A book of poems
[Gregg G. Brown]
Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.
Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs. When observation and observance sharpen beyond the roar of words we soothe ourselves with, the tickertape of conscience and prayer unspooled to silence, we can see the action of life plain. The constant taking, the inevitable greed, camouflage, and waste inherent in all things.
The sun knows nothing but to burn. The salmon little else than to breed and feast. Our arteries are red with burning, veins blue with hunger. A paranoid, irascible eye sees many raw things civilization has regretfully gilded; an eager ear—with its vestigial muscle for turning still intact—may yet attune itself to the strangeness of what is. Listen.
Parables are everywhere is our daily doings if we listen, the ear of consciousness arranging random notes and facts into pattern, the flare of consciousness illuminating new mosaics in the old catacombs. Life itself, in all its accident and happenstance, is transformational because our consciousness is partial.
We can’t see all sides of an object at once like a cubist artist. We cannot even experience ourselves consistently across the daily divide of sleep; at best we are strips of stuttering film. We bridge these gaps with memory and imagination. And reality is the perpetual testing grounds of that self-invention—and poetry, at its finest, with its honest looks at what is—is the checklist for that reality. Words are the net we use to draw reality into us. So use that net, anxious to add meaning to your ultimately unknowable life—the omnipresent wilderness.
April 1, 2018
Shy in their herding dwell the fallow deer
...spirits of wild sense...
Printless as evelight, instant as dew.
After Thin Winter
My tongue fell like a gravestone, flat
Into silence, when I heard the darting lark,
An amplitude of bees at the azaleas in spring
And the mad abandon of frogs in their croakeries
As the kiln sun outlined fingerling icicles, and snows
Receded. What was killed at Christmas was made ready,
Made mud and substance for new life at Easter,
Elegant as grass dancing from the fundament.
What songs I had cribbed in my dab, crabbed hand
All winter long in my grey oyster’s cloister
Blandly abandoned their pearls in my mouth;
What I had deemed gospel is proved uncouth.
Only silence and stillness can I bring to what’s given,
The badge of eager ears my only sign of office,
A wideness of eyes my warrant for living,
A narrow nose my keel, and sighs for my sails.
The sun hooks the eye—
A fishingline of light
Teases daubs, gobs
Of unready tears
From the prone fisherman.
The arc of history, the arc
Of his lazy cast, are
Identical to God’s, one
More blind parabola among
Many hits and misses.
Still, he watches his bobber,
Sun of its own solar system,
A clownish bellybutton
Pinned in its gravity well,
Helpless as a marble.
Something beneath bites;
His wary, wired eye sees
No more than Schrodinger
Trapped outside the bottle
He fishes to investigate.
The bobber is an eye-
Ball in a troubled socket
Nippling the rubber sheet,
Inflicting wrinkles, crowsfeet,
And no nest to home in on.
Baby salmon are born simple fillips of thin light,
Thumb-smears of ectoplasm, long eggs
Unfurling into elegant flags of tails
That plump through long late spring luxuriously
As any mat of pasta filigreed with fins.
The racer spritz of underbelly speckles
Makes her indivisible with the river, devotional,
A sweptback speedboat divoting the current
Lambing the surface with sunny braids of wooly foam,
Then, dive after dive, memorizing each shadow grotto,
By lounge and lunge investing the homeplace with myth….
Sleepy or ecstatic she swims, until the day comes
When salt first touches the innocent lip
Alerting galvanic gizmos in the svelte groin
And the salmon, in mass chorus, beg the river
To lead them away, like following the grain of an etching.
Away from childish eddies, from mild tideless nights,
Away from reeds in their tactile millions, from oniony beds
Of emptied fish eggs; away, away and down
To the silver-slippered whaleroad of the sea!
Down to the breakers and badlands, borderless lagoons,
Completing, with raw luck, a Pacific circuit
As round as the world Magellan imagined,
Where each nimble slit face will bleaken into a claw,
Each corvette exterior ripen to bitter red
And only the sly survive.
Bales of daybreak scatter broken hay—
Shreds of light the early parkground
Feeds the eager eye, waking ringing birds.
Golden gears of day get going, annoying
Drunkards and latecomers, laggards
Too timid to escape their asylum of dreams.
The foot crunches cinders on the cold park path
As woods enclose the walker in dew-dim green,
Ears and eyes awake for what brambles disclose:
A syrupy dewlap repeating to its mate,
The bitter gabble of a squirrel on high,
How the referenceless blue of sky intrudes.
At a stop where rubber joggers stretch
He sits, a chalky bubble doming at his feet
A moment’s irritated digging reveals
To be the stark arched catacombs of a skull.
The woodpecker hammers in deafness,
An arpeggio of ellipsis dots
Turning the trunk into a thunderous drum
Loud as a cloudburst, a wail of electric
Lightning in the downpour of his beak,
Itself a splinter of the woodpecker’s brain
His single nail of intention drilling
A rabble of insects from the desert wood,
Fleets of them fleeing Egypt, half-grown wings folded
Like packs on the refugees’ backs
Seeking Sinai beyond the impassable banks—
A place of sacred song, bonfires and worship,
Their stump wings become angel feathers
Themselves grown golden in face and limb
Raising all their hallelujah voices in song together
A circle of safety and praise “Hallelujah!”
And only the tamed accompanying tumble of drums
To remind them of the woodpecker.
Two Pike Beneath the Rail Bridge
for Mat Spano
A snake of shadow doubles in the water—
A grounded pike in his cold redoubt, his
Troubled blur of darkness underneath him
Rolls over motes of stones like a cut kite-tail,
In a water-flight of greedy feeding, snap and
Strike after strike into terrorized small fry
That blaze his evilly thin needle teeth with blood,
Curling broody clouds into lake-light and weeds
And obscuring the dumbshow action of a life.
The weight of the pike, black as a wrenched rail spur,
Meditates in his mysterious underworld, gleeless
And deeply green as a Christmas bough—
I am life! I am knife! he seems to say, scissoring
His blunt course beneath the taut causeway,
A troll below the ebony river’s surface, shadow
Inside shadow, his deathly inches glistening ink
As he writes the page of life black as himself
Or his shadow-self, the self that guides the knife.
Moment of Silence
The little brown hen, beheaded
Ran about the dusty clucking yard like an abortion
Her spur of blood a race flag
Stippling the yard with dark dots, beautymarks
For a full minute. The other hens stopped clucking
And left their feed unattended to watch,
To feel the dark sprinkler pass by batting them—
Their eyes vaguely gathered, vaguely lit.
