A Deepening Sea

 A Deepening Sea  Comments Off on A Deepening Sea
Mar 172017
 

EPIGRAPHS


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


TIDAL POOL

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


POEMS

*** 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. 


Ideas

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. 


Pilings

 
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.


Flotsam-Mood

 
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

Again.


Swimming Around a Volcano

 
As if in search of revelation I
Descended, dived
Between dead cracks of an old volcano
Island abandoned
By all but reefs. The plunge undid me--
The world I entered 
Reeled unreal, slopes of black glass and ash:
Pleated cliffs 
That slid at every angle like fallen wings. 

And the sea was grass,

As in a psalm of inattentive shepherds lost
In strange valleys
Floods had closed.  Glad rayed fans of coral
Reached like wreckage--
Unpruned since the solitary cone had cooled
(Oh, an age ago
As far as new life proliferating might reckon),
Lifting their neon palms   
To desert heaven.  And, above heaven, silent,

God, absent and calm. 


*** Finding Lionfish Everywhere ***


Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O'er living myriads in their sleep.
~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


A Transparent Heart

Unclouded I sit at my tideline task. 
Hipless jellyfish pulse, intricately limbed 
Between my knees, beneath my diver's mask, 
Bell-bodies beating slow as living chimes. 

Their white summer dresses but lightly veil 
A teasing rictus of richer innards: 
A plume of brain like a peacock's tail, 
A transparent heart that shows the sand. 

Here's one who feels a nothing in my hand, 
Whose string limbs curl their inching purple 
Around a curved inviting fingerend 
As if a morning reminder tied--and lapsed. 

All I had forgotten floods to mind suddenly; 
Expelled thoughts that had been supple 
Cloud my mask with breathing ill-at-ease, 
Complexing a day that had been simple. 

No longer can I play easy as they seem, 
Letting tufts of plankton, water, light, and all 
Pass through me as through an open transom-- 
My heart beating transparent, clear and small. 


The Hermit Crab

When he lets his inner curl of anchor go 
Like a weightlifter giving all that gravity back 
And leaves his comma tracks incised in dough 
Pointing like a murderer to his abandoned shack, 
He drags all of himself there really ever was  
Across the sea floor's unforgiving foreign sands 
Into some striped or spotted larger emptiness, 
And there drops anchor, there makes his stand.


Cultivation

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. 


Schooling

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

I
The moon like a run of soldering on calm water, 
A silver seam between two broken shelving shards, 
A liquid line that welds the world together; 
What had been separate has come to oneness, hard. 

I I
Laying like a discarded satin tie, the moon upon the waters; 
All those bronze sheets of day torn off without a trace, 
Just this one loose dock-rope thrown from the departing boat-- 
A line of luminous paint on a dark and changing face. 

I I I 
A sparkling line of gunpowder leads to the furious moon, 
A barrel of spoons tipped into the slow smash of waters 
Beating on seas' wide knees a raggedy country tune.  Whatever 
Song has brought me here, I say: let this one bring me farther. 


Joyriding the Night Sea

In the pulpit of a powerboat,
I pitched and passed the last black buoy.
I was flying at hazard past bay and float
Far into the dark, far past scraps of day.

The trussed hull slapped and rattled like a bow
Once the arrow's loosed, once the sprung string untwists 
Back into the normal tension life allows-- 
My thrashed spine raw as an archer's wrist.

Spray that left the bowsprit in a whip
Flash-froze my face to its forward task;
Whatever thoughts might keep an inward grip 
Left no outward trace as they passed.

Darkness was all, and darkness all I was.
Above, no puncture appeared for stars to shine.
Beneath, a deafening raging motor buzzed
Driving the fiberglass arrowhead

Blind into anything alive. 


Meeting at Sea

How the running wave assaults the pebbles 
With polyuphloisbios on its breath, 
Sliding up in such hurried fluffed excitement 
You'd think the sea came reporting troubles. 
Yet the sea has no more to tell us two of death 
Than its usual haul of impermanence. 

No more floods from its mouthful bubbles 
Than yesterday's foam had told in brief, 
Or, indeed, what the day before that had meant. 
What I keep an ear for when we watch the wash 
Briskly sweeping the edge, is not belief, 
But to hear known news in doublement. 

The one cold comfort that comes with age 
Is how old saws still cut true with grief, 
How sighs race sands to bewilderment 
And go on sighing their wavery treble, 
Tide in and out sighing without cease 
In the same wet bliss as when first we met. 


First Push, Then Pull

Sand flows slower through hands underwater,
Meets more resistance, as a child her dad's cheek 
Kisses more carefully unshaven. 

Time itself seems less pressed to palter 
When flowed along through a tide's enlarging lens, 
The hourglass turned and turned again. 

Here a stasis friction where edges met  
Seemed to rule us all that long first afternoon, 
Keeping us standing like fountain shadows. 

We were just ourselves it seemed, and yet 
Slower, like sand in tidal pools at noon, 
Warmer where the sun flows oblique below. 

In our tidal stillness we standing stood, 
The sea as salt within us as it was without, 
All push and pull at pause.  And that was good.  


Together the Moving Waves

Together, quiet, we moved in the wake of waves,
Together found the rhythm of how we were made 
To be together, and be together saved. 

All afternoon we lived in all the play of shade 
And play of wet and light as rayed sunset 
Summoned us to dinner beyond the cove's glade. 

Together before pineapple and pork we sat, 
Two dim humans alight with love of all  
The love we had, and in that light we ate. 

We sat until the stars themselves began to fall 
Singly into the shingle of the sea 
And so made place for still new stars to fall. 

It was as if we sat at creation's knee, 
Two serious children thrown into the all 
And settled on the ocean's verge to be.


Chihuly’s Illuminated Spears

Chihuly's illuminated spears line the gravel walk, 
Tossed from a florescent urchin's stegosauric back. 

The Seattle night is wet and fresh, a champagne wash 
Frivolous and spastic as the sea's moulting crash. 

Inside the glass house, a signature warp of light 
Douses the house's sides like a blue-whale's flukes caught 

Turning screwise in twilight off some far Pacific isle. 
We dare a side-room.  Above, oddities bobble, quilled 

Radiant by strobes, directed lances of dapple-light-- 
As if we lived enreefed beneath such laser shapes of sight: 

Orange palm-fronds frozen lustrous in mid-unfurling, 
Razor aloe-limbs pronged and leaning gleaming 

Like licked licorice-sticks.  Nearby, purple fluted gourds  
Gangle at all angles: ripe, overripe, engorged-- 

Trumpets, too, of red sponges, while canopies of eyes 
Pop surprised from indigo skeins of rind--corkscrew rays 

Of yellow intensity, the abrupt structures of cell 
Automata, endless whims of fin and tooth, flares of hell 

A drowning man, a man sans land, knows all too well. 


Envoi

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.

1991

A Raven’s Weight

 A Raven's Weight  Comments Off on A Raven’s Weight
Mar 162017
 

EPIGRAPHS

It is salutary to deal with the surface of things.  What are these 
rivers and hills, these hieroglyphics which my eyes behold? 
~~Thoreau, Journal 


Men think they are better than grass.
~~W. S. Merwin, The River of Bees 

How can I be close to you if I'm not sad?
~~Robert Bly 


 

SORROW IN A FALLEN FEATHER


Emotional suffering gives us access to the real world in a way that ideas, and even love, cannot attain

We turn death and generation into a fable of sacrifice. Plants are buried, and are honored in their going; the Crop King is executed, and from his everlastingly renewed body the spring stalks arise to be culled again. His death is willingly embraced by him, or by his stand-in chosen from among the farmers–and this freely chosen death is overcome, in the Christian story, by God’s intervention. Or the sacrifice is invested with meaning by the very act of undertaking the self-imposed burden of sacrifice. Perhaps the deadness of the death is overcome via the more pagan vehicle of the anti-wish-fulfillment of tragedy–their heroes marching off-stage with a chin-lifted “tragic gaiety.”

At a minim, in these stories of death, the dead have some future existence, some ongoing effect on the living who survive the sacrifice. They are ghosts, legacies, shapers of their children’s childhoods (and thus their later lives), fathers of countries, innovators and stage-managers of the theater of ideas in which our own living decisions seem to occur.

There is, however, a more reductive way of viewing these mechanics of life and death. A way in which immaterial ideas remain immaterial to the whole process of death and generation. In this view, death and life are entirely out of our hands, and are not even subject to some overweening concept, such as Fate. Death and generation are entirely out of our conscious control, contribution, or even comprehension. The grave is a wormy meat-locker, the womb a humid conveyer-belt on auto-pilot, churning and regurgitating material for the low grave’s open door. All the rest, all our imposition of pattern, our self-selecting and seeking of meaning, our elaborate institutions of culture, our games of play and mating, are no more than an con game that we play against ourselves–an inherently deceitful waste of time and effort.

No wonder no one has the time to read poetry books! Thin as they are, they make better coasters than guideposts; they are lies only, not metaphoric (or metamorphic) mile-markers limping off into the mists toward immanence….

There is one thing, however, that binds us to the earth in both of these scenarios. If we are meaning-making creatures who have impact and effect in our deliberate embracing of death, our use of tools, and our active management of history–or if we are simply whittled-down pegs, wooden-headed and wooden-footed as we hop the circuit and then hop off some cosmic cribbage board. And that one thing is sorrow. Grief over what is lost, or for that which is too soon to be gone, made irrecoverable by time and nature. In both cases, what is, is. And there is also that which will not always be as it is–or even always continue to be at all. The result of this fact is the unending sorrow that life presents to us. Tragedy or comedy, we cry at either when the curtain lowers, as the coffin to its silky mud, and the players disperse like invisible ink, all play-acting at an end.

Sorrow grounds us, keeps our beings seated on the earth. And it is through this special kind of on-going grief that we enter into our true understanding of life, and of the life of death. Sleep is our small daily adjustment toward incorporating unconscious revelations. When we are awake, it is sorrow that can let us break through the gates that hold the mind’s wild darkness away from day-lit acknowledgement–the gates that consciousness holds shut with our meaning-making, endless cognitions and wishes. Mary Oliver says, in her poem ‘Don’t Hesitate,’ that “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” So, too, with sorrow. We are not meant to sip the deluge. Sorrow, if it comes at all, arrives with tidal force–and the wideness of its bleak realization keeps our feet steady, blows the egomaniac mind down the staircase, and holds our elbows hard so that we must face each other in dire humility.

Poems grown from sorrow can perhaps gives us the momentary clarity to drop our pretense of control, the modern imperative that commands that we impose a single, often literal, meaning. Poems grown from sorrow let us sit abandoned among the dead leaves of grief. Poems can let us see the feather fallen from the raven’s wing, and can let us enter into the long dark tubes of mourning that flow so keenly along the detached shaft–the backbone of a feather that had once been capable of the terrors of flight.

Gregg Glory
December 25, 2015


POEMS

LET US PRAISE WHAT IS ARRIVING

Today is barely here, it is so delicately 
Arriving over the long scimitar edge 
Of Earth, a single blade of light, 
Beginning greyness and unfocused grace
Out of coughing darkness where  
God said nothing to us in a dream 
He was so busy with His wide dark wall 
Of sky, hoisting each wild star up there 
Like a kid with his stickers, just right. 


*** A RAVEN’S WEIGHT ***



THE RED REED FLUTE

The reed flute is empty.  Think of that! 
There's no music in that hollowness, those 
Snipped weeds dried and arranged and tied. 

Where is the music?  Ask instead, "who speaks  
When I am talking?"  I am not my memories,  
Nor yet am I the I who I will be tomorrow. 

The flute is light and ready in my hands. 
Celebrants have gathered, the tent pole is raised;
Wine is on the lips of the barefoot bride! 

Move the emptiness of your speaking through 
The red reed flute's empty tube, again and again. 
You'll hear the music soon enough, secret whistler. 


WRITING THESE POEMS IS LIKE

Stars vibrate wildly in a tin dish. 
I slide through the membrane of fire-- 
Wild ideas come at me, attracted by 
My burned clothes, the cinnamon smoke 
Of nearly dying again in my sleep last night. 

The icy awareness of 4AM empty streets 
Bathed in longing, their young lamps shining 
Tender as snail horns....  Who knew that stars 
Fell among us so easily?  A few old poets 
Stare about, aware as burrow owls. 


TO THE READER

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


UNDER THE STAIRCASE

 
A non-white non-ethnic man crouched under the stairs 
Keeps mouthing indistinctly that I should stay asleep; 
His eyes are like those small puddles punched 
Among harvested corn-stubble fields in late autumn. 

Catbirds beyond the bedroom's freeze-sealed sashes 
Are singing in their sleep, under moving mounting shadowy clouds 
Calm as gathered cattle in their long night pens. 
I stand without waking and sing indistinctly, too. 


THE DONKEY’S NOSE

 
Look in a drop of water you will see your face there. 
The maple's snakes, its tendrils, its subdividing branches 
Become arms and hands and fingers when we do the looking. 

What's this hissing repetition that surrounds us like grass? 
This going on and on about the point, without being explicit? 
Is there no abstract, no definition, that we can look up? 

Stars, every night, fall into my upward eyes and live there. 
Every night, the coyote's lonely howl enters my doglike heart. 
Darkness imbues me until my skin is oil-black enameling. 

