Greetings from Mt. Olympus Introduction

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Sep 022011
 
Oh, Little Wilfred dutifully read 
the Bible with his Mum and walked 
with verse effervescing in his head.

~~Owen in England, Daniel J. Weeks

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltry. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
~~Psalm 81

Introduction

Like a father pruning the limbs of his children, I have looked over my creations with a lenient eye. The worst verse has been relegated to the back of the book and is fit only for prurient scholars’ noses. If you wish, this last section of my collected works may simply be lopped off with a kitchen knife. But then, alas, you would lose the redoubtable “triple index,” which includes not only the Titles and First Lines of each of the poems, but the memorable cannon-shot of their final, triumphant line as well. This fixes a deficiency I feel in every big volume of verse my thumb has troubled to fiffle across.

I had long harbored a desire to collect the refuse of my muse, the afterburn of endless nights of wild inspiration, in a volume of collected poems. As the mirror disclosed a forehead growing more and more Shakespearean with the incrementing eons, the tagalong shadow of my desuetude became increasingly intolerable. Mortality would soon collect me and leave my litter of poems to a sadly disordered fate. I must act!

~~Gregg Glory 2010

Questioning Is Questing

Poetry is my Kingdom, Phylum, and Species

Western civilization is in a cul-de-sac. At the end of that cul-de-sac is a guillotine. Beside that guillotine stands the hulking executioner in his greasy black hood. Through that hood peer two red, maddened eyes. Below those eyes, as through a lazy tear, shows a long, slavering wolf-thin grin. Lightning stitches knots in the dead, leaden skies. Thunder interrupts the prayers for the dead. Doom. DOOM. DOOM.

Even so, my life is filled with primroses and wishes. I sit here—or lie, rather, languid as an American Oblamov rolled in his snoozy comforter— building my empire of words.

I’ve spent long, sad years loving people I never could come to know. Strangers whose alien minds lived other lives, pattering after petty pursuits I never really could come to understand. Now I fear that my own kindness and lack of company has led me, in an easy dream of desperation, to see Helen in every barmaid’s face.

Cold are the coals I have gathered, betrayed by a generous impulse that led me to love first and question second. Over evil rapids I have roved, slouching to the salt dissolution of the sea, who should have been climbing heavenward with Manfred—my eye upon some solitary cloud-wracked peak where every subtle shifting shape suggests a new, unborn greatness (or an old noble greatness renewed) to the seeker’s keen and lonely imagination. Instead, I have sunk my mind among warm elbows at a crowded table, seeking fellowship in banal company and dissipating what genius drifts to me in shrunken rounds of tavern talk. Few have been the companions time has tested true. I recall my Mom, downed in her home hospital bed and not the bed of her marriage, pointing at my nose with a red, imperious finger, demanding first and foremost (loved son or no) that I “tell it true.”

To that improbable pipsqueak queen, crippled yet proud as the devil in her flowered hospital gown—and to her regal charge–I keep my pledge.

I do not condemn others for my misjudgments, but, looking at the litter of years, I begin to perceive that there was something of method in my mismeasure. Questioning is questing. Leaving a question open encourages all comers to the query to have the experience of exploration; each hypothesis is happy to go unconfirmed, as long as the hypotenuse is mutually traveled by writer and reader in the coracle of a quatrain. There is something of Emerson in this energy of questioning, but none of his faith in God’s final ground, the rock of reality.

Lewis and Clark stood equally on the grass banks overlooking the Missouri. Who could say with assurance, seeing them leaning into the wind with their hands shading their eyes, which of the equal pair could see the coming settlements most clearly? Who invoked a vision, and who merely scratched a map? It is only now, with time, that I recognize that there is a necessity underpinning every river’s haphazarding. That, somehow, only a drunken Lewis who shot out his heart in dread despair could have whispered the new world aright into an impatient Jefferson’s ear.

May such dubious wisdom as my pain has gathered serve me well henceforward. May the narrowing of possibilities sharpen my focus, as when a saltine’s pinhole, brought close to the eye, removes the blur of distant things, clarifying every tiny difference and shutting out peripheral static.

In the poems that follow, however, it is the sharing of experience, the open stance of questioning without conclusion, that is most in evidence. And, in the extreme case of “Rehearsing Repetitions on the Rappahannock,” a meditative stance—at once open, aware, and inconclusive, is instantiated without the rhetorical crutch of a question mark.

My old compatriot in the arts, Lord Dermond, fondly dubbed me “the questioning poet,” and steadfastly refused to call me anything else. At the time, and still perhaps, since I myself am no settled question, I took delight in the name, seeing all things as things in flux, and enjoying the jouncing ride of the rapids, the variegation and contrast of the speeding banks. Dan Weeks, assembling a selected works of mine some years ago titled “The Death of Satan” also came to find merit in my querulous habit of mind.

