 3. I can see the first old shaman, way back, Holding up his chicken bone and singing about the universe, Firelight lasering about him.
I AM THE ARROW
Nature points the poet, Willfulness tautens the bow. Love looses the arrow.
BEING A SNOWFLAKE
Fleets of late autumn clouds are thinking, Down, Crowds of trees and animals, Look up, While each zagging snowflake sings, I am.
STANDING ON A STONE
There's a kind of hard sanity in a stone, A place to stand and look at stars. A place for sleep beneath stars pinned inside The skull of night... smells of woodponds among pines, That small resonance of sap and stillness, black Abandoned reflections that go a hundred feet deep! I know my bones, and sleep on them, heavy. There's sanity in their steadfast ache, The tension of a blade swimming through muscle. Through many years of sleeping, and of dreaming, I've charted my inward stars and prayed beneath them, Cold knees on the stone, stars where stars are.
THE THINGS NEAREST
Today I tighten my daily tie and look At the things nearest in my untidy nest To hold them mindfully while day turns, For what's nearest is easiest to forget. I lay rough hands more roughly around Rungs of my bentwood chair, knowing how All worlds flow through my ordinary room Worn every day around me like a favorite belt: Syria's sandy shadow on the calendar and Japan's swans on travel posters, keep pace With walls moving thousands of miles per hour; Swiss Alps sharpen long rows of pencils, oceans Follow the same moon as my water-bottle. I watch the cat's world fall asleep on her paws, Her ears listening to a wilderness within Where untame things are flying, singing out Loud and alertly, and all within my room.
BEING SMALL THINGS
1. AN ABANDONED OAR My days of rowing are over. I lie in the sand; and the surf Never reaches me now.... Its long fingers of foam, Its cold flash along my spine. I could be the wing of a plane, The fallen plank of a windmill, Exiled from flapping and skies. But I am an oar. I've spent my life filleting the deep, Raising small white scars On blue waters; and then leaving, Handled by callous hands. I lie in the sand; and the surf Never reaches me now. 2. CHANDELIER I'm hung with small lights like crosses. My strong iron is strung on a string. My smile is gorgeous but frightening, I spread my fiery wings! Each hour is quartered with losses. Each night I'm lit up like a drunk. The strangers, a family, the darlings, Break bread beneath my sparkling. They leave me hungry and alone in the dark. 3. THE BOTTLE Once the vodka's gone Down a drain, down a throat An eye looks in to check-- Enormous, Godlike, fringed with lashes. And I become clear, not hollow, Unless the way a bass is hollow It is so full of possible notes. A child finds me in the alley, Licks my lips, and blows A soulful whistle out of my belly For a few hours one afternoon, The sound unpronounceably lonely. Thrown into a passing river I float for a while, spinning, A glass-bottomed boat showing stones And weird fish flashing by Until I sink into invisibility. 4. A GOLDFISH I confess my memories Are possibly possessed By madness: void, distorted, Erased like a chalkboard Some mysterious force Has powerwashed black. If I remember once Wanting some one thing, It was to grow beyond All this childishness So I could finally play Forever--a sea-going fish Who trusts the rising wave That surrounds him, That carries him with it. 5. THE SLOW EYE OF THINGS Train yourself to look With the slow eye of things. Speak in such a way. In summer, Include a garden's iron palings And the rust to come. In winter, Sense the glimmer in the frost That aches for light's release.
THIS LIVING FORSYTHIA
Along saffron branches beside wet asphalt roads, Tiny cups of flowers pop tenderly out.... Small flowers, mounds of yellow crayons peeling, This living forsythia: a trembling, waterfalling fountain! The sound the wet road hears is a man Walking all winter who has stopped walking. I stand in shivering air filled to overflowing, Singing suddenly with upturned mouth and eye.... Deep in the crosshatch of branches, way in, house Finches are already eating up the soft, delayed buds.
THE WINDOW IS QUIET
The window is quiet, but everything comes through it. I want to write like that. Sunrise trees emerge like Q-tips from the ear of the dark. When the mylar sky comes close, its colors run Like pushing on a silvery balloon! What are we filled with, that this is what we come awake to? The wind's yeowling. Is it coming nearer to us Or following the dark, running away? Transparent's not the right word, exactly, Nor exactly wrong either. Look through the window; no need to touch the glass.
SOLITUDE WALK WITH ME
Tasseled lines of forest hills... watercolors Brushed onto screens of airy paper... banners Of ocean light, wavy and green and mantling; How smooth, how rapid, their interchange of tones! These hills are seaweed floating over ancient stone, Solid seas up-risen that break both heel and bone. Six-thousand years of silent looking tell me: I am alone.
Lice-like prayers pulse on the naked lips Of mad imams... thoughts that move in regimentation... Death in the beetle's face, death in his spurs. Why not have thoughts that live like water drops-- Rolling everywhere like dogs, doing their own thing! Curious enough about existence to evaporate.... Bells are sounding everywhere, ripples running everywhere... Days of rainfall... hosts of microscopic organisms Reenact evolution in every bead of water.
LETTING SECRETS OUT
Who has asked you here, and why Have you come running, wet and alive From inside your mother? Is there a secret you need to tell The rest of us panting here, run Alive out of our mothers too? Your eyes seem large with things And my ears are swirled to listen, Caves for words and owls. Bend close now, tell your secret To me, fly in among my wet Rocks and stalagtites, shake Wise silence off your wings, Let your secret become one Of my secrets too.
OUR WINTER BODIES
The sky is so clear today I could bite it! Cold drives our heads into our shoulders Hunched far down like the turtle's, shyly reptilian. Rainbow scarves tesselate wildly before our eyes. We have settled into our winter bodies today. We huddle around banked embers in the chest; Our breath flares up, orange and oranger, As if to burn the brown and dusty leaves.... Beyond us lie great clarities: white town sidewalks Swept clear as a dog-path through old pines; A globe of lake close by, clear and focused as a birdbath. When we are beaten into our winter bodies, Seeing things through an October mask, how loudly Worlds outside us go on rattling their leaves!
BITTEN BY RED ANTS ALL OVER
War comes. The ant cannot imagine dying, Its red head beaded with the others around the savage queen's neck. The ant was hatched to march, to obey. Invisible swift scents of the leader pulse connivingly. For all we share with ants, let's depart from that. Keep your head when the drum stirs. Look at the grass. Feel the timid air pass your heated ears, bathe your head. Sit in a circle, join hands with the grass for awhile.
THE SUNDAY DOG’S APPALLING BARK
The Sunday dog's appalling bark, a cry of sows Endorsing the rooster's raucous hauling forth of day.... I peer up from the damp drainpipe of my dreams-- The earth dreams... of rust... gold unopened ores... veins.... I see the morning sun arrayed on its swaying stalk, The sky in a water-pail walking. I open broken Wooden pens, cross mud overstepped with hooves: Each dirt mark is a hoof's beaten circle, almost complete.... All day dark heats of peat moss enclose deft hands, This richness burying... seeds... time burning.... Let the languorous resonance of the tower bell Tell the town asleep... what I cannot tell.
*** HIDDEN ROSES ***
DRUMMING IN MID-OCEAN
Give it up. Give it up! Throw your whole life out the window And watch it startle. Listen with the attentive ears of a bat, That blackness that captures. Imitate the loyalty of your own dog. A lot of things are happening Out there where weather gets started every day. Get wet in that. Sometimes, two patches of rain will meet Mid-ocean And become one drumming upon the deep.
A DOOR CLOSES
A door closes softly, and suddenly you Are gone, having considerately let Me sleep on and let yourself out. My dreams, which had been full Of the mild gold of Monet's haystacks, Drain away like mid-morning fog. I am left with a room precisely square. I am left with my discipline to continue My day, in the ordinary scent of me. I nose around the trail you have left Like a cat, in a pretense of indifference. I give up while watching the coffee cool And fail into my life for the millionth time.
HIDDEN ROADS IN THE ROSE
Beauty and mystery are so daunting! Abstractions vast as a landscape And no horizon home. You have left, and left a rose Behind you, for me to sleep with under My pillow, a trail of petals Frail as your departing breath: Something you said about dreams in the garden mind, A greenness we each keep secret. There's a closeness, a smallness In what you have left me; this one thing, So privately left to me alone. All night I ride down the roads Hidden in the rose You have opened.
FINDING EACH OTHER
There's a glue that sticks us where we pause, A magnet that attracts, pulling the iron in Our blood into an invisible arrangement, lines Of force like patterns of a great history Dragging Hannibal's horses or trains of cold Cannon over the Alps. That's how it still Is when our eyes meet, two bullwhips Tangling each other like a mad handshake Testing the wild pull of freedom--while love Comes with carrots, patting the long nose With its crooked white streak, and saying, Softly as feathers, "Whoa, now, whoa."
Something close and potent is in my life. I turn over grumpily in the hot bed And clasp her, a mollusk saved by a passing freighter!
THREADS OF WORDS
I notice we are speaking of nothing Again, our words returned tight to the spool, And the spool sits there, silver and glittering, Waiting to unreel and catch what passes: A pebble of thought, a gesture renewed From loving days that passed last winter. Words arrayed fine as a bridal veil in the sun Catch something living perhaps, small as a dot.
AT FIRST LIGHT
I like you for no reason. What's the cost Of liking first, and regretting only in case? If you live busily you may never discover Multitudes of bruises even the best Of us leave each other--the quick turn Away, the slow acceptance of a gift given. Think how hard it is to understand a car At first glance, all those moving parts Hooded and chromed. Or how hard it is to see Flight in a fallen feather, love in parental Discipline. At first light, looking Is a flurry of painful blinks.
