The Parable of the Parable-Teller

 [Essays], Introductions, The Pilot Light  Comments Off on The Parable of the Parable-Teller
Oct 182014
 
...of lovers and friends
 	I still can recall

Neuro-science and linguistics have found, more and more, that the portion of ourselves that we recognize as uniquely our own, that we carry with us as the turtle his horn-bone home borne upon his back, is the story of our life that we continually create and edit. It is this most portable portmanteau companion, this kitchen gadget of enlightenment and self-definition, this word in our own ear, that is us to us. In Shakespeare, the most vile Iago gets in-between the naive Othello and his perception of what his love is, what his love means; Iago takes the place of Othello’s own consciousness by his whispered innuendo. If Othello had been more mature in love, as he was in war, he would not have been so malleable to another’s voice, another’s vindictive agenda. He would have recognized Iago’s stratagem for what it was–Iago’s implanted concept of love was simply war by another means. And so we are all vulnerable to the virus of other voices, other selves. Indeed, we change ourselves through the same methods that Iago infects Othello, but usually with less ulteriority in our motives. (As an aside, a situation in which this is not the case, in which we self-consciously adopt a new posture towards our current reality, is when one voluntarily submits to the re-programming of a twelve-step, diet, or other self-help or self-improvement campaign.)

We live in a mist of continual whispers. And these whispers bring us news of the world, and arm us, Galileo-like, with telescopes to view our inner landscapes: our pasts, our nattering presents, our dreams and desires–all at once, or in a movie-montage series that takes on the serried wheels of the kaleidoscope for its deployment and re-deployment of pattern in the search for meaning. Childhood faces, lovers breathing intensely close, the lick of an insistent pet, all compete for their place in the panorama, their time in our arms at the square-dance of selfhood. What fiddler calls the tune? Will we always respond, stomping in time to the quibbling ifs that life presents? This is all process, the creation of context from which our daily self emerges: the hourly display of faces from which Shakespeare chose his masks, and where Dickens lived amid Pickwickian semi-visionary laughter.

Layer on layer of this-was and what-ifs bring us the twists of our private narratives–not the blatant debasement of power-narratives and privileged perspectives and voice that Derrida derived, but the rich exploration of ears of the self, the continual God-slog of “the examined life” that Socrates instilled into the DNA memes of the curious West.

The parable of the parable teller is simply this: that our attention, our focus changes, and the parable-teller, like Chaucer chuckling gently from on-high, remains aware that the change is occurring. Coleridge in “Frost at Midnight” demonstrates well the process of place and inner space. First he is alone in a frosty midnight; then, looking at the fire, he recalls other scenes, and in one of those recalled scenes, he remembers wishing for yet another presence, another context. In “The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Coleridge imagines the walk his friends are taking and describes that walk. Similarly, Stanley Kunitz imagined the first moonwalk–and when hearing and seeing reports of that walk in actuality, Kunitz claimed he didn’t need to change a syllable of his poem since he had “already walked on the moon” in his imagination. In this same way, we invent the self we are and the details of our lives that stand out for us and become incorporated into the currently active self we are always oh-so-busy experiencing. In poems that follow here, there are usually at least two stories told side-by-side–a current context of speech in which the narrator is speaking or being caused to write, the context of the person being addressed as imagined by the narrator, and the remembered details of events experienced in the past by the narrator (often a past memory of being with the addressee). And all this symphony of whizzing whispering brings the speaker to new views of the self he could be, the creature he is creating in his lab of solitude.

One of the ablest spaces for this refreshing and re-experiencing of the self is in our nests, our tidy homes, with the latch shut and the world feeling far-off and safe. Here there is no imperiling snap and swap of swordplay, no train bearing down on our vulnerable colony of cells. Home means comfort, and ease, and feet up on the couch as we break out the stereoscope and review what wisdom is given to us as our portion of the greater mystery. There’s a warmth in the hearth, a harvest in the home, that no other domicile can quite capture or match, whatever its majesty may be. Niagara Falls or zip-line volcano tours will have to stand beside and wait in memory when the yellow light of a suburban home beckons the leg-tired jet-lagged traveler home. Home to zoning-out, home to the spatter of expected talk, home to regular rounds of coffee, the simple fellowship of your nearby hand, denizens of ease in winter’s sparkling twilight.

