Uncivil Hours

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Oct 072019

Let us! my dear friend, console ourselves for the unsuccessful efforts of our lives to serve our fellow creatures by recollecting that we have aimed well.
~~Dr. Benj. Rush to John Adams about the day they signed the Decl. of Ind.

Battle Lines

Nor cringe if come the night: 
Walk through the cloud to meet the pall, 
Though light forsake thee, never fall 
From fealty to light. 
     ~~Melville, The Enthusiast 

Long I’ve plotted an epic poem, a poem to stand in relation to my native country as those broad stripes stand in relation to our flag. The subject would have to be the Civil War, of course; it was then, as at no time since the Revolution, that the country grew articulate in self-definition. Lincoln was the poet we elected president. The Civil War generation was the most letter-writing cohort of warriors America has ever produced. Brother fought brother, fathers took up arms against their sons, and slaves escaped to return fire at their former masters–and then forgive them when they stood in post-war relation to each other as citizens.

And when articulation failed, and all the buzzwords of secession and abolition grew sharp as bayonets, the forges of war found their tongues, and vile shrapnel was vomited in Shenandoah’s sleepy dells. The Civil War, like every war, found its heroes on both sides of the battle line; unknown men arose who proved equal to their times and mastered the moment presented them.

* * * * *

On a personal level, as I contemplated my (potentially calamitous) approach to a Civil War epic, I found myself confounded as much as coddled by the breakneck immensity of resources available to investigate the old wounds of yesteryear. All things lead to all things via the lightspeed factcheck that Google presupposes. And where facts were in dispute, the very best disputations were available–along with interactive 3D battlemaps, and endless chances to reengage and rejigger the results with computer game simulations or alternative history sci-fi. As a poet, I am most drawn to pipe-smoking and twiddling long strands of grass between my thumbs. Books are fuel for mules; how much more senseless was a digital dive into the cacophonous black hole of internet archives.

Still, in all, I did a fair amount of death-grip gazing into backlit screens, and mumbling over luminous words in book after book. I felt the hair-raising chill of listening to surviving veterans cry out a final Rebel Yell on YouTube from a 1923 reunion, each man aimed at the microphone and camera and instructed by a friendly fat man to “Do your worst, Grandpa.” And then one last cry in unison, and every cat in the house snapped to look at the speaker as if at a ghost. I’m sure a dog would have returned the unearthly howl.

* * * * *

How, exactly, I asked myself, was the Civil War that “most American of all America’s wars” after the Revolution itself? Where, exactly, is the anchoring pin in this crazy pinwheel of deeds? The Gettyburg Address? The glum dignity in the surrender at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered his sword while Grant attempted polite small talk to ameliorate the sting of defeat his fiercest foe surely felt? I take some comfort in Yeats’ statement (who midwifed modern Ireland into being in many ways), when he said “It is always necessary to affirm and to reaffirm that nationality is in the things that escape analysis.” Perhaps all my moody brooding was for naught. I should be content to be a teller of tales, a stenographer of fact. In any case, hesitation on my grand project was no longer an option–whatever America was and whatever being an American meant would be an emergent quality that arose from dream and poem. So, I’d better start writing.

* * * * *

You may have noticed that you are not holding an epic poem in your hands. That ambition my muse has decided to deny me in this round at the foundry. But, page after page, you’ll find flickers whisked together; you can follow muddy footprints to Shiloh, or pace over an acre of Petersburg’s siege as I have done. Whether these poems are equal to their theme, the reader must discover. Every poet has his Zoilus, as they say, and if mine is reading this book today or is yet to be born, I do not know. Still, there’s something here that time has folded and put in my pocket.
I give it to you.

Gregg Glory
May 5, 2019

True and Untrue;
or, The Facts of the Matter

	I hadn't seen a piece of soap in a year.
	     ~~John T. Wickersham

Yeats’ “affable, Falstaffian man” is as much a part of the story of his Irish civil war as those great public events of the rebellion in poems like “Easter 1916.” No one wants to distort the facts, but even a selection of facts slants the story. And poetry is more than mere story, it is the soul of every story. Poetry tells the facts why they must be true. Like the formula of the alchemist, or the equation of the quantum mechanic, poetry arbitrates, through exploration and discovery, the bounds of our reality.

The historian has a hard road, and must site map and affidavit for his every step. A poet, when his soul’s alight, burns away the tightrope that he treads. These poems seek a meaning in-between these stark extremes. Helen and the burning tower is no more evocative than Lincoln in his tophat. Well, not necessarily. The eye that weeps the tear, floods the landscape. A nation’s history is crafted by its participants; they see, they feel the meaning of the thing. For one’s truth to become a public truth, it must resonate–in both emotion and in fact. History is no free ride for those with an ax to grind, for those who would delete the subjectivities of the past with their Buzzfeed-fresh agenda.

Accordingly, my approach is hedged round with doubts. I’m trying to find the seed of things in the desiccated plant on the sill. Sometimes, a very personal approach, a singular story, helps flesh the skeleton whose hand I hold while he tells his dead man’s tale. Sometimes, it is only through the torrent of future events that some aspect of the past has grown significant. And here, the mirror is watery. I fret and pull the threads of fate; I squint and wipe the ocean from my diver’s mask, hoping to reach the beach.
Quotation and epigraph abound in these poems to lessen the culpability of Clio’s amanuensis. Lee and Lincoln are brought to the docket to testify on their own behalf; or words recorded by others are introduced to damn or indemnify the figure on trial. Such a strategy has its own half-life, and the phrases used can cut against the organic unity of the poem even as they apply a thin veneer of authority to the proceedings. Rhythm is the one vitality that no poem can do without, and my slinky attraction to quotation can leave me in the unenviable position of a mynah bird, eerily reiterating the last words of a murder victim.

There are several other common dangers in this sort of poeticization of history. One can succumb to the expert’s hip elision, a habit of reference that only communicates to those already “in the know.” This is already a danger in poetry generally, which prefers by far to implicate than to provide evidence. With factual antecedents, the danger of missed connections increases, and the poem’s secret limbic system is liable to go offline or develop incoherent buboes. “Only connect…” was James Dickey’s rigorous dictum, and maintains its imperative strength to this day. It is ignored at the author’s, and, more importantly, the reader’s, peril.

In this collection, abortions along the highway to an epic birth, the language alternates rather harshly between a creampuff softness and the bony planks of bare narrative. In “Night Ride (Toward Gettysburg),” there is so much dreaminess that the rider on his horse literally falls asleep! The entire poem is a subjective guess, almost wholly an invention born of one small act of fact. The epigraph to the poem tells the fact: completely exhausted regiments fell asleep in their saddles while riding toward the next day’s battlefield. And this detail, to me, was the seed, the soul, of the contrasting humanity and inhumanity of war–in all times and places. Still, there’s a queasy awkwardness I feel in filling out a page that history left blank. These men in blue and grey, and all the others, slave and civilian, are my national companions, and I am loathe to touch their suffering as if it were my own.

And sometimes, of course, the stars are gone and the moon is down.

As a kind of dry repentance for my sins of invention–a Lenten giveback to God above–there are a number of passes at narrative verse in these pages. These can feel too simple, “ripped from the headlines” as the TV movies say. A pristine example is “The Midnight Ride of Abraham Lincoln,” which is just literally Ward Hill Lamon’s report of Lincoln telling Lamon the story of his nail-biting escape from a gunman, gussied up a touch and poured into a vacant vase of verse. Lincoln is a master storyteller, and I couldn’t improve upon his shaggy dog tale if I had two MFAs.

An ampler, and more typical, example of the process of transition from history to poetry is available in “Pieces of the Old Battle Flag.” It is practically unrhymed, and virtually without invention. I changed John Wickersham’s name to Ned. He left his own narrative about coming home from the war, and I read it in B.A. Botkin’s collection of Civil War tales and folktales. Its simplicity and reality left me trashed with tears. My poem, direct as it is, manages to miss a great deal of his easy poignancy–and yet it is my best attempt at a teetering retelling. I left all the symbols in de minimus outline, and make the reader rip his humanity on the hard edges of the words. There’s very little “mood music” to queue up the reader’s response. Even reading it out loud, the old-fashioned sound of it is more like a grandfatherly wheedle than a poem. And yet it stands, returned to the page even as John/Ned returned to the uncomprehending arms of his family.

Between fact and abstraction, there is certainly room for legitimate invention–coloring inside the lines, as it were. But how different from the satisfaction of Milton’s Satan, standing shaggy-legged and monstrous against a Deity of perfection! I’m as reconciled as a pendulum to my method.

As for a third kind of poem, those that have grown truly unfashionable, anthems of anything other than naked identity, I can refer most reassuringly of all to the historical record. Many are the casuistries and verities of that distant day. Even the nimble Timrod parsed out his “Ethnogenesis,” mad with reified abstractions to unseat the Northern tyrants from their “evil throne.” But, to me, the “terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,” of that poetry, like Thomas Read’s “Sheridan’s Ride,” has more in common with the verified goodness of verse than the many idiot rants that assail my ears in the New Yorker, each one banking on the slim authority of “my truth” to avoid a scrupulous accounting of their faults. These are my chosen battle lines, where poetry and history meet and conflict.

I have squared off in my corner, and will defend my stance against all comers. And so I can say, with unironic vigor:

Ghosts of a time not yet made witless....


Uncivil Hours

What tragedy befell us in those days 
Is not mine alone to toll, to tell--
A thousand voices, a million all 
Wailing in abominable chorus could not 
Convey the terror, anxiety and waste 
Of those dead days. 

Whatever one man can carry 
Out of Hell, I'll carry to tell you. 
What words cannot do, let bones 
Knitted by raw time at the breaks 
Display in mute witness.  

Ghosts of a time not yet made witless, 
Armies whose worn shoulders show 
As increasing mist, gather without regard 
To blue or grey, and let your old voices 
Roll coldly now that once had the hot 
Imprint of youth.



All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.
     ~~Herman Melville 


The Abolitionist Congregation

And about this time, I had a vision–and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened–thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams.

~~Nat Turner

The preacher in his pulpit blazed: 
"One God for them and us! 
Never once since the seventh day 
Has God divided races-- 
It's man by man we're saved 
Or damned and thrown to Hades." 

A peace surpassing passed among 
The Boston congregants; 
They knew a truth and knew it strong 
Beyond all argument. 
They stood in choir and raised great song 
Above collars starched and neat: 

"Let salvation's mustard seeds 
Be blown among the nations--
Where it grows their taste shall be 
Sharp for generations. 
Let war pour forth the blood we need
To hasten our germination!" 

Why the Confederacy Became

Fanaticism is inculcated in the Northern mind and ingrained in the Northern heart, so that you may make any compromise you please, and still, until you can unlearn and unteach the people, we shall find no peace….

~~Overheard at Virginia’s secession convention

Attack our ways and wound our own
Who'd brought Jefferson and Washington
And all those famous firsts to stirrup--
Rebel men who would not give up
Beating pell-mell into the dawn
Virginian steeds, and would not stop.

Now that revolutionary dawn
Grows stale and cold in Northern hearts,
Tyranny grinds with iron wheels
All minds and every thought.
How can they who hammer and cog
Find valor in a ball of cotton?

To no king nor any petty liege
Shall rebel spines bend what brave
Steel runs through them yet: let
All come!  Let gamblers place their bets! 
Before the first Virginian grieves
Yankee widows will pace and fret.

The War Comet;
or, Oola’s Prophecy

You see dat great fire sword, blazin’ in de sky? Dat’s a great war coming and de handle’s to’rd de Norf and de point to’rd de Souf, and de Norf’s gwine take dat sword and cut de Souf’s heart out.

~~Oola’s prophecy, as told to Lincoln

A shadow at the bedroom window 
Tall without his stovepipe hat; 
Long his looking at the ragged coal 
Of the fiery sword of comet. 

