Aug 272015


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Renewing America in poetry


Gregg Glory

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I knew… that I must turn from that modern literature Jonathan Swift
compared to the web a spider draws out of its bowels; I hated and still hate with an ever growing hatred the literature of the [confessional] point of view.
~~W.B. Yeats, The First Principle

There is one class of persons to which one speaks with difficulty,
and another to which one speaks in vain. The second, more numerous
and obstinate than… may at first appear.
~~T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society

Freedom is like a man who kills himself
Each night, an incessant butcher, whose knife
Grows sharp in blood.  The armies kill themselves
And in their blood an ancient evil dies--
The action of incorrigible tragedy.

And you, my semblables, behold in blindness
That a new glory of new men assembles.
~~Wallace Stevens, Dutch Graves in Bucks County

Writing in 1963, Friedan lamented the declining engagement of women in the life of the mind. She recalled a visit back to her alma mater, Smith College, in the late 1950s. Reading the college newspaper, she learned of a class in which “the instructor, more in challenge than in seriousness, announced that Western civilization [was] coming to an end,” and, in response, “the students turned to their notebooks and wrote ‘Western civ–coming to an end,’ all without dropping a stitch.”
~~Lauren Noble quoting Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique

It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the … great value
of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress that
is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this
freedom, to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and
discussed, and to demand this freedom is our duty to all coming generations.
~~Richard Feynman

As I understand it, laws, commands, rules and edicts are for those
who have not the light which makes plain the pathway.
~~Anne Hutchinson

I contend that the Negro is the creative voice of America, is creative
America, and it was a happy day in America when the first unhappy slave was landed on its shores.
~~Duke Ellington, We, Too, Sing America

Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.
~~W.B. Yeats

A well-furnished mind is not a citadel of retreat, but an outpost
of advancing civilization.

How does our polyglot nationality not break us into so many mosaic pieces?

And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e'er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,
Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays.
~~Anne Bradstreet

The Old Truculence

A note concerning the basic arc of this book of poems–to re-register grace and freedom as America’s primary metier.

Freedom breeds elegance. Not the inbred elegance of aristocracy, where beautiful ladies eventually come to resemble their Russian wolfhounds. Nor, simply, the truculent elegance of that sly Benjamin Franklin who, as ambassador to the French Court, refused to bow before King Louis the 16th or doff his coonskin cap.

Freedom breeds the desire to create one meaningful action with your entire life–the effortful elegance of the artist that James Joyce defined as the willingness to gamble your whole life on the wrong idea, a bad aesthetic, or, it may be, a genuine triumph. And America has created, and can still create, a unique scale of opportunity for such elegant “throws of the dice,” as Mallarme might say. A natty Fred Astaire (originally Austerlitz), gliding with the ease of an ice skater as he backs Rita Hayworth (a gal from Brooklyn) into immortality to a tune penned by the jewish Jerome Kern in an industry patented in the U.S.A. is but one example of the scale of that opportunity.

When you are free to do anything, a desire grows in the breast not to do just anything, but to do the best thing–and that is an aesthetic dilemma. The mere accumulation of capital, or the arbitrary exercise of petty power by minor government regulators, are two classic examples of the desire for a meaningful expression of life-status that lack the aesthetic instinct. Such timid ambitions grow most strongly where the full range of light is narrowed, and the blossom of selfhood must twist around corners to open its ruby glory in a thinning patch of sunlight.

Gregg Glory
March, 2013


Brief Dissertation

Go, little book, upon the wild and waving plains;
Evade the pricks of critics with laughing disdain;
Pluck, here and there, a blooming reader,
Whom, to thy father, there's no one dearer.
Go, little book, your inmost self unveil
Naked to the world's notice, who shall thy soul assail.

Come, My Dreams

Come gather round me, multitudinous dreams
That in the dim twilight are murmuring soft;
Come lay by my head in the pillow-seam;
Come carry my freighted heart aloft.

O, I would dare dream as few men dream
Beyond the cruel cudgel of the strong,
Beyond the purpled tapestries of is and seems   
Hung before my eyes, beyond cold right or wrong.

The Poet to His Countrymen

Inspiration's a silver ribbon of mist
Fallen thin from high Bridalveil;
Only a whim so cloud-soft can twist
Reality out of the high-fantastical.
Real life begins in utter dream;
In utter dream our rebel rhyme began,
The fought-for fairytale of freedom,
Cloud-soft as the dreaming cheek of woman.