All scratching hushed, and the sun stopped.
For a full minute I think it was, yes.
The Duck, Shotgunned
The duck, shotgunned
Caught the full volley of pellets,
Steel circles like pilled thimbles
Spreading inner fire with a hundred matchsticks
Struck in the smoking under-feathers,
The trim wings wide, as in delight mid-flight
But here is suffering and ripping,
A million zippers stripping skin,
All your fingernails blown off in a single twinge
And nerve and blood left to baste in air,
Bathe in pain
Death of a Housefly
This is the basis. A faceted particle
Bearing its pair of window-wings, a fractal
Reflecting Nature’s majesty in grim miniature.
A dot of the universe made blood and hair,
The infinitesimal start of the Big Bang’s buzz.
The nodule, the nada.
This dead housefly
Practiced spastic pratfalls through the rooms—
A black note following what conductor’s wand?
Among damaged fruit and unguarded ears
It made its itchy way.
Stumbling, staccato, on tiptoe.
I watch the billion connections blossom
From his rainbow bowl-of-gumballs eyes
To my duller ones, practiced and lidded.
Do you see, the fly whispers, how alike we are?
Were you a gnat, I would swat you, fly says.
As you are, I sip blood from your hairy walls.
The dead housefly flitters from the counter
To the floor in summer’s mangy breeze.
Its universe is over, its finale played and applauded.
I negotiate broom and dustpan in procession,
Knock the little bugger into the too-full dustbin
And ring shut the metal lid like a cymbal.
A flying saucer on a stick swings back and forth
Over the dirty beach, the dribble of grime
That marks the tide’s high assault, the clamor
Of a slug’s cold unwanted kiss.
The flying saucer swings, and swigs of sound
Filter a staticky hash through my cupped earholes,
The sound post-apocalyptic, waiting for the bright bing
The inimitable click that signals a tossed coin,
The fine wire of a hairpin, the lost Mayan gold
Of a forgotten money clip.
A Wheel of Hooks
Turns in the eagle’s flying eye, zeroes down
To peg a live shadow in the grass,
Haul it sputtering to nest.
Two chains of hooks its feet
Dangle shaggy dragnets
Sumptuous innocuous indolent meadows.
A hundred hooks gather into feathers,
Climb the frigidaire air barb by barb,
Clawing against gravity to flight.
A hook, too, is the prowlike
Bastion of beak
Battering ribs with its stick, incising
Designs into totem,
Curve after curve
In the bloodied broken side of its prey.
Slender in the Grass
Snakes are boneless trombones sliding slender in the grass.
Their alphabets are all hisses, “Asss to Zsss.”
Their eyes, like birds’, are liquid wax droplets of black,
Pools of dark rumor and wells of ancient observation.
They ride the damp ground like a whip writhing to stiffness,
Thwacking desperate cracks in the dirt to attract a skinny mate.
A snake’s razor mouth widens to a gulp when any beetle lands near,
Its split rainbow back a Swiss Army knife of displayed wings.
When rains come, churning and flooding the ripped field, they swim,
Their lengths alert S’s suddenly alive as kitetails in the teeming wind.
They know no road but hunger, and sleep their meals down for days, weeks,
Giving back to the damp uncaring ground a mouse’s intricate skull,
A spittle of skeleton, forever ivory and wideeyed.
Where to begin? A confusion of thorns
Besets the setting sun with a hash of prison bars;
Night’s limber elements are rising from the earth
Reanimating darkness, giving limbs to missing light,
Raising a black wave over our heads
Cricked down for evening prayers, then a meal.
But for now, all is still confusion—
The old barn taut with disintegration, its hard
Lean away from light; the tempest of songbirds
Arriving noisily to nests in the sun’s abatement;
The raccoon’s paw awake to darkness and theft;
Thrills of a million moths detaching themselves
From the sloped sides of trees, their daily guards.
The eagle, the snake, the hawk, the dog retire.
In their place, night’s minion, the hidden thrust,
The secret grasp—oh, death by any other name,
Death by a thousand stratagems—all recorded
In the reflective eye of the cat at the window.
Cadaver in Vastness
Time the hammer and time the anvil
Claws raw gobbets from the cadaver.
A quiet of observation invades the hills,
Wraps the sliver viewer in vapor.
The child’s dog had run away down the road
No farther than here;
Here were no green ingots of gravehills,
Just one dog rotted to a husk,
A blackened comma stuck out beyond
His tongue’s final saying.
The cliffs, quilt-patched like coral,
Still melt in immeasurable mists;
Trees swing their long beards over the brook,
Fish alive among their barky toes.
But here at the dark roadside, a cavern
Axes dead halves of a ribcage
Into darker futures, a vastness
Realer than stars.
The lizard in the ditch, his brain a chip
Turns his chipped eyes to the sun
The lichened rock he spraddles is pocked
With stars of greenish lesions
A harshness of stars is in his twenty
Fingerends roughed for gripping
He is sure of nothing, not even gravity
As he glares at the universe from his rock—
Along his spine a constellation gathers
Like a trail of bulletholes in God….
The lizard in the ditch, impatient for flies
Slowly splits his jaw, spits his split tongue
As if to lap up the sun, its tunnel of cauldron
One changeling flame at a time
Until night comes, however ugly, and only his
Spine of stars is shining
She’s surprised, her eyes foolish, owlishly large,
Twin fishbowls slopped with infinity, her mouth
Dropped doll-like open in a pinkish, pale gash
A slash touch of drool spooling a corner.
What is it that she’s watching? A second moon
Shouldering out from behind the first
We know so well, like our own splotched hand
Familiar and veined and always available?
No, not that. It’s something closer to home
Like a threat, a chainsaw hiccupping off a nail,
Its blade loud and wild, a deadly blurr,
A blaze of steel thorns throbbing sparks!
She watches so carefully, so pitilessly, a poised
Tan animal about to pounce perhaps,
Watchful of her victim’s teeth, array of claws,
Hidden stings, woodpecker’s beak like a sewing machine,
The power of muscles thumping a bone skull like a club.
Yet she herself is still, fearless—
Alone, empyrean, detached, fatalistic,
A girl standing at the edge of her own green yard,
Flesh was never less alive
Than in their claw-hammer mouths,
Gobbets and blobs dripping from beaks
Wry as fishhooks.
The spurring rabbit the truck wheel had winged
Left nailed to the asphalt
Now a grim etching by Durer, tendons aghast,
Gashed open like a surgeon’s how-to
To the slow thoughtful desecration of the doctors
Hunched around their diagnosis.
