Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown]

Gregg Glory [ Gregg G. Brown ] has devoted his life to poetry since happening across a haiku by Moritake, to wit: Leaves / float back up to the branch-- / Ah! butterflies. He runs the micro-publishing house BLAST PRESS, which has published over two dozen authors in the past 25 years. Named in honor of the wild Vorticist venture by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, BLAST PRESS is forward-looking and very opinionated. He still composes poems on his departed father's clipboard, which he's had since High School.

Fossils

 [Poetry], Fossils  Comments Off on Fossils
May 012020
 

INTRODUCTION

 

 

The Burning Rock

The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

~~Pablo Neruda

I tend to acquire insights about what I’m writing as I write.

A nation becomes itself as its history unfolds, displaying more and more squares of its map of meaning.

Poetry and prose wash up against each other. As do history and imagination.

Sea and continent work together even while at odds to shape the world’s totality.

The pilgrim’s foot defines the path to God, and begins by leaving home.

Just so, poetry walks its path through prose.

Our general sense of things comes to us somehow in the great grab-bag of prose accounts and facts:

The dirty litter of newspapers, the broken ballyhoo of blogs, cocksure conversations at the bar sitting elbow to bended elbow with uncrowned laureates.

But our sense of what these things mean to us comes from selection and arrangement of the mosaic facts.

Inspiration and insight arrive together to complete the picture jumbled in the puzzle box.

It is when we kneel alone with our ignorance that the church’s spire rises to its height.

And that’s the poetry of it.

Irreducible and unique, yet blatantly commonplace as love:

The unpainted masterpiece brimming in the palette’s rainbow….

As fire lies unstruck in the flint, so poetry lies asleep in prose.

And when that fire is awakened, the rock burns.

Gregg Glory
a windy March day, 2020


 

 

Fossils

(Discovery of the Burgess Shale)
trilobyte-Kanagaw

On the broken mountaintop a moment’s, ahh, sun has granted softness.

The family unpacks on broadcloth a questionable picnic.

Aren’t they funny with their red noses and long scarves, bearing the inhospitable airs?

I turn my back, a weary Walcott, and pull off hat and gloves to push snow from a black and newly baptized trilobite.

Here’s the old green seafloor carbonized and pushed into the skyline like a torch!

Several trilobites, all strangely legged, gleam in the sweat of the peak; odd fauna surround them, unseen in eons, flat as chalkboard diagrams.

Here’s a family of fossils that needs looking into, and no mistake.

I look over the long shady shale slope of Burgess Pass, and I see a wave of rock cutting the scene in two: it’s slow canted arch a humpback breaching.


 

 

Bald Eagle

eagle_cubist

Calm the golden eye that kindles the recalcitrant sun.

Sam stands on a strong passage of branch at the Chesapeake Bay bird preserve, his claw a hanging gauntlet….

A million years and more he roved the northern continent.

A million years before totem and Indian hat carved the hooked beak and wide eye, or handed his feathers around as rare honors, sewn in band and cap.

On my donated dollar, his arrows, shield and olives give flat testament to his potency.

His scream is like an emergency brake failing downhill, wheel within wheel.

A child pushes a button to play a brief documentary.

The kiosk startles into tinny life: can a strapped camera capture what this eagle stares and sees?

To Sam, the scaled hide of a fish is so different from the lake wave breaking….

“I break these eyelet glitters to eat and conquer!

The fish flies dancing in my cage of talons, rippling mightily!

I start to rip the red seam of life upon the hooded rock!

When I myself am ripped into the sky, from the root of nest and mate removed, the wind will remember the soft crown of my feathers.”


 

 

Flint, Jasper, Chalcedony, Chert

(Discovery of the Clovis Spearheads)
clovis_sketch2

Along my brown thigh the new stone lingam lances.

Flakes, torn tears of rock, drop steadily beside my feet, a gilt litter.

Knock knock, knock knock.

Pecking with the hard beak of the precussor, my Clovis point begins to show its bow, the arrow of a Valentine heart.

In skinned skiffs they made their way here, tracing the frost rim of the ice age Pacific, paddles bladed as my tapped jasper leaf. Single file as beads on a shell necklace, perhaps….

Limitless strokes dividing the cold water, as this spearhead will divide lives.

Sunset floods the valley town, showing the bold desert mesa’s flossy erosion.

We read at night about the boy scout who found the first pile of knives beside a Mammoth graveyard—here in New Mexico, not far from our school camp—almost a century ago.

I see his eyes glinting, the careful lantern flame held close to the cliff face.

I feel his breath in my ear, the knock of his teeth as he smiles.


 

 

The Mississippian Birdman

birdman_sketch

Etowah copper, flash and response in a drowsy sun.

I wear my hammered plate and tug on my falcon beak.

I wear winged divinity at my brow, penny-bright and priceless; a little birdman, parrot-man, falcon.

Earrings blazon and drip from my lobes, live fires swinging snakelike.

My feathers, stitched and laced, are the birdman’s busy wings grown fourfold shiny as the locust’s.

Proud my clipped step, clawing the owned earth.

Heaven makes me, heaven takes me.

Here I parade for the mausoleum’s jubilee, bucking and crying with a wet mace in one hand and a fresh death’s-head in the other.

Here the fathers are buried with all their cries.

I cry out: fathers!

Cry out with me, shaking rattle and clapstick.

Do you feel the god beginning to awaken?

Step behind me, if you are mine, mound-builders, maize-masters!

Carry your master to the house of his fathers, cocooned in noon robes.

Go down, dead king, if you would return with the spring corn. Down, down.

Let nine bones mellow and flesh tallow.

Let rain overrun each sightless socket.

Regal spirit, follow me! Follow me and twice-born be!

Hear the mound breathe; beat your coppery wings, dead king, beat the cymbals crashing, feather on feather.

Feel the moulting clouds, all coppery now, low, and heavy with new birth.

Jump up into those clouds:

You are god with me now.


 

 

COMES COLUMBUS

columbus 6

 

 

Comes Columbus

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.

The four corners of this portrait show stars and elbows and a trackless blank above.

An etching of an etching, it poses the captain restless and pointing: sheer stars to steer a ship by, the fate wheel of a brass nocturlabe in his fist.

The etching’s small fine lines throw a Hercules fur over his left shoulder, engrave finger-thick erosion runnels in cheek and forehead.

His full beard and hair, famously blonde, turned fright-wig white at thirty, pleading before queen after queen for cash.

His eyes, confused by distance and desire, couldn’t quite make out a new continent at first—reaching after rubies through a grid of lattitudes.

All his life he reared before the sail like a seahorse, a salt tang in his nostrils.

His scheme was to outflank the Ottomans, snip the Silk Road with scissoring ships, and rake rich spices home for Spain.

On Hispaniola, Columbus found the people credulous and easily led to God; the Taino he deemed fit for slavery, and whipped them for their benefit.

When dicey centuries rolled to ’76, Phyllis Wheatley in her parlor saw the radiant real:

“Gen’l Washington, I write today to say, I’ve met our foundling nation’s goddess; her name’s Columbia!

Hard years and hard luck broke Chris’ sailor’s body down. And King Ferdinand stiffed him in the end.

His unsettled tomb toured the Caribbean, cradling uneasily to rest in Havana until the Spanish-American War, which sent him back to Seville at last.


 

 

St. Anthony Painted on Buffalo Hide

Last night buffalo steak and boiled beans in blood gravy.

The Mojave braves, lean as cacti, barter sheafs of buffalo rawhide balanced on their heads, fat satchels of pemmican.

“These we found easily,” they tell brother Oñate. “They knelt to our arrows as if to river water.”

They gathered round the holy writ like naughty boys, pointing and laughing at “chicken scratches” we tell them are words of God.

I unpack scraped, cured rawhide (how it shone blank beside the candelabra!) ready for pigment and picture to praise the Lord.

All night I kneel before the ornate retablo altar, knead soul and heart in meditative prayer.

The mission tower stands silent as a spent candle.

There are no candles now but the hollow moon through the door….

How shall I bring these hard desert men to Christ?

My eyes pause at the open bible’s vellum pages, veneration on veneration, until leaning shadows resemble St. Anthony reading beside me, words on his tongue and words in the air.

Is it himself or myself who is saying:

Pure from the book sprang Jesus like a bird.

At dawn I arrange my workspace, shuffle the ready hides, bring brush and bone point to bear.

Soon enough, St. Anthony and baby match my vision, stained and dried.

Umbrella clouds above his tonsured head repeat the saint’s naked arch of skull.

The uncrying baby is a scumble of pale highlights, a rayed halo of clay yellows targeting his little beauties.

It was desert for Jesus as it is desert for us, surrounding and simplifying.

And pictured there, too, on the flayed skin, is the book, the center of all.

The book I shall teach them to read.


 

 

Pocahontas’ Portrait in the
Baziliogia, a Booke of Kings

Princess Pocahontas stands transformed and poised in this good brown book of monarchs.

Her capitol dome hat of stiff black felt seems tall as a cathedral cross.

Her only feathers are a three-plume ostrich fan bound in a brass handle, held ready like a scourge.

Her husband, Mr. Rolfe, has baptized and married her and brought her to London’s court in a coat of shiny finery.

The book shows her level gaze and long nose, staring away the centuries; her page, cresting a smooth hill of pages, has been turned open by a gloved docent’s hand. It presents her as the British empire’s wife, an attractive travel ad for voyagers and investors.

Golden tobacco promised gold in earnest, if wild colonial natives took to God.

Did she roll big cigars and smoke among her pals back home in old Virginny?

Is this lordly woman the same who laid her bare head, ear to ear, to save a battered Captain Smith?

The kidnapped princess who married her captor and stopped a war?

Compassion and curiosity have carried her effortless across the Atlantic’s intervening sea.

When King James kisses her hand, she curtsies like a queen and carries on.


 

 

From the Mother Rock

Plymouth Rock lies cemented that had been split.

It’s traveling half had neighbored a Liberty Pole when the Boston massacre occurred.

Here a buckled shoe lightly alighted and leapt onward to fallow cornrow fields, where man and maid bent steadily as sandpipers to pocket the providential grain, singing perhaps “He chastens and He hastens” as the burlap fattened.

Like a moonrock, it seems less impressive than pressed upon.

Bland and dated, Corinthian shadows cross its bulk, while busy visitors stare down a moment and are gone.

None now linger, as none then lingered.

When Thomas Faunce at 94 pointed out the place his father had pointed out, did he think:

It’s the aftermath of having been that makes a remnant regal.

Dozens of bits of this great grey brain sit in municipal veneration, deeding ideas of freedom to mayor and citizen.

Should we pulverize the mother rock and spritz from sea to sea her sacred dust to seed our children’s children’s thirst for liberty?

One cold Monday ago—on the anniversary of the Mayflower Compact—a weird smear of red graffiti disfigured the stone in a maelstrom of blood.

Today, the humming powerwasher’s work is nearly done, its beige high-pressure hose laid down and leaking lavishly….

Plymouth Rock lies renewed to a sea-bright sheen, as if ten dozen tongues had taken some dim midnight communion here.

I smell the restless sea, hear the Boston schoolboys’ quick cavalcade of feet arrive, and think:

Perhaps the old rock’s provocations are potent yet.


 

 

Slave Shackles

shakles_sketch2

At first glance, I would have thought these a section of wrought iron garden edging, ornamental protection for potatoes and yams.

Heavily and brutally made, and now discarded as too primitive.

Reaching out to read the card beneath the case, I see that they are “slave shackles, circa 1650.”

Were they found in a plantation swamp, locked around an escaped skeleton’s wrists?

Bending down to read the fine print, the context of fact and history, the DNA of deeds, I see that these are leg shackles of the Middle Passage.

Suddenly, I’m lying down in a wooden boat, rocked and dark.

My ankle, raw as if incessantly pecked, is locked, not to my other ankle, but to the dead leg
of a stranger.

His agony has come and gone, although we sang him what choral palliative we could.

When our midday deck hour comes to eat and breathe salt air, I must carry him up, his cold arm across my shoulders.

After the scandalous whack of a hammer, I see him thrown over the rail into the sea.

In a moment, he is lost to the waters’ churn, a lash of whites; I turn my back and begin to chew….

Stepping away from the dusty museam display, my mouth retains a taste of starchy roots.


 

 

Americae Nova Tabula

(Blaeu’s 1648 map)

All this had been blankness.

The parchment had been, so carefully, scraped and left empty.

Every sign of animal and first use had been negatively removed with the hypnotic movement of hands holding edged tools.

Onto this structured blank, halo-like inks outline the known continents.

Green, red, a kind of soft gold.

Into these halos, like a loss of innocence, sink the wrinkled parachutes of nations, roiled black at their edges as if burnt.

America, says one, with the Great Lakes drawn and named.

They are no bigger than a string of beads, a string of lights laid toward the still blank interior.

America, says another, with Brasilia sticking out its cauliflower ear.

The oceans are Mar del Zur and del Nort, gridded with curving squares.

Fanciful ships, dark as curls of wet wood, fly flags of many nations, carousing head-to-head with sea monsters.

Minutely calligraphied names of places fringe the coasts like hairs on a balding head:

Jamestown, Bolivia, several Rios, Chesapeake.

And strange places, too, unknown today. Norem Bega and El Dorado are two.

There are no whales in these scrolled and denoted oceans, although they must have been met with, their pulsars of plumes greeting the intrepid sails.

The hunt was not yet on for them: forehead and fluke, the secret node of ambergris lumped in the sperm whale’s brain like Aladdin’s lamp.

Around the outer edges of the map are many windows.

Each one contains a married pair of tribesmen in their native garb.

The king and queen of Florida are here, and are so designated.

Two nude Peruvians, with their small child between, gaze outward in quiet ease.

Although, none of the trio are smiling.


 

 

Washington’s Coat

geo.wash_sketch2

There’s much to-do with uniforms:

Dressing for dinner, and dancing while the band waltzes.

Gives the men a little tidy dignity when setting them before the cannon-mouth, clothes-pins set before a hurricane.

Dark blue and buff, Washington’s uniform wears a long double row of coinlike yellow-copper buttons down the front; more coins circle each heavy cuff, dual rings of fire.

It has a spilt tail, squared and nothing like the devil.

If a lizard stood in this coat, with a tri-cornered hat, it could cross the Delaware in easeful dignity, rowed over unquestioningly by a boatful of happy continentals.

But make no mistake, it was no easy day to stand in this uniform:

Face-first toward the fire of vigilant enemies, your deep blue back crowded by resentful subordinates.

The wool collar is a tall rise-and-fall design, elegant as a waving hand.

A white smoke-explosion of ruff crowds the throat.

All-in-all, I feel afraid of the fearsome hours this coat has seen.

Watching an elegant Major Andre hung, dropping the sword.


 

 

A Crab-Tree Walking Stick

“Let the sword of the hero and the staff of the philosopher go together.”
(of Franklin’s cane donated with Washington’s sword)
cane_sketch

A revolution in the air swirls a discarded broadside.

The war is over; the air whips itself delicately, without tirades.

A heavy man passing by is tapping the ground with a lightning rod, searching for stray voltage.

No, it is a walking stick, and the man is Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the American. He seems trussed in his suit like a turkey, gabbling and bouyant.

He holds his walking stick up to the streetlight, and twirls it slowly, amusingly. What is it? His eye makes its examination: no crown tips the cane.

Instead, it is topped with a miniature gilded version of Franklin’s fur cap. The famous raccoon cap, all the way from New Jersey!

I can see how it was:

He has departed an intimate party with the dowager Duchess of Deux-Points, and she has given him this fine cane.

Three of them laughing after the war, kissing Parisian champagne.

And she says, holding the cane out in her white arms:

“For the lightning-rod maker, black lightning to walk by.”


 

 

A Row of Conestoga Wagons

conestoga_sketch

The Conestoga wagon is sea blue with red wheels, and is a convertible.

It followed the Iroquois trail from Philly to Augusta, roaring where moccasins had crept.

Chaps with Irish brougues and clattering German accents rolled through the Shenandoah to Carolina beaches.

Wild pine trees and new emptiness welcomed them.

A child would have to be lifted up, hoisted, into the dark belly of the wagon, like the sacks of coal or pig iron that would make the return journey to mill and forge, hunching forgotten among roped bundles.

Families that moved on the southern route disembarked to run callused thumbs along the shadowy veins in tobacco leaves.

Or they’d start a plot of cotton, puffs of follicled mist encased in husks that cut.

The wagons look, with their tilting brims, like a row of old maids nodding off, crosstitch hoops sliding to the porch floor.

The huge rear wheel I stand beside arcs above my head, almost higher than my arm can reach.

It is the fierce aftertrace of a red sparkler lit and whipped at midnight….

The hub, deep with grease, puts out an impossible circle of crimson fingers.

Each finger is arthritic, stiff, yet eager to grip the earth.

The highway we took here filled the same wheels’ gouges with asphalt.


 

 

Eli Whitney, Lost at Court

eli_sketch2

Eli is lost at court among a forest of marble pillars.

And lost among great, shelving foam-blades—

Papers filed in suit and counter-suit, an endless watery clash of claims and adjudications.

Eli arrives with his patent, pristine in his briefcase.

His face is still an egg of hope; this judge, this time.

Under his sweaty arm is clamped a working model of his fabulous cotton gin.

It is squarish, made of stained brown wood, with a metal works of many rows of little teeth:

Baby vampire teeth, or the interior cob-end of corn kernels dried hard and pulled out.

There’s a neat mail-slot crowning two rows of the toothed wheels where raw, seedy cotton is fed in.

The idiot-proof turn of a crank draws in the mottled mass and threshes it.

As it disappears, you see the last hairs of a mad professor as he is being stream-rolled….

And out falls the cotton, pure as a cloud!

The little old man, all heavenly now, is ready for the spinning jenny.

Industrial and full of torque, the jenny will twist, tug, insist.

The surprisingly tough hairs get pulled into harp strings.


 

 

John Deere’s Steel Plow

deere_plow_sketch

John Deere walks the magnificent, empty, saffron fields.

He wants to see the earth thinking, furrows of thought teasing a faithful forehead into that hill there, frown lines of contemplation there along either side of the dry path, the compressed lips of the roadway.

Seeing the mud earth turned in the Midwest is like peering beneath a turtle’s shell.

Wooden, and even iron, plows break in this soil: hapless Vikings before an Irish tower.

John screws a steel sawblade to his plow’s moldboard, or remembers how a steel needle ruckles the soft leather, or had a dream of surfing these fields on steel feet.

He tries his luck, calling hup-hup to the cold horse.

The spoon-curved edge sails through the pie-crust—

A wave, thousands of years old, and heavy with the weight of unadulterated evening curls up from the plowblade….

To a giant it would be like black walnut shavings from a whittle knife.

Scroll upon scroll of earth flows, and John Deere walks behind.

He brings the scrolls of night up into the sunlight, kneels gently beside the good wound.

He thumbs plump crop seeds into night’s open book before moving on.

He whispers an encouragement, rises, whacks dirt from his knees.


 

 

Imaginary Value

With mahogany leaves hinged by brass, Jefferson’s portable desk opens green surfaces in butterfly fashion.

To one side, a drawer for inks and instruments.

Blotches remain in the pockets, indissoluble.

The top wing, lifted, drops peglike feet into cleanly chiseled grooves.

It is here, under the lifted wing, that the airstream catches, and words take flight.

Here the pinched quill returns to plumage, and Rodin’s thinking man leans transmogrified into history.

The desk is small, meant to sit on the lap—like a grandchild, or, more ardently, a lover.

Jefferson chuckled to imagine that his desk could one day be carried through the streets, a sainted relic of the Declaration of Independence, ‘selling America to Americans.’

The green unfolded felt gives a sense of reassurance, of open fields and playtime.

Anything could happen on this strip of earth!

“When in the course of human events….”


 

 

Santa Anna, Santa Ana

The Santa Ana winds wear a blue coat with red piping, the sleeves flying!

The headless collar is red as a red coal blown by a bellows.

The red piping defines the coat the way electric coils define a stove.

The coat’s skirt is unusually full, as if it is dancing; a runner’s legs could turn full circles underneath it. It hides General Anna’s prosthetic leg comfortably when he sits astride his horse.

Hot winds hit the neighborhood and toss trash cans recklessly, cymbals in a whirlwind.

The general’s cool eye begins its fierce descent to the Alamo from hundreds of miles away.

Texans are refusing to pay taxes to Mexico City. They obey no one, as this wind obeys nothing.

Leatherbacked, they hunch in the soon-to-be ruins of Alamo Mission.

Davy Crockett’s raccoon-tail is blown straight back, the whites of his eyes dry pebbles.

He thinks about Santa Anna’s prosthetic leg, how one night Texans will steal it and ride away.

General Anna’s coat has gold leaves clutching his throat with their delicate fernprint of authority.

Car doors attack exiting commuters when Santa Ana blows his horn, the whole street whistling.

All the valley vegetation dries stiff, as if surprised and pressed flat in family bibles.

In this wind, no bird does more than hang on tight. The bushes rock all night.

This wind blew Thoreau into a Massachusetts jail cell.

Across his lap, flapping pages of Civil Disobedience.


 

 

Sunstones, Moonstones, and Starstones

“A woman clothed with sun, the moon under her feet, upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Rev. 12:1
sunstone-glass

This sunstone, two tons large and dislodged from a pillar-top of the tornadoed Morman temple at Nauvoo, smiles past martyrdom and mayhem.

The big stone has condensed and fallen from the old dreams of Joe Smith.

It stands abandoned in the grass like a table to play cards upon, square and accessible, the festive picnic having moved elsewhere.

Its cheeks glow roughly golden, stone rays from its head a frightwig of light.

The brow is broad, blank and fresh as a pie crust.

Open eyes the size of plums address the earthbound sinner, encouraging ascension.

A chiselled weave of waves accepts the sun-face up to its cheeks.

Behind this blithe face, a white temple rose unmolested, Joe pointing the cornerstone home.

Marriages looked out from the apex, hands and hearts crossed in the sealing room.

Baptisms occurred at the basement font upheld by a dozen carved oxen, kneeling and mild.

Touching the long block gives the walker’s palm a warm place to rest:

The view rolls off a green bluff and out across the endless Mississippi….

Many weeks walking brought the Mormons here from Ohio, following Joseph, listening carefully for new inspiration while getting run out of town, wrapping their bibles in their night clothes; walking barefoot through many fields, moonlight under their feet, the stars climbing away as if from the tipping wing of a plane—

My fingertips notice two little angel hands above the plump sun.

The tiny fists hold out a pair of lilylike trumpets, simple as noodles, announcing salvation.


 

 

Dead Reckoning with Lewis and Clark

On the all-purpose compass all points point northwest.

Like all explorers, the compass is drawn to a place it has never seen, the hill over the horizon:

El Dorado, Shang Ri La.

The needlelike compasspoint holds fourth like a bird dog’s nose, its tail end quivering sympathetically.

The flat riverboat’s crowded with instruments, science-eyes peeled and packed like eggs in a carton.

Hydrometers and brass scales, plotters, planispheres and a theodolite.

But always at my waist, my compass.

However turned, the compass always seems to know where its going.

Its silver furnishings gather the sky and clouds, pool them in small corners.

The improvisational zigzag of our going on is oddly matched by its precisely demarcated face:

Quadrant and degree of our ignorance.

No where’s the wrong way, really, so long as we denote the newness.

The river is leaping up as if to eat us, white teeth hidden in white foam.

All the emptiness on the map is filling up with living things!

We leave chief Twisted Hair smoking his pipe on the riverbank and prepare to portage our boat over the continental divide.

A clear night under stars; the camp is quietly tired.

Our catalog is full of unknown fowl, leaves of undiscovered greenery, the austere looks of landmark rocks and their latitudes.

I unfold my legs before the tent and look carefully into my notebook while falling asleep to the night river’s placid sounds:

Start afresh with whoever you are today. Stay astray.


 

 

John Bull and the Golden Spike

John_Bull_sketch

“All aboard the John Bull, from South Amboy to Camden, all aboard!”

John Bull, that’s a nickname for England, where the train was designed and bolted.

And where it bolted from, of course, to settle at our museum, dustless and admired.

This wood-clad steam engine of 1831 is made of pounded black iron.

Note the clang bell atop and front candle lantern, still a-glimmer, like you seen in Westerns.

Look around folks. Look at this place, strange as a spaceship!

Used to come here by myself, like being in church, the great arches, and all these wrecks of time, small and little before some great thing, like when the shark hunters first see Jaws rise from the waters.

I was shy was a wildflower when I was a kid, now I talk all day for a living.

Always loved old John Bull here, such an odd one, the back end like a cooking pot, and all these rivets warting the surface, but inside its pure fire.

Grandpa let me know that one of my forebears assembled this beast, like Dr. Frankenstein with a wrench as long as your arm, crawling all over him inside and out.

That’s when I determined to work right here in the museum, whatever it took.

I brushed up on my elecution:

Must’ve watched The Music Man about a million times, singing as I walked to school—that scene on the train:

Why they say, when the man dances, the piper pays him, yess sir, yesss sir.

Anyways, the first tracks were split and laid right here in NJ, creosote piano keys strewn over marsh and meadow.

Some lamely askew, some torqued almost too tight for passage….

Had to have front-end guide wheels riveted on just to keep the engine earthbound, flanged and pierced together by a fixed axle to rotate in unison.

A sound like a coffee-grinder preceding the tuck-ah-tuck-ah-dah of fisting pistions—

Sometimes I think how such extra wheels might grip me to my track.

