Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty All I'm saying is I'm not ready For any person place or thing To try and pull the reins in on me ~~Mike Nesmith, Different Drum Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all. It is the little rift within the lute, That by and by will make the music mute.... ~~Tennyson, Merlin and Vivian The first harp came from an empty turtle. ~~Robert Bly, Meditations on the Insatiable Soul For I am made of stardust, and it hurts. ~~Jennifer E. Stahl
DIMMING THE LIGHTS
The Western World is giving up its heights, but its long unspoken depths are not so easily put aside….
The grandness of day and civilization recede. We are in the twilight of the gods, now, reentering realms discarded since The Church was the sole authority on science. Unprepared for the transition, but having thoroughly abandoned reasoned discourse, empirical methodology, and the idealism of Enlightenment systems, we glare into our subconscious with iPhone flashlights–and the litter is a mash of ancient rites and yesterday’s emails that we are wholly unprepared to untangle.
We have an incompetence in living with our unconscious depths that will not be easily shaken. Our politics proscribe forms of wrong behavior, (and prescribe forms of right behavior) without any comprehension, or any attempt to comprehend, the breadth of human experience. Each side races to shrink hosannas and tragedies into some rigid public liturgy; any deviance in individual recital is seen as disobedience to the herd norm. Yet these litmus tests are so narrow and empty they cannot encompass the brainwaves of an amoeba, let alone the million prismatic instances of genius and peril that constitute just a single human life.
These are atrocious generalizations, but I feel in desperate need of a map, any map– and what greater generalizations are there than a map’s North, South, East and West? These poems begin to reclaim the dark of sleep, the deeps of unconscious material, for the use of individual guidance toward meaning and action in the broader world. When the buildings have gone down in flames, when the roads are empty, and traffic cops are pointing everywhichway with the feverish inconsistency of spinning tops…well, one must do what one can to re-establish an inner order that hugs the whole of one’s experience. The inertia of dreams is a good place to begin because they go back in time and temperament to the earliest human societies and circumstances. Dreams can provide a kind of inertial guidance system for the burnt-out modernist–anyone suspicious of the narrow “naked truths” on display in every shopfront, on every blogpost, every idiot bumper-sticker slamming its brakes in front of us.
In our private dark–sleeping, dreaming–we may still find a way to put our faces toward the dimming light.
Gregg Glory November 25, 2015 POEMS
THESE WORDS ARE ON FIRE
These words are on fire--on fire in you-- On fire really, literally, not like in a story Or some metaphor for life, but really burning In the sugars of your brain; in the caloric heat Of your expressive breath, too, these words Are on fire, exhaling my ontological being Like bones thrown on a campfire, scraps That flare in the conflagration of your night, The fire alarm that is your life today Clanging and busy with every human misery And mystery, every human thing that you are. Your thoughts scatter and leap in sparks, Engulfing your neighbors and lovers and children In the emergency that is your life. And into this conflagration, this catastrophe, Word by careful word, you have thrown me. Taste my happy ashes on your lips.
*** FINDING A LIFE RAFT ***
A WASH OF LIGHT
A wash of light soaks through the frozen-over windshield: It's enough to write poetry by while the car warms. Grievances, violences. My mind is full of angry violins --Scratching attacks, mad growls of tones. Fingers warm, my speedy breathing disappears Into the general heat of the moist, closed-in space, writing.... The sun resembles a snowball through the cloudy windshield, A cold headlight coming on through incomplete dawn. Last night was here so recently! Lying straightened in bed, Feathers of darkness fell all along the asphalt shingles above my body.... As I write, a baby's aggrieved cry becomes an inaudible coo, An old man's life-grief moults into acceptance.... We come to welcome the sleek black of our scuffed coffin The way we'd welcome an unexpected wedding guest Who shows up late and anxious, pigeon-toed at that, But all dressed up and ready in his rented tux.
LOOKS IN A DYING EYE
Dark veins open, and a shadow goes forth over whiteness, An eel moving out of its cave over clouds of coral; Sea winds sound in the ears of shoals of living fish; No air, and no rowing home to shore ever again.
SCANNING HEADLINES FOR MERCY
The needles of terrorists' bullets are burrs on our eyes. Blind with pain, we slap our heads frenetically. We lodge the bullets deeper with curses repetitious as prayer.
A BONE HORN
Marrowless, this black-ringed femur, Rigged to blow one resounding note forever Crowing the winner's standing exultation ...Lies where Indians left it on their mountain. Around the long horn unburied by rain, a few pines Gather, dark mourners on a ring of bland rocks. A low wind shrugs through heavy serapes. I pick up the tarnished roadside bone, delicately wipe Particles of dirt until it gleams in my bare hand-- A tube now only, without meaning, A dead white weight of death and silence.
HOLDING ONTO GRIEF WITH BOTH HANDS
Who was the one I was grieving for today? I went to the mountain forest to find the body. I walked straight up those hills until it was night, Held a candle over my head in the dark and wept. I followed that river down out of the mountains Where valley slopes slow like white flocks landing.... With both hands, I held to the earth for my only comfort, And the wind there whispered: "Nothing is saved."