It is only now, as this labor of years surrounds me on every desktop, that I am coming to feel that the best strength of my youth has been wasted elaborating a maze of quizzes instead of attempting to soar, however falteringly, into the omniscient sun. Was it a deficit of pride that had me prefer puzzles to plumage? Or some more insidious hidden desire to be touted and touched instead of respected and feared? Well, here I am again, ending each sentence with my shepherd’s crook (?) instead of the thunder god’s triumphant stab and pang! So much of our humanity is mist and mystery; so many of our hours slide by in incapable ignorance. But what makes our lives worth the sinning that created them is the moment the mirror comes clear, as if in a revelation, and every face confronts the tragedy of its character.

Miles to Go

This poem has no details 
If you won't carry water 
100 miles in your hands.

Break through the skim of ice 
In December, right behind that silent glass factory 
All one tall shadow on the Raritan.

Watch your hands shiver. 
Feel your wet cuffs the first 20 miles 
Until the sky is a shard in your palms,

And you fret about cutting your wrists 
Accidentally.

 

Why the Title?

Well, my original idea for the title was “Welcome to Mt. Olympus.” This warm, generous, applauding pat-on-the-back hand-up welcome to my potential audience reflects well my open nature: I’m a born patsy. My book of verse plays is called “A Million Shakespeares” in the same spirit. It has always been my conviction that there’s a spark of greatness in each of us—waiting only for a willing wind or closely blown kiss to fan that spark to flame. My friend and fellow-poet Dan Weeks had an instructor at Washington and Lee who was always gesturing to his class to “Join me up here on Mt. Olympus, people!” And I share that spirit of invitation and incitement. In a humorous mood, the title’s blandishment reminded me of postcards, bent and abandoned in their twirling black wire racks. And, as I frequented rock clubs in Asbury Park for several eons beyond my youth, postcards made me think of Bruce Springsteen’s famous debut album cover; a simple postcard with the words “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Inside each letter is a montage of vistas and perspectives, snipped snapshots. I certainly hope my words are so amply packed.

Finally, my mind wandered to Wallace Stevens’ (whose book I uncomprehendingly purchased with several weeks of paper-route pay as a 16- year old, and God know why) “Postcards from the Volcano”—a jewel of meditation on inter-generational sharing. Well, now you know something of how my knobbed and hobbled mind spins its dials and generates the green lightning of its associations, touching together black earth and blank sky. I hope it is just roadmap enough to encourage and ward your roads’ wandering more, well, let’s say more, rewardingly.

….. Here’s a million words. If only they were nickels, I’d be rich!

Agape

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Aug 292011
 

It's wondrous easy some days to guess
What at last we are and what's happiness.
Yet these inscrutable questions duly observe
Both the face of the question and the hidden obverse.

What do we know but that knit intuition
Pearls the stitches of mere superstition
When sacred instinct's emergent pattern comes
Divulging phantoms of what we might become?

There's no simple time in which to simply be;
Time's a dark palimpsest of what we can see:
Squaring the past with our parochial acre of here,
Or inferring a fictional future from fanciful history.

Flip, stitch, or analysis: we guess as we must,
Surprise ourselves, and end as dust.


Once Manservant and Now No King

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Aug 272011
 

Once manservant and now no king
Since she the served and sweeping blast
Has hurdled death's ribbed gates again, slipped past
The soft portals opening and entered
The severed countries of the twanging grass.

All ants and minotaurs, and each graved thing
Is of its wicked pulse ice emperor
Under green stars flying backwards and the foreshortened blast
Of horse-headed winds that neigh each eye shut
Loping its crooked trot to dark.

Once queen in the skyey seconds of my breath
With no pale maids attending, and now
A girl with a hollow where her breasts had been
I crawl into the hours of my grief, and lie
In the rose lacquer of her lying-down breath.

Once haunted god by the ramshackle barn
Caved in centuries of twilight and worsted rust
I rummage the windings of this moment's moss
Bite the sands of our last hidden kiss
And breathe all ways at once your lost breath.

The Fly

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Aug 252011
 

All our nobility's munched blank by Time;
impossible dreams fit simply
in an unattended trash can
topped by Gower's lugubrious head.

Dead again
in my dreams, repetitive as a horror flick,
unfixed as a workaholic's mealtime
or freckles on a cancerous face.

I worry about bothering to worry,
the WHY of these needles my consciousness carries
more to damn than darn.
Why paper the slide to oblivion with sandpaper?

The august face of a kicked-up possum's skull
mocks my mutable deportment,
my rubbery reckoning with the moment's emotions.
Where now the surprised eye

bright as a blackberry cell?
O possum!  Once rooting for riccola in the compost bucket,
tipping its richness, now a fly
(always the same fly, same fly as ever)

straddles the corpse of a rind
on a mound of coffee grounds
in a moonlight you are done with rummaging,
and I almost done,

rubbing its hands.