CROSSING THE MIDDLE DAYS IN STARLIGHT
When the husband meets his wife at first, He sees himself in her as she sees him: Long-boned and noble, a little brave. When husband and wife cross looks in their Middle days, days too busy, full of blurred words And busy hands--cool nights of rainwater Fill each others' eyes; and there is grass, too, Growing calmly under their hectic feet. The idea of who you are bothers you less as You get a little older; things go dim around You, the things within you still real as leaves Dancing, starlight on a tulip, the sss of a simmer. When the husband then meets his wife at last, He is in her eyes as he has come, finally, to be: Simple as a stone, a man standing on the grass They've grown under their feet, under warm Stars together every night of their lives.
NETS OF TOGETHERNESS
How many words link our nets of togetherness! In a lifetime, a married pair will utter millions, All flavors, at every decibel blared or hushed; The nets of words cast, one over the other, Veil after veil, are full of sacred fish, the fish Jesus divided among his flock--their silver bellies Caressed by a thousand touches, bitten by a thousand teeth. Torches we have carried ten thousand nights appear Where nets of the lovers' mouths elongate to vowels, The stars still inside them, constellations and all.
STARS FALLING IN A LION’S MANE
We picnic on fallen October hayfields As if pitched upon a lion's mane. The stubble is still soft, and grass pokes through; Summer is in our bodies like an electric coil cooling. The sun is risen far up from the gullies, The wine's still cold and fresh. We are far away from death, we two. Occasional clouds pass in white pairs; Night sleeps under a woolen blanket in Kyoto. We feel hot when the breeze dies down, And laugh out loud, spilling bright square Crackers everywhere like falling stars.... Flies nuzzle the jam jar sleepily, Making slow black circles around the red.
THE GLASS ANTELOPE
I labored at the bellows until it was second nature-- The rapture of the rhythm came easily then, Clear shapes opened over intense fire, the fire Going in gold and heavy as an ear of corn. I push the belly hollow with my nothing breath Like blowing a hunting horn over and over in the cold.... And then the tweezing pull of legs from the mass, Many pinches, quick, for the antlers limber As candelabra, lithe brachiform coral dancing Crystalline, an ice-laden dogwood in winter.... Tuning the nostrils with a bit of scrap wood, a spike; Trimming the hot hooves with steel clippers last And standing it here before you, a glass antelope.
LAKE GEORGE SERENADE
A CANOE AGAINST DARK WATER
The effort of one consciousness, or a mated pair, to hold together…the uneven weight of each foot entering a lake-borne canoe against the dark water….
1. DRIVING AWAY FROM HOME
There's nothing here but strange sky, strange land. The leaves are in their autumn beauty, of course; The trail up leads nimbly away from hotel hot-cakes; At our feet unrolls a lake named George. We drove up here because our home was crowded, Loaded down with familiar things: the bag of purrs That is the cat resting, the huddle of photoed friends Enlivening a shelf above my writing desk. "You'd best not lie to us," they say; and I look Numbly away, dismantling ice castles on the page.
2. THE HUDSON WALKWAY
The whole thing feels unevenly alive As we step out onto it, the donated planks Ribboned with names of other walkers Who came here first and left their names Graffitied in charity. Below our feet: the river vivid As ever, old rusty rail tracks tacking Back and forth into history, bearing (As we do the air) its heaviness Slowly swaying under all.
3. SENSING MISTS FIRST THING TODAY
Beyond your gold ass on hotel sheets at Ft. Wm. Henry, Mists settle in sullen crevices of the mountains, Pearl-ash dull over the too-long lake's aching sparks. What is there to do on this weekend away? I toggle the fireplace switch; blue acetate flames Jump among log-shaped ingots under dim glass.... The early chill of this closed-down summer town! A showboat paddle-wheeler creaks at rest, Its great wheel covered like a useless swimming pool.
4. WHEN THE BULL-WHEEL TURNED
Back when the bull-wheel turned, When folks rolled up the mountain Waving from the gondola's cocoon, Anxious for a healthy retreat On Prospect Mountain--the view down Was very nearly the same as Today: yellow leaves mixed in With dwindled pine, bright lakes Teaspoons along the long valley Of the arterial Hudson River.... After Garfield was shot down by The measured bullet of an anarchist, After Little Big Horn hit the papers, Manifesting destiny, those folks Would take the coal-powered steam Bull-wheel railcar to the mountaintop Day after day for days for the Same long-range view as today: Two-thousand feet above daily Stress, and not an extra step taken.
5. FLAT ICE, FLAT CLOUDS
Soon this November lake will be flat ice, flat clouds, And fish dull creatures within it; Red clouds reel by like a painted lampshade Lit somehow from deep within themselves. ...Graceless bare shortcuts crisscross the dead grass, Hurrying toward appointed coffins; I remember the flat cackle of backfires, The broken-heartedness of rainstorms.... I think about the stopwatch of the heart For a while, the stuttering race it measures: How we paint the wide world with our eyes And read so intimately what's scribbled there! My history is written on Egyptian tomb walls, Baked in the daily bread the Pharoh ate... The Nile-side stone caught in his sandal That became sand.
6. GETTING READY FOR DREAMS
All around the lake edge, night. Small dots of lights, long tails In the water; Wings brushing a face Hurrying away.
7. SAYING THINGS CAREFULLY
A winter rainbow showed up in clouds like a scar. "It's fake," says a friend who saw the snapshot Glimmering in my palm on my little phone. What do we know of beauty hung like crepe in the skies? Science will report "waterdrops and sunlight," But is that what inflates my heart like a balloon? Is our idea of heaven just misremembered dreams Lifting invisible vapor into heavy, burnished clouds Until a rainbow like a scar flashes out at sundown? My friend touches my hand, warm blood in a glove. Our eyes roll together from screen to sky. We feel we are remembering a single dream.
8. HOLDING A PLACE (AT LAKE GEORGE)
September clouds open and close like an eye. Sunlight brushes over high hills softly, An eyelash of light on a dark cheek. How quietly the paddle-boat waits for a foot! When the foot comes in, too fast, there is such rumbling! And then the steady effortful heave across the lake. Two feet move like man and wife across the water. When one pushes down hard, the other is Lifted high up, a child on grown shoulders, And the whole open world is right there.
*** THE IMPOSSIBLE MESA ***
STANDING IN ECSTASY
Some days alone I am so happy My smile is a bowl of clear water Set out full on the sill, eating suns Or dimpled with plumed skies. The black cat leans close to drink me. She carries my happiness back inside her Right to the tip of her staticky tail!
A LONG STAR AGO
A long, long star ago Jacko folded together a house of paper And pushed you through the low door, an aphid. How he fattened you up with green leaves! Leaves of verse Jacko kept dropping from his soft branch, Darkly, in his crowded house. And all the aphids sang together, Whirled their tiny proboscises in the air and sang! You sang, too, a little, About sweet mint Jacko pulled from his pockets... Swept up in wings of feathery boughs.... Until you were saved--fat enough to eat!
WAITING ALONGSIDE GRASSBLADES
Something is happening to the plain grass As it elongates on the grainy lawn. Perhaps something is happening inside, or at The invisible back of things as we see them.... Just look at those clouds, those purple Portuguese Man-o-wars, trailing their half mile of tendrils-- Perhaps the way puddled moonlight churns Dark under the dark dock, and knocks there.... Or how soulfully the heavy church bell waits All week for Sunday wildness.... Perhaps the way That happens, perhaps something like that Abides beside me, inside me, now.
CLIMBING IMPOSSIBLE MESAS
I climb broken steps of the desert mesa: Broken teeth in an infected mouth. Wounded cactuses line my route, tall as crosses. I look down, out, and see imperfection orchestrated: The broken clouds, the broken steps, the crooked river. I stand abashed and beaten: Waterfalls of impossible perfection!
BREAKING ICE ON THE HORSE TROUGH
Bits of sky tear off and run away from us. Whatever we thought reality was this morning Changes: the workboot that fit a left foot Cries its tightness going out to break Dawn ice on the horse trough. This morning is like other mornings; Sleep lets go of me, hands releasing the wrestler; The bed creaked and wept, and the floor Was so cold! Night horses come forward from the barn Stamping; exhale bales of misty breath; Line up trembling at the black renewed Waters, and lower their long heads to drink. We enter a new reality together Out of the same forgotten dream.
TRAVELING TIRED MILES FROM HOME
Hypnotic trains are hurtling by night, Seed-like shuttles in an enormous loom. Silver miles of track weave endlessly. Moons watch metal webs appear overnight. The frail couple across from me Pales with cheap fluorescents. Their hands lie near each other, but do not touch; Their gloves have been removed and set aside neatly; Their old faces look up, hatched with lines and happy.
A MISSED STEP
Sometimes, walking with wide eyes On horizons, an unstoppered hole Eats your footfall. A gap in balance, Quick pause almost falling, just before Quick recovery of your balance.... You are floating... you are air, all Air, your fingertips chill, waving Air, your walking breath upended: Huffed out, or, worse, swallowed. ‘Open' is a fool's word, you think. Then your slouched shoulders open, Feel suddenly the unhidden wings.
A STONE CLOUD
A stone cloud moves, white majesties I ride like a wet rug all I dare-- Among its oval moons, crocodile teeth Scraped and flat, I am chewed and tossed. God's wide spider eyes slide over me, Clear blue broken sky, until blood chums From my chest with a rusty smell of coffee. My old life lies piled by the screen door, Brown packages I'll never open now, griefs Too deep to tell. I lay under a naked tree In shaded grass so terribly cold and thin; It touches like hair all over, my eyes closed. I hear a bird beat living wings in the branches, Singing red notes on so bare a thing.