Now lean back, no, way back:

You see the black stack, a crown-cut open top, crimped like Jughead’s hat?

Loads of white smoke boils out, like a barn on fire, when John Bull’s stoked and rolling.

Startled birds sprang away for miles hearing such clank and caterwaul.

Stray dogs ran like barefoot boys to catch the eager wheels, their wild eyes spinning.

—It was all the filthy lucre that Mr. Stevens made that induced the others.

Money, money, money had them squint and scramble, spreading lines of track like crowsfeet.

Minnesota wheat traveling East; timber, ore, cattle, you name it.

By God, what haulage! Cash for the hogshead, cask and demijohn.

Cash for the crackers, and the pickles, and the flypaper.

No canal mule could match such burning speed.

Eventually, the war between the states (that’s what the South called the Civil War) induced Congress to scheme the Trans-Pacific rail into existence, a belt of rail steel from shining to shining….

A bribe to keep California in the Union, that some nowadays want pushed out.

Might just earthquake off along the San Andreas fault anywise for all such dithering.

But how that Golden Spike must’ve shone in Utah sunshine!

At Promontory Summit (a reduplicative name don’t you think?) all those mute coolies standing by—pardon me, that’s what they called them then.

A million silent men hearing trussed-up industrialists give ten-cent stem-winders. In oratory-English, no less. Ha!

But when the suits were done talking, in went the glittering spike, blow by blow, like a golden tooth in a million-mile smile.

Must’ve let out one helluva golden bell-tone, too, while being beaten down.

Hitherto unknown, y’know?


 

 

Colt’s Repeating Pistol

The exhibition piece shows a tranquil tableaux:

A father and his sons target shooting; he corrects their aim with badger-patience. “Squeeze, don’t pull,” he says.

They like to watch the apples explode.

“Not today, Satan!” they shout.

The hexagonal barrel’s rifled, twirled like a candy cane inside.

Handle’s just chunked wood, even on this velvet-held piece so liberally engraved.

The hammer, fully pulled, stows back into the handle like a secret.

The pistol is a form of fist.

It carries the energy of the fist forward in space, and eliminates the fist’s target.

Anger is foreshortened to triumph; defense translated to salvation.

The human body is not able to process such disjunction.

It staggers; it bails; it destroys memory and attention in an attempt to rediscover balance.

I look back at the display, the long pistol vivid in its velvets.

Overhead, clouds scud. The hill’s an etched line.

Only the bullets are all the same, the same repeating fist.

Same blunt nose, same horrible velocity.

The genius of Samuel Colt was in the manufacture, the elimination of piece-work.

He used swappable interchangeable parts; eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

Now everything’s like that, a million hands turn one wheel.

I like to think that interchangeable parts do not reduce us to interchangeable people.

That an indignant rebelliousness grips us, wakes us with its bleak scream.

We had this game Operation when I was a kid, using tweezers to pick the clown-patient apart.

Sometimes you’d lose a shinbone, a funny bone.

A wishbone was useful, snapped short.

Once we used a dead fly for the heart.


 

 

In the Middle of Everything

(the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill)

It could be from the moon, this strange, flippant flake. A flake no bigger than a dead wasp’s wing, a gold front tooth. Some broken golden feather of the moon has fallen all the way to the tailrace at Sutter’s Mill.

Like the miracle of the dividing loaves, this gold flake called forth unshakeable belief in 1849.

Fluttered luckily from the great wings of the summer moon, harvest moon, the August moon, it lay in the muddy runoff, a shard of reflected light come back to us, warm and human.

Once weighed and assayed, it became a human flashlight shining the way for millions to come to California.

Chinese, Australian, free blacks, and gluts of proffered Europeans from Back East all followed the yellow dot of light to Monterey, west of all the hills, pinnacles and divides of the Rockies, the striped pajama valley of the Grand Canyon….

California, the great fruit-laden Eden, the blue echo of Mexico resounding in papaya, mango, avocado.

Like falling out of bed into paradise is how old folks described it, and meant it too.

Someplace where it’s always noon and summer, and never a rush.

With a pan and steady stream, any hands could sift free such flittery spillages of lost moonbeams!

The famous flake itself looks like a cornflake, a stray bran flake tossed from the box and painted; edges raggedy, little points and descents, flattish, neither round nor not round.

Found like God in the middle of everything, and seemingly by accident.

A quick-eyed magpie picks it up, leaves it glittering in its nest, a mirror for blank eggs; fallen from the nest and into the grass, a kitten pins it playfully; lionlike she leaps and waits, mistaking its shimmery littleness for a bug.

Once, not too long ago, behind this abandoned mill house on the dusty hill, something new flew up out of the earth, leaving behind it a golden feather floating rapidly down a dark stream.


 

 

Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

“Away! away! Bess; I long to pepper them.” ~~Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers
martha - Ballpoint

Passenger pigeons once showed the beautiful unity of the new world, inking warm noon skies with masses and masses of darkness.

North to south and back in infinite loop, an endless migration.

The hardcore bolus of moving birds, quick as gazelles in their flying, was shadow involving shadow, shade beneath shade, an evening ocean’s variation held above one’s head by a wilderness of wings….

Pigeons do not coo like doves, nor cluck like chickens.

They descend to chew milky grubs or the laden ears of wheat, pressed to earth in golden circles by the limitless weight of landing and lifting.

All landscapes are a vista of living things, but such aliveness often slides by unnoticed. When the passenger pigeon flock loomed overhead, its aliveness was undeniable, thunderous, dark.

A hassling gale shuddering through many unslung sails—

And from all those millions, billions, a single female left caged in the 1914 Cincinnati zoo.

And when she died, she was resurrected: stuffed and groomed.

Her red eye stares out like a target, scanning skies emptied of her kin.

Martha’s spotted, lovely brown-grey cape flows from a rounded head and dead-round eye.

Hers are the softy dots of the common ground pigeon, a leopard splash of blots loosely flung.

Her beak seems no more than two whittled chopsticks, no longer snapping and clipping.

Martha flies commercial now, accompanied by a museum butler, a stasis of loneliness touring the states on her petrified perch.

In aisle eight, I look down at my backlit Kindle and continue Fenimore Cooper’s “Pioneers.”

Shadowy bodies cover Lake Erie like a lid, the sun itself reduced to a yellow marble beneath innumerable wings.

“Away! away! Bess; I long to pepper them.”


 

 

Lockstep Lockstitch

(I.M. Singer’s sewing machine)

The stitches are so close together!

They lie together like sleeping eyelids; quiet mouths of oysters shut against a grainy tide.

The sewing machines rattle all together in the vast warehouse, the window-light diffuse
and sealike.

How many hands had grown crabbed and scarred sealing the cut halves of garments together, each half no more than a paper doll, hiding our nakedness?

And now this machine spits stitch-stick-stitch so perfectly, so effortlessly!

The bobbin thread and head thread twine their DNA, arrow and hook guiding them.

Rescued from the Triangle factory fire, hundreds of similar machines were left piled in Greene Street like dinosaur skulls, bull skulls, as an ambrosia of smoke went heavenward.

Looking around the factory, one waits to hear the hiss and cease of steam brakes.

But there’s no train here, nothing so rapid or strange; no open door orange with fire, no cloistered steam urging motion.

Just these ladies, hunched like suburban cyclists, pumping the foot peddles, looking attentive and tranquil, palming shaped waves of cloth, wave after wave through a narrow place where the silver chicken foot hangs immobile, calling forth a charybdis of stitches, one by one helping the line of sleeping eyelids to appear….

The whole room thrums like a kind of choral dormitory, Jesus’ mansion of many rooms.


 

 

Albert Beirstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada

First it was a dream. A misty mountain peak like a downsweep of eagle’s wings.

Not like those Chinese mountains painted wave over wave, humped and hollowed limestone hallows.

These are mountains made to endure revered, fracturing the air.

And not all in one day did we make it here, dragging easel and inks and paint-prep packed in Philadelphia.

A dusty ride west longer than death, through white alkali deserts, a hardpan crucible of heats.

And then, all at once, opening beyond the horses’ heads: a level lake, diamond-alive.

Back East the viewers lean away from the stage curtain as the golden cord is pulled, an umbilical to the wilderness West.

They see at a gasp what I’d ridden hard to observe, labored long to swat into spectacle.

What’s the sweptback business of these pines, says one, darkling in the margins?

How attentively stall the buck and doe at the water’s open edge!

Just seeing the big cliff, I can hear the waterfall, a limitless water-pump let run all evening….

And suddenly, I feel their shoulders beside mine in the cool air of the lake.

Gilded vests, Norfolk jackets and pagoda sleeves, mix amid the extravagant grass everywhere green as a pool table.

Quiet does and bucks, they watch cliffs sink to the water, reflect as deep as they climb high.

And those skies over all—over plains and grass and trees and even the sharp wig-white mountains—how they curl and preside, like a Momma’s love perhaps.

The sky opens, ever-present, where pinked clouds part their fogbound camera shutter, widening in pupil-like reveal.

That sky, not as blue as rumored, but mottled a subtle blue-white, an abeyance of dark more than a presence of light, drawing the eye into a theater-like lens of attention.

A milky amalgam lumped on a paint blade, and then drawn clean, quick against the palette—


 

 

King Kamehameha III’s Feather Cape

Cape - Stone Art

Pencil-grey smoke slides from a trail of green cloaks thrown over the ocean, each a blot or close curl of a comma. Each one an island.

Over the many islands, tossed discarded into immense waters, many birds are flying, ocean bound, or hunkered to landmasses, island-hopping.

King of these islands, Kamehameha III, walked forth in a robe of bird feathers, full of flightless equanimity, each feather shining tied to the under-net of his cape.

Many birds donating to become an ornament that had been flighty, alive.

Feather on feather as if grown from the egg, this cape extends its pattern into open space.

The pattern is a series of swept curves, a litter of grass leaves, corn husks: red, black, yellowish-white as teeth, blown onto the big semi-circle smile of the cape, itself a sort of grounded wing.

Catch an ‘i’iwi by the toe,

pluck two feathers and let him go.

Weave each ‘o’o feather tight,

and your ‘ahu’ula cape shines bright.

Made sacred by intent and labor, this exquisite cape drapes easily over the shoulders, enlivening the wearer with visions of flight.

The birds now are silent, some of them extinct, beings beyond bodies, sans skeletons, unless the cape moves. And then you are the skeleton, and wings are everywhere, rustling winds….

So many birds netted! Same nets used to fish, same hands to pluck and release.

The constellations changed over their heads as they flew away, as new men came ashore, pointing high and renaming the stars in this world where mountains burned.

The whole chain of islands is a whipcord of fire, fire seething in the leveled cups of volcanoes.

Kamehameha, his arms folded, beneath the closed loop of the rope clasp, became a cone in this cape, a great auk puffed and resting.

His eyes look out, birdlike, horizon-zoned, aware of infinities and his small place within them, his royal glance touching each island in turn, feathers fallen in ocean amber:

Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Niihau, Kahoolawe, Molokai, Hawaii.


 

 

“What Hath God Wrought?”

Alive is too strong a word.

But, the telegraph’s arched brass back is suddenly not dead.

The telegraph clacks like a thrush cracking a snail; a staticy squall of clacks, soon over.

The boy in a visor takes down many letters rapidly, and they resolve themselves into words.

The slant of sunlight, a bent fin of high yellow, is the same as it was.

The device screwed to the table returns to its intent inertness, a bee asleep in its honeycomb.

The quiet grows rich, the beak of the telegraph is still, the bee’s sting invisible.

Oysters the world over still lave hidden pearls with iridescent layers.

But soon, too soon, the whole world will fit on the head of this pin.


 

 

Electric Speech

(Alexander Graham Bell’s box telephone)
box-telephone 13

He also made a phonograph: reedy, ghost-grey whispers in our ears, hovering weirdly near.

The principle’s the same, eardrum and requiem. All shaped air.

The box telephone has a heavy U magnet that abuts the membrane screwed at compass-points to the wood frame.

Wires trail out the back like discarded puppet strings, two lashed strands of copper.

It doesn’t seem like much, and you can hear the interior magnet ticking when you talk.

You talk into a short black cup like a blind confessional, or Greek prayer-hole going down to the dead.

The cup fills up with your words.

Lips pour words out like a dolphin-face fountain, and the telegraph line drinks them up.

Electric speech, Bell called it.

Alexander was also fond of saying how we often look “so long and so regretfully upon the closed door.”

There’s an ear for every secret, is another saying.

Young Bell’s mother grew deaf as he grew.

Her ears are everywhere.


 

 

American Buffalo

buffalo-sketch

It’s their nostrils up close you notice right away: steaming in cool morning, misty and noisy.

Large animals put such a volume of air through their lungs!

In and out go the bellows, keeping the fiery fits of life lit up.

In much-changing light, excited hooves and horns ring against the metal fence.

The buffalo leap nimbly in their pen.

The dancers’ hooves gouge beaten ground into a sort of mud fingerpainting.

Each split hoof stamps a pair of angel wings until the ground is crowded with wings.

If they were deer, it would be nothing special, a dance in the grass.

But the buffalo, with their great shaggy heads bearded as wise men, and satan-horned, gambol toward the high aluminium fence intent as apparitions, hairy ghosts stamping and huffing in the oncoming light.

Seeing them in a row of six, gamely nimble, limber, effortless, they seem more like a chorusline wearing beards and Russian hats than anything else I could name.

Together they dance, huge faces hanging close together, clipped hooves polished as tap shoes.

Their glassy brown eyes as they dance seem rare and wild, drunk as maenads chasing the scent of a sinner’s blood:

Strange glad eyes, large and moist as espresso cups overrunning with luminous oil—

It’s not a look of sympathy any more than a cat’s or snake’s is.

It’s alien, and you are alone when you gaze into the face of this beast.

They stare into years before mankind arrived, before the riotous rush to the cliff.

They stand, uneasy at dawn, locked up, looking back on eons of easy grazing….


 

 

Sitting Bull’s Ledger Book

On rainy days, Sitting Bull drew in his sketch book.

It was an unused ledger book for facts and figures, additions and debits and getting to zero.

But Sitting Bull drew in it.

It had green covers, green as an accountant’s eyeshade.

Retired to the cavalry outpost at Fort Randall, Sitting Bull kept crayons and pencils with his green ledger book.

Mostly he drew old battles he’d been in, personal victories over other indians, other tribes made quiescent under his feathered spear.

Here’s Sitting Bull riding his red pony that’s been painted to resemble a crow, the eternal victor of every battlefield, with a yellow beak drawn along the horse’s muzzle, and wild claws at every hoof.

His spear is simplified to a single line with a bulb of blade touching the enemy’s shoulder as if he were being knighted.

Sitting Bull has an ornate eagle headdress on, the feathers pulling back a long ways past his shoulders tight as violin strings.

His hands and feet are black buffalo hooves, for the buffalo spirit is in his sweat-work, their thunder in his coming down upon Assiniboine, whose arrow is not yet cocked and who leans backward into white space as if clumsily akilter.

Both of their faces are placeholders, eyed blanks.

They are neither ecstatic nor decimated.

In some of these, Sitting Bull has drawn himself wearing a long sash that’s tied to the dirt, staked to stay in place until the battle’s won.

The rain outside continually descends, dropping zeroes and ones.


 

 

Remember the Maine! Or, Clean Bright Work

bugle - fire

Bugles carry on over the spillway hill, bent by winds.

Navy buglers practicing: Attention, Bear A Hand, Admiral’s Barge, Belay.

But that night in Havana, all those nights ago, no Abandon Ship was blown.

Only the rending sound of metal, unimaginable.

After a century or so, they dredged up this green bugle, bulged as a squash, corrosion-pocked.

When the mind goes to sea, it follows a bugle’s call, the quick sound lancing far from shore.

Was this the bugle Teddy Roosevelt followed up San Juan Hill?

Wet notes risen from water that called those men to battle?

This bugle, once lost at sea, has been dredged back to us, one of Neptune’s wormy seashells, full of storms and covered with spaghetti curls of rust.

Beaten down by the hooves of the ocean, chewed flat by the sea’s jaw….

If living lungs and a pair of tomato cheeks moved breath through this bugle today, what old note would sound?

Would sighs of the dead be audible, sodden voices drowned?

Could such a mangled bugle blare, it might repeat: Captain’s Gig, or Carry On.

Getting there from Hatteras, the milky sailors were young and talkative, busy, buffing every blazon of brass when the bugle called: Clean Bright Work.

But those sailors died in their dreams, sleeping, when the ammunition magazine erupted beneath them, ripping the ship.

The place where they laid down a final time, bellies content with navy beans and canned pork, is under the level bay now, the intact flag rescued the next day from a still-risen mast.

A room of men swinging in womblike ambience, abeyance, hammocked and trussed, the Cuban waters sushing, pushing….


 

 

New Year’s Eve on Christie Street

(Edison’s electric light bulb)

The nippled bulb sits in its rippled socket. A circuit is complete, a pattern set.

From then until today, only variation and experiment; a truce has been called with novelty.

Carbonized bamboo, later tungsten, heats up its isolated void, throwing incandescent glories.

Meanwhile, in 1879 New Jersey, night has fallen over a long snake of street, heavily lipped—a jar of utter darkness lidded and inverted.

Each electric bulb, vacuum sucked and sealed, is held poised in a moonlike globe, lined up jars of not-dark, fireworks pulled to the ground, lashed by wires and tamed, awaiting only the itch of an electric match.

All afternoon and twilight the trains caterpillared from Atlantic City, tilted full of walking questionmarks…and then the switch flips.

And faces, hovering above shawl or overcoat in one cloak of ink, disembarked by hurried trainloads into the anonymous dark, look up all at once, each face individual and astonished.

Hundreds of Adams and Eves holding hands in a new world.

New Year’s Eve on Christie Street is a solid block of light, an illuminated cube.

And with the New Year lights, morning birds began to sing at midnight.

From here on in, nights go by alike as daytime.

From here on in, midnight glares and gleams, eager with gleanings.

Artificial light electric on the night page.


 

 

Statue of Liberty. Interior, Daytime

liberty 3

Inside the spaceship, a million rivets are visible.

People wearing green foam liberty tiaras from the souvenir shop shoulder past, hurrying to the heights, but I am enamored of this interior view.

The iron framework is everywhere, an inescapable skeleton evident as a spiderweb as you make your way to the central pole that gleams like a rocket on its dawn launchpad.

Here it is: an incredible stair, bending its helix upward to a skyline-defying tiara.

Here am I: treading the ascending DNA stairs with ringing steps.

I walk the kite’s tail, hear the harbour winds against her skirts.

Madam’s copper skirt is wind-bitten, bringing salt scents to her interior, tatting the rivets as the silver stairway sways.

Far above, the lined brains of hair make a dome over us, greeny tilled fields full of sweet roots.

Among the roots, many visitors.

The green dress hangs like leaves from the central iron tree, Eiffels’ strutted steps.

Imagine the resounding ringing as they clobbered her together!

The work complex as a cathedral, ladders and wrenches the length of your arm.

Many workers hunched like swinging cuckoo figurines among the gonging carillion tones.

At each juncture of copper and iron, the ingress of seawind generates electric sparks, only stopped by doped asbestos; each cloth wrapped and placed as if against a fevered brow.

Outside, the face hangs heavy: pharonic, platonic.

I look out from the brow of her corona, a band of portholes beneath the wicked spikes, darting rays of electric thought….

An electric lightbulb in her upraised hand was the first plan, a lighthouse Edison-bright and limitless.

I think that she should be on the head side of the penny.


 

 

The Story of the Room

Well, you know, I just painted on. I went onwithout design or sketchit grew as I painted. And toward the end I reached such a point of perfectionputting in every touch with such freedomthat when I came round to the corner where I started, why, I had to paint part of it over again, as the difference would have been too marked. And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know,
I forgot everything in my joy in it.

~~James McNeill Whistler

Brought stick by stick to America, there’s more to Whistler’s Peacock Room than I could tattle in the time I have. Just look:

Dash-dot-dash of light—two golden peacocks on a field of blue—improbable combatants—

One low, his gorgeous tail downswept, calligraphy beak attacking the other’s vulnerable feet, gilded lightning-strikes trined to ground.

The other, dancing fantastically on higher ground, the great peacock tail fully open, lordly, unsustainable as a cloudscape.

Their battle, it appears, is eternal.

Two equally compelling patterns of gold on a blue field racing to dynamic equilibrium….

Every inch of their viciousness made vigorous by the effete penlike strikes of the artist’s brush:

The artist is the third peacock, invisible and effervescent.

We stand in a room of his design, and witness a battle of his conceiving, deceitful and delightful as water-dazzle.

All around us rises a frame of bamboo shelves, sleeves of glitter unrolling on every side, and on every shelf a blue and white plumped pot.

And the notable pots have scenes and designs of their own:

Little towns besotted with sideways trees, or souls pushing themselves down some Chinese Styx.

And then, dead center among the sky-dots the pots imply, there stands, lounges, appears, the Princess from the Land of Porcelain, in her hand a fallen flower—

Dark hair upswept, her eyes are open and waiting.

Her bodice is snug above a red belt, a sash, the only other primary color in the room.

Her off-shoulder robe, more than floor-length, is being shrugged on or slid down, a waterfall itself of gold.

If one finds a spur of museum rail on which to lean, the princess seems to be watching the eternal contest of the cocks—

Is she lost amid the blues, or distracted by the molten lambency of their golden tones, perfect feathers the artist has let rip beneath the endless arch of all those dead eyes in the paired, raised and vanquished tails surrounding watching….


 

 

Tin Lizzie

Wheels and ruts have been rolling on for a long time.

The road curves and hugs the hill’s hardness, a lasso lain against a bull’s dewlap neck.

The Model T roadster turns through parting hemlock and is gone, part of history’s landscape.

If a turtle had wheels, it might look so.

Wrenched together on a player piano’s rolling assembly line, each finished and buffed Model T was driven straight to the sales lot, its pistons tocketing musically.

And there they waited quietly, platoons of turtles sunning themselves.

When we drive, what’s hidden in the trunk rides with us: a beach chair from last summer, a gallon of anti-freeze, books we had meant to read, lives we had meant to live or leave behind.

When it rains, we feel safe, cozied by the upholstery, by the rain’s bumbling drumming.

Shaped vaguely, also, like a homberg bonnet, bourgeois, middlebrow and pedestrian (except for the wheels, which resemble circular insect spectacles underneath the homberg), every family could leave their factories for a drive in the country.

Every Sunday families rolled like circus seals into a car and rolled down the windows and rolled away.

There’s a lot of them still out there, the old Model T Fords.

Their dusty interiors are rotted out, or immaculately kept up with new foam rather than horsehair—the hair of its enemies subdued and stuffed into the seats.

The black ones remind me, too, of mother bears.

But ferociously fast, rolling up out of the river to kill you for the last salmon.


 

 

Helen Keller’s Pocketwatch

keller-watch 22

Time touches my face with spiderwebs.

I run through the clock’s circle, and dance with its hands.

I am the fly that plays in the strings of time.

In my pocket, I carry its small wheel.

The arrow, ornate tattoo, goes round the cardinal stubs of the dial, handles of the captan’s helm.

I go over its swayback swirls with my thumb, its shy guiding steadiness pointing.

I feel the secondhand heart of the clock, the whisper of ticks at each fingertip.

My pocket holds this little god, and I hold hands with god:

The color of 7 a.m. is coolness, the wide window awake to birds.

The mood of noon is cutlery clanking, the tickling feel of glassware.

The breath of 3 p.m. is heated, hot heaviness of naptime in my ear.

When nighttime comes ladling its 8 p.m., and 11 p.m. grows pillows for dreams—

I swim where invisible things are real, my arms feathering into wings.

We’re all at ease in the everything breeze, afloat in adoring waters.

I go up slant shores on hands and knees, and curl at the foot of a wrinkly tree.

I go down softly among spiderwebs, my heartbeat the only ticking.


 

 

Bakelite beside the Delaware

bakelite-bracelets

The river snaked and zazzled through scrimshaw trees on our drive up to “New Hippie.”

Its suave glimmer rides beside us, slithering hither and thither.

Our eyes glide slyly away from each other, hidden and lit with an obscure hope we refuse to name.

Walking through the decorous town, we breathe air like us:

Invisible and crisp, autumn colorful, autumn wonderful.

Tired after a while of watching one particularly bright offshoot of water grow dim-dark as it disappeared beneath a local mill wheel, we turn into the thrift store “Love Saves the Day” at the end of the street.

Old clothes, old games, old things. And bakelite. Many items made of bakelite.

They stamped out infinite numbers of eagle’s wings, as needed, or poker chips, kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, children’s toys, firearms, or chess sets:

This one from the 1930s has men of mottled green and smoky orange arrayed on its checkerboard.

I pick up a green art deco knight wearing a slick racer’s helmet.

Rubbed closely, he gives off a soft smell of formaldehyde, some constituent hint of bakelite.

On the counter top sits a small black-and-white photo of the first Bakelite machine, the boiler of primordial soups, birth-Valhalla of all these things….

It looks like the ugliest ornament on the Christmas tree, Darth Vader’s Easter egg.

Leo Baekeland, the “Dutch Vulcan,” hobbled about his lab chained to this forge to make beautiful, useful things for his demanding mistress.

Or so I imagine, running my fingers through a twirl of earrings.

Thumb-big bolts sit allied to the egg’s waistline, a ring of iron welts or welded warts, brothers to those on either side of Frankenstein’s neck.

There’s an iron wheel at the top of the egg that steers its fetid chemistry, full of phenol and formaldehyde, willful as the wheel that drove Nemo’s Nautilus to its leagues-deep doom.