His tan hand patted a padded pocket    
In time to a nameless tune; 
A time was coming to grasp the sword, 
And the time for peace near gone. 

The comet flickered, weak and wily, 
While clockhands met in prayer-- 
His eyes upcast to skies to read 
What was written there in fire. 

What moved one heart would move a million; 
Both for and against, it flashed; 
The man in the black coat turned, and turned 
Again, in the shadow of fire and ash. 

Restless fingers in his pocket then 
Moved upon the restless words: 
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
Of his terrible, swift sword. 

The Anaconda Unwound

Winfield Scott takes McClellan aside after a White House winter dance

Comes the winter as came the summer, comes war 
As sure across the Potomac when spring unhinges-- 
All's a dance, McClellan, verily a dance.  Dash and pause, 
And pause, and dash.  I've seen it snake across the years, 
Wily or swift, snap-jaw or anaconda pressure-hold, 
Mate and checkmate as the tables turn, as time 
Reveals the pattern waiting in the dance. 
When the Whigs put me up for president in '52 
Our notions for the nation were leggiero, 
Lightly, lightly, the high baton mocking the drum's 
Hard-tapped time;  but the country then was all 
Lilt and liberamente, the dour South already skittish 
At school-marm abolitionists preaching through their teeth
Sturm und drang drama from Northern pulpits. 
And Time the snake hissed me out of office:  
Ssstay a sssoldier, Sscott, await the drat of duty's drum  
When time's old do-si-do comes round again. 
--Yes, yes, as you say, tonight's cotillion  
Was an elegant affair, you the prettiest man, 
McClellan, ever to show a leg upon those boards. 
The ladies smiled as if some young Napoleon 
Had asked their hand, and turned a tune with them. 
Fine times, fine times, but as I was saying--
The plan, the plan that stays unstated says: defeat!
Must return to the topic, as the snake to his coils.
I've heard time's sad lento movement unroll 
As well;  spent a dead year imprisoned in cold 
Canadian irons, legs listless that had been restless.
In 1812, I little knew, and less guessed
How such lento languishment led on in time
To hazardous pizzicato punch and push:
At Lundy's Lane, one fighting night above Niagara,
Troops unready for the Brits' fire and bitumen-- 
A blaze of blood to end all advancing, 
Rifles' firelight a flame of snake in the waters,
The falls a sourceless roar around us: war! 
The dead spilled everywhere like Indian beads.... 
I would not have such red spillage now. No, 
Dash and pause is the plan, a sidewinder waltz. 
Wait, and work the odds, then pitch the table  
Hard enough, and the most stubborn marble rolls. 
Confine the Confederates from advance, cinched 
Hip-by-jowl in our close contredanse--slow 
The fiddle, and slow the fife--here at Washington. 
Then twenty loaded gun boats, and forty more of men 
To sweep the Mississippi's spine quite clear, 
A slithering pas-de-deux, in one blasting pass; 
And make what blockade we can at oceanside, 
Threading in ships-of-the-line at adagio speed. 
Soon you'll see, without the terrible expense 
Of invasion and defense, the dance'll come 
Back round to us.  Cotton will go rotten on their docks! 
Plantation men are money men, McClellan, 
Those fire-eaters will be in a fix but quick, 
With cold water hosing down their backs! 
It all winds round to politics--the dance 
Of dash and pause, the slink and strike of snakes. 
If, by gunboat and blockade, we impose a pause-- 
Dash against dash must annihilate in peace, 
As self-meeting ripples cancel when they kiss. 
Let's spare our southern brethren and ourselves. 
I would not raise my hand against my feet; 
The dance is not a dance that has no steps.... 
Let us lace our anaconda constrictor  
Around the rebel states, and let the pauses 
Pull them home by inches to our loving arms. 

Choosing Sides; or,
Mark Twain Enters the War, Almost

If the bubble reputation can only be obtained at the cannon’s mouth, I am willing to go there for it, provided the cannon is empty.
~~Mark Twain

Here at Hannibal, Zeb, unhurried waters
Ain't much in a fit, so let's us not rush 
As war turns its great gears--let time loiter, 
Turn the riverboat wheel like a paint brush, 
And see what water greenesses unfold.... 
War's not such a thing as we've been told 
Reading chivalrous tales of Ivanhoe 
And gettin' on a horse dressed up like a stove. 
What it is, though, I don't likely know. 
Saw little kids parading, yelling ‘Jeff Davis!' 
Since there's not yet no song for all this  
Whatever it is the country's doing, tearing  
Itself to nothing like a worried bone. 
What dog's got us in its teeth?  Go wary, 
Zeb, them Union men mayn't leave us alone 
As we row along to Memphis.  At home 
They'll be busy choosing sides, picking teams 
For all this folderol of flags and hats. 
Take the bend easy, who knows what dreams 
We may disturb at the blockade, or what-- 
(A cannonball smashes the pilothouse windows out.)
"Good Lord a'mighty, Sam, what'd they mean by that!?" 

A Parade of Gallantry

“I am Henry Wilson,” said he, “United States Senator;” but the teamster, perfectly unmoved by the announcement of the dignity and importance of his petitioner, cried out, “I don’t give a — who you are,” and lashing his mules, sped on his way.
~~Cornelia McDonald

"A parade of gallantry, surely," she said, 
Servants fetching fourth the wrapped roasted 
Chicken and basket of champagne to pop the cork 
When push becomes shove, and those rapscallions 
Run high-tailin' it home.  "They look so small, 
Even in the opera glass, our men, Henry--
Have a glance where dusts are gathering some."

Unfolded by their picnic, idle congressman and wife
Thought a day of arms would settle a ten years' strife
And snug closed the fraternal argument sprung
Open among wide America's battalion of brothers.
"There's a snap, hear it? And some skinny pink fingers
Amid the cotton balls. Must've crossed Bull Run, swung
Left into their scattered flank. Soon we'll see, dear.
Pass the asparagus, thanks." 

                             Sometimes a little cheer
Rose among the checkered blankets, ragged and thin
As half of Congress applauded itself, the creek 
Thickening with skirmish, and, after a few hours, 
Ghostly and sickening, the Rebel Yell, 
As if from those about to die and win.

The Traveling Darkroom; or,
Mathew Brady Carrying a Camera

Eyes that… stare too wide to close.
~~ W. D. Snodgrass

A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.
~~Mathew Brady

More dark!  More dark!  Let's see at last 
What war has left upon my plated glass. 
Carrying my heavy camera to the front, crumbed
In dust, I frame the conflict with an artist's thumb.
Here at Bull Run the NY fire zouaves 
Put a sword in my hand that I might preserve 
Life and limb a minute longer when the Federal line 
Collapsed snakelike, a windtorn kite's dead twine. 
Each plate I rescued from the field of battle, 
Slimed with collodion like a salamander's 
Skin, mirrors in miniature the exploding world:
Shells like sunbursts, spasmed faces angry and bold.
I follow troops in my long duster;  a black tent,  
My traveling darkroom, dragged on horsecart. 
That's where alchemy becomes advertisement, 
So newspapers can print what war has wrought. 
With exposure, light passes through a glass 
Darkly and excites the emulsion, as 
God shining down upon the soul does. 
Bathed in ferrous sulfate, I bring forth those 
Final images of modern men from time's 
Gluey muck, shuffle the glass cards, and then 
Fix 'em like an insect pinned in my collection. 
The mortician's touch of potassium cyanide-- 
Too perfect to change!  Let's see what verified 
Heroes come jumping from this chemic pool, 
The square of ruby light catching me coolly 
Red-handed at my work.  When John Q. Adams 
Sat in studio with his lion's mane, 
I felt Franklin's lightning beat my fist and let 
The shutter drop on history, my best 
Camera lens the doll's eye of posterity.   
From the first, I pledged to my country 
To save the faces of historic men and mothers 
So we citizens might recognize each other. 
Something's coming through now, shapes of shapes. 
I see the tilde of a zouave officer's flying cape--
Would-be blue blurs are moving over clearer 
Figures grinded to a stillness nearer 
The killing ground... are these all dead bodies? 

In cartes de visite I made my first real money; 
I told departing soldiers packing their haversacks 
Down at the recruiting station: Tell your Mom that 
"You cannot tell how soon it may be too late."  

Trouble at the Ford

Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.
~~Donald Trump

Did that dread-sick blue-grey couple spin 
Drunk about a cracking axle? 
Broken music of the grand battle 
Swings mud-laden boys around again 
Where Bull Run stream breaks the land 
And a gambler nation lays its longshot hand. 

Congress came with cakes and wine, 
Gallantry to make fine ladies swoon 
Shot and counter-shot done by noon, 
Checkerboard kings crowned by dying men. 
But the dancers of that great game 
Were blind, and soon enough grew lame. 

Soon confusion enfiladed every line, 
Filleted the Union on their back 
Reversed them down their beaten track 
As if all clocks rewound the time; 
Although new blood flowed by the old Stone Bridge 
Defeat was all men had to give. 

10,000 men in grey gave hellish chase; 
10,000 blues threw down their guns 
To ease the striding of their run--
A wild rebel yell bid them haste 
While summer ladies whipping parasols 
Raced pell-mell through Congress' halls. 

A Bedside Whitman

Bacchus-browed, bearded like a satyr, and rank.
~~Bronson Alcott’s description of Whitman

Two boat loads came about half-past seven last night. A little after eight it rain’d a long and violent shower. The pale, helpless soldiers had been debark’d, and lay around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere.
~~Whitman, The Wounded from Chancellorsville

Whitman loped through hospital wards 
His brotherly shoulders huge and stooped 
Over the endless injured. 

Whitman bending through hospital wards 
Wiped the weeping white-hot iron brows 
Of heroes held down. 

Whitman sat attentive in the hospital wards 
Big spry hands cradling an inch of pencil stub 
Taking restless dictation. 

Whitman walked the rounds in hospital wards 
Dripping water careful as communion wine 
Where dry mouths chirped. 

Whitman exited backlit hospital wards 
Nightly beneath the rapid stars 
Striding, striding, striding.


I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?
~~ W.E.B. Dubois



We come in clothes of yesterday to save tomorrow's history. 
With lifesavers of facts, we enter Heraclitus' stream 
And run time backward until we see fons et origo of 
Today's catastrophe.  With Thucydides we wade to war 
And drive our wayward Volvos home by GPS and guess; 
Here, Lee. There, Buell camped or tramped, tents speared 
Heavenward in plea and supplication--a million Iphigenias 
Sacrificed upon the bow when confounding headwinds blew 
Us back upon ourselves, pledges that've rattled packed 
Since Adams and Hancock fled the Redcoat flood to Concord. 
Words must amend what time upends. So we, doughty 
In our woolen socks, with crates of hardtack rations bought 
By ApplePay, are walking words buttoned up to do some good 
On Instagram and Facebook, where kids will laugh at Dads. 
"We inhabit the post-apocalypse of Lincoln in blue and grey,"  
I say beneath my Union selfie. "We're the zombies of that day!"  
Young emoticons undercut me with memes and zingers 
As I pace my final picket circuit and whistle back to camp: 
"We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain..." 
And wild in the woods, when the moon intrudes on shoulders 
Tapping us back to a fantastical past, it is for us alone 
The campfire hustles, the smell of rashers real in air, 
Cold muskets carefully at-ready, our scripts pre-written 
Who believe no more in God or Fate.  Are we the men  
Our forbears were, wakeful where they slept? Tomorrow's  
Tableaux vivant tautens invisibly in dreams, the battle lines 
Drawn in ready dust, the punch and counterpunch of armies 
Arresting rest, until we, too, fill our diaries with prayers. 

"I do not know what comes, my dear, for me, although I know
Great forces constellate about this present nexus, with only 
Inches of river between the drowned man and the saved. 
I remember you, the farm, our home;  and you again, my love."  