And so the parable perpetuates itself in an onslaught of ontologies, tabulations, diaries, vivid minuscule distinction upon distinction without end. Frame within frame, story within story, the multiple perspectives switching with an effortless turn of the tongue, the change of metaphor made flesh, the story made bone and standing up, a stacked skeleton that had been rummaging the veldt on all fours. Do we remember the perspective of the lungfish, the metaphor that had us leap to land, grow hand and hoof, still carrying the seas within us?

Gregg Glory
March, 2014

Go, little heart

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Oct 182014
 
Go, little heart, into a song
That flies away the while,
Chirruping with the dashing catbird there
Who flits through a country stile.

My eye her errant ecstasy
Follows along a dotted line....
Stretched to cotton majesties of cloud
Where she disappears like Time.

When my song comes singing back
To me, from frosty Everest returned, note
How my voice at highest pitch remains
Till I'm ashes in an urn.


The Pilot Light

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Oct 182014
 
My Jenny, my jewel, the house echoes
with your wintery tread, a diamond rolled
loud on an overturned aluminum canoe;
you walk about like one who is school-tired 
to the point of ill-temper, a scholar
flopped among her hundred books.

How often I recall my own school days
in dry colloquy with old professors,
ghosts of poetry who remain spirit-limber
in my reminding mind--strong with witch-words
that evoke in me heaven-pastures 
where angels nod don-like over tomes
cloud-lovely and limned with golden words
as if sunset were always nigh, yet never
setting into that charlike dark beyond the page
where thumb and gilding meet and part.
And so I see you, conversing briskly
with rows of unknowing pupils, tipping
cups of milky knowledge into empty mugs....

Here beneath our roof of snow you move
in moody silence, heavily, from chair to chair,
arranging tests and essays like a stack
of X-rays shimmering to heart and bone
of your young charges now dimly abed
and dreaming--while wild outside
the February wind whistles wickedly,
and I sit meditative in a half-daze of dream,
remembering with the flickering wind
just how young (how young!) I once was
in poetry--knowing only that I didn't know 
the myriad ways of verse, but loved all
that poetry somehow made me feel--as a child
knows nothing, but knows that love is there
in the downward glow of its mother's downy face.
If I could contain so much of ignorance
all at once, surely one day my knowledge
could grow as great?

The book has flattened on my lap
that kept me wondering while you worked--
airy fancies that troubled old Coleridge:
his fire's stranger-ash floating over 
flaming bars as he watched lost in thought
in his humble Cot, all his guests asleep,
his singing-self a stranger like the rest!
Here, the wind-berated moon huddles low
over apartment eves;  each push and punch
of night-wind tells--not of strangers beyond the sill,
but how alone we are when we are ourselves!
I see my ignorance with sleepy eyes
and measure new ignorance by those stars
ranged primly distant, too far to touch
their fire--almost too far to see....
What passion keeps them steady in their skies,
astral marks that tell us where we are?
When it's all too much for me, too many
confusions and cavilings railing in my brain, 
all I can think to think, or think to say
as the Little Dipper sinks and darkness greys
confusing eye and atmosphere,
is that a flame grows narrow at its tip.

Jenny, I look about me once again,
rising itinerant until I find my final bed
beyond these rooms we share and shape with life.
Nearby, you bend to the stuttering stove,
a companionable grace in increasing night,
quiz-work kept neatly stacked at the long table,
and strike a fresh match to the unprimed grate--
over-watching the tiny flame with as careful eye 
as God might over-watch the infant heat 
of Adam in early earth's so-cold bowl--
and soft! within the iron grate, with whisper
sweet, bluely ignites the tender pilot light,
set to burn as long as attendant gas serves as wick
to what your human hands had clicked awake.


The Graven Path

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Oct 182014
 
Little Michele, little friend, little missed miss,
I'm readying a flapping knapsack to meet
the changes time has made to friendship,
and to hug what cannot change or pall
until death entreats a final retirement to all.
Little Michele, who first unveiled
the graven paths of Yosemite to me, the deep
crisp chiseled sky squared above
mendicant hikers filing up the Great Falls'
narrowing way!  Falls whose mists surround
me still, wooly polyester fluff of a winter coat
near as hair, as white as my new beard now
puffs in mirrors.  Sleep keeps you in Sacramento,
at rest from day-long hospice rounds
where time lies blanketed in neat-tucked beds,
while I wake in winter-gripped New Jersey
where houses huddle together against slush,
marooned amid mirrored sheets of old ice
that sweat slick at noon only to find the moon
skating re-hardened silvers nigh midnight
when all the over-busy Garden State is silent.