The graveyard air is faultless--clear White stars shine through it, crisp sandgrains Still wet with huge intimacies of the sea. Wave after feathery wave, they sift loose shyly.... My dead live here, talking in their sand house Under the groundhog's old mossy hole. Oak roots knuckle outward, sheltering the soft door. Their voices are light as paper shifting in darkness. For a long time I stand still as a star--I listen As if the dead were delicate, held in a child's palm, Lips parted with curiosity, a feather.
A TREE FALLEN INTO WATER
I walk straight out along the fallen trunk still solid With the life that had left it years ago, before I was even born. I put my arms out for balance, walking down toward the calm water And then over it, my bare feet feeling the hard beaks of bark ridges that run like seams down an old man's face. Where water touches the long trunk, some gets sucked Into open seams, like an eyedropper preparing its dose. Smaller branches radiate smoothly out from the main body As if to keep the fallen tree's balance over dark water. There's a charge, a power in the water, like the cold potential of snow, That touches my face when a breeze wrinkles it. Kneeling down to drink, I see those branches that reach below the clear Surface of the black reservoir are slick with green algae, green moss.
THE SENSE OF DEFEAT
The field mouse with berrylike eyes has bedded down For the day. Carefully placed leaves cradle Ears that could be flooded by an eyedropper. What music is small enough to entertain his dreams? For years I've watched the same great tree in the yard Divide and subdivide its massive wheel of roots until Even tiny blossoms can bend it down in spring. What is greatness or smallness in living things? A single match can burn down an entire house! Surely there's that which I desire as the tree desires the sky, As the mouse desires his contented littleness in his hole. What, besides friendship, and a few things more?
THE UNSEEN QUARRY
“the mountain seemed… raw materials of a planet dropped from some unseen quarry”~~Thoreau
1. The mountain pinnacle has seashells in it. The climber's powdery hand touches once-living swirls. With his feet on the old ocean floor a mile underwater He sees a hundred miles of our world easily. 2. Peering with a glass-bottomed bucket along the shore, A child sees his bare feet touching mountain snow. The snow is soft and warm as in his dreams. Small tinselfish swim between his naked legs above the snow. For the moment everything seems calm and clear.
Lie down in the soft ‘no' of the snow forever.
TWO SMALL POEMS ON MY SHADOW
My shadow leaves trails of smoulderings... Wherever light has fallen through me Focused by my magnifying glass. . . . . When sundown comes yawning its shadows... When I and the tree and the grass-crested hill are one... It's just my shadow waking up to dream.
A man who is suffering invites friends over. A small bottle of rum sits dark as a pupil In the green felt circle of his poker table. Kings and queens are taken up and put down in silence. The men might be sleeping under straw hats, Bobbers nodding unnoticed between bare, rough feet. Dark summer blows in through a window.... And the men hear the night train passing With a sound of jail doors sliding shut On row after row of the condemned.
SEASONS OF MEN
Each day men drink the rich griefs of their lives Silently after work--each word widowed In the half-light, winnowed in elbowed bars Crowded with the grunts and hups of football. Other men, ones with the delicate balance Of rarefied ballet dancers, make parabolas Explode at half-field--one extended finger enough To call the drilled ball down from heaven.... Enough to hold the pigskin seed in the belly And feel beaten men fall all about and upon you Heavily as grain-sacks. Enough to know they're defeated, That you and the grass and the held seed have won.
THE WAY BACK
She bent around the fender, low, Filling her eyes with the injured wing-- Snap and struggle; slow, then slower... Her eyes all tears and shining. I stood quiet beside her, knocked A slender Pall Mall from the pack-- Silent till the burning reached a knuckle, The hum of the engine gone slack: "The sun's getting gone, dear." Her shoulders tightened at that. She folded herself back in the car And we drove that way all the way back.
WAKING UP SCREAMING
We wake, pulled by our hairs into the light, screaming. Every one of our hairs is standing up and screaming! The dream we had loved is dead, but we are alive.... Hair roots, curled in their dark, hear muted echoes Of the never-ending grief daylight brings us. All day, dreams without a dreamer run loose. In brain dark, in mind dark, uncut thoughts Grow shaggy and obscene. Thoughts wrestle Inside us, hairy bears fierce and dark. Hairy hands With long yellow nails smack the dream belly.... When we rejoin our dreams, lying back in the spitting vat, They scream all night, jungle parrots nobody hears. We ourselves are deaf to them, to the dark Magnetic thoughts, the inner things we think While our eyes rest and our hair is pulled inward, Reverse lightning folded back time-lapse into earth-black Clouds; the brain, heavy and hairy, raw as a blind potato.
All day it was night inside me. I was a shuttered Building, my sides afternoon red, with only Flash touches of deep night showing In windows--black eyes turning shyly away That had been bold the night before.... And then Night arrives: night from under eaves falls Cold into cornfields: my hidden self Rides out into it: escaped darks everywhere Cut only by squares of window-light.... Quiescent grass is laid open by pallet knives Of yellow pigment like a tire skid--fugitive lights Now the loud car of day has made its getaway.