It’s an object of fairy tales, this black ovoid with its pressure gauge, its steel door that shuts the buck-toothed children in.

Out of this soft-boiled dinosaur egg fallen from its Eden nest, out of this pot the witch used on Hansel and Gretel, out of the hellish guts flowed a noble black poo: endlessly malleable bakelite, the stuff of dreams!

For instance: bracelets, all colors, clacking like pelican bills when Carmen Miranda danced.

Necklaces and gewgaws, and every kind of black power knob or electric socket.

Electric plugs and telephones were made of this stuff for years, utility hiding its inherent glamour.

Rainbow bakelite awoke in us moderns the royal lust for bright things, bright things.

We became indians willing to sell Manhattan for $24 worth of sea shells, every woman a Cleopatra, every man a Darius.

A bakelite radio, brilliant as a marble bathtub, plays seductive jazz from the far side of a flapper mannequin, carefree in her beads.

The antique mannequin has bakelite bracelets riding up one arm until the arm is a ringed snake vomiting forth a white hand-mouth.

“Oh, I want those, all of them!” And her eyes are delighted.


 

 

NOT FAR AFTER THAT

 

 

The Wing-Walker

Some force, animal-born, is slippery, edgy,

Impatient, greedy… for new heavens

~~Robt. Bly, Meditations on the Insatiable Soul
st-louis

Slapping the side of the The Spirit of St. Louis, notice how it looks a bit like a sharpened pencil with wings and a tail attached.

Lindbergh wrote his name in the skies with this plane, with bold loops and cursive surprises.

When an arm emerges from a cloud and taps your shoulder, you go

He periscope-peeped over the tonnage bulk of mounted engine as if flying a submarine, turning the craft sidewise to orient on homefields and runways.

Stepping along the diving board wings of WWI surplus biplanes at 23, “Lucky Lindy” never looked down. He was a wing-walker, a showman, a parachutist detached as a breeze. True story.

By 25, he’d become pure spirit given horsepower and wings, carrying this heavy thing into heaven….

Out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, the bolted floorboards reverberate continuously as if, somewhere nearby, people are dancing. A family shindig, a square dance or barn party.

The Spirit of St. Louis owns the afternoon, its swift pointer’s nose pushing forward among doilies of clouds.

And all along underneath, the ocean is rolling. It isn’t hurrying to get to Paris to be part of a champagne celebration, blind in the flash of cameras. The sea is already everywhere, grey in the twilight, its surface a heaving pattern of ever-changing hills. Beneath those hills many eyes watch a loud light cross overhead in the dry sky, a wayward star moving East.

Soon enough, night rises from the darkening swells. Soon enough, it is so late it is early. His thoughts go out ahead of the plane into the nebulous moistness above the chill Atlantic, feeling fragile and weightless as milkweed seeds….

When the black ice comes on with a ripping creep, he dips The Spirit deep until dead wheels taste a serrated hightop of waves, and skeins of ice chunk off into salt water.

Around midnight, the touchdown. An end to dark heights and sleeplessness, the soundless roar of the engine still eerily omnipresent.

Parisians tore fuselage and pilot to ticker-tape with bacchanalian abandon in a French farmer’s field.

Paraded and feted, “Lucky Lindy” walked the wings of his nation, defying earth’s fallen curve—

He flew up there, fearless, a babe in a bassinet, a hundred miles an hour with the windows open.


 

 

Her Mink Coat

So, she became a kind of angel of my redemption through her art…. Marian Anderson, on that particular day, opened the doors of my prison, and I walked out a free man.

~~Ossie Davis

Her mink coat runs up and hangs from her shoulders, a friend leaning close.

Exiled from Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. to stand by her side, a silent friend.

And seventy-five thousand others around the reflecting pool, seeing themselves there.

When Marian sings, her voice is a flight of arrows over the long crowd.

She stands on the highest step, the mic sparkling like a jeweled hairpin.

Her hands shape the notes, brown doves helping new doves to fly.

What was the song? Oh, it was opera. Ecstatic, untrifling.

Every story was in the melodious, broken story of her singing.

And other songs, too, “Tis of Thee,” and “Gospel Train:”

Here comes that gospel train. Get on board,

Get on board, there’s room for many a more—

Over her shoulders sat the giant white shadow of Lincoln, seated and solemn where all others stood milling, his beard of milky bees from some still-promised land.

And the piano right behind her, beautiful inkblot, running its palindrome of sounds, mixing the differing keys in large harmony.


 

 

A Fireside Chat

fireside 5

In the White House, the instrument, a broadcast mic, sits like a trophy, banded above by a label of commercial ownership, CBS, NBC, perched at an angle on a solid brass stand heavy enough to break a toe.

The dingus itself is unimpressive—an improbable hockey puck with a lion’s tail trailing to the floor. But this is the miracle device, the microphone that will send one voice to twenty million ears, and more.

Radio gathered us together back then, brought us within the circle of invisible voices heralding prayer or pastime.

We move an empty chair over by the fire, and a friend sits in it, ready for his little visit.

He tells us his concerns and plans, and we listen as if they were our own concerns and plans.

His voice carries us into matters we had thought extraneous to us, but which, as we listen, as we curl into the story, slowly become our own.

It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

He emits a jokey moral, slightly acerbic point, and we decide to take it the right way, as it was meant, his voice is so silken-solemn and relaxed:

“The man who strikes first admits that his own ideas have given out.”

Eventually, he gets around to history, to the endless perspective of time, and where we might stand in such a landscape, and from where we sit, listening, we seem a part of his vista.

…the way of thought of a nation whose origins go back to Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.

At some point, his storytelling transforms into a passionate plea. He may need our help, and we listen with a new cautiousness, and with renewed concern, to his advocating and insisting voice as he eventually gets to the evil incident that’s really bugging him.

On this tenth day of June, nineteen hundred and forty, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.

We’ll have to stand with him, or abandon our friendship. There’s no middle ground this time, however endless and friendly he seemed at our first invitation—when the chair was cold and we let his voice begin without expectation….

I call for effort, courage, sacrifice, devotion. Granting the love of freedom, all of these are possible.

A quiet manifests after he finishes, and we rise from our seats, glancing around uncertainly.

We look outside where the variable firelight bleeds through a tall window.

There’s a wing of wind going by, disturbing our home, and we notice our own figures stretching before us, the silent fire at our backs.

Our bodies wavering on the ground in inconstant light remind us of the strange shapes a flag makes when shadowed on the lawn.


 

 

This Land

So much of singing is praising, and preparation for praise.

God made some notes look like little birds on a wire with a single wing.

I wasn’t prepared to cry so much at the sound of voices together.

When the choir of my childhood put on their blue robes and looked up, it was like hearing the rims of fifty wet glasses rung with fifty fingers.

Our singing teacher had a John Denver blond bowl-cut and loved how we could manage “This Land Is Your Land” on the first go.

Now, I look down at the delicate paper, brown as a moth wing.

The letters are cursive, strong as an oar in the water.

Woody Guthrie had licked and affixed ringsavers around each punched hole in the ruled paper.

The fog was lifting, a voice came chanting

A museum is a place for dead things still living, I guess.

It is a kind of book you can walk around in, poking your nose at the out-of-print exhibits.

Next to the paper is the shellac master record, a thin 78 with a hand-written label.

Its grooves shine blackly in the low light.

At the push of a steel display button you can hear his voice through the grate, flat and nasally.

Some of the old words are just wrong, crossed wires that zapped the bird wingless.

How could I hear him now if there were no private property, private effort?

Who would’ve run the recording studio, pressed the records?

I listen to the redwoods’ rustle, the gulf stream hustling past. I walk that endless skyway.

Children are lifting their faces everywhere, still living I guess.


 

 

About the Author

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Night, Night

 [Poetry], Night, Night  Comments Off on Night, Night
Feb 112020
 

NIGHT, NIGHT



Birth defies belief.
Love brings grief.
Death, relief.

 

 

Reaching After Realness

I ask: how do I make my dented self 
         beautiful 
with this old pencil? 
     ~~Daniel J. Weeks, Self-Symphonies

 

Our legs look broken when light bends them in the swimming pool. Once our heads are under, immersed in the experience of wetness, the illusion disappears. Our legs are restored to us in their wholeness, where they can be repurposed as impromptu fins to propel us elsewhere. Which of these sets of legs are our “real” legs? The broken set, the restored set, or the Aquaman set?

Entering a poem is like entering that other, underwater world. We are restored to a wholeness the pain of life and its deceptions has convinced us is missing. But, we can only hold our breaths so long before our imaginations burst! And still we go down like clockwork into the dark otherwhere of metaphor, easing past the shallow end of simile, our imaginations and lungs aching. However dangerous the journey, we will not be denied our diving, our entry into depths.

The act of writing is a way for poets to break the surface tension, to transform and explore with all of their sets of legs at the same time–water-skimmer and octopus at once. The act of, not just imagining, but creating the distortion of a written record, a pool for others to enter, is part of the mystery. This writing things down, however, is not what may be called a clarification; that’s a mistake many neopyhte divers make, arriving back at the deck of their exploration vessel with the bends.

Let me propose that both imagination and reality are equally real, equally imaginary. A grown-up Velveteen Rabbit has a smoking habit, perhaps; perhaps the dourest accountant over-charging on our tax prep is a weekend balloonist– or, more daring yet– a plummeting parachuting enthusiast.

Whether this need for othering ourselves, appropriating the ocean’s indigo, pretending a purpler sky, being winged in imagination whenever we watch a bird in flight, is the result of an evolutionary symbiosis of inner and outer selves or some kind of meshuggeneh co-dependency, I cannot tell. But I know that it cannot be otherwise. Real or unreal, one hand will always be reaching after realness–a stuffed, velvety rabbit dangling from the other hand. •

Gregg Glory
July 4th, 2017
 

I Confused by Honeysuckle, Childhood Misunderstood

Memory is liver than sight. ~~William Carlos Williams, Shadows

Night, Night

I sneak out to the fluid night 
Sky bedizened and soft grass 
Forever under my walking 
Trees besides assaying the hush 
Easing my looking, my seeing, 
Stealth in each threading step 
Holding stones I ache to unown 
Throw where vastnesses hide  
A lurker unloved among cosmos 
Among toads sowing yawps 
Into a black that is matte, that recedes 
As far as pupils' going knows 
Blue iris shuttered on nothing 
But stars' particulate light 
Fine as dust distilled 
Falling in my hair, on my face... 
As if the green, rackety backdoor 
Fixed and taped against winters 
And loosened each year for spring 
When mellow all comes welcome in, 
Now as I pass through to dark, 
Creaking the lintel, begins again 
To show the old summer places-- 
Constellations sleep had forgotten 
Opening straight into outerspace.          •

 

 

Tree of Death

I climb the tree of death 
My father climbed, his tree 
Growing in the cistern of a pool 
Drained for a winter longer 
Than any he knew before  
Where his bald cranium nailed 
The roots with a cross of blood. 
The tree grew with weeping, Dad, 
And I am climbing it, limb over limb 
From that empty pool, the cross 
That lifts from your skeleton  
Once quick with fat and wit 
Fleshed with a scorn of smiles
Lies that made you rich as sin 
And lost your sons forever--
How you derided the sticks of time! 
The sticks lift above me as I climb 
A brachiform blot on the stars, 
The knock in the ribs the heart keeps 
My only guidepost.          • 

 

 

The Niagara of Mothers

The maternal smell of water,  
That arrogant brake where  
The Falls drop into nothingness...  
Pillar mirrored by pillar and all  
Roaring white a colossal edifice  
In motion.  Where an edge  
Should appear blindness remains 
My hands empty before me 
Reaching.  

Billows explode like ghosts  
Panting ripping toward the past,
The strained water--rapids  
Giving and failing like mothers  
Everywhere, and you  
No different, no worse.  
Mother, I would eat every lie, 
Every truth, to see for one minute 
You again!  A crowded brace  
Of mossy wreckage is teething  
The rubber bow before me:  
The glass plank hanging 
Over nothingness, deafness  
Roaring and then--          •

 

 

A Visit


          divine sparks or burning calories
          bodies and souls are on fire

The so-little graves of parents 
And the parents before them…. 
Are they only doused flames
The used-up candle wax sloughed 
Off, or resistless matches 
Held bravely aloft in the dark 
Tom Sawyer in his pirate cave 
Digging at crevices for treasure? 
I close my eyes for sleep 
And my flashlight finds you 
Instantly alive as Polaroids 
In pantsuit and dungarees, 
Bitching your way toward divorce
Even now, even in death
Even in the dreams I sought  
For solace.  I toe the muddled 
Earth between them carefully
Mother here, Father there
Looking for daisies among the weeds.
They lay there looking up and 
Talking:  Pity us!  Let the past 
Drop from our bones like teeth
Drip from our bones like wax
Or fade at least to pastel at last
So that you may paint your days
By what wayward light you find
And not these childish flares--
Vituperations, curses, our
Forever unfinished bonfire!          •

 

 

Sprung

A spring resists its winding 
A road would rather be left alone 
A ballerina's slipper doesn't need 
A restless foot to complete it-- 
Entropy has ensigns of its own 
Signposts of rust, dusty accretions 
A look worn to translucence 
Like the detective's trick mirror 
Awaiting its awful candidate.... 
Fifty has given me a face 
Thin as a sail, as changeable 
Wanting only its original 
Darkness, the rubber bathtub 
That squealed me here, applying 
Disasterous brakes in a panic, 
Leaning into soft headlights 
That showed the indifferent road 
The ballerina's empty slipper 
And 10,000 empty days ahead--

But what could I do about it 
Sprawling in the icy nurse's hands 
The red spring in my belly 
Already loaded tight?          •

 

 

An Overturned Canoe

Under an overturned canoe 
We kept tacked in lieu of a dock 
On the edge of the old reservoir  
Welled like a waterbead overbrimmed, 
A height of welted skin but cool 
To the touch, I found my breath 
Echoey with surfaces among the ribs 
Of the overturned canoe. 

Fibrous light rooted in somehow 
Casting lines above me as I breathed 
In all that hollowness no one 
Visited but me, the lines strange 
As neon hieroglyphs racing bright 
Over my hands as I reached up 
Tangling in their starry business 
That swam the sky inside with me, 
An intruder in the web.          •

 

 

What Drought Brought

When our reservoir was holding  
Its breath, low, baring a shamble 
Hash of sticks, spills of pebbles, 
Dead trees like ribs of black water 
Or inverted umbrellas lost 
Straying in a storm that stayed, 
I'd slide on my dungareed ass 
To walk along the sandy skirt 
And saw how water corroded 
The world, the whole overcast woods 
Hanging precariously revealed 
As cloud bellies, wattles of roots 
Lumped above the nothingness 
I walked, fringed with iffy dust… 
Fragments of the caveworks still 
Wet with birthing and shy of light. 
I'd spend hours kicking stones 
All around the res's tender rim 
Wide as an eyelid limned in sand 
Getting the secret feel for once 
Where water had lapped and stripped
Of underground things unshadowed 
And made uncomfortably known-- 
Trees that couldn't run succumbed 
Spending years sometimes just leaning 
Over the horrible mirror.          •

 

 

Seasons in the Sun

How strangely the artifacts of childhood 
Grow in grown imagining!  When work 
Lapses like a gasp at dusk, a red wagon 
Rolls by the blue inflated pool 
Suzy splashed in, her puffy hair in knots. 
After dinner, among the table's bric-a-brac, 
Eyeglasses aside, the trees we ran through rise 
Acre on acre between the plates, games 
Of chase and war, indians and aliens. 
Vying like twin stags in the forest brake 
We pawed and clashed, cracking dead branches 
For antlers, bleeding after the prize 
Of who Suzy would take to the antic dance 
Beside her pink plastic Barbie player that spun 
Her one black record scratched to static: 
Seasons in the Sun.          •

 

 

The Golden Keyhole

We hid crouched, bunched to see 
What Sally had got on and what 
Took off, all those summer  
Days ago when no one knew 
Anything about girls, or boys 
Being dogs who wagged our tails 
And punched each other quietly 
Away from Sally's bathroom door 
Her brother had corralled us toward 
With stories beyond our ears 
Of slope and dip and fluffed cleft 
Darkly lapping like a wave 
Crashing us to pieces while 
We kneeled in mute accord 
Breathing the golden keyhole's steam.        •

 

 

Little Red Wagon

	when the thirst for love first came
	it was not calm or tame

Pell-mell and hell-all down the hill 
The little red wagon we rode on 
Skirted roots that promised gashes 
Skittled swaths of pebbles in a spray 
As the hill steepened its deepness 
And the battered path narrowed, 
A yellow ribbon in a dowdy wood 
Dappled for hand-held dawdling 
The naming of leaf and birdsong 
Not this rattled race to a quick crash 
Her smile big on my shoulder 
To nibble an ear while I steered 
With flailing handle in hand 
A gasp pushed back to teeth 
Jarring our muscles in dusts 
With an aftertaste of toothpaste 
And foretaste of ecstasy 
As we wheeled the last hairpin 
Squealing until the tears came-- 

And laughter after as we tugged 
Disheveled shirts and skirts back 
To playtime's regular order.        •

 

 

Penumbras

The grass burned with summer's green. 
We burned like grass 
With an end-of-school-fooling-
Around-the-playground fire 
Waiting for the eclipse. 
A midday moon was coming 
Like Pac-man to eat the sun! 
Our science class stood in a circle
Holding squares of smoky glass
Where horizons looked a moonscape, 
Our tree a hooded visitant
The school a blade of cave. 
At first the world went dimmer 
A weeping edge of cloudburst 
Closing one slow eyelid over us-- 
And then coldness seeping, a wave
A snowy wind from nowhere
Hastening through the grass. 
Half the sky turned turquoise,
Lapis lazuli wetted by a cloth 
Before we caught the sun 
Begin its blinking off: 
Its penlight kept getting whiter 
And smaller than a soul 
While a line of midnight skirmishers 
Advanced across the field;
Our school was disappearing fast 
Under the eclipse's dome! 
When we were fully underwater 
The birds forgot their song--
The silence kept us looking up
At wild ill-lit fins of sun 
Surrounding a dot of blackness, 
A circle like ourselves.          • 

 

 

Cutting Copper, Welding Voices

When the welder's laser torch 
Puts a blue tongue to the throat 
Of pipe length, a thin scrying 
Hisses pixel dust out of the pipe 
As it reddens in its vise-- 
When the cut is almost through 
When ruddy heat at one end 
Hurries hot air through the flue 
Dark arroyos of longing open
A soft moaning loosening
A low vibrato bass note 
Coming from the whole length 
Of scissored copper tubing 
The hopeless hollow sobbing 
Of a boy 
Not wanting to be heard.        •

 

 

Handmedowns

Daily our fights like falling axes 
Felled love that buds in brothers 
Love that holds small hands like hafts 
Chopping winter wood in unison, 
Love that shelves all razorthin leers  
Of anger too high to easily reach-- 
Instead he teased snakestrikes over 
Nothing, over lies and pride, 
An inch chalked on a doorframe,
His fist with a reach like a whip
A slap that sounded like laughter
On cheeks red as slaughter
Until trust like a crumbcake was
Eaten, and your mouth full of spiders 
Cursed the dapper little fellow 
You first hugged, first learned to walk behind 
In his bleached and patched handmedowns 
To playgrounds and ponds and friends 
Who waved and climbed while you waited 
Alone, a little ignored, looking up 
Under high masts of sycamores 
His voice calling all pirates to battle 
And everyone in the neighborhood 
Crying ‘Aye, aye!' but you.          •

 

 

The Realness of Velveteen

At 7, the Velveteen Rabbit told me 
Real is a thing that happens to you 
Inflating himself off the page 
Left ear, right ear, a fuzzy balloon
Squealing alive into raw moonlight 
Decolorizing my room like 
Black-and-white TV into moon 
Valleys and moon hills, the fish  
A moon fish circling her lunar bowl. 
Two big feet thumped bopping 
Onto the polished floor, his rabbity 
Glance vulnerable as bubbles--
I looked down in surprise unfolding
Sleepy in my bluebird PJs
Watching his whiskers twitch
Unrolling my arm to hold his hand 
(Or had he reached up to slap
His long velour paw into mine?). 
Howsoever, barefoot together 
Floating over whirlpool bedsheets
We became realer and realer and realer
Like clouds do when their shadows  
Darken your house, a shiver arriving 
In the middle of limitless day 
And walked out the window talking.        •

 

 

Confused by Honeysuckle

Where tentworms had set up the dog 
Plunged through blindly his nose afire after 
The wet stick chucked amongst all them flowers 
Gowning down to grass like a giant's wig 
Old Dukey stuck with that ratsnest cobweb 
Blob of gossamer grossness, a felt patch 
Battened in his mane and over one eye  
While I hold him steady carefully combing 
Silken gauze off in knots from his pelt-- 
A mistake yes I'm sure of it for my part 
The throw all awkward at elbow and wrist 
Can't blame the stupid dog too bad really 
Dumb dog's just gonna sit there and watch me 
Catch it with the switch when Dad checks on us: 
Don't worry Dukey I won't hit you for it 
Confused with honeysuckle is all we were 
Really if you think about it fair and square 
The honeysuckle luminous today  
That had been beige grey just yesterday 
A riot of blossom and the scent like candy
Amid what yellow galaxy of stars--
As soft goodness as any nighttime Mommy kiss
When pillowy dreams come sifting in like mist
And now this unaccountable mess jesus 
My hands all full of broken silver threads 
The comb wrecked and suddenly I can feel  
The worms' irritated circling on my hands.        •

 

 

Cold Burial

One melancholy duty with a shovel 
Was chipping free bodies of birds 
Who threw themselves like snowballs 
Against our bank of 4x6 ft. windows 
Sunset after sunset thinking 
They're flying home to nests they know 
Through what looked a bit of woods 
Real trunks repeated back in glass
Hanging over a gorgeous splash 
Of frozen reservoir so white 
We played there wearing sunglasses, 
Cool skiers in ads for spearmint gum. 

Every evening like fireworks 
Birds thumped stopped against the view, 
Strange fish flat to aquarium walls
Leaving behind halo puffs of dust 
Lingering like fingerprints, then 
Flying off shaken and confused 
In a tangle of awkward wings 
Not ready to abandon air.
Others hit the snow jingling,
Icicles dismantled in a wind,
Small ribald scribbles of color laid 
At odd angles like a swimmer 
Photoed in Sports Illustrated, then 
Hopped afoot in one blink, one twist 
Flying away with a warning: 
Not all woods are woods indeed 
Nor home always where we expect 
Flying fast to beat the night 
And save our necks for sleep.

Next day I always found the worst 
Popsicled overnight, and carried 
Now by me to the frozen pile  
A pyramidal igloo sort of pile
Bigger every day until spring 
When wetwork and a proper hole 
Began to be dug--until then I
Nestled them gently down with "Sorry" 
And a shovelful of fresh snow.        •

 

 

Greggo the Great

I still remember when I first 
Saw a fan of cards like a wingspan 
Flutter from a magician's tuxedo: 
One fan, two fans, dozens fluttering, 
And from his upturned hat 
Into which a pitcher of milk 
Had threaded, doves--doves white  
As milk, their fantails crested 
Like wheels of cards appeared 
From the nowhere of elsewhere 
Black potentialities and spaces 
Emptiness like a new moon hiding  
The full moon in its shadow-- 
The trick of it invulnerable  
And real.  Afterward, backstage, 
I ran up to him, up to Gordo the 
Great, who simmered with the smell 
Of aftershave and success  
And asked if I, I too.... 
"If you, too, can be a magician?" 
He flicked a business card  
For his downtown magic shop 
From behind my ear with a whisk 
And a wink, into my palm, saying 
"The first thing you need, kid,  
Is a really good stage name."          •

 

 

II

Earthquake Minor,
Middle-Age
Explained


      ...bet w/ humanity 
      not against it 
that's the kind of animal you are 
      not a robot, an angel 
      ~~Jacko Monahan, One-Legged Poetry

 

Showering

The world slides off in steam 
Not fire, not ice;  sweat runneled 
To a drain, and that is all. 
Skin snaps like a fresh umbrella 
And I am lily-new, lily-white 
In a rainfall of feathers 
Delighting the aging body 
Fold by fold that leap by leap 
Cartwheeled backyard sprinklers 
Hammered puddles in rubbers 
Through every storm that boiled 
Into cloudburst.... The world's no more 
Than a sentence away from youth, 
From death.  This rain has come before.        •

 

 

Shaving

I run the razor on my face 
And wood shavings appear 
Around my bare feet, gathering, gathering, 
As the mirror's camera records 
My changes.  Whoever I am  
Becoming requires this quick 
Cutting away of old selves 
Face by ragged face, the razor  
Sharp and smooth, etching  
Occasional detours into highways 
The way a river basin ravages 
Itself into existence, in a new 
Groove among the ancient hills. 
My past lies in bleeding curls, 
Frets my wet feet--my ankles 
Are covered!  And my jagged face 
Is guessing its way out of its 
Riverine box, a man's face 
Not yet ready for death 
Slaps aftershave on a totem 
That slept in the treetrunk's grain 
All the days until yesterday…
It's rich itch of potential  
Bearded by bark, by years 
Adding ring on ring of routine 
In active indifference.  Today, 
My palm wipes condensation 
Like drawing a curtain--
With a shiver of hatchets 
A new, raw face arrives 
Chopped into the pole's  
Resurrected top.         •

 

 

The Bag of Oranges

Looking up through blue drafts 
My drifting boat spins, 
Knocks through narrows 
From the weedy wreckage 
Of an industrial wharf 
Wheeling to where breakers open 
In the flat-bottomed bowl 
Of simmering ocean. 
I left the dock I don't know when
Confident as a oarlock
A bag of emergency oranges 
Hauled along for safety's sake 
If the wind grew frisky
(Their scent a sack of sneezes). 