How many pieces of glass must we sift into the kaleidoscope? 
How many turns, how many patterns must we look at 
Before we see only ourselves there, displayed and dazzling? 

Thirst drives me every night to every well, an angry donkey. 
Stubborn, I nuzzle every gnawed-over weed again and again. 
I kiss a donkey's nose as it bends over the full trough 
      of water. 


AREN’T DREAMS AND SLEEP ENOUGH?

 
What is it that you must do with your life? 
Isn't it enough to sit alert on the porch at sunset 
In a swayback chair, drifting through NJ as through 

A dirty river on your flat raft of fantastical thoughts? 
To listen to Brandenburg No. 3, and weep a little, 
And spill some Ali Baba tale to your Scheherazade? 

Must you cobble a fable for the ages from your homey hugs? 
Passion leads to catastrophe or triumph, true enough. 
But life lives graveward always, where no laurels grow. 

Aren't dreams and sleep enough, when cool night bends down 
And pours her stars in your ears? Do you need to drink down 
The daylight too, insatiably as lemonade in August? 

Must you tell a tale of breathless loving with every breath? 
Must you hold your little love to you so close she coos? 
Must sun overrun the sun's gunnels to praise her, pattering  

Pellucid down your chest, your T-shirt soaked through? 
Must loving leave your lips too sticky for anyone to kiss?  
Is this what you have done with your life? 


THE THIRSTY VASE

 
Always I raced outside to see sweet night come on, 
Long wheaten fences disappearing in a sweep of shadow 
Faster than a horse out-stretched in gallop. 

I used to need to know everything so badly, 
I never asked what came to fill me. 
I was an empty vase standing in the corner. 

Winds blew over my openness and gave my voice longing. 
Thirst pushed at the sides of my heavy vase, always 
Outward, growing just to hold more soaking hollowness. 

Stars were pouring in over the dim rim of clouds. 
My hands froze blue on the invisible porch rail waiting 
For the missing moon to veil my face with snow. 

What pours into emptiness so eagerly open? 
Has a spider, an evil, ever fallen in in some quiet hour? 
My vase has stood its corner now for many years, full. 

Lately, hoisting my vase up awkwardly on a balanced 
Elbow, I'm satisfied if my lips let pass no more 
Than the first touch of coolness on the tip of my tongue. 


SHEDDING OUR WINGS

Every night we fall back to the rolling womb, nesting 
In cozy ovals we fell out of long long ago, before 
We were fools enough to think we could hang on. 

You see how the birds are, always hustling for twigs. 
A new nest every year, every year a better circle of twigs! 
Or another fresher circle softening an old arbor 

In a favorite tree.  We fly, we fall.  And sleep catches us. 
We go under dark waves as under a worn blanket. 
These worn waves are the tents we emerged from as infants. 

Lying down, there's a comfortable smell of shorn feathers, 
A defeat that feels like removing our shoes, resting our feet,  
Letting the invisible heaven around us hold us close awhile. 

How good it is to go home to the womb after a day of work, 
Shedding wings from our heavy shoulders, entering the egg. 
Sealing our eyes shut, bones yellowing to yolk.... 


NIGHT COMES SWALLOWING

Sleep was telling me: run away! wake up! 
But night comes swallowing: my feet are water 
Swimming in a starlessness I didn't choose. 

I am Jonah, the dark everywhere like a mouth. 
For hours the whale's ambergris breath flows 
Over me and back, a field of wildflowers. 

A motion of my soul comes out of me at once, 
Dreams as elaborate as wet hairs on my body, 
My body braided with tattoos of dreams  

Stitching me, tick tick, into blood rosaries of stories, 
My own and eternal: story of the running son, 
The betraying brother;  stories of my colonies of cells.... 

I never escape the magnetic gullet of the night;
Never sail the whitecapped seas, loosely numinous-- 
No name, and my body riven by whale tracks.... 



EATING BLACK BREAD

The ruined house; the broken window; the tired wan moon  
Blowing through, dumping dust and ash everywhere.... 
Ruined objects call out to the ruin in ourselves. 

Passing a graveyard on RT 71 certain days, I'll pull over 
To test the springy green of eternal grass, sizing up 
Scrolled tombs, plaques screwed in earth that seem 
so small. 

Those witches in Macbeth weren't all bad were they? 
They held up the ichorous cave's proscenium well enough,
Dull Macbeth scurrying through like a startled spider!

My body is the ruined house I inhabit, failing daily. 
Pallid moths follow me, eating my elbows to patches.  
Every door clicks shut behind me like a coffin lid. 

If I'm sad today, why do anything about it? 
Sorrow arrives as vividly as love, leaves craters as great. 
Living is just what you do with life while you're alive. 

Let me sit in windy ruins sharing my black bread with Macbeth. 
When I'm done with it, done eating and grieving at last, 
Haul me out with the moon's ashes.  Dump me anywhere. 


COUNTING THE HAWK’S FEATHERS

Watching the hawk circle, I watch myself. 
I am circling with that dark circle in the bright sky. 
I am a dot in the immensity moving, moving. 

Some part of the human eye is always measuring. 
Somehow, myriad rice-grains get counted, the check gets cashed. 
Somehow we fit our whole lives into a single grain.... 

When I see the hooping porpoises play, far off, 
I swim beside them, my forehead smooth, my fins bright. 
I am a comma in the immense ocean, curving. 

Icarus grew tired counting feathers, tried flying 
That human way;  and Archimedes made some measured 
Pretense of tallying each waterdrop in ocean's tub. 

Rumi, seized by ancient ecstasy, threw his calipers away! 
Mallarme gently beat azure sleeves against the infinite.... 
Reading them, one knows where the sea meets the sky. 

Later, touching the fine side of a sleeping porpoise; 
Later, seeing up-close the hawk's neat armor flowing; 
I know I'm not ready to swim, not ready to fly.  


WHISTLES AND DIDGERIDOOS

I think of you more often than you think-- 
Here in my ivory tower, quietly whittling away 
At my balsa whistles and baritone didgeridoos. 

My bellybutton slowly grows furred with loneliness. 
All my hair is unkempt as a goat's beard.  My tough 
Mustache tastes its last meal for three days! 

Whatever shivery mirrors there were that I lived with 
Stopped talking to me when I started listening to rain 
Falling, river water rolling, the sky dividing day and night. 

And you are here with me among my little whistles. 
The sky at sunrise shows your face, and the rain 
Falling remembers your name: lispingly, lovingly. 

Alone in my house, I walk out when I want to, 
Talk aloud to no one when I want, and dance alone too! 
I have been carving the one sad low note left within me. 

I have been trying to give my lonely chest a voice, 
A name besides a sigh....  Last night in darkening rain, 
I rolled over and over, saying aloud your name. 


A RAVEN’S WEIGHT

 
The early sun's aroused, dousing the dusky torch 
Night carries alongside as the raven carries her wings,
Flapping black flames alongside her raven body. 

The tree in our yard, from all its dream possibilities--
Those small branchings tentative as a net of nerves--
Settles greenly into its familiar delta of Ys at dawn.

Dreaming, a raven's weight had settled on every bough.
Awake, slight shadows hung from leaves are all that's left  
Of the raven's restless wings; those wings are at rest. 

So you, who I dreamed of years before meeting, 
Arrive today as one woman on the bed in yellow light. 
And I love you as that one woman, that one choice. 

You hold yourself golden before me, pinning up 
The raven fabrics of your long night hair, choosing 
Your daylight faces like a favorite thought in the mirror. 

Love, I love to dream.  I love the raven night and all 
The cinquefoil-spotted mystery of high stars-- 
You know I do.  But I also love this day.  I love you. 


THROWING PAPER PLANES AROUND THE ROOM

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

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

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

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

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


LEAVING PROSPECT MOUNTAIN

Prospect Mountain had been tall and strong all morning, 
A great stone tent with red and gold pom-poms stuck 
All over, the climbing light a waterfall everywhere. 

Soon enough, the mountain was a cocked hat shrinking 
In the rearview, the valley mist growing dark: 
From white, to dirty steel, to blue, to almost black. 

Tonight's road comes reeling right up to the car 
And creeps under the wheels like a shadow-- 
A doe in stabbing headlights, ducking under. 

Moving on is like that;  like this, I guess: rolling over 
Whatever is right there in front of you, even if 
It is afraid.  Even if you, too, are scared. 


LOW WATER

 
Let me be as low as low water, I pray. 
Let me fall from myself like shattered glass ungathered. 
Let me be humiliated totally, right now, while I live. 

See those trapeze artists spinning flawlessly in air? 
See their powdered hands that never miss the bar? 
See them stick the landing, slender feet relentless 
      as pegs? 

They are passing like bleached sand through a narrow space 
And into the grave....  Whatever I am is not whatever 
I will become everlastingly in that last, lowly room. 

My feet are not slender, nor strong as tent pegs. 
My wrists cannot hold the bright bar I have caught. 
My days overwhelm me, and no dream consoles me. 

Let me be as low as low water, I pray. 
Let my ashes be mixed with sand and flung away. 
At least let non-existence not be a surprise! 


KEEL, OAR, AND ALL

 
On my solo boat again at Gravesend,  without moon, 
Without moan.  No one to lullaby, no one to lie to me
--All cause and causes subtracted to none, abandoned. 

Sublimations and images fail me now, as heretofore have failed. 
I poke the slow black water with a stick, without a hat. 
I lie reflected no more in the tar below, the stars above. 

I am me without a me, here, in my weary, merry boat--
The fine night sky clearing, no sign of the crooked coast; 
Wetted darkness all about, and heart dark within. 

There's my demarcation, my border, my pulling line 
That orients me, prow and stern, even now, this night: 
Without and within are all my worlds at world's end. 

Shall I throw my bright bones about the indifferent stars, 
Or swallow yellow suns within, to thin this film of skin? 
To break without blood what's without and within? 

I pull in my little pole tonight and sit quietly athwart. 
I row not, and look not, and I refuse to sweat. 
What wind there is--is there?--will not wait. 


CLOUDS LIKE GREY MICE

 
The sad day you were waiting for has finally arrived. 
Clouds gather like grey mice, and it is night 
Everywhere and always, and you are crying like a cloud. 

Late-autumn trees are mourning, too.  Their black sap 
      is mourning. 
The seas of the leaves have washed into dusky grass. 
They mourn with their whole hollow bodies blowing at night. 

And stars come twinkling with tears, mourning, too. 
It is good to sit on the ground and be a heavy stone. 
I mourn.  The whole world is sad, and death is coming. 

Coming with a small hole to put on your forehead 
And stop you.  Just an infinitesimal black dot....
Some people you loved and loved are already dead. 

They lie under the leaves in their long tunnels, 
Like the tunnels of a long curved wave breaking. 
The wave is made of tears, and a wind rushes through it. 


ROLLING IN OCEANS

 
I am sick of time, and the rusted bell, and the still 
Cows welded to the still field like Hades' watchmen, 
And never getting to go down into the earth myself. 

If there is a meaning, a revelation, and not just this 
Interminable terminus--let me be at the lightning's point, the break 
Of the revealing wave where the whole ocean coheres. 

Windily I wind the clock stopped on the mantelpiece, 
Twisting time into hands and into the still bell. 
How long is't since the winter when storm undid us? 

The cows are in the sloping field, shadows so still 
On the rushing green stream, clouds on a kite string. 
I turn from the window to the mantelpiece again.

Again, I am standing in a room without revelation. 
The only lightning here bleeds from standard sockets, 
The only ocean is the salt blood flag waving in my veins. 

I am sick of time, and the rusted bell, and the still 
Gilded clock welded to the family mantelpiece,  
And never getting to go down into Hell myself. 


CHASING THE NEEDLE

 
How happily the woodpecker walks up the rotted oak's bark, 
Striking dark star-holes with the needle of his hungry beak! 
It's the same hunger Galileo had looking at evening skies. 

When we follow the sewer's dark thread into dreams, 
Where we go doesn't matter, we always arrive at daybreak. 
What matters is that we feel the hard pull of the needle. 

When loneliness besets the hermit, replacing solitude, 
It's best to go square dancing down past the truckstop. 
Are you sad? Lift your boots!  If happy, stomp them down! 

Finding nothing, the woodpecker turns his head, flies off; 
There's more good rottenness deeper in the deep woods.... 
His wings flicker red-brown with whickering laughter. 

When your dream-thread doesn't emerge in daylight, 
Don't wake up!  Stamp your feet amid pushed-back chairs, 
Fly deeper into the strange stars of your sleeping.... 

Chase the hard needle, woodpecker, and it will feed you. 
Keep peeping, Galileo, new worlds are circling above you! 
Reader, keep flying into this poem as you fall asleep.


RIDING THE WIRE

How hard it is to be influenced!  One was born alone, 
The body's arrow let go whining from mother's bowstring 
Long ago.  Already it is too late to move the target! 

One has blue eyes, or not.  A taste for salmon, perhaps,
A certain happiness in high-wire risks, a feel for pearls 
Or not.  Too late to unwant what one wants. 

A freshness visits the deep self, the turtle-self, 
      so rarely! 
When Bach's B-minor mass moves through us, culminating 
In a joy of ruinous tears, how the turtle-heart rejoices! 