WHITE BEAK OF THE MOON
I wake at midnight. There, through the dim window, is the Fiery haunch of the moon! The window was black before the moon came by, My thoughts buried in busy sleep. And now, in moonlight, I see A bird asleep in the juniper nearby, its white beak Under its wing, fierce songs under freezing feathers, Each feather dipped in the moon's ladled mercury. What are days that they become nights such as this? Already the answer is eating up the question.
ROLLING OVER AT 3AM
The moon--unstrange, unexpected, intrudes. There are no clouds. Just a few Indistinct corners of dusty wisp lit up By the moon's nude bluish flashlight. I have chronicled my life With the moon's comings and goings, Which everyone can see for themselves! I can't even see to swim in this rivery darkness!
HOLES IN THE LIFE RAFT
Mist hovers on the night lake like a life raft. Blue urgencies of the afternoon have faded, Pewter shades flatten the world to a picture. Onshore, my shadow and I play tag by moonlight, Chalky figures in a dim Rembrandt rendition. We touch first at one foot then the other: this foot, that foot, Then chase along the unchurned rim sand, water lapping, Then just hands touch as I cartwheel once-- Can't take this mortal coil too seriously While cranberry wine stays so cheap! Meanwhile, out on the lake, Holes in the life raft appear and close without sound.
THE FRACTURED PATHS
Time has gone on for so long, I no longer know what to think! Angry drums of the car wheels flatten to shreds; A jaybird crouching in his hovel of branches Cracks a nattering song.... Day again; and ochre, cerise and pink fingers Reenact Homer in the long trail of clouds Whipping past the back of the dark ShopRite.... Sun has not yet tarnished the lower waters of puddles. The surrounding dead no longer throng my dreams. The fractured paths they wander have returned to bed. They wait politely for me to finish up, their hands folded, At the edge of the grass.
DUST OF FROST
Going out for my morning paper, I see The first dust of frost on the stone stoop. How quietly summer must've danced away!
THE SLOW PRESENCES
The slow presences of winter clouds in these hills. What hand behind the cloth? What windshield Keeps them from pressing into the earth?
*** JOINING HANDS WITH THE GRASS ***
I HAVE BEEN DRIVING LIKE HELL TO GET HERE
Pastels of pastureland flit rapidly past The window that closes over my life Like a dome. Am I the motor of my own going? Doubts flick into my face, hands full of car-wheel As though carrying a doughy wet baby awkwardly From the pool to the sun-porch, slippery being, A freight of sunshine in my burning arms.
SOME PEOPLE LIVING ON THE PLAINS
Some people who live on the open plains Think like sailors. Their lives sail thorough waves of grass, Eye-high stalks of waving wheat, Familiar with squinting at horizons. They sway-stand, Feeling earth unstable beneath them.... The barn enlarges like a frigate nearing, Horses gorgeous as mermaids, Dogs happy as sea-otters. Even at noon They know they are alone on vast wastes, No sextant to show the way.
THE BLACK TADPOLE
The tadpole is bulking up its black bulbous head; Huge thoughts protrude and the eyes bulge. Its long tail, once subtle and swift as a ribbon, Reels in, shrinks to a cape, then A small triangle hood, a judge's black cap, Then no tail below hunched shoulders. The tadpole, a black rock, is all brain now. Like a rock's shadow it sits all day In the mud, motionless Until it leaps!
POETRY, THE OLDEST HUMAN ENDEAVOR
1. Don't write what you feel, that's not enough. Don't write what you see, you're being deceived. Write only what you feel when looking closely. That's best, though painful. 2. Man is a herd animal. Follow the bent grass, and you'll find him Muddying the river, his head low, Drinking deep. 3. I can see the first old shaman, way back, Holding up his chicken bone and singing about the universe, Firelight lasering about him.
I AM THE ARROW
Nature points the poet, Willfulness tautens the bow. Love looses the arrow.
BEING A SNOWFLAKE
Fleets of late autumn clouds are thinking, Down, Crowds of trees and animals, Look up, While each zagging snowflake sings, I am.
STANDING ON A STONE
There's a kind of hard sanity in a stone, A place to stand and look at stars. A place for sleep beneath stars pinned inside The skull of night... smells of woodponds among pines, That small resonance of sap and stillness, black Abandoned reflections that go a hundred feet deep! I know my bones, and sleep on them, heavy. There's sanity in their steadfast ache, The tension of a blade swimming through muscle. Through many years of sleeping, and of dreaming, I've charted my inward stars and prayed beneath them, Cold knees on the stone, stars where stars are.
THE THINGS NEAREST
Today I tighten my daily tie and look At the things nearest in my untidy nest To hold them mindfully while day turns, For what's nearest is easiest to forget. I lay rough hands more roughly around Rungs of my bentwood chair, knowing how All worlds flow through my ordinary room Worn every day around me like a favorite belt: Syria's sandy shadow on the calendar and Japan's swans on travel posters, keep pace With walls moving thousands of miles per hour; Swiss Alps sharpen long rows of pencils, oceans Follow the same moon as my water-bottle. I watch the cat's world fall asleep on her paws, Her ears listening to a wilderness within Where untame things are flying, singing out Loud and alertly, and all within my room.