Cloud-soft as a woman's dreaming cheek,
Jefferson's quill spelled out the wild desire;
Soft breath blew dry the shimmering ink
That tossed the regal tyrant to the fire.
Who would dream with me by the fireside
When the great gleeds glimmer and dim
First must soften his headstrong pride
And open his heart to the fire's whim.

Come dream beside me by the gentle fire
That roared old monarchs to the brink;
Come watch the red and yellow-red fire
Until our heads must nod and blink.
Softly, softly silver inspiration's mist
Flies chiming from high Bridalveil peak;
Listen to what whispering winds insist,
Cloud-soft as dreaming woman's cheek.

A Box of Worms

We grow the grass that Whitman trimmed and trod,
Under pilgrim boot and barefoot Indian, walkers for  war and God,
We seethed and twined our threads like a wave of the woven sea:
Before the first man gave cry or chant before firelit faces of his camp
We, beneath all the innumerable stories gathered there,
Beneath word and deed and all, threaded buried breast and bone
And sewed ourselves into the dirt that majesty might grow.
That majesty might grow and never look askance,
Our bodies with the bodies of those gone before have  danced--
Glittering naked selves, red with life, tongues churned in trance,
We mass among the buried roots that history might ascend;
That one good deed might come and rise above the rest
And destiny be made manifest and not remain an empty dream,
We seethe and twine our threads like waves of the woven sea.

Van Winkle Awakens

The old dream is gone, and the grief is here.
Two hundred years has my white beard grown
Before the first car rolled, before aeroplane had flown.
But the dream like a madness still in my eyes appears--
That none dare touch, dare take what sweat had made
Without oaktree silver on a rough palm laid.
The old dream is gone, and new grief is here.     

My good girl's grown, and my helpmeet's fled.
Thunder-cracks clout the Catskills, wild and loud,
Where fairy folk drank and leapt like clouds.
Now my love's still limbs lie buried and dead,
And the wind blows the rain on foe and on friend
And none are living who recall our fight to the end--
The old dream is gone, and my helpmeet fled.

Ichabod Dreams of Katrina Van Tassel

Her beauty stirred like mirrored fire,
Like perfection etched in cloudless glass,
Unstained by any but her own desire.

The dew that clung to her when she passed
--Ignorant and beauteous as a summer morn--
Shook rainbows when she wheeled.

Let love come wind his bitter horn
And pierce the bitter heart of my desire,
The bitter dark where my dream is born!

Always I hear amid the battering hooves
Her valorous laughter--echoes on stone worn smooth--
Always I see heedless sparks of her mirrored fire.

Night winds that set the tree-shadows loose,
Or upon the Old Dutch Bridge echo close,
Wail bleak knowledge the Headless Horseman and I

Ride to one desire.

A Tale in Acadie

Saddled by an unearthly sadness,
The leaves and I lack all gladness:
To no more adore my divine,
Intricate Evangeline.

Old, dear world, formed before I fell
To your dim dust, speak the spell
That calls her back from spirit's brink;
Pour the resurrecting drink.

I wander toward a dream recalled--
A dream I dreamed before my fall--
Of bangled arms that held me late:
Beautiful, elaborate.

Break, old world caught in fiery winds
Like a blown sailboat caught in irons;
I'll drown my everlasting shame
In your watery, wavering flames.

The White Tower

A white tower beckons, and I slowly turn
Up the helical stair, book in hand
And book in mind, unwilling to return
To the grassy fields below, the wild lands--
Because she, whose white visage set my heart ablaze,
Has turned aside to face another face.

I walk alone in my tower proud,
Wreathed with incense out of old books
And exchanging lightning with the clouds,
Who knew the high dismissal of your look--
And died to youth and carefree love
And all the lies true lovers prove.

Although you had me by your side,
You with love's allure were wroth,
Never relenting to be my bride--never
To follow my footsteps and be guest in my house.
"Better friends forever than lovers severed,"
Were the bitter words of your mouth.

Now you come out of the exhausted dread
Of dreams, in the pale negligee of death;
Great agate stones set by ear and neck.
My days march by on grim battlements
And grind out grim watches of the night.
Love is gone that had been our right....

The vision fades like falling snow,
Flakes disintegrating from my bandaged brow.

Three Trinkets

The phantom lover of Forepaugh’s

Midnight comes and dims the mind,
The room composed and dark;
Wind in the curtain my soul unwinds
Until my thoughts are black.
     Bell, book, and a candle-end.