Our fletching feathers are calmed by the master's thumb, 
Our shaft of arrow hand-held to the pointillist target. 
We are not flying free, not arrows even, just turtles-- 

Blue-eyed or not, salmon pâté on our napkins, pearls 
Pleasing or chafing, cultured or native, nacreous or not: 
Our center, the target, was spotted by Bach long ago. 

We are turtles, wingless and slow.  Our turtle-hearts 
Beat excitedly as music heats the cords of voice. 
We are beads on those strings, riding the wire to the end.


CHARLOTTE’S CHILDREN

I follow the spiders, like Charlotte's children, 
      floating away  
On their parachutes.  How I long to be saved! 
Webs of work, and love, and work, pin back my wrists. 

There is new life in the seeds of a watermelon, but not 
For that watermelon.  That one goes to rot and rind-- 
And from his black belly, the laughing blooms and vines! 

I long to escape the heat of the soil, the toil of 
      the web. 
To find the moony children laughing for no reason 
In their sleep.  To laugh myself, and to retreat 

Contented to a corner.  But, how I long to be saved! 
To leap from the egg-sack high up in the corner. 
To float away like Charlotte's children, myself 
      a child. 

I hold my own belly like a watermelon and laugh. 
Who would I be beyond my webs of work and love? 
Sunset comes to corners first, small watermelon 

Seeds of darkness;  then sleep seeded by dreams. 
In my dreams I follow the spiders, am a child. 
I have eight eyes and eight legs, and am flying! 


WAITING IN THE RAIN

 
When the rain comes to check on me, tapping 
Tip-tops of houses, reaching down to the green of trees, 
I hurry outside to let it have a good look.

The first drop feels like a pencil's tip 
Bipping the back of my neck, a schoolmate saying 
Pay attention, take a good look yourself. Look up!

Then the next drop, and the next, draw and re-draw 
My attention everywhere at once, and I 
Become so many mes I don't know where to look:

Maples whisking water-shimmer from bare prongs,
Weeds fantastical as Tiffany pins, the golden
Retriever looking up too, then right at me....

All the greater neighborhood... a drear, a blur.... 
I remember I was waiting for something, but what  
Was it?  And then I breathe in--and fresh!


*** ENTERING A RAINDROP ***

 


DIVING OFF CLOUDBANKS WITH AN ALBATROSS

  
Where the body leans, the mind is leaping. 
The diver prepares himself so beautifully 
      upon his plank. 
The albatross like a floating cross stands still 
      upon the cloud....
Two hands mildly dreaming below a glassine stream, 
Are they the water's thought or the water's body? 
Is that sunset shyly diving behind blotting pines 
A thought descending?  When I hear the waterfall, 
However far, however faint the chime, I, too, am falling.
Falling flotsam on falling clouds of the falling stream. 


COOL DAY IN AN ASPEN GROVE

 
We stand shoulder-to-shoulder admiring 
The wisp-white quick weak trunks of aspen trees, 
Listening to the simple wishes of passing winds. 
Beneath our feet, slow roots make a common net; 
We feel their long tendrils sigh a counter-song: 
Complex, contrapuntal, something dark of Bach's. 
But we don't need to sing the song, know the notes, 
Standing in the cool of the day admiring. 


LAPPING ANGLER’S COVE WITH DAD

 
Of all the maybe Dads I had imagined, 
This one stood elegant-legged as a stork  
And walked the cove's shallow rim with me, 
Water at his sandaled feet breaking brilliantly.... 
At the deepest cut, where a stream lost sand 
And water sounds thudded slow as blood, 
Hand over hand into the cove's curved mansion 
We swam, brushing the water's face to brilliance. 


THE OLD HANDS

Christmas is a pine tree that smells like aerosol. 
After school is out, after TV loses its snowlike luster, 
Dad carefully brings the old decorations down attic stairs 
Like Santa descending.  Mother coos and wipes a tear, 
Opening the box where the sweeping glass angel sleeps. 
Then photo decorations, macaroni ones, a few older 
Than the house.  Someone starts singing, an aunt 
Perhaps, Angels we have heard on high Sweetly singing 
O'er the plains.  Around the tree, Christmas is 
Our hands doing what the old hands have done. 


ENTERING A RAINDROP

 
First, there's the mist insisting its moist say: 
Into my hair, my cold clothes, speaking so softly 
I'm whispering to myself by the end of the day. 
Second, all those sumptuous puddles suddenly 
Alive over muddy grass that were absent yesterday 
--How they want to know what's inside my shoe! 
Looking up, there's nothing but blue clouds 
And rumors of clouds, inviting me in. 


LEARNING TO BE ALONE

I give up listening to crickets, let 
Leigh Hunt and Keats have all that creaking! 
Instead, I listen to wind at the sash tatting, 
Or lean in a doorframe until the desire for conversation  
Passes;  I overhear scraps of rattling when the fireplace 
Grate sticks;  the faucet shushing until the glass 
Is full;  tears in the corners of my eyes as I drink; 
The sound of old slippers shuffling off to bed. 


AN EMPTY MILKWEED POD

It bites the palm. The dry wedge-spikes 
Bite, a ramming Greek trimaran. 
Look at the long open place for rowers 
Retreating back to the guiding stem.... 
No one is left to pull the shell forward, 
Gracefully darting through the Mediterranean-- 
Romans must have invited them away at spearpoint. 
Rows of unladen seats still dry, the ship tight 
But empty.  Everyone has gone on ahead. 


THE THRESHING

Word has gone out to the war mothers walking 
In the field, gathering the fine grains of death 
In their skirts, pulling on the soft cottony flames
Of their sons' pyres, one by one, and holding them 
Penitent in long skirts before their wombs. 
How have the golden autumn fields become so full 
Of grieving fire, of mothers walking on broken sod? 
Their sons' faces are drawn in flame--in every 
Burning grain they gather their sons are talking. 


STANDING IN SADNESS

There's a sadness in standing alone  
All day, and a sadness within that sadness. 
Solitude comes to the fisher when he accepts 
The place he's standing, himself in the place. 
The frisky catfish follows the low hook 
Not because he believes in heaven above....
The fisher, listening to the squeal of waders 
Lives inside mud silence, sometimes just enough. 


WHO RIDES BESIDE

 
Are we honest enough for the love we're given? 
That writes hearts, hard, in the paper?  
      That spells our name? 
There is one who waits beside us at the DMV, 
One who takes the reins when we crumple exhausted, 
And never asks the why of our having driven the horses
Too far into blinding snows that fall all night.... 
Look beside you now, unfold your wallet and remember-- 
The one who loves you is the one who rides beside. 


THE SEA LION’S ROUGH VOICE

The sea lion's rough voice promises that love 
Is dark;  that growls and low ripening squeals 
Will suffice all lovers on their sprawling rock--
No need for whispers when the sea takes you; 
You slide loud, all at once, into the spraying deeps! 
Champagne shoots the ocean liner from its launch! 
Moonlight discovers two among long night swells: 
Two sleek heads touching slightly, darkening. 


THE BELLOWING SEA

Tired of work, I walk the boardwalk slats. 
The sea is sunburst yellow all around. 
The sea creams luxuriantly against the jetty. 
Wildly unzippered sprays;  sea kelp pulped 
Green in wide tidal pools below bent rocks. 
I have grown old;  in work;  in love; 
A downward monklike sunflower unseeded. 
I tire of the boards, jump down to gleaming sands. 


LANDSCAPE

 
The hills, and the hills beyond them: 
Full of little towns, cluttered with people 
Looking back over the even, velvety hills 
As though their shadow-side were far away 
As the moon--unknowable, dense with dust. 
But the hills pile up like waves, like waves 
Arriving, hill after hill, and you're the shore 
Constantly lapped upon and lapped up and washed 
Away by all those hills, the clutter of people. 


STOPPING READING, I WALK TO THE SHORE

Standing at the slushy lake in a surprise thaw, 
The deep breast of the heavy water wants to rise.... 
Its dark edges are deeply luminous, murmuring 
As they clasp the raspy pebbles, push the small 
Whitish bodies with a darkness that breaks and scatters-- 
Just as that flock of pigeons on the dead hawthorn tree, 
With the sound of a thousand pages turning at once, 
Breaks and breaks and enters the evening sky. 


WAITING FOR HURRICANES

Thrumming the boardwalk with my black toe  
Like an old softshoe dancer rehearsing, I hear 
A drumming sound like rain, and remember 
The deep swept fresh of it, holding this rail 
While bone-white ball lightning rolled the ocean, 
My face toward the hurricane's great rage, 
And I as mild... washed clean of salt. 


THE FOUR HUMORS


1. WHEN ANGER COMES

When anger comes, its red tides rising and breaking,
Temperatures rise with them, all the thermometers pop!
My blood's in a rage, my face will never be cold again.
Idiocy lands like a fly on my nose;  fingers ache
To tear each miniscule grey limb apart and fling it!
My head is chock-full of thundering drums!
Teeth interrupt the thick tongue, grinding blind apocalypse.
Mad mad mad!  There will never be an end to anger.


2. THROWN DOWN AN ELEVATOR SHAFT

How sad, when I sit down, to keep going down 
Into boundless sorrow, rabbit-screams down an elevator shaft....
Tears that take away the breath, and keep weeping; 
The widower on a train no one will sit near.
Brown shadows of rot streak the dilapidated barn; 
Old dead hay spits out, and a shabby badger moves in 
Under the cornerstone. How heavy my father's casket was! 
Wherever I'm driving, I feel his weight in my wrists. 


3. STEALING SECOND BASE

Sheer happiness keeps the hummingbird going back 
      and forth;
Babies slapping the bathwater;  millions of bubbles rising
So quickly in my diet coke, I can't keep from laughing!
Picking who goes first by trading hands on the bat;
Stealing second base while the pitcher fixes his cap....
On our second date, a sad movie, I kept smiling in the dark. 
When a dog finds his master again after many years
Of wandering, his heavy tail keeps on wagging!


4. THE COYOTE’S MOUTH

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


WHAT BREAD DO WE EAT?

What bread do we eat?  What water do we drink?
When light rises with the moon or with the sun, 
It's the dark curve of the hill that rises to meet it. 
Some dark stays buried in the hill with Arthur. 
His friends are dressed in moon livery and loyalty, 
And when they emerge, they jangle fishy scales. 
Lights along the riverbank show us fishes dancing, 
But within them a darkness is swimming. 
The bee is a dot of busy shadow going 
From light to light in the flowery field. 
When we eat the wheaten loaf, what do we eat? 
A dark yeast is buried in the bread. 


JUMPING INTO PUDDLES

Look into a puddle on a moonless night. 
No moony reflection;  no gleam;  no face. 
Here lies the true, dark puddle;  no illusions. 
Darkness pulls away from you like a thread,
Deep into the center of Earth--a pupil 
Boring into the source of all thought;
Plato's black rat-hole out of the day-world....
I look a whole minute into the puddle's little
Oblivion--then jump over it, and on to bed. 


*** BUILDING A PROSY NEST ***



FOXES BUILDING A NEST

Turning around and around, building a nest, foxes make a place for their lives with the small black daubs of their feet. Birds use their mouths to carry fallen twigs and stale straw into the heavens, and build their own clouds there, threading carefully. Crows steal what they need, recognize the faces of those who do them harm, and appreciate having glittering things in their straw castles. An Austrian invented the waltz after observing the nesting behaviors of several kinds of animals. Turning around and around, the pair must carefully step where their partner has gone, tamping down a safe place for the two of them to dance arm in arm, face to face, the world outside their circle whistling past.

A SNAIL ON THE STAIRS

It is morning. A green crevice gives him easy purchase to greet the wet day, his long uncoiled foot holding steady on a loose broccoli-like moss. When yesterday went to bed, and I came up these concrete steps in my daily tiredness, the snail was still at the bottom, swirling dangerously in the rain overflow, a pale comma in the weak stream of words the muddy drainage uttered. How simple for him to have drowned into silence! Instead, he is in possession of his green crevice, a Spanish conquistador in his snail helmet, holding the Mayan king hostage in his own temple for ransom. His horns go up gilded in morning light. Last night’s near drowning is utterly forgotten, the religion of fear and dread struck from the temple walls by dint of the sailors’ invading chisels. His tiny horns sound their brazen call at break of day….

WALTZING WITH DRAGONFLIES

Circles appear in the pond’s lap; centered in each, a dot of color. Past my knees, a new circle starts, its color dot enlivening to wings. A dragonfly hovers and drops to the pond-top, our ancient swimming-hole… there are dozens here in the heat of the day. Many colors moving in many circles. Is this a living vision of the afterlife, done up by Dante? Instead of his great yellow rose moving its wheels, bloom within bloom, my miniature angels have exoskeletons. Wings sheer and stiff pass over the humid brown water in low circles; alighting, making prismatic rings. So much light and shape in this forgotten recess of the wood! The little guardians watch me warily, warily dart from my fingertips. Each circle evokes light from a dark surface. Is there sunlight hidden beneath the pond? They never answer, but settle on the dark water lightly; they drink the silence, looking everywhere wide-eyed.