It is out of such silence that I write,
my bamboo desk turned tundra by the racing
moon that pulls at my recalcitrance like a leash.
I resist these dim hours of witting speech
when need and time conspire to eke forth words
for one both dearly near and distantly absent--
Right now, I'd rather sit speechless with thee,
brimful of meaning tears and politely quiet,
there in the granite dell where age elides to age,
our feet stuck out dry before the campfire, pines
leaning in inquisitive with the burst faces
of old men shouldering down for warmth,
myself yearly learning their wrinkled ways....

A tin wind tat-tats at the window-frame
as I adjust my terrycloth robe and note the snow
aswirl with words against the blackened panes;
how nature moves no matter how still we seem!
Even in this dead of night, I think again
what times we spent along the reeling shore--
bright trash wrestling the tideline, wrangled 
wrappers skidding in the static grip of sand,
a benediction in the beating surf perhaps
as we pointed out new futures for ourselves
beneath the dome of stars--the varied constellations'
lines growing real as we traced them,
the faces of two strangers maturing into friends.
Shall we walk and talk that way again
when California flits beneath my jumbo's wings,
after the soft halt and hiss of wheels on tarmac 
when your round mellow face emerges 
smiling from the airport parking lot?

After our fellowship of decades, I'm coming out
for your investiture as chaplain.  Long you tramped
the dismal ways of youth, pathless, a-thrist,
seeking in granite lanes for a seed--your spirit
at last made plain in hospice corridors:
hands and long-tried lives held to their denouement,
as when a low corner in close woods is turned
and Half Dome rises revealed, a pale presence
otherworldly as a planet, yet placed
in the same precincts as us, sharing the same
oft-shouldered air, in vestments streaked
by spring rain that scents all afresh.
So your chaplaincy seems to me, your old friend
winter-gripped and griping lonesomely,
getting to know again your slender grandeur--
the presence of a life made complete by purpose.

A life brimmed, and, at the brim, over-
filled till the light within quivers, quivers
even when some infinitesimal breath overplays
its tautened surface howsoever gently.
So, too, are you full, little Michele, so stretched
with love and life divine, a filled cup
of teary dews scooped from roaring falls
that navigate craggy canyon rocks with white work;
filled, too, with dews salted by New Jersey's ocean
where a child's barefoot steps stitched minuets
many sunny days beside the prolonging surf--
a young woman's hand I held in the dew-light
of the quick eternal moon as we walked
companionably at peace before the dawn.

Two Renegades

 [Poetry], The Pilot Light  Comments Off on Two Renegades
Oct 182014
 
A snowy day brings us rarely close, in domestic
confine caught, the sizzle-slip of small hail
sliding from the eves in beaded curtains
until beamed rainbows ring us round
and the canceled day is filled with more than light.
When hot coffee whistles in its pipping pot
the day displayed seems open to us
and closed to the humming hustle of all
the outer world at once.  

                            We two
consider our chance to read, catch up,
make patterns of extended feet entwined
with layabout mirth on ruffled covers
confused as ski trails.  We look outside
and see, beyond the pane fogging at our faces,
how hurrying snow comes, obscuring all       
but us, our inner vision's variableness--
the vast differentials of our too-human light
that kindles immanent behind kind eyes
that view their refuge of two complete,
and with how steady, how stroking gaze
swim eons in an hour, two who know
eternity in a kiss where wedded lips
consign and keep all aspects of their love.
Wrapped in whiteness as within a cloud,
rosy nose to nose and breath to breath we breathe,
the wildered world beyond our known globe
of filial affection left unseen, as if within
the whitewashed castle walls of a lightbulb
we two commenced in love, and in love continue--
blind to ugly outer circumstance, blares and scares, 
seeing only, touching only, our mutual hearts'
intimate disturbances, whose orbit is our sum.