The icy field is stiff with thistles,
Pencils jammed in a holder, grey bristles on a chin.
Thousands of bareheaded golf balls rolled to a stop,
Each beheaded head bedizened with pins.
How long did it take for these roots to creep?
These spiky knobs to rise like fists?
Each hidden root connects to another root, root to root,
A starchart under the earth’s dirt.
I stand here alone as winter makes us alone:
Banging my hands for warmth, stamping my feet.
If I had a mirror big enough
I could show this overrun world its face.
River Waving and Waving
A stillness is in it. Leaden.
Even though it is waving, waving continually
It’s always with the same, tame, martinied
Glassy indifference. Green-eyed, squatting, squalid
As a toad, as lipless gelid.
A fresh-water jellyfish or squid laid on a board
Would look as lively, as livid, lurid.
All day loping the gaping bank, its wound of water—
Summertime anglers, day-campers
Never too far from stoves and faucets,
The womb of home.
I put my hand into river coldness.
I drop a baited hook into its goop.
I stoop for smooth dull stones to throw at it.
Or reach into the silver house with a threaded wish
To catch flesh I de-shingle and eat—
The red welt of fish-wealth
held in the fire’s fingers
As evening gains in the trees
And darkness erases faces.
Szzz—Too hot to touch! This
Frying sliver of river.
But stabbed with a stick, I bring it up
Greedily between my teeth.
Bats in a Cavern
Here’s no light but an echo of light
Light like a black ear flapping
Small-boned bodies flapping in a known womb-cave
The whole place the scraped inside of an eye, waiting
And the sprawled dawn-cry comes, a thousand cries
Skreaking and streaking like train cars—
Twice a thousand ears eating dawn like an egg!
A black egg, viscid and filling
All is known, all is revealed, x-rayed by those cries
The bugs the guano the catacomb litter
Their little fur chests line up like soldiers
Glued to the gleaming ceiling of the cavern
Clawing the raw stone
One thousand faces split and dripping
Less than a thimbleful will make you lose the will to live.
Gnats attack at the interstices
Where sweat lives under an eyelid, a slick
Lick of paint no one could mistake for tears.
A peppering of infinitesimal bodies
Intent on your discomfort, they fly into hinges
Of elbows and knees
Giving their gamey smell when crushed
Of rotted olives. Too small to wipe off
They remain, a grit of pulverized guts
Waiting for the laundromat’s absolution,
The shower’s cloudy powerwash.
The sparrow, wrestle-breasted arrow of song,
Indignant arc lamp of day, sky’s-spy, deliverer of God’s notes
To mute mortal ears, lug jug-handles on the wine pot—
How like a spook you move in the thin limitless air.
How beyond deftness your swiftness. Sheer circles of light!
And in an endless ring you are singing—phrases, prophecies,
The moulting basketloads of insects yet uneaten!
And the sun comes through your mouth, too; the sun,
And all the crying stars of yestereve, tearpricks in the blueness.
Constellations align to your wingtips, grasses part at your
Passing, nature and songster at one in the dewsweep.
No more clotted gobblings of domestic turkeys, blind clucks
Earthbound and beaten to repetitious hawkings of mere sound,
Bruised wattles hanging diseased over all song, any singing.
Here is a choir of velvets and visionings, long lusterful sighs
That folds the sky in your pocket, all in one fluffed breast.
It seems to have no nest, but when the nest is found,
Tucked like an ear under a crest of rosebush, or suddenly
There beneath a worsted whorl of fieldgrass, with old bandages
Of eggs, cast off crepe from the birthday party, sharp discardings
That gave rise to this, to you, gripping your perch,
The striped bullet head bent back in laughter!
Stars turn blue in the untended bucket
While belly sleeps and wing slopes.
The day was yours, tin beak,
The night I keep, says eyelid asleep.
The nest rides quiet like a lip of wave,
The evergreen ever-vigilant of its dark shade.
There’s nothing to see between the sheaves
Of branches, except the feathery skin
Of the wind
At last at rest.
A war-wind licks the tattered rocks
Frosted with lichen stubble, spare faces
Visible above green beards.
The remains of a farm, of a home
Washed, tumbled to a lumbar spine of fallen wall
Spoiled by a seafoam stain.
All the lives here are bone again, are green
Mouldy birthmarks, are mottled handprints flimsy
As a kindergartener’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Shamrock sigils of vigils past and failed—
Hail fellowships birthing only this mint rot, this
Nothing of wind warring wind
And lichens’ fading greying faces.
Prickers stick to rough jean cuffs covering scuffed work boots.
Unshaven stubble shows the stiff imprint of age,
Gaunt gristle of days lived and forgotten, an old sailor’s youth
Sailed grey among cows and seas of grass.
I pull at them at the stone churchyard doorstep, slap
Stubborn stubble on worn and faded cuffs.
My long heedless stride got me here, gathered green days
To this scruff of stars washing round my ankles.
Prickers gather thick as ticket stubs in a bottomless pocket,
The washed-out dates distorted and mangled. All my life
I’ve come alone through these fields to this frigid steeple
Like a compass needle that always comes round to North.
And these with me, least eminences of the neglected field,
These rustling pricker-weed seeds with small arms lifted astonished—
Ferrying always with me on my open journey, sticking it out,
Until I cast them
In miserable heaps to the doorstep.
He stood alone, wild in the merry-go-round junkyard.
Jagged stacks of tires creaked a rubbery babble,
Oily water caught rank in the empty rims.
Where had they driven, these rearing carnival-wheels?
What seen, these charcoal eye-holes outlined in bruise?
Miles they’ve revved and spun, millions of miles,
Miles going round and wearing out, like hearts.
And now: a bird pulls out a bit of wire,
The hasty scamper of a rat keeps dry in mysterious rain.
A weed reaches its thread through some wheel-hole,
Waiting for fate’s snip-snip in the afternoon sun....
Wheels ridden to strips against earth’s wheel,
Paired gears kissing and grinding in lifelong marriage,
The little gear worn through like a wound, dirty,
A wound too old now for even a bandage,
A wound no longer bleeding, really—
A wound where the sky leaks in,
And a swindling
To hatch a crow, a black rainbow
Bent in emptiness over emptiness
You, Over There
Something happened to you, over there.
A snowy owl invests your shoulders
With hunches, black minnows drown
Your eyes, between the transfixed cross
Attached at your brows—the stiff track
Of a crow’s kinked foot in night snows.
Not to die. Not to die.