A HEART DIVIDED

The owl’s flat face is so large–a heart divided–the two dark moon-eyes blinking in systole and diastole. If a floodlight were suddenly clicked awake, a fiery torch tossed onto the high throne of the antlerlike branches, we would see the whiteness of the snowy owl. White as lice! White as beetle larvae! If a strong light came on suddenly beside me, I wonder, what would be seen? Have I done right by those who love me today? The purity of the owl’s downy, droplet-shaped body sits inverted. The narrow end of the teardrop sprouts two wiry black perching feet wrapped like Halloween decorations around the stripped walnut branch…. When the owl comes down, much later, alone in the silent night that we have turned away from toward our beds, its wings engulf silence; it is an electric engine of hunger honed to machinelike perfection. Only the howl of the shrew, if there is one, will be heard.

LEANING OUT OVER A FALLEN ASH TREE

The risen roots stand out like a black-and-white medical diagram of human sinuses. The fallen ash tree has been dismembered, the tall elegant body that embraced the sky chopped and removed, and only this sleeping grey elephant foot remains. The dirt below the roots is black, beaten up; like rough seas at midnight, no moon to show the way over endless waves. Down in the deepest part of the hollowed-out bowl, something indistinct is burrowing, moving the crumbs of earth aside like an invisible root, exploring the exposed softness the fallen tree has left beneath itself, and from which it once grew mighty and leafy. Burrowing… or is it swimming, throwing up a dark spray? The small dark opening the movement creates is calling to me insistently, like an itch in my right ear. In an instant, I am determined. Wherever this low route travels, I’ll go.

EMPTYING THE LANDSCAPE

Looking across the Delaware Water Gap, I see the mountain twin that matches this one. It’s like the raincoat of an old man turning away, his feet in the misty stream, his grey head bare, tufted randomly with cloudy hairs. He’s in the other world, past the switchback salmon tail of the emptying river. The trees up here are nothing now, sylvan forks stacked in a display case for the next feast. I settle irritably with my drawing pad on a great sloping rock hard as an emptied brainpan. Having ascended with friends, I am alone; they hiked energetically away, going over to the other mountain, leaving me to my art. I sketch their faces with broken fingers of charcoal: oval and lively, putting in ruddy touches with my thumb. I tilt back and let my thoughts flow out to a few black carrion birds, silent as priests, circling high.

PUTTING SPECTACLES ASIDE

I put down my glasses, and the world goes blond–a sunspot floating on the long wooden worktable, mottled by lobs of paint. I am tired of scrawling my way forward like a worm rubbing a branch, line by line. I am seated, dazzled, before a pile of sewing needles burning in Monet’s Giverny light, their eye-slits smeared shut by hopeless myopia. My consciousness hovers, carried in a canvas sedan chair, held up by invisible bearers. I am a gold haystack of heat, a nightbird drowsing on noon straw–only vaguely sensing the details before me. Is it enough to live among such fuzzy guesses, to navigate by instinct and inertia? I rub the runnels alongside my exhausted beak. I hear my avian pinions stir against the canvas vaguely, a sound of camelhair bushes and gesso. Beyond the golden ball of sunspot on the table, a blue hue-blur of sky wavers vaguely, a square of second-story window. Or is it a painting left half-finished? I remember hearing a bird hit it, when morning popped the apartment building out of night’s comforting shadow and into abrupt day. Its small beauty hit the pane hard–confused by reflections, determined to fly.

*** from Chaos and Stars ***



ALL POETRY IS MIDDLE CLASS

It’s as if our house had shrunk around us in thickening drifts. Curious walls lean in like a solicitation, or, less importune today, a confidence no words betray. The place fills with things as with light, a thumb pushing the pale dough full.

Somehow, having this place so long among pines has become us. We’re the salvage that the house has gathered. At first, only for an accent beside the piled shelves, a flare of flowers, just there–and then more centrally, more needed–the only object that catches the light right.

Roots pulled from our knees, our heels, go down into these things. What surrounds us becomes us. Carefully the cat, a patchy calico, goes along the windowsill. Inside, but looking out.

BLACK HAT, WHITE HAT

A snapping turtle slow and fierce as a drugged bear, revolves her claws in a rusted oil drum. We caught her back from the garden one dawn, putting her eggs in with the carrot seeds. We followed the dragged steps to the high grass that waved around her alert as flag majors. She was slow out of water, molasses churning in her dark joints; her pace amiable as a memorized prayer.

But her head’s still fast, her beak as purposeful as a hook. Dogs whine at the edge of the oil drum, echoey cries when their heads go down and in to smell her. Somewhere a Middle Eastern man is held by soldiers grown in America, their bright and bushy tails wagging like guns. A cigarette goes down into the dry can with a thin papery trail of smoke. The questions the men ask are clear and loud, but what do they mean?

When the time came to release her back into the belly of her world, she left our pale bread and carrots julienne like an offering of inedible leaves strewn at the bottom of the barrel. I put on my sneakers and walked between the sole-slicing stumps up to my waist in the water and put her out beyond myself, heavy as a sewer lid, my back straining.

WHAT IS SAID

Sometimes the words come from deep in and are seeds. They catch and grow into things, into tall people. They become themselves. Sometimes what is said has this genesis. It exists both before and after it has been said, and it goes on growing lonely and lovely for a long time. What is said can be a teenaged daughter awkward in the presence of her own beauty. Mirrors, other flat, shiny words, increase her self-consciousness, yet leave herself untouched.

The tongue moves so assuredly in its cave-mouth, a snail completely at home in its white winding shell. The tongue slowly shapes its house the way a host makes things ready for strangers at Christmas. The carolers on the snowy porch hope for mugs of hot cider; the spice of the cinnamon surprises them. When they tell themselves the story of singing, later, their boots steaming and their dewy coats heavy on wooden pegs, using the words of the host inside themselves carefully enough, they go on being surprised.

NOTICING THE NOTICER

Not understanding, and wanting to. The edge of an eye, the unseeing white, curves ambivalently around the pupil, its darkness, its direction. But helping anyway, rounding things out, making a backside to the flat stare, tying the brain, like a stone in its apse, to wild vision, to the everything-of-what’s-up-front, the insistence of things before us.

All day long I have moved words toward their funeral pyre, toward fire, illumination. I am helping to build something. I don’t know what it is. Like when my father put my hand under his hand to hold the wood while he nailed it in place, something large is helping me to help it. A tobaccoy, fiery breath is in my ear.

The place I am making behind my own pupil is full of beetles’ wings and angels.

A MORAL STAR

Once we stole the stars from themselves and named them, mischievously, they became ours. Night after night, the house asleep and unwatchful, they try to escape back into the sky. Every day they return to our chests, our thin ribs, burning guiltily.

Something stolen is never forgotten. Those who lose it may forget it, let it go into the place they have prepared for lost things, old ownerships. But those who stole may never let go. The history of the thing comes with the thing, even if it is only the history of its theft.

The jaguar treads with his pelt of sunspots all night, mourning and remembering his meals. His eyes, dimly lidded, hold in the golden day. Each breath taken steals from the breaths around it. Exhaled back into the world, it is never the same. Water that passes through us, and becomes ours, becomes us. When we feel it again, it smells stolen, yellow with use, with history. When the thief forgets what he has stolen, he becomes sick. Society is sometimes like that, sick with millions of small thieves and thefts, forgetting what’s stuffed in their pockets. Then what’s stolen stays with us and inside us, but is neither ours nor themselves. These things rise up strangely, alien and without grief. Our breath denies us, denied by us; our lungs swag with wet cement. Zoos howl with animals caged but without their own minds, crazy and ungrieving. The dry straw is torn, the water in its steel bowl is overturned, the food, pawed and neglected, becomes poisoned.

The animals will lie down in the moon and rot. Their starved breaths will float into roses. We, who have stolen and lied to ourselves, will die.

THE WHY OF A FENCEPOST

Why are two men arguing at a fencepost? Perhaps it is three men. The two themselves, and the shadow third they are together, the argument. Let’s pretend it is evening. Three shadows then and a stubble of cornstalks. A grey stone the heft of a skull knocks the post as they talk. If they disagree, why do they need to be near each other? Why does a mountain start from a flat place?

I think most people mean what they are.

The feeling they seem to be talking about would be immanence, or impermanence. I guess they would call it expanded consciousness and permanence. A part of it here, a part elsewhere. But both really here, or really there, a metaphor. Tat tvam tasi. Thou art that. I like the stone being itself, unowned and unknowable. I like being myself, a little too personal, a little forgotten about, even by myself.

Somehow too, like they say, like they show, using my feelings in their argument, which makes the argument part me as well then–somehow, too, the stone is inside me, rattling my ribs, pushing my blood limbs, weighing on inner things. And I am curled inside the stone, a small man asleep in the granite like this feather, just here now, on top of it windily.

* * * * *

 

A ‘HELLO KITTY’ ORNAMENTSWINGING FROM AN XMAS TREE

The kitty’s eyes are dead dot predator eyes as she swims through the turquoise tinsel on a tabletop Xmas tree. The pink hair-bow and pink jumper are the pink inside of a youngster’s lip, turned out to tease her brothers. The pink of sliced fish. Green and red box presents bulge seamlessly reeflike beside the oddly bulbed feet, her daubed gold nose dead center as a diver’s air-regulator. They shine squarely, full of the hope that keeps angelfish darting out from dark coral recesses–making hungry moues in sparse tropical waters. Under the blue intermittent light, Kitty’s ears slit alertly, sharp as a lieutenant’s salute, perfect white fins jutting from a saw-toothed barracuda’s long jagged back.

THE RED AND THE BLACK

On the bright poinsettia leaf is a beetle with a dark back! It is the Christmas Spirit. It’s black, hard as a thumbnail, and, in oblique light, has a rainbow sheen. The beetle walks like a small tank over awkward rocks–tilting first this way, and then that. I bend closer to the red star of the poinsettia, a white spaceman dipping down to scoop up a ladleful of sun to bring back to Earth as a souvenir. The beetle’s compass-point feet touch the inferno’s surface lightly, dancing on a star. The point of the leaf shivers under the weight of its dancing, the hurry of its feet through the red desert. Two black feelers, agile, insistent, tick over the hot sands like a pair of blind friends out for a stroll. Everything is new to them! This is the star that calls them to Bethlehem, two of the Wise Men traveling far to witness something important.

AN EMPTY WASP NEST

Picking up a paper wasp nest outside my front door, it is weightless as a burnt-out lightbulb. I see an array of cells that had been birth chambers for warriors, a miniature air force of living fighter jets. The white hospital corridors had burst into a fury of activity, and then were abandoned–alien babies clinging briefly to round sills, taking off to hunt and kill. A few doors remain unopened, smoothly sealed as missile silos. The papery nest dithers in my palm, a lobe of cauliflower, or the blown-out brain of the caveman who first discovered how to make fire…. When these flying bullets were sleek embryos hunkered in their dry catacomb, did slim unopened wings resonate against the monkish walls? I see in the illuminated holes a paper lantern used by Japanese samurai for going far down into the earth, seeking the cold depths of their warrior selves, exploring deep crystalline caverns by aggressive stabs of lantern-light.

I lean in. I go down, far past the cave-mouth of my angry self. I hear squads of absent wasp wings humming….

MONARCH CHRYSALISES ON A POPLAR BRANCH

Green as milkweed leaves curled into themselves, a half dozen chrysalis pods hang from a smooth grey poplar branch. The pods resemble chaise lounges for caterpillars swaddled against too much sun. The caterpillars have been rolled onto the narrow wooden deck of an immense passenger liner. They are on a long sea journey south, taken for their health, reading novels or dozing. The eye travels easily to the crown end of the chrysalis, closest to the branch, and a hand follows. A thumb runs gently along the light brown crown-bumps, waking happily napping passengers briefly. Cool fingers collect room signatures politely as mimes. The ship rolls on into a permanent fog bank besetting the Falklands….

When they arrive in Cape Verde a week later, it is revealed that they’re a class of traveling art students: they have been painting in their cabins at night, secretly, by painful candlelight. The students unroll their still-wet canvases, orange and black, on the docks of a new country. Everything will be different here! No more eating whatever teacher feeds them, acres of sour milkweed leaves. They flitter their translucent wares confidently in the shore air–as if they had already been discovered by a collector, as if they were already duly famous.

ALBINO TIGERS IN NEW JERSEY

You look them over casually, then you’re straining, staring at twin presences behind the chain-link. Your looking moves through obstacles, and you are standing–no, lying–beside the big cats breathing evenly on worn earth. Near-sighted sensitive eyes follow their noses blindly, goldfish bowls dosed with bluish milk. Paws open like giant white rose petals, leaving spirograph clawmarks swirled in the packed dirt. There is nothing you could give them besides the flesh of your hand, the blood running in your limbs. You realize that you came here searching for something, but what is it? Their elegant bodies twine around each other with the huge laziness of power–fields of stripe and counter-stripe, white snakes folding into a Christmas bow; the ceremonial tree beside them stands stripped of bark, naked and exposed, a frozen barb of black lightning. Is it love? You feel your face blushing hard, a burning bush. Something surreal in your body blossoms outward, toward the furred beings before you, so comfortable, so at home in their natural world. Suddenly one mouth opens like a snapping turtle’s, red gobbets of tongue unfolding rawly in her heavy breath. She chews the hard bare dead tree root for practice, to clean her teeth. Blinded orbs sight you vaguely, uneasily; the nose lifts, a hungry image rising from within the mists of her crystal ball….