BEING SMALL THINGS
1. AN ABANDONED OAR My days of rowing are over. I lie in the sand; and the surf Never reaches me now.... Its long fingers of foam, Its cold flash along my spine. I could be the wing of a plane, The fallen plank of a windmill, Exiled from flapping and skies. But I am an oar. I've spent my life filleting the deep, Raising small white scars On blue waters; and then leaving, Handled by callous hands. I lie in the sand; and the surf Never reaches me now. 2. CHANDELIER I'm hung with small lights like crosses. My strong iron is strung on a string. My smile is gorgeous but frightening, I spread my fiery wings! Each hour is quartered with losses. Each night I'm lit up like a drunk. The strangers, a family, the darlings, Break bread beneath my sparkling. They leave me hungry and alone in the dark. 3. THE BOTTLE Once the vodka's gone Down a drain, down a throat An eye looks in to check-- Enormous, Godlike, fringed with lashes. And I become clear, not hollow, Unless the way a bass is hollow It is so full of possible notes. A child finds me in the alley, Licks my lips, and blows A soulful whistle out of my belly For a few hours one afternoon, The sound unpronounceably lonely. Thrown into a passing river I float for a while, spinning, A glass-bottomed boat showing stones And weird fish flashing by Until I sink into invisibility. 4. A GOLDFISH I confess my memories Are possibly possessed By madness: void, distorted, Erased like a chalkboard Some mysterious force Has powerwashed black. If I remember once Wanting some one thing, It was to grow beyond All this childishness So I could finally play Forever--a sea-going fish Who trusts the rising wave That surrounds him, That carries him with it. 5. THE SLOW EYE OF THINGS Train yourself to look With the slow eye of things. Speak in such a way. In summer, Include a garden's iron palings And the rust to come. In winter, Sense the glimmer in the frost That aches for light's release.
THIS LIVING FORSYTHIA
Along saffron branches beside wet asphalt roads, Tiny cups of flowers pop tenderly out.... Small flowers, mounds of yellow crayons peeling, This living forsythia: a trembling, waterfalling fountain! The sound the wet road hears is a man Walking all winter who has stopped walking. I stand in shivering air filled to overflowing, Singing suddenly with upturned mouth and eye.... Deep in the crosshatch of branches, way in, house Finches are already eating up the soft, delayed buds.
THE WINDOW IS QUIET
The window is quiet, but everything comes through it. I want to write like that. Sunrise trees emerge like Q-tips from the ear of the dark. When the mylar sky comes close, its colors run Like pushing on a silvery balloon! What are we filled with, that this is what we come awake to? The wind's yeowling. Is it coming nearer to us Or following the dark, running away? Transparent's not the right word, exactly, Nor exactly wrong either. Look through the window; no need to touch the glass.
SOLITUDE WALK WITH ME
Tasseled lines of forest hills... watercolors Brushed onto screens of airy paper... banners Of ocean light, wavy and green and mantling; How smooth, how rapid, their interchange of tones! These hills are seaweed floating over ancient stone, Solid seas up-risen that break both heel and bone. Six-thousand years of silent looking tell me: I am alone.
Lice-like prayers pulse on the naked lips Of mad imams... thoughts that move in regimentation... Death in the beetle's face, death in his spurs. Why not have thoughts that live like water drops-- Rolling everywhere like dogs, doing their own thing! Curious enough about existence to evaporate.... Bells are sounding everywhere, ripples running everywhere... Days of rainfall... hosts of microscopic organisms Reenact evolution in every bead of water.
LETTING SECRETS OUT
Who has asked you here, and why Have you come running, wet and alive From inside your mother? Is there a secret you need to tell The rest of us panting here, run Alive out of our mothers too? Your eyes seem large with things And my ears are swirled to listen, Caves for words and owls. Bend close now, tell your secret To me, fly in among my wet Rocks and stalagtites, shake Wise silence off your wings, Let your secret become one Of my secrets too.
OUR WINTER BODIES
The sky is so clear today I could bite it! Cold drives our heads into our shoulders Hunched far down like the turtle's, shyly reptilian. Rainbow scarves tesselate wildly before our eyes. We have settled into our winter bodies today. We huddle around banked embers in the chest; Our breath flares up, orange and oranger, As if to burn the brown and dusty leaves.... Beyond us lie great clarities: white town sidewalks Swept clear as a dog-path through old pines; A globe of lake close by, clear and focused as a birdbath. When we are beaten into our winter bodies, Seeing things through an October mask, how loudly Worlds outside us go on rattling their leaves!
BITTEN BY RED ANTS ALL OVER
War comes. The ant cannot imagine dying, Its red head beaded with the others around the savage queen's neck. The ant was hatched to march, to obey. Invisible swift scents of the leader pulse connivingly. For all we share with ants, let's depart from that. Keep your head when the drum stirs. Look at the grass. Feel the timid air pass your heated ears, bathe your head. Sit in a circle, join hands with the grass for awhile.