To the North Star

When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.
~~ Harriet Tubman, crossing the Mason-Dixon line

Follow me, follow the North Star 
That parts the Red Sea darkness, 
That makes us strangers at freedom's shore   
Arriving proud and chartless. 
Woods are full of sounds tonight: 
Every owl a hooded accuser, 
Invisible rivers galloping hot 
Are horses of bounty hunters. 
Brothers, we were not called to birth 
To live and die by starlight;
Cast into a cage, or worse,  
We were born to run tonight. 
Toward no stray star we climb, 
But follow unhesitating 
The northernmost that abides, 
Its steady fire not forsaking. 

Ben, don't be the runaway horse  
Who losing his way returns 
To the master's gate perforce,
Half-tangled in his reins. 

You won't find love awaits you,
Harry, calm words and a patted snout, 
But a whip and a hiss that you 
Had ever ventured out. 
Keep the trail and keep your feet, 
Through root and wreckage spur;  
If we lose our way we'll navigate 
By the sturdy Northern Star. 

It's one star that snaps our ropes,
One freedom that we chase,
One freedom's constellation trace 
In footsteps of escape....
Once past the Pennsylvania line 
Where choirs of stars stare down,   
The jewel of all that shine     
Will be our hallelujah crown!   
And there, as kings and queens we'll dance 
Who never dreamed of scepters-- 
Ben and Harry, please, just this once 
Follow me, follow the North Star. 


The broken light, the shadows wide--
  Behold the battle-field displayed! 
  God save the vanquished from the blade, 
The victor from the victor's pride. 
     ~~Ambrose Bierce 

The Rebel Belles

If you knew my brother, I’m sure you would not fire upon him.
~~A Warrington belle, down at the Green Hotel

Southern girls circle floors in their hoops, 
Rebel belles who obligingly dance, 
Slim fingers stoppered in ears 
When "Battle Hymn" music is heard. 

Caught in the crossfire of chance, 
Deftly circling floors in their hoops, 
The rebel belles were ladies first 
When partisan cannonballs burst.   

Whatever victory, whatever defeat, 
Love waltzes on pass after pass....
Damsels circle floors in their hoops, 
Their dancecards folded and neat.

Heavily their families' hearses 
Driven with seven fine horses--
In defiance of death they dance, 
Circling worn floors in their hoops.

The Quiet Man

Afterward, men could remember nothing more than the fact that when he came around things seemed to happen.
~~ Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South

"Well, he had a hard look, and soft way of talkin', is all." 
"He weren't nothin', just a slouch hat and no rank 't'all." 
"When old Colonel Souse was howled out of camp, Grant 
Sauntered in with a shrug and said ‘Guess I'll take command.'"
"The fairgrounds were a fair place to preach and practice 
Discipline: first, last and second place, as they say." 
"Them Illinois farm boys was sweat into an army 
That long summer, parading every sunset after 
Daylong drill and drill again, under a brunt sun." 
"Springfield to Quincy is about a hundred miles 
Footsore marching.  But we'd be damned, if the gov'ment 
Wanted to send us to war by freight car, we'd walk." 
"And walk is just what that danged Grant had us do, 
Whistling to keep awake: Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel." 
"Our feet taught us more than any Army Manual." 

Years later, in his memoirs, the quiet man explained: 
"Give anyone, even a volunteer, a reason good enough 
And he'll follow you to hell, smooth as Aristotle; 
Common soldiers are as smart as town folk, you bet." 

Night Drill

[He felt] strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle…with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars.
~~Stephen Crane, Red Badge of Courage

Out of the old wood with whicker and stamp 
A soldier's horse escaping camp--  
‘Coward!' cries the owl, the moon balloon-huge 
Caught in branches bare as a dirge. 

The rider listens for the picket's hist 
Then taps his horse onward to grassy mist--  
A burnt shadow moving in a cowl of milk, 
Steps soft-fallen as a kiss on silk. 

Soon enough, reeds arise and the river wakes, 
Silver manacles clasp the horse's shanks; 
The far bank lifts a lover's face, 
Heart and foot find quickened pace. 

Horse and soldier race in moonlit circles, 
An empty lasso whipping endless; 
Fires from camp catch the deserter's eye, 
Stars sunk in woods from a fallen sky. 

The solider faces the remembered camp; 
His halted horse shakes his reins and stamps. 
Slowly the river's cold molasses is recrossed. 
"Who goes there?" comes the picket's hist. 

Another City Night

What hospital nurse has not a bone ring or trinket carved by her men in the ward?
~~Jane Woolsey, Hospital Days

He passed away with less than a whisper-- 
That agony more than mortal finally 
Relieved.  The cap he kept at bedside here 
So regiment friends would know more readily  
Their campmate "swaddled like a darned baby," 
I place upon two hands I hold and cross: 
Perfect, white, elegant as a lady's; 
Hands that kept his captain's charger glossy. 

I fold his last letter home, told through gauze, 
Read back aloud to get the humor right, 
Imaging his mother's laugh, his father's brays. 

Outside has come another city night, 
City lights granting summer air a haze--
Not these tears, I swear, though I bite my lip. 

The Plank Bridge; or,
Major Pelham’s Overnight Bridge

We used to dance a great deal too. You didn’t get an idea of how strong he was until you danced with him–that was grand…. There wasn’t a single line of hardness in his face. It was all tenderness, as fresh and delicate as a boy’s….
~~Bessie Shackleford

His face is a splendid boy's alight on his bay, 
Youthful and edgeless, sun of a million rays. 
Between our grey houses meander grey floods 
That disfigure her shoes with grey Georgia mud. 
Summer days are running, and I run all the more 
To trouble the mud that lays wet at his door. 
"Come dance in the parlor, come sing one more song."  
"Night rain is coming, and I soon must be gone."  
So I built a plank bridge, an oak rainbow of wood, 
That her feet may stand spotless as Noah's doves stood. 
At dawn came a bugle, and grand cannon in town; 
I heard his bay racing as I reached for my gown--
To war, my horse, to war, now clamor the planks 
To save all our dear ones, for whom we give thanks. 
I saw him once more as he crossed his plank bridge:
Through his face in the coffin--a bullet's red ridge. 

Master of the Monitor

All my underclothes were perfectly black. I had been up so long, and under such a state of excitement…my nerves and muscles twitched as though electric shocks were continually passing through them. I laid down and tried to sleep–I might as well have tried to fly.
~~Dana Greene, executive officer

The ovoid deck is tidy, trim and flat, 
A shard of soul steamrolled for war 
And riveted to a central spar--
The turret's a kind of revolving hat. 

I am bound by iron as she is bound, 
Having sworn lucre and limb and deed  
Obey what martial duty decrees 
And not the useless bright cry of the hounds. 

With bit and whip and serrated spur
I chased bloodhounds through columned trees
Chased patter of possum and fox and me
In the flying hours before the war.

At sea I'm less than a socketed eye, 
A man of gears and grinding oars  
Who sees the world through slits, nor soars 
When he hears the useless hounds' bright cry. 

A Balloon on the Loose

an episode of the civil war

It was a weird spectacle–that frail, fading oval gliding against the sky, floating in the serene azure, the little vessel swinging silently beneath, and a hundred thousand martial men watching… powerless to relieve or recover. We saw [Gen’l Fitz-John Porter, without a pilot]… no bigger than a child’s toy, clambering up the netting and reaching for the cord.
~~George Alfred Townsend, Campaigns of a Non-Combatant

A balloon suddenly relieved of its gas will always form a half sphere, provided it has a sufficient distance to fall in, to condense a column of air under it. A thousand feet, I presume, would be sufficient.
~~Thaddeus Lowe, Chief Aeronaut, Union Army Balloon Corps

In July when spiders fly swinging in their sacks, 
I go ballooning above the Rappahannock. 

I unsnare sandbag ballast and snag a cable. 
I swing beneath a ball, half-silver, dawdling. 

At the mistaken snap of a rope, I go soaring. 
Soldiers look up to see myself unmooring

Into snaffling clouds, webbed and horrible. 
Ten thousand gasp like safety valves in mourning. 

I drift witnessed.  I cross opposing lines. 
Rebel rifles pop and flower and flak the sky. 

But I am a cloud, a cork, and unbridled I climb. 
Eight-eyed and alone, I write and I spy. 

Richmond hills and Richmond men wave vividly   
Beneath my rapping knuckles, mapped and tiny. 

The town lays squared and gridded, a waffle. 
Front lines are scars in the grasses' ruffles. 

Confederates swarm like dots in a great restless etching 
Of a final edition still being written. 

War draws two sides together in a pucker, 
The last inch all shyness, each waiting for the other. 

Ascent throws the ball into opposite winds, 
The silken sack turns sulkily north now; now flattens. 

Ten thousand gesture and lightly cry "the valve!" 
I spider the netting.  I trigger the latch. 

A white hissing goes up in hues of ovation. 
I land harsh, my chute torn open in nettles and thatch. 

One Unday in Shiloh

Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
~~Song of Deborah, Judges 5:4

(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
~~Herman Melville, Shiloh: A Requiem

We saw Shiloh church and marched to the bells. 
Nothing was littler than that spire toward God. 
The guns were thunder, and their fire was Hell. 

Was Sherman still sleeping when we came to call? 
Pews were still warm in the April dawn's cold. 
We saw Shiloh church and marched to the bells.

Through pasture and wood, that Sabbath appalled. 
We whipped 'em in pieces to Hornet's Nest road. 
Our guns were thunder, and their fire was Hell. 

We fought with their rifles, slept under their steeple, 
Shadows ourselves after such loss of blood. 
We saw Shiloh church and shots rang the bells. 

"We'll lick 'em tomorrow," rose Grant's voice from a well, 
His cigar pointing back where old Shiloh church stood. 
The clouds were thunder, and their rain was Hell. 

They came on at daybreak, backlit and fell. 
They pressed their advantage, and we cursed our God.    
We ran from the churchyard whipped by the bells. 
Their guns were thunder, and the fire was Hell. 

Bread and Tears

Union troops on the road to Gettysburg

The land rolled rich in Maryland 
Golden miles of unmolested grain 
A yeoman God had tilled and laid 
In endless rows on endless plains. 
A farmer came with bales of bread:
Undivided loaves, yeast-burst 
Risen crusts like handfuls of sun. 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread." 

The land seemed hurtless, hale and fed,
Combers rolling gold and green
To feed them all in amassing peace 
Till time and tide and all were one.
Farmer and wife stood upreared as trees
Over the loaves' uneven crests,
Soft bricks pugged and fired and fresh. 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread." 

The farmer's wife was an apple of sun,
Had kneaded and kept the fire just so 
Before the hours of night were done.
"Oh, boys, ye don't know what's before you!
I fear there's many will be mangled soon-- 
Lee's whole army is dead ahead 
And there'll be terrible fighting then." 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread."  

Sharpshooter in Repose

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.
~~Union General John Sedgwick just before being shot
by a sniper at Spotsylvania

Cornered in a coign of vantage, my eye is well 
Hidden, dark as a crack in cold boulder rock--
Along my rolled rifle's endless track 
A lead ball bead sweats unshelled, 

An angry star decanted into atmosphere 
And thrown into blood as into an ocean; 
It stops the salt sump of a heart at once 
Against the edgeless engine of its sphere.  

I'd played high among these old orange hills 
Endless days;  looked lazily out to dream, 
Or sip a cracked clay pipe of cornsilk crimson 
In the shelter of summer hours spilled. 

Those boys I now knock down with thunder 
Climbed alien trees and sang in another school 
That marched them down my hollow valley, all 
Unready to touch the lightning in my finger 

Pinched in a small, steel trigger. 

Unfolding Harper’s Weekly

The Constitution of the Southern Confederacy has been published. It is a copy of the original Constitution of the United States, with some variations.
~~Harper’s Weekly, The Two Constitutions

No fool but thinks this fool war's a foil 
For his private thought, grievance and toil 
Of thousands a canvas for his picaresque.
Only his tongue's motion gives his mind its rest. 