The small worm-eye of the raven is so black
It is blue. Blue-black, flattening its wings
Against a nude sheet of snow, legs
Of tree roots still dark, unconquered by the frost.
The raven looks about, a small shirr of dust
Drifting from his black forehead, his eye
Of outerspace—without star, without moon.
He hunches in his overcoat under a juniper bush.
To be a raven is to never die, he thinks.
How many coffins I have stood atop! His wings
Spread like an evil phoenix, a mourner’s umbrella.
To him, a tomb’s as good as a barn.
To the far left, far from the bee-gatherings of cars,
A pack of ravens scuttle in the margin of a ditch
(With a sound, if it could be heard, of cards shuffling)
Eating some earthly remnant, some essence
Of snake, a whipcord pulled to death
Laying its blood-tar scar against new-fallen snow.
They are in no hurry, as the snake is not.
They are seven judges at a trough unburying justice.
They dig up old pasts into new light, new stabs
Adorning an ancient halo’s glory radiant as irises—
That arrangement of spears around a central nullity:
A void, a hunger.
All Is Calm
for Anna Moran
It was in winter that she left us,
Her grey good voice gone still.
Her laughter that caught us has kept us,
Although her laughter has gone still.
Her hands that held our own and patted, tutted
And cajoled, upon her breast lie still.
Snow like drumtaps on her coffin fell,
And snow is falling on her calm grave still.
Winter has entered, and she has left us.
We gather remembering and grow still.
Twelve mourning doves walk abased in dust
Soft as nuns at their small solemnities,
Their tan wings folded back to balance
The hiccupping strut that takes them back and forth,
Nodding their sidelong eyes with white lids
Disturbingly human, though no bigger than
A pinky’s fingerprint, cooing docile as ghosts
All together where the old dogwood dapples petals,
Each claw-fingered step pawing the ashen earth.
Twelve mourning doves are cooing in a ring,
Soft doxy voices that touch and soothe, such soft
Wood-night wood-dark wooing forgetfulness
Under dogwoods dropping pleasant last petals
Under a gun-metal morning
Under the weight of stars
A crush of snow and the house settles, mellows.
A roofline of unshaved icicles greets a morning hangover
Challenging the cold adjustment of dreams
Their dark ache of song that passes the night hours.
There’s something tremendous in a world erased overnight,
Like listening to Wagner backwards or exploding dud ordinance.
The afternoon funeral looks stark as the Donner party,
A line of crows milling around the golden corncob.
Afterwards, there’s an undeniable deaf amnesia—
Something gracious has been mislaid, and then forgotten.
You never knew so much weight of what is could be,
That wings could be so heavy, could drag so low.
Conversation stopped the day before last, afraid of more news:
Cousins insane, grandmothers crippled and punctured,
Divorce served with thin slices of the Christmas beast
And a gravy of tears. And now the power of snow
Shows itself in our guarded, hunched, held-close looks.
Our hands are unable to dig out and find each other.
Something vestigial in us is waiting for spring
But we do not remember what a sparrow sounds like
Or the shaggy look of a new tulip, blood buds of a maple tree.
The house creaks like a warning shot, and a step breaks
While carrying out fresh trash; the blender burns out,
Innumerable bulbs are pinched and replaced, or left
To add a new shadow like a shotgun blast; a totemic
Crow bestrides the balustrade like an inkblot.
Time dilates; we live in the pupil; we skate in circles
Waiting for nothing, hands on our ears, eyes closed,
Fingers no longer crossed in our nylon mittens.
We had not lived here till the first loved thing had died here.
The years are burying our friends,
And the beastly bees coming back in Spring
Are buzzy again, the floods of flowers
Trying on new dresses for new caskets.
And the air, sweet as it is, is sour to me—
A lone survivor smelling my way
Amid fresh wreckage.
Now I know what poetry is for the widower said
Now I know what poetry is for the widower
Now I know what poetry is for
Now I know what poetry is
Now I know what
Now I know
My spidery jalopy body
Mad hair scuppered and scalped in patches
Eyebrows of pig bristles, hands daft crabs
Muscle stripped to bait, a gristle-brisket
Hung from this skeleton of hooks
All mornings hate my face, spitting
Sunfire in my eyes to emasculate dreams
To reason me awake like a razor dancing
In the splay hands of an anarchist ex-wife
Pointblank as the ceiling
Last night’s smoky martini longboat
Rivers away through a hazard of stars—
Puffed to nothing, interstellar dragon-smoke—
The stolen opium of Chinese poets
Drowned in their emerald slippers
Worm-white, I face stacked racks of stairs
The mute unbearable glaring of pets
And reeking garbage-trucks of pitiless chores
With the featherless soul of a beaten pillow
Cored mauled punched ignored
Black Dish, No Cut Peaches Fine as the Sun
Black leaves in black water in a black bowl.
There is, in it, more than a stir of waters,
More than black leaves going round, the brim
Wetted by whatever the interfering finger does.
Whoever had eaten here has left the bowl
To weather. Was it myself who sat and ate
Fat-fingered peaches dripping with sun?
Or was that some other, now that autumn’s come?
Black leaves in black water in a black bowl
Sit on the midnight veranda still as thieves.
The Harp Player
Wounded, the flying chords work their salve
Deeper into the ear canal,
A mix of melody and grindstone—
The rhythmic pistons of a piano
Upended, gutted, on silver display
And stroked like an infarcted heart
Until the pain leaves the strings
And the audience cries at the beauty of rescue
While the song whirls on….
And the harp player, proud and dark
In his trim dinner jacket
Turns away from your fraught tears
And deeplier, and deeplier,
Hunches around the wing of his harp.
Hurry, hurry the grasses say.
They point the easy way,
Hands over their heads
Like divers finding the pool.
Swiftly, swiftly the meadowlark
Lances from the grass
Easy into skies, swaying
His wingtips as he goes.
Calmly, calmly the sunset
Sets the field afire.
If my days like grass must burn,
Let night like larks aspire.
"To myself I told a lie,
I gave it all my heart.
And to that lie I’m loyal
That lies within my heart.
I cannot unwind the coil
I wound with all my strength.
She was young who bent it,
And I am old at length.
The lie that lies within me
Has daily shaped my days.
And to that lie I’m loyal,
Although I would part ways."
I felt uplifted,
Like champagne in a thin, bright glass
Cows’ hooves stand, planted apart, in earth
While flanks gild blank statues in the sun’s
Afternoon onset, rank spillage yolk and gold.