I watch myself and look at her,
Her book but dust and polaroids;
What ghostly bell is that I hear
Echoes from the window-void?      
     Bell, book, and a candle-end.

A ghost sings in the lattice,
And a cricket sings in the hedge;
They sing away what matters
Till soul and mind grind edge.
     Bell, book, and a candle-end.

She had loved me lovely
When she had loved me once
(Oh, all those cold years ago)
Who now my midnight haunts. 
     Bell, book, and a candle-end.

I speak her name and fear for sleep:
A ghost is in the lattice;
The dark is dreary and the mind is deep:
I sing away what matters.
     Bell, book, and a candle-end.

Ballad of Billy the Kid

Every man's a fighting man,
By women or whiskey made glad--
Law's no more than smoke from a gun,
And luck the turn of a card.

For fourteen years desert dawn unfurled
Up the cold hillside where my Ma died;
God plumb stole her merry soul
Through a pinprick in her side.

That Fall I got nabbed by a tin-star man
For a sour mouthful of cheese I stole and hid.
That sheriff sure laughed;  he called me a calf,
And branded me "Billy, the Kid."

The winds blew cruel, and wide night shook
The tumbledown sun from the skies;
Up the jailhouse flue I climbed like smoke--
A white rope thrown on high.

Now the law and I are strangers
Cause the law ain't nobody's friend--
I lit out for the open range
And never looked back again.

"An outlaw's life's lonesome rough,"
Declared Pat Garrett, roisterer and rustler.
"Kid," said he, "there's cash on the hoof
High up Rosaverde Mesa."

Galloping nights chased hard-ridden days
High up Rosaverde Mesa--
My soul grew spurs where the coyote bays
And snowy stars bow low in answer.

Those times were best, with Pat my guest
--How sweet the senoritas danced!
We raised campfire cans to life's wry jest
And tossed playing cards for the chance.

* * * * *
Sleep lay deep on the bunkhouse keep,
And soft stars curled slumberin' blue;
A Mexican lady at my side lay sleeping,
And sleep lay on my eyelids too.

Did the darkness slide, that night I died,
Blowed down by Patrick Garrett?
Plugged in the back--despite his peacock pride--
Paid two dollars by a tin-star sheriff.

Tall stars are nothin' but bullet holes
Shot in the fabric of Time.--
Through one such pinprick I send my soul--
It's to those stars I climb.

It's among those stars my story's writ
(Now I am done with lying),
That others may learn by quickened wits
What I have learned by dying:

Every man's a fighting man,
By women or whiskey made mad--
Law's no more than smoke from a gun,
And luck the turn of a card.

Bonnie and Clyde

Cash is for rascals, and we've got none.
--Hold me again till we feel as one.
I'll juice up the car, now hand me that shooter.
--Aslant hangs the moon like a ghostly lover.

Kansas Nights, 1859

Quiet as milked cattle the exhausted lovers lie,
Wheat-work and bushel-work and draft-plough laid by.

Long the silo's sundial shadow falls 
East upon farmstead house and wall.

Old history is not new destiny yet:
The dawn which woke us has not made us complete.

As sunset descends, their dusky dreams arise
Wild among stars as the cook-fire dies.

Barefoot among the Pleiades two dreamers dance
Where wrathful winds but kiss their face--

And the world below them (that now is ours)
Rolls forgotten and green as they race the stars.

To the North Star

A Pilgrim Prayer

Red, red the holly seeds in the heart of winter;
Green, green the garland on the decorous door;
Bright, bright the berries as descending stars.
Christmas is coming, as we have come from afar.

Kneel, kneel to the child adored,
Who cried in a stable without any door.

Weave the holy holly round, hoop the sharpened leaf;
The season of cold is here, the hour of deep belief.
Look, look to the stars, and count the beats of your heart.
Deep glows the heart's desire, bright burns our woven art.

Running in the Rye

Holden Caulfield’s sleepy murmurings

All night the dream returns, running through the rye;
The stars are high accusers and castigate my crime--
My hidden guilt I must acquit, or innocence must die;
Starlight on young faces falls, cold as cunning Time;
All night I must be running, running through the rye.
Children dance at the cliff-edge, sleeping children lightly by;
I race to where they're dancing, roll small sleepers from the ledge;
Faces without deceit;  innocent they dance, innocent dream and lie.
--Stalking like an alley cat, I keep my ancient pledge!
Ribbons of rye are wet, wet as a weeping eye.