THE SUNDAY DOG’S APPALLING BARK
The Sunday dog's appalling bark, a cry of sows Endorsing the rooster's raucous hauling forth of day.... I peer up from the damp drainpipe of my dreams-- The earth dreams... of rust... gold unopened ores... veins.... I see the morning sun arrayed on its swaying stalk, The sky in a water-pail walking. I open broken Wooden pens, cross mud overstepped with hooves: Each dirt mark is a hoof's beaten circle, almost complete.... All day dark heats of peat moss enclose deft hands, This richness burying... seeds... time burning.... Let the languorous resonance of the tower bell Tell the town asleep... what I cannot tell.
*** HIDDEN ROSES ***
DRUMMING IN MID-OCEAN
Give it up. Give it up! Throw your whole life out the window And watch it startle. Listen with the attentive ears of a bat, That blackness that captures. Imitate the loyalty of your own dog. A lot of things are happening Out there where weather gets started every day. Get wet in that. Sometimes, two patches of rain will meet Mid-ocean And become one drumming upon the deep.
A DOOR CLOSES
A door closes softly, and suddenly you Are gone, having considerately let Me sleep on and let yourself out. My dreams, which had been full Of the mild gold of Monet's haystacks, Drain away like mid-morning fog. I am left with a room precisely square. I am left with my discipline to continue My day, in the ordinary scent of me. I nose around the trail you have left Like a cat, in a pretense of indifference. I give up while watching the coffee cool And fail into my life for the millionth time.
HIDDEN ROADS IN THE ROSE
Beauty and mystery are so daunting! Abstractions vast as a landscape And no horizon home. You have left, and left a rose Behind you, for me to sleep with under My pillow, a trail of petals Frail as your departing breath: Something you said about dreams in the garden mind, A greenness we each keep secret. There's a closeness, a smallness In what you have left me; this one thing, So privately left to me alone. All night I ride down the roads Hidden in the rose You have opened.
FINDING EACH OTHER
There's a glue that sticks us where we pause, A magnet that attracts, pulling the iron in Our blood into an invisible arrangement, lines Of force like patterns of a great history Dragging Hannibal's horses or trains of cold Cannon over the Alps. That's how it still Is when our eyes meet, two bullwhips Tangling each other like a mad handshake Testing the wild pull of freedom--while love Comes with carrots, patting the long nose With its crooked white streak, and saying, Softly as feathers, "Whoa, now, whoa."
Something close and potent is in my life. I turn over grumpily in the hot bed And clasp her, a mollusk saved by a passing freighter!
THREADS OF WORDS
I notice we are speaking of nothing Again, our words returned tight to the spool, And the spool sits there, silver and glittering, Waiting to unreel and catch what passes: A pebble of thought, a gesture renewed From loving days that passed last winter. Words arrayed fine as a bridal veil in the sun Catch something living perhaps, small as a dot.
AT FIRST LIGHT
I like you for no reason. What's the cost Of liking first, and regretting only in case? If you live busily you may never discover Multitudes of bruises even the best Of us leave each other--the quick turn Away, the slow acceptance of a gift given. Think how hard it is to understand a car At first glance, all those moving parts Hooded and chromed. Or how hard it is to see Flight in a fallen feather, love in parental Discipline. At first light, looking Is a flurry of painful blinks.
CROSSING THE MIDDLE DAYS IN STARLIGHT
When the husband meets his wife at first, He sees himself in her as she sees him: Long-boned and noble, a little brave. When husband and wife cross looks in their Middle days, days too busy, full of blurred words And busy hands--cool nights of rainwater Fill each others' eyes; and there is grass, too, Growing calmly under their hectic feet. The idea of who you are bothers you less as You get a little older; things go dim around You, the things within you still real as leaves Dancing, starlight on a tulip, the sss of a simmer. When the husband then meets his wife at last, He is in her eyes as he has come, finally, to be: Simple as a stone, a man standing on the grass They've grown under their feet, under warm Stars together every night of their lives.
NETS OF TOGETHERNESS
How many words link our nets of togetherness! In a lifetime, a married pair will utter millions, All flavors, at every decibel blared or hushed; The nets of words cast, one over the other, Veil after veil, are full of sacred fish, the fish Jesus divided among his flock--their silver bellies Caressed by a thousand touches, bitten by a thousand teeth. Torches we have carried ten thousand nights appear Where nets of the lovers' mouths elongate to vowels, The stars still inside them, constellations and all.
STARS FALLING IN A LION’S MANE
We picnic on fallen October hayfields As if pitched upon a lion's mane. The stubble is still soft, and grass pokes through; Summer is in our bodies like an electric coil cooling. The sun is risen far up from the gullies, The wine's still cold and fresh. We are far away from death, we two. Occasional clouds pass in white pairs; Night sleeps under a woolen blanket in Kyoto. We feel hot when the breeze dies down, And laugh out loud, spilling bright square Crackers everywhere like falling stars.... Flies nuzzle the jam jar sleepily, Making slow black circles around the red.
THE GLASS ANTELOPE
I labored at the bellows until it was second nature-- The rapture of the rhythm came easily then, Clear shapes opened over intense fire, the fire Going in gold and heavy as an ear of corn. I push the belly hollow with my nothing breath Like blowing a hunting horn over and over in the cold.... And then the tweezing pull of legs from the mass, Many pinches, quick, for the antlers limber As candelabra, lithe brachiform coral dancing Crystalline, an ice-laden dogwood in winter.... Tuning the nostrils with a bit of scrap wood, a spike; Trimming the hot hooves with steel clippers last And standing it here before you, a glass antelope.