KICKING BROWN LEAVES AROUND A HICKORY STUMP
There's an old hickory stump I go back to often. I sit there and think a good deal about the leaves Laid out before me if it is autumn, or the leaves Whispering above me if it's late spring or summertime And everything's talking fine, with the light rolling down. In winter, I walk back booted and covered. There's only myself to think about: two brown leaves, My hands, restlessly in my lap, the fields surrounding Sometimes layered with silent snow everywhere Outside me, sometimes just within.
SLEIGH-RIDE IN CENTRAL PARK
It's Christmastime again, and you mount the city sleigh Around the claustrophobic park, all those dreary Oppressive grey summer things are gone Under a snapping cloak of December snow again. Each black trunk marks a magic circle in the snow.... Beams of darkness reach up and meet the sky-dark. Below you, the horse's wet hooves ring and knock. At what muddy door are they hammering? Where will you travel when the earth splits And light opens outward for blinded, aged Oedipus ...Years past his suffering, in that slow-witted human Way maybe even the Bhudda never knew?
Tonight's moon is like looking up into the top of a lampshade Where the light draws a circle on the ceiling. When a lasso draws a cow down to earth to be branded, I think: does a moonbeam draw upward with such strength? Tonight's moon is like looking up into the top of a lampshade. Someone goes on standing on their porch awhile longer: Barbed wire twinkles above the shaggy fieldgrass Bursting into its pollen-time with seedy passion. Sitting on a fencepost, I watch moon-mottled cattle travel Slowly toward water, brands blue on their haunches.
My circles were small. Day, night. My context was milder than cream. My song, a stamping of bare feet. The mirror's tongue licked my face. At noon, I disappear in smoke, A spoon licked clean of its dollop, My poor body on fire, a flame Climbing up life's rope As along a fuse. To what white cloud am I traveling?
Brawling clouds that carry my breath, my name, Are visiting Minnesota; the violet seed I threw On snow last winter lingers in the cardinal's bones. What effect I have continues happening. What I have been is in my being still, beating Blessedly or damnably in my wrists. I regather thrown grain in a cloth bag, and pour it Golden down a funnel's throat; kneading bread flour, My hands whiten in the dough, Minnesota clouds.
LONG CLOUDS OF THINGS
Lines of trees against the sky stand etched, scratched Blood and sap and ink; and I am stretched, a saw nib Flush against white paper that eats attention. So, too, you are stretched and hatched, etched, Made visible against long clouds of things You love today and that are your life.
November shadows define themselves against my sides. They try to get inside me, affectionate black cats Making biscuits, and I the basket lined with warm flannel. Ever since spring, I've been falling away from myself, White petals liberated from a shaken dogwood. In summer, I danced at my own feet in the grass.... Now, many years after my mother's death, finally There is no more heavy grief In my body. Now my shadow blows down the street like an escaped cape! It tumbles in the flattening winter landscape Hurried by an unknowable wind.
KNEELING UNDER EVERGREENS
Afternoon kneels down among sepia pine needles. Where two needles join, a pair of working oars open In the small wind of your breath. A minuscule boat Rows rapidly out from the hard shoreline.... The boat departs the shallows of your shadow --It is heading into the deeps! Sounds of waves and the lost calls of sailors surround The intrepid craft, waving its wild antenna in the spray.... The dark acidic water is an ocean of black ants! They seethe body over body endlessly as dreams.
I find an attractive rock in mud. I smooth it clean in the river near at hand; The rock's dark veins glow strongly; More, the more thumb and water Hurry back and forth. Something rolls solidly in my palm; Something simple escapes my saying. --A white pine needle can't be the whole tree, Can it? Why should I have to explain God, Even to myself? Days later, I look down at the dull stone Dry and cracked-looking in my hand: I remember the black slather of mud, the thin Wetness of water--an eye of something Looks up from there.
WRITING WITH FLASHLIGHTS
Holding a blue ballpoint pen like a flashlight, You travel the darks of the page blank, empty. The flashlight held before you flickers off Unexpectedly a few times, like lightning: The forest around you is humid with low clouds. Your blouse sticks to your skin. You've forgotten why you're on this mountain. What are you looking for through the hairy trees? A sound stirs; something illegible as night; You chase after it, past flowing bush And boulder, following your small cone of light Until dense woods break into baldness And you're alone with the clouds, wet and dark. The night sky eats all your light in an instant. Stars have been writing their sentence for centuries: This is why you were born.
WATCHING DRIFTWOOD IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Tired with my old life, I come to the seashore And watch battered sticks drift in and out Of dirty tidal foam, cracked and gored With holes whose dark remains impenetrable. How I long to throw my life away! To float Like those unsinkable sticks, but I fear the ocean Powerfully throwing me back and forth forever, My soul sucked into a small hole's impenetrable dark. Farther out on a spar of igneous rock, strange Yellow lizards skitter and hang upside down. How happy, inventing new ways to be happy On sunlit slabs of rock! Why can't I live like they do? Staying warm on a wide skirt of stone, breathing In and out with my sallow belly, eating flies.... A black wave tumbles among the gravel at my feet Erasing flat lithe sounds of lizards' tails.
MULE DEER BREATHING NEAR NIGHT PINES
The mule deer shuffles with a wounded Leg, delicately, her injured limb lightly Upheld as a lifted puppet, all balsawood, With one unlit spot over the backward knee. She pauses beside a big longleaf pine to stare, Eyes of dark oil full of private histories.... I feel how we both want to live, have the same Tug, intense, in our chests, the same cloth anchor Pulling steady against invisible tides. She flicks behind the shadowy screen of trees Before I notice two smaller deer dive behind The same heavy evergreen waves she has parted, Their mist breath fading as evening comes.
RAPPELLING INTO THE DARK
Rappelling at night into darkness, Ebony-scarred seas chant like chain-mail Beneath me. I sense, not see, cool cave-mouths Open randomly, adoringly, along my route; Sometimes my feet swing in, wildly as a bell, Surprised hands grip the rope harder in prayer-- Each emptiness at my side as I descend Is an extra dark in darkness like a black star. Soon I will be at the bottom-most part Of the cliff! Excitement rises like steam In my veins; burning hands tremble on the rope And down I go, faster, faster into darkness! Soon the sizzling sea will be eating at My ankles, my feet treading water in the Origin of life! I'll pull the cold salty water Up like wet socks--up, up all the way Over my head--until sleep comes and Sleep drowns me, and I am saved.
SPEAKING INTO THE GLARE OF PUDDLES
I've looked too long the wrong way Down a collapsing telescope, held things Far from me that should hover fearfully near-- Wings of dragonflies active as eyelashes; The glare of puddles gone tomorrow; Raptures of grass the snow is always burying; Offered help's hand on a doorknob, turning; Spatter of tears kept under eyelids; A million refugee sighs; despairs put off; Unwanted chores of the heart; seeing only Tiniest figures of love crumpled in the wastebin: Brothers; and father; and mother; and you.
STONES TO HOLD YOU
This poem is made of stones to hold you At the bottom of the river--your clothes Loosen and float ghostly about you, weeds Close their luminous green curtains softly. Only the words have weight, only the words Stay on this journey beneath surfaces; Bubbles lift from your mouth as you say them.... Take these words, one by one, and put them Deep in your pockets--let knuckles whiten And go cold around their friendly grey eggness. Don't look left or right--plunge into the river! Take the persuasive curves right up to your elbows! When the bottom goes slack, keep walking! Keep going until cool rings of silence close over Your head, engulfing every word with brown swirls, Your blond hair drifting silently among the weeds.
Slim reflections on a pilgrimage to London and Stratford-Upon-Avon, circa 2006
“No bird so wild but has its quiet nest” — P. B. Shelley
by Gregg Glory
Freshly returned from London, and I feel clotted with the creme de la creme of the experiences, sights, and histories there. I look forward to giving fictitious, but accurate, reports of my sojourn very soon. But for now, I’ll simply leave you with a quote from the BBC News caster, who turned to her colleague during the A.M. news and said “It’s official Paul, this has been the wettest May ever.”
These notes occurred in a hurry, but will be re-written in tranquility. I’m home with a negligible tally of booty, and two moleskin notebooks rather stuffed with nonsense. This is what I have to shift about and share with you. You are welcome to peruse and enjoy, just as I have felt welcomed and allowed in London, with never a shyness put in the way of my curious eyes.
What my memories are, I must decide. I have in hand an itinerary outlined by Carlo and myself on the train back from Stratford, but the subjective substance of my days away must be sorted, aborted, or saved, by myself alone. A tour guide who had lived away from England swore she had missed the rain as she dodged drops trickling into the red bus. And I don’t think I’ll have as harsh a response to the rain when it comes my way again; when the sky broods, so shall I. Some portion of my substance has always been submersible, and now my spirit has a pair of paddles as well it seems.
Accompanying photos can be found in my London Trip, 2006 photo gallery.
Baa Baa British Airways
My lungs are tight, tight–tough rubber inflated by an insistent kid; and then they loosen and ease into breathing as we dare the upward darks toward God. Goodbye Newark, goodbye New Jersey! Soon enough I am asleep, aware only of the brim of my hat pulled down over my nose–and tickling faintly as a remembered telegram a decade after the crisis that tapped it into existence has faded into fact. The cabin lights have been snuffed to dull orange orbs. Carlo is snoring voraciously next to me like a Gorgon–after she’s been decapitated.