Longfellow in His Study

Longfellow in his study, reading the "terrible news"
Penned no epic about the mess, whose terror 
And error
He so intimately knew.

The Rebel Yell

Others live on in a careless and lukewarm state–not appearing to fill Longfellow’s measure: ‘Into each life, some rain must fall.’
~~Mary Todd Lincoln

My Lank Abe stands commanding where coalblack shadows spar;
Heavy Chaos covers us over, a blanket without stars--
War is folding over my heart, and over all my days;
War is wearing our beautiful country away.
Men in thousands are marching, grey and shadowy,
Their roiling horses thundering, thundering from afar.

At silky midnight the medium returns, with crystal ball
And long tin trumpet floating ghostly in the gaslit pall;
And Willie's lisping voice buzzing there--to the life!
Each dim word returns to my breast like a knife,
Each dim dawn returns to the sound of the marchers' marshal fifes.
The coffin that carried my heart away was waxed and small.

Battleside at noon in our folding chairs, we watch the long lines 
Approach and cross, blue and grey, threads on a loom divine;
Threads red and mud soon enough, soon enough.
Always now my wronged, longing heart is crying out: enough!
Always it is Willie I see atop the high chargers, out riding in the rough;
Always I hear his hollow voice arising--in every Rebel yell.

Cherry Ripe

I will not be afraid of death and bane,
Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.

At the head of the snake, song broke out:
"Cherry ripe, cherry ripe, ripe I cry"
And various haloos resounded, wry
Laughs as fellas skedaddled about
Over fieldstone walls, sniping cherries, pop
Pop pop back at men still marching,
Whipping to hand sharp camp hatchets:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop." 

Loaded down limbs swung red minie-balls
Like Christmas come to Dunsinane,
And cherries flying and mouths open
And a hail of wet spit pits over all!
Cherries for the officers riding without stop,
Cherries for the soldiers marching,
Singing handy with their hatchets:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop."

Antlered now, and merry, we descended
Between declivities of hills, ripe ripe
Ripe as the master sergeant's stripes,
Toward a valley town defended--
Tired ourselves of singing as we looped
The final little hill we rounded
And their distant cannon sounded:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop." 

Night Ride
(Toward Gettysburg)

Whole regiments slept in the saddle, their faithful animals keeping the road unguided.
~~J.E.B. Stuart

At first the harness' small jangle-and-dangle and ease 
Played smooth music through the moody close wood; 
But after the harsh rasp of moonless miles these 
Musics offended, an unrelenting irk-itch of sound. 

I pulled down my slouch cap, pulled up my coat collar, 
Crossed reins over pommel, lost worry to darkness, 
And let my horse follow what horse he would follow 
Until turns turned again to blue moonlight through leaves. 

I dreamed when I dreamed of the slap-dash of the sea, 
Restless crests of the waves, the deepness of being. 
Dolphin and merman, finned and webbed, we rode the sea's 
Symphony: not flying, not falling, just floating....

A whinny of raindrops woke us much later, shook horse 
And rider out of their doze, mists raising fine steam 
From hillside's frail dawn, the clopped trail drawn loose--
First from the forest, and last, mile by mile, from my dreams. 

The Midnight Ride of Abraham Lincoln; or,
The Tale of the Two Old Abes

A nearly verbatim transcript made by his friend Ward Hill Lamon. The Oval Office, midnight

I have something to tell you, Ward! Lock the door.
You know I always thought you an idiot 
Fit for a strait jacket for your apprehensions  
Of my personal danger from assassination.  
You also know the way we skulked into this city
In the first place, has been a source of shame 
And regret to me, for it did look so cowardly!
Now, I don't propose to make you my father-confessor 
Or acknowledge a change of heart, yet I am free  
To admit that just now I don't know what to think.... 
Tonight, about 11 o'clock, I went out riding 
Old Abe, as you call him, to the Soldiers' Home  
Alone, and when I returned to the foot of the hill  
Leading back, I was just jogging along  
At a slow gait, immersed in deep thought,  
Contemplating what was next to happen  
In the unsettled state of current affairs,  
When suddenly I was aroused--lifted, I may say  
Out of my saddle as well as out of my wits--  
By the report of a rifle, and the gunner  
Not fifty yards from where my contemplations  
Ended, and my accelerated transit began.  
My erratic namesake, with little warning,  
Gave proof of decided dissatisfaction 
At the racket, and with one reckless bound he
Unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar plug-hat,  
Without any assent, expressed or implied,  
On my part.  At break-neck speed we soon  
Arrived in a haven of safety.  Meanwhile I was left  
In doubt as to whether death was more desirable  
From being thrown from a runaway federal horse,  
Or as the tragic result of a rifle-ball fired  
By a disloyal bushwhacker in the middle of the night.
I tell you there's no time on record to equal that  
Made by the two Old Abes on that occasion.  
The historic ride of John Gilpin, and Henry Wilson's  
Memorable display of bareback equestrianship  
On a stray army mule from the scene of battle  
At Bull Run, a year ago, are nothing in comparison,  
Either in point of time made or in ludicrous pageantry.  
My only advantage over these worthies was
In my having no observers.  I can truthfully say  
That one of the Abes was frightened on this occasion,  
But modesty forbids my mentioning which of us  
Is entitled to that honor. This whole thing seems farcical.
Yet, here's the hat, and that's the hole!  No good  
Can result at this time from giving it publicity. 

Out on a Scout

Let’s slip out on a scout; I’ll ride your horse, and you can ride mine.
~~J.E.B. Stuart to his clerk, Eggleston

He was enamored of my horse 
And we rode, I supposed then, 
For the pleasure of riding our course 
On an animal which pleased him. 

As stars were beginning to fade 
We leaned in and had a race; 
The war before us no more than a road, 
Danger a wind in our face. 

Our paces blurred pines as we passed 
Beyond the pickets' caution; 
We rode into dawn at the last 
Like mist over the mountain. 

The general gazed only forward, 
His form like a balancing cat's; 
He spoke to me as we sortied, 
His unearthly voice detached: 

"What are scouts who peer and run 
But sparks thrown off a match? 
And battle lines little more than one 
Spark that happens to catch?"

Little Round Top

I have never returned to Emmitsburg, but it would astonish me very little to hear that the two armies had gone to Gettysburg to fight on account of the miracle performed by St. Joseph, intervening in favor of these pious damsels.
~~ Colonel Philippe Regis de Trobriand, remembering the
nuns of St. Joseph’s Convent of Emmitsburg, a few
miles away from Gettysburg

Ten thousand angels upon a pin 
Whirlwinded little "Round Top" whistling 
Death by the minute fifteen decades ago
Where our placid picnic spreads its afternoon 
Visiting green Gettysburg again-- 
Pickett's charge drawn inevitably up 
As an anchor from the sleeping sea.... 
Ten thousand angels in infernal clouds 
Flashed bayonets like wingtips in the smoke 
Where I rummage for a final cigarette 
To put our wine and sausages to bed, 
History re-folded neat as napkins in our basket.
We shotgun stale heels of bread-ends downhill
To the instant screech of skirling birds.
The knuckled minie ball you roll perhaps 
Had pinned some farm-boy soldier through the hand 
Or aced a captain's eye from its socket.... 
But the lounging lemon clouds surrounding us
Show nothing of the web in which we're stitched 
In the skinned wind of the world.   

Lee’s Retreat

Seventeen miles the badgered men 
Bent greyly southward, beaten back-- 
Ambulance and stretcher burdened full 
Past Lee, who stood upon the track 
Murmuring those words like water: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  

Gettysburg grew small, turned blue 
Behind them, cannonade and crack 
Of rifles silent as the hills; 
Letters home filled with the endless wreck  
Of lives interred by slaughter: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  

Lincoln's words had not yet arisen 
To redeem the crisis, ruin and rack, 
To give to men drowned red, who fell, 
Some rippled pulse of meaning back-- 
Only those words that fell like water: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  


What’s dying but a second wind?
~~Yeats, Tom O’Roughley


In Medias Res

A runner arrives at Lee’s side after the failure of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863

My heart is pinched, my eyes are dead 
With great sweat as the battlefield shrinks 
Littler than this folding tabletop of maps. 
The high ground's denied us, cemetery 
Ridge and seminary ridge and the twin 
Roundtops bristling blue above our grey 
Fog of men twisting listless in the valleys. 
Long the thought and long the march 
That brought us raiding north through cherry 
Lanes, and wheatfields rife with grain. 
Tomorrow revolves the calendar round 
To Independence Day, and we may yet 
Set new fireworks in American skies! 
The lines of battle are a hash of graphs, 
All our rebel arrows bending back 
Like fountain spouts to their hidden source. 
Defeat is a beginning too!  The hazard 
Cast and failed returns the dice to hand.... 
Choking smokes boil gold with sunset, 
God's driving rays divided and feebled 
As troops of angels fall uncaught to Hell. 
Whip the stolen swine toward Richmond! 
Vast patchworks of cattle low homeward, 
And endless bins of raided goods are gone 
Down south to clothe our bare necessity. 
What we've garnered here will keep us 
In peaches through the wailing winter, 
And blot war office ledgers black.  Even 
Jeff Davis' rail-thin visage will fatten 
By the thickness of a smile when these 
Long columns are totaled and summed. 
Pickett!  I see the charge I ordered, 
Noble and doomed, following your sword 
No more than a glint above the tarry tide 
Of blood and men, and death and men. 
I thought surely--


A long frock coat, a stovepipe hat
Straight as a core of coal,
A long black ribbon at the top,
The ax-drawn face hanging there
As if Old Testament prophets
Had burned to a single stare.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

Gettysburg incurred a debt
Blood's spontaneous blot put out;
That no wrong word, no marring phrase
Or disjointed look would come
He held a vigil of long silence--
All the simpleness of a sum.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

Because the Union had grown sick,
That fine, long hand atrophied
That had put the British from the field
And shovelled back the Styx,
A single, revolutionary mind
Clacked truth from the burial bricks.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

"All men are created equal,"
A troubled voice had said it;
Calm lightnings play the mortal storm
Where dead limbs had bled it.
Flies flit and alight among the faces
Torn by universal wishes.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.  


We’ll teach them dancing fine and neat
With cannon, sword, and bayonet.
~~Dixie All Right

And the Master Runned Away

The scritch-scritch of the chickens 
Is just the same 
As the scritch of chickens 

"Them Union tramps is tampin'  
Down on Vi'kberg this very night,"  
Ol' Master said, and sure enough 
De thunder was a fright! 

His fine buff travelin' hat 
Settin' on its peg 
Was gone when the moanin' come--  
Guess ol' Master used his legs! 

Smoke and mist on the river 
Blow this way n' that; 
But I never seen my master run 
Till his peg lost its hat. 

The scritch-scritch of the chickens 
Ain't the same 
As the scritch of chickens 

“I Am a Verb”

The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer.
I signify all three.
~~U.S. Grant

I am a verb. Wait, waiting, to wait. 
Vicksburg terrifies me to my fingertips,  
A sawmill blade set spinning to split  
Me intemperately in two, if I 
Cannot mollify this gnat impatience,  
Invisible and ever-present against my skin. 
Impatience!  I hear the word only as a mad  
Imprecation against my rolling going on. 
Was McClellan's awful caution a virtue then?
God Himself could not command that man 
Out of his dithering, hither-and-thithering 
Of flying supplies, and men cemented 
To their posts, shining boots to a pupil-sheen. 
All the logic of supply is "scarcity."  
Pile high the warehouse against the day 
Bitter shots ring among the shoe-stuffed shelves-- 
Let epaulettes lie in golden ranks unearned; 
Tons of bullets packed like peas for porridge; 
Headless hats that wait in safety for the rain.... 
Not I, not I.  To live cossetted in a scabbard 
When war's molten lava is at the gate-- 
Boots!  The way this cold and slowing river  
Meets us, mud and current to the knees, 
Claims our long boots with a loving suck 
As my forward scrim of men attempt 
A snoring corner of Vicksburg's embankment. 
Look at the scene night and river give me: 
Sixty-thousand Confederates stoppered-up 
In walls as great as Troy's, cannons a lance 
Of steel to keep me back.  To wait, to watch, 
While each least imp of breeze implores the bell, 
Ring!  Ring says the hammer to the anvil-- 
I the hammer, Vicksburg the only anvil. 
I am the fire, Vicksburg the limitless tinder! 
I the guillotine, Vicksburg the hapless head. 
I am a verb--
They also serve who can't stand to wait. 