You remember the chains of the cage, link by link, and step back, safe.

BECOMING A METEOR

My body feels weighted, sacks of wet salt-water cement formed into an identity: a cast-off David discarded in the garden. The face, all smooth possibility once, craters and snaps, a haze of fine lines, cascades of whited dryness. Magritte’s painting of a stone candle with a stone flame comes unbidden to mind. Deep inside my body, moist patches still struggle with an urge to change–to push out spikes and become a sea urchin, or go back to the cocoon of college for a decade and emerge an astrophysicist. Instead, I am learning the stillness of hard places from the skin in. Becoming one with the inertia of my trajectory from the cliff I flung myself off of years ago… arms outward like extended antennae, the steel ball of my being grudgingly confirming its decaying orbit. Red glares trail behind me, emanating from my hot skin for miles….

ONE FOR THE GOALIE



OUT RIDING

So many books--hardbacks, rugged and thumbable. 
How many times have I come here just to watch them 
Open and close, carefully as a field of butterflies. 
Or to fly away with them, riding their spines! 


A GOOD RAINY DAY

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


SO MANY STORIES

People have so many stories to tell about themselves! 
Sometimes a sadness in their story sends them down 
Into an oak's root, and they live among weevilly things. 
Our stories about ourselves can warp us, the way 
A prevailing wind keeps the mountain's trees bent over. 
My uncle, listening hard, bent so close the radio 
Static made him jump!  

If we were the sea, we'd always be dancing... 
Rhythm from beneath and a breath from above, 
Foam of all those stories rolling inside us at once. 

But people are not the sea--or, somewhat, but slower. 
We need words as grape vines need a stake. 
Sometimes, with words in their ears, people think 
They can fly, and the red roofs abandon them. 
But sometimes, somebody has a story about themselves  
That sends them out to catch you when you're falling. 


HOLDING STACKS OF OLD PHOTOS

An important, particular something I forgot-- 
Not a mortgage payment, or whether gas 
Left on was slowly turning our home into a bomb.... 
Important like smoky silhouettes of mountains 
You've been striving to climb your whole life, 
The missed step that sent you down in dust 
Covered in ignominy's dead clay for a moment. 
Remembering that you can't remember 
Your dead brother's face, your father's voice 
Loose with tobacco juice, or the name of the woman 
Who first showed you a woman's ways 
In that awful dorm of cinderblocks, the past. 


AFTERNOONS FOOLING WITH AN EMPTY BOAT

As boys we'd watch the flat-bottomed aluminum boat
Pendulum on its yellow nylon tether in the water, 
Ringing against ground at either farthest arc--
Our bare feet dug stones in mud, ears and 
Lips bobbing at the waterline as we laughed 
To lift such eely smoothness, heaving with our feet: 
Our greatest stone a toe-clutched double-fister 
Swung in dripping triumph up between bent knees.

.  .  .  .

Other times, alone, I'd breast-stroke far from shore,  
Holding the rough tether like a bell-pull swimming  
Till I tired, face upturned on lucid sunlit sheets, 
And float exhausted,  
The empty boat and I circling each other. 


CLIMBING PEACH TREES IN CHILDHOOD

Overhead branches shook in the wind, brushes 
For the sky's blue bottle--scrubbing restlessly until 
White clouds were nibbled away, and it was night. 

Our orchard moon was a white marble rolling  
Loose in the deepening sink of night--the wind 
Pealing alive with trumpets and speeches.... 

How we scrambled up those sweet scraggy trees 
All night, our hands reaching out like giants' hands, 
Touching worlds in every peach! 


THE WINDY HILL

The windy hill is waving, 
Waving me onward 
Toward whatever lies under 
Its green dome, 
Its loop of purple shadow.... 

Perhaps a hidden hill 
Inside my body 
Is waving back. 
I don't know. 
But, I feel the wind. 


A BOX OF SNOW

I keep a box of snow beside me 
Made of winter days, of air 
Stamped cold like prismed tin, 
Of clouds as thin as hair. 

In the box lie frozen puddles 
We skated on in sneakers, 
Shoving off like seagulls 
From shiprails, taking a header 

Carefully into the wind. 
Our scarves as we wheeled 
Carved shapes of glass behind 
Us, invisible but real. 


SHINNY, OR ONE FOR THE GOALIE

Crossed hockey sticks kept clacking; 
Like an open page, the frozen pond was wavy; 
We boys went at the puck like bees 
Around the proverbial daisy. 

Winter battered our faces pink, 
Left ice-crust on eyelash and tongue; 
Angling elbows grew raw from falls 
Attacking the goalie before his fallen log. 

A hacking scramble, then shouting 
Left Dave like a beetle, flat on his back-- 
His mittens knocked unknitted to bushes 
That surrounded our quick play with dark. 

Above us glazed the intermittent 
Asphalt bridge of the county access road. 
A car rolled by, windows down. 
All our music rose to it, and echoed. 


TWO FRIENDS, ONE BOTTLE

They had discussed things a long time without going 
      to sleep. 
Curses had softened, somewhat unexpectedly, to 
      "So what?" 
Laughter got the better of them both around three 
      in the morning, 
And followed them right up to the rooster's rosy cackle. 
Dawn spread out, a white flag, on the old bone of 
      contention: 
They each grabbed an end, went to their corners, 
      and slept. 


CLUBBING HARP SEALS

Dressed for everlasting winter  
The men do it with methodical efficiency  
Walking calmly back and forth among the icefields  
Of dark large eyes, clubbing them so as 
Not to damage the beautiful
Spotted pelts. 


DIVORCING

Initials carved by lovers in a birchtree's heart 
Sink in like sap, strain to wavy lines until the heart 
Breaks open--and the paired letters, once linked and 
Ampersanded, swim off into the tree's slow history, 
A ring marked dark by a year of terrible drought. 


ASLEEP IN THE BACK SEAT THROUGH THE CAROLINAS

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


MAKER’S MARK

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

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


THE OLD OLD MAN WITH WILD HAIR

My coat is patched and touched with tears, 
My hands resemble the road of years. 
My head is light as a dandelion seed 
And drifts in dreams.... White memories 
Stick to the sap of the dark... seeds 
Grown into green crowns of trees 
From eely children, their games of chase 
And evade.  Some of those, though young, 
Have quit their drifting.  They wait for me 
Whitely in the lost mud of the road.  Almost, 
I'm ready to drift down and meet them.... 


AMONG THE BURLS

                     for Jax
All light is emptiness  
Until it intersects even  
The tender translucence 
Of a baby's fingernails. 

How like white rosepetals  
The little fingertips there 
Growing to brush the mother's 
Face, grasp the father's nose. 

When the light finally 
Settles among the burls 
Of the baby's blanket, it 
Feels solid, creamy and heavenly. 


A DREAM OF LITTLE CABBAGES

My father came to me in a dream 
Holding a silver tea tray. 
On it, three heads of cabbage. 

I unwrapped each cabbage and saw 
Three baby heads inside, 
My two brothers and me. 

The baby heads blinked at me, looking. 


RUNNING IN DREAMS

Father is waking up in my dreams again 
Splendidly persistent after many years away 
His tobacco-breath sweet and tannic at once 
His small face gruff, gopher-furred, the eyes 
Black tacks pushed in by thumbs one tick 
Too far;  resiny, observant. 

All night I run through quicksand, 
My flipper-long feet lost under 
Granular surfaces curved as an orange 
Rind;  my voice pants hoarse in my ears: 
"Father, let me wake up this once alone. 
I promise to forget you forever."  


TO SAY SNOWFLAKES

To say snowflakes melting on noses 
Are chilly angels returning home, 
Or to believe a sailor wearing 
An earring cannot drown.... 

To sit alone together and talk, 
To pass you patted mud and say: 
Pancakes!  And you take the mud stack 
From me politely and say: delicious! 

What we say together is real that way 
For all the days our childhood is. 
And then the snow falls, and we're alone-- 
Years in the whiteness, the only witness, 

And all those cold angels going home! 


SUCH GREEN APPROVAL

1. 
My youngness thought forever was 
Days and days like that day. 
The even light in the grass, the youngness leaping 
Right to my fingertips! 

2. 
Riding my bike, I kept seeing white clouds  
Flying out behind.  And I was flying, too, 
Surrounded by gulls high in the air. 
It was as if I would never fall asleep again, 
As if I would never need to wake. 

3. 
Maple trees nodded alongside in rows 
With such green approval.  Even that red bird 
Singing on its dead-lightning branch 
The same phrase again and again. 


A BIRTHDAY

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. 


ENVOI

FOX COMES OUT

Fox comes out of greyness, a bright shadow 
Pacing filtered pre-dawn mists--his feet 
Neat black and his teeth neat white. 

His eyes and ears are lively all the time 
His low body lies arranged under the brush,
A pattern matching patterns in the shadows. 

No matter how many times the careful eggs 
Are laid away in the farmer's straw, this will happen: 
The black snout thin as a pencil nib, snapping, 

The soft nose doused in silky yolk. 


The Impossible Mesa

 The Impossible Mesa  Comments Off on The Impossible Mesa
Mar 162017
 

EPIGRAPHS

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty 
All I'm saying is I'm not ready 
For any person place or thing 
To try and pull the reins in on me 
~~Mike Nesmith, Different Drum 

Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all. 
It is the little rift within the lute, 
That by and by will make the music mute.... 
~~Tennyson, Merlin and Vivian 

The first harp came from an empty turtle.
~~Robert Bly, Meditations on the Insatiable Soul

For I am made of stardust, and it hurts. 
~~Jennifer E. Stahl

 

DIMMING THE LIGHTS


The Western World is giving up its heights, but its long unspoken depths are not so easily put aside….

The grandness of day and civilization recede. We are in the twilight of the gods, now, reentering realms discarded since The Church was the sole authority on science. Unprepared for the transition, but having thoroughly abandoned reasoned discourse, empirical methodology, and the idealism of Enlightenment systems, we glare into our subconscious with iPhone flashlights–and the litter is a mash of ancient rites and yesterday’s emails that we are wholly unprepared to untangle.

We have an incompetence in living with our unconscious depths that will not be easily shaken. Our politics proscribe forms of wrong behavior, (and prescribe forms of right behavior) without any comprehension, or any attempt to comprehend, the breadth of human experience. Each side races to shrink hosannas and tragedies into some rigid public liturgy; any deviance in individual recital is seen as disobedience to the herd norm. Yet these litmus tests are so narrow and empty they cannot encompass the brainwaves of an amoeba, let alone the million prismatic instances of genius and peril that constitute just a single human life.

These are atrocious generalizations, but I feel in desperate need of a map, any map– and what greater generalizations are there than a map’s North, South, East and West? These poems begin to reclaim the dark of sleep, the deeps of unconscious material, for the use of individual guidance toward meaning and action in the broader world. When the buildings have gone down in flames, when the roads are empty, and traffic cops are pointing everywhichway with the feverish inconsistency of spinning tops…well, one must do what one can to re-establish an inner order that hugs the whole of one’s experience. The inertia of dreams is a good place to begin because they go back in time and temperament to the earliest human societies and circumstances. Dreams can provide a kind of inertial guidance system for the burnt-out modernist–anyone suspicious of the narrow “naked truths” on display in every shopfront, on every blogpost, every idiot bumper-sticker slamming its brakes in front of us.

In our private dark–sleeping, dreaming–we may still find a way to put our faces toward the dimming light.

Gregg Glory
November 25, 2015






POEMS


THESE WORDS ARE ON FIRE

These words are on fire--on fire in you-- 
On fire really, literally, not like in a story 
Or some metaphor for life, but really burning 
In the sugars of your brain; in the caloric heat 
Of your expressive breath, too, these words 
Are on fire, exhaling my ontological being 
Like bones thrown on a campfire, scraps 
That flare in the conflagration of your night,
The fire alarm that is your life today 
Clanging and busy with every human misery 
And mystery, every human thing that you are. 
Your thoughts scatter and leap in sparks,
Engulfing your neighbors and lovers and children 
In the emergency that is your life. 
And into this conflagration, this catastrophe, 
Word by careful word, you have thrown me. 
Taste my happy ashes on your lips. 


*** FINDING A LIFE RAFT ***




A WASH OF LIGHT

A wash of light soaks through the frozen-over windshield:
It's enough to write poetry by while the car warms.
Grievances, violences. My mind is full of angry violins
--Scratching attacks, mad growls of tones.

Fingers warm, my speedy breathing disappears
Into the general heat of the moist, closed-in space, writing....
The sun resembles a snowball through the cloudy windshield, 
A cold headlight coming on through incomplete dawn. 

Last night was here so recently!  Lying straightened in bed, 
Feathers of darkness fell all along the asphalt shingles above my body.... 
As I write, a baby's aggrieved cry becomes an inaudible coo, 
An old man's life-grief moults into acceptance....  

We come to welcome the sleek black of our scuffed coffin
The way we'd welcome an unexpected wedding guest
Who shows up late and anxious, pigeon-toed at that,
But all dressed up and ready in his rented tux.   