My nodding head floats along a moonbeam. I see into myself as a goldfish looking into its own wraparound bowl. I discern, in my cooped-up container, that I have a left-handed soul, a south-paw personality. My circles of self-knowing all enlarge from a left-hand swirl in the snug bowl. They say your life-expectancy is shortened five years just be being a lefty. What does that translate into if its not just your hand, but you heart and your head as well? My creativity’s a crisscross of ifs. A plague of maybes announced in a crash of radio static. May Day! May Day! May Be!
It was this traffic snarl of farts and feathery zephyrs that I took to England. England, rich ditch and silt start of all the poets and all the poems written in the only language that has levered love out of my tacky heart. From what eddies had I issued? Into what ocean must I debouche? Was there here, in the valley of the Thames, some smoking gun to blast me back to my origin? Or, better yet, some still-wet quill I could claim as father for all my faults, my foibles, my want-wit waywardings? I aimed to live alertly as I looked around London.
At 10,000 feet there are only clouds. Clouds and the crumbled cornices of cloud-palaces. One juts out with the Queen’s profile as on a swollen coin; we dive in toward her cloud-crown. 5,000 feet and still no clearing–all is weighted with vapors. 1,000 feet, 900, 500, now, at last, a glimmer of green and a swirl of lights comes up out of the bowl of the dawn. Its 7 AM, the sunny-side-up of twilight. Heathrow grows into throbbing focus, like a lost fossil of a brontosaur washed from the moss. A pulse of the river has flooded out a skull, the airport stands out against the misty green, all hard substance exposed by a vibrant and active flow of life coursing in its jets.
The ceiling was high, and people from all over the globe were in line, giving a cluttered Calcutta impression to the place. A Sikh in a turban and blue customs-officer coat led a fast-track of handicapped passengers (which included mommies hobbled by infants) to a separate desk surrounded by lounge chairs. I stood in a twisty line of aliens on the other side of the expando-rope. At first I composed part of the tuckered tail, but eventually I became a vertebrae in the snake’s nape, and then finally I stood eye-to-eye with my first British official. I presented my passport and my paperwork, which I had filled in on the plane as we circled and lurked around Heathrow’s spaghetti-pile of grey runways. A cursory glance, a quick question.
“Business or pleasure?”
“Anything to declare?”
“Only my ignorance.”
Mind the Gap
Anyone who has seen old episodes of “Dr. Who” in which the Daleks play a role will feel an eerie familiarity in the bustle of London’s Underground Tube. The Daleks, remorseless robots that looked more or less like armor-plated garbage cans with ray-cannons for noses, would intone as they went about the galaxy vaporizing any and all who opposed them: “EX – TERM – INATE!!” Similarly, a pleasant young Englishman’s voice repeats at each tube stop “Mind. The. Gap.”
This Orwellian cha-cha becomes as comforting as it can be chilling. I consider it an experiment in mass meditation. The mantra encompasses both being and nothingness. “Mind,” the source of all our deepest terrors and treats, our safe place as well as the zone of unknown dreams. It is to the mind that we look for solutions and our nightly dissolution of consciousness as well. It is the center of Zen’s non-target. “The,” a place-holder that clears the ears for the final reverberating word. “Gap,” the void where all our striving must ultimately end, and where it all takes place to begin with, according to the Bhudda, the Dalai Lama meditational cassette packet I’ve got at home, and even some of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. “Da Da Da,” the voice might as well say. But then syntax reasserts itself, as the monkey mind strives to make subjective sense of the nonsense syllables.
“Mind the gap.” The mind is a gap, a space between the thing-in-itself and us, an interlocutor, a saint saying things to us about the non-god of objects out there in the ding-an-sich, and pleading to the ever-on-going Tube our case and our causes. Or is it that we should exercise mindfulness about the gap? Make our minds at one with the void? This seems to be reflected in the attentive silence that engulfs the tube passengers, save for a loud American here and there, or some yob with his tootsies up on the seats across from him.
Barking approaches, or is it Angel by Old Street, or Cockfosters at last? The places begin to exchange their addresses as in a Matrix climax, or the last pass of some country jig. The portal doors part, producing a new proscenium for the next act. “Mind. The. Gap.” repeats fearlessly, simply, identically as at the last act. The traveler enters the play, and takes his escalator into the otherwhere’s breath-heavy ether.
Shakespeare’s roly-poly death effigy kept peeping in on us throughout the journey. The one where his mustache is a pair of carrots and his beard is a bit of decorative frosting. The old god looks as if he’s been converted into a bathtub float and over-inflated. This we kept seeing everywhere, in odd nooks between spine-busted books, flatly staring from an explanatory plaque next to some rough-bushed painting, in lurid 3-D leering down from some queer angle at Sir John Soane’s House, or in the too-trim perfection of some modern duplication of the figure set up as an explanation-in-the-round at the reconstituted Globe. I more than half expected to look over my shoulder and see him there above us, like a float in the Macy’s Day parade. All of these Shakespeares were dead, dead and portly as a stuffed shirt or a body nearing rigor mortis, a lame mannequin for a barber’s chair for shaving practice, or some other homely use.
But, when the time came to look up at the actual dingus, we shoved (or, rather, were shoved) off the spot without a glance at the puffy fellow, or a look at the intoning stone over his mortal remains that warns neither man nor nature to “move my bones.” High Eucharist was just beginning at Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the service of life after this life, the Christian rigmarole being a death to Death itself. And so, without further ado, without a glance at the rock object itself, we departed. On to our own unrecited lines not yet said, our own deeds still in their seed-time.
Outside of the good grey church in the good grey day, Carlo pointed out the probable spot where scholars conjecture that Shakespeare’s bone do actually lay–four feet from the wall beyond the altar. It’s a green sink-pit, like the rest of England, a lush mush of life and wetness. And that too told me something of the fat everlastingness of the pudgy Shakespeare, of his words alluring or alarming on the braying stage, of this meshed-with-death existence that we giggle and piss our way through like cosmonauts circling the one thing we do know, and yet never know enough, our life-drunk Globe.
Retrospective London Itinerary 2006
Dates Covered (Wed, May 17th through Mon, May 29) WED 17 THU 18 FRI 19 SAT 20 SUN 21 MON 22 TUE 23 WED 24 THU 25 FRI 26 SAT 27 SUN 28 MON 29
6 PM Newark. Carlo gets us bumped to the front of the section where we can
stretch our legs by using a smattering of Polish on the British Airways clerk at the check-in counter. I find out my bag is too heavy for carry on an international flight.
In flight, try the lasagna dinner. Very good. Carlo uses his Italian to help the flight attendant communicate with an older Italian woman sitting behind us.
7:30 AM Arrive in London Heathrow.
Check in at the Wellington Hotel.
9:30 AM Catch hop-on hop-off double-decker tour bus. Tour tickets good for 24 hours. Tour city for 3 hours, getting our bearings. Terrific tour guide full of little stories. Sort of a blonde silly Sally type of woman in her mid 40s.
Hopped off at Piccadilly Circus, walked down Haymarket, popped into “Fancy That of London,” which sells tourist baubles. Chuckling at cut-out postcard heads of the royal princes, I resolves to send out postcards while away. Down a side-street to Tom Cribb’s Pub on the recommendation of our guide as a local spot for locals. Part of the Dick Whittington Ale Trail. Food quite good, had a bit of steak and chips. Choked while chatting and gulping food. Disoriented by jet lag and ale, puked up on the pub floor to the utter nonchalance of all around, got an instant splitting headache.
3 PM Nap and aspirin at the Wellington Hotel. Feel entirely recovered. Carlo explains my reaction as related to the sun-difference and internal “time warp” that occurs. Seems to be correct.
6 PM Go to Victoria Palace Theater at the end of the street, get a couple of tickets for that night, way up in the stratospheric seats. Dine at the Stage Door pub one entry over, where Carlo dines on lasagna and answers a questionnaire about English Pubs which a retired actor asks him to fill-in.
7:30 PM See Billy Elliot from the nose-bleed seats near a pillar with our legs squished to one side, and enjoy our first intermission ice creams. The musical is smashing, the pathos-filled tale of a miner’s son who wants to become a ballet dancer while his dad is on strike during the Thatcher regime.
12 PM Asleep at the Wellington.
8 AM Breakfast at The Wellington, which had been converted from an old dorm belonging to the College of London, and was re-opened in 1983 by the grace the Duke of Wellington, as the brass plaque in the hallway noted. OJ, piles of toast, and a slice of ham and cheese that were so thin it appeared that they had been, as Carlo put it, “painted” on the plate.
9 AM Caught first bus tour again before our tickets timed out at 10:30 AM. We want to switch over to the “blue” tour line which covers a different part of the city than the “red” tour we rode on yesterday. We see many neighborhoods and sights, including the great city dragon guarding the financial district, which is on a large stone pedestal.
12 PM Stop at the Stock Pot, on the same street as Tom Cribb, a cheap eatery run by an Italian family. Excellent grub, and Carlo continues his lasagna tasting tour of London.
Move on to the Globe Theater tour in the afternoon. They have a first folio on site, and some interesting portraits of Shakespeare. There are dioramas of London and the Globe area in Shakespeare’s day. It reminded me of a US park. Many testimonies praising Sam Wanamaker, an American actor who pushed for the reconstruction of The Globe on the South Bank of the Thames. We get to see Titus Andronicus in rehearsal, and get psyched about seeing Coriolanus that evening.
Walk down the “Queen Victoria Walkway” to The Anchor pub, which Shakespeare frequented, have some pints and eat bits of fresh meat at The Carvery upstairs. We see drunken business men who have wandered dockside from Vinopolis laugh as one of their free “Vinopolis” T-Shirts floats into the Thames, having been taken up by a strong wind. Also, a beer glass gets thrown over and smashes. We talk to a foreign languages teacher and then move on to the evening’s theater.