Cannon Are Ringing Out;
or, Melt the Bells

Melt the bells, melt the bells,
… transmute the evening chimes
Into war’s resounding rhymes
~~F.Y. Rockett, written when Gen’l Beauregard appealed
to Kentuckians to contribute bells to melt into cannon

Bells, not bullets made of dullard stuff, 
But bright metal hammered alive enough 
To leave red forges quick with sound 
When lifted far enough from ground, 
When into belfries above choirs lifted. 

To the cause, the cause, they fall conscripted, 
Torn from skies their songs had christened 
By hands no longer paired in prayer 
To deform their voices' joyful playing, 
To bring their singing beings to the fire. 

Broken bells beaten new defend the town, 
Iron echoes of their sounding rounds 
Ringing fire to the bloody ground, 
Keeping every enemy at bay but time.
Time remembers the silver lilt of chimes. 

Morgan’s Great Raid

Those who swam with horses, unwilling to be laggard, not halting to dress, seized their cartridge boxes and guns and dashed upon the enemy. The strange sight of naked men engaging in combat amazed the enemy.
~~Bennett Young


Hoist Morgan on your shoulders, boys, 
And round the campfire drag him-- 
Bragg orders us to stay, 
And today we disobey him. 
Drink to John Morgan and to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 

Rain delayed us, picking daisies; 
Tom Quick broke his right rein arm, 
Such omens won't detain us. 
Morgan's raiders, swarm! 
Drink to John and drink to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 

We break for Brandenburg 
To ferry the swift Ohio river; 
Such wild crossing's easy, urged 
By Kentucky's blue defenders.  
Drink to John and drink to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 


We moved rapidly through six or seven towns without resistance, and tonight lie down for a little while with our bridles in our hands.
~~Bennett Young


Ellsworth, knot the telegraph lines 
With false report and false surmise-- 
To sit such fine horses is to ride 
Streaming dawn astride an arrow!
Burn the bridges and pester flocks 
Where hens pile eggs and barns are stocked;
Trace Kentucky's hump through Ohio's wilds, 
And leave the rich fields fallow. 

Guard Indianapolis and Columbus, 
Like statues stand at empty doors. 
We'll raid defenseless shores 
Subterfuge and guileless ruse 
Have left, like magic casements, open. 
Our fingers grow rings, and our saddles 
Go belled;  ham hangs from our bridles, 
Who on no kindnesses depend. 

Down Jackson streets in ladies veils 
(To defeat July and make it mild), 
With cobalt bolts of stolen cloth 
And goods of equal lustre sail 
The lightning regiments of death. 
With railyards wrecked behind, and more 
Devastation on call before, 
They strike with steel and stealth. 


As the red flames created by the great burning timbers rose skyward, they illumined the entire valley, and in the flickering shadows which they cast for several miles around… huge, weird forms….
~~Bennett Young

Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 
Men asleep on horses, and the horses falling down. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

The chase is on in earnest that'd been but seek-and-hide. 
No time to cook the stolen meat, or brush proud horses down. 
Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 

"Axes to the fore," the cry goes wide and high-- 
Another narrow roadway, and every tree chopped down. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

Pot-shots from the farmers, their wives leave poisoned pies. 
Man and horse move hollow-eyed, and night and day are one. 
Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 

The brazen bugle's revellie blows ugly and unkind. 
"Our last day in Ohio, men, in Virginny's our next town."  
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

At last we're at the river;  all is black and we are blind. 
Are Union gunboats churning round Buffington Island now? 
Bridges burned before us, and our bridges burned behind. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

Snowball Salute

Snow came with Christmas, filling the camp with quiet. 
Sharpshooters trespassing skillful through the woods 
Licked snowflakes from their frozen sights and were silent. 
Morning began with coffee in the tin, and was good. 

Hardtack, foraged fowl and a garnish of shucked peas 
Done with before our prayers were said, or thought of-- 
A dishrag of brownbread shining the plate with ease 
As Major Anderson began to stir: "Look smart, boys, look smart." 

He marched us dizzy double-time, and we had a hunch: 
Here strutted a martinet in a polished boot, 
A ten-cent picture soldier not worth a punch-- 
Till Old Billy hatched a plan to ferret out the truth. 

Major Anderson tiptoed tautly along the drawn line, 
His beardless cheek shaved close as a new spring apple, 
His black Maine hat as he passed, a target "as fine 
As it was tall," hissed Billy as he bent grinning to scrape 

A quick snowball from the scarves the night had left-- 
Not too powdery--and flicked it, and it burst and popped 
Off the major's hat with a hop, which his gloved hands caught 
Beneath a reddened face pursed and contemplative and soft. 

Then a staticy laugh cracked at the back of the group        
And ran like lightning through a frozen pond, smiles 
Unzipping everywhere, laughter's thunder following up 
Until even the major was laughing after a while. 

His eyes glittered down the elated line: "Atten-hut!"  
And all laughter clamped shut like a splint. "Tell you men what-- 
I think you snow-ballers need a wee bit more target 
Practice. Y'un's nearly missed me! Bill, why'n't you paste your hat 

On that fence post yonder."  Billy did the whipped-pup walk 
And carefully placed his brand new two-dollar Hardee hat 
As we shouldered arms, watching him brush the black nap 
Goodbye. "I suggest you men aim at the bugle crest." 

And we did as Major Anderson suggested, the whole troop. 
In a minute, wasn't much post, let alone hat, left but scraps. 
Myself, I guess I clipped the bugle's loop.  As for the truth? 
Well, let's just say, after that day, Old Billy always "looked sharp" 

And snapped the first salute. 

Jefferson Davis on His Sick Bed

Your letter found me in the depth of gloom… disasters have shrouded our cause.
~~Jefferson Davis, New Year’s Day 1862

It is the old story of the sick lion who even the jackal can kick without fear.
~~A Davis supporter

Varina, here, hand the hissing stack of papers hither. 
I've more correspondence going out by pony to Bragg 
Mired in Murfreesboro, his ranks fanged with vipers. 

The Union's first retreat has mired and snagged, 
Casting black iron from the heights across Stones River 
To spike and sink all hopes of once-boastful Bragg. 

Whatever else gets that gimlet man so hated, 
Where he puts his screws they anchor and bite, 
Keeping thin timber to timber sturdily mated. 

Take this poltice of words for Polk, too.  May the sight 
Of it renew the sweetness of a friendship abated by
Distance, and help him take Bragg's burrs more lightly. 

How go the Cumberland roses we planted last spring? 
I have not been up once this week of days, helping 
Deepen earth, or prune to health the tender things. 

If only Bragg's first telegram hadn't heralded victory! 
How much more bitter the dregs, more dark the clouds 
Hang on us now--those once blinding skies an effrontery 

To this minute's remembrance of them!  Cry aloud, 
Dear Varina, as I must make these inks crawl and cry, 
Each cold word drawn out to web the page in blood. 

Harriet Tubman in Ecstasy

Tubman underwent brain surgery in Boston’s Mass. Gen’l in 1898 to alleviate sleeplessness, pains and ‘buzzing’

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
~~Emily Dickinson

I'll bite my bullet, doc, if you but bite your tongue! 
I've seen a man in tearless pain grimace lead 
Nearly in two while the surgeon took his leg. 
What served for his anesthesia will serve for me. 
My brain cannot sleep, and all I've seen disables 
My eyes from closing--visions and varieties 
Of reality beyond a mortal's power to name. 
I'll point and be silent before the throne of God. 
Take your knife and knowledge and carve 
A little darkness in my skull where sleep may dwell, 
And I curl there like a possum, too, at noon. 
All my life I've had the sleeping fits, sleep 
Slipping under my eyelids day or night; 
At least, since that overseer knocked a knot 
Of iron against my head when I wouldn't nab 
Augustus as he took to his heels in flight. 
"Catch your own fish," I told him plain, and he 
Answered plainly, too.  It wasn't too long after that 
That visions came unbidden, green-edged 
And lively as a willow in a windstorm, 
A million ribbons breathing, beating, 
And on each a hidden meaning writ revealed. 
Some things are more than the thing they seem,
Said one.  A man's tongue will look more purple 
When he lies, inscribed upon another ribbon. 
Oh!  I feel you now, the clapping clack of bone 
Where the top of my head is coming off! 
Old brains, greet the very air! Pray you find 
Your cupful of oblivion again when sealed back in. 
Sweet the cerebrations of ignorant sleep. 
The surgeon touches a node of me, and I 
Smell candles.  I see the faces of my brothers 
As I try and talk them North.  Follow me, 
Ben and Harry, follow the North Star.  No matter 
The miles, we'll find the rainbow's end, I've seen it. 
And now I see them turning back defeated, 
And feel myself turtle on, small and hard 
As this sour bullet between my teeth. 
Again and again the lighting divides my mind. 
Each strike emancipates a moonlit escapade. 
Varied and vivid the hands I held, traipsing 
The underground railroad house to house 
To Canada after the 1850 compromise that kept 
Blood off the streets a while, and my people 
Staked and abandoned in a Southern sun 
A decade past their liberation date!  Follow me, 
To the green land above Mason-Dixon's line, sky 
A color unrecorded in the dreams of the unfree. 
Again the finding knife intrudes, and another 
Memory rears searing--down the Combahee 
River we are raiding, those tall good soldiers, 
Faces dark like mine, solemn over Union blue, 
And I commanding, salvaging slaves by the boatload, 
Unrivaled behind-the-lines spies every one. 
"Part the waters, Moses!" I heard the babies cry. 
Women running with a child at hip and little ones 
Worn round their necks like grain sacks. 
I still laugh to see that woman who slung a pig 
In a bag, and led a second on a leash, black 
And white Beauregard and Jeff Davis as we 
Named 'em on the creaky crowded steamer. 
How those pigs did wrestle and cavort! 
Over 700 Gen'l Rufus counted. Over 700 saved 
And brought by creek and stream to Freedomland. 
A wind is running through me, surgeon, and 
A scalpel of wit unrolls the final writ of ribbon: 
Women's suffrage, a voice and a vote. 
That, I'll lend my life to, too, and gladly  
Emancipate sister after sister to vote  
The Republican ticket, straight.  "Listen folks,"  
I'd say, "I freed thousands of slaves in my day,  
And could have freed thousands more, to boot, 
If only those poor souls had known that they  
Were slaves."  Me and Susan B. can see all people 
Share essentialities from fingertips to spine. 
I'm sure you understand, my friend, who's held 
A battering human heart in the bareness 
Of your human hand. 

Stars Above Tennessee; or,
The Ragged Stars

I see the stars at bloody war
~~ Mad Tom’s Song

Terror and courage and the rest 
Arrive and don't tell why; 
Ten thousand good men lost 
In one toss of arms. 
Terrible the day today, and 
Graveyard night the same. 

In the lee of a watery ditch 
Beset by sweat and worse, 
The cavalryman unhorsed 
Drinks from the moon hitched 
At his waist and sighs: 
May tomorrow never come.

May night unroll forever
Its ragged battle-flag;
May day and its great heat
Never crease horizon's rim.
Roll me up in your rag of stars,
O night, cool and everlasting!