Unstained as stars they play, ignorant of their purity;
The moon's a rusty lamp hung up for them to sing and dance--
Wave-wild they are rushing, rushing through the rye.
Freedom in their limbs so lingers, they see nor gate nor fence;
All night I must be running, running through the rye.

Sorrow mars them none;  no sorrow attends the dancers' eyes;
But the shepherd who runs among them is wounded to the core:
Wounded I wake in sweat, wounded race and curse--O why
Are none saved by my running, no dancer of the starry floor?
The ribbons of rye are wet; wet my weeping eyes.


A brave saying
Can halt all braying
And make love real
--From a last appeal
(If not misdirected.)


The bell's tongue
Struck me dumb.

Johnny Appleseed

I walk among the dappled hills,
I hike from crest to crest--
In each valley crease I spill
Sweet apple-seed for unmade nests.

In freedom's air, no kingly care
Weighs down my brow or song;
Over hill, over land, or down the rivers grand
I sing my self-taught song.

Long my stride, for the land is wide
As I plant the pioneer root;
Free surge the seeds, and free springs the pride:
Green Eden must have fruit.

Over hill, over land, or down the rivers grand
I sing my self-taught song.

Ballad of the Jersey Devil

Night came creeping, the wildlife sleeping
Beneath the quiet laurel;
Bird and squirrel, young boy, young girl
Lay down without a quarrel.
No thunder clattered, it was utter still
By Batsto stream, by needled loam;
The wind swept chill through my window sill
In my dry Pine Barrens home.
Who knows what flood the Devil stirs in the blood,
Or what the Devil might bleed out?
"Pray," father said, "to be good, be good,
With prayer most devout."
"Clasp hands together in sacred prayer,"
He'd clamber to his knees;
"You hold unawares your holy soul there,
Do the Devil what he please."

"Sing your prayers soon, my son, my son,
Sing them fast and loud and strong;
To Kingdom Come your words must run, must run,
We tarry here not long."
Then a shadow strange on the window panes
Fell as I fell to my knees;
A ragged coat flapped from the silent lane
And stopped up the evening breeze.
I raced to greet with naked feet
The apparition in the breeze;
Once through the door, no more, no more
Of the stranger did I see.
I slid through the brake where the snakes do glide;
The moon was new and blushing shy,
Sharp pines brushed my shirtless side
And stars had deserted the sky. 

I did not want to meet that man, that man;
I could not let him go;
That man in the black coat turning, turning,
His shadow following low.

Through midnight sweat and swamp we went, we went,
And heard no bell grieve but the tinkling leaves--
In our swift descent, with heads down-bent,
Running past green graves of trees. 
O, father dead, my head was hurting, hurting!
I prayed but no one came;
And the dark stranger kept on running,
Running just the same.
I'll see if he crosses the tossing waters,
The waters of Batsto stream;
That's a devil-test that will his race arrest,
Or so my father deemed.
He passed the mark so lightly, lightly,
I began to doubt my heart;
With his crooked step unsightly
Did he but play a devil's part?

Like a July rocket, my lead step he mocked;
He ran like crooked lightning;
He ran to the roar of the Jersey Shore,
The waves rose black and frightening.

Then the man in the black coat turned once more,
Leaping hill and hollow running;
His strange face glowed like a shadow's hole,
And he stopped his turning.
I stood forlorn on the moonless shore,
The windy pines were tragic;
The wanton moon waned and hid her face for shame, 
And the Devil did his magic.
"For you I have a place prepared."
Old hoofprints circled the fire;
Burnt logs arranged with symbols strange,
And strange birds sang in choir.
My knees in the Devil's sand hit hard, hit hard,
But prayer I had none;
Just these words my numb ears heard,
Spoken by someone:
"Man spends his little life running, running,
He tarries here not long;
Midnight comes, and comes a turning,
And comes an end to song."

Columbus, The Emerald Admiral

The wind lay like enamel on the emerald waves,
Like enamel the eyes that on that emerald gazed;
They couldn't tell, those old sailors, not tell at all
The green of the wave from the green of the hill;
Columbus drew with practiced compass point upon 
The monstered blank of nameless seas;  beyond 
His circle-eye revolved a circle world.
A crimson cross beat on the mainsail's square
Barren as a cloud in the azure glare;
One miraculous push broke the sumptuous hush,
New world and new day born in the luminous surf;
They couldn't tell, those old sailors, not tell at all
The green of the wave from the green of the hill;
Were it not for the fragrant tide, and the cry
Of land-hungry gulls--broken crosses in brawny skies--
No midnight cove would bear a rowboat's divot
For all the Catholic gold Queen Isabella spent.
The old sailors in plangent prayer hung their heads;
In Santa Maria's oaken hold sang manacles and beads.
The land a blade at dawn past the hashing wash,
Driven from Plato's Cave in one flash of truth;
Land that'd been small as a green-fly in the spyglass
Grown great beyond the circuit of the compass;
The Captain's edgeless map unfolded to a fantastic shape:
A misty moon, a calm palmetto tree, a sandy cape.