Love doesn't come rowdy and crowding
into our lives, but steals with silver stealth
into living eyes and lips, and with softest brush
writes its miracle in silent subtleties,
limning argent inches of moonlight on the soft
receptive pages of each heart's bound book.
Love leaves its milky trailings like a sigh traced
in innocence upon a cheek by a child's finger
warbling blameless upon her parent's chest.
Love is not made alone by Nature's doing,
though it moves among Nature's byways and shades,
lingers along Nature's lemon lanes at sunset,
or, more gorgeously, more fully and less fitfully,
strolls boldly below each midnight moon
whose cheshire sliver catches in a maple branch.

Quick as mischief, you slip the sash up,
smiling wild as the shivering air invades,
and laughing grab me back, and, simple,
look upon the winter swirl outside.  And so
we hold hands at the now open window,
letting large new snow touch and dissolve
on our upturned faces, feeling our heat
and the cool emptiness of other lives beyond 
our small life together.  Here we clasp,
here we feel each peck and speckle
on our hands and hearts, two renegades
who await each day with sly patience, 
nor rush to tomorrow when snow today stops the clock, 
and time is made all quiet as an owl asleep.


First There Is a Bridge

 [Poetry], The Pilot Light  Comments Off on First There Is a Bridge
Oct 182014
 
Once again the world is gifted white
when wily April shoots should show
tenderer green to eye and wanting heart.--
How brittle the perfect dryness of the air!
Every inch of existence primly trimmed
with just an airbrush dust of snow,
flat as eyesight in a photograph;
the perfection of new Nature, stilled.
Life's ever-active riverflow of being
contracts molasses-like to one chill pond,
stopped in pre-sentiment of what pebble?
The million-thronged trees' unbudded
candelabra, the fine artifacts of grassblades
glassed and frosted in a frozen breath,
transform from windowsill to edgeless space
in this final winter etching, this landscape
postcard all in white and pencil-grey outline
held in single view as I awake with daybreak.
 
The house is silent as the dawn.
Already Jenny's made her weary way to school, 
burdened with a bustling brood whose seasons
reel through one long unrepeating era,
young buds who will not sleep or freeze
until their age is in its autumn-time.
Before me is this image of life suspended,
a moment held fresh as in a crystal ball
stamped with a year and place, and handed
over, with all its little glitters in a tempest.
My eye inspects what whiteness 
is presented: what unexpected extra blank
at the back of last year's calendar!
What clock put wrong;  what skipped day resurrected!
 
At my eye's periphery brood "houseless woods"
where I send my grieving soul to dwell.
Coldly I brood on all my love has lost,
what friendships stripped that'd been the shred
that kept my poor humanity's modesty intact 
which had been stick-figure naked otherwise.
And on lovers lost in unloving spite, I brood:
lovers lost to other moons, other moods.
Of those inevitable shrivings shorn by death:
the loss of parents, the storm of mourning.
My mind's a crowd of moaning ghosts;
their razor keening strikes unanswered.
I can imagine no one who will know me here,
here in the heart of hurt, but you.
And so I write to you, CPH, remembering
days unnumbered of comfort and of calm,
of sympathy dripped in intravenous balm;
I sit in meditative state like a static dream
until all that is is only seems.

Like an anchoress rudely caught
in her cell of thriving thought
you come, a lady-maiden,
to my reviving hive, honey-laden.
 
A lady white in a sparkled gown
across the frost, across the frozen ground,
you glide unspeaking to my icy window,
and I am left in speechless mists--
a traveller without a tale to tell,
unwelcome come to the Magic Mountain,
a little engineer enmeshed in the kicking
cogs of my own circumstance!
I reach for meaning in my winter world
and recall your caution, often sung
with a little cornered smile and saddened eye,
"First there is a bridge, and then
there is no bridge," for how our connections
come and go, how what we mean today
may seem meaningless tomorrow,
how light may fade and dark may grow....

Long our converse might have been today!
Many the complaints I've harbored home,
many the restless thoughts that pester
glum tongue and pain-spiked skull.
Instead I find myself in ensorcelled silence,
quiet as real around me as a deadened pulse,
all the world without neither snow nor spring,
time itself neither then, nor now, nor anything.
And yet, having added my misery to thee
in absentia, and thinking of such speeches past
as my catastrophes have cast into your ears, 
and of such listening as you have often given, 
whole-hearted--whose only recompense 
was to weep in fulsome sympathy, 
I feel fresh, unburdened, although no secret
has escaped my scraping pen. 