LOOKS IN A DYING EYE

Dark veins open, and a shadow goes forth over whiteness, 
An eel moving out of its cave over clouds of coral; 
Sea winds sound in the ears of shoals of living fish; 
No air, and no rowing home to shore ever again. 


SCANNING HEADLINES FOR MERCY

 
The needles of terrorists' bullets are burrs on our eyes.
Blind with pain, we slap our heads frenetically.
We lodge the bullets deeper with curses repetitious as prayer. 


A BONE HORN

 
Marrowless, this black-ringed femur, 
Rigged to blow one resounding note forever 
Crowing the winner's standing exultation
...Lies where Indians left it on their mountain.   
  
Around the long horn unburied by rain, a few pines  
Gather, dark mourners on a ring of bland rocks. 
A low wind shrugs through heavy serapes. 
  
I pick up the tarnished roadside bone, delicately wipe 
Particles of dirt until it gleams in my bare hand-- 
A tube now only, without meaning, 
A dead white weight of death and silence. 


HOLDING ONTO GRIEF WITH BOTH HANDS

 
Who was the one I was grieving for today?
I went to the mountain forest to find the body. 
I walked straight up those hills until it was night, 
Held a candle over my head in the dark and wept. 
I followed that river down out of the mountains 
Where valley slopes slow like white flocks landing.... 
With both hands, I held to the earth for my only comfort, 
And the wind there whispered: "Nothing is saved."


FEATHERS

 
The graveyard air is faultless--clear 
White stars shine through it, crisp sandgrains 
Still wet with huge intimacies of the sea. 
Wave after feathery wave, they sift loose shyly....  

My dead live here, talking in their sand house 
Under the groundhog's old mossy hole. 
Oak roots knuckle outward, sheltering the soft door.

Their voices are light as paper shifting in darkness. 

For a long time I stand still as a star--I listen 
As if the dead were delicate, held in a child's palm, 
Lips parted with curiosity, a feather.  


A TREE FALLEN INTO WATER

  
I walk straight out along the fallen trunk still solid 
With the life that had left it years ago, before I was even born. 
I put my arms out for balance, walking down toward the calm water 
And then over it, my bare feet feeling the hard beaks of bark ridges
       that run like seams down an old man's face. 

Where water touches the long trunk, some gets sucked 
Into open seams, like an eyedropper preparing its dose. 

Smaller branches radiate smoothly out from the main body
As if to keep the fallen tree's balance over dark water. 
There's a charge, a power in the water, like the cold potential 
       of snow,
That touches my face when a breeze wrinkles it.

Kneeling down to drink, I see those branches that reach below 
       the clear 
Surface of the black reservoir are slick with green algae, 
       green moss. 


THE SENSE OF DEFEAT

The field mouse with berrylike eyes has bedded down 
For the day.  Carefully placed leaves cradle 
Ears that could be flooded by an eyedropper. 
What music is small enough to entertain his dreams? 

For years I've watched the same great tree in the yard 
Divide and subdivide its massive wheel of roots until 
Even tiny blossoms can bend it down in spring. 

What is greatness or smallness in living things? 
A single match can burn down an entire house! 

Surely there's that which I desire as the tree desires 
the sky, 
As the mouse desires his contented littleness in his hole. 
What, besides friendship, and a few things more? 


THE UNSEEN QUARRY


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

1. 
The mountain pinnacle has seashells in it. 
The climber's powdery hand touches once-living swirls. 
With his feet on the old ocean floor a mile underwater
He sees a hundred miles of our world easily. 

2. 
Peering with a glass-bottomed bucket along the shore, 
A child sees his bare feet touching mountain snow. 
The snow is soft and warm as in his dreams. 
Small tinselfish swim between his naked legs above 
the snow. 
For the moment everything seems calm and clear. 


TO

Lie down in the soft ‘no' of the snow forever. 


TWO SMALL POEMS ON MY SHADOW

My shadow leaves trails of smoulderings... 
Wherever light has fallen through me 
Focused by my magnifying glass. 

.   .   .   . 

When sundown comes yawning its shadows...
When I and the tree and the grass-crested hill are one... 
It's just my shadow waking up to dream. 


THURSDAYS MOSTLY

A man who is suffering invites friends over. 
A small bottle of rum sits dark as a pupil 
In the green felt circle of his poker table. 
Kings and queens are taken up and put down in silence. 

The men might be sleeping under straw hats, 
Bobbers nodding unnoticed between bare, rough feet. 

Dark summer blows in through a window....
And the men hear the night train passing 
With a sound of jail doors sliding shut 
On row after row of the condemned. 


SEASONS OF MEN

 
Each day men drink the rich griefs of their lives 
Silently after work--each word widowed 
In the half-light, winnowed in elbowed bars 
Crowded with the grunts and hups of football. 

Other men, ones with the delicate balance 
Of rarefied ballet dancers, make parabolas  
Explode at half-field--one extended finger enough 
To call the drilled ball down from heaven.... 

Enough to hold the pigskin seed in the belly 
And feel beaten men fall all about and upon you 
Heavily as grain-sacks. Enough to know they're defeated, 
That you and the grass and the held seed have won. 


THE WAY BACK

 
She bent around the fender, low, 
Filling her eyes with the injured wing--
Snap and struggle;  slow, then slower... 
Her eyes all tears and shining. 

I stood quiet beside her, knocked 
A slender Pall Mall from the pack--
Silent till the burning reached a knuckle, 
The hum of the engine gone slack: 

"The sun's getting gone, dear."
Her shoulders tightened at that. 
She folded herself back in the car 
And we drove that way all the way back. 


WAKING UP SCREAMING

We wake, pulled by our hairs into the light, screaming. 
Every one of our hairs is standing up and screaming! 
The dream we had loved is dead, but we are alive....
Hair roots, curled in their dark, hear muted echoes 
Of the never-ending grief daylight brings us. 

All day, dreams without a dreamer run loose. 
In brain dark, in mind dark, uncut thoughts 
Grow shaggy and obscene. Thoughts wrestle 
Inside us, hairy bears fierce and dark.  Hairy hands 
With long yellow nails smack the dream belly.... 

When we rejoin our dreams, lying back in the spitting vat, 
They scream all night, jungle parrots nobody hears.
We ourselves are deaf to them, to the dark 
Magnetic thoughts, the inner things we think 
While our eyes rest and our hair is pulled inward, 
Reverse lightning folded back time-lapse into earth-black 
Clouds;  the brain, heavy and hairy, raw as a blind potato. 


THE GETAWAY

 
All day it was night inside me.  I was a shuttered 
Building, my sides afternoon red, with only 
Flash touches of deep night showing 
In windows--black eyes turning shyly away 
That had been bold the night before.... 
                                        And then 
Night arrives: night from under eaves falls
Cold into cornfields: my hidden self
Rides out into it: escaped darks everywhere
Cut only by squares of window-light....
Quiescent grass is laid open by pallet knives 
Of yellow pigment like a tire skid--fugitive lights
Now the loud car of day has made its getaway. 


WHITE BEAK OF THE MOON

 
I wake at midnight. 
There, through the dim window, is the 
Fiery haunch of the moon! 

The window was black before the moon came by,
My thoughts buried in busy sleep. 
And now, in moonlight, I see 
A bird asleep in the juniper nearby, its white beak 
Under its wing, fierce songs under freezing feathers, 
Each feather dipped in the moon's ladled mercury. 

What are days that they become nights such as this? 
Already the answer is eating up the question. 


ROLLING OVER AT 3AM

 
The moon--unstrange, unexpected, intrudes. 
There are no clouds.  Just a few 
Indistinct corners of dusty wisp lit up 
By the moon's nude bluish flashlight. 

I have chronicled my life
With the moon's comings and goings,
Which everyone can see for themselves!
I can't even see to swim in this rivery darkness!


HOLES IN THE LIFE RAFT

 
Mist hovers on the night lake like a life raft. 
Blue urgencies of the afternoon have faded, 
Pewter shades flatten the world to a picture. 

Onshore, my shadow and I play tag by moonlight, 
Chalky figures in a dim Rembrandt rendition. 
We touch first at one foot then the other: this foot, that foot, 
Then chase along the unchurned rim sand, water lapping, 
Then just hands touch as I cartwheel once--

Can't take this mortal coil too seriously 
While cranberry wine stays so cheap! 

Meanwhile, out on the lake,
Holes in the life raft appear and close without sound. 


THE FRACTURED PATHS

 
Time has gone on for so long, I no longer know what to think! 
Angry drums of the car wheels flatten to shreds; 
A jaybird crouching in his hovel of branches 
Cracks a nattering song.... 

Day again;  and ochre, cerise and pink fingers 
Reenact Homer in the long trail of clouds 
Whipping past the back of the dark ShopRite.... 

Sun has not yet tarnished the lower waters of puddles. 

The surrounding dead no longer throng my dreams. 
The fractured paths they wander have returned to bed. 
They wait politely for me to finish up, their hands folded, 
At the edge of the grass. 


DUST OF FROST

Going out for my morning paper, I see 
The first dust of frost on the stone stoop. 
How quietly summer must've danced away!


THE SLOW PRESENCES

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


*** JOINING HANDS WITH THE GRASS ***

 



I HAVE BEEN DRIVING LIKE HELL TO GET HERE

 
Pastels of pastureland flit rapidly past 
The window that closes over my life 
Like a dome.  Am I the motor of my own going? 

Doubts flick into my face, hands full of car-wheel 
As though carrying a doughy wet baby awkwardly 
From the pool to the sun-porch, slippery being, 

A freight of sunshine in my burning arms. 


SOME PEOPLE LIVING ON THE PLAINS

 
Some people who live on the open plains 
Think like sailors.  
Their lives sail thorough waves of grass, 
Eye-high stalks of waving wheat, 
Familiar with squinting at horizons.  They sway-stand, 
Feeling earth unstable beneath them.... 

The barn enlarges like a frigate nearing, 
Horses gorgeous as mermaids, 
Dogs happy as sea-otters.  Even at noon 
They know they are alone on vast wastes, 
No sextant to show the way. 


THE BLACK TADPOLE

 
The tadpole is bulking up its black bulbous head; 
Huge thoughts protrude and the eyes bulge. 
Its long tail, once subtle and swift as a ribbon, 
Reels in, shrinks to a cape, then 
A small triangle hood, a judge's black cap, 
Then no tail below hunched shoulders. 
The tadpole, a black rock, is all brain now. 
Like a rock's shadow it sits all day 
In the mud, motionless 
Until it leaps! 


POETRY, THE OLDEST HUMAN ENDEAVOR

 
1. 
Don't write what you feel, that's not enough. 
Don't write what you see, you're being deceived. 
Write only what you feel when looking closely. 
That's best, though painful. 

2. 
Man is a herd animal. 
Follow the bent grass, and you'll find him 
Muddying the river, his head low, 
Drinking deep. 

3. 
I can see the first old shaman, way back, 
Holding up his chicken bone and singing about the universe, 
Firelight lasering about him. 


I AM THE ARROW

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


BEING A SNOWFLAKE

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


STANDING ON A STONE

There's a kind of hard sanity in a stone, 
A place to stand and look at stars.
A place for sleep beneath stars pinned inside 

The skull of night... smells of woodponds among pines,   
That small resonance of sap and stillness, black 
Abandoned reflections that go a hundred feet deep!  

I know my bones, and sleep on them, heavy. 
There's sanity in their steadfast ache, 
The tension of a blade swimming through muscle. 
  
Through many years of sleeping, and of dreaming, 
I've charted my inward stars and prayed beneath them, 
Cold knees on the stone, stars where stars are. 


THE THINGS NEAREST

Today I tighten my daily tie and look 
At the things nearest in my untidy nest 
To hold them mindfully while day turns, 
For what's nearest is easiest to forget. 
I lay rough hands more roughly around 
Rungs of my bentwood chair, knowing how
All worlds flow through my ordinary room 
Worn every day around me like a favorite belt: 
Syria's sandy shadow on the calendar and 
Japan's swans on travel posters, keep pace 
With walls moving thousands of miles per hour; 
Swiss Alps sharpen long rows of pencils, oceans
Follow the same moon as my water-bottle. 

I watch the cat's world fall asleep on her paws, 
Her ears listening to a wilderness within 
Where untame things are flying, singing out 
Loud and alertly, and all within my room.  


BEING SMALL THINGS

1. AN ABANDONED OAR

My days of rowing are over. 
I lie in the sand;  and the surf 
Never reaches me now.... 
Its long fingers of foam, 
Its cold flash along my spine. 

I could be the wing of a plane, 
The fallen plank of a windmill, 
Exiled from flapping and skies. 
But I am an oar. 

I've spent my life filleting the deep, 
Raising small white scars 
On blue waters;  and then leaving, 
Handled by callous hands. 

I lie in the sand;  and the surf 
Never reaches me now.


2. CHANDELIER

I'm hung with small lights like crosses. 
My strong iron is strung on a string. 
My smile is gorgeous but frightening, 
I spread my fiery wings! 
Each hour is quartered with losses. 
Each night I'm lit up like a drunk. 
The strangers, a family, the darlings, 
Break bread beneath my sparkling. 
They leave me hungry and alone in the dark. 