Phillip Freneau Addresses Naked Liberty on His Knee

To one who is all love unbound
I give the velvets of this voice--
The rounded syllables of this sound.

Fly past precincts of mere chance, mere choice!
Let freezing History hiss silent arctic scholars,
Not you, with its cool, histrionic noise.

Let you come near as kisses on a collar;
Be near, till breath inflicts on breath,
Be near when hot breaths pant shallow.

The Rockettes and Their Ilk

The beautiful ones, being by beauty besotted,
Flatter none, as they care for none,
A crew so graceful and cosseted,
Grown cruel in the solitude of their own perfection.

They know as few can know that beauty must be forged:
Long they toil with weighted wheel 
And mirror grim and shortened breath
Until their stride is that of a gazelle at morn,
Their shoulders red and set with a pride of steel,
The youngness of their faces a defeat for death.
They leap above the boards without burden or care
--A long waver glowing mysterious in mid-air--
Beauty flowing between the seen and the unseen.

Time will melt their beautiful bodies like wax
Gone molten in the sun, shedding a sheerest sheen,
A golden waver above the grim surfaces of fact.

Marilyn Monroe’s Wedding Night

Tonight I dreamed my marriage bed was pouring over Niagara Falls;
Green the Falls were pouring, green as a baseball field;
Down my love for Joe was rushing, but my heart refused to yield,
Rushing like a catch-in-the-breath when you fall.

Green glow the diamond fields where Joe's the mounded thrower;
Dusty and dun come the men who run there,
Hitting and spitting and whittling defeat away there
Until all the field's laid out for a victory homer.

Up with a deep up-pouring rose the mists upon the rocks;
White tossed my wedding dress, white twined my twisted veil;
Our hands locked in a lovers' knot as over the Falls we fell,
Ramming toward the roaring, raging, raucous rocks.

Spring is King

The daffodil's a lovely yellow,
And lovely your eyes, too;
A single lily makes the May complete,
And lily-white thy feet.

A rose is red as a drop of blood,
Rose-red your cheeks in bud;
On the bonnie bank pink sweet-peas peek,
And I at your body sweet.

I'll sing this song till songs are done,
And all the colors of the flowers run;
Beautiful bloom the things of spring,
And golden grows my heart, darling.

O I'll sing until all singing's one,
You the lily-moon and daisy-sun;
And never a lovelier song'll be sung
Than this I sing for you.

Hester’s Child

Her scarlet "A" with rebel pride
She carried against intemperate hate;
(And she carried me inside
Till Love grew as great.)

There's no script but loving,
No whip but being loved--
Of all a Father has for giving,
Love alone I crave.

Magnolias in New Jersey

Deep between the conifers dark as deacons,
And near the thawp and clump and utter of new-born grackles,
And back round the minarets of foxglove like a picket fence,
They slacken their buddings to stars.

But somehow it is vain, with the bloom of universe surrounding,
And my feet cold and sunk in growth,
And the spiritual white and pink-white leaves in bulbs fermenting,
Somehow to lie and breathe into the upwards evening 
is vain.

Pocahontas Bids Despair Depart

Bid despair go haunt another breast
And cut his shadows from paper hearts,
For I have heard the great Love calling
With sounds of the shore-pebbles rolling
When the long wave retreats from the shore:
Unsatiated lovers ever, ever crying 'More.'  

And I have lain my head where his head had lain
And felt the quick brightness of the world recede--
And heard naught but the pebbles' plaint,
And his high-wrought heart for all the sea.

All those who have heard great Love's call
Know wet desire survives the fire, its deep well
Is ever-fresh, a portion of the imageless All
Whose depths are rolling in the bluest eye
Forever, though a war-club block the sky.

Major Andre’s Bad Advice

Coil your heart and brood upon old wrong,
Make that evil devastation all your cause;
Cry out in bitterness, and sing like Old Scratch
Until--in your heart--failure drags her claws,
And rafts of doubt crowd ever at your back,
And all hope before you lies glazed with loss.