7:30 PM Coriolanus at The Globe. The main part played with great dignity and conviction. Sat on the back bench and met a fellow from, you guessed it, Long Branch, NJ. Hope to take in a showing of Hamlet in New York City this summer with him.
12 PM Sleep.
Up and to Leichister Square. Got half price tickets for “Royal Hunt of the Sun” by Peter Schaeffer, playing at the National Theater at the TKTS booth.
Go past the Drury Lane Theater on our way to Covent garden, and stop in to see the bust of Shakespeare in the lobby. No ghosts make themselves known, and we leave knowing that we won’t come back to see “The Producers,” which is playing there.
Trafalgar Square on foot, seen but not strolled because of rainy weather. We duck into the National Portrait Gallery and see the long pale faces of the past. There is a sternness and a “fuck you” quality to the determined, active folks depicted in the paintings that reminds me of Wall Street, and of the British business men I’ve seen walking in straight lines all about the busy city. Even the women in this portrait gallery remind me of men, decked out in be-gemmed powersuits and swinging scepters. The lighting is poor, and the pictures are glare-ruined unless you get just the right angle.
We go next door and have lunch at St Martin-in-the-Fields in the crypt downstairs. At a lot of British public buildings, the life and thrub of the place all goes on in the basement. And so here, as I dines on fruit and bread over the large tombstone of a Mr. and Mrs. Brown. The florescent lighting and polite service only made it that much more eerie–a sort of bustling waiting room for the resurrection.
Down to Covent Garden, the great covered walkway, canvas stalls and street performers. A unicyclist whizzing about, a clown de-inverting from a headstand as we made our way to the main “pit” areas.
Double rows of shops left and right, like an outdoor mall. Drawn by the pure voice of an opera singer practicing in the open air, we made our way to the farther pit, Carlo narrating the specialness of the place for him. Sun peeps out. Carlo videos the singer a bit, and she salutes him.
Go down and meet a nice couple from York who are big fans of Long Branch’s own “Boccagaloupe.” The husband has a whole set of photos from their Yorktown (?) tour up on the web site. We promise to give our greetings to them when we return to America.
I get a pair of cufflinks with the mask of Comedy and Tragedy to memorialize the vacation filled with theater. Carlo shows me the “Theater Toy Shop,” dedicated to toys having to do with the theater. Giant Punch and Judys, collapsible stages, costume catalogs, and other interesting bits.
Walked on to The National, enjoying the Bankside area, having crossed the Millennium Bridge, I believe to get there. Carlo has a bite of drearily proletarian pizza in the cafeteria, and we go in to see “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.” Notes about the performance to follow; some powerful dramatic techniques used in the staging of the piece, including vast silks to represent floods of blood, and acres of golden nylon to represent rays of sunshine.
Walk a different route toward Victoria Station to see Westminster Cathedral, a stylized construct of different brick layers. The bells have been waking us each day at The Wellington, and we are interested to go in and see the various side chapels. This is my first serious English Cathedral.
Immediately, although the construction is early 20th century, I feel catapulted back to ancient Byzantium. The vault is full of dusty light, and the things of God lie about as if under a filter of glamour, their iridescent detail is so compact and replete. I simply can’t see everything that is showing itself to me. I’m struck by the statues and tombs of former cardinals who ran the diocese. Above one tomb, the cardinal’s red hat hangs like a Burmese umbrella, it is so large.
Prayers and candles for my naughty dead, who left the room without my say-so. We leave in a quiet mood back into a freshening fritter of rain.
We take the tube down to Blackfriars Bridge, and cross over to lunch at the Cheshire Cheese. It was at the Cheshire Cheese that Yeats met with The Rhymers Club at the turn of the last century, and I am anxious to see the place, which has been in operation since the 1600s. The place kills, and we see a full portrait of Dr. Johnson over the fireplace, and Charles Dickens’ and Dr. Johnson’s favorite chairs memorialized in the next room by screwed-in brass plaques.
Just up the street is Dr. Johnson’s house. Without his dictionary and all the subsequent ones, this memoir would never have been penned. We pass a statuette of a cat sitting next to an empty oyster shell. This is Hodge, Dr Johnson’s cat who he loved to feed oysters from the table. The cat is staring at Dr Johnson’s house, as if awaiting the great man of letters himself.
Dr. Johnson’s house is a treat. Plain wood, several stories tall, it was used in WWII as a fireman’s bunkhouse. One of the few buildings in the area to survive the Blitz, as the monolithic condo-cubes surrounding it attest. Upstairs there is some period costuming to try on, which does well in the mirror, tri-corner hat and all. Several good portraits of Johnson in the home, plus squibs and the dictionary. I look up Poetaster and Lexicographer. I retail the experience to my friend Jon Williams later in the evening after he brings up the trouble of not knowing if you are a poet or a poetaster. Carlo quips that I play the Boswell on our London tour, and he Dr. Johnson because the suit fits him.
Back to the Cheshire Cheese for innumerable good beers, all unknown to me. Carlo and I talk to our table neighbors, and I get some of the pub gossip: bartender Y slept with serving girl X by mistake (she came on to him), but they’re still friends. A retired couple comes in and shares many experiences of English life with me, only deigning to do some good-natured Bush-bashing at the end of our lovely time together.
We take the tube drunkenly out to Richmond, where Jon Williams and Sally Watson live with their little glowing Flo. Jon picks us up in a roaring, gorgeous yellow car, and we zip back to their pad, where Paris friends are visiting and the party is already well-on. I really believe I’m in England when I see them. And Jon seems just such a bloke among his mates, it cracks me up.
Jon talks about motoring to his brother’s house tomorrow at noon and the staging of a scene from my Sex Pistols play at The Labour Club in Northampton. Everything is breezy and sounds even less planned than I thought it could be. But it will take all of tomorrow, and at least most of Monday day–till 4PM or so, it sounds like. That’s a large chunk of such few precious days to spend just to let my ego holler. I think perhaps I’ll go and let Carlo off the hook for it.
Go down to the local shop on a beer-run without my coat, which had been deviously hung up in a closet behind the crowded couch.
Take the 11PM train back to Victoria, and bedazzled bed.
Sick as a dog from the coatless outing. I can’t do much of anything, and forego breakfast. Around noon, I call Jon and Sally and let them know that the play must be cancelled. Carlo thinks it may just be nerves and “drama” on my part; but, really, this time, it’s the bod.
Hating to waste the day, I make me and Carlo do something. We go to Tussaud’s in the afternoon, my pockets wadded with tissues. I love the wax figure of the young and old Madam Tussaud herself, graven from life in wax as soft as Icarus’ wings.
Carlo put his puss next to Madonna’s, and got it snapped. We took the ride through the history of London, which was much like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland, except for the town burning down, Jack the Ripper, and the beheading of monarchs. On the way out through the Tussaud Shop, I got a 3-D portrait of myself done by laser in a block of clear plastic. It’s a good likeness, and sits like a small, facially-enhanced light-bulb on a shelf in my living room.
Ran away from the stylish “Metro” cafe, with bad smells, poor food, and worse service, to the more serviceable, pubbish “Globe,” not too far from the Sherlock Holmes statue on Baker Street. Carlo and I both have Fish and Chips with peas. Carlo had the “mushy peas,” served in a small round dish and the consistency of toothpaste.
Just went back to The Wellington, where I continued very sick and disappointed. Ordered Pizza Hut, of all things, and watched some spectacularly bad British TV–a crazy Soprano’s type soap opera called “Blackpool.” That’s the same area in Dickens’ “Hard Times” novel where the heroic worker drowns in a well.
I drift off into snotty oblivion.
Up and at ’em at 8AM. Breakfast in the basement, with the greenery around the building squeezing in through the open grate as high as our heads.
First things first, off to the British Museum. The edifice as long and grand as a sea-monster, tricked out with glittery bits on some of the facade’s figures. Brassy points on the spears, shining helmets here and there. The long order of the building seeming to go on too long indeed, breaking the oneness of it by sheer length. As uniform in intent as a football field, but too grand in scale. There’s too much old news within!
Up the steps, we see that there’s a special exhibit of Michelangelo’s Drawings–mostly sketches for the Sistine ceiling. Fab! We get tickets as we go in, and then walk straight to the Elgin marbles, whose well-preserved metopes depicting an epic series of brawls between Centaurs and Lapiths still astonish: both for their humanity and their violence. I’m more sick and silent than Keats, who managed to warble when he first saw the Elgin marbles:
My spirit is too weak; mortality Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep, And each imagined pinnacle and steep Of godlike hardship tells me I must die Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
The drama of the Selene Horse’s head is the first thing that gets me sketching. I quickly realize that I’m too numb to number all these glories with my lame hand, but I do jot down a few to find depictions of again later.
We next wander into the great tessellated glass courtyard which surrounds the old reading room. In this room you must think of Marx, and Ezra Pound, and a hundred other reading-frenzied fellows of the past, sinking as sincerely as you into the belly button of these old leather chairs under a dome as happy and fat as a wedding cake.
We go off to spot some of Leonardo’s drawings for Carlo’s research for his play about the relationship between Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci called Chiaroscuro which he has been scraping at lo these many years.
We see the Rosetta stone at the southern entrance to the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, and get some glittery postcards of the same rock. There’s a great computer explanation of the glyphs and Greek nearby, explaining and translating line-by-line. To see the thing itself is to feel what a role pure luck plays in our understanding of ourselves. This whole old civilization might have been no more than a guess to us forever.