Landing in the Crater

The rich grain was standing high in the surrounding fields. The harvest was almost ripe, but the harvesters had fled.
~~Horace Porter, Grant’s aide during Petersburg siege

It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war.
~~Ulysses S. Grant

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
~~ Henry V

"Go on in and see what the matter is."  
So the miner went, hunched, with a candle in his hat 
Tracing the exhausted ash of a fuse, 
Facing extermination if a spark 
Should show ahead in the low-beamed tunnel. 
Could the fuse prepared have sputtered out? 
The coughing candle showed a zone of hole, 
Soughing almost soundless in interred dark. 
At last the tail of fuse, inertly unlit 
That had paused the thousands set to attack 
Twisted back and forth in the miner's fingers 
Insisting a new length of fuse into place 
And rolling back two hundred feet to find 
Colonel Pleasants rapping a pack of matchsticks 
Against his fidgeting thigh. "Have at it, sir."  
Thist! went the matchstick and hist! went the fuse 
Sparkling uneasily into the interior gloom. 

Hark! An expectant stillness enfilades the field, 
A hush as was before the world was made, 
And us no more than cosmic dust, a breath 
Unbreathed, a nothingness from nothingness 
Bequeathed.  So stood all on tiptoe in predawn 
Dark, dawn herself but a secondhand's sweep away. 
Sharp the intake of breath, a boiling pan, 
When every Union eye perceived the blast 
--Clean as a cutout from the now dawning sky-- 
A volcano of ruin moving like a freight train 
Voluminously upward, and lightnings 
Veined eyeball-like within it, roving painterly 
Spikes of angry orange throughout the mass 
Great as a cathedral of spewed earth, 
Great as an Iceland geyser filled with arms and legs 
And cannon bright as gilded toothpicks, 
Spinning compass needles gone to Hell. 

"Forward!" cried the sergeant, and the captain. 
"Forward!" cried the colonel, and the general too. 
And forward went the men into a crater 
Frowsey grey with endless dusts, till they 
Were grey themselves and looked half burnt-up, 
Unsure with every step they were not ghosts 
Hovering above a pock-marked moonscape; 
Aberrations of a living grave dug by fire,
Poor soldiers caught in a whirlpool of flame
Or Inferno's undertow;  walking dust
In a waste landscape of the unlabeled dead, 
One face the same as the next in the end. 
The crater unmanned the redan and left 
A scar, raw and bleak, between bewildered 
Confederates gawping gape-mouthed at dawn,
Unsinging grey kingbirds as they clung
To the fractured walls they held, grey wings
Toward a screeching sky, flightless, lit up 
Themselves by sunrise, and sighted by 
The busy shells of Union men bristling blue 
Along their enemy redoubt, a hundred guns 
Strong, and just one hundred yards away. 

"Thirty feet deep if an inch, I'd say. Thirty feet 
Of dirt and death, an open grave if we 
Don't mush on and take the little hill, that green 
Mount behind the lines of all their battleworks
History hasn't quite spiked full of tombstones
And victory or defeat will paint white as bones--
Blanford cemetery, an oasis in the air, 
Plain, with an easy excess of unturned grass,  
Still filigreed with leafing trees, and a view 
Full-on of downtown Petersburg, street by 
Street as if snapping a map.  And there we'll 
Point directions out with artillery and bayonet 
Eviscerating resistance from our crowned 
Crowsnest, our precipice of destruction." 
So high officers prophesied and prayed, 
So stood looking at the Crater's smoking gash 
Full of hope and silence-- 

                             But in the pit 
Fools were standing, gulled and moored, not led, 
Not guided and inspired;  acres of riflemen 
Wild to attack, but hamstrung on the leash 
Incompetence had necked them with, as if 
An ominous noose had been laid out by fate. 
The Crater was too deep to leap once entered. 
Later, many men were unburied here, chained 
And damned, if black, or doomed to Andersonville 
And blamed for war's forlorn continuance. 
But here and now, all's a roar: confusion! 
Shut from that happy pasture behind the lines, 
Thousands churned in the gulping hole, cliffs 
Of sand surrounding them, drowning them-- 
Tumult of guns, horrible faces half buried 
Throughout muddy waves of earthen wreckage. 
People, even here, in this hole, found heroes 
Equal to the horror, the hallelujah  
Of brave souls rearing to their uppermost, 
Doves outspread against the shotgun's buckshot. 

Traverses, hidden trenches, a ruin of wood 
Spavined the Crater and men madly crept 
Sheer walls to bear their muskets against 
Fear-stuck foes in grey who, slow, reconvened  
At the precipitous lip, as at a pool  
That invited diving in, brimmed with blue. 
Shot, and rocks, and mortar soon poured down, 
Hot terror deboning the bluecoats' cool. 
Officers shouted themselves hoarse, swinging swords, 
Offering themselves to the fire to upend 
The soupbowl of soldiers and take the hill 
"Up there!" a quarter-mile, or less, green 
And trim, a haven like unto heaven then.
When the colored troops marched the rim's flanks 
(At last released to fight who had trained first),
Fast and keeping good order in the maelstrom
They mustered at the Crater's far end 
And most of those below began to follow them 
Halfway to the graveyard, through sniper fire 
Laughing at their lateness to the task. 
Their battering forward soon boomeranged--
Bare-knuckled though they fought, they failed.
Back the black men tumbled to the cauldron, 
Attacked by an encircling scythe of grey
That stabbed them surrendering, or shivved 
Like crabs those who showed black backs to them.
Black regiments at their crest were halted;
Back they were turned, one upon the other,
Unsaved by fate, by luck;  returned they were,
The brave few following, all were returned--
Pushed, rushed into the pit, into the pit
Crushed as waves by waves are crushed till only
Seas are seen, are heard, one great clap of
Chaos, one being, one terrible discord. 

Carnage incontestable was occurring 
Cartridge after cartridge in the Crater, 
Yet not far off stood Colonel Pleasants, 
Hip against the battery's small wall 
Worrying his watch fob in distracted thought 
Sorry perhaps for having started it all
Listening to a fellow miner from Schuylkill 
Listing how he'd "Blow the damned fort up quick" 
With sufficient shaft and charge to do it. 
With that, Colonel Pleasants surveyed the scene: 
Battlements like interlocking teeth faced  
Battlements--a trench war grim and endless  
Chewing men and munitions to a cud, 
Swallowing all.  Was there a place these two 
Ferocities touched, an incisor that he 
Fearlessly could tug?  The engineer walked 
Zigzags day and night with his theodolite  
Digging practice shafts with bayonets, camp picks 
Hammered to a miner's measure for deep 
Untrammeled work--it could be done, by God! 
Here as near as kissing came the eager walls, 
Here the slope would drain, the high ground be obtained 
If but the enemy's pale fang was pulled, 
If abatis and barbican were culled. 
Why not begin in earnest, get the brass behind it?  
The way was plain as day, and today the day. 
Swiftly flew the work, there yawned the gap. 
Without meaning to, the colonel's feet 
Danced a tango step, and the loop returned 
Dancer and dance to face unpleasantness: 
The boys were overwhelmed by bruising blows; 
The soil was eating up the fellows now, 
Consuming what the firefight refused; 
One son made a motion of obeisance 
And pulled a dead man from the mire, laid 
Hand over hand in a crossed last rest. 
Damn all the generals who let them 
Slam forward only to teeter into the pit: 
Damn Ledlie, damn Burnside, damn Ferrero!
Damn them, damn them, damn them, damn them! 
Damn all generals who conspire to kill 
All men on every side for all of time: 
Jolly devils who only long for death, 
Death before them and death behind.      

Death was on the minds of men the night before, 
Stitching names and regiments into their coats, 
Such as who could.  The black troopers singing 
Songs belonging only to themselves, fires' 
Long shadows and tall light casting over all 
A beautiful and solemn mahogany, 
The soulful sounds drawing awkward men 
To quiet attentiveness to hear how goes 
The spirit of men meant for the first push, 
Meant to lift up arms against oppressors 
Wanton in their crimes.  How then sang these men? 
Their voices lifted up as one vast organ 
Choice and melodious praising creation-- 
Bitterness had no purchase in their souls, 
Little cared how plantation days wore away 
Simple dignity with outrageous assault. 
Civilly they faced their final day, and sang: 

I know moonrise,
I know star-rise--
    Lay dis body down.

I walk in de moonlight,
I walk in de starlight--
    Lay dis body down.

My soul and your soul
Will meet again one day--
    When I lay dis body down.

The Peacemakers

Over the rebel parapet near the old mine crater came a white flag, with a bugler to blow a parley…. By the mysterious army grapevine, word went up and down the rival lines: the Confederacy was sending a peace commission to meet Lincoln….
~~ Bruce Carton, A Stillness at Appomattox

We desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honour and independence.
~~Jefferson Davis

Let us discuss securing peace to the people of one common country.
~~Abraham Lincoln

Late came the day,
                    and the sulky cattle lowing. 
Late the table laid,
                    and late the peace-seeds sowing. 

Three men step across
                   Southern battlements;
Three men arrive,
                   and Union lines must part.

Three cheers arise,
                   arise in ragged grey;
And three hoarse cheers more
                   in soiled blue reply.

Down Hampton Roads
                   a riverboat rolls waiting--
Lincoln's long shadow there
                   in the picture window sitting.

And last there came
                   dovewhite ladies in a row.
Late, late in the day,
                   and the sulky cattle lowing.

Three men gone away,
                   and weeping ladies waving.
Late, late in the day
                   the peace-seeds sowing.

Mrs. Bickerdyke’s Battle;
or, Milk and Eggs

When one surgeon dared to ask where she received permission to do what she was doing, Bickerdyke retorted she was given orders by ‘the Lord God Almighty. Have you anything that ranks higher than that?’

Hospital days and hard tack, 
Chalk milk and sour eggs 
Were the bane of Mrs. Bickerdyke 
Mopping brows and counting legs. 

In the Union's Memphis hospital 
Each sheet was straight and whole; 
Quick-attended let each man and boy 
Until he died or rose. 

"Milk and eggs, milk and eggs!" 
Cried every feeble mouth; 
But milk and eggs could not be had 
In the war-torn, war-poor South. 

Mrs. Bickerdyke was small, was fierce, 
And had a soul of ‘sterner stuff;'  
With iron spine, eyes clear of tears: 
"We'll soon have enough." 

The epauletted surgeons scoffed,
"Those enemy lines are garrote wire 
Pulled tight at supply line necks." 
But those who coughed knew well the while 

Who would fill their cups and plates: 
"The milk will be as a river, 
The eggs a flotilla upon it-- 
Mrs. Bickerdyke will deliver!" 

Through the rifles of Johnny Reb 
Her tracks ran frail as lace; 
At the slaughterhouse of Chicago 
Mrs. Bickerdyke unveiled her case: 

"Our blue men lay wounded, wanting 
No more than milk and eggs; 
Throw wide your pantry doors, Chicago 
And give me what I beg!" 

Thirty days she was gone away 
To siphon milk and gather eggs; 
On the thirty-first her train arrived 
Lowing, topped by cackling crates. 

Mrs. Bickerdyke beamed, wreathed 
In haloes of hissing steam: 
"These are Union cows, boys, 
And loyal, abolitionist hens!"

Quiet at Camp

Without music there would be no army.
~~Genl. Robt. E. Lee

The campfire throws faces, form after form: 
Faces adept at battle, or unready for the first charge 
Rise and recede in the unsteady flame. 

No time for thought when the lieutenant calls, 
When the barrage hails fate into your lap. 
All's disarray;  endless disturbance of a waterfall. 

But now the tents are pitched, the camp at peace; 
Exhausted soldiers lie fallen in a snow of sleep, 
A calm rustled darkness of leaf on leaf. 

Indelible things have fallen to every boy and man: 
Sins of ages a few torn years must mend--  
Shoulder-to-shoulder the blue, unready regiments stand. 

But now no fife of patriots taunts the heart, 
And all the soft fire's lofty murmur is gathering in 
Face after face: angry, ecstatic, mute. 