The Vanished Embankment

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Oct 182014
 
Tonight I write you, Daniel, and cannot expect
quick reply, or even any the logic-laden world
would count as counter-speech!  Many the years
that have smoothed thy unsoothed grave, and given
unsure rest to you and those you loved;
stray waves of darkling violets shadow 
the stone that brackets your too-trim dates, 
that keeps a night-dim weight of white 
on death's uneasy guest.

Tonight I drove toward shore, the moon untombed,
and lean in summer damp debating words
to bury here beside you, as each year I do.
Melancholy mission!  Yet, with one so missed,
a comfort comes springing among the mists
of hurt--and words that feed the tubers
and the blooms that make the funeral dunes
their only home, may dissolve in service
where living words do fail....

                                 Dammit, Daniel,
forgiveness too eludes the language that I bring
to pile beside a corpse too gross to contemplate.
Long ago I ought to have been done with tears
and tirades, gashes in a golden mask as fine,
as final, as Tutankhamen's.  A beetle crawls
across my naked ankle until it tickles;
a gust of laughter bursts within me, and the echo
flattens against the small stucco church,
rough as sea-rock.  Who else is left to share
the visions we had voiced, pirouettes
of young spirits untiring as the playing spray?

And so I come to you, you the older brother,
appealing to you for wisdom--even from
a stone gone mossy.  Carved in memory,
I see the beginning kiss that came to stand
tall as your two kids, Troy and Pat,
whose limber adolescence sails as swift
as a catamaran's twin-hulled lullessness.
I have their father in my memory kept
packed bright and tight against the acid 
of childish questions.

                        "Lord Dermond,"
I'd called you--how many times across the years--
laughing-serious at the rightness of the royal
sound that crowned you above the cut of men
peering out their dusty place to lie and die.
Across the years we moved together,
bound not to night but to noon
as we loaded down the leaf-weight
of our birch-bark canoe, throwing
its long blade into the dirty light
of old Bowie Place's muddy reservoir 
where many an ancient branch bent to stir
reflectless shadowed waters, for us
as for the chanting indians who paddled
and left their slate arrowheads aslant a brook
for us to find and finger, with still-stinging-sharp 
edges to blood an unwary thumb.
Long the weightless hours drowned
in that floating stillness!  Long the lists
of lines sent echoing into the dusk,
hands alternately dragging, sweeping,
piling high light-lines of freshest wet
while poetry rolled boundless within us
and boundless trumpeted into nature's
leafy overhang.  No hand, no stirring,
now you rest forever who had sculled 
those waters--how many times?
Our paddles lie rotted behind the house;
and rotted out among the moss-backed oaks
the very vessel that had sustained
the high talk that made our friendship leap--
the reel of mutual thought unwound
like fishing line to catch what pulled us
heavenward and homeward.

Our kicked-off Keds crossed clumsily
in the uneven gully of the craft, running
no more than an angel's sandals might,
anchored crossed in passing clouds above.
Paradise had fallen with the late shafts
of butterfly afternoons;  page upon page
of distaff poems we let drift about the boat
serene as swans in the brown current;  flare
of sunset, and then, soaked, they swirled
black and unmoving on some low tarn of tar.
Night's dark amplitude had found
no fit answer to the sky's starred expanse.

Now my own prow creeps to ground again
on your death's bleak bank of bonded marble....
My beak of meaning gawps in agony,
a cadaver cannibal attempting to eat at
your sculpted David's sepulchred and whittled flesh.
The dune grass that springs afresh about you
whispers sweet of mere eternities unmet
that I shall never meet--as I shall never see
you again, good friend gone, befriending yet
my orphan heart tonight, keeping one
solitary flame aloft till greeny dawn.

These passing shapes and shadows please, 
but cannot ease what mind of mine attends 
the salt-sharp night, these ragged knees
kneeling in the hard sea-grass, in the wet
that leaves your grave at sea, and me at sea,
and makes the misty moon an albatross to shoot
with what words I yet may aim at heaven.
La!  an old man's thoughts, an old friend
lying before him, unadorned in dead earth--
I chew old bones of thought, while away
in the crash and wash of the restless surf, cloud-hid, 
a gull's hungry cry pierces repeatedly.