They jaw cud the way chain-smokers smoke,
The way old husbands snore while soupy brown eyes
Loom and ruminate, beautifully lashed orbs
Seeing all... or seeing nothing.... It’s hard to tell.
The dawn field was a single whistling white,
Endless star-white grass
As my feet held steady
Against the gigantic pull of earth.
I stood like a horse watching the sunrise
Emblazon the land, picking out the stripes of grass
One by one, and blessing them
As dawn went on toward day, and the horses
Paraded out led by children
And the time for lessons pinched me into speech.
Pommel and throatlatch; cantle, stirrup; bridle and bit.
And the whole line of us rose into motion like a wave,
The grass it’s endless sirrahs intoning,
And still cool, still sheltered
By some shadow of night’s arrested rest,
The rustling unhaltered rest of stalls—
Standing still in limb and spirit, eventide divine.
The spider diagrams a sentence punctuated by death.
Death to the fly that tries a new language.
Death to the butterfly pining for thistles’ pins.
Death to the moonblind moth tumbling moonward.
Death to the ant marching astray.
Death to the inchworm one inch at a time.
When her sentence is finished, rolled up and eaten,
She embarks on another before night comes vamping.
Her spindle seems limitless, and glistens.
She rides the lines that terrify with a swift spidery bliss.
Her grammar is immaculate and intricate as the OED.
She latches each line with her embroiderer’s glue,
Shaking her insides dry in the sun.
When her final web blows forth,
Shining skull-white with it’s pirate’s sail,
Even she is impressed. Even she, seeing the benign design
Big as a spread-fingered open-handed hello,
Has second thoughts.
There’s a skunk skank you notice first, a burn
Of urine marking a boundary like napalm—
Beneath a porch, at the disastered end
Of an abandoned barn, or where a quiet alley
Narrows its waterway and tiptoe weeds
Grow leggy after sunlight, the sky a blue trickle.
Next, a bomb of exploded songbirds, never ravens,
Their notes gutted that had drawn feral eyes,
Old souls broken open as rotted ashcans and left
Pocking the concrete apron with shotgun blacks,
While at their queasy leisure in a patch of sunlight
Stray rain-matted cats daintily lick their paws.
Cleaning the Bones
for Linda Johnston Muhlhausen
Slumped at her typewriter as at a toothy skull
In an elephant graveyard where dry savanna cracks
And a wrinkle of valley invites the eye to descend,
The writer examines her soul like a dentist
Poking the broken white keys til it hurts
And prying the hurt out for a good gory look,
The roots a bit bloody and the roof caved in.
She tastes the cracked enamel with her pointed tongue,
Sucks at the hole in the skull for blue eons
Where flesh is wet and tender as a jellyfish,
Translucent and useless as unset glue—
The elephants’ ribs a risen house around her
Until thinking fails and her pink pain returns.
Stooping with loupe and a diamonddust drill
She makes a new tooth out of any old thing:
A pebble, a lost marble, a thumbnail, a screw.
Bent like a grandmother washing an infant
She rolls it left-right, she watches she etches
She polishes the simulacrum with exquisite skill
And screws the new tooth in with tongs and a grimace
In the place in the skull where the old tooth smiled
Perfectly white and perfectly dead.
In a Wood
Strip me of language that I might hear
The owlet’s cry climb limb to limb
Uncursed by human questioning.
In nakedness of hunger or plumed with joy
Let the V-sharp beak declare,
Unhelped by any too-human ears.
Let every ghostly echo some human word
Displace; let the death of a mouse
In the leaves be the mouse’s death.
Banish my striving mind, invisible life!
Let sap infuse my veins and a bark enclose
This too-insistent skin.
Slowly I leech into the buoyant night
As the unknown owlet regains its perch,
Open eyes diaphanous as moons.
The forest, full-tenanted, surrounds us
With wooden moans, twangs and strange
Sighs I myself begin to imitate.
Cycle of Force
Tadpole grew angry at the slimegreen pond
And legged it onto land.
Frog was wroth with his dry mudbank
And humped into the water.
Maggot in the egg hatched mad at God
And helicoptered off the great, dead face.
Tongue abandoned its big-mouth chalice
And leapfrogged after the fly.
Missus laid her suds-bag of eggs,
Windy reeds bent to the ground….
“Our pond is mirror-fresh, is cool,”
She sang, until
Bullfrog sun beat it crucible.
The Raccoon’s Nose
The nocturnal raccoon’s a clown of course
With his merry bandito black butterfly mask
Working the comic implications of moonlight and trash
As he rummages through compost buckets
Like reading a daughter’s diary, yesterday’s dirty coffee
Casting a grainy grit haze over all the spoiled goods.
His magician’s hands ferret out wands of hot dogs,
Madcaps of eggshells, the delicious simmering mess
Still to be made of last night’s abandoned dinner!
And that old thief the moon has vampire fangs tonight,
Grinning at his mischief, the quick work of chaos
Hands divorced from conscience can make
As if, in the minute it takes to return from brushing one’s teeth
A miniature twister had landed on the back porch
And pried life’s pasteboard scenery apart at the seams....
He waddles to the hollow half-sun of a grapefruit
And sips its pink innards delicately as high tea; so delicately
You’d swear there was the ghost of a tophat between his ears.
The sweep of his ringed tail is spiffy as refrigerated minks,
His bandit’s mask’s a mere costume for the evening’s masquerade—
Rayed starlight hung up in splendid chandeliers above us,
The ornate parquet flooring swept dustless for the dance
As I bow to you through the sliding glass door
And you bow to me, too, detaching the purple aperitif
Of a discarded grape from its wiry dead stem.
The paling east belied the hurricane’s arrival
As if harrying shadows had long since lapsed
That were only coming up from behind in the west;
Already a cloudweight of clotted darkness
Owned the rest of the sky, and, in it, lightnings!
And water like a tidal wave, a wet apron held
Out before the belly full of aching waters.
Already a thin ringing ran through uneasy gutters,
A teetering high-pitched scree that made the dog look up—
A squealing like metal wheels was rolling through the whole house,
And the aluminum shutters wouldn’t latch for shit.
We hurried with nails and plywood where we could,
Beating out the light, keeping ourselves shut in
To live out the time where we’d creeped safe.
Our neighbor, a carpenter, helped drive the nails
As we held up our hands steadying the awkward wood
Until all that was left was to make coffee and wait
It out, wait it out, while the carpenter napped
On the couch. The wife petted the dog anxiously;
The dog tilted his ears at the ceaseless screed outside,
Myself quiet as a candle burning down when a long
Gust suddenly had us all leaning east with the house,
Counting ourselves and our luck when it finally passed
And the roof settled back like a windswept hat.