A Nest of Copperheads; or,
or, Capt. Hines Takes a Holiday

Chicago graveyard. Democrat convention, 1864

Millions for defense; not a dollar or a man for aggressive and offensive civil war.
~~Clement Vallandigham, founder of the Copperheads

[My escape with Morgan] owes something to the fact that I had just completed the reading of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” containing such vivid delineations of the wonderful escapes of Jean Valjean….
~~Capt. Thomas Hines, Confederate raider

Close your eyes and swear the oath, Vallandigham, 
The Peace-Knights of the Golden Circle need you. 
Hand me that tracing paper, Beall, we've got 
Another Democrat voter mouldering in his grave here, 
Shrapnelled to smithereens at Antietam, looks like. 
Repeat after me, Clement, "I hereby swear: surrender 
Before war. Peace above prosperity, and the defeat 
Of Abraham Africanus above all!"  Well done, now 
Take off that blindfold, here's charcoal and paper. 
I'll unfold a plot complete, my sixty stout 
Confederate conferees and me tidily devised 
Last month in Toronto.  We've arsenal enough 
For Rock Island penitentiary and the six thousand 
Good men in grey snaffled harmless there. Six thousand! 
You know I snaked John Morgan out of the Ohio Pen, 
Well, I'll charm this passel of greybacks free as well. 
Just keep listening and collect those votes for peace.
Cold feet, Clem?  Think what mighty shoes we'll fill
After such long years of wearying, rearing war!
Copperheads, don't those liberty pennies on your lapels 
Mean anything in this degraded age?  I'll need 
Five hundred minuteman Chicagoans, any who 
Avoided Yankee service on principle will do. With them, 
Moonlight and luck, we'll have six thousand merry 
Raiders ripping up track and blowing up armories 
From Lake Michigan to the Mississippi in no time. 
Howdy-do, the Union will sure sue for peace then, 
McClellan run into Washington on the peace plank 
Vallandigham has penned with widows' tears, 
A bald eagle feather for a quill--all his hiss 
Of rights everlasting, rights to secede and breathe free. 
Gather me those papers, Buell.  Here, hand over. 
Look at these new votes we've stacked nigh high 
As a Gutenberg bible to swear a president in upon. 

Sherman’s March to the Sea

See here, [Gen’l] Cox, burn a few barns occasionally, as you go along. I can’t understand those signal flags, but I know what smoke means.
~~Wm. Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman stalked the dining room,
Lush upon a high Atlanta hill; 
The wallpaper, ornate and still, 
Writhed fire in the reflected gloom. 
Bayonetted cotton floods the street 
With pale, incandescent heat. 

Shouted voices spread the news 
But could not outrun the light 
Flicker-cast toward Georgia night 
Of his march's burning fuse. 
What shone revealed, what dread, what grace, 
In each illuminated face? 

Sherman strode the cold seashore 
All night beneath starfire--
His hooded eyes a mystery 
Homeless, aimless, and alone. 
He paused where firepale waters rushed, 
Heard his prayer, hissed, and did not rest. 

Backward Flag

…a sudden figure, a man, raises himself…stands a moment on the railing, leaps below to the stage…catching his boot-heel in the copious drapery (the American flag), falls on one knee, recovers…
~~Whitman’s report of Lincoln’s assassination

How I have loved the old flag, can never now be known.
~~John Wilkes Booth

The flag curls over like a wave of the surf, 
Over its lines a cold fold of stars, enough 
To show what sky can be when night is come: 
Red alive as rockets in the fabrics dim, 
White stripes welcome as oceans breaking home. 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 

How split, how hate-estranged we've grown, old flag, 
Stripped of half your stars, your red stripes but rags 
To bandage bloodied men or bury them--
Fife, drum, and solemn bell are all your music now. 
Flown, blown apart, we two, who once together flew. 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 

I'll stitch myself into the national scene, 
Rehearse my lines and look the part--I preen 
To patch divided stripes and each stray star return. 
Nothing but love, love alone bade me do this: 
Fire, jump, and shout ‘Sic semper tyrranis!' 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 

Mary Chesnut’s Diary

I do not write often now–not for want of something to say, but from a loathing of all I see and hear. Why dwell upon it?
~~ Mary Boykin Chesnut

Darkest of all Decembers ever has my life known, 
Sitting here by the embers, stunned, helpless, alone.
Lay aside, faithful pen, and write no more; 
Richmond is bleak as a cauldron of burnt teeth. 
I'll close my eyes awhile, and lie prone 
Until some sweeter thought arises. I remember... 
The canopied bridge to Mulberry, tree  
After tree alive with yellow jessamine  
And with cherokee rose writhing wild  
On post and pillar, as we rode to James'  
Father's placid estate, Colonel Chesnut 
Erect and spectacleless at eighty,  
A fine speech on his lips about his visit  
Preaching generosity and Jesus  
Down at the Wateree Negro Mission. 
"I preach to them as to my own, young James, 
Our prayers made knee by knee to God above."  
When long life at last sent him onward, 
The plantation rained with tears, and all 
Was lamentation and appreciation 
For one who'd filled his cup of life with grace. 
Old Scipio was first among the pallbearers 
Who'd "dressed him in life, and dressed him dead." 
And night came, and a soothing singing came  
Up to the manse from the little slave cabins. 

Pieces of the Old Battle Flag; or,
Hoe-cake and Hominy on the Way Home

My sisters that night made me underclothes from their skirts.
~~John T. Wickersham, in his homecoming narrative

A bugle broke night's silence as the colonel arrived,
Drunk we thought, tilting on his stick-thin brindled mare;
"The war's done, boys. Head on home."  And in a few strides

He was gone himself.  Kelly had his knife, and then and there
Began to parcel out the battle flag which had never veered
To ground, although three good colorguards weren't spared.

Some men wiped tears, some crept quiet from camp, hunched
As if unspined, but no one raised their voice to sing our anthem
A final time, nor have I heard it since, that song which once

Marched us from Missouri's shores to the vale of dread Antietam.
We soon enough were counted, and paroled to wander hence 
Barefoot to Memphis, or ride the Delta Darling steamboat down 

From the point of its departure. I rode until they threw me off, 
Unconscious on the docks of I knew not where, but not home. 
Alone and light-headed, I heard a colored woman close enough to scoff:

 "Po' devil, and Sunday comin' too," who led me like a lamb 
And fed me hominy and cornbread--of her poor portion half 
Until three weeks of days nursed me back to what I am: 

A sinner on the roadway with a hoe-cake in his hand. 
"Honey, don't you go it, you'll for sure die if you do."  
"Ninety miles to the Missouri line, I must try it if I can." 

Not a barn was left standing, not a town unburned, no, 
Not a cow in any pasture, nor a white man in the land. 
Not a black man played the stranger, but gave me kindness, too; 

Rough food to keep from fainting, sweet hands to bind my feet. 
Some went to hunt their masters, some heading for the North, 
Every one of them my better, to my shame and my regret. 

One night, near expiring, under the rainfall's gentle wrath 
I saw a lamp that beckoned me, deep in wood and sleet; 
On hands and knees I made it, too weak to try the latch; 

Within I heard them praying, a muffled forlorn grace, 
And put my ear the nearer who had not given thanks; 
Words, it seemed, imploring, to see their loved one's face 

Lost to war's disorders when taken from their ranks.
With their prayer ended, I knocked and entered, felt the fireplace
Warm me like a brandy that relieves the fever's shakes.

"Bacon and rye coffee," I heard.  "This man is almost dead!"
The voice was my own mother's, and my sisters circled near;
Father, serving coffee, cried: "Why, it's our own dear Ned!"

They embraced me all in all their arms, shed relief-fed tears.
They bathed me in hot water, and closed up every wound.
To God I give my every thanks, who took away my fears.


In freedom's cause their voices raise, 
And burst the bonds of every slave; 
Till, north and south, and east and west, 
The wounds we bear shall be redressed. 
     ~~ James M. Whitfield

Let us cross over the river, and rest 
under the shade of the trees.
    ~~Stonewall Jackson

Christmas Eve in Whitneyville

An invention can be so valuable as to be worthless to the inventor.
~~Eli Whitney

Easily a thousand times I'd touched a cuff, 
Flexed the luxury of a high thread count 
And dropped, as though left drowning in the surf, 
An empty sleeve without a second thought. 

Only now, in Whitneyville on a visit, 
Piling my cart with bales of breathable shirts, 
I think about the town's history, how it's stitched
Day to day in time's continental drift. 

How, quick as a cat, Eli's nimble gin 
Clawed free a thread, crystalline from end to end, 
And that thread reached out across lost time 
To wind me in these sheets for bed....  

Did Eli know his cotton gin would bring 
Us here together among the shining aisles-- 
He and I, and Southern slavers in a ring? 
And, by their rings, black slaves in lowly file? 

I dream of fields of cotton, brown and white, 
And dusky figures bending in a singing row, 
And colored sunset moving on toward night 
Where only sleeping darkness is allowed. 

I lie alone among the cotton clouds, 
Drifting in the droning surf of central air, 
My sleeves lifeless as my premie shroud. 
I hear my heavy breathing claw the air. 

Reviving the Wreck; or,
The Raising of the Monitor

It was like finding a palace, with all its conveniences, under the sea.
~~Nathaniel Hawthorne

The sea is full of sobbing 
Yet into the sea we go, 
To find that historical darling 
A tin ship from long ago. 

We fight (as they fought, perhaps, 
Who unlimbered cannon and tracked 
The foe) who (amid salvage and scrap) 
Wrestle seaweed and wrecks. 

With mask and fin descending, 
We delve disguised to the depths
To uncharm the storm's spellbinding 
Upending you to death. 

Here's the Monitor that made such noise  
Harassing Merrimac on the James;
It lists in a funk of silt and weeds, 
Rusted, contrite, and tame. 

History's filigree of detail, 
Its palimpsest of scribbled layers,
Shows stripes of filtered light mottling
A hulk abandoned by prayer. 

The darkness of Hatteras' stream
We pierce without wit or pity, 
And the glance of our trifling beams 
Reveals a sunken city. 

Here glimmers a little Manhattan,
The keel quaint 6th Avenue
With Wahoo and Bluefin pedestrians,
The whole glozed over in roux. 

All war and the waging of it 
Must come to this they say--
Two skeletons in an inverted turret 
Where minnows are wont to play. 

For weeks we belt and balloon and inflate 
To heave the iron whale by inches 
From the heaviness of its fate; 
Yet in my chest, a rebellious fish 

Quivers with questions and guesses: 
To itch at the layers of mystery, 
To reveal in detail what had been messy, 
May change what was of history.

To scrape through the dark unknown 
With an arrow of light forlorn,
With new instruments of our own.... 
Would we survive such inspection? 

Let Davy Jones entertain his guests,
Let leviathan still swallow Jonah,
Let Eve's innocence stay lost,
And disturb not Shakespeare's bones.

In the Field of Lost Shoes

They faltered not, but kept the line.
~~About the adolescent VMI cadets who marched through heavy mud, losing their shoes as they advanced on the enemy at New Market

We planted palm-sized flags in uncounted rows 
As wind taunted them taut-- 
The colors almost gone to watercolor now 
Winter's passed and spring pants. 

The field still marshals blue and grey, although 
The skirmish lines are lost....  
Where wildflower and meadowgrass grow long 
Memory simplifies to mist. 

Confederate Statues

Draw the sword and throw away the scabbard!
~~Stonewall Jackson

To stand and stand and stand 
When every knee would fawn; 
To be a statue, resolute, 
That greets the pinkening dawn. 

No more can one man master 
Than his own traitorous feet; 
No more's expected, wanted, 
Than refusal to retreat. 

So Stonewall stood, and stands 
Granite and complete; 
Each fieldstone laid by careful hand: 
Duty, honor, brave intent. 

Lee’s Return

When sullied world is gone, or rent
Hidden meanings like hidden ghosts arise.
That Lee might live the thought fidelity,
To defeat or victory indifferent,
A world's measure of gain and loss
Lies in his sword's ceremonial cross.