The Crucible

At the funeral of Thomas Paine, his landlady speaks

Greyly rains sink in the low sandy hole.
Deep-blue-dappled were the lively eyes of him
Who, loud about the house, piggybacked my Pym,--
Old Tom laid by like a lamp-man's pole.

Greyly rains sink in an evening nearly come.
His light is out who lit the world awake,
Who took on darkness for our sake--for our sake
Crossed sharp words to press the crisis home.

Faint lights around the world brighten in the pale.      
Tindered words fired like a shot in 'Common Sense,'
Words to make frail hearts burn the more intense
That our infant crucible might not fail.

We bury him--those two black lads prayerfully by--
Who know the worth of him we eulogize
In grey rains warm as unwiped eyes;
Beside the battered box, few mourners;  none to cry.

Words like torches gathered
Shine on the coffin's grain;
In the eyes about, a light
Inextinguishable by night.

Vietnam in Washington, 1985

The impenetrable monument
Does not verge or angle
In a time made green by grass,
Nor does it lightly lack
An upright pointing finger
To implicate a God. It is not
A comfortable spring; there is no
Useless cherry blossoming.

There were those that said
A people's greater than her nation;
Or that war was a mask
We had put occasionally on
To learn our own true natures.

Things were so confused 
It seemed that some might burn 
Until their aching hearts were new;
And so the ignorant citizenry
Walk like amicable young children taught
To know what is the past.

Though there were those who spoke
Of the uninstructed dead
Who sought a hallowed road home,
Other voices said its only
Stray names caught in a niche
Like dirt beneath a nail.

By measured statements that proceed
From a level look
There came at jeering last
The gaping multitudes, or a few,
To examine what had been done
About what had been said.
They came murmuring names
Or weeping, weeping,
Or murmuring names.

And to the uttermost of this
Still uncertain heart
I find I cannot confess
The imponderable waste of days.

Our Beloved Southland

Long the walk to my stopping place,
Birmingham jail and a state of grace;
On a windy bridge we bared our faces--
Arms linked tight
To procure the right.
"My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."

John Brown's body like a relic slept,
Which on the battlefield stood sore-tested;
What light shone down from unearthly sources?
Nat Turner's neck
Justice annexed.
"My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego first
Walked the fires Nebuchadnezzar burst;
That disobedience might hatch from a holy nest,
Those shadows strolled
Into furnace-gold.
"My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."

Benedict Arnold to Peggy Shipton

"Let these two pale travelers quit travail
On your two lips' ruby firmament;
Dear restful earth, let me stretch out
My full measure on thy white redoubt
As all mortal toil must finally lie,
Even unto the last particle of desire.
Let me eat the moiety of life's content
That stirs untasted on your cold continent,
Beneath whose vital skies I'd idly settle
Among blushes, encamped among the little
Wildernesses of your careless glances.
If pilgrim prayer hath half a devil's chance,
Let me lie at last beneath your summer rains
Listening to the dull whippoorwill's refrain,
Or studying out the flowers how they bloom.--
On thy grass field that tombs up men
And builds no further monument of doom
But wild everlasting weeds, I'll lie down
And look into eternity as in a broken glass
And become myself some substance of the grass."

Betsy Ross

In my room, by candles dim,
Fivefold stars I snip and trim;
I lay seven stripes artery red,
Bandages pulled from a punished head,
Interleave six white unbeaten blades,  
Emblems of our union won.
Next, for coronal--no, not that--
No crown;  no kingly, pointed hat,--
But a circlet of stars for constellation
Newly risen above our new nation.

That naked Liberty might go gowned,
Soldiers laugh and rally round-- 
Through long nights I pull the thread,
Hoop tight what hopes have gathered.

Babe the Blue Ox Goes Snowblind

Long, long the way up the broken mountain slopes I trod;
Bunyan's plaid blazed blank in a bewilderment of snow.
Following lowing the teardrop footsteps, even then odd,
I stretched my young stride to gallop-up each hoof to each hole.
No one was there, where white earth to white heaven arose.
None tracked us above beyond the treeline's piny pale.
Blind I tramped toward glowing dawn's pink unfolding rose
Where my blue legs broke alone the glittery powdery swale.
Hoofprint and footprint entranced had traced wild swirls below;
They changed that day to ten-thousand lakes of melted snow.

*This poem tells the legend of the creation of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes district.


The Rebel Yell

My lank Abe stands commanding where coalblack shadows spar;
Heavy Chaos covers us over, a blanket without stars--
War is folding over my heart, and over all my days;
War is wearing our beautiful country away.
Men in thousands are marching, grey and shadowy,
Their roiling horses thundering, thundering from afar.