“Sixpenny nails,” was all the carpenter said,
Turning back to sleep in the appalling weather,
His shoes mud-knocked clean beneath a chair,
The house hanging on but just barely.
First, lemon lengths of light trim the gables.
The snow is easy still as if still first-fallen,
All airy whiteness on eyelashes laid
With the rods of trees black-wet beneath, a river
Of wood roads, paths winter-asleep, though March is making
The solid ground give out smoky wisps of new grass—
The cold is best, you decide, swallowing glass,
First gasp in a world of limitless ice, limitless slips
As concrete steps stretch out and the day’s hunt calls.
And all this as the dawn just gets going, the furious orange
Retching up like a swimmer finishing his lunge
His lionhead shaggy above the pool’s clean edge
Red knuckles hoisting the weighted shoulders
The dripping face averted as if too horribly strong.
Dawn’s razorback breach has made its showing for today.
A smash of fire ran mad fingers over the skeletal barn.
Stiff-faced horses had raised stone heads how many years,
Great-grieved Agamemnon masks, old wood masks of Troy,
Hankered nosefirst in clunked buckets of morning oats
How many years? How many years had dark-cheeked
Dignity strapped on a mummer’s gas-mask,
Chewing handsful clouts of oats while slow eyes feast
On dawn’s no-man’s land of rank grass pasturage,
Dawn’s fist a misty cauldron in the bolt-hole valley
Where sun wrestles roadflares all along one edge
In daily ghostly flameless burning how many years
Knuckling white the weedy line between sky and earth.
Damp shadows follow you through hairy woods
Trailing—oh, a thousand things—as if a mist
Bloodied, a mist made wine, made dark, made night.
And through those shadows push spidery hands
Making way for some lost face, crowning shoulders,
As if walking here you were a stranger being born.
In the middle of these trees arises a ghostly house
Of grey timber, each plank knotted at its core,
Its fieldstone chimney slipped like a old man’s back.
Hampered daylight fills the tomblike home
With strands of grey, and shows a battered mattress
Where teenaged summer nights convene.
Quiet heat, like a holstered gun, dots forehead
And neck… and starts an itch of wonderment at all
The echoed life that once raced these halls,
Or ran barefoot upon the hill, or rolled a hoop,
Long before any long shadow of wood took root
And raised up leafy tabernacles, and blotted all.
People Beating the Fieldgrass
Everyone with a stick, or a cane, or an umbrella tightly rolled
Is walking methodically through the fields beating the grass;
Drowning in wild alfalfa, bullgrass, bluestem up to their armpits
Their voices carrying the lost name like a repeated wave
Susan Susan Susan Susan
They tilt and straighten and walk and cry through the grass,
Swinging wildly at the unmanageable weeds, the everywhere
Interference of green and seed and tears twenty-four hours
Have thrown in their faces as they pace and peer for darkness
Susan Susan Susan Susan
For some shadowy clot of curled being forgotten at the root,
Dressed in gingham and bedded down exhausted, or tripped
On a grey hidden risk bulking blind in omnipresent grass,
Some black current having carried her where no ten year old
Susan Susan Susan Susan
The moth said:
I am too shy,
In love to speak.
Look what wampum we have gathered!
Here where we honeymooned all those moons
Gone by... shells burning in the sunset.
Again this year we walk the wide surfline—
Shells scurry to our hooked inlet,
Pried by tide and intent into wet pockets.
I fish a nickel’s-worth of wisdom out
And turn your smile into a hook of chuckles,
Digging after delight like digging oysters.
We trail the sound’s tideline on the lookout
For what the year’s vastness has left draggled,
Glints of glass in the endless backwash.
Such a wealth of seawrack and stink!
Backs bent like hooks to troll for treasure
We hold on, hands hooked together.
Sordid love undid
Its ribbons and buckles
Left its pants collapsed
In prairies of desire;
Where buttocks tussled
Love was sunburn
A red all-over slap
That cools like a sore tooth.
Love came roaring
With its juggler’s chainsaw
Its hissing hot kisses,
Its tongue of raw fire.
Its charring stars
Into your chest and mine,
Our mire of human
two weeks before
By this point, I thought we’d be gasp-laughing,
The marriage corvette hitting seventy without a hitch
Our faces wasted with spring sunshine and wild smiles,
The unrepeatable in-jokes that couples conspire:
Memorizing lewd news to appall old Aunt Ida
And zap Uncle Chuck into a champagne spit-take,
Or doodling Acapulco details of our honeymoon
Drolly on napkins at midnight rendezvous. But,
Winter snows buried our playful April to the roof!
We, who’d thought to kindle time ’til our May bonfire
A matchstick at a whack! Frozen roads skid caterers
And budgets off track, timetables plowed under—
Cold curses crash, chatter vile links in an icy chain
That grapnels our nuptials with anvil force, winch-
Ing us crippled toward some drooling giant’s
Hinged maw, jaws-of-life prized
Endless as a waterfall, awful as passed gas.
In the dimwelter of evening we met for a swim.
The gawp of the lake aping the moon’s smooth light
Took our floating bodies with a silver swallow
As we swept our smiles filling with pushed water
Into easy depths, trailing wings behind us as we
Paddled and lunged, our hair returned to womb-wet,
Your elbows now and then vivid with drips as a gutter
Overpoured in storm and wind, the cold clean of it
Cutting me into pure halves like a new pear,
A pool of oblong moving shadow now, circling
Wordless when dim clouds came obscuring the moonbolt
That had been riveted so brightly above us—
The stars coming singly clear when we stopped.
For the Love of Buttercups
For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups
We take our watery walk slowly in good boots,
Glimpse sparse splatterings of streams here and there
Amid the blat of frogs. Simmered mists lessen westward
As day ignites those golden buttercups hard yellow,
And hinting love makes way for plain statement—
All sepal-soft affection turned ardent seed.
Pale tender bulbs survive the flinch of winter here
And bring their crayon yellow to another summer
(Keeping blossoms true even in months of floods)
Lifting their buttercup’s branching crowns in air
Like fleets of saffron monks on backs of elephants
As if no other season than their summer ever was,
No colors worn but their summer’s burning brands,
Blond chalices lapping open around our moving knees
Where we dodge humped tussocks in old boots
And hold old hands like two roots entwined until
Some seeping inner mist arrives, veiling face and eyes
For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups.
We sat in the burning fields and shared a sunflower.