Now sky in endless arcs 
Roofs my journey 
Of hairpin skids and lapses 
Where water and weather 
Give no more guidance 
Than a drowning man's 
Weathervane arms-- 
I see that I am lost 
But not how I got here, 
Sense I am moving 
But not my motive. 
 
My rowboat's boundless arrow  
Spins like a broken compass; 
The bag of oranges  
At my feet 
Is nearly empty.          •

 

 

A Dance?

The average hours of usual day. 
Of course it is a dance, of course.          •

 

 

Holy Mackerel

          for Gabor Barabas

Shellacked to a bullet sheen 
Set mantelpiece high and aimed 
For the Azores or thereabouts 
Where fins inhabited life 
Eye more than a glass bauble 
Scales more glittering than paint 
Alive to plunge and feel the weight 
Of water water everywhere, a bliss 
Of frisson shuttling the sea's loom 
As I pace the shallow fireplace 
Weaving memories like wires 
Recalling taut strike and strife   
Tapping my pipe in Morse code 
Tossed between ashes and ocean 
A fisher admiring his rigid prize 
Visitor eye to museum eye 
Archeologist and the mummy-cloth,
Fingers flush against Pharaoh's belly 
Lingering where silvering scales 
Fall that flashed a fist for years 
A wake arriving after each flash 
A thousand wakes together like a flag 
Woven in meaning and motion
Invisible threads thrashing, streaming 
Pulling the living garment wet 
From the rack--supple, shoulderless 
Slim as in a dream but real 
Their choir of buried voices 
Liquid in every ear.          • 

 

 

Turtle Poem

An old turtle crossed west
A primordial stretch of highway, wide
Where cars came on in thunder
Under sun's dead lightning whiteness.
Time lay flat beneath his feet
That liked a sempiternal heat
Stepping to keep his slow appointments
Made before his egg was digged
And left mooning in the earth.
He is as a wheel of fire
Eating the strangeness of time
Eagerly in mincing licks!
For hours he walks the asphalt
Pushes grass with his hawk beak
Seeking mud and reeds and release
In doppler ripples of the old pond
Where he sighs sinks down and shows
Shyly until nighttime only
His nostrils above the waterline.          •

 

 

Crossing

	and the seagull flying like a crucifix 
~~Emanuel di Pasquale

Walking into my long morning 
Shadow where I stretch 
Where tarry pilings stand  
Like me, like me charcoal-touched  
By shadow, anchoring  
A walkway flatness for my foot 
Where sand is slipping always 
And water winning landward 
Throwing coins of tideline light, 
I saw an arrow's smallness 
A seagull's crooked cross 
Crossing me with shadow wings 
(With shadow wings endowing) 
Where forward wind had slowed  
Him, then he lifted slowly over 
The glassware of the sea 
Taking my dark wings away 
To rumors only ocean knows 
And keeps in a deepness more  
Than me--though ocean deepness shone  
More homey, more close-in, more 
Interior after 
Our long morning walk.         •

 

 

Dream Split

My head a bowling ball again 
Trying to make the split for the win 
Fingers stiffed in mouth and eyes 
Her engagement ring in my nose 
Then screaming red down the lane 
The room ass-over-tea-kettle spinning 
Blond boards blood-slippery, waxed 
A mile long before I knock 
Pins apart, skinning my forehead 
(That'd been kissed to sleep last night) 
To its nobbled and native skull 
The one x-rays show rivered 
With fine lines and cracks, the plates 
Where thought first stitched to thought 
Hanging my face like a grass skirt 
From its ball, a curtain which winks 
Showing live eyes, dead teeth and the whole 
Vaudevillian rigamarole  
That directs my life like a puppet show 
Has me bleat ‘love' and mew when scratched 
Obey all traffic signs, dodge hazards 
And generally walk erect when  
My recalcitrant head's attached  
And not hefted on elbow and aimed 
A pinball flippered in an unknown game 
Rolling, rolling, rolling.         •

 

 

Metabolic, Metaphoric, Metamorphic

Paint slops, and there's a daisy. 
Another slop, and the reedy stem 
Fattens to a skeleton a brush 
Emboldens into form, into firm 
Outlines on a canvas, all those 
Acres of whiteness that yet need 
To be invented like the night 
Gestating day in its egoless cradle 
To see what shapes darkness dreams 
Revealed filleted by the dagger day, 
And changing even then through shadow  
Rotations as a sundial tells the hour 
And events defeat imagination 
And love and hate and envy, pride 
Deride their painted lineaments  
Besotted by chaos as Rorschach blots 
Until dreams carve the mystery again, 
Put paper people at their marks 
Assign the scripts and invent the day 
Like a play that only needs rehearsal, 
Conviction that the fiction's real this time--
And we awake fresh as paint to watch 
Day go incorrigibly awry.          •

 

 

A Jazz Enjambment

A jazz voice never listened for 
Emanates in syncopation 
From behind the closed door 
Inside a littered taxicab 
Stale as wet cigarettes
I duck to enter.  "Where  
Are you headed?" the driver 
Says over the river of radio 
The two voices braiding 
In my ear live and lithe 
Inviting as in a new-spun 
Dream a night journey 
From the low-watt dimness  
Of the shut door behind me 
On to where the roadway 
Lies slick and glistening, 
Whispers of earlier rain leaving 
The black wide pupil brimming 
With overmuch of emotion almost 
Save that the jazz voice busking 
Broken hearts brings strange 
Comfort, pain easing pain 
Telling me whatever dream 
Is rolling like a tear tonight 
Has rolled this way before.... 
Forlorn elms and watchful skies 
No strangers to what muted me 
To what had those radio voices 
Unspool like talking smoke 
I could inhale, inhale, inhale.          • 

 

 

The Entire Sky

The gentlest racket 
The rattle of a doorlatch 
Opening to beach fireworks 
Come so soon again 
While my quiet world grew 
Warm as two rheumatic hands 
Holding my face all those 
Cold years ago. 

                         Grandmother, 
You kept this house swept 
For company, the model boats 
In naval trim as Granddad had, 
Fresh zinnias on the tabletop, 
Lemonade twisted by hand 
And left sweating--once 
A bee struggled to his sweet 
Death in the glass-cut pitcher 
Like Snow White in her glass 
Coffin, but a bee instead. 

Tonight, the entire sky 
Will whistle and celebrate 
While I stand on the bare porch 
Of this now disordered house. 
My life feels abandoned, 
A boat spinning from its dock 
 Into darkness, the tide out, 
The stars a chaos overhead…. 
So I think to turn back inside 
And slide into sleep when 
The first crack arrests me, and 
The whole bowl of the sky 
Fills with zinnias.          •

 

 

Questions Are Beautiful

The wry neck of a swan 
Wrenched into a questionmark 
Answers as the beautiful always do 
A question with a question: 
--Are you graceful only on the water? 
Can you read what's written there?
--Does your flight echo the soul's after death? 
I've never died before, have you?

Still as a lotus on the pond 
They float like clouds, like blossoms 
Mirroring heaven, while beneath 
Black feet revolve dark, strong webs. 
Taken altogether they are 
An image of contemplation 
That pushes the mind's mirror 
With black feet, strong dark webs. 

Fifty-five years and the pond remains 
Crowded with beautiful swans 
And questions;  here the sunset grows 
More lustrous as the minutes pass, 
An ember edging the water's tongue. 
Half-lifted swans batter their wings, 
Shoulders like a swimmer breaking free, 
Necks straight out into darkness.          •

 

 

Earthquake Minor

Notice of it came like a nail 
Jerked from a new-cut two-by-four 
A spiral squeal as if the walls 
Were papier-mache, fingered 
At the seams, tossed unloftily 
As last week's overtipping trash 
That hit the kitchen floor rolling, 
A pup obscenely frisking; 
Water hiccuped in the goldfish 
Bowl, lensing the orange fish 
Into a convex abstract. 

A neighbor at her balustrade 
Shouted "Earthquake!" her infant 
Swaddled close and looking up 
Babyishly at a cloud.          •

 

 

Botanical Gardens

A thousand swats of water 
Stagger leaf to leaf 
In the Botanical Garden dome 
The jungle flora breaking 
Into blossom like a swimmer:
Helliconia, orchids, monkey brush, 
A thrashing passionflower 
Stigmata-red and starred,
Glow among moroser leaves 
As we navigate the catwalk 
And consult our heavy guidebooks 
To ogle this pulpy Venusian 
Terrarium in Brooklyn 
As stranger voices skreak, and
Hidden wings restlessly emerge: 
Macaws, cotinga, oropendolas 
Unlimbering their leider 
To tattoo our eardrums as we 
Climb a ladder stairway up among 
Throngs of heavenly feathery hosts 
Whose language is not our own-- 
Clear panes of sky have exiled 
Pure spirits with us sinners 
Condemned to eat the bread and 
Birdseed sweated from our brows 
So hot to hear them singing 
Enchantments like a new beginning 
Before brother beset brother 
Before a sword bolted the gate, 
Turning slowly the great green leaves 
Wherein we read their world.          •

 

 

The Parachutist

"Love is letting go," I hear, 
Slapped through the cutout  
Into a sprawl of cloudwrack 
Imprecise as serried dreams. 
The air pins my limbs back 
And pressures a rictus grin 
As I swallow curls of screams: 
Such beauty!  Such beauty! 
Idealized shadows hang blue  
As Plato's ruthless smile 
Enlivening the skies.  Below, 
The world's laid out like a grave 
Ploughed for seed, all that Iowa 
Loam beneath clouds' pageantry,  
The wind so loud it is silence. 
I never felt my body more than 
In that moment of first falling; 
My eye all eye, my stomach 
A helium balloon, hands claws 
Legs stiff in a sculpted vice. 
I realized all I was was a clod 
Of earth--misplaced, tossed up-- 
Out of my element among  
White spires, candelabra touched 
By some genius of whimsy  
As I fell my way back home.          •

 

 

Rembrandt’s Faces

Are the most human, rueful 
And ruined of masterpieces 
Chafed into paper with a sad 
Wit too aware of time and time's 
Humiliating erasures, pulling 
From the wreck the sensual 
Wrinkles of Diana at Her Bath, 
Her rust-colored puckers piled 
Like a couch too long sat upon 
Thoughts too deep and grave to give 
Voice to their sorrow, words to marrow 
Until only a Zen charlatan's  
Shinbone flute is left tootling 
The haunting airs of fieldhands  
Which Rembrandt also drew, noting 
A muscular rangy strength 
Bundled arms and thighs bursting 
Bunches of blood grapes unpicked  
Weighty with harvest, while in those 
Hands so sensitively rendered hangs 
The black heavy arc of the scythe 
Swinging the wheat headless, 
Stroke after stroke of sketched wheat 
Under a crayon sun.          • 

 

 

Walking the Talk

Conversations rise around 
Us like hossanahs 
Flock after the Ark 
Of the Covenant-- 
A blessing that bathes 
The ears that see 
The souls it blesses. 
Words for the mendicant, 
Words for the wife, words 
For the ticket-taker 
Standing at attention at 
The theater of your life. 
Weavings, meanings, they 
Hammock us in wholeness, 
Two peas in a pod 
Of words, words, words. 
Asleep or swaying 
We huddle together 
In our sheltering web-- 
Not one, not one thread 
Of our woven home 
Would I snap.  Together  
We've talked the decades real, 
Together our time 
Abided.  Together 
We pull the needle clean 
Of the housing shroud; 
Together hoist up 
To our narrow, old 
Shoulders the Covenant.          •

 

 

In a Parkinglot

Workmen in orange vests 
Hammer at a cracked drain 
Seeking beneath the grate 
The vat blackness where water 
Like a shadow goes only 
Lately its been sitting here 
Stiff as a mirror the sun 
Beats his gold face upon.          •

 

 

Landing in Bed

	a country far away as health
	~~Sylvia Plath

Illness, Illness, a brimful life 
Cancered, ulcered, reduced, abridged
To a flat plate of licked gruel 
Stinks and sinks and embarrassments 
Unending as a diaper rash, 
The grinding doing of others who 
Orbit you, you who were Pluto, a 
Planet demoted to a sick cot 
Down a few organs at last count, 
A chore for the devoted.
You issue mewling protests, how
Even memories go icky grey 
In the daily wash, how only the steel 
Bedframe is real, the mealy 
Pillow yellow with unworked sweat 
While dreams of drowning drip-drip 
To wake you in a gasp of tubing, 
Walls cubed as an Escher etching 
Receding in series, a white mirage.... 
The whole house of cards kicked 
Flat on its back--and you too, clueless,
Sure to the end that death's just 
That fuzzy, unfazed after-light 
After a flash.          •

 

 

Michigan Lumber, 1886

The saw blade worked white to lick 
Dust from the living core of wood. 
Held taut between us double-dutch 
It's rhythm slithered like a lullaby 
Of bees cozied in closed peonies. 
Sweat that felt the wind kept wary 
For what might come to pinch our work, 
Turn the day to waste and wreck the blade. 
The tree was balanced now on less than half 
Of what had held it lofty all those years 
Before we came to use its strength for houses. 
With a nod we doubled rhythm now 
To surprise the pine that couldn't run away 
And keep our luck to leeward.  We'd apprized  
It'd fall between two garland oaks 
And lay obedient to be timber.  At a crack, 
We knew we'd psalmed the solemn child 
Asleep, and sang our saw blade backwards 
With a twang to watch all sleepy nature sway 
Like a woman dancing for her man 
A moment--and then the horrible crash like
Tearing ears. 
And silence like a blanket after that.
•

 

 

The Haskell Invitational

	 for a quintet of poets 

A constellation of friends 
In a Pegasus configuration  
Abet my summer writing jag 
As a fence abets a horse's 
Jumping form, legs strained 
To effort and flight, flashing 
Most where crossed 
Highest where hindered 
In the muddy brown stream 
Of his strong running 
From the starter's gun. 

Beyond their stoppages 
I canter in circles,  
The sacrosanct circuit  
Their stars have lit for me: 
Speech like a bettor's prayer, 
The finish-line a typewriter ribbon  
That breaks against my breast 
When a poem's intoning  
Is done. 

Each critique sticks 
Like a jockey's whip 
And foams my lips, the blinders 
Tight beside my eyes that
The little man above me might
Wear a new hat, I a hoop 
Of flowers like a yoke. 

All night I watch my brothers 
Revolve in races of their own, 
Myself a glimmering participant-- 
Summer's final star, perhaps, 
Shining under a coronal 
Flare of tail.          •

 

 

Circumloquacious

Clouds rumble their thunder bubbles 
Piling nimbus on nook and crag 
On etiolating white tendril where 
Shadow shoots like a handkerchief  
Patting away effort and sweat 
With cool assurances of talk. 
I talk my way around the lengthening day 
A simmer of indifferences
Affinanced to the lazy scuds above
Reluctant to come again to ground 
The dark of earth, the insistence  
Of grass... I am a brush that moves  
Among watercolor clouds.... 

Such afternoon summeriness  
Has left me leaning  
On dreams, the rifted  
Fabric of skies 
Tall as my leaning eyes.          •

 

 

Cry of the Cat

The cry of the cat 
Fat as a baby's cry 
Pricks me from sleep 
Up the long slope of day 
A ladder of witless pegs 
And serial embarrassments--
The stubborn self shudders away, 
A red stain licked on thick
Bruising splinters. 
Quickly everything is gotten  
Ready and dispensed with; 
Speedily the road rewinds 
From work to home. 

The cry of the cat 
Takes my coat, seats me.
Like a grinning cannibal I 
Dine on the dinner of myself: 
My heart a purple plum 
Gone splayed with waiting, 
A liver in ribbons, lungs 
Two worthless wordless sucks 
Of grey breath, a foot 
Coy and uncallused as 
A princess' palm.
I eat until the sky 
Is black.          •

 

 

Smoking the Pipe

Pulling open the tobacco bag 
To a stir of leaves 
Autumnal brown but moist 
As breath, the careful 
Mouth of the pipe 
Roots among rummage 
For a shovelful of coal 
I bring to my lips 
The bit between my teeth 
As a feather of fire 
Comes instantly close 
Enough to start a star 
In the bowl of Cosmos 
That had been blackness only 
While I inhale 
The furious engines 
As deep as lungs can go 
Without remitting breath 
From lips as round as song 
Which sends a signal 
Of heavenward smokes 
In spiral galaxies, a wreath 
Of woven laurels 
I dream may yet come 
As I shut my eyes 
To taste it all again, 
Redolent and resonant.          •

 

 

Dark Cypresses

Dark cypresses without sound, 
Soft upright voids, lofty flames 
Erasing the mission of light 
Standing as you do for night 
No matter how burnished the day,
Cut-outs hanging substanceless! 
Where are you going, where arriving? 
You black pantlegs on the march 
You dancers moving in plush rows 
In shoeless midnight dancing 
Touching the dreamer's cheek 
With moon shadow and snow shadow 
Drawing darkness from what depths-- 
Vaporous chill of damp earth, 
Living earth we know nothing of 
Who wander its surfaces like grass 
Noisy and dry in our myriads 
Like grasses perishing innumerably 
Full of the empty sounds of wind 
Passing, passing  
Beneath your great, grown silences 
Dark cypresses without sound,
Under sigils of your bonfire.          •

 

 

Among the Whales

Far off the port-beam sightings 
Of sainted spray, feathers 
High as houses, rollicking 
Toward the tourist powerboat 
Like quilled teams 
Of Shakespeare's copyists 
Hammering away at Hamlet. 
Soon enough their acres 
Of skin were all around us, 
A smell of industrial rubber 
Enclosing us in a dome  
As the spouts circled. 

Hills of humping muscle,  
Ailerons of fatal flukes 
Dark as midnight soil 
A midnight rain had wetted-- 
Sheets of living tissue 
Near enough to slap, it seemed, 
And we enraptured in the dream. 
Down came the feathered 
Waters, the bowing plumes  
Of drum majors among us 
Dancing a disparate rhythm 
On the slick deck.

And it was hot, hot as a kiss,
Hot as blood the spume spray
Splatting about us in blots
Viscid as afterbirth, 
And we grinned like kids 
Shamelessly running, running
Through tumescent sprinklers-- 
No awe, no shame at all in all that 
Fantastic whiteness blown 
Hissing around us.          •

 

 

III The Curve of Her World: Love’s Conundrums

[Women] will do what they can once again to warm our gut and heart ~~John Logan, Dawn and a Woman

 

 

The Seneca Doe

The white Seneca doe is rare 
And here;  she nibbles on a swale 
Of cantilevered grass half past 
Its greenest age, more stale than hale--
Even so, the eaten grass becomes
A part of whiteness, swift whiteness 
Stepping quick like a compass tip 
In tentative exactness 
Measuring the left-alone landscape 
Two miles off the highway way 
Amid a mix of wood and field 
This buttery day I came to sit 
Stiller than a cenotaph 
And watch the Seneca doe awhile 
Go eloping with my hopeful soul 
Paper-white and puppet-limber 
Leaning through tree shadows like a ghost 
To eat and depart forgotten 
Had I not come in expectation 
To eye her oil-dark watchful eye 
In silence, and count the motions 
Of her lips as if anxious myself 
Of a lover's kiss, or writing 
Now of what I saw and did not miss, 
A lover's kiss recounting.          •

 

 

The Lost Rib

Flow gently, sweet dreamer who 
Lies beside wandering lost 
A lax magellanic cloud 
Of impulse and perception 
Shimmering rivery in summer 
With a sheen upon which desire 
Floats downstream sweetly 
Unswattable as starlight 
Reflected in water.  Desire, 
Is that what had the lost rib 
Run off by herself and grow up 
Into this unknowable companion? 
You would laugh to hear me  
Say it, but it was written  
Before we were born--a story 
More relatable than the news' 
Imaginings that twitter 
At us unprompted!  Un- 
Prompted as the dream that 
Seizes you curling your 
Fingers like ribs in tension 
Of a new birth;  what child 
Are you shuddering into life? 
Your eyebrows bow, approach 
And meet each other where 
A stream appears between them 
Dark in a pale brow, pinch 
And pang of the new-- 
Not novel, but new again, new 
To us, the forbears of a dream…. 
After a while your breath 
Slows re-regulates relaxes 
And it's as if the new thought
(New as you lying here was 
To me) was always here 
A ripple rubbing the stream 
Something for moonlight to touch 
Cascading beside me when I'm 
Prompted out of sleep;  or not, 
Always shining your own way 
Onward through what bonnie braes 
Sweet dreamer, flow gently.          •

 

 

Birds of Summer

Ladylike birds gather summer 
Like a brace of arrows 
Snapped in a fist, 
Their fetching feathers fletched, 
Their beaks stone arrowheads 
Out of pre-Colombian mists 
Darting at a spillway of seed, 
Eating the grain I gift them 
With the quick attention 
Of surgeons plucking shotgun pellets 
A childhood accident had left 
Inside my scarred left knee 
Keeping me bent-legged 
As a bird up any stairs, 
My ascent slow, unfeigned 
On wounded and winded wing 
To where Jenny sits at table 
Grading boughs of assiduous sheets 
Her student flocks have gathered-- 
Birdscratch of pencilmarks, false 
Flights and failed landings-- 

Her face in a nest of lamplight 
Looks up at my entrance, 
Offers me the golden grain.          •

 

 

The Curve of Her World

Tears that pepper her cheeks 
Refresh a softness in her gaze, 
Give back grace now the monster 
Sorrow has swum away to sea 
To bother other deeps, other shes 
While my darling thoughtfully 
Walks barefoot back ashore to me 
From over the curve of her world
Spatted amazed, pinching her top 
Back into place, even smiling 
And almost meaning it, meaning 
To mean it in the near future, 
Her face a new polaroid  
Shaken slowly into focus-- 
A dolphin of shadow darts 
Into tidepools of her eyes 
Come from her lone sea-sojourn 
Not all the days ahead will keep 
From circling the boat of us 
As she approaches my hammock 
Swinging like a hanged man which 
In tarot simply means ‘change.'        • 

 

 

Without Thought of Harvest

One summer we were proud 
To watch our overmuch of flowers 
Overpour their beds and out- 
Match the virtue of their stems: 
Downward nodded every head  
As if golden damozels  
Were bowing in rows.  It was  
An avalanche of flowers! 
Some tidal wave had landed 
And left the coastline richer-- 
Flower on flower beyond bounds 
With woes of colors cresting 
With splendid displays of petals 
Until overfull of feasting 
We closed our eyes to rest them 
As if blind inside the rainbow 
Dumb with a moment's prayer 
Amazed at what summer had made 
Of our refusal to be of use, 
To stop and stoop and pluck 
To sell at a corner stand 
At two dollars a bunch 
Sharing our garden bounty 
With the whole neighborhood,
Refusal to dazzle
With blossom and art the household 
Vases left shelved, closeted in dust 
 That last year blazed the tables-- 
How instead this untended gift,  
This unweeded bounty, had burst 
Without thought of harvest.          •

 

 

The Housewife

	Nature frightens us into love. 
	~~Richard Poirier

I kiss my husband's cheek, 
A fine grit that acts like teeth. 
Every day I wear away another 
Layer in a kind of decay until
I wear a face like a knob. 
Turn me, I'm too smooth to complain! 
I fall backward like an open door, 
An empty rectangle you lean on-- 
Come in, I'll lead you everywhere.          •

 

 

Bandamages

I feel that she might just be 
The medicine that I need 
The bland to allay my acids 
The dagger to scissor my spasms--
Her blasé cloud covering 
A sun of pain like a figleaf,
Tinsel edges forge-orange
A spiky halo hinting fire. 
But a bandage is not a cure 
For self-harm, self-alarm, for
All the selves I peel back, rank 
Tooth and sputum in a dish
Sordid splats of blood, of blood. 
Still, I feel that she might be 
The balm-calm bee in a mad hive 
Dancing the buzzing huzzahs 
In my mazy eyes to hush 
Me to sleep like a spill of inks 
Blotting out the bastard day 
To dream and dream again, the dream 
Forgotten as they always are 
Telltale shreds of mist diminishing… 
The bandage renewed as the 
Wound's renewed, my hacked scabs 
Growing spider legs 
Tearing themselves off and running.         •

 

 

The Mistake

Love has torn my life in two: 
Before and after the--then glad, now sad-- 
Mistake as I have come to call it, 
Defining my eras by error as 
I look back upon my footsteps' track. 

Love had pulled me through the needle's eye 
And stitched me witless with desire 
Told my tale upon a pillow seam 
And rocked my soul from its lonesome groove, 
Locked in a dance I could not unchoose. 

When the ship of me then foundered sundered, 
My wreck picked to ribs by bony crows, 
Naked I arose to mosey onward, 
A worm escaped from Eden's apple. 
A gate slid shut with a sound of oceans.
•

 

 

Fiancée

A tourniquet of love 
Enwounds my finger now 
Like honeysuckle holding up 
Its triumphant yellow bloom 
On a dead net of twigs 
Too long alone with the sun. 
This ring of elfin silver 
Braids my knuckle white, 
Brands me with a lash of fire, 
Connects beyond abandonment 
Another's troubles with my own. 
My fear that love would loosen 
Like teeth, and leave me to worm 
My way to death alone, 
Our small ceremony atones-- 
Hands held lightly, like branches cross- 
Ing, two pines that share a shadow 
In acidy sandy soil for all 
Their lives, bristling against the weather, 
Pinecones cuffing like coughs 
When wind beats them sideways.          •

 

 

Spines of Light

The black conveyer belt 
Hauls rivers of diamonds 
To a mouth of slush, 
A slurry of vomit 
Only patience can screen-- 
Patient implausible fingers.  
Some raven that lives in  
Midnight with a beak  
Like a drill-bit pecks  
Earth's holocaust crust 
To perch upon a finger 
One tear of the sun.  