At silky midnight the medium returns, with crystal ball
And long tin trumpet floating ghostly in the gaslit pall;
And Willie's lisping voice buzzing there--to the life!
Each dim word returns to my breast like a knife,
Each dim dawn returns to the sound of the marchers' marshal fifes.
The coffin that carried my heart away was waxed and small.

Battleside at noon in our folding chairs, we watch the long lines 
Approach and cross, blue and grey, threads on a loom divine;
Threads red and mud soon enough, soon enough.
Always now my wronged, longing heart is crying out: enough!
Always it is Willie I see atop the high chargers, out riding in the rough;
Always I hear his hollow voice arising--in every Rebel yell.

The Poet Abandons Hope for His Nation in Time of Minor War

Against Time's dull entombment of the dream
Shall I shout no mad, damned syllable to protest?
Let me drain deathly Lethe's little dram,
Cold gift, that this heaviness might lift!
Long I rooted for the rebel rhyme,
Long dug up olden tales of patriot shades 
Who forged a Philly miracle in their time.
Minute Men who assembled dusty laws
(Long words whose shadows yet abide)
Charmed no rhyme to rock to lullaby
An infant creature's ticking cradle,
Nor open a young boy's eyes to awe;
They gave no choral song to sing
With echoing loveliness on the lonely mountainside;
Our Blue Ridge valleys and Rocky vales
Echo naught of those old patriot tales;
No onward story among their aged seams repeats,
Nothing but blood is added to what was great.

Wartime Nativity

Died in a manger, Lord my Lord.
Hills of Afghan white,
Nights of Afghan cold;
Christmas in a winter
Unbearably old.

Died in a manger, Lord my Lord.
What child is this
Who dies tonight?
Nights of Afghan cold,
Hills of Afghan white.

Died in a manger, Lord my Lord.
Large-eyed grief as solemn
As Life's hard light:
This child is beautiful
And quiet tonight.

The Ragged Coat

I wear a ragged coat
Sewed of shapes of all the states--
From the granite littlest
To the frozen giant.

Great Lakes the silver collar are
And cool me when I'm riled;
Stars stitched round heart and hem
Shine a ragged anthem.

I stir into a battered melting pot
What scraps I scrape;
At midnight dance beneath
The moon's wormeaten face.

Jefferson Sequestered, 1776

Do you, merry bird bright upon the sill,
Watch with quick eyes a twitching quill?  
For what do you sing, merry bird,             
Trilling on the sill without a word?
Do you trill for liberty while I toil,            
Burnishing words by midnight oil             
That all men might sing in gathering night
As you do, careless and light?

Mount Rushmore Colloquy

"I smoked my pipe on Mt. Vernon farm
And would return, however war rages--
No foul, no harm;
And for that I am Cincinnatus Redivivus."

"I struck my bargain with bold Napoleon
Before ink well-dried on our Declaration;
I prophesied no sunset should hem us in
And made us all Louisianians."

"I gave lady Liberty, for luck,
A glittering necklace fetched out of the sea
And hung rich round Panama's neck;
It sparkled for a century."

"I loved a fine lady who grew half mad;
We lost our beautiful son;
Bereft of every earthly gladness,
What could I but save the Union?"

Song of Dan’l Boone

I've had enough of little men
Who dreamed the opaque moon caroused,
Who drain their whiskey dram, and then
Refuse the frenzy such dreams arouse.

The silent moon herself's a huntress
Dipping her naked step through branch and leaf
With wild white wide eyes,
Her hunter's bow taut with grief.

I've had enough of townhall edicts,
The bartered brag of big men's boasts,
And charming ladies' difficult minuets,
And every matter that's matter-of-fact.

Now I follow the silver leer of the moon
That pours in silence along a midnight stream
Over rocky Cumberland Gap, and soon
To the remotest forest of a dream.

And there, piled pelts of fine sleek rabbits,
And there, a trusty hunting dog,
And there no human scourges traffic,
And there, the Kentucky of God.

Huck Finn Adrift

If I'd'a closed my eyes and wished,
I wouldn't switch a whisker of our rig.
Drift a bit, fish a bit.  Drift, fish.
A sunset catfish came along as big....
And we're still hopin' and hoppin' along,
Although the free branch of the Ohio
Has fair gone by like a faded song,
And what we're up to we don't rightly know.