Tall around us leaned the velveteen cornstalk shafts
Of sunflowers by the mile. Jenny held the fallen god
Like a pie plate in her open lap, the heedless seeds
Black as tacks, teeming as ticks, getting picked
One by one between index and thumb, eating their meat
Like smashed bugs with staccato teeth and tongues.
The sound of the fields was as a cat in a grocery bag,
A papery bigness the dry leaves weaved into canopies
That frittered the sun—the suns—nodding their lead heads
Into bearable shreds of threaded light and shadow.
Some of the sunflowers were still descending comets,
Their yellow petals coned into harmless arrows,
Their grin of seeds still hidden and small as a fist;
Others, though, gave us the full black lamp treatment:
Intense and downturned as saints at prayer
Watching the sacrifice of their fellow at our hands,
Pinching eyots of flesh that dribbled to our lips,
Our raw fingers busy as boll-weevils, our eyes
Themselves going dark as the million feeding seeds
We ate and wiped antsy on our long blue dungarees,
Standing at last amid a devastated harvest
Of shells and whispering stalks,
Silent with germinating thought—
Done for the day that was not done with us.
The Fox’s Pelt
We woke to your skin on fire, feverous with dream.
But day was docile, the sky a heating-duct grey
As you shaved carrots skinless that odd afternoon
A fox ran through the kitchen—on hard scrambling nails
And subtle paws, his sharp mate-musk stink sticking
Where spindle-legs, black-burnt matchsticks
Had passed; ears alert, nose an arrow, eyes begging-wild
As a starving child’s, his tail a lit roadflare.
He shot, disoriented, past you: instantly loud,
Perhaps rabies-mad, like BBs scattered on glass.
All nerves, you said he’d run so near his pelt
Airbrushed calves as you peeled—and your face
Carried a strange look into evening after that.
A preoccupation with the map of outside sounds,
Hoots and windchimes, whinging dogs, paused you, rapt.
Except for a pinch of laughter here and there,
I’d’ve said you’d sent your lover an unanswered text
You were so otherwhere and otherwise.
I settled your faux fox pelt around your shoulders
To escape suburban boredom for the theater,
You touched the clean fur like a child’s scraped cheek
And bit your lip, and pouted in the car, watching
For some red flash in headlights that never came.
Stretched-out night taps at the tattling sash.
Night like a dog wants to go for a long stroll,
Tugging the cool coiled leash of me to get going—
And I go, myself restless and dreamless loping
Into my slip-on shoes, nabbing the worn
Walking stick as the door clicks shut behind me and
Night is everywhere at once like cold raindrops:
On my skin and in my hair I feel the instant ice
Of high stars; their frost, their freedom. And I
Look up as if asked by the minister done with prayer
And step onto friendly gravel, and beyond that,
Picking a worn path that crackles through the field
Like wild glazing on a shard of pottery.
Taking my first breath at last I taste this tear.
Postcoital Olive Grove
Here I lie on a shield of dust
Beneath a black-green dapple of olivetrees,
The sun in patches alive as fireants
Over my beloved as she snores, sotto voce,
The wine rolled emptily out of reach
As steep hills fall away to a scent of hidden seas
And my forgotten pipe burns, itching my fingers,
My teeth fresh and shivery as if smiling,
The white plate bare of all but a few grapes.
A fire was lit, the wood spat.
Between tremendous white acts of clouds
The sky cleared,
Bare planks of an emptied stage.
The day is unwritten that would speak there,
Into the blue gape, the sky’s splendid gob of light
A blue umbrella opening over our knot of fishing boat,
We’d untied into the broad morning stream:
Rainbows ran away from the deeply crooked prow,
Uncatchably sailing ahead
Of the painful pant of oars; those bold, effortful strokes.
To the enviously easy sound of the river we gave up
All sound of words,
Watching blobs of bobbers distort, listening only
To the silent howls of fish we hauled wobblingly
Over our knees
To lie swollen beside our muddy wellingtons.
Play keeps the otter on track for survival,
Sweeps her back on her back
for the key routines
Of diving for meals, basking for supper.
She’s got the alert look
of a janitor on the hunt for trash,
her variable mustache never settled
beneath her nose
But forever twitching and twigging to some
Undiscovered opportunity for fun—
Entering intimately the zippered water
Swat-wheels of paws fanning liquid sunlight
Riding the wide slide
of a heavy wave
Or pairing in play
Fight midstream, two-eyed pirates
Without a plank.
An otter’s her own rodeo,
her laughing lariat
a tragic moon and cinch it into smiles.
Always at wrestling rest with water, the otter
Laps the stolid, waterlogged log
eared with fungus
And slaps curls of surf
like a panjandrum
As she comes round and round
And goes around again,
Easy as leaves in autumn wind.
She’s never less than slick,
a weight of laughter
Oiling her pelt, keeping her
slim and wealthy.
She’ll eat a fresh-bitten fish like eating a mirror,
Endlessly eager after silver and blood, the good new stink
That fattens her milk for pups when they come
Mewling into the grassy holt under willows—
Blind naked and crawling longwise to find furred teats,
They’ll ride their ready mama
all night like a raft.
Up from the bottom
Of my belling boat, I saw
Sky, only sky. A quick electric
Cut pale as paper.
Around me loured the sounds
Of sky, white whispers
Like smoke unrolling,
The shifting sheets
Of making a fresh bed.
Unreeling invisibly over me—
Nothing but indigo,
One indigo cube, cut
By my inward gunwales,
Unanchored as a cloud...
Swiffering west, west, west
As the stream hisses
As my fresh eyes dream
Of only this one
Huge acre of blue.
Arrival by Water
The skiff put in with a harsh hush of gravel at the island’s edge.
Nobody noticed the fog’s snug hoodie with the broken woods before us
Opening on the campsite, the ashen eye of the old put-out fire
Centering where we would raise the spider web tents and hunker down
For a long week of stories, the tipped glint of eyes in a sleeping bag,
Days spent loping about the island’s sandy pines and warped shrubbery
Or reading in the drifting skiff among junkyards of stumps
And the loud flap of herons fishing.
Sparks sang in the campy air
That first night, casting strange ensigns in the edge of sight
As we gathered our civilization to a knot of masks hunched
Grimly around the burning socket of earth, the terrible tribute
Of twigs pulled and piled skyward, the orange ingot of log
Sacrificed like a length of man clipped and thrown away
Where the frightwig fire climbed, feeding
Our meaningless stories with death’s spat light.
Kathy heaved away into distressed shadow, and Dan
Sheared off after her with a joke, their tent argument eventually
Shivering with reconciliation as Manny chuckled ‘Life!’