It takes a diamond 
To find a diamond:  
The three-faced drill 
Cores stone and coal  
Seeking a vein  
Of light, a ripple 
In the earth where  
A finger, a snake  
Of sunlight died, 
Crushed multifaceted 
Into permanence-- 
Spines of light.           •

 

 

Juliet Manqué

The moon pulls me from bed 
Like taffy in my long gown 
Tittering slipperless on marble; 
Its wide craters effervesce 
Champagne I drink pinkly
Pearling my snub nose. 
I am pitiful and alone. 
My legs ache for embraces 
Like a bad tooth--pull me
Out, pull me up, dentist moon!  
This pain's too intimate  
To forget, too stimulant 
To ignore, painted wet 
With every cup of breath, my 
Loose arms open like a noose 
To hug the tainted stone flying 
Away, away from love, from me.
Come down!  Come down!
You foolish light!  I am your perfect lover-- 
A windowed prisoner pressing 
Her moon-face to the glass.          •

 

 

The Beauty

She cut off her nose 
And offered it up. 
She trimmed her ears 
And offered them up. 
She kissed her lips numb with a shot-glass 
And offered them up. 
Her skin broke out from her makeup, 
But that was to be expected. 
She punched her feet into guillotine shoes 
And offered them up. 
She prayed on a yoga mat 
Until her back broke. 
She despised her eyes as too small 
And offered them up. 
She coaxed her nails into claws 
And offered them up. 

She offered them all up 
Again and again in ritual 
Until there was nothing left 
Until she was finally beautiful.          •

 

 

Streamers

Hazel streamers from your eyes 
Entangle in ribbons from mine 
According to Renaissance lore-- 
Love pulls us through the eyes 
Feels the ganglia tugging taut 
As rainbows arise between us. 
I hold your nipples like a rosary 
Sensitive this week as eyelids 
While always this prayer is rising 
To dissolving lips a red scarf 
Thrown over the bedroom lamp 
Burning swollen as a heart.          •

 

 

Finding Fossils

	I hugged the ignorance of stone. 
	~~ Stanley Kunitz

She lies next to me sleeping 
Quietly alive, foot off 
One end of the double bed 
Steadily paddling home  
On a pool-float, her breast  
Milkily over the summer sheet 
Draped loose in summer heat 
That breath might sustain an ease 
And stillness enter at last to rest 
As at last she rests, yes, while I  
Remember her ceaseless wheels, her  
Doing that goes like a hummingbird 
In circles of forward and back 
Around the daylit apartment 
Around work and it's circuits 
Pacing the corners, igniting  
With fingertip tricks and a match 
Candles when evening loving comes 
And touching stretches, being thrums 
Until at last this sleep arrives 
Slows the breath undoes the eyes-- 
Her able hands for once so calm, 
A fernprint on a stone.          • 

 

 

Dream No More

Wordlessly you rise wary 
Into day, pitch awake 
On an L-elbow, pried eyes 
Carnivorous for coffee while 
Birds pinch your face with their 
Enviable singing outside, 
The flimsy scrim of screen 
Inundated by waves of sun 
Defining you out of darkness 
Like a rediscovered key 
Picked out by drunken headlights 
Last New Year's Eve, or last before-- 
And you moan into the mayhem 
Of consciousness again 
Pressure of bladder and bowel 
How feet flatfoot the earth after 
Flying for hours in nightgowns 
Knowing nothing but wind 
The occasional cloud-fluff 
Stars everywhere like friends.          •

 

 

Needlework

I mend an image worn 
By sitting, by fluffing, by naps: 
A spatter of nasturtiums 
In a delightful but unnatural pattern 
Printed on the drugstore's  
Two-dollar needlepoint kit 
In 1983.  Now I mend 
A confusion of nasturtiums 
Back to crimson, petal by petal, 
A task for Ariadne 
My spidery fingers finesse 
In evocations of thread. 
My heart dreads 
I shall not survive to renew 
This pattern again-- 
Some stranger's backside will come 
To endorse all I've done, 
All I've left undone... 
My basket of needles long sold 
Garage sales ago. 
I pause my pace 
And stare at the half- 
Resurrection in my lap, 
How the new infects the old, 
How the old degrades 
Beautifully as a sunset 
By Turner perhaps, or some 
Byzantine icon touched 
By too many lips.          •

 

 

IV Tightropes: More Formal Poems

Wisdom changes hands among the wise. ~~Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

Trying

Gently, without hurrying, try it: 
     Be the bowl of shadow in the valley, 
     Go with the river over knowing stones 
     Smooth as a catfish belly. 

Let pine trees breathe needles in your hair: 
     Follow that compass where it points, 
     Walk until your feet are padded, 
     Your toes as black as a fox's. 

The wind is trembling to begin it: 
     Are you ready to be led by the nose? 
     Forget your own life and inhabit it! 
     Gently, without hurrying now, 

Try it.          •

 

 

Tightrope

Walking curb edges for practice 
The tracks of departed trains 
I've sought, I'm always seeking 
A kind of balance in the brain 
An equipoise, a perigee, a grace 
Where thought and its subject 
Equally displace 
Each other (and themselves) 
On principles of mutual alliance 
The way Earth pulls back  
Her punch into the sun, and sun 
His enthusiasm contains 
To less than hellish flame. 
So that survival might feel 
Restful, I beaver at my niche: 
I count my words like beads 
Into the sorting dish: red, 
Blue or black, alive or dead, 
I've all the signifiers assigned, 
All the labels that I need 
To have my cusséd abacus succeed 
--To keep my accounts unsettled 
That entropy would nettle. 
I count the wordy beads: 
Charity, dignity, hope; 
Keeping your head up is like nothing 
So much as walking a tightrope.        •

 

 

Water, Water

        ...deep dark surroondin' darkness I discern 
     Is aye the price o' licht. 
    ~~Hugh MacDiarmid, Milk-Wort and Bog-Cotton

Downcast as thoughtless waters' face 
When a stormfront steals the light
I boot the edging muck and wail at fate 
A boxer simmering for a bout; 
But when the spry sun cast coins 
In cash on bricolage waves 
My spirit like a new-washed face 
Shines benign, myself am salved and saved. 
Well long lying I've watched for dawn, 
Well known the subtle cups the moon 
Pours on darkling waters' scorn,
Sibilant ease in which night is born….
And oftener still felt sprigs of spray 
Whip, dot and whisker me for spite 
Turning my inmost grouse of thought 
To imp-laughter and wet delight. 
A thousand hours down on elbows, low, 
I breathe the skirl of air from off 
The dance, the mantling of the lake-- 
Shavings, glintings of light and self.        •

 

 

One Afternoon

The sun swarming on my upturned face 
Warms me into place. 
If ever I moved from where now I lay, 
Love, it was not today. 
Long hot summer holds me so hammock-snug 
Gott could call, and I would shrug. 
I'm a cat whose paws overstretch its stoop; 
Night is when I leap!          •

 

 

New Places

I thought we were going somewhere new, 
A place undiscovered, at least by us, 
Where new day would startle us quietly 
And new night silently confound. 

But there were all the old stars above us. 
We hadn't taken the turnpike far enough 
To reach escape velocity, despite our losing 
Home and cell phone coverage along the way. 

All around us, trees kept on being trees, and  
Although the land crept up the sky somewhat 
More than usually for us in old New Jersey, 
The clouds came down to meet it just the same.
•

 

 

A Map of Bones

Tiptoe on the mountaintop was not enough. 
Some part of me sparked up crying: more sky, more sky! 
My eyes swept the flowered hills, and the gulfs 
Where the water went, and sometimes hazed, 

And none of it, sparkle or living quilt, was enough. 
Inside me, full of burning teeth, was the eater of days, 
Dissatisfied dipsomaniac of incalculable thirst 
Dragging me from mountaintop to top 
  
For vistas so magnificent they hurt. 
The body follows its map of bones, laying out 
Fingertip, fingertip, fingertip--or tilting 
The pelvis upright to see how we're not alone  

As we walk the flat unpatterned plains between 
Thunderclaps of mountains that help us up, 
Whose stone bones grow so long that they poke 
Through the scenery.          •

 

 

The Dancers of Sleep

The dancers of sleep hold flames in their hands. 
We follow them down into caves, under the earth. 
Stones glare into existence, bursts of incredible light. 

Tall blade-shouldered creatures fearless in daylight 
Walk like Egyptians down the dusty path clapping hands 
To awake the napping bats entangled in edges of shadow.          
•

 

 

Reluctance

All day the steeple bells 
Harangue an empty sky. 
The sky is crowded with clouded 
Now, and will not answer why. 

The trees themselves are swinging 
Like bells held up to skies. 
The sky is silent and itself 
And will not answer why. 

The birds compete with tinny 
Bells alert in tree and sky. 
The sky is blue, alarmless 
And will not answer why. 

A man comes late on silent feet 
Between trees and bells and sky. 
The sky he looks at satisfies; 
He will not answer why.        •

 

 

Day and Night

Into the woods we ran at ten like Indians. 
Into the pond we dove at twelve like crocodiles. 
Into the grey fields we walked at thirteen 
Holding hands until stars nosed close 
     And loneliness fled. 

II 
Before the old fire's fine red we sit, and stare 
Into the old years we've passed together here. 
Into our old eyes unbidden rise grey tears 
And old stars come down close to us 
     And loneliness flees.          •

 

 

This Soil

The soil is ready before I am ready. 
Already a youth's beard of weeds 
Greens the garden plot, and March 
Just barely by. 

This soil has turned up old arrowheads before. 
When the hoe tapped a hardness more than stone, 
I bent and cut a finger open 
Down to the bone. 

This soil loves a tender thumb pushed in, sighs 
At the tamp of my palm under our one sun, 
The gurgle-tinkle of water from the rusty can 
A baby's cry. 

The soil boils with vegetables all summer long. 
I stoop like a mother, attend to weeds 
And pack my ratty baskets to a crown  
While singing songs. 

This soil needs turning under, now winter's here.
Hoe, rake and shovel lean idly in the shed. 
Dry leaves blow among the picked stalks lisping 
Death's easy hiss.          •

 

 

The Trouble with Simple

Simply put, is the loss 
Of detail that staring entails 
Until a total blur besets 
The doilywork, and only 
Loops of cloud remain. 

The trouble is where to begin 
Sanding the filigree finial, 
Erasing the Hindu panoply 
And awakening the grain 
Of Amish monotheism. 

The trouble is when to stop, 
When polishing reflects the polisher, 
When steel and stone, spoon 
And moon, are one--and only 
A mirror to your circles. 

The trouble is with hummingbirds 
And bees and butterflies, all those 
Eccentric improbable flights stopped  
Cold, or reduced to arrows, or 
Gravity's earthy entropy. 

The trouble with simple, simply 
Put, is how one keeps forgetting 
To edit, adding totem on totem  
To the pole, chop by magnanimous  
Chop, in beneficent indifference.          
•

 

 

Skinny-dipping

Childhood's millpond margin smells of peat; 
The black water drowns thirty feet; 
Millenial mulch slowly sifts to silt, 
Soft on my ankles as tongues of guilt. 

Our laughter echoes to where woods turn wise 
And dark beyond intelligence; 
The pulpy water we swallow and spit 
With shredded swimming light is gilt. 

Arms to arcs, we frogleg to the mill-wheel, 
Catch an edge where supple water spills, 
Turns small voices to shouts against the rush 
Of liquid Time's naked churning push 

Piggy-backing shoulders, while the stone lip 
Syllables oblivion, invites a slip.-- 
We grind ourselves red-handed as we grip 
And watch the jagged water jump.          •

 

 

The Homestead

The house that had me call her home
Where I went from pip to grown
Showed me, among her nestling trees,
Our reservoir's sparkling restful ease
Where a thousand flattish stones were skipped,
Quizzed the surface of what is with ripples
Then sank to nothing known by man or wish
Who would not plunge awhile and be fish.
This house that had my childhood kept
Has herself grown double with subdivision
And invited others into her provision
To hear new voices slide from treble down
And down and down and right on into ground.
•

 

 

Time-Piece

Time, faceless, stares all faces 
To tatters;  unarmed, disarms 
Quick bullets with slow rust;   
Legless trips the sprinter 
With age's crutch;  breathless, 
Breathes first and last. 
Of all songs the tempo, time; 
Of all debates the winner.  Time 
Furls the trimmest sail, marches 
Crowncrest mountains down 
To hills, pounds hills to sand, 
And sand to I know not what. 
Killer unkillable, time;  death 
That dies not.  Time is free  
That imprisons me, that,  
Senseless, robs me of sense--is dust
That drowns my every word 
In oblivion and silence.          •

 

 

Bouquet

Where our engagement flowers have fallen 
Flares awaken, soft forceful eyelids  
Like light-stitched depths of gems held close 
(As this amethyst ring in earth was held, 
Loved for the fireworks it reflects: 
Diamond-pointed lotus petals--perfect.)
•

 

 

Fox and Rabbit

She knew all 
And I knew naught; 
Thus the Fox 
The Rabbit caught.          •

 

 

The Gift Refused

My mistress is throwing away her scarves 
That had wound in her tresses like tentacles 
Tightening coils of beauty like the stars 
In the black of her night hair, heavy and full.-- 
One by one they flutter in bright spirals 
Dropping to the pebbled earth below her, 
A pile of starshine like vines in piles 
Throbbing with wind only, no longer her fingers. 
"Out of my hair, threads and deeds of yesterday; 
Out of my house, Tommy, whatever you say."
•

 

 

The Pig of Day

VanGogh's hills arise like muscles 
Blended with broken sky--a blue 
Of veins and midnight tears and 
Much else besides.  A wand loaded 
With oils random enough to curse 
Clarity from eyes' wilderness of use 
Until the pig of day had ravaged him 
Calm with truth or tooth.          •

 

 

Minatory

Age is a nylon stocking 
Pulled distorted over the face 
The waxen features melt and fall 
The under-eyelids distort 
Like gutters torn from the roof 
Their salty waters tumbling 
Past a warty demeanor  
Into weak neck-drapes tacked back 
To showcase the final act 
--A farce, a tragedy, whatnot. 

Chase the kisses you once reviled 
In your most secret heart. 

Your grave's turned down like a bed, 
Grasses pulled up to the chin; 
The time you had is passed, is passed 
Never again to begin. 
Your last supper is laid with wine, 
Fillet the time most finely; 
Taste the avid meat upon your plate, 
Tuck in, tuck in! 
Tear the knotted nylon from your chin 
That faded lips may part: 

Chase the kisses you once reviled 
In your most secret heart.          •

 

 

What Scent

What scent is this but dust: 
Lilacs in their manifold bloom 
Bluebells dangling from vein-thin stems 
Red roses reaching up in wrath 
Thistles with their blistering hats 
Dogwood eating its feast of whites 
Moonflower showing her face at night? 
Inhale, inhale, till lungs burst! 

Here's silly Annie, not two, not yet, 
Old Stan crotchety in granddad pants, 
What scent are they, what role fulfill? 
Marjorie panting on the pink bedspread 
All those kisses new love's been fed, 
What scent they, for breathe we must? 
What you, what me if't comes to that, 
What scent are we but dust?          •

 

 

Deceptive Airs

I 
Spring again has brought 
Such loveliness, such access 
To one's pores 
How can one conceive 
Of death the ogress, or guess 
One's rotten to the core? 

II 
Oppressive summer sweats 
Too aggressively, undresses 
Our thoughts of nimble ambling 
Through woodlands and the wild-- 
Reduced to indoors and nude 
In a tub of ice cubes: 
Less adventurous, more umbilical. 

III 
Autumn's rousing storms 
Reminds the body of its bones 
Drops fruit in wanting buckets,
Blonds trees, hawks walks; 
With every wand'ring breeze 
Fills bellies fee free 
With a salesman's generosity. 

IV 
Winter's icy indifference 
Deepens the sense of deception-- 
The false clarity age manages, 
But only in its cage: 
Trees scribbled with a writer's rage, 
The sky an empty page.          •

 

 

Like Cake

"God's a phony," my professor said, a hipster.
"Even the news is fake.  Prayer never works." 

At midnight I drink my Pabst, kneel 
And throw the dice;  prayer never works.

I emptied my pockets and took my hat;
Pulled over halfway home;  prayer never works.

"Three hundred dead" the newscast said.  
I sobered in the dirty dotted light.  

"Sarin gas smells like incense at first,"
The translator said, "like cake."  

By daybreak, my eyes a sandpaper glitter,
I hear myself say: "Gregg, prayer never works.

Put a prayer in every word you make." 
•

 

 

Playing in the Orchard

You had run up into an apple tree 
In a springtime game of hide-and-seek. 
All the world was empty as you hid from me, 
And I ran down aisles of apples for a peek 
Of your skirt disappearing, or a shoe fallen off 
Into the green green grass, empty and soft. 

It was apple-blossom time, and time 
Told me you were lost, the last year's 
Apples weighty and rotten on the ground, slimy 
Beneath my hurrying feet.  In fear 
That you were lost to me, I collapsed 
Beneath the scent of blossoms in the air. 

I was looking up... it was the nearest thing to heaven...
A soft blindness of flowers everywhere... 
I looked up... it was heaven... and you were there!
•

The Hummingbird’s Apprentice

 [Poetry], Hummingbird's Apprentice  Comments Off on The Hummingbird’s Apprentice
Feb 042020
 
  1. the hummingbird’s apprentice
  2. roadside wine
  3. counting the stones
  4. summers ago
  5. a batch of blackberries
  6. counting the stones
  7. grief house
  8. tough cutting
  9. on the porch swing
    (with my widowed aunt)
  10. just once
  11. the lost sun
  12. hangovers
  13. evening at last
  14. where i sit
  15. aquatic life
  16. the enormous teacup
  17. the hummingbird’s apprentice
  18. the years
  19. apple, bowl, and book
  20. afterburn
  21. far in winter
  22. december woods
  23. duck pond in winter
  24. hunter’s lament
  25. advent calendar
  26. music for beginners
  27. being born
  28. music for beginners
  29. the go-round
  30. counting stones (2)
  31. going long
  32. yard work
  33. black keys
  34. on the open prairie
  35. road trip
  36. momlets
  37. dance impromptu, aged 12
  38. tulle girls
  39. almost lost in the
    ladies’ department
  40. origami
  41. arranging chairs
  42. in right field
  43. in darkness
  44. star rise
  45. identities
  46. night thoughts
    in a time of quiet
  47. star rise
  48. the black dog
  49. guitar lessons
  50. balance and air
  51. stealing little things
  52. catnip
  53. bleeding hearts
  54. the neighborhood peacock
  55. licking the frosting
  56. the pillow
  57. winter nights
  58. the eat line
  59. turning forty alone
  60. breakfast on the patio
  61. “in the widening gyre”
  62. three martinis
  63. the eat line
  64. the outboard
  65. the retired sheriff
  66. bad dreams
  67. still life with sunflower
  68. minotaur eyes
  69. on winning the pulitzer
  70. the metaphor for ordinary
  71. ’68 brought the riots
  72. swallowing castles
  73. through mullioned glass
  74. blind feathers
  75. reading light
  76. sentences
  77. the days
  78. packaging
  79. seeking the fathers
  80. appalachian spring
  81. circles
  82. swimming lessons
  83. the adulterer’s dream
  84. divorcing
  85. at the dock
  86. the bronco
  87. the busted greenhouse
  88. the craftsman
  89. freshening the day
  90. cart-wrangler
  91. black rat snake
  92. meadow
  93. a frozen waterfall
  94. rearview
  95. dad’s navy cap
  96. casting lines
  97. laundry list
  98. burning wasps nests
  99. workbench
  100. going bald
  101. the jellyfish
  102. seeking the fathers
  103. swordfishing
  104. essay
  105. seeking the fathers
  106. coda: persistence

THE HUMMINGBIRD’S APPRENTICE



Gregg Glory
[Gregg G.  Brown]




Under the first stars, there by the back gate, secretly, I
Would relieve myself on the shamed and drooping hollyhocks.
~~ Don Justice

...an irritation of pearls...
~~ Emari DiGiorgio

ROADSIDE WINE

Pull off 71 suddenly, onto
a wide shoulder of dust and grass.
Yellow loads of honeysuckle
weigh down a length
of brown barbwire fence
like a wave of honey breaking.
Excited, splash ankle-deep 
into the unhurrying surf
full of velvety bee sounds, and select
one perfect blossom.  It is
so sweet in the slow afternoon.
And, where you've cut your thumb,
a thrill of air catches.

 

 

COUNTING THE STONES

 

 

SUMMERS AGO

Our house was not a house until we built it--
Cobbled together like lincoln logs,
	Pegged, dovetailed by pain,
		By tragedy
	Where the corners stain
And the past gets lost, frays to fog
Surrounding nothing until the house was built.

Here, eons flit quick as mayflies--fireflies
Flooding summers ago the orange-rusted screens
	With night light, untouched
		By tragedy....
	Or so we had thought
As we looked upon the shining scene,
Our faces lit with the glow of new-born bodies.

 

 

A BATCH OF BLACKBERRIES

Blossoms along the briars, then waterfalling 
Berries the barnstorming birds beak up, berry 
By berry, like jugglers swallowing beachballs,  
Eating ripeness to the core.  We picked    
And pawed through hooping crooked aisles, picked 
Pecks and bushels box by box, till the cart up-  

Ended its gorgeous, uneven load.   

Hands speckled purple with theft and blood, 
We said grace in the evening kitchen,  
Mom kneading, then flattening, the dark pies fresh,  
Crimping crusts and stabbing little V-birds  
Neat as her needlepoint stitches  
Above the hot talkative core of berries inside.  

 

 

COUNTING THE STONES

Always I count the stones
Flagging the mausoleum walls
Smooth-bore as a musket barrel
To find where Mom is housed.

Flowers poof from trumpetlike tubes
Screwed in along grey walls;
Here errant bees half-drowse
Beneath one skylight's encasing blue.

My sneakers squeak weakly.
I'm almost ready to go home
Right away.  To sit upright, alone
On my red, narrow balcony

Until the eerie eaves at sunset
Flare tears from eyes they castigate
--And I go inside to escape
The scattershot dusk.

 

 

GRIEF HOUSE

an unfathering
This is the house that grief built:

Mute and shuttered in morning sun,
Painted in place, dead end of the street--
A still life dark-shingled with welts.

This is the house that grief built:

Old closets half-full;  old belts, hung ties.
Kids elbow the sill, close oil-laden eyes,
Asleep in a house asleep in the silt.

This is the house that grief built:

An ordinary house if anyone looks,
Newspapers in piles, the phone off the hook--
Unfinished, uneased from easel and stilts.

A portrait uneased from easel and stilts.

 

 

TOUGH CUTTING

Tough cutting the thorny rose-shrub stems
Short to fit a pouting vase while mouthy blooms
Put their tongues out to the empty room.

Your absence pricks, a resisting briar.   
I suck the blood that comes--to quiet fear,
And taste myself what heart to lips may bear.

If green thorns toggled must auger hate,
Who's to say love's rose is not as great?
Tears release from me what would hesitate.

Each rose is soft as skin, nodding sure
And warm as a love-wiped tear,
Close as you yourself once nodded near.

Daily we twist stem and stem more twin in love,
Cultivate a trellis beside a sunny grove,
And train our cultured roses to rise above.

 

 

ON THE PORCH SWING
(WITH MY WIDOWED AUNT)

What I remember most
(Beyond the rack and creak)
Was how the sun got lost
In memories of ghosts....

Her voice had the shake
Of wind in a weathervane,
Trees isolated by a lake
Before the rake of ice-storms.

Father gone and brothers, then
(As if such conversation were the norm)
The dark years of pain
Intensest before morn.

 

 

JUST ONCE

I don't know exactly what to make of it. 
Out in the early frost, a yellowish, dull  
female cardinal hops, eyes black as coffee, 
her feathers patchy with winter hunger. 
She hunches at the feeder as at a fire 
and snaps whatever bursts from the dark seeds-- 
then wipes her beak on her stale overcoat 
and takes off.  Just once, I'd like to jump 
off my porch and out of my own life like that. 

 

 

THE LOST SUN

It seemed dawn was coming out of glimmering black,
Like music lifted from a scattered page of notes
And a few straight lines to help the lost sun back.

No, I don't think the sun particularly like Hamlet,
Too much itself, and, so, blinded and lost.
I think the end of night deserves its little speeches yet:

Here and there a lover's alba, cracked and strained
With adolescent rage, a cheater's charley-horse.
Song anyway is all of a piece with pain,

The vertigo of a wildly spinning top
That brings the blood to our fingertips, makes voices hoarse.
We want it to go on and on, or desperately to stop.

 

 

HANGOVERS

      a middle-aged alba

Lace lifts like ladies' hems
Up sunlit hillsides--
Last of the evening chill.

A muffled alarm, then

Light's beaten 
Stark along spindly tree spars,
Masts of burning bark.