Springtime's 'bout down to the last dribble;
Clouds keep the moon from breaking out,
And Jim's always goin' on about the Bible,
All them Pharaoh's men and whatnot.
It's a good raft, by Moses, tho' stolen--
Rudder-steady under drifting skies;
All the wisdom of old Solomon
Writ in winking fireflies.

‘Fats’ Waller Undoes the Dusk

A cinnamon wind in the bottletree
Blows low through evening's branches;
Other trees once leaned in a darker wind's lee,
'Strange fruit' hanging in the beautiful boughs.
Man-in-the-moon is old, and we are young;
Man, that cat ain't got my tongue.

Such things of such despair were done
It seemed every heart must hurt and curse--
So joyless the song that man had wrung,
It seemed worse must give way to the worst.
Man-in-the-moon is old, and we are young;
Man, that cat ain't got my tongue.

Bluebirds tweet witty in the sad countryside,
Twig-nests feathered with many-colored pride;
With eighty-eight keys, and a smile as wide, renowned
'Fats' sat down without care or frown: 
Man-in-the-moon is old, and we are young;
Man, that cat ain't got my tongue.

The Ruby Slippers

Kansas dust and Kansas drab and dull
Left me rusty and kept me a girl--
So little air of loving, and of love less,
No gladness in my heart whirled.
And Auntie Em forever protesting: 
"There's no place like home."

A burnt-black whirlwind shuddered through
And blew me out of the world I knew,
My young heart straining like a sail;
I was so glad to move, I flew;
I skipped down the swirled yellow bricks like a gale:
"Here's no place like home."

Flapping terror came and melting terror went,
New friends proved true in terror's despite;
The world's emerald ball rolls beneath my slippers....
But I no more am glad.
I miss my Kansas;  I click, and must confess:
"There's no place like home."

Russian Ballet at the Basie

A stage contains the dancers' strength
As a smile's vise restrains white teeth:

The more perfectly form's confined,
The more radiantly 'tis expressed.

Haughty exemplars eke toward definition;
Patterned flesh repeats the rhythm's pattern.

The Milky Way herself's but a scrim of scum
When she glitters without proscenium.

In spotlit stillness a wheaten sheaf,
Juliet, whirls her golden wave of grief

Undefined until, for embracing net,
A blood-red curtain rings down on tears of jet.

Geronimo’s Bones

Three white ravens on their barren seat
Looked out west when dawn rose east.

Geronimo down in the damp dust lay;
No cold word did cold lips say.

The horse that threw him stood contrite;
Better horse had no knight.

His hound-dog lay quietly sleeping,
His master's feet in his safe-keeping.

May every lady be bright and fair
As his wine-dark widow grieving there.

And may each man be as brave to go
Where went the brave Geronimo.

Three white ravens came to meat their feast;
West is west and east is east.

Advice for Fife Players

Keep white the shining city, nor trod
Our high ideals into the sod,
Parthenon through demos become a clod;
Nor let the muses' dames be domesticated,
By committee voted out of greatness.

Unsoil what history has made sordid:
Noble aims that had been hoarded 
Time out of mind by haughty lords,
Chop to step-stools for our better art
Where each man plays Michelangelo's part.

Climb to crags where eagles nest,
Where forward face by battling wind is pressed;
Gather what glory old inspiration left:
Bright feathers dropped from higher things,
Fit plumage for an eagle's wing.

The Old Truculence

Walking Walden Pond
I feel the common day recede,
The common light that bred the greed;
And, what's more, I feel the old
Truculence that set trim Thoreau on,
Had him clap sandals at the town
And lie among the old leaves brown
Where his good wood borders a pond.

That my words, too, might live
I'll lie down and die--and dead
In some low-laid hollow of the wood,
Invisibly help spry insects thrive,
Be indifferent to the common stamp,
Vie for beauty not yet born,
Cry pride, 'like that of the morn,'
When the rooster mounts his stump.
Only the song no singer owns,
Ablaze with passion for the interred
(Who hear no sigh or word)
Can tread old havoc down.

I would be buried by that still stream
Where mongrel dogs may maunder
And secret lovers wander,
And would whisper to their dreams:
"Tumble the careful monument,
Rake memorial gardens back to dirt;
Take no trouble for their hurt
But, like the hidden dead, exult.
Spare no sorrow for today
Which finds you battered, incomplete;
Compose yourself and die, pure spirit
In the sun's declining ray--
And, in that final sunset, say
No paltry words, but what
Spirit alone deems permanent."

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