LAKE GEORGE SERENADE
A CANOE AGAINST DARK WATER
The effort of one consciousness, or a mated pair, to hold together…the uneven weight of each foot entering a lake-borne canoe against the dark water….
1. DRIVING AWAY FROM HOME
There's nothing here but strange sky, strange land. The leaves are in their autumn beauty, of course; The trail up leads nimbly away from hotel hot-cakes; At our feet unrolls a lake named George. We drove up here because our home was crowded, Loaded down with familiar things: the bag of purrs That is the cat resting, the huddle of photoed friends Enlivening a shelf above my writing desk. "You'd best not lie to us," they say; and I look Numbly away, dismantling ice castles on the page.
2. THE HUDSON WALKWAY
The whole thing feels unevenly alive As we step out onto it, the donated planks Ribboned with names of other walkers Who came here first and left their names Graffitied in charity. Below our feet: the river vivid As ever, old rusty rail tracks tacking Back and forth into history, bearing (As we do the air) its heaviness Slowly swaying under all.
3. SENSING MISTS FIRST THING TODAY
Beyond your gold ass on hotel sheets at Ft. Wm. Henry, Mists settle in sullen crevices of the mountains, Pearl-ash dull over the too-long lake's aching sparks. What is there to do on this weekend away? I toggle the fireplace switch; blue acetate flames Jump among log-shaped ingots under dim glass.... The early chill of this closed-down summer town! A showboat paddle-wheeler creaks at rest, Its great wheel covered like a useless swimming pool.
4. WHEN THE BULL-WHEEL TURNED
Back when the bull-wheel turned, When folks rolled up the mountain Waving from the gondola's cocoon, Anxious for a healthy retreat On Prospect Mountain--the view down Was very nearly the same as Today: yellow leaves mixed in With dwindled pine, bright lakes Teaspoons along the long valley Of the arterial Hudson River.... After Garfield was shot down by The measured bullet of an anarchist, After Little Big Horn hit the papers, Manifesting destiny, those folks Would take the coal-powered steam Bull-wheel railcar to the mountaintop Day after day for days for the Same long-range view as today: Two-thousand feet above daily Stress, and not an extra step taken.
5. FLAT ICE, FLAT CLOUDS
Soon this November lake will be flat ice, flat clouds, And fish dull creatures within it; Red clouds reel by like a painted lampshade Lit somehow from deep within themselves. ...Graceless bare shortcuts crisscross the dead grass, Hurrying toward appointed coffins; I remember the flat cackle of backfires, The broken-heartedness of rainstorms.... I think about the stopwatch of the heart For a while, the stuttering race it measures: How we paint the wide world with our eyes And read so intimately what's scribbled there! My history is written on Egyptian tomb walls, Baked in the daily bread the Pharoh ate... The Nile-side stone caught in his sandal That became sand.
6. GETTING READY FOR DREAMS
All around the lake edge, night. Small dots of lights, long tails In the water; Wings brushing a face Hurrying away.
7. SAYING THINGS CAREFULLY
A winter rainbow showed up in clouds like a scar. "It's fake," says a friend who saw the snapshot Glimmering in my palm on my little phone. What do we know of beauty hung like crepe in the skies? Science will report "waterdrops and sunlight," But is that what inflates my heart like a balloon? Is our idea of heaven just misremembered dreams Lifting invisible vapor into heavy, burnished clouds Until a rainbow like a scar flashes out at sundown? My friend touches my hand, warm blood in a glove. Our eyes roll together from screen to sky. We feel we are remembering a single dream.
8. HOLDING A PLACE (AT LAKE GEORGE)
September clouds open and close like an eye. Sunlight brushes over high hills softly, An eyelash of light on a dark cheek. How quietly the paddle-boat waits for a foot! When the foot comes in, too fast, there is such rumbling! And then the steady effortful heave across the lake. Two feet move like man and wife across the water. When one pushes down hard, the other is Lifted high up, a child on grown shoulders, And the whole open world is right there.
*** THE IMPOSSIBLE MESA ***
STANDING IN ECSTASY
Some days alone I am so happy My smile is a bowl of clear water Set out full on the sill, eating suns Or dimpled with plumed skies. The black cat leans close to drink me. She carries my happiness back inside her Right to the tip of her staticky tail!
A LONG STAR AGO
A long, long star ago Jacko folded together a house of paper And pushed you through the low door, an aphid. How he fattened you up with green leaves! Leaves of verse Jacko kept dropping from his soft branch, Darkly, in his crowded house. And all the aphids sang together, Whirled their tiny proboscises in the air and sang! You sang, too, a little, About sweet mint Jacko pulled from his pockets... Swept up in wings of feathery boughs.... Until you were saved--fat enough to eat!