Coffeeless, craving, sore

Out of sleep's black seas
Eyes wrestle to shore,
Unsaved--

The tears, the light, the loss.  

 

 

EVENING AT LAST

 
There was less there there
Than there seemed.  Diminishment's

The word, maybe, for how
Sailboats on the Navesink

Butterfly along lemon rinds
Of Sol's oracular light.

I and my mortality
Diminish with the harbor-bay;

I remember how tender acne
Ached where now I'm grey.

All the day I'm left with
Feels brief and hot as breath.

How half-sides of buildings, at sunset,
Darken and congeal--

As if dark rain poured forth
From torn gutters, red, and real.

 

 

WHERE I SIT

The quiet accumulates
Visibly.  Invisibly, I mean--

Like a weight of dirt
Deep in the heart, moist.

On my lap the embossed album,
Bound and fading, of Polaroids.

Dad had clambered here, as a
Kid, on this ticking porch;

Like a weight of dirt,
The rocker's metronome, now.

Ripples of time accumulate
Toward the lake-rock where I sit:

Mostly it's memories, the quick
Eyes of the dead ones, now.

They look at me with all the slow,
Awful power of sunset.

 

 

AQUATIC LIFE

All night the hum of the aquarium 
breathing, the soft babeo
of the electric respirator 
hitched at the back of the tank, 
the last fish in there a widower. 
He swims around his sand castle 
day and night in circles,
nibbling flakes of manna that fall 
in slow gold from a mercury ceiling,  
spinning like a mad flamenco dancer, 
gills flaring in aggression displays, 
rushing the mirrory walls of his life.

 

 

THE ENORMOUS TEACUP

I slip into an enormous teacup 
broad and smooth as an Olympic pool, 
simmering, minty and tinted. 
Faint greenish steam curls 
my heavy hair as I backstroke  
toward the regulation diving board 
white as a horizontal monolith-- 
I am impatient to be perfect, 
to lift from the dazzling waters 
and jackknife and disappear 
beneath its opaque surface.  
The tannic tea surrounding me
is warm, like blood, like I am
swimming in my own blood. 
I open and shut my body into the flow 
like a diamond, like one of those 
origami fortune-tellers 
kids knead in easy fingers, 
happy with random answers. 

 

 

THE HUMMINGBIRD’S APPRENTICE

     Stand still like the hummingbird.
         ~~Henry Miller

If only I could stand 	
still like that hummingbird 
looking carefully into one honeysuckle 	
blossom like a bargain shopper, 
tipping the small blossom forward 	
until it, too, was bowing. 

(If only I could be 
patient, patient!) 

Just that one, 
as if those thousand other flowers weren't 
bursting like gunfire all around--
as if the hummingbird itself 
had nowhere else to go 
on invisible wings. 

 

 

THE YEARS

His mind is bright and empty as the sky. 
His head is shiny too, as are the shoes 
He polishes each and every Sunday. 
Life makes sense in the Great Accounting. 
When, one day, the ambulance arrives  
To ferry him prone to the hospital, he notes 
In one corner of an almost clear sky 
A crow whisking the clouddust. 

 

 

APPLE, BOWL, AND BOOK

Arranging a few, nude things (apple, 
bowl, and book) on a flat table 
in the flat light of Tuesday morning--
one way one day, and another way 
the next (bowl, apple, and book), 
and pushing his paint against them 
steadily as sunlight over everything 
(book, apple, bowl), the painter's 
irreducible poverty (self, self, and
self) intrudes on his objects (bowl, 
book, and apple) and saves 
rags of them on a rag of canvas. 

When done for the day, having run 
out of evasions, he wipes the sunlight 
from his sticks with a rag, and drowns 
them in turpentine.  

 

 

AFTERBURN

Tired of my own thoughts 
I turn out the light 
watching my wrist disappear 
with a hairy flicker. 
There's that afterburn at first, 
the wire inside the bulb 
still burning with self-importance 
keeping me light-blind 
for forty blinks, and then 
just as I settle in for sleep,
I spot through the window slats 
that scintillant blue bowling ball 
the moon. 

 

 

FAR IN WINTER

I have gone as far in winter as I care to go.
Hard frost, harder than a farmer's hands,
Is swirling in from far northern lands--
Harder than my dim intent to pace
Far afield through empty winter spaces.

I have gone as far as wind and feet allow.
I have slid alone down frozen hillside lanes,
Passed pond and ditch spidered by icy panes,
Spyed clouds' unearthly faces blanche as snow.
I have walked until all walking lost delight--

Far, far, until clabbered skies blazed skin-white,
Indifferently applied as universal night;
Too far for hands to reach and rest in touch,
Or tell if they themselves are smooth or rough.
I have gone as far in winter as I care to go.

 

 

DECEMBER WOODS

I stop and wait in winter's wet mid-night. 
Snow-dust is sifting on upturned face and pine. 
A desolate wind sweeps up sleep and haste
And confronts me with the waving woodland waste. 
(How sighs magnify to owls when you are lost!) 
December owns these winter woods alone: 
Her zero laughter gives dead leaves a shake, 
Her cold moan shivers choirs of stunted cones.
I weep, and wait for her in secret delight. 

Slow as the passing of some hypnotic wand,  
I watch inching ripples of the lead-dull pond 
Huddle dark waters to a solid field of white.... 
How one touch of ice turns our world divine!
December knows the bones in molten water's core.
Knows the ice in water.  That tears are nothing more.

 

 

DUCK POND IN WINTER

Now set in winter brown, the old pond in spring
	Livened these reedy woods gone flat,
		Scuffily ensconced 
		In frozen leaves that once 
Greened the summer skies with leafy wings, 
As if wild ducks in lush squadrons circled it.

Yearly a new mother lands and incubates her brood
	Under a dun feather muffler warm as suns
		Until her breaking eggs
		Toddle on webbed legs--
A duck who loves, and whose love does good
By being mother to what gold pufflings come.

Now, a splotchy Fall has sent them flying
	Off in maiden flight to scenes uncertain--
		To southern ponds
		Comfily ensconced
Beneath balmy constellations.... At home,
Her crosshatch nest uncoils, hurriedly abandoned.

 

 

HUNTER’S LAMENT

Am I to lie 
ashamed among cattails
if, before ducks
V away in winter
with their rising
scale of notes
and scattershot
choral creaking
of wet goodbyes,
if I
want their small
long-nosed faces
to stay?

 

 

ADVENT CALENDAR

Departure, now, instead of arrival.  Dad's 
Vaulted the ICU's sterile rungs, 
Where December visitations had dragged us 
To watch a father drowning in his lungs. 
Beyond all this stubbled haste of Jersey freezes 
He's climbed into a greyness of light-polluted stars 
--Each pin of past light striving to stay sharp 
And remain named.
                  "Me!  Me!"
                            Two nieces  
Battle beside their first advent calendar--pulpy,
Saw-toothed, oversized, glue-glitter daubed 
And draped with ropes of hopeful popcorn 
Laddering a stylized Christmas tree.  A light-up  
Star crests dark waves of evergreen, 
Twinkling as if that battery will burn forever. 
Every day, two breathless nieces applaud  
A new surprise behind a hidden door. 

 

 

MUSIC FOR BEGINNERS

 

 

BEING BORN

You wake up in a coffin, at night, 
Sliding downhill one hundred miles per hour. 
That's how it feels.  It's dark, the air sour. 
There's a vague sense of friction.  After 
Some fumbling around, you discover 
One box of matches. 
How many do you get to light? 

 

 

MUSIC FOR BEGINNERS

The baby grand, bulbed
Like a black, half-cracked
Heart, throwing the throb
And beat of exposed strings
Reverberating....

V-thighed on the long black
Bench stuffed with squiggled sheets
Of Music for Beginners,
Impressionist drips of quarter-notes
Arching and arching....

How the swaying metronome
Danced (neither slow nor swift),
Mocking ambition patiently....
My small thumbs at rest
On G and middle C.

 

 

THE GO-ROUND

At recess we raced to the go-round
Painted color-wheel slices of color,
Pushed galvanized handrails hard
Until our schoolyard world was blurred.
Laughter rang out like lightning
And wind in our ears was shards
And only the circle stood still, and
We longed to enter that stillness.
Our feet ran out of our shoes,
Impatient to rise from the ground....
And in that grace of levitation 
We each took turns at center,
Leaping like flags for the heart
--To be the source of all colors,
Of the go-round's big pinwheel, the pin--
Skies spinning like carnival art.

 

 

COUNTING STONES (2)

Carefully we counted stones
No bigger than their eggs--
We aimed to break the bones
Of sparrows
Wing by wing.

Feeling brave and hurtful
Beneath the swinging tree
Three brothers formed a circle,
Nesting
Knee to knee.

Though pity shook my hand
I took good aim to knock
Each sparrow's nest to ground,
One by one
With careful luck.

 

 

GOING LONG

Helmet to helmet in the high school huddle
tight as a nest of snake eggs, the quarterback 
said "Count ten and turn around.  Trust me."
After the snap, everything went silent,
the small stadium crowd that surrounds us
uniform as a tub of popcorn, silent.
Other players grew mute, dull as a blur.
I went deep into grass, grass silent as snow, 
running down a long and lonely plank 
that narrows as it goes, all life's details  
shifting off the pounding plank like sand
shimmering into silence, my leaps 
all one pounce of now.  I passed line after 
line of quicklime, looking only ahead,
my heart sounding out the seconds to ten,
uprights bright as a tuning fork before me,
going long.

 

 

YARD WORK

 
Leave your yard to weeds 
one summer, till grass 
springs higher than your armpits 
and woodchucks go boldly by 
right up to the porch. 
Have dandelion wine in barrels, 
and violet and primrose stew; 
cut flowers by bushel and peck:  
arrowhead, aster and balsam, 
bayberry, beardtongue and wild 
carrot like cartwheels of lace. 
Cardinals and swifts in trees 
will whistle your days unsilent 
and saw-whet owls sweeten each eve 
as switch grass and creeper appear 
in your sideyard gone over 
to meadow and downs. 
Where now you have footpath 
and pavement, let wildness 
come up from the root. 
May shy Adam-and-Eve orchids 
visit the shadows you've sown, 
holding hands in forsythia shade-- 
and where now you walk  
on owned acres, by August 
you'll be swimming to noon. 

 

 

BLACK KEYS

A proposition on the keyboard 
Comes back inquiring, a minor E, 
Or resolving major chords, giving thanks.

The afternoon enlarges sash and cord,
An intimate of misery and of me
As yellow loneliness falls and fills my lap.

When I look at nothing, I feel adored--
An expansive Narcissus of the sea. 
I hear only, in my hunched piano's plunks

(After the final heightening of a pause), 
The ocean's application of applause.

 

 

ON THE OPEN PRAIRIE

Rice grains of rain pattern feathers on the dry
Sides of silos here, red and full of rye.
In the open prairie, all we know is sky.
Yet live on we must--on earth alone and dry.
Somehow you know the whole thing's a ball
Beneath your feet, and you can feel it roll.
Every day I travel on, waiting for a wall.
Then night comes, that shadow there, and its hole.

 

 

ROAD TRIP

We traveled in our car
Whole school summers
Forgetful of the calendar
From wonder to wonder:
The Natural Bridge's catlike camber,
Spelunking Crystal Caverns with lanterns,
Singing in chasms together,
Swimming in Delaware rivers,
Sleeping in camp by those waters
Enchanted and nimble as laughter;
Ducking impossible weather
In the concrete lee of an under-
Pass, Dad smoking as he leaned by the car;
We spat from speeding windows, 
Balanced flat rocks to slide off the fender
(And full sodas forgotten on T-bars),
Screaming through tollbooth and tunnel;
Counting crazily crippled deer
And license plates stamped Nevada,
Swinging past capitols in order,
Kentucky, Tennessee, Carolina;
Shopping at "South of the Border" 
For Ace-Safety firecrackers
And double fistfuls of sparklers.
Never was summertime lovelier 
Than those summers we wandered together.
We kids got happier and happier
While Mom's matchstick face, dumbstruck,
Flickered
Darker and darker and darker.

 

 

MOMLETS

I can see my son, aproned, up early, 
training among his chef tchotchkes,
selecting eggs with effective fingers 
and rolling the oval winners into a bowl. 
Next, he gathers his spices, pinches 
tipples on his tongue to test them quick, 
and says ‘oh' or ‘no' to each. 

Two real-life princess dolls bowl in, 
dandelion-headed and sleepily slippered, 
standing suddenly seriously silent as totems. 
"Dad's kitchen is all business," 
whispers one to the other in litany. 
And Dad has them help, of course, 
even the whipping, even the delicate 

Egyptian procession of raised bowls 
over their princessly heads to the stove 
where Chef does the final fluffing.
His long arms akimbo, he trawls for air 
to fold into the scramble, the Momlet, 
his swimmer's arm lifting and going around 
and around again--going for distance. 

I see him there.  I see my son. 

 

 

DANCE IMPROMPTU, AGED 12

There really wasn't alot to it:
Girls too shy with us to laugh
Corralled by a battery phonograph
--And, here and there on the wretched grass,
A pink and tinsel pirouette.

 

 

TULLE GIRLS

Girls are not like us, no.
They watch impatient behind taut veils
Of soft thoughts, as we come and go
With our pockets full of rocks.
Girls are not like us, no.

 

 

ALMOST LOST IN THE
LADIES’ DEPARTMENT

 
On department store safari, at four,  
I scoped out translucent loose folds 
of whispery flowerprints, deep meadows 
of hanging pastels, and lacy clouds 
of padded bras and ladies' legs 
staunch as departmental mannikins
or the infinite limbs of grazing giraffe,
their shopping voices elated, angelic. 
I ran awkwardly in my new black shoes 
zigzag through disheveled grasses 
of matching pantsuits, a pampas of 
pantsuits flowing higher than my head, 
my lazy hand rippling the materials 
like a tailor between appointments, 
like a zebra sampling a strange stream, 
killing time, growing older by moments,
a pygmy among these women's things,
until I arrived at the end of a long, 
open aisle, my hand clanging a gang 
of faintly skeletal empty hangers 
ringing on their rack after the season, 
like Christmas bells swinging in July, 
like waterbuffalo ribs from past monsoons,
and, brave and out of breath, confronted 
myself amiably at the back of the box-store 
in an empty dressing mirror, tall as the sky. 

 

 

ORIGAMI

14 folds and you have a butterfly
ready to float from the tabletop
amidst the snippings, the open hands
and astonished face of the girl who made it.
The whole secret of life folded right there
so quietly beneath her as she sits.

 

 

ARRANGING CHAIRS

In here early, arranging chairs in lanes,
The otherwise empty room's a spray
Of local artists' ocean watercolors
By local docents netted in place, prismy
Mists and dark wakes so ably arranged
Familiar things grow haloed and strange
--A broken white fence, now luminous, or
Sea stones folding under a wave.

 

 

IN RIGHT FIELD

Planted in a green corner of heaven
	I watched patchy grass
		And I counted
Intricate, parched clouds as they passed
	Serene in solitude.
Then, as now, old shapes soon forgotten.

Skinny Beanie, our speediest pitcher
	Curtailed the sharp claps
		Of opposing homers
Till into Death's ant-lion trap Old Beanie slipped
	And kept slipping forever.
Then, as now, Death our speediest pitcher.

Playing right field has always allowed
	Me to lean back and sit out
		Whole innings--
Keeping watch in green solitude, content,
	Looking at clouds and counting.
Then, as now, the world passing by in its shroud.

 

 

IN DARKNESS

Late into autumn we boys slept on the porch, 
Listening to October's stiffening crickets 
	Compose their last passes 
		At minuet masterpieces 
		In darkness, 
The invisible slim river still tuning its flute, 
Our dreams as baroque as a monarch's. 

Zipped to the neck whenever night temps blew 
Low, we kids kept up chirping and peeping--
	Lazily nested in chaises, 
		Whistling boy wishes  
		In darkness
Until clouds snugged the moon off to sleep
And we woke, cold, mufflered in the drifted snow. 

 

 

STAR RISE

 

 

IDENTITIES


I pull my life down off the shelf. How many fisheyes in the jar? How many stars, like fisheyes, in the sky? The night around me is dark, no matter how I stare. I, too, am a star. Inside. A fisheye full blazing with wet possibilities. Lover, brother, poet. My cold fisheye looks at the night sky through waves of rivergrass, subtle panes of flowing streams. Pushing onto land, I gulp muddy breaths. Running on all fours, I hunch into my dinosaur suit. Later the next day, I ache upright, feeling my ape shoulders burst back from their hunch. Long I walk with my brothers on the blazing plains, racing after buffalo and elk. Or we go leaning our nets together into the rich river, pulling. Tonight we are poets, we sing of stars, sharing the fish around the fire. Singing. The fire falls into the dirt, its near star gone dark. I turn to you under the warm skins piled deep. You stare silently. We wear our masks as lovers now.


 

 

NIGHT THOUGHTS
IN A TIME OF QUIET

 
Night pine-tree sweeps, shush-shush, 
Against the window like a bird asleep, 
All song calmed to intermittent cheeps-- 
Half-conversations halfway overheard. 

A stranger lays beside me in my bed. 
Her body is a blazing blossom, her head 
Full of whistling voices frail and cold-- 
And hard to hear, my love, so hard. 

 

 

STAR RISE

When dinner bells stopped clapping
after our parents' court-ordered partings
lonely as ship horns mourning, 
one east, one west--we would each
duck out in darkness, tiptoe stowaways, 
into newly empty backyards.
Too young to kiss, or even hold hands, 
we met at the fencepost to stargaze. 
I was sad, and you were sad, and
neither of us said so.  Stars rose 
like sails around us, the dome 
of the planetarium cracking.  And then,
invisible as grass, our two little voices 
stippled the sky with stories. 

 

 

THE BLACK DOG

  
looks up with questionmark ears 
at the blonde woman who,
a little sad maybe at being 
almost forty and the dew still 
frosty on the ivy in early May, 
stops walking the dog briskly 
to sit in meditated misery 
a moment too long, or longer, 
on the bench's flat slatting--
and who curls up into a sudden smile 
when the dog whines and water- 
falls into her small 
lap, plop, 
generously alive, 
its black tail pumping. 

 

 

GUITAR LESSONS

A wife is playing her guitar 
with inexpert authenticity. 
She is neither too loud nor too bad, 
like an old parrot that learns slowly 
to repeat a crackerjack punchline 
or an embarrassing string of expletives 
the owner leans in to repeat each night, 
pouring encouragement along with birdseed 
and fresh water into the cage's cup. 
Even so, her guitar is getting worn out, 
like a shoe one always dances in, 
like a husband's face smiling as he listens. 

 

 

BALANCE AND AIR

First love never leaves us. 
Like a first bicycle, all balance 
and air, we learned to go downhill 
blind, with our hands out wide 
as if flying were forever ours. 
After the fall, a flash of pain, a flag 
of blood, and the bones jerk back 
into the body, like a handlebar 
wincing ribs when the wheel turns 
unexpectedly over a stubborn pebble. 
And later, you peel the bandage back 
from an inflated knee, biting a lip, 
to check the wound's "progress." 
And, even later, absentmindedly, 
while sitting on a folding chair 
at the school dance, waiting to ask 
or be asked into the moving circles-- 
you roll a fingertip over the scar's hub 
the shape of your own private nation. 
It leaves something with us.  Even 
years later, when we see someone else 
skid or stop short, our breath 
catches as if we ourselves are falling. 

 

 

STEALING LITTLE THINGS

and the cup ran away with the spoon
I'll confess:  sometimes I steal from restaurants.
Oh, not much;  a cloth napkin for the hell of it.
Something both fine and tough that lays in the lap
and feels like quality when you kiss it.
But now I'm afraid Jenny's caught my old habit.
Slick as a jewel thief last night after the movies,
she palmed a real big soup spoon under a pile
of casual paper napkins right into her open purse.
Smooth as glass, not even a guilty twinkle in her eye.
This morning I've washed it for her and set it
shining in a stolen dessert cup with crenellations
purpling all around the lip like a sticky jellyfish--
that mint ice cream and oreo crumble was so good!
The washed spoon with its big plain silver tongue
stands like the Seattle Needle in the glass, twirls
just the least bit, flashing:  welcome to town!

 

 

CATNIP

 
He was catnip to the ladies, they all said so, 
licking their paws when they saw him, 
washing their small faces adroitly, 
or rolling smoothly over onto their backs, 
switching their tails. 

 

 

BLEEDING HEARTS

Above the weathered bench, 
Swaybacked where I sit 
And damp with summer night, 
An archer's bow of branch 
Drops its heart-shaped blossoms   
Steady as a sleeper's EKG or some 
Drip off a leaky faucet: 
Heart, heart, heart, heart. 

 

 

THE NEIGHBORHOOD PEACOCK

 
The peacock's stubby stiff-legged strut 
chops short along downy lawns gone over 
to puffy dandelions, as hook over hook  
row the steady tines of his claws.  His high
eye rises, a tower, an outpost, a lighthouse 
above whitecaps, and one sees then that he 
is all eyes, a carpet of eyes, a sail of eyes, 
a sky unto himself of sheer irised iridescence--  
seeking a portly peahen on which to squat 
his rainbow glory, Odysseus upon Penelope. 
It is for her that his neck bends and his beak 
cracks, and the seed of his dandelion cry goes forth, 
filling rainy afternoon yards with his loneliness. 

 

 

LICKING THE FROSTING

The long night is being carefully frosted 
By day, like a butterknife spreading vanilla icing 
Over a round new moon of devilsfood cake 
While she yawns wide as a sea-lion pup waking 
--Dressing slowly, nakedly in her mirror  
Where dawn-colored curtains flutter.  
  
Her hand disappears into her jewelry box 
And, frosted with lights, her fingers emerge,  
One light on each fingertip like a constellation: 
The Starfish.  After a moment, her ears appear  
Dangling dark earrings like bats drifting  
Out the cave of sleep and into our morning  
  
That sits above blue bowls of Frosted Flakes  
Before we each skate off to our workdays 
Synchronized as Olympic champions.  
But, for right now, she takes a sleepy  
Pirouette in her mirror and approves: 
Of our lives together, the sweetness of our night. 

 

 

THE PILLOW

The pillow where you last were laying 
keeps a spoon's impression of your head 
and even a swirl, a dimple, of your ear 
as if this pillow were a seashell, where 
a thousand voices enter which we later hear 
as the constant susurration of the sea. 
Can you hear me among them if I whisper 
so close my sipping warms your pillowcase 
while the rain goes on snoring in its gutter, 
and all the house closed up in a sort of sleep? 
I love you, yes.  But what I whisper now 
is something other, something just for you. 

 

 

WINTER NIGHTS

Nights accumulate, turn December.
Turn Xmas, with its sparkly galaxies 
Of discarded wrapping.  The fire's chaos
Recalls other heats, other faces....
And, shaken, sparks traces of your long departure--
Last Independence Day at the park,
Fireworks' wild sunshine in your eyes
In hot summer dark.

 

 

THE EAT LINE

 

 

 

TURNING FORTY ALONE

 
Life is empty.  A wind rises sideways
until my pant legs stand out, twin rudders
steering nowhere.  Between one housefront  
and the next, irritated lightning, 
brief and naked.  Rain, a thousand miles  
of zippers unzipped at once.  Puddles  
swell like bruises and connect their black
softnesses, as they did for Noah.
Forty years I've been on this dark voyage.
The straw is stale, the bursting stalls
fecund with rancor. The lions, male and female,
have slipped their tethers and roam the galley
all night, roaring and shaking with hunger.
Their matted manes are thick as rat's nests. 

 

 

BREAKFAST ON THE PATIO

Early memories have an edge of tragedy,
The trace of a child's hand
On construction paper, faded.
Or the half-loops of letters, so rudely
Learned, living forever unfinished--

Time behind crouches near one then, 
Ahead lies far.

The coffee's graceful steam unfurls
And morning stones glisten like stars,
An irritation of pearls.

 

 

“IN THE WIDENING GYRE”

The worrying leaf twists,
Its race arrested--

Maddened leaves repeat it
In iterant wind.

Down the long hill at sunset, one more
Leaf doodles and cavorts--

Now doubly, trebly muddled in a ditch: 
Murmurous leaves.

 

 

THREE MARTINIS

for Joelle
1. 
The first one is cool, refreshing as a cucumber, 
A meeting sweetness lapping at the back of the throat 
As if sugarcane dripped off a fat icicle, and then 
The slow burning to the waterline of your little boat. 

2. 
Now a power growls and routs small talk, dissent; 
Convictions gather like a curtain pulled, mauve, 
Revealing the pitted shallowness of daily talk, 
The world set to rights as easily as this olive. 

3. 
At last simplicity arrives, looking through life itself 
As through a clarifying piece of glass, this 
Glass, contentedly in fingers twirling triangles-- 
Contemplating it filled, and its present emptiness. 

 

 

THE EAT LINE

Nimble goats tremble on split tiptoes
Eating knots of pine and holly, leaf and branch
As far as fingering tongues can go
Toward heaven for their lunch.

Loosed to clear Sandy Hook's woods
Of poison ivy, their saliva drips, they say,
Immune to poison, and that's all good
We say, going out ourselves to play

Splayfoot on barren beaches.  I spread 
The checkered cloth, pour figgy semillon
Below the "eat line" where they've passed,
Coppice chewed flat as a billiard green.

 

 

THE OUTBOARD

Motor's propeller coughs, catching seaweed, 
The intake valve gritty with chaff, the starter flooded, 
An unwell something moaning under the hood, 
Catching and stuttering loudly when it should 
Slur tigerlike, leaping purring for wavepeaks 
In choppy Keyport Harbor's uneven arena. 