That was the first day.
The water wrinkled like a face
In front of the prow, and that was the second day.
Third day in,
We set out for food more than what the river would give
Willingly to our lines and time out of its silver mouth and
Into ours; there were small deer and wild pigs scattered
Shotgun throughout the tossed wreckage of woods,
And we would tackle and prepare one or go hungry
We swore, shaking on it after the tar of morning coffee.
Dan, Manny, and myself, Samuel, headed east to start
Our circuit of the island heading toward a swampy dip
That attracted birds, since even a duck would serve,
Plucked and picked clean, while Jen and Kathy stayed
To clear the breakfast char away and order camp,
Scoffing at our oaths and waving us away with laughter.
Once beyond the distracted clatter of camp, we hushed
Into a pack, Manny taking point as we arrowed into woods,
Tuning booted steps to silence as precisely as monks:
No confusion of intentions invests our steps.
The campfire’s claws
To our greasy offal.
If life is light
It grabs such cast-off
There’s less seen, although the seeking is ceaseless.
The olivey fibrous tough stalks find needles of shadow
Even when orange noon crouches in the valley licking.
A flotilla of mice could be passing, washed in grasses,
Invisible as whiskers, a rustle in the rough pampas.
A fox, a squirrel, a snake here and there swaying S-like
And still there’s no hissing insistence but endless grass.
Like a paper screen behind which a dancer disrobes,
The grass seems flat, yet folded, yet flat.
Myself flat in the water-mirror, with the hanging jowls
And hooded eyes of time, am made rainbow-wavery, irised
By the river’s uneaseful striving, acres of stained glass
Finned with strafing rain and clubbed morning light
Where hidden fish in seeming millions jump blind
After duplicitous raindrops instinct craves into insects
Until brawny brass clouds are bundled off the map
And my baited line laces whippets
in water’s renewed calm,
Begging for fish-morsels to bite and crimp
Fighting jaws on a bended hook joyed deep
Into a catfish’s prow of snout, barb and shaft deep,
Pulled mastered home by fisted reel, my miniature
Mill-wheel of undoing.
At length I clambered ashore,
At length felt the knife’s finesse deftly
Enter without flicker or spur the sudden
Blood guts spreading gushed for thumbs
Peeling the eatable fish to its depths.
Its heart-spigot spat incessantly, stressfully red
Until my steel puncture found its bubble, and red
Waters ran away from the wound with a dying flush
As flesh lapsed; lungs and bladder; intestine, crop and liver—
Food for flies on the cracked, caked-dirt bank,
The sudden blood a Y-river to trip-up cascaded ants
Busily bulked at the stream of life falling stinky there,
A snarl of amber snakes dropped drowned from clouds,
My green waders holding me whole in eely skin.
Here among the dead
Sun’s hard discards
Lies an excrement
Of mud unleavened
Where the river leaves
Off lapping, leaping,
For August heaviness—
Lethargic shallows that trap
The trespasser’s shoe,
Mark him mid-thigh
With handprints of mud
As he labors for the grey shale
Shore, the vivid crevasse
Through which, slipshod, he entered
This endless kingdom of mud
Glistening and viscid,
Lacquered tomb of frogs
And pizzicato flies attending
The deathbed of glittering fish
Slashed gills amid a tinder
Of leftover rainbows.
The slow, snapping, fatal hook-faces
Withdraw beneath peaty murk, guinness-dowdy stout;
Stellae of stumps jut up their ancient wood turtlenecks,
Interrupting radar ripples the ancient heads send out—
Long antediluvian thoughts, green only in sap, in blood
As old water uncoils to flatness.
Daisy-dainty mossflowers crown the right-hand stump,
Deeply ambiguous as dew, yellow-white as sunnyside eggs.
I sit stiff in the splinter canoe until turtles return
Blipping the surface like rain beginning,
eye drill-holes black as the underworld
In ratty light that skirts the island’s belt of mulchy decay.
They arrive bald as ambassadors, bold as monarchs
From their dipped-in-oil underkingdom, leaf plantation
Of soft coffee grit that finds the cracks in graves.
To what side of experience are they wet stepping stones?
Cornea-bulbed backs rise darkly coated as frying pans,
Stub flippers studded with badger-cleats fanned out
Wound-strike ready, forever extended as a garden tool
Beneath the camouflage of river—its mirror deceits
Part and parcel of the shadow-play turtles stage.
Poked heads are wizened critics’ barbs, brainlessly sharp.
Will they sort the worthy and unworthy, like Anubis?
When winter steps to the river, fetching its cape of ice,
These creatures bury themselves hind-first
In muskrat burrows, settle-in in lump-mud debris;
They lodge naked beneath rotted eye-arches of logs,
Cozied dim in the underworld under summer’s business—
Occasionally guessably visible below thick mid-season ice,
They roll out of hiding like heavy wheels of revelation churning,
Swimming slow and white as ghosts
beneath the flying skaters’ feet.
Meeting a Deer
A scumbled scuttle, a tamped fusion of hooves
Rattles my attention from a slouchy doze
Aslant a twig-burst hawthorn were I’d found
An old oblong of sunlight to coffin in an hour,
While noon leans onward like a runner sketching
Light-trails toward a dash of yellow ribbon: here
A deer, disconsolate, nuzzles sweetgum leaves,
Eating green stars steadily unto Kingdom Come;
I see before me fine-grained flecks of flank
Like a hazy TV left on long past the last show….
Her head is shy and broadly-spaded as a snake’s,
The leaflike ears alert, the one dark eye I can see
Potent as an eclipse—umplummable, purplish
Depthless blacks, while her lips work the sweetgum
And I wait without motion, floating raftless
And buoyant in my Dead Sea nap—so close I inhabit
The trembling huff of her nostrils, sour and warm,
Her limber length trim as an unpulled scull
At rest for this waste minute tide-bereft,
Weaving and unweaving in the woods’ waves.
A snowy owl puts himself alone in a room with the moon.
He is silver as a Christmas basket, and the moon hangs silver too
High up in trees’ intricate netting, ribbing the night absences.
They present, from a certain oblique angle beneath them,
A pair of wary skulls absolute in their terrible whiteness:
Death and his hungry buddy divine retribution, perhaps.
Both of them fly at us in the engineered silence of ages
On wings of light like devouring angels, gowned and ornate.
Witness them, the feathered one and the bald one up there:
Both of them honeymooning or playing space chess or whatever
Alone in a room together that we call heaven.