After this exertion, we stop at a pub across the street for some lunch, perhaps the Museum Club? They are running out of all their beer taps just as we are getting done with our meal. So, off we head to. . . .
The British Library. Here is a Gutenberg Bible, and King James Bible, many hand-illustrated medieval Bibles. The Magna Carta itself. A first folio of Shakespeare’s. Hand-written lyrics by the Beatles. Pages of Mozart’s inventions. Handel. Beethoven. Some of Shelley’s manuscripts bound into a book owned by Mary Shelley, the back flap of which contains fragments recovered from his funeral pyre. There, in a small oval, lie, direct to my eye, some stirred bones and ashes of one of my real heroes, P. B. Shelley. I see Mary looking over the volume very clearly, growing old, her mind as fine-honed as when she was still kissing him. I will admit to a tear.
That night, as a break from serious theater-going, and because I am still very ill, coughing myself blue and blowing mungy glops of snot into the frail remembrance of a tissue, we get a London Time Out magazine and look up a comedy night. It’s a small place off of Leicester Square called “The Round Table,” and features a double-bill of local nobodies who’ll be hauling ass to the Edinburgh Comedy festival later in the year, and are breaking down their acts by playing at least one gig a night all over the country.
The host is Jay Sodagar (jaysodagar.com), an Indian Englishman, who has reams of material on racism and politics–very touchy stuff, and a bit brave for a nice-guy comic to try and present. He should have a harder edge and not really apologize we tell him later–fuck us if we can’t take a joke. If you’re going to be harsh and over-the-top, go all the way.
The first comedienne up, however, is a Josie Long. She takes a long wind-up, discussing how she’s not a comedienne, she doesn’t have a routine, doesn’t know any jokes or funny bits, etc. all the while dragging out more and more props for her routine. She’s an absurdist. If she can loosen up your gears, she’s golden, and anything said will have a tinge of tickle about it. I have a real enjoyment of this kind of thing, and start to smile and snort right away. By the end of the evening, she’s graced me with three teach-to-student stickers (one of her many props): “Good Boy,” with a curly-headed kid’s face on it, “Well done–you worked out the answers,” with a child clasping his hands together over a desktop among a field of approving stars, and “I helped,” which pictures a smug cat sitting in its stripes.
After her set, Carlo gives her some sound performance advice and earns a sticker himself. She tells me that I’m “lege,” which I hear as “letch,” but is instead short for “legendary.” We take the tube back to the Wellington, and I return to the fable of sleep.
Tower of London.
The Crown jewels. — projection of the crowning ceremony above the snake line into the jewel-viewing rooms.
Somerset House — Gilbert Collection, golden vessels and oldest hammered gold pitcher, Courtauld Institute of Art and the Fine Rooms. Courtyard with great dancing fountain.
St Paul’s Church(?) or not till coming Sunday….
Walk along the Thames. Street performers, some dressed as silver statues.
Bought two books(?) from hawkers along the Strand.
Ate at The Anchor again–heartily. Shivering with end of sickness and feeling cold.
Ascend to The Eye, snapshots of Parliament, Big Ben, Globe around the bend.
“The Globe”–Titus Andronicus. Stagehand came on during intermission to mop-up the blood! Picture taken of us by group behind us.
Carlo got sick, probably from close contact with myself. He stays in, goes to Marks and Spencer for some fresh clothes, new sneakers, a hat, undies.
I take the day, really feeling better, to ascend St. Paul’s scary eyrie. At the Whispering Gallery, I hear the eerie voices of what you can’t help but think are the nearby dead, realizing that the voices are only the prospective dead of the other travelers, tourists, and pilgrims sharing life in mid-air along the gallery rail.
Up from the sunny crypt, where a remembrance of William Blake awaits the visitor, and the bones of a little Wren are fallen, I go on, penitential step by penitential step, to the top, and then the tippy-top. Among the graffitoes of high-altitude love and “Kilroy was here,” I spot a touching addition to the ancient and fancy memorials in the basement. Someone had penned, with indelible ink, a remembrance of others who were loved in life and much missed in death.
In Memory Lola Kelley Lisa (Liam?) Euam Shirlie Lantry Beth Richmond (Rodricks?) Christian Boswell
So the names read, punctuated by a dot of anecdotal gum at the end of the honor roll.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a church of Christ Victorious, where no shadow malingers to draw the philosopher’s syllogism of Godly faith to an alternate conclusion. From the top, I snap a photo of the Millennium Bridge, which lays like a sword connecting the banks of the Thames. From the South Bank, and especially at night, St. Paul’s is a constant reference point, a pilot light to God. And the walk along the thread-slender Millennium Bridge only solidifies the view, offering the walker a long unobstructed view of the massive dome while the void gapes beneath and the Thames goes angrily or placidly along while the wind whines. It is a conceit, this bridge pointing toward God, right out of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress.
At the top, I met a very nice lass from Finland, traveling alone, who had me snap her photo for her to show friends back home. She provided the same service for me, and I thought of the redoubtable Mary Wagner, who traveled to Finland long ago, but brings the adventure up often in her conversation. Mary’s told me that the Finnish are thin-skinned about their reputation in the world, so I take this opportunity to mention Mary’s glossy love for the young woman’s native land. She breaks into a fierce smile, and brags a bit about how far Finland had gone in the World Cup soccer finals. She’s happy to hear Mary’s praise in this incongruous place. Then she tells me she must “get up her courage” to descend the stairs. “I am very afraid of heights.” And yet, here she is, all alone in a foreign land, scaling to the very rafters of purgatory. God save the Finns.
From St. Paul’s Cathedral, I worm my way back down, to the ground, through a shop, to the street, to the tube. I’m heading for Hampstead Heath and Keats’ Grove, the very yard where that nightingale first sang.
Ask directions, long walk through suburbia.
Arrive too early, unless I am a school group. Plead and am denied.
Bookshop in town, bruschetta at “The Bull,” a raw new Italian place where no English is spoken. I explain that I am there to see Keats’ House, the “scrivini.” My pronunciation of “poeta” didn’t pass muster. A glass of bull’s blood wine. Another.
Keats’ bedroom–a feeling of profound simplicity. Still point.
Lock of hair, aspects of Fanny’s story, pick up a button at the desk.
Rain and the painters outside, patiently smoking a fag until it blows over. All will be fine if the wind don’t huff in the wrong direction.
Hard rain keeps me from the walk along Parliament Hill to Highgate and Coleridge’s old home with the medicinal Gilberts, which has only a plaque and no entry. Forgot about Dan Weeks’ mention of a nearby pub Coleridge had haunted. I would have shoved on for that.
Back to The Wellington; Carlo still low-down, is staying in with KFC for his TLC. I go off to The Roxy, gleaned from Time Out London as a dance club.
Great time at The Roxy, fill in notes and write some postcards while the DJ spins a punky mix. Quite a chat with the manager of the joint, who’s from “up north.” Ask him his favorite thing about London, and he says, “The women.” Reminds me of Mike back home who, when I asked him what I should look up in London, replied “The Queen’s skirt?”
Get home, and Carlo has gone out. I sleep, dead tired from all the walking and cheery beers at The Roxy. Carlo has to knock twice, after not successfully getting the management to help, before I wake up enough to let him in. I can’t believe I even locked the door, let alone slept through a knock (very unusual for me). Carlo had dragged his ass to the local gay bar, The Stag, which flies a fanciful rainbow flag over its portal. Truth in advertising here in London-town.
Carlo must be feeling better. Tomorrow we head to Jon Williams’ house, and then Stratford early on Friday.
8AM Breakfast in the basement, a good start for the long, hungry day. Pack our bags next two hours.
10AM Check out of the Wellington. They called the room to kick us out. Carlo was a bit tardy because of all his materials for going on to Elba and Florence for another two months and his still being pretty damn sick. We have the desk hold our bags while we tour the town. We will return for them before the tube out to Jon Williams’.
Tube out to Sir John Soane’s House. Central Line out to Holborn. Amazing crazy perspectives, a real collector’s treasure across from the park.
Lunch at “The Ship,” chipper and fun with a great view of the crowded alleyway–continual foot traffic pouring through the narrow intersection. The whole pub could have been very easily missed. Very different from the roadside billboards and neon highway signs that every business in the US has–frontage, as its called. Here they have a gilded “inwardness” in their advertising. Then again, this pub has been here since 1667–four-hundred forty years of word-of-mouth.
3-4PM Back to Wellington for the bags, train out to Richmond. We arrive early and decide to have a few at O’Neill’s next to the station. No half-and-halfs here, even though it is an Irish pub. Carlo and I have a broad-ranging discussion on all things theater, and rant and rate the productions we have seen. We are getting geared up for Stratford-Upon-Avon, and I for one am having some theater-withdrawal issues.
6:30 PM Call Jon, who zips by and whisks us to his abode. Jon explains that he’s “Not a host. You’ll have to fend for yourself.” Sally serves up some pork-on-a-plate, which is magically delicious, and in the course of a short interview with Carlo finds out more about his personal circumstances than I have gleaned in 10 years of talking with the guy. He works at Brookdale Community College, lives with mother and brother, etc. Amazing stuff, I guess. I preferred our dialectic aesthetics in the pub. Carlo has some witty ripostes to Jon’s wobbly sorties.
8PM Sally hauls Carlo off to the local working-man’s tranny pub after putting Flo to bed. Jon and I stay up listening to his poetry and then half of some dead American comic who’s name evades my mind (Hind?). The poetry isn’t coming, Jon claims, because he is “happy,” and there’s no need for the elusive therapy that only unreasoning rhyme can provide. I’ve heard this story before, from others less forlorn, and have my reservations about such claims. A dubity remains.