The men, popping beers and flyreels, 
Lean back, deckchair masters from mast to keel; 
They survey the costal waters like a lunchbox 
Stuffed for munching while the boat knocks. 
They're happy.  Their spouses, tan and sheen, 
Watch children thrash trash off the stern: 

Survivors in a drowning world, careening and green. 

 

 

THE RETIRED SHERIFF

Saturdays he sat on his porch in his old uniform, 
Old like satin slippers stained and torn 
But worn anyway as the last fancy thing   
To go anywhere in, but he never did--
A general blown out of his war, gold braid 
And buttons so much parlor-curtain finery.   
Even his silver revolver was a kind of watch fob 
(Thirty years service, Bob, and thanks) 
Spun by a restless tic in his wrist  
That wouldn't quit--the watch hands shivery,  
And the bullet chambers usually empty. 

 

 

BAD DREAMS

He drools like a cow, that one.
All night in his sleep, mumbling
Nightmares, an old knife of stone
Whittled by sea and season
To the one dread:
Wife and kids over the cliff, tumbling,
And his dog dead.

 

 

STILL LIFE WITH SUNFLOWER

A still life still requires faith
That life itself has stopped
Just for you, your fist of brushes,
Your dripping pots of gauche
Fetishist yellow-red.

 

 

MINOTAUR EYES

Eyes almost closed beneath his hat
The old smoker blows gold smoke out,
His agate eyes almost sedate.

Eyes half-shut.  You've heard the phrase.
It isn't done to keep smoke out
But to keep dreams in, as in a maze.

 

 

ON WINNING THE PULITZER

My darling friends, I am afraid
This once-worthy prize is unmade--
This glittering thing has gone to shit.
A bad generation ruined it.

And, indeed, my winning here
Has me question many years--
Makes me doubt what value, use,
My life's devotion to the muse.

 

 

THE METAPHOR FOR ORDINARY

The metaphor for what's ordinary 
Ticks rickety, and breaks its wicker back, 
Cracks sciatic with the dumbass weight  
Of my emphatic Great Aunt Kate. 

The ordinary's too circular for metaphor, 
A bridge to the same side of the stream 
Where everything is as it was before 
And no balloon squeaks loose from its dream. 

 

 

’68 BROUGHT THE RIOTS

'68 brought the riots (we needn't speak 
Of them), arriving in a crash of days
Washing away the city's soft authority, the meek
Back-and forth of beach cleaning machinery....
At least we suffer no more the illusory 
Union of then and now--that tomorrow's kids 
Are the same as yours, that yours today
Are you....  Too apparent's the decay.
No fashionable derelict genteel twilight
Fades us towards this stripped finality,

This painted concrete scratch-graffitied grey. 

 

 

SWALLOWING CASTLES

Strong clear brilliant air drawn into the mouth in a moment. A special flavor of life, like the south of France. The dusty maybe of Marseilles. The long wet unrolling tongue of the Mediterranean Sea. Sweet dollops of cloud-stuff hardened to minarets. Minarets made sweet by the singing of prayers during the Middle Ages’ Muslim occupation and shrunk by forgetfulness to the size of a lozenge. A lozenge that moults my throat awake. Awakes me to think of melting time and swallowing castles.


 

 

THROUGH MULLIONED GLASS

The bird, a blackbird, flies
Up--words tear at his wings:
"A crooked cross in damask skies"
Or some other flitting fret or fraying
Its vapid purplish flapping bethings.
Some black clash of shadows
Where blue bleeds in at the window.

 

 

BLIND FEATHERS

 
White blind feathers, wintry February,
Stale cereal fluff dumped from a box.
We stare at the unlocked locks.

 

 

READING LIGHT

I read, midnights, until the haloed lamp
	Flares meaningless,
Charon's guidelight on Styx's everlasting damp.
Words once fit for granite no more affix,
	The storyline dead;
The sculptor's hand grown bony,
The lover by love abandoned.

The looming book in my hand's a wick,
	Flaring, spluttering--
Burns words, rotten words, until I am sick.
My eyes dry, drugged, bug-eyed, drained,
	My life illegible.
I sit alone beneath an S-shaped lamp
To which I feel inextricably chained.

 

 

SENTENCES

 
for Dan Weeks
Sentences trick us out of time's traps
The way a song will go back around
And around on itself to the beginning.
Songs and words, especially drum-taps--
Those dry discrete silences in sound,
Change how long each quiet seems
As if time only lived inside the drum.
Music and writing are much alike. To begin,
You first must stretch the skin out tight.

 

 

THE DAYS

Days falls together like brushed curtains.  
Dawn and evening flutter together   
In silence, interlacing their delicate edges   
--Light comes up one side of a grassblade  
And goes down into dusk on the other.  
That's how it is, too, when I remember 
Suddenly, washing dishes, my name,  
And the sink shines with an identity:  
That's mine.  And all the yesterdays  
Come snapping into place like played cards, 
And tomorrow's a fan of questionmarks 
Laid down beyond the kitchen curtains   
By a hand that flutters them lightly 
In my field of sedge and flat grasses,    
Interlacing their delicate edges.  

 

 

PACKAGING

I pile brown Christmas boxes, stiff
With stuff: ribbons, tinsel, elves, lights
Untwinkling and tangled--
Hooped in a humped death-wreath
Giving no glistering whiff

Of merriment.  Wires and briars
Hang black where torus roses had made holy
The tree's abstract angles.
How noble!  How dopey!  How phony!
As if Christ hunched curled in a plastic star.

 

 

SEEKING THE FATHERS


 

 

APPALACHIAN SPRING

Lace lifts like ladies' hems
Up the sunlit hills--
A memory, almost of snow,
Dissolves with evening's chill.

Sticks of light beat time
On spindly spring trees,
Flat zags of lightning,
A storm in morning calm.

Every day, as out of a cave,
My eyes wrestle to shore--
Unshaved,
I want to see still more.

 

 

CIRCLES

Father scuffled off to his daily office 
Where racks of coolly efficient fluorescents 
     Left his smiling features half-effaced,
          A circle 
Seen briefly in a cavern, at a distance.
At home we kids were laying out the plates

And fanning out the flatware for family dinner, 
Our hour of bad jokes, day tales and talks. 
     We debated rawly, sheer beginners-- 
          Our circle 
Of faces a boardroom of love's assurances 
Over potatoes, Mom's burgers, asparagus stalks. 

 

 

SWIMMING LESSONS

Our childhood redwood house stood surrounded 
By dry leaves in a time of dryness.
So Dad placed beside each bedroom window 
A rolled-up field fire ladder, and assessed us
As we spidered out of windows backwards,
At ease and ready to catch us dandling, 
Chewing his raw black tobacco chew. 
"Whole damn place is no better than kindling." 

Down the short tilted hill through oak trees 
Lay Swimming River reservoir--its scratchy tangles 
Skated over winterlong, doing loops--soon
Grew warm and treacherous as a betraying hand 
With June, its rich mud silt as quicksand. 
Dad surveyed those greenish waters warily, 
His lips pursing and going still like ripples. 
"Boys, tomorrow there'll be swimming lessons." 

Saturday he took us, one by one in puffy trunks, 
Into a cool space of water he'd backhoed clear  
One drought last fall of underbrush and stumps 
Sharp enough to shred whatever entered bare.  
One by one, he had us straighten out at once 
As if flying, and practice the long Australian crawl,
Turn our heads and spit out breaths of water--
Holding us up entirely at sternum and solar plexus. 

 

 

THE ADULTERER’S DREAM

Something he had swallowed earlier  
coiled in his belly, and sat there 
aimlessly striking his stomach walls 
and making him gulp like a toad 
for night air.  His wife looked at him, 
her hair piled high and pinned for sleep, 
with twenty years of love and pity 
while he gulped and gulped, his eyes 
helpless, and out of his wide mouth 
leapt lie after lie, and the snake. 

 

 

DIVORCING

When Mom was done with yelling
At Father on the phone
Waving gestures in the air
Breast-stroking for some shore
That receded more and more,
She continued telling the cat
In a voice like water breaking 
About both this and that
Until cat would purr asleep
In the exhausted swimmer's lap.

 

 

AT THE DOCK

My father's head,
the classic cannonball
tan and slick and fringed
with foamy tufts of grey,
spat black tobacco juice,
ate raw oysters, nipped the tips
off green jalapenos
and cursed easily as he chewed,
cutting the small bait--
having a grand time, 
it seemed, in the world 
of freedom and fatherhood.

Between his bare red feet
a bucket of crushed ice
cradled long-necked naked beers
sweating freely, floating
until he walked away.

 

 

THE BRONCO

...our closeness is this:
anywhere you put your foot, feel me
in the firmness under you.
		~~Rumi
Dad rounded us up weekends, happy, 
to his Dad Ranch, permissive as a belch,
with an occasional locked door or verboten 
shotgun only Dad could manage sanely. 
The old blue Bronco snorted down 
the long unweeded drive, siphoning us 
boys off, a skim of childish excess, 
to buggy wild dunes in South Jersey. 
Dad steered a fireworks pinwheel 
spinning dizzy between his hands, 
leaping wave after wave of sand-drift 
all night, headlights hitting the tall grass 
like lightning, thunder cracking under us 
rev after rev like hooves, the moon 
skimming the night's grey undulant surf 
as if chucked hard, our stomachs light 
as laughter in our throats, we grinning  
even when smacking the roof with our 
little league ballcaps and wet palms, 
riding bareback our parents' dark divorce 
scared as cats in a carrier. 

 

 

THE BUSTED GREENHOUSE

Radiance of light-strobed clouds,
a crinkle of thunder, and then
hours watching rain stitch and slicken
down the cold prow of the greenhouse roof.
The wet smell like a captain's frisky deckrail 
racing through the stiff chop 
against other slant yachts on an inland sea--
the shores gorgeous forests of flowers.

At times, there'd be stars,
And leaves flat as soot against hanging glass.

I put my head through the blown doorframe:
you can hardly tell there'd been
any windows at all.

 

 

THE CRAFTSMAN

for Tom Pedersen  
This is the door at the front of the house, 
the one that goes everywhere and always 
comes home.  This is the craftsman 
who works on the door with his wood-plane, 
trimming and smoothing it continually  
to a flatness, his mind like an adze. 
He carefully screws new butterfly hinges 
flush with the doorframe, oiling them quiet. 
He trues up the top of the door in the 
doorframe, checking with level and thumb. 
He tests the lock, then leaves it open. 
He stands back a pace, looks his work over, 
hands on hips, and hat brim pushed back: 
closely, carefully, critically.  He spots 
something, licks his thumb wetly,  
like a lollipop, unselfconsciously, and 
pulls it from his mouth with a low snap. 
He spit-shines the doorknob, spinning it 
buff, his red kerchief cradling the knob 
like a hand-sized hammock, until both he 
and the door fit distorted and brassy 
in the small curves of its world. 

 

 

FRESHENING THE DAY

The porpoises were beautiful, their grey skin shining like plastic in the morning light.
~~Det. Harry Bosch, The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Rain on charcoal shingles
makes roofs shine pearly grey,
like the slowly turning backs 
of whales that have swallowed 
whole families alive. 
Spring trees put out their leaves 
in the waving spray, and laughter
falls like mist in the dim dawn.
Sidewalks whiten and renew themselves, 
straightening their ties, ready again 
for the old routines--
A father running late, returning 
to work under still-pink floods;
fresh clouds lifting over domed strollers 
gleaming wet as birthing calves;
alert dogs following the pack, noses
tense as harpoons in the spray;  they 
tighten their leashes, anxious to piddle.

 

 

CART-WRANGLER

The cart man returns to our parkinglot,
lowing his cattle-car song in morning air
as he backs into a primo spot and starts
routinely jostling the sleepy carts to life.
He heaves them into his beat pickup,
his ancient varsity jacket scraped soft
from hugging the heavy carts up and up.
The carts nudge together unevenly as cows,
their grey faces skeletal and condemned.
Most of them expect nothing, in for the long haul,
but occasionally one breaks free, rollicking
off the truck in a mad rattle and hoofing it
as far as the dumpster.

 

 

BLACK RAT SNAKE

Why such evil in the world, 
asks everybody and the Bible. 
Outside, by my garden hose 
a cold shed snakeskin   
rejoices in the causeway breeze,
a single-fingered glove 
for an absent injured hand, 
weightless as dried froth, as airy 
and helpless as a weathervane. 
Gray lifeless hose, your sole  
inhabitant has slithered off 
effortless as a stripper's zipper-- 
you the discarded clothespile. 
Whatever kept you company,
intimate as a ballroom dancer,
has bulked too thick in snak- 
iness to linger in you any longer,
your diamond-patterned mask.
It's gone, a child's taffy shadow 
pulled toward dark horizons. 
I touch the rocking feather
still curled as if to strike 
fearfully with the toe of my boot--
How quickly life escapes!  
I see how, at first, the living skin
must have split no more 
than a tear duct swelling-- 
and then all at once 
like a leathery egg, 
from snout to shoulder, hissing. 

 

 

MEADOW

A grasshopper floats off my palm 
Like a prayer... then, its tin helicopter 
Ditches, the splayed skids stir 
My skin with itches: to swipe, to swat. 
--How little things, even the green things 
Of meadows, can vex a morning's balm! 
I wipe the tidy corpse off like that, 
Small as a bullet casing. 
Now I can return to fields and nature, 
The grasshoppers shifting in the grass 
Endless 
As a thousand hands at prayer. 

 

 

A FROZEN WATERFALL

Swing with me down a winter river 
on sneakers, zing past a grandstand 
of widowy birches petrified forever 
washing their sudsy hair in the stream. 
In the circle of their nakedness is 
a frozen waterfall, tall and white, 
with a patriarch's great fall of beard. 
Studying the topless columns, I see instead, 
in their myriad crenellations and odd 
glittering rockwork organic as a vapor trail, 
the uncut pages of a book--of what 
secret litany of nature the lexicon? 
I find myself crossing over, pulled as if 
those furious waters still exhorted motion. 
I pat the tall rough face of page-ends 
sealed beyond the genius of knives, 
impenetrable as a meteorite's message, 
and rub a few blind valleys like braille....
Only Spring will read this story, 
after long winter writing has loaded its rifts, 
calling forth, tear by hidden tear, a waterfall. 

 

 

REARVIEW

Beyond whatever trouble brought me again
(Past circumstance, ennui, a wish fulfilled)
I drive by the white mailbox a final time 
Forgetting even the address that led me here,
The map that was less map than maybe
This once, minor hopes that would not let me be:
Years of loving Dad and getting nowhere,
Defending my life as if it were a crime.
Beside me rolls field after field, untilled--
The road behind shaky, small and clear as pain.


 

DAD’S NAVY CAP

Stowed back behind a slipped stack 
of power-equipment instruction manuals, 
Dad's navy cap from the war, wilted white, 
looks a sort of ruined sandhill now 
with a thin black brim for a shadow 
and miniature crossed gold swords, sewn, 
recessed under a dented-in ledge  
like a shallow cave in a sandy river bank 
eroded deeper by all that water gone 
under the bridge, years of echoing hurry 
belowdecks in the engine room among 
rolling waves of steam and steel, 
come ashore to this quiet spare bedroom closet 
with its dusty mirror and its 40-watt bulb 
triggered by a dirty string. 
Turned over, there's one old spot of blood-- 
a dead crab washed to the crest of a dune, 
just where the inside of the cap  
touched the peak of his skull. 

 

 

CASTING LINES

I stepped, a tenderfoot, into the pebbly stream after Dad, 
Reeling as he taught, casting out from 
My center as if toward nothing, 
Feeling light as the 
Fly. 

Now wicked twists of river water press me as I pass 
To deeper ranges with my casting, where if you 
Try to stand in utter stillness 
You feel that you could 
Fly. 

Why was I always wading so slowly, so far behind Dad 
All those years ago?  Still ahead of me today in 
Memory I see him striding, reeling in, 
Fall-lit leaves streaming  
By. 

 

 

LAUNDRY LIST

The ice cold stares of neighbors
click across you like fridge lights.
Washing machines neat as teeth
line one cement-block wall beneath
a whole row of closed windows.
A flare of florescent cleaner like a tongue
lays cut in two by red rubber cart wheels....
The scrambled contents of their lives
empty hurriedly into the loud Charybdis
mouths of machines: a pillowcase,
yellow with age, tons of undies,
a child's bed padding princess pink,
shirts waving farewell, yoga pants 
pantomiming embarrassing positions....
Lives stuck in spin-cycle listen for a bell....
Dryer sheets flicker in corners of the room
like stubborn
popcorn husks, eternal and inedible.

 

 

BURNING WASPS NESTS

Unsholdering his shovel, Dad pointed 
to a unnoticed hole, down 
in the meadowy dirt, in the field 
behind our house--little more 
than an ambitious ant-mound really 
with a perfect circle centering it. 
We could hear what went on below: 
small muffled buzzing huzzahs 
like a covered pot of spaghetti 
or the sleepy voices of dead folk 
still warm under desiccated grass. 
Dad took the gas can from me, 
its fluent scent flaring clear light 
into our nostrils, and giving a pinch 
like hunger somewhere in our bodies. 
The matchstick arced and landed, 
a lady jumper with her hair on fire:
gasoline flames came like a whiteness 
that's hard to see--but the heat 
had us stagger back, Dad's hand 
on my shoulder like a broad blade. 
I just stood there, staring at where 
those scrambled buzzing voices 
rose more and more angrily, like 
the deepening sizzle of an unwatched 
pot, its jittery lid shimmering. 

 

 

WORKBENCH

 
He kept his grandfather company summers
by the beat-up workbench in the garage,
a piece of fine dovetail sticking halfway
from the red vise--a kite's-wing of Icarus'
in for repairs.  He shook a coffee-can of nails
real loud, and sang loud, too, the one tune
they knew together, "That'll be the Day," 
to keep his grandfather entertained 
while old careful hands swept curls 
of sawdust to the floor among gluepots 
and chisels fine as infant fingernails. 
The wide blond grain of the bench
was blasted smooth as a turtle's back 
by hundreds of restless broken things of grace
dragged there and clamped in the vise
until they were useful again.

 

 

GOING BALD

Stray hats perch here all seasons, 
like birds who abandon their nests 
of stuck-up feathers (and one egg 
whenever I duck out of the weather). 
Where once a loyal brown dog lay curled, 
guarding hearth and home genially 
unless tangled with, the August sun  
scalds me through an open skylight, 
and cold slaps bone every December. 
In a gilt-edged mirror at the stylist, 
I can just about squint Caesar's laurels 
into existence, tilting weirdly above my ears. 
After a shower, with my two-days' beard 
shaved, my face is born again, pink  
out of the steam, while above eyebrows 
my pate rises mottled and bald,  
a tombstone with a single date. 

 

 

THE JELLYFISH

Below my knees, the sea
wavers my feet into fins
spied through a stormy porthole.

Wobbly toes grind sandgrains
as if each minuscule stone
were the whole world.

How many summers, Dad,
had we cast ourselves breathless
into such endless days?

The incoming tide
makes me sit down--hard--
as if I were drunk.

Ghosts of jellyfish
hem my waistline, frail
as collapsed lungs

until I'm transparent.

 

 

SEEKING THE FATHERS

Searching for the fathers
of my baffled heart, I hid
my head in long books of poems
that were forever ending
too soon.  Once, I was a modern
Native American standing silent
beside that affable man William Stafford,
leaning together among polite prairie dogs.
Once, kneeling in deer-soft dirt,
I counted countless red streams of army ants
Bobby Bly knocked from old gopherwood.
He smiled, and we listened
to our spirits whisper in the grass.

Each volume in the columned hall
stood slenderly beside me, my arm
draped lazily around its lettered spine.
I found many fathers under the yellow suns
of those aging, open pages--
we fished whole summers barefoot together,
casting our lines, our lives, one word 
at a time: word, word, word.

 

 

SWORDFISHING

     Let my boat have neither anchor nor motor
     ~~Emanuel di Pasquale

When they were running good
you could spot their sails
like dinosaur aileron
above the spoiling waves
tenting nerve-grey and blue.

Our new boat, a fast fiberglass
hull, was christened "Mutha II,"
and replaced an old wood 
Hacker-Craft, "The Pastime"
for our swordfishing adventure.

Each handsewn belly-bait
carried weight enough to drop
long hooks to the ocean floor
where swordfish often loiter
for prey dragged by the Gulf Stream.

Every Christmas we were pulled 
to hear the hissing line
to feel the arch and snap
of heavy fishing wire
disappear in our boat's shadow.

And to witness all alone
on the ocean with our father
strapped in leather harness
and reeling for the kill
how swordfish fight and die.

 

 

ESSAY

 

 

 

SEEKING THE FATHERS

Beginning to fabricate the music of poetry 

 

 

Starting Out

It was back in college that I really began to take on poetry as a life-mission. Every serial killer has his first blooding, and mine took place in the leafy precincts of Monmouth University (née College). It was there that a trio of instructors really set out the map I was to wander for the next thirty years, exploring the Hundred Acre Wood of literature, leaving my own poems scritched into the easier pines, or a duck marker where the trail splits to show which direction I’ve gone. Thomas Reiter, Prescott Evarts, and Robert Rechnitz were the three that did me the most good overall. And, although I don’t mention him here, Bob Sipos and his Shakespeare seminars and knack for interdisciplinary studies gave me two of my lifetime hungers, one for anything to do with the Bard, the other for science in combination with literature.

Seeing Skies

I leaned lazily against the dirty ductwork, my rump in a rumpus of dry leaves, beside me a stack of Cicero (Loeb’s ed.), Auden, some modernist trash. I looked past my tilting sneakers to see the edge of the roof of the Guggenheim Library. A mix of field and woods front leafy Cedar Ave., a terrain that cradled my college days. This is where I ate my way through french fry piles of poems, feasts of history, big burgers of science, and lemonade gulps of art. With the open sky above me, a good book beside, and a building full of poetry behind–the world was my oyster!

On overcast days, or when the librarians were marching about, whistling me in from my aerie on the roof, I’d lean against the doorway at the top of the second floor’s curving staircase. The staircase had an ornate Swastika trim that flowed up alongside the marble steps and was cast (I hoped) before the rise of the Nazis, when civilization had already been rescued once so that F. Scott Fitzgerald could pen his Jazz Age prose for my delectation. It was nice to lean there at the top of the turning stairs, and read, and look through the long window at the bending cypress trees (fluttery as flame-drops) all spring, or to imagine hearing the wind shake snow from them in winter while the old heating registers creaked.

Occasionally I’d see Dr. Reiter or Prof. Prescott Evarts in the “poetry hallway” that led to the staircase–rows of tall bookcases filled with narrow volumes, like a quiver flush with arrows. I’d have to fold my legs into my chest to let the tromping professors pass, who’d offer only a laconic greeting while I’d proffer a phrase from some poem that was trying to absorb me body and soul.

Seeking the Fathers

Back then, I was seeking the fathers. The long beards who could sensiblize this enticing chaos of experience, with its shaggy roots entrenched in history, and its mystery made gritty by dirty Time. Of all the fellows I came across who seemed to hold this sort of full focus that could harrass chaos into the momentary clarity that I longed for, was Thomas Reiter–a poet, I think now, looking back, more of precision than of delicacy.

He had the tall, inquisitive look of a microscope, with a focused intelligence that could reduce callow poems to a tear-stain on a lab slide, each line investigated for signs of microbial activity. Gawky in glasses, Dr. Reiter spread my too-tall-by-half pile of high school scribbles before him on his cramped office desk, post-it notes stuck here and there, and announced that he would proceed by a method of “divide and conquer” to guide me out of my juvenile shallows, and into the Odysseyan deeps that a man might sail for several lifetimes.

He saw the junctures where past wisdom and present experience overlap. And at that overlap, always there burns the bright arclight of the sculptor’s welding torch. Inflection points, capacitances and resistances (as Dr. Reiter might say), all come within the domain and to the mindful moment of the artist–whose hands guide the welder’s fire, whose fingers impress new patterns in the steel. Layer upon layer pressed into palimpsest, and palimpsest hammered into meaningful mandala. It is the completeness and complementarity of his patterns that allow Dr. Reiter’s welded Iron Giants to come to life–and to stay alive. Every capillary has been laid to its destination as surely as any mile of rail. A shield for Achilles made with American hardware. But not made with the willful loss ideology uses to shape its tin minions; ideology that can only cut to create, snipping experience to fit its blinders; ideology that mistakes the narrow road for the wide landscape. Instead, the craftsman works with the simple, slowly learned, touch of humanity. That is the artist’s way: adjusting, assessing, remembering all the while. Such strength of touch we learn from watching our fathers work every day.

And Dr. Reiter loiters along my skyline yet, a shaper of the landscape.

Excellent Faces

Prof. Evarts always remained a mystery to me–or retained his mystery, perhaps I should say. Tall, with close dark curls grey at the temples, he has a passion for excellence–and for excellence alone. And here I think is his true poet’s touch: he never wavered in his ability to even silently emanate that dedication. In his poems, he casts his heart continually back to the Greeks–as who must not who seeks for excellence? He saw, and shows, how this pursuit of attainment and mastery is what sets our humanity most nobly alight. In his person, the man seems simplicity itself, with some humorous inward gleam withheld–or held within, more than withheld. But, like a prize grouper in his weedy redoubt, when some tempting excellence fins by, he nabs it without fail, adding to his hidden store.