WAITING ALONGSIDE GRASSBLADES
Something is happening to the plain grass As it elongates on the grainy lawn. Perhaps something is happening inside, or at The invisible back of things as we see them.... Just look at those clouds, those purple Portuguese Man-o-wars, trailing their half mile of tendrils-- Perhaps the way puddled moonlight churns Dark under the dark dock, and knocks there.... Or how soulfully the heavy church bell waits All week for Sunday wildness.... Perhaps the way That happens, perhaps something like that Abides beside me, inside me, now.
CLIMBING IMPOSSIBLE MESAS
I climb broken steps of the desert mesa: Broken teeth in an infected mouth. Wounded cactuses line my route, tall as crosses. I look down, out, and see imperfection orchestrated: The broken clouds, the broken steps, the crooked river. I stand abashed and beaten: Waterfalls of impossible perfection!
BREAKING ICE ON THE HORSE TROUGH
Bits of sky tear off and run away from us. Whatever we thought reality was this morning Changes: the workboot that fit a left foot Cries its tightness going out to break Dawn ice on the horse trough. This morning is like other mornings; Sleep lets go of me, hands releasing the wrestler; The bed creaked and wept, and the floor Was so cold! Night horses come forward from the barn Stamping; exhale bales of misty breath; Line up trembling at the black renewed Waters, and lower their long heads to drink. We enter a new reality together Out of the same forgotten dream.
TRAVELING TIRED MILES FROM HOME
Hypnotic trains are hurtling by night, Seed-like shuttles in an enormous loom. Silver miles of track weave endlessly. Moons watch metal webs appear overnight. The frail couple across from me Pales with cheap fluorescents. Their hands lie near each other, but do not touch; Their gloves have been removed and set aside neatly; Their old faces look up, hatched with lines and happy.
A MISSED STEP
Sometimes, walking with wide eyes On horizons, an unstoppered hole Eats your footfall. A gap in balance, Quick pause almost falling, just before Quick recovery of your balance.... You are floating... you are air, all Air, your fingertips chill, waving Air, your walking breath upended: Huffed out, or, worse, swallowed. ‘Open' is a fool's word, you think. Then your slouched shoulders open, Feel suddenly the unhidden wings.
A STONE CLOUD
A stone cloud moves, white majesties I ride like a wet rug all I dare-- Among its oval moons, crocodile teeth Scraped and flat, I am chewed and tossed. God's wide spider eyes slide over me, Clear blue broken sky, until blood chums From my chest with a rusty smell of coffee. My old life lies piled by the screen door, Brown packages I'll never open now, griefs Too deep to tell. I lay under a naked tree In shaded grass so terribly cold and thin; It touches like hair all over, my eyes closed. I hear a bird beat living wings in the branches, Singing red notes on so bare a thing.
KICKING BROWN LEAVES AROUND A HICKORY STUMP
There's an old hickory stump I go back to often. I sit there and think a good deal about the leaves Laid out before me if it is autumn, or the leaves Whispering above me if it's late spring or summertime And everything's talking fine, with the light rolling down. In winter, I walk back booted and covered. There's only myself to think about: two brown leaves, My hands, restlessly in my lap, the fields surrounding Sometimes layered with silent snow everywhere Outside me, sometimes just within.
SLEIGH-RIDE IN CENTRAL PARK
It's Christmastime again, and you mount the city sleigh Around the claustrophobic park, all those dreary Oppressive grey summer things are gone Under a snapping cloak of December snow again. Each black trunk marks a magic circle in the snow.... Beams of darkness reach up and meet the sky-dark. Below you, the horse's wet hooves ring and knock. At what muddy door are they hammering? Where will you travel when the earth splits And light opens outward for blinded, aged Oedipus ...Years past his suffering, in that slow-witted human Way maybe even the Bhudda never knew?
Tonight's moon is like looking up into the top of a lampshade Where the light draws a circle on the ceiling. When a lasso draws a cow down to earth to be branded, I think: does a moonbeam draw upward with such strength? Tonight's moon is like looking up into the top of a lampshade. Someone goes on standing on their porch awhile longer: Barbed wire twinkles above the shaggy fieldgrass Bursting into its pollen-time with seedy passion. Sitting on a fencepost, I watch moon-mottled cattle travel Slowly toward water, brands blue on their haunches.
My circles were small. Day, night. My context was milder than cream. My song, a stamping of bare feet. The mirror's tongue licked my face. At noon, I disappear in smoke, A spoon licked clean of its dollop, My poor body on fire, a flame Climbing up life's rope As along a fuse. To what white cloud am I traveling?
Brawling clouds that carry my breath, my name, Are visiting Minnesota; the violet seed I threw On snow last winter lingers in the cardinal's bones. What effect I have continues happening. What I have been is in my being still, beating Blessedly or damnably in my wrists. I regather thrown grain in a cloth bag, and pour it Golden down a funnel's throat; kneading bread flour, My hands whiten in the dough, Minnesota clouds.
LONG CLOUDS OF THINGS
Lines of trees against the sky stand etched, scratched Blood and sap and ink; and I am stretched, a saw nib Flush against white paper that eats attention. So, too, you are stretched and hatched, etched, Made visible against long clouds of things You love today and that are your life.