	O nothing but a passion burns
	Mourned countries to their soot.

Spotless Appomattox first and last,
Lee's ruinous duty, and after
Kent's canon that shook the stocks,
Who served a sane, distracted Lear
Because he knew a royal soul was one 
Human before humanity had come.

	Long, long lay the shadows on the grass;
	Uniformed men flit and pass.

How many of the undiscerning multitude
When Lee passed there had thought
His great grey face all gravity,
Stone blossom of a moral root.
What first might drive a man
To live an abstract thought?

	 O nothing but a passion burns
	 Mourned countries to their soot.

Courthouse shadows judge the field
Where Lee both tried and failed;
A lonely, exalted thought that still
Drives restless as a nail.
O How had Athens come and gone
Without one such man?

	 Long, long lay the shadows on the grass;
	 Uniformed men flit and pass.


Some books I read while writing

There’s a million books out there about the American Civil War. This is one of the facts that daunts, rather than tempts, the fidelity-minded contemporary writer. Some of the books I treasured, and mauled, the most during my journey through these sparse traces of poems are listed below. Of special note, to me, were the compendiums of contemporary accounts, tales and folklore (B. A. Botkin), or books that threaded a narrative together mainly through excerpts from eyewitness accounts, contemporaneous newspaper accounts, and official battle reports (Eisendchiml and Newman, Commager). I also enjoyed the robust and well-known popular history narratives of the war that use such accounts to bring their retellings to life (Catton, Foote, McPherson, Brown). You won’t regret picking up any of the titles below in addition to (or instead of) the little poetry book in your hands.

Civil War Treasury, B. A. Botkin 
Civil War, San American Iliad, Eisendchiml and Newman 
The Blue and the Grey, Henry Steele Commager 
Bruce Catton's Civil War 
Shelby Foote Civil War Trilogy 
Patriotic Gore, Edmund Wilson 
Vicksburg 1863, Winston Groom 
Battle Cry of Freedom, James Mcpherson 
Gettysburg, Noah Trudeau 
Life of Johnny Reb and Life of Billy Yank, Wiley 
War Stories, Ambrose Bierce 
Words For the Hour, poetry, Barret and Miller 
Poets of the Civil War, J. D. Mcclatchy 
Embattled Rebel and Tried by War, James Mcpherson 
Embattled Courage, Gerald Linderman 
Ironclad, Paul Clancy 
The Battle of the Crater, Charles River Editions 
Sherman's March, Burke Davis 
Dee Brown's Three Main Civil War Books 
Landscape Turned Red, Stephen Sears 
Don't Know Much About the Civil War, Kenneth Davis 

Any book by Douglas Southall Freeman 

Helps to keep a good battle atlas at your elbow, rather than internet maps.

Thistle Wins by Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown]

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Apr 272018

Thistle Wins

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Thistle Wins


Authored by
Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown]


Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.

Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs.

FROM Dimwelter

In the dimwelter of evening we met for a swim.
The gawp of the lake aping the moon’s smooth light
Took our floating bodies with a silver swallow
As we swept our smiles filling with pushed water
Into easy depths

About the author:
Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown] has devoted his life to poetry since happening across a haiku by Moritake, to wit:
Leaves / float back up to the branch— / Ah! butterflies.
He runs the micro-publishing house BLAST PRESS, which has published over two dozen authors in the past 25 years. Named in honor of the wild Vorticist venture by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, BLAST PRESS is forward-looking and very opinionated. He still composes poems on his departed father’s clipboard, which he’s had since High School. Author of approximately 50 books and chapbooks, including poetry, novels, criticism, YA literature, and children’s illustrated books. Published in, among other places: BlueLINE, Exquisite Corpse, Blunderbuss, Monmouth Review, Middlesex: A Literary Journal, Asbury Park Press (60K circulation). Co-Host of the long-running River Read reading series in Red Bank, which features NJ and national poets. Associate Editor of the literary magazine This Broken Shore. Founder and CEO of BLAST PRESS, a literary mirco-publisher that has published over a hundred poetry and literary titles over the last quarter century. Two-time Asbury Park Poet Laureate award winner.

Publication Date:
Apr 01 2018
1986811271 / 978-1986811279
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.06" x 7.81"
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General

A Deepening Sea

 A Deepening Sea  Comments Off on A Deepening Sea
Mar 172017


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....

Painting Seascapes

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

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.   

Family Album

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. 

The Surfers

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. 

Fisherman’s Complaint

"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 Tourist

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.  

First Dive

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


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.... 

Spanish Dancer

            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.  

Impromptu Squall

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

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. 

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.


A Raven’s Weight

 [Poetry], A Raven's Weight  Comments Off on A Raven’s Weight
Mar 162017


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 



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



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. 



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. 


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. 


I kiss your ear with the tongue of my lips,
An oyster going home to his pearl. 


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. 


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. 


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? 


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. 


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.... 


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.... 


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. 


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.  


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. 


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. 


Take these paper planes, these throwaway things I've made, 
And throw them away!  Press your fingers to your eyes 
And see the lithesome dazzlings you are made of! 

Why try and catch gliding words and get a paper cut? 
Better to run through the window, smashing it-- 
Join real swallows scissoring and levering their wings. 

Hold your breath, and dive into the waterdrop of being. 
Sail away, up among the smallest misty pins of stars, 
Grow into a sun that shuns them from the skies.... 

Don't study how to fly around in ecstasy, just do it! 
Butterflies have no how-to books crowding their cocoons, 
The veery-bird is virtuoso from the egg. 

If you're still having trouble, just laugh at yourself.  
Until echoes are a canyon all around, laughter the river. 
Look: you are the gorgeous gorge you have fallen into! 


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! 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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! 


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!



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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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 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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 



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.


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. 


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!


When coyote's mouth is full of tailfeathers
Even the raven's eye shows its whites in fear.
The dead sound of the phone at 4AM, trauma calling;
Falling headfirst on a ball of needles, getting dumped.
The intimate terror when you've failed your children 
And they sail into life listing like a wounded boat....
The executioner will call your number one day
Too soon, a perfunctory voice from behind the counter. 


What bread do we eat?  What 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. 


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. 



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.


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….


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ***


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

* * * * *


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.


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.


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….


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.


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.


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….



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 white feather, bedraggled, on the wet doorstep. 
A good rainy day--no need for poetry. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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 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. 


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. 


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. 


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 
They each grabbed an end, went to their corners, 
      and slept. 


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. 


Shadowy, shouldery parents are not talking still, 
Their backlit profiles separate and sober 
As important Egyptians laid in vinyl sarcophagi. 
Outside, miles of somber pines ashen into mountains 
And the sound of running water grows fainter than the wheels.... 
I nod off sitting under a dry beach blanket, 
Half-wrapped up like an old movie Indian 
And imagine them still talking--
Their unmoored voices rush through happy waters, 
High sprays of rapid laughter  
Whenever intervening rocks appear in the stream. 


The boy with tattoos down his arm like briars 
Climbing, briars creeping down, life-talons 
Creeping into pinched flesh, beaks eating....

The hard beak of Maker's Mark eats into me, 
Makes me see bleakly, intimately, the amber 
Illumination of day going damned into ashes. 


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.... 


                     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. 


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. 


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 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! 


My youngness thought forever was 
Days and days like that day. 
The even light in the grass, the youngness leaping 
Right to my fingertips! 

Riding my bike, I kept seeing white clouds  
Flying out behind.  And I was flying, too, 
Surrounded by gulls high in the air. 
It was as if I would never fall asleep again, 
As if I would never need to wake. 

Maple trees nodded alongside in rows 
With such green approval.  Even that red bird 
Singing on its dead-lightning branch 
The same phrase again and again. 


A birthday is something you're given
Without having to ask for it. 
Suddenly you're here, crying, red, 
And everyone else is smiling and cheering. 

Fifty years later, you're counting  
Down instead of adding up.  Cheers 
Diminish, but so do the tears;
Everyone around the bonfire cake  
Singing and inserting your name....

There isn't much movement 
At the fulcrum, the center--
You can see as far forward as 
You've lived backwards. 



Fox comes out 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. 

The Impossible Mesa

 The Impossible Mesa  Comments Off on The Impossible Mesa
Mar 162017


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



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



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. 



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.   


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.  


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 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 mountain seemed… raw materials of a planet dropped from some unseen quarry”~~Thoreau

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. 

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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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!


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. 


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. 


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 of winter clouds in these hills. 
What hand behind the cloth?  What windshield 
Keeps them from pressing into the earth? 




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 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 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! 


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. 

Man is a herd animal. 
Follow the bent grass, and you'll find him 
Muddying the river, his head low, 
Drinking deep. 

I can see the first old shaman, way back, 
Holding up his chicken bone and singing about the universe, 
Firelight lasering about him. 


Nature points the poet, 
Willfulness tautens the bow. 
Love looses the arrow. 


Fleets of late autumn clouds are thinking, Down,
Crowds of trees and animals, Look up,
While each zagging snowflake sings, I am.


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. 


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.  



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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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, 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. 


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.   


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. 


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! 


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, 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. 



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
And become one drumming upon the deep. 


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. 


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. 


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! 


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 



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….


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. 


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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


All around the lake edge, night. 
Small dots of lights, long tails 
In the water; 
Wings brushing a face 
Hurrying away. 


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. 


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. 



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, 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! 


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. 


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! 


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. 


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. 


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 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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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 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.


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. 



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. 

Knowing the Moment by Emanuel di Pasquale

 -BLAST PRESS-, [Misc.], [Poetry]  Comments Off on Knowing the Moment by Emanuel di Pasquale
Mar 072016
Knowing the Moment

Authored by Emanuel di Pasquale

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Love is the Mouth

Love is the mouth
that tears rind,
that chews pulp
and sucks juices.
Love is the mouth
that swallows seeds.
And love is the mouth
that bitches
at orange bits
stuck in its teeth.

From the Introduction
There is something elemental about the poetry of Emanuel di Pasquale, an immediacy that comes from a direct and visceral relation to whatever he is writing about-whether nature or human interaction. It is the kind of directness that di Pasquale admires in Whitman and Dickinson-evidence that he, like them, has more than an academic acquaintance with the world and its changes. He has experienced them and understands how to make us experience them, too, through words.


About the author:
Emanuel di Pasquale

I was born in Ragusa, Sicily, in 1943, and came to America, by ship, in December of 1956.
My mother, a clairvoyant, had a vision: if she brought me to America, I would accomplish great things. So she did. I went to Sleepy Hollow High School, in Tarrytown, New York, and graduated in three years. Then I went to Adelphi University, English major, and then went to NYU, Greenwich Village, for a master’s plus in English. From 1966 to ’68 I taught English at one of the original ‘Negro Colleges,’ Elizabeth State University in North Carolina. In 68 I moved to Middlesex County College, NJ, where I am still teaching.

Book Publications
My first poetry book was:
Genesis (BOA Editions, 1980)
Then came:
The Silver Lake Love Poems (Bordighera Press)
Escapes the Night (Gradiva Publications)
Cartwheel to the Moon (a book for children, Cricket Books, 2003)
Europa (Gradiva Publication, 2006)
Writing Anew: New and Selected Poems (Bordighera, 2007)
Siciliana (Bordighera Press, 2010)
Harvest (Bordighera Press, 2011)
Out of Stars and Sand (Gradiva Publications, 2012)
Love Lines (Bordighera Press, 2013)
The Ocean’s Will (Guernica, 2013)
Self-portrait (The New York Quarterly Press, 2014)

The Bordighera Poetry Prize for translating Joe Salerno book, The Magnolia Tree, into Italian.
The Raiziss de/Palchi Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets for translating the poetry of Silvio Ramat.

Among my many translations from the Italian is Dante’s La Vita Nuova (Xenos Books, 2012)

I am the editor-in-chief of my college’s literary journal (Middlesex County College). For a number of years, I was the poetry editor of Chelsea, a NYC literary journal.