Fuck Crutches

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Aug 252011
 

Dinner meats
and beer after beer revealed
a fostering affection flirting
finny and familiar as goldfish
washed from their bowl on the mantle
by our tidalwave of talk.

Your stories were reckless as guesswork,
a blind detective smelling after footprints,
his nose sodden with cold.
I told my hummingbird heart's
inner aria,
flying backward and forward at once.

Down at Der Wunder Bar, sipping lemonade,
I telephoned my flaming doll to declare
"I'm drunk!"
like Zapatistas at the barricades.  We watched
The Charms punk and skunk frantic as ants, while you
barracudaed through two more SoCo's and lime.

"Hurry up, please, it's time,
Hurry up, please, it's time."

Square dawn's backwash
through the frigid windowpane revealed
our underwear, pink and blue,
entwined like DNA at the foot of the bed,
a pair of mating snakes
tight as wrung laundry.


The Zone Below

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Aug 252011
 

A purgatorial, picture-perfect Saturday afternoon
pulls her pin-striped awnings down, lackadaisical and O.K.
with limited sky and expanding shade.

I twirl an umbrella drink and watch my toes roast
in the zone below my cool equator's waist
--all centaur once, now nulled to rubbery numbness.

Too lazy to invent, I lie
and note-take connections sifted out by Time,
my editor and better.

What rings against my enlarging ears
still childish and complete?
Full of a whistle's insistence and a tin drum's beat?

"Only you," I would lie,
but you are not here-- my dear encumbrance,
taking the hip-weight of my own imbalance.

I remember our days of ire and fire, burning out
fierce seeds that germinate my present dark,
surrounded by a shade that shadows out the lark.

Do not come again.  Do not!
My downhill backyard is all otherworldly now,
mounded snow and ice frothing at the plow....

Rest, remorseful shade.
Take my sunglasses, explore the Everglades.
Just do not intrude, intrude, intrude

your half-tone tune into my afternoon.
"Tu whit, tu whoo."  How rudely forced.
With my pink umbrella drink I'll beat you back!

Guest ghost, how homeless you've made me--
second-guessing what the mirror insists,
my hard-nailed words unpinned from referent.

Time rolls me like the driftwood dead
my enervation imitates.
Oh la, olé.



 

Jungle Incursion

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Aug 252011
 

You know me
talking always,
a Gatling gun of guesses
shooting pillows into feathers....

As fine a time
as that is, whirls and twirls
of dusty angels, feathery stars,
I want solider talk. 

Commandoes who shoulder
through my slop of verbiage,
triangulating sightlines
on the night-goggled target.

My dictionary thins,
my words wasted by AIDS,
helpless helpers
flashed to ash.

Alphabet blocks
tumble from my molting mouth.
We touch them together
until the words glue.



 

“The Loneliness of Strong Feeling”

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Aug 252011
 

The exhausted wash of time travel
comes over your concave face
as I stumble and ram into your missus
through the abruptly open door.

Five years?  More?  Not a tick
has matured your memory of me
--my head pickled like a prize
cabbage consigned to a clay

Kim Chee pot in the plot out back.
A ramshackle string of Xmas lights
blinks the shape of Texas
around an untenanted yard

all tall weed.


Broken Headlight

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Aug 252011
 

The white, hard, plastic bench-- 
The locked door and chicken-wire window-- 
The rusted drain, the vaguely urinous steel toilet-- 
The sink, carved from carbolic soap-- the freezing hiss
Of water to numb a face of tears.
No mirror here to reflect the eye.

Stasis, while the world rolls by
Ten yards from the barrack's escape hatch. . . . 
There, in the night, light, liberty,
Macadam and horns, cars shouldered together
In their hurry and happiness,
Loud as immigrants ganging a gangplank.

Here, just stocking feet that point to Hell,
Wadded TP to grind into each eye,
A shiver assuring you you still exist-- 
Bare as a smashed bulb's electric wire-- 
Glowing all exposed now under null fluorescents.
Grey-cuffed hands unlatch me, lift me, find my shoes.

My time is done.  I shuffle forward.


The Printed Repeats

 [Poetry], Hell, Darling  Comments Off on The Printed Repeats
Aug 252011
 

The printed repeats
of post-modern modern living;
pattern copyrighted by the wry eye,
the deadbeat designer luft-lifted

to religious legionnaire.
A color co-ordinated rock chorus
sings the setting pattern
that labyrinths us to death.

The wavy paisleys
that doily-work the lifestyle-stylist's 
unbuttoned blouse
into incestuous palimpsest

make my head ache.
The divine grind of the final line
of the requiem's aghast ovation
gladdens the lapse into silence.

Will maggots fatten
on my quill of coffin?
Who else will eat
my delectable inks?

The handwritten record of a thing
eeks out each etch
until letters spider the eyes
an unprintable black.

Facsimile graffiti hang in the British Museum,
the scrawl of royal prisoners
gallowsed or gutted
--one scratch of time memorialized

before they were mud.