3. THE BOTTLE

Once the vodka's gone 
Down a drain, down a throat 
An eye looks in to check-- 
Enormous, Godlike, fringed with lashes. 
And I become clear, not hollow, 
Unless the way a bass is hollow 
It is so full of possible notes. 
A child finds me in the alley, 
Licks my lips, and blows 
A soulful whistle out of my belly 
For a few hours one afternoon, 
The sound unpronounceably lonely. 

Thrown into a passing river 
I float for a while, spinning, 
A glass-bottomed boat showing stones 
And weird fish flashing by 
Until I sink into invisibility. 


4. A GOLDFISH 

I confess my memories 
Are possibly possessed 
By madness: void, distorted, 
Erased like a chalkboard 
Some mysterious force 
Has powerwashed black. 

If I remember once 
Wanting some one thing,
It was to grow beyond 
All this childishness 
So I could finally play 
Forever--a sea-going fish

Who trusts the rising wave 
That surrounds him, 
That carries him with it. 


5. THE SLOW EYE OF THINGS

Train yourself to look 
With the slow eye of things. 
Speak in such a way. 

In summer,
Include a garden's iron palings 
And the rust to come. 

In winter,
Sense the glimmer in the frost 
That aches for light's release. 


THIS LIVING FORSYTHIA

Along saffron branches beside wet asphalt roads, 
Tiny cups of flowers pop tenderly out....

Small flowers, mounds of yellow crayons peeling,
This living forsythia: a trembling, waterfalling fountain!  

The sound the wet road hears is a man  
Walking all winter who has stopped walking. 

I stand in shivering air filled to overflowing,
Singing suddenly with upturned mouth and eye....

Deep in the crosshatch of branches, way in, house 
Finches are already eating up the soft, delayed buds. 


THE WINDOW IS QUIET

 
The window is quiet, but everything comes through it. 
I want to write like that. 

Sunrise trees emerge like Q-tips from the ear of the dark. 
When the mylar sky comes close, its colors run
Like pushing on a silvery balloon! 
What are we filled with, that this is what we come 
awake to?

The wind's yeowling.  Is it coming nearer to us 
Or following the dark, running away? 

Transparent's not the right word, exactly, 
Nor exactly wrong either. 
Look through the window;  no need to touch the glass. 


SOLITUDE WALK WITH ME

Tasseled lines of forest hills... watercolors 
Brushed onto screens of airy paper... banners
Of ocean light, wavy and green and mantling; 
How smooth, how rapid, their interchange of tones! 

These hills are seaweed floating over ancient stone, 
Solid seas up-risen that break both heel and bone. 
Six-thousand years of silent looking tell me: 
I am alone. 


WATERY BEINGS

Lice-like prayers pulse on the naked lips
Of mad imams... thoughts that move in regimentation... 
Death in the beetle's face, death in his spurs. 

Why not have thoughts that live like water drops-- 
Rolling everywhere like dogs, doing their own thing! 
Curious enough about existence to evaporate.... 

Bells are sounding everywhere, ripples running everywhere...
Days of rainfall... hosts of microscopic organisms 
Reenact evolution in every bead of water.   


LETTING SECRETS OUT

 
Who has asked you here, and why 
Have you come running, wet and alive 
From inside your mother? 

Is there a secret you need to tell 
The rest of us panting here, run  
Alive out of our mothers too? 

Your eyes seem large with things 
And my ears are swirled to listen, 
Caves for words and owls. 

Bend close now, tell your secret 
To me, fly in among my wet 
Rocks and stalagtites, shake 

Wise silence off your wings, 
Let your secret become one  
Of my secrets too. 


OUR WINTER BODIES

The sky is so clear today I could bite it! 
Cold drives our heads into our shoulders
Hunched far down like the turtle's, shyly reptilian. 
Rainbow scarves tesselate wildly before our eyes. 

We have settled into our winter bodies today. 
We huddle around banked embers in the chest; 
Our breath flares up, orange and oranger, 
As if to burn the brown and dusty leaves....

Beyond us lie great clarities: white town sidewalks 
Swept clear as a dog-path through old pines;
A globe of lake close by, clear and focused as a birdbath. 

When we are beaten into our winter bodies, 
Seeing things through an October mask, how loudly 
Worlds outside us go on rattling their leaves! 


BITTEN BY RED ANTS ALL OVER

War comes.  The ant cannot imagine dying, 
Its red head beaded with the others around the savage queen's neck. 
The ant was hatched to march, to obey. 
Invisible swift scents of the leader pulse connivingly. 

For all we share with ants, let's depart from that. 
Keep your head when the drum stirs.  Look at the grass. 
Feel the timid air pass your heated ears, bathe your head. 
Sit in a circle, join hands with the grass for awhile. 


THE SUNDAY DOG’S APPALLING BARK

The Sunday dog's appalling bark, a cry of sows 
Endorsing the rooster's raucous hauling forth of day.... 
I peer up from the damp drainpipe of my dreams-- 
The earth dreams... of rust... gold unopened ores... veins....
I see the morning sun arrayed on its swaying stalk, 
The sky in a water-pail walking.  I open broken
Wooden pens, cross mud overstepped with hooves: 
Each dirt mark is a hoof's beaten circle, almost complete....  
All day dark heats of peat moss enclose deft hands, 
This richness burying... seeds... time burning.... 

Let the languorous resonance of the tower bell 
Tell the town asleep... what I cannot tell. 


*** HIDDEN ROSES ***



DRUMMING IN MID-OCEAN

Give it up.  Give it up! 
Throw your whole life out the window  
And watch it startle. 

Listen with the attentive ears of a bat, 
That blackness that captures. 
Imitate the loyalty of your own dog. 

A lot of things are happening  
Out there where weather gets started every day. 
Get wet in that. 

Sometimes, two patches of rain will meet
Mid-ocean
And become one drumming upon the deep. 


A DOOR CLOSES

A door closes softly, and suddenly you 
Are gone, having considerately let 
Me sleep on and let yourself out. 

My dreams, which had been full 
Of the mild gold of Monet's haystacks, 
Drain away like mid-morning fog. 

I am left with a room precisely square. 
I am left with my discipline to continue 
My day, in the ordinary scent of me. 

I nose around the trail you have left 
Like a cat, in a pretense of indifference. 
I give up while watching the coffee cool 

And fail into my life for the millionth time. 


HIDDEN ROADS IN THE ROSE

Beauty and mystery are so daunting! 
Abstractions vast as a landscape 
And no horizon home. 

You have left, and left a rose 
Behind you, for me to sleep with under 
My pillow, a trail of petals 

Frail as your departing breath: 
Something you said about dreams in the garden mind, 
A greenness we each keep secret. 

There's a closeness, a smallness 
In what you have left me;  this one thing, 
So privately left to me alone. 

All night I ride down the roads 
Hidden in the rose 
You have opened. 


FINDING EACH OTHER

There's a glue that sticks us where we pause, 
A magnet that attracts, pulling the iron in 
Our blood into an invisible arrangement, lines 
Of force like patterns of a great history 
Dragging Hannibal's horses or trains of cold 
Cannon over the Alps.  

    			       That's how it still  
Is when our eyes meet, two bullwhips 
Tangling each other like a mad handshake 
Testing the wild pull of freedom--while love 
Comes with carrots, patting the long nose 
With its crooked white streak, and saying,
Softly as feathers, "Whoa, now, whoa."


LIVING TOGETHER

Something close and potent is in my life. 
I turn over grumpily in the hot bed 
And clasp her, a mollusk saved by a passing freighter! 


THREADS OF WORDS

I notice we are speaking of nothing  
Again, our words returned tight to the spool, 

And the spool sits there, silver and glittering,
Waiting to unreel and catch what passes: 

A pebble of thought, a gesture renewed
From loving days that passed last winter.

Words arrayed fine as a bridal veil in the sun
Catch something living perhaps, small as a dot. 


AT FIRST LIGHT

I like you for no reason.  What's the cost 
Of liking first, and regretting only in case? 
If you live busily you may never discover 
Multitudes of bruises even the best 
Of us leave each other--the quick turn 
Away, the slow acceptance of a gift given. 

Think how hard it is to understand a car 
At first glance, all those moving parts 
Hooded and chromed.  Or how hard it is to see 
Flight in a fallen feather, love in parental 
Discipline.  At first light, looking 
Is a flurry of painful blinks.


CROSSING THE MIDDLE DAYS IN STARLIGHT

When the husband meets his wife at first, 
He sees himself in her as she sees him: 
Long-boned and noble, a little brave. 
When husband and wife cross looks in their 

Middle days, days too busy, full of blurred words 
And busy hands--cool nights of rainwater 
Fill each others' eyes;  and there is grass, too, 
Growing calmly under their hectic feet. 

The idea of who you are bothers you less as 
You get a little older;  things go dim around 
You, the things within you still real as leaves 
Dancing, starlight on a tulip, the sss of a simmer. 

When the husband then meets his wife at last, 
He is in her eyes as he has come, finally, to be: 
Simple as a stone, a man standing on the grass  
They've grown under their feet, under warm  

Stars together every night of their lives. 


NETS OF TOGETHERNESS

How many words link our nets of togetherness! 
In a lifetime, a married pair will utter millions, 
All flavors, at every decibel blared or hushed; 
The nets of words cast, one over the other, 
Veil after veil, are full of sacred fish, the fish 
Jesus divided among his flock--their silver bellies 
Caressed by a thousand touches, bitten by a thousand teeth. 
Torches we have carried ten thousand nights appear 
Where nets of the lovers' mouths elongate to vowels, 
The stars still inside them, constellations and all. 


STARS FALLING IN A LION’S MANE

We picnic on fallen October hayfields 
As if pitched upon a lion's mane. 
The stubble is still soft, and grass pokes through; 
Summer is in our bodies like an electric coil cooling. 
The sun is risen far up from the gullies, 
The wine's still cold and fresh. 

We are far away from death, we two. 
Occasional clouds pass in white pairs; 
Night sleeps under a woolen blanket in Kyoto. 
We feel hot when the breeze dies down, 
And laugh out loud, spilling bright square  
Crackers everywhere like falling stars.... 

Flies nuzzle the jam jar sleepily, 
Making slow black circles around the red. 


THE GLASS ANTELOPE

 
I labored at the bellows until it was second nature--
The rapture of the rhythm came easily then,
Clear shapes opened over intense fire, the fire 
Going in gold and heavy as an ear of corn. 
I push the belly hollow with my nothing breath 
Like blowing a hunting horn over and over in the cold....
And then the tweezing pull of legs from the mass, 
Many pinches, quick, for the antlers limber 
As candelabra, lithe brachiform coral dancing
Crystalline, an ice-laden dogwood in winter.... 
Tuning the nostrils with a bit of scrap wood, a spike; 
Trimming the hot hooves with steel clippers last 
And standing it here before you, a glass antelope. 


LAKE GEORGE SERENADE

A CANOE AGAINST DARK WATER

The effort of one consciousness, or a mated pair, to hold together…the uneven weight of each foot entering a lake-borne canoe against the dark water….

1. DRIVING AWAY FROM HOME

There's nothing here but strange sky, strange land. 
The leaves are in their autumn beauty, of course;
The trail up leads nimbly away from hotel hot-cakes; 
At our feet unrolls a lake named George. 

We drove up here because our home was crowded, 
Loaded down with familiar things: the bag of purrs 
That is the cat resting, the huddle of photoed friends 
Enlivening a shelf above my writing desk.

"You'd best not lie to us," they say;  and I look 
Numbly away, dismantling ice castles on the page. 


2. THE HUDSON WALKWAY

The whole thing feels unevenly alive
As we step out onto it, the donated planks 
Ribboned with names of other walkers 
Who came here first and left their names 
Graffitied in charity. 

Below our feet: the river vivid
As ever, old rusty rail tracks tacking
Back and forth into history, bearing
(As we do the air) its heaviness
Slowly swaying under all.


3. SENSING MISTS FIRST THING TODAY

Beyond your gold ass on hotel sheets at Ft. Wm. Henry, 
Mists settle in sullen crevices of the mountains, 
Pearl-ash dull over the too-long lake's aching sparks. 
What is there to do on this weekend away? 

I toggle the fireplace switch;  blue acetate flames 
Jump among log-shaped ingots under dim glass.... 
The early chill of this closed-down summer town! 

A showboat paddle-wheeler creaks at rest, 
Its great wheel covered like a useless swimming pool. 


4. WHEN THE BULL-WHEEL TURNED

 
Back when the bull-wheel turned, 
When folks rolled up the mountain 
Waving from the gondola's cocoon, 
Anxious for a healthy retreat 
On Prospect Mountain--the view down 
Was very nearly the same as 
Today: yellow leaves mixed in 
With dwindled pine, bright lakes 
Teaspoons along the long valley 
Of the arterial Hudson River.... 

After Garfield was shot down by 
The measured bullet of an anarchist, 
After Little Big Horn hit the papers, 
Manifesting destiny, those folks 
Would take the coal-powered steam 
Bull-wheel railcar to the mountaintop 
Day after day for days for the 
Same long-range view as today:
Two-thousand feet above daily 
Stress, and not an extra step taken. 


5. FLAT ICE, FLAT CLOUDS

 
Soon this November lake will be flat ice, flat clouds,
And fish dull creatures within it;
Red clouds reel by like a painted lampshade 
Lit somehow from deep within themselves.