What’s the secret that lies behind every face? Where do the rubbery strings that tie on our masks attach? Something of that esoteric knowledge is what a useful culture can impart to its devotees. And any useful human culture must believe in the best of the humanity of which that culture is composed. Teachers are the intermediaries here, being shaped themselves by the best of the past, and shaping that which is yet to come. It is a moral course, whose compass is composed of Euripides’ “warm droppings of human tears.”

The self-contained individuality of Evarts’s stance toward life and culture (or a life of culture), has taken me decades of rocky yearning and mossy slip-ups to really begin to appreciate. It’s a life-lesson from an old classics prof of mine.

A doze is a light sleep
the mind dips into,
then wakes from, achingly,
into little Iliads
  ~~Prescott Evarts, "The classical world," 
             in The New Criterion, November 1994

The Importance of Being a Proscenium

Dr. Rechnitz taught me that “Literature is an education of the emotions,” and I’ve noticed that when you read a book openly, getting involved with the characters and letting your imagination be deeply invested, you actually become capable of feeling things, of being sensitive to feelings, that you didn’t even know you had! You really are inventing yourself–your capacities and imaginative possibilities–every time you crack a spine (not to re-evoke the serial killer simile). Like Christian aping the words of Cyrano under Roxanne’s window, we grow eloquent within ourselves when we kiss genius. For words, spoken or viewed, do all their golden alchemy within us.

Dr. Rechnitz also directed plays at the college theater, and is now, since his retirement from teaching, responsible, with his indispensable wife Joan, for the Two River Theater in Red Bank–just the most beautiful theater built in New Jersey in the last fifty years. And when I saw him in the context of the stage, I got hip to the fact that for Dr. Rechnitz, “all the world’s a stage.” Everything, as in a poem or a well-ordered novel, has meaning in three basic ways: what it is in itself (either as essence or fact), what it is in relation to others, and what it pretends to be to itself or others. You see this in Odysseus, who wears many masks on his voyage home to Penelope, but never loses mastery of his essential (still mysterious to us) self. And with Dr. Rechnitz, it was seeing a different version of himself under the proscenium that clued me into how our awareness guides not just how we see the world but what we see of the world–how large our perspective can be. It’s related to growing with that “education of the emotions” stuff.

There is a criticality, a reserve, in even the most audacious clown. Ask the French about the slapstick genius of Jerry Lewis–they get it. Our essence, understood and held by ourselves within ourselves is always under observation by a part of us that doesn’t exist in any single discrete moment of time–but is the “wisdom” (for lack of a more boisterous term) of all our time of acting and observing. This gives the interior quality of good actors, and of happy people engaged in creating meaningful lives for themselves. It’s an open secret, a fun, doubling sub-plot with the power to intensify the main action.
And for letting that cat out of the bag, my thanks, Dr. Rechnitz, wherever you are.

* * * * *

Years later, outside the Two River Theater, I had parked and debarked to see part of the cycle of August Wilson plays they were putting on that season–Jitney, I believe. A long late-model sedan pulled in behind my car, and began a series of seesaw adjustments in attempting to parallel park–first gently crushing into my back bumper, then backing into the bumper of the Jeep behind it. After observing a few of these poolball style bankshots, I leaned in to the passenger side of the car and saw a bank of modern ‘park-assist’ technology displays brightly arrayed in the dash of the car’s dark interior; recessed screens showed in dynamic color each bash of the sedan into my car’s duct-taped bumper like the radar display on an aircraft carrier; and the picture-in-picture safety cam spotlighted a grainy close-up of my old torn Ramones bumper-sticker.

“Gregg G. Brown!” A staticy voice burst from the driver’s side. It was Dr. Rechnitz, grinning gamely as his gold sedan slipped into reverse for another bash at the Jeep.

“Would you like me to pull forward?” I asked as the passenger, the ever-lovely Joan Rechnitz, further lowered her power window with a near-silent zzzzt.

“You’ve got to see this August Wilson play,” continued Rechniz. “It’s a magnificent American original. And no need to move your car–this boat has auto-park.”

“I’m on my way in. I’ll let you know how I like it.”

“Yes. Do that. Do that. You won’t regret a minute.” And he went back to studying the wild displays, digital sweep and counter-sweep lighting up his circular eyeglasses.

I stepped back out of the crash zone, and kept a backward eye on the sedan’s awkward tipping and turning, expecting to hear the Jeep’s car alarm larruping behind me at any moment. At the next play the following month (not King Hedley II), I left my book of literary essays, Vindictive Advice, at the box office, saying only that it was “for the Doc,” and saw an email acknowledgement pop up in my inbox a few days later. I assumed the note would be something in the form of a UPS receipt, one you sign sloppily for the downstairs neighbor before accepting a questionable package wrapped in plain brown paper–and no return address.
The note was indeed brief, but far from perfunctory.

How, he wondered, had I gone from being the homely noticer in the back of the classroom at Monmouth to the well-read raconteur evidenced in the pages of my book? I felt deeply complimented by Dr. Rechnitz’ note. It had not been too many summers before that I had suffered the slings and arrows of 2,000 rejection notes from poetry magazines–without a single acceptance or even a paternalistic pat on the back. And here, in this small note, was acknowledgement of years of literary effort. The note even included a touch of that real writer’s compliment in its bob-tailed paragraph–envy, glittering in its bitter rarity. I felt embarrassed, but glad. I didn’t know what to do with his praise:

The bell's tongue
Struck me dumb. 

Dr. Rechnitz’s note had managed to park me twenty-five years into the past, back up onto my perch on the Guggenheim Library roof, the view renewed, a fresh bucket of icy oysters by my side in the summer sun.

Scrutable Totems and a Human Heightening

What exactly did I learn from these guys? Let me talk about the poets, since I think I covered some of what I gleaned while in the good graces of Dr. Rechnitz. From Dr. Reiter, I learned (or observed) how a poem can set itself up as a generator of paradox, or mystery. By that, I mean that the circumstances a poem places before the reader recreate the moment in the poet well enough so that the reader, too, must try and manage his way into meaning from what is presented. Hmm… Let me try again. Wallace Stevens has said that “a poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.” I think what I saw in Dr. Reiter’s techniques is that that resistance can be ongoing in the poem, can remain in resistance to any sense of settled ending.

Dr. Reiter manufactures artifacts that embody the dilemmas they explore. They are scrutable totems of immense experiential value–and you could say of explanatory power if you are willing to include being, manifestation, as a form of explanation. If the story and its details can be set up the right way, with enough technique, enough craft, and enough justice to reality, the elements that the poet exposes to the reader go on making the poem long after the poem is over. It’s like striking a cymbal. You haven’t just hit a circle of brass, you’ve touched the nature of the cymbal and evoked it into resonant interaction with the world at large. So, Reiter would be able to set the scene–a plowed field, and country grave-marker, for instance–and turn the description, or evocation, of each of these elements toward a meditation of the relationship between living and mortality in a way that wasn’t a one-off noticing. The elements themselves, in their arrangement, remained deeply provocative. Like an ethics problem or a moral fable, but full of the super-sensible subtleties of poetry. And this is what life confronts us with all the time. And this way, life insinuates itself into the poem, and the poem has heightened life.

Dr. Reiter’s work is difficult to excerpt because of this well-crafted relatedness of parts, a sort of perfection in sum that resists summation, but here’s a few lines from “Sodbusters,” whose circumstance is described just above (ellipses are mine):

Say the child died that first winter
....
Say Matthais Bell kept 
clear of the new stone
that spring the prairie blazed with space
....	

Say year by year he plowed closer--
not that he forgot
how the boy's hands were the color
of freshly opened apples
....
I see him turning the earth
beside this graveyard where the prairie
compass  marks the meridian
with its deeply divided leaves.

And it is also with this matter of a heightened life that Prof. Evarts’ poems most impressed me–as well as his whole demeanor. Exemplars, standards, a larger life seem always very near him, like presences. If anyone I know knew where Sophocles was hanging out on the down-low, it’d be Evarts. And by having a ready and eloquent access to these past exemplars, Prof. Evarts constantly calls us to our better selves–not some phony more moralistic self in any narrow sense–but in the very real sense of being ever-alert to our highest excellence. Don’t be good, be great. And he always seemed to have a long enough perspective to avoid the pitfalls of Romantic subjectivity–where the greatness is in what the ego, the I, is feeling–and if you couldn’t feel it too, you are just some kind of lame lumpen-proletariat. No, it’s actually a kind of heroic ideal, a human faith in human faithfulness, if you will. That our capacity to act matches our possibilities–and that the work to move in the direction we are heading is life’s one joy in some final way.

     The snail, inch by inch, climbs Mt. Fuji. 

And Evarts just always knows which way to Mt. Fuji! Directionality, combined with work and not accepting less than your own very best effort, creates a life and a poetry of excellence. A note that always plays true. I know this sounds a bit like a business seminar, with the way they wobble on about ‘excellence’–but I mean it in the olden way of the Greeks, the becomingness or arête, with man as the measure of all things. Less an appeal to ideas than an appeal to a comprehensive human experience that includes ideas. In this way, ideas are neither excluded nor exclusive. Ideas are simply another, and necessary, ingredient in the meatloaf.

Gregg Glory
[Gregg G. Brown]
April, 2015

 

 

CODA: PERSISTENCE

The sea comes into the rock.
The rock mocks the sea.
The sea comes into the rock
Until the rock ceases to be.

Secretly the book is being readied. 
Obstructions and obfuscations 
Are being blown up and shredded. 
The book, the words, are come! 
Beat thou a merry drum! 
Don a motley cap, and a gown fine-beaded. 
The book, the words, are come! 
Beat thou the drum! 

Uncivil Hours

 [Poetry], Uncivil Hours  Comments Off on Uncivil Hours
Oct 072019
 

  1. battle lines
  2. uncivil hours
  3. trouble at the ford
  4. the abolitionist congregation
  5. why the confederacy became
  6. the war comet; or, oola’s prophecy
  7. the anaconda unwound
  8. choosing sides; or, mark twain enters the war, almost
  9. a parade of gallantry
  10. the traveling darkroom; or, mathew brady carrying a camera
  11. trouble at the ford
  12. a bedside whitman
  13. high pisgah
  14. reenactors
  15. to the north star
  16. getting to gettysburg
  17. the rebel belles
  18. the quiet man
  19. night drill
  20. another city night
  21. the plank bridge; or, major pelham’s overnight bridge
  22. master of the monitor
  23. a balloon on the loose
  24. one unday in shiloh
  25. bread and tears
  26. sharpshooter in repose
  27. unfolding harper’s weekly
  28. longfellow in his study
  29. the rebel yell
  30. cherry ripe
  31. night ride (toward gettysburg)
  32. the midnight ride of abraham lincoln; or, the tale of the two old abes
  33. out on a scout
  34. little round top
  35. lee’s retreat
  36. in medias res
  37. in medias res
  38. lincoln
  39. vicksburg and after
  40. and the master runned away
  41. “i am a verb”
  42. cannon are ringing out; or, melt the bells
  43. morgan’s great raid
  44. 2.
  45. 3.
  46. snowball salute
  47. jefferson davis on his sick bed
  48. harriet tubman in ecstasy
  49. stars above tennessee; or, the ragged stars
  50. landing in the crater
  51. the peacemakers
  52. mrs. bickerdyke’s battle; or, milk and eggs
  53. quiet at camp
  54. a nest of copperheads; or, capt. hines takes a holiday
  55. sherman’s march to the sea
  56. backward flag
  57. mary chesnut’s diary
  58. pieces of the old battle flag; or, hoe-cake and hominy on the way home
  59. confederate statues
  60. christmas eve in whitneyville
  61. reviving the wreck; or, the raising of the monitor
  62. in the field of lost shoesthe raising of the monitor
  63. confederate statues
  64. lee’s return
  65. some books i read while writing


Let us! my dear friend, console ourselves for the unsuccessful efforts of our lives to serve our fellow creatures by recollecting that we have aimed well.
~~Dr. Benj. Rush to John Adams about the day they signed the Decl. of Ind.

Battle Lines

Nor cringe if come the night: 
Walk through the cloud to meet the pall, 
Though light forsake thee, never fall 
From fealty to light. 
     ~~Melville, The Enthusiast 
     

Long I’ve plotted an epic poem, a poem to stand in relation to my native country as those broad stripes stand in relation to our flag. The subject would have to be the Civil War, of course; it was then, as at no time since the Revolution, that the country grew articulate in self-definition. Lincoln was the poet we elected president. The Civil War generation was the most letter-writing cohort of warriors America has ever produced. Brother fought brother, fathers took up arms against their sons, and slaves escaped to return fire at their former masters–and then forgive them when they stood in post-war relation to each other as citizens.

And when articulation failed, and all the buzzwords of secession and abolition grew sharp as bayonets, the forges of war found their tongues, and vile shrapnel was vomited in Shenandoah’s sleepy dells. The Civil War, like every war, found its heroes on both sides of the battle line; unknown men arose who proved equal to their times and mastered the moment presented them.

* * * * *

On a personal level, as I contemplated my (potentially calamitous) approach to a Civil War epic, I found myself confounded as much as coddled by the breakneck immensity of resources available to investigate the old wounds of yesteryear. All things lead to all things via the lightspeed factcheck that Google presupposes. And where facts were in dispute, the very best disputations were available–along with interactive 3D battlemaps, and endless chances to reengage and rejigger the results with computer game simulations or alternative history sci-fi. As a poet, I am most drawn to pipe-smoking and twiddling long strands of grass between my thumbs. Books are fuel for mules; how much more senseless was a digital dive into the cacophonous black hole of internet archives.

Still, in all, I did a fair amount of death-grip gazing into backlit screens, and mumbling over luminous words in book after book. I felt the hair-raising chill of listening to surviving veterans cry out a final Rebel Yell on YouTube from a 1923 reunion, each man aimed at the microphone and camera and instructed by a friendly fat man to “Do your worst, Grandpa.” And then one last cry in unison, and every cat in the house snapped to look at the speaker as if at a ghost. I’m sure a dog would have returned the unearthly howl.

* * * * *

How, exactly, I asked myself, was the Civil War that “most American of all America’s wars” after the Revolution itself? Where, exactly, is the anchoring pin in this crazy pinwheel of deeds? The Gettyburg Address? The glum dignity in the surrender at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered his sword while Grant attempted polite small talk to ameliorate the sting of defeat his fiercest foe surely felt? I take some comfort in Yeats’ statement (who midwifed modern Ireland into being in many ways), when he said “It is always necessary to affirm and to reaffirm that nationality is in the things that escape analysis.” Perhaps all my moody brooding was for naught. I should be content to be a teller of tales, a stenographer of fact. In any case, hesitation on my grand project was no longer an option–whatever America was and whatever being an American meant would be an emergent quality that arose from dream and poem. So, I’d better start writing.

* * * * *

You may have noticed that you are not holding an epic poem in your hands. That ambition my muse has decided to deny me in this round at the foundry. But, page after page, you’ll find flickers whisked together; you can follow muddy footprints to Shiloh, or pace over an acre of Petersburg’s siege as I have done. Whether these poems are equal to their theme, the reader must discover. Every poet has his Zoilus, as they say, and if mine is reading this book today or is yet to be born, I do not know. Still, there’s something here that time has folded and put in my pocket.
I give it to you.

Gregg Glory
May 5, 2019

True and Untrue;
or, The Facts of the Matter

	I hadn't seen a piece of soap in a year.
	     ~~John T. Wickersham

Yeats’ “affable, Falstaffian man” is as much a part of the story of his Irish civil war as those great public events of the rebellion in poems like “Easter 1916.” No one wants to distort the facts, but even a selection of facts slants the story. And poetry is more than mere story, it is the soul of every story. Poetry tells the facts why they must be true. Like the formula of the alchemist, or the equation of the quantum mechanic, poetry arbitrates, through exploration and discovery, the bounds of our reality.

The historian has a hard road, and must site map and affidavit for his every step. A poet, when his soul’s alight, burns away the tightrope that he treads. These poems seek a meaning in-between these stark extremes. Helen and the burning tower is no more evocative than Lincoln in his tophat. Well, not necessarily. The eye that weeps the tear, floods the landscape. A nation’s history is crafted by its participants; they see, they feel the meaning of the thing. For one’s truth to become a public truth, it must resonate–in both emotion and in fact. History is no free ride for those with an ax to grind, for those who would delete the subjectivities of the past with their Buzzfeed-fresh agenda.

Accordingly, my approach is hedged round with doubts. I’m trying to find the seed of things in the desiccated plant on the sill. Sometimes, a very personal approach, a singular story, helps flesh the skeleton whose hand I hold while he tells his dead man’s tale. Sometimes, it is only through the torrent of future events that some aspect of the past has grown significant. And here, the mirror is watery. I fret and pull the threads of fate; I squint and wipe the ocean from my diver’s mask, hoping to reach the beach.
Quotation and epigraph abound in these poems to lessen the culpability of Clio’s amanuensis. Lee and Lincoln are brought to the docket to testify on their own behalf; or words recorded by others are introduced to damn or indemnify the figure on trial. Such a strategy has its own half-life, and the phrases used can cut against the organic unity of the poem even as they apply a thin veneer of authority to the proceedings. Rhythm is the one vitality that no poem can do without, and my slinky attraction to quotation can leave me in the unenviable position of a mynah bird, eerily reiterating the last words of a murder victim.

There are several other common dangers in this sort of poeticization of history. One can succumb to the expert’s hip elision, a habit of reference that only communicates to those already “in the know.” This is already a danger in poetry generally, which prefers by far to implicate than to provide evidence. With factual antecedents, the danger of missed connections increases, and the poem’s secret limbic system is liable to go offline or develop incoherent buboes. “Only connect…” was James Dickey’s rigorous dictum, and maintains its imperative strength to this day. It is ignored at the author’s, and, more importantly, the reader’s, peril.

In this collection, abortions along the highway to an epic birth, the language alternates rather harshly between a creampuff softness and the bony planks of bare narrative. In “Night Ride (Toward Gettysburg),” there is so much dreaminess that the rider on his horse literally falls asleep! The entire poem is a subjective guess, almost wholly an invention born of one small act of fact. The epigraph to the poem tells the fact: completely exhausted regiments fell asleep in their saddles while riding toward the next day’s battlefield. And this detail, to me, was the seed, the soul, of the contrasting humanity and inhumanity of war–in all times and places. Still, there’s a queasy awkwardness I feel in filling out a page that history left blank. These men in blue and grey, and all the others, slave and civilian, are my national companions, and I am loathe to touch their suffering as if it were my own.

And sometimes, of course, the stars are gone and the moon is down.

As a kind of dry repentance for my sins of invention–a Lenten giveback to God above–there are a number of passes at narrative verse in these pages. These can feel too simple, “ripped from the headlines” as the TV movies say. A pristine example is “The Midnight Ride of Abraham Lincoln,” which is just literally Ward Hill Lamon’s report of Lincoln telling Lamon the story of his nail-biting escape from a gunman, gussied up a touch and poured into a vacant vase of verse. Lincoln is a master storyteller, and I couldn’t improve upon his shaggy dog tale if I had two MFAs.

An ampler, and more typical, example of the process of transition from history to poetry is available in “Pieces of the Old Battle Flag.” It is practically unrhymed, and virtually without invention. I changed John Wickersham’s name to Ned. He left his own narrative about coming home from the war, and I read it in B.A. Botkin’s collection of Civil War tales and folktales. Its simplicity and reality left me trashed with tears. My poem, direct as it is, manages to miss a great deal of his easy poignancy–and yet it is my best attempt at a teetering retelling. I left all the symbols in de minimus outline, and make the reader rip his humanity on the hard edges of the words. There’s very little “mood music” to queue up the reader’s response. Even reading it out loud, the old-fashioned sound of it is more like a grandfatherly wheedle than a poem. And yet it stands, returned to the page even as John/Ned returned to the uncomprehending arms of his family.

Between fact and abstraction, there is certainly room for legitimate invention–coloring inside the lines, as it were. But how different from the satisfaction of Milton’s Satan, standing shaggy-legged and monstrous against a Deity of perfection! I’m as reconciled as a pendulum to my method.

As for a third kind of poem, those that have grown truly unfashionable, anthems of anything other than naked identity, I can refer most reassuringly of all to the historical record. Many are the casuistries and verities of that distant day. Even the nimble Timrod parsed out his “Ethnogenesis,” mad with reified abstractions to unseat the Northern tyrants from their “evil throne.” But, to me, the “terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,” of that poetry, like Thomas Read’s “Sheridan’s Ride,” has more in common with the verified goodness of verse than the many idiot rants that assail my ears in the New Yorker, each one banking on the slim authority of “my truth” to avoid a scrupulous accounting of their faults. These are my chosen battle lines, where poetry and history meet and conflict.

I have squared off in my corner, and will defend my stance against all comers. And so I can say, with unironic vigor:

                                Assemble! 
Ghosts of a time not yet made witless....

	GGB


Uncivil Hours

What tragedy befell us in those days 
Is not mine alone to toll, to tell--
A thousand voices, a million all 
Wailing in abominable chorus could not 
Convey the terror, anxiety and waste 
Of those dead days. 

Whatever one man can carry 
Out of Hell, I'll carry to tell you. 
What words cannot do, let bones 
Knitted by raw time at the breaks 
Display in mute witness.  

                         Assemble! 
Ghosts of a time not yet made witless, 
Armies whose worn shoulders show 
As increasing mist, gather without regard 
To blue or grey, and let your old voices 
Roll coldly now that once had the hot 
Imprint of youth.

 

TROUBLE AT THE FORD

All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.
     ~~Herman Melville 

 

The Abolitionist Congregation


And about this time, I had a vision–and I saw white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened–thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in streams.

~~Nat Turner

The preacher in his pulpit blazed: 
"One God for them and us! 
Never once since the seventh day 
Has God divided races-- 
It's man by man we're saved 
Or damned and thrown to Hades." 

A peace surpassing passed among 
The Boston congregants; 
They knew a truth and knew it strong 
Beyond all argument. 
They stood in choir and raised great song 
Above collars starched and neat: 

"Let salvation's mustard seeds 
Be blown among the nations--
Where it grows their taste shall be 
Sharp for generations. 
Let war pour forth the blood we need
To hasten our germination!" 


Why the Confederacy Became


Fanaticism is inculcated in the Northern mind and ingrained in the Northern heart, so that you may make any compromise you please, and still, until you can unlearn and unteach the people, we shall find no peace….

~~Overheard at Virginia’s secession convention

Attack our ways and wound our own
Who'd brought Jefferson and Washington
And all those famous firsts to stirrup--
Rebel men who would not give up
Beating pell-mell into the dawn
Virginian steeds, and would not stop.

Now that revolutionary dawn
Grows stale and cold in Northern hearts,
Tyranny grinds with iron wheels
All minds and every thought.
How can they who hammer and cog
Find valor in a ball of cotton?

To no king nor any petty liege
Shall rebel spines bend what brave
Steel runs through them yet: let
All come!  Let gamblers place their bets! 
Before the first Virginian grieves
Yankee widows will pace and fret.


The War Comet;
or, Oola’s Prophecy


You see dat great fire sword, blazin’ in de sky? Dat’s a great war coming and de handle’s to’rd de Norf and de point to’rd de Souf, and de Norf’s gwine take dat sword and cut de Souf’s heart out.

~~Oola’s prophecy, as told to Lincoln

A shadow at the bedroom window 
Tall without his stovepipe hat; 
Long his looking at the ragged coal 
Of the fiery sword of comet. 

His tan hand patted a padded pocket    
In time to a nameless tune; 
A time was coming to grasp the sword, 
And the time for peace near gone. 

The comet flickered, weak and wily, 
While clockhands met in prayer-- 
His eyes upcast to skies to read 
What was written there in fire. 

What moved one heart would move a million; 
Both for and against, it flashed; 
The man in the black coat turned, and turned 
Again, in the shadow of fire and ash. 

Restless fingers in his pocket then 
Moved upon the restless words: 
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
Of his terrible, swift sword. 


The Anaconda Unwound


Winfield Scott takes McClellan aside after a White House winter dance

Comes the winter as came the summer, comes war 
As sure across the Potomac when spring unhinges-- 
All's a dance, McClellan, verily a dance.  Dash and pause, 
And pause, and dash.  I've seen it snake across the years, 
Wily or swift, snap-jaw or anaconda pressure-hold, 
Mate and checkmate as the tables turn, as time 
Reveals the pattern waiting in the dance. 
When the Whigs put me up for president in '52 
Our notions for the nation were leggiero, 
Lightly, lightly, the high baton mocking the drum's 
Hard-tapped time;  but the country then was all 
Lilt and liberamente, the dour South already skittish 
At school-marm abolitionists preaching through their teeth
Sturm und drang drama from Northern pulpits. 
And Time the snake hissed me out of office:  
Ssstay a sssoldier, Sscott, await the drat of duty's drum  
When time's old do-si-do comes round again. 
--Yes, yes, as you say, tonight's cotillion  
Was an elegant affair, you the prettiest man, 
McClellan, ever to show a leg upon those boards. 
The ladies smiled as if some young Napoleon 
Had asked their hand, and turned a tune with them. 
Fine times, fine times, but as I was saying--
The plan, the plan that stays unstated says: defeat!
Must return to the topic, as the snake to his coils.
I've heard time's sad lento movement unroll 
As well;  spent a dead year imprisoned in cold 
Canadian irons, legs listless that had been restless.
In 1812, I little knew, and less guessed
How such lento languishment led on in time
To hazardous pizzicato punch and push:
At Lundy's