November shadows define themselves against my sides. They try to get inside me, affectionate black cats Making biscuits, and I the basket lined with warm flannel. Ever since spring, I've been falling away from myself, White petals liberated from a shaken dogwood. In summer, I danced at my own feet in the grass.... Now, many years after my mother's death, finally There is no more heavy grief In my body. Now my shadow blows down the street like an escaped cape! It tumbles in the flattening winter landscape Hurried by an unknowable wind.
KNEELING UNDER EVERGREENS
Afternoon kneels down among sepia pine needles. Where two needles join, a pair of working oars open In the small wind of your breath. A minuscule boat Rows rapidly out from the hard shoreline.... The boat departs the shallows of your shadow --It is heading into the deeps! Sounds of waves and the lost calls of sailors surround The intrepid craft, waving its wild antenna in the spray.... The dark acidic water is an ocean of black ants! They seethe body over body endlessly as dreams.
I find an attractive rock in mud. I smooth it clean in the river near at hand; The rock's dark veins glow strongly; More, the more thumb and water Hurry back and forth. Something rolls solidly in my palm; Something simple escapes my saying. --A white pine needle can't be the whole tree, Can it? Why should I have to explain God, Even to myself? Days later, I look down at the dull stone Dry and cracked-looking in my hand: I remember the black slather of mud, the thin Wetness of water--an eye of something Looks up from there.
WRITING WITH FLASHLIGHTS
Holding a blue ballpoint pen like a flashlight, You travel the darks of the page blank, empty. The flashlight held before you flickers off Unexpectedly a few times, like lightning: The forest around you is humid with low clouds. Your blouse sticks to your skin. You've forgotten why you're on this mountain. What are you looking for through the hairy trees? A sound stirs; something illegible as night; You chase after it, past flowing bush And boulder, following your small cone of light Until dense woods break into baldness And you're alone with the clouds, wet and dark. The night sky eats all your light in an instant. Stars have been writing their sentence for centuries: This is why you were born.
WATCHING DRIFTWOOD IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Tired with my old life, I come to the seashore And watch battered sticks drift in and out Of dirty tidal foam, cracked and gored With holes whose dark remains impenetrable. How I long to throw my life away! To float Like those unsinkable sticks, but I fear the ocean Powerfully throwing me back and forth forever, My soul sucked into a small hole's impenetrable dark. Farther out on a spar of igneous rock, strange Yellow lizards skitter and hang upside down. How happy, inventing new ways to be happy On sunlit slabs of rock! Why can't I live like they do? Staying warm on a wide skirt of stone, breathing In and out with my sallow belly, eating flies.... A black wave tumbles among the gravel at my feet Erasing flat lithe sounds of lizards' tails.
MULE DEER BREATHING NEAR NIGHT PINES
The mule deer shuffles with a wounded Leg, delicately, her injured limb lightly Upheld as a lifted puppet, all balsawood, With one unlit spot over the backward knee. She pauses beside a big longleaf pine to stare, Eyes of dark oil full of private histories.... I feel how we both want to live, have the same Tug, intense, in our chests, the same cloth anchor Pulling steady against invisible tides. She flicks behind the shadowy screen of trees Before I notice two smaller deer dive behind The same heavy evergreen waves she has parted, Their mist breath fading as evening comes.
RAPPELLING INTO THE DARK
Rappelling at night into darkness, Ebony-scarred seas chant like chain-mail Beneath me. I sense, not see, cool cave-mouths Open randomly, adoringly, along my route; Sometimes my feet swing in, wildly as a bell, Surprised hands grip the rope harder in prayer-- Each emptiness at my side as I descend Is an extra dark in darkness like a black star. Soon I will be at the bottom-most part Of the cliff! Excitement rises like steam In my veins; burning hands tremble on the rope And down I go, faster, faster into darkness! Soon the sizzling sea will be eating at My ankles, my feet treading water in the Origin of life! I'll pull the cold salty water Up like wet socks--up, up all the way Over my head--until sleep comes and Sleep drowns me, and I am saved.
SPEAKING INTO THE GLARE OF PUDDLES
I've looked too long the wrong way Down a collapsing telescope, held things Far from me that should hover fearfully near-- Wings of dragonflies active as eyelashes; The glare of puddles gone tomorrow; Raptures of grass the snow is always burying; Offered help's hand on a doorknob, turning; Spatter of tears kept under eyelids; A million refugee sighs; despairs put off; Unwanted chores of the heart; seeing only Tiniest figures of love crumpled in the wastebin: Brothers; and father; and mother; and you.
STONES TO HOLD YOU
This poem is made of stones to hold you At the bottom of the river--your clothes Loosen and float ghostly about you, weeds Close their luminous green curtains softly. Only the words have weight, only the words Stay on this journey beneath surfaces; Bubbles lift from your mouth as you say them.... Take these words, one by one, and put them Deep in your pockets--let knuckles whiten And go cold around their friendly grey eggness. Don't look left or right--plunge into the river! Take the persuasive curves right up to your elbows! When the bottom goes slack, keep walking! Keep going until cool rings of silence close over Your head, engulfing every word with brown swirls, Your blond hair drifting silently among the weeds.