11PM I collapse on the floor, sleeping while the TV blares kick-starts of laughter. Soon enough, Jon transfers me to the top-bunk in Flo’s room, since “Carlo would hardly manage it, would he?” I sleep with my head on a fluffly stuffed duck, and my feet hanging over a whirlpool of pinkish little girl’s things. Flo fleets on in dreamland like a trooper, with nary an eyelash flutter.
1-2AM Sally returns before Carlo, having left him in the hands of chatty Andy. Carlo is let in later by Jon. Seems it is Carlo’s fate to be left knocking at the gate. Coincidentally enough, Carlo had told me that he thought he could do a smash-up Macbeth, and would assign himself the minor role of the porter while directing.
5 AM I am up, shaking my head. I descend the bunk bed in stocking feet for the living room to check on Carlo’s status and gather my belongings. Flo is sleeping like an angel on a cloud, all curls and whispery breath. I figure I’ll wake Carlo around 6 AM, and we’ll make the 8:54 out to Stratford-Upon-Avon. I watch Carlo snore like a formation of Boeing 747s for forty minutes, and then give him a poke. His eyes are the Red Sea; he levitates into a sitting position. He makes some witty denial of consciousness, and I adjust my expectations to catching the 10:54. I sit awake in a chair fit for the set of The Brady Bunch for another hour.
Sally makes her way down, yanked along by a lively and lovely Flo. “Good Morning, would you like some tea?” she says. “Yes, indeed,” I concur redundantly. Sally, Flo, and I go into the narrow kitchen, strung at one end with a breezy detail of Xmas lights that looks on to a lush lot of backyard greenery. Sally busies herself with the tea, and some toast for Flo. “We Brits like our tea, don’t we Flo?” “Yaa!” says Flo, dangling her padded feet off the end of the kitchen counter.
“Carlo and I had quite a time last night.” Sally fills me in on how Carlo took the gay bar by storm. I get a more nuanced portrait of the evening later on from Carlo. It always makes me smile to consider Carlo in a social circumstance–his wit rolodex pulls out a winner almost every time. One of the best revelations on this trip, in addition to the metric tonnes of culture I have been exposed to, has been gaining a deeper appreciation of Carlo’s artist’s attitude toward life. Always a poise beyond the pose, a snap of wit that reconfigures the flop of circumstance. The fellow really is a sort of well-padded Napoleon. No wonder he’s on his way to Elba after London!
As Sally pops the toast, and I sip my tea under the straggly twinkle of the Xmas lights, she gives some motherly instruction to young Flo.
“Flo, would you like butter or honey on your toast?”
“Or Marmite!” I interject, remembering Sally and Jon’s tricking me into eating a piece of toast with a big glob of Marmite on it in San Diego. Stuff tastes like axle grease soaked for a year in salt porridge.
“Hun-neee!” answers Flo.
“Honey it is. Where does honey come from, Flo?”
“Pigs?” Sally is smiling. “Are you sure? Mightn’t it be from….”
Before Sally can say “bees,” I fill in with a fanciful tale about the “bumble-pigs” that visit the flowers, sucking up nectar with their snouts, and making honey back at the hive. Sally seems to enjoy the story, but Flo comes in at last and corrects me: “It’s not pigs, it’s bees.” Seems that Flo was just busting Sally’s chops–a time-honored family tradition everywhere.
10:54 AM Carlo and I eventually make the 10:54 from Marleybone Station back in the hub of London. But not without Jon declaring my concern about being on time or a little early to be “anal.” I guess he’s surly when early. The Marleybone Station itself is very nice, with a vaulted glass ceiling, and a large departures and arrivals board blinking in front of where Carlo and I have alighted. On the train, Carlo’s throat gets much worse as increasing levels of green go bounding by outside the compartment window. A young American student is taking the train out to Stratford for the day to poke around.
1 PM Arrive in Stratford and check-in at The Sequoia Hotel. The eponymous sequoia behind the building is a towering quiet presence, and reminds me again of San Diego. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the tree is visiting England just as Carlo and I are visiting. It sways with a sort of buoyant, vowel-rounded American accent. Carlo takes a bath and a nap. I stroll around Stratford, almost all the way down to Holy Trinity. I come back to the garden behind our hotel and begin taking some serious travel-notes. The garden itself is a terrific wild-things hodge-podge leading on to the white gate through the hedge. I half-expect a giant bunny winding a pocket-watch to bounce by.
Stop by Cox’s Yard, meet two yobs who make a brilliant jest about what a good writer “William Shatner” is.
6-7:30 PM Carlo and I dine at an old pub (which one?) and go on to see “Romeo and Juliet” at the RSC Theater across the way. Our seats are up in the balcony, royal red plush seats, but narrow for all that. The staging is spare and modernist, with a post-modern “framing device” that a Greek village is putting on “Romeo and Juliet” to help two warring factions in the village keep the peace. Renewing a pledge of non-violence by a ritualistic repetition of this play as a cautionary tale (which is how the play, in didactic terms, presents itself).
The acting itself is spot-on for the most part. Juliet is superbly wonderful, full of youth and openness. The Nurse steals every scene she’s in. Romeo is honest and intent, better in love than when “in love with love.” Capulet is crashing great, and Tybalt is all edge and no depth–an extremely effective bit of black magic. The only off-note is Mecrucio! Hard to believe, but his flights of imagination come off cold, under-cooked somehow. He’s not particularly sympathetic and is more clown than wit one way, and more hammer than rapier the other.
12 PM Sleep in the frilly sheets.
8AM Breakfast in the well-lighted dining area. Table service for the selections. Carlo is happy to be getting a “real” English breakfast. Pouring rain all day long.
9:30 AM First Stratford touring bus. Takes us out to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Mary’s parent’s place (?), and all around town. On the second time around we get off at Nash’s New Place to see a fancy house of Shakespeare’s time, and then again at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and last at the Anne Hathaway’s Cottage–an amazing treat!
1:30 PM We make the curtain rising on Julius Caesar just in the very nick of time. Terrific opening stuff with drums and colors–a parade in the everglades. Bang on performances by all.
3:30 PM Carlo gets some McDonald’s, goes back to take a nap. Rain continues steady. We agree to meet at The Black Swan and then cross the street together to the “Swan Theater,” built in Victorian times, to see “Much Ado About Nothing.”
I drink and eat at The Black Swan, which WWII servicemen stationed in Stratford had called The Dirty Duck, and which now has a drunken duck on one side of the sign, and an elegant charcoal swan on the other. Carlo doesn’t show, and I’m mis-informed about the time by an Eastern European worker who perhaps didn’t know how to read a clock. I rush out late and jump across the street. Luckily, I had handed Carlo his own ticket earlier.
7:30 PM “Much Ado About Nothing.” I’m ten minutes late, sneak in through a quiet curtain, and am shown my “standing rail.” A mother and her grown daughter are sharing the rail, which has a step-up platform. I pass Carlo in the dark on the way to my railing. This turns out to be one of the best performances of all, with many of the actors from that afternoon’s Julius Caesar and last night’s Romeo and Juliet in the cast. The comic effects never fall flat or fail–not even once. There is zero loss of meaning. The cast and director have strategized this piece into a comic opera buffe ballet.
12 PM. Sleep.
Last day in Stratford. Weather clearing today.
8 AM Real English Breakfast with a double helping of bacon instead of bacon and sausage, scrambled eggs, OJ, tea, and lots of toast. We gather up our stuff, check out, and leave our bags at the front office as we prepare for a final look around, and a visit to Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare is buried.
9 AM Long sunny stroll to Holy Trinity, reviewing the sights along the way, which include the prominent vestiges of “canal culture” in Stratford. Sometime in the early 1800s, the canal locks came through and Stratford became one of the largest central points on the canal lines through the middle of the country. Many distribution “yards” were set up, and now only “Cox’s Yard,” converted to a tourist pub-stop, survives as a reminder. Stratfordians, having catered to visitors since the 1700s intent on seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace, knew how to hold onto the vestiges of the early 1800s canal boom. A Disneyfied waterpark sports old barges converted to ice cream stands and mini-restaurants; some are even B&Bs, where you can snooze on the placid flatness of the old canal. There are a few private barges mixed in where retirees have perennial access to the safe beauties of a cute tourist town. I’d love to see the barges in winter when the pond is frozen over.
We cross over a surviving lock on our walk to church, and take advantage of the good light to take some snaps of the Shakespeare monument in the park. Carlo poses convincingly with his doubled-double Falstaff in merry manner, and broods with a playwright’s forlorn longing at the eyes-aghast statue of Hamlet. I find the bronzen figures a mite overdone, with their gazes big as thumb-holes in the shaped clay of their characters. Only the Shakespeare, seated and staring at the top of the stack retains a static human dimension and mysteriousness; he is plain, compact, and inward. Like most of the English I’ve passed between on my visit to this land, he’s said nothing but what he has meant to say. The rest is conjecture.
10 AM We enter the grounds of Holy Trinity, having gone along the Avon slowly as mendicant monks dawdling toward the corrective lash. The church bells sound the town to order and call the faithful to prayer. There is a long, large graveyard that we pass through to get to the low doorway of the church, a small hole, but not yet the eye of a needle for we overfed moderns. Well-dressed citizens of Stratford roll along the pathway with us, before us, and after us–we are but two in the trembling flow. We duck in, and Carlo begins negotiations to get us the last fifty feet to the wall-monument and the tombstone set in the floor. Carlo lets it be known that we are on a “pilgrimage of sorts,” but resists the offer to let us sit at the front on the side as the High Eucharist is performed in a few minutes. The door warder recommends our case to the warden, who turns us over to the priest as worshippers repeat polite “excuse mes” past the bumptious Americans.
Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, to digg the dust encloased heare, Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones.
I recall the words on the tombstone as we wait. I think Carlo is hoping for a profane miracle which it seems will not come to pass. He lets them know that we have a train to catch back to London. Even here in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Christ can out-arm-wrestle the Bard. The Holy Ghost is more to the point than the Ghost of hamlet’s father, etc. The priest protests that the time is too near, and the tombstone too close to the altar to have us wade by and exit just now. I see some dim spot of color mid-height on the wall down by the altar, and know it must be that roly-poly depiction of Shakespeare we have already seen some half-dozen times in our travels. Carlo turns to me and asks, with anxious mien, what I would like to do. “Let’s just leave,” I say, with a “Thank you very much” to the priest and warders, and smilingly retreat from hallowed halls to hallowed ground.
12 PM Train back to Marleybone Station, London. The plan is to hook up with Jon Williams this evening for a tour of “authentic” surviving punk clubs. Monday is Whitsun Bank Holiday in the UK, and Memorial Day in the US. Looking forward to experiencing this strata of contemporary London from a “native who knows.” The green landscape unrolls in reverse, getting brighter as we roll. This may be the best day we have experienced weather-wise.
2 PM Check in to The Wellington, give Jon a ring. Carlo and I walk toward the Cheshire Cheese for a final London meal; it is officially our favorite place. We are walking from Vincent Square, all the way down to Fleet Street since the weather is fine, and we’ll hit a few over-looked sights along the way.
The first is Buckingham Palace, which I keep calling Buckington for some reason. I give Jon a call from near the gates, and Carlo tries and connect with his mom back in the states. Carlo’s worried, me much less so. There’s a ring of snapping flags around a generous rotunda outside the gilded gates of the palace, which itself looks to be about two city blocks in size. The flags are hung in an ingenious way like draperies, and do not flap about so much and droop decorously. The colors are the blue background, white Vs, and big red X of the British flag. We spot some palace guards marching to their post within the gated courtyard. In the middle in the Queen Victoria Memorial, with a golden Victory at the top, her wings in full-flight.
Through the Mall, St. James’ Park to the right, St. James’ Palace to the left, down toward Admiralty Arch. And the pillar to the Duke of York, who “when he was up, he was up, and when he was down, he was down.” Now he is forever up, grandly looking over the marvelous mall and the cool expanse of the park–which was mobbed after weeks of horrendous rain. On to Trafalgar Square, where we met our old friends again, Admiral Nelson, the barefoot and pregnant Alison Lapper, champion of human rights, George IV, Henry Havelock, and Sir James Napier. Some good views of St Martin-in-the-Fields before strolling on toward The City area, where the Royal Courts of Justice shone strongly in the afternoon light. The black clock stuck out from the side of building seems, as odd as it is, to go well with the many-faced complex. The Royal Courts seem to be busy, even when closed, simply by the intricacy of the facade and the adjoining buildings. Here’s the Old Bailey, famed in terror and story.
We pass Twinnings tea store, the narrowest shop in London, with a pair of painted Chinamen leaning against a tiny Greek triangle arch at the top. It is closed, as is everything this late Sunday afternoon. I know some tea enthusiasts who will be pleased to see the icon back home. Just down the Strand, which will turn into Fleet St, is one of my favorite City Dragons, high on a two-storey pedestal and isolated on a traffic island. Its ears seem pinned back like an angry cat’s, and its paw up like a kitty rampant. The beast is in black iron, and seems prepared to strike former colonists for lack of other meat. There’s a pair of crosses on the wings, and it hold a shield up with one clawed arm. On the street’s another pair of red telephone booths. Carlo calls his mom, and I Jon, both to no effect.
We reach the Cheshire Cheese, which is closed. “Shut,” as the fellow says who is locking up. “Open Tuesday,” he explains because of Monday’s bank holiday. Carlo and I finally break down and take the tube back up to SoHo. As Carlo explains, gay club culture never takes a holiday–or, more properly, never ceases from taking a holiday. This is great, I wanted to get to the bohemian side of London, and look forward to the change.
Out at Tottenham Court Road station, and up the gritty nickering steps and out. The place was busy! Lots of talking as cafes had people pushed out onto the sidewalks in hunky bunches. After a few turns down the street, we come to official SoHo, and right away there’s a change of feel to the place. It’s like being back in New York City. A bit more nitty, a bit more gritty. The cafes and pubs seem really worn at the edges, even if they are not 400 years old. But first things first; we’re fairly aching for calories after all the walking. We meander in to “The Dog and the Duck,” which has a sign all green and golden. This was George Orwell’s favorite slurp-spot, we find out. We also find out that SoHo was once the King’s hunting preserve (hence the dog and the duck), where the old hunting cry was heard: “sooo-hooo!”
We began our obligatory tour of the SoHo sex shops, famous throughout the world for their staunch raunch. The couple we fingered our way through, palpating the merchandise, as it were, seemed about the same as such shops in the US, just a tad cleaner, better lit, and more freshly stocked. Maybe its all the rain, maybe it’s the rate of sale of items. I didn’t get to know any Brits well enough to find out for myself. (Sigh.) Down an alley or two, which honeycomb the notable area, and there were a series of Eastern European girls who made catcalls at us, trying to drum up some trade for their rip-off joints. They were attractive and stackable, but Carlo had the best line “Even if you had a more attractive brother, I’d have to say no. And I’m sure, if you had a brother, he’d be attractive.” Carlo had read in Frommer’s that these places were sort of sexual shanghai shops, where you walked in for 5 pounds, but couldn’t get out without the total pilfering of your purse. And all you got for it was that you creamed in your jeans. Not a notable bargain, however whipped-up my quickened prick kicked.
Carlo and I stopped by the venerable Admiral Duncan, bombed for being a gay club in 1998. We had a drink in solidarity with the huffing oppressed, and then parted company. Carlo wanted to prowl the wanton town, and I wanted to find a place with some good punk vibes. The place I found was “The Intrepid Fox,” which totally reminded me of the defunct punk Melody back in New Brunswick, NJ. They had a glued-on gallery of they patron from Halloweens past up over the bar, which was tended by a vest-no-shirt dude in a snakeskin cowboy hat.
9PM-12AM Had 4 Stella Artois at the bar, my first time drinking the same drink since I got to England. These really got me hammered somehow. I wandered home blunderingly disoriented (florescent fragments of tube stops come to mind), but made it to the haven of The Wellington all the same. Soaked my head in the sink and plowed myself under the sheets. Carlo came in even later.
5:30 AM Ransack Carlo’s “pharmacy” bag for aspirin and blink out again.
8 AM At breakfast, Carlo fills me in on his adventures, getting chatted up by a tranny at “The Stag,” which was just a block from our hotel, and had a rainbow pointedly painted over its horny portal. We post our last postcards as I then go on to Heathrow, throwing “daddy a hug.” The train out is packed like a peanut jar. Everyone is using the bank holiday to escape London, eiher to the country or just back to their home countries.
Victoria to Green Park to Hatton Cross to Bus Service to Terminal 4.
The Changing Room
A girl loses sight of her three sisters while shopping at the mall. She will stop at nothing to find them again, but will it be enough?
“The Changing Room is full of underground rivers we feel but cannot see. It’s a book for all the siblings of the world.”
“This fantastical tale takes flight with a magical synergy of story and pictures to charm our imaginations. Through metaphors of estrangement, it touches on the reality of loss, and emerges to celebrate the triumph of the sisterly bond.”
“A whimsical riff on the power of love to transform and tame us.”
“Hellgrammite” masquerades as a humble book of fishing poems and tales, but it is much more than that. It is a mythological multi-legged creature, creeping and crawling with vivid nature poems, ink drawings, sensitive haiku and two remarkably crafted short stories. By turns terrifying, tragic, witty and surreal, author Mathew V. Spano serves as the reader’s guide, turning over river rocks of the unconscious and inviting readers to reach down into the wet darkness to probe mysteries of Mother Nature and human nature.
Palisades, Parkways & Pinelands
An anthology of contemporary New Jersey poets
As the title "Palisades, Parkways & Pinelands" implies, the book at hand has grown from New Jersey roots. More specifically, it is an outgrowth of the Pier Village Poetry Festival, held in view of the Atlantic in Long Branch, New Jersey, on the Fourth of July 2015. For that event, organizer and Long Branch Poet Laureate Emanuel di Pasquale called together some twenty poets from the far-flung New Jersey poetry tribe. A sampling of their work, along with that of others who could only be present in spirit that day, is included in the present volume. As its genesis and development suggest, "Palisades, Parkways & Pinelands" is meant to be a celebration of contemporary New Jersey poetry and a continuation of a long poetic tradition in the Garden State that stretches back to colonial times.
Poets in the anthology: Gabor Barabas, Laura Boss, Jesse Burns, Olivia Calabrese, Emanuel di Pasquale, Prescott Evarts,Frank Finale, Maria Mazziotti Gillian, Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown], David Sten Herrstrom, Carrie Pedersen Hudak, Charles H Johnson, Laine Sutton Johnson, Hank Kalet, Sarah Keane, XJ Kennedy, Ronna Lebo, HA Maxson, Jack Monahan, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Peter E. Murphy, Susanna Rich, Lauren Marie Schmidt, Mathew Spano, Frank J. Valentino, Emily Vogel, BJ Ward, Michael Waters, Daniel Weeks, Joe Weil, Dan Zimmerman, Sander Zulauf