...Graceless bare shortcuts crisscross the dead grass, 
Hurrying toward appointed coffins;
I remember the flat cackle of backfires, 
The broken-heartedness of rainstorms....

I think about the stopwatch of the heart 
For a while, the stuttering race it measures: 
How we paint the wide world with our eyes 
And read so intimately what's scribbled there!

My history is written on Egyptian tomb walls, 
Baked in the daily bread the Pharoh ate...
The Nile-side stone caught in his sandal  
That became sand. 


6. GETTING READY FOR DREAMS

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


7. SAYING THINGS CAREFULLY

  
A winter rainbow showed up in clouds like a scar. 
"It's fake," says a friend who saw the snapshot 
Glimmering in my palm on my little phone. 

What do we know of beauty hung like crepe in 
the skies? 
Science will report "waterdrops and sunlight,"  
But is that what inflates my heart like a balloon? 

Is our idea of heaven just misremembered dreams 
Lifting invisible vapor into heavy, burnished clouds 
Until a rainbow like a scar flashes out at sundown? 

My friend touches my hand, warm blood in a glove. 
Our eyes roll together from screen to sky. 
We feel we are remembering a single dream. 


8. HOLDING A PLACE (AT LAKE GEORGE)

 
September clouds open and close like an eye. 
Sunlight brushes over high hills softly, 
An eyelash of light on a dark cheek. 

How quietly the paddle-boat waits for a foot! 
When the foot comes in, too fast, there is such rumbling! 
And then the steady effortful heave across the lake. 

Two feet move like man and wife across the water. 
When one pushes down hard, the other is 
Lifted high up, a child on grown shoulders, 

And the whole open world is right there. 


*** THE IMPOSSIBLE MESA ***



STANDING IN ECSTASY

Some days alone I am so happy 
My smile is a bowl of clear water 
Set out full on the sill, eating suns 
Or dimpled with plumed skies.
The black cat leans close to drink me.
She carries my happiness back inside her 
Right to the tip of her staticky tail! 


A LONG STAR AGO

A long, long star ago 
Jacko folded together a house of paper
And pushed you through the low door, an aphid. 
  
How he fattened you up with green leaves! 
Leaves of verse Jacko kept dropping from his soft branch, 
Darkly, in his crowded house. 
  
And all the aphids sang together, 
Whirled their tiny proboscises in the air and sang! 
You sang, too, a little, 
  
About sweet mint Jacko pulled from his pockets... 
Swept up in wings of feathery boughs.... 
Until you were saved--fat enough to eat! 


WAITING ALONGSIDE GRASSBLADES

Something is happening to the plain grass 
As it elongates on the grainy lawn. 
Perhaps something is happening inside, or at 
The invisible back of things as we see them.... 
Just look at those clouds, those purple Portuguese 
Man-o-wars, trailing their half mile of tendrils-- 
  
Perhaps the way puddled moonlight churns 
Dark under the dark dock, and knocks there.... 
Or how soulfully the heavy church bell waits 
All week for Sunday wildness.... Perhaps the way 
That happens, perhaps something like that 
Abides beside me, inside me, now. 


CLIMBING IMPOSSIBLE MESAS

I climb broken steps of the desert mesa:
Broken teeth in an infected mouth. 
Wounded cactuses line my route, tall as crosses.
I look down, out, and see imperfection orchestrated: 
The broken clouds, the broken steps, the crooked river. 
I stand abashed and beaten: 
Waterfalls of impossible perfection! 


BREAKING ICE ON THE HORSE TROUGH

Bits of sky tear off and run away from us.  
Whatever we thought reality was this morning
Changes:  the workboot that fit a left foot 
Cries its tightness going out to break 
Dawn ice on the horse trough. 

This morning is like other mornings; 
Sleep lets go of me, hands releasing the wrestler; 
The bed creaked and wept, and the floor  
Was so cold!   

Night horses come forward from the barn  
Stamping;  exhale bales of misty breath; 
Line up trembling at the black renewed  
Waters, and lower their long heads to drink. 

We enter a new reality together 
Out of the same forgotten dream. 


TRAVELING TIRED MILES FROM HOME

Hypnotic trains are hurtling by night, 
Seed-like shuttles in an enormous loom. 
Silver miles of track weave endlessly. 
Moons watch metal webs appear overnight. 

The frail couple across from me 
Pales with cheap fluorescents. 

Their hands lie near each other, but do not touch; 
Their gloves have been removed and set aside neatly; 
Their old faces look up, hatched with lines and happy. 


A MISSED STEP

Sometimes, walking with wide eyes 
On horizons, an unstoppered hole
Eats your footfall.  A gap in balance,
Quick pause almost falling, just before 
Quick recovery of your balance....
You are floating... you are air, all
Air, your fingertips chill, waving 
Air, your walking breath upended: 
Huffed out, or, worse, swallowed. 

‘Open' is a fool's word, you think. 
Then your slouched shoulders open, 
Feel suddenly the unhidden wings. 


A STONE CLOUD

A stone cloud moves, white majesties 
I ride like a wet rug all I dare--    
Among its oval moons, crocodile teeth 
Scraped and flat, I am chewed and tossed. 
God's wide spider eyes slide over me, 
Clear blue broken sky, until blood chums 
From my chest with a rusty smell of coffee. 
  
My old life lies piled by the screen door, 
Brown packages I'll never open now, griefs 
Too deep to tell.   I lay under a naked tree 
In shaded grass so terribly cold and thin; 
It touches like hair all over, my eyes closed. 
I hear a bird beat living wings in the branches, 
Singing red notes on so bare a thing. 


KICKING BROWN LEAVES AROUND A HICKORY STUMP

There's an old hickory stump I go back to often. 
I sit there and think a good deal about the leaves 
Laid out before me if it is autumn, or the leaves 
Whispering above me if it's late spring or summertime 
And everything's talking fine, with the light rolling down. 

In winter, I walk back booted and covered. 
There's only myself to think about: two brown leaves, 
My hands, restlessly in my lap, the fields surrounding
Sometimes layered with silent snow everywhere 
Outside me, sometimes just within. 


SLEIGH-RIDE IN CENTRAL PARK

It's Christmastime again, and you mount the city sleigh 
Around the claustrophobic park, all those dreary 
Oppressive grey summer things are gone 
Under a snapping cloak of December snow again. 
Each black trunk marks a magic circle in the snow....
Beams of darkness reach up and meet the sky-dark. 

Below you, the horse's wet hooves ring and knock. 
At what muddy door are they hammering? 
Where will you travel when the earth splits 
And light opens outward for blinded, aged Oedipus 
...Years past his suffering, in that slow-witted human 
Way maybe even the Bhudda never knew? 


LOOKING-UP MOONS

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

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? 


MINNESOTA CLOUDS

Brawling clouds that carry my breath, my name,
Are visiting Minnesota;  the violet seed I threw 
On snow last winter lingers in the cardinal's bones. 

What effect I have continues happening. 
What I have been is in my being still, beating 
Blessedly or damnably in my wrists. 

I regather thrown grain in a cloth bag, and pour it 
Golden down a funnel's throat;  kneading bread flour, 
My hands whiten in the dough, Minnesota clouds. 


LONG CLOUDS OF THINGS

Lines of trees against the sky stand etched, scratched 
Blood and sap and ink;  and I am stretched, a saw nib  
Flush against white paper that eats attention. 

So, too, you are stretched and hatched, etched, 
Made visible against long clouds of things 
You love today and that are your life.


NOVEMBER SHADOWS

November shadows define themselves against my sides. 
They try to get inside me, affectionate black cats 
Making biscuits, and I the basket lined with warm flannel. 

Ever since spring, I've been falling away from myself,
White petals liberated from a shaken dogwood. 
In summer, I danced at my own feet in the grass....

Now, many years after my mother's death, finally
There is no more heavy grief
In my body.

Now my shadow blows down the street like an escaped cape! 
It tumbles in the flattening winter landscape 
Hurried by an unknowable wind. 


KNEELING UNDER EVERGREENS

Afternoon kneels down among sepia pine needles.
Where two needles join, a pair of working oars open
In the small wind of your breath. A minuscule boat
Rows rapidly out from the hard shoreline.... 
 
The boat departs the shallows of your shadow 
--It is heading into the deeps!  
 
Sounds of waves and the lost calls of sailors surround
The intrepid craft, waving its wild antenna in the spray....
The dark acidic water is an ocean of black ants!
They seethe body over body endlessly as dreams. 


THE EYE

I find an attractive rock in mud. 
I smooth it clean in the river near at hand;  
The rock's dark veins glow strongly;
More, the more thumb and water 
Hurry back and forth. 

Something rolls solidly in my palm; 
Something simple escapes my saying. 
--A white pine needle can't be the whole tree,
Can it?  Why should I have to explain God, 
Even to myself? 

Days later, I look down at the dull stone 
Dry and cracked-looking in my hand:
I remember the black slather of mud, the thin
Wetness of water--an eye of something 
Looks up from there. 


WRITING WITH FLASHLIGHTS

Holding a blue ballpoint pen like a flashlight,  
You travel the darks of the page blank, empty.   
The flashlight held before you flickers off 
Unexpectedly a few times, like lightning: 

The forest around you is humid with low clouds. 
Your blouse sticks to your skin. 
You've forgotten why you're on this mountain. 
What are you looking for through the hairy trees? 

A sound stirs;  something illegible as night; 
You chase after it, past flowing bush 
And boulder, following your small cone of light 
Until dense woods break into baldness 

And you're alone with the clouds, wet and dark. 
The night sky eats all your light in an instant. 
Stars have been writing their sentence for centuries: 
This is why you were born.


WATCHING DRIFTWOOD IN SOUTH CAROLINA

 
Tired with my old life, I come to the seashore 
And watch battered sticks drift in and out 
Of dirty tidal foam, cracked and gored 
With holes whose dark remains impenetrable. 

How I long to throw my life away!  To float 
Like those unsinkable sticks, but I fear the ocean 
Powerfully throwing me back and forth forever, 
My soul sucked into a small hole's impenetrable dark. 

Farther out on a spar of igneous rock, strange 
Yellow lizards skitter and hang upside down. 
How happy, inventing new ways to be happy 
On sunlit slabs of rock!  Why can't I live like they do? 

Staying warm on a wide skirt of stone, breathing 
In and out with my sallow belly, eating flies.... 
A black wave tumbles among the gravel at my feet 
Erasing flat lithe sounds of lizards' tails. 


MULE DEER BREATHING NEAR NIGHT PINES

The mule deer shuffles with a wounded  
Leg, delicately, her injured limb lightly 
Upheld as a lifted puppet, all balsawood,
With one unlit spot over the backward knee. 

She pauses beside a big longleaf pine to stare, 
Eyes of dark oil full of private histories.... 
I feel how we both want to live, have the same 
Tug, intense, in our chests, the same cloth anchor 

Pulling steady against invisible tides. 
She flicks behind the shadowy screen of trees 
Before I notice two smaller deer dive behind 
The same heavy evergreen waves she has parted, 

Their mist breath fading as evening comes. 


RAPPELLING INTO THE DARK

Rappelling at night into darkness, 
Ebony-scarred seas chant like chain-mail
Beneath me.  I sense, not see, cool cave-mouths 
Open randomly, adoringly, along my route;
Sometimes my feet swing in, wildly as a bell,
Surprised hands grip the rope harder in prayer--
Each emptiness at my side as I descend 
Is an extra dark in darkness like a black star. 
Soon I will be at the bottom-most part 
Of the cliff!  Excitement rises like steam 
In my veins;  burning hands tremble on the rope 
And down I go, faster, faster into darkness! 
Soon the sizzling sea will be eating at 
My ankles, my feet treading water in the 
Origin of life!  I'll pull the cold salty water 
Up like wet socks--up, up all the way 
Over my head--until sleep comes and 
Sleep drowns me, and I am saved.


SPEAKING INTO THE GLARE OF PUDDLES

I've looked too long the wrong way  
Down a collapsing telescope, held things 
Far from me that should hover fearfully near--
Wings of dragonflies active as eyelashes; 
The glare of puddles gone tomorrow; 
Raptures of grass the snow is always burying; 
Offered help's hand on a doorknob, turning; 
Spatter of tears kept under eyelids; 
A million refugee sighs;  despairs put off; 
Unwanted chores of the heart;  seeing only 
Tiniest figures of love crumpled in the wastebin: 
Brothers;  and father;  and mother;  and you. 


ENVOI

STONES TO HOLD YOU

This poem is made of stones to hold you 
At the bottom of the river--your clothes 
Loosen and float ghostly about you, weeds 
Close their luminous green curtains softly. 
Only the words have weight, only the words 
Stay on this journey beneath surfaces; 
Bubbles lift from your mouth as you say them....
 
Take these words, one by one, and put them 
Deep in your pockets--let knuckles whiten 
And go cold around their friendly grey eggness. 

Don't look left or right--plunge into the river! 
Take the persuasive curves right up to your elbows! 
When the bottom goes slack, keep walking! 
Keep going until cool rings of silence close over 
Your head, engulfing every word with brown swirls, 
Your blond hair drifting silently among the weeds. 


Knowing the Moment by Emanuel di Pasquale

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Mar 072016
 
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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)

Prizes
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.

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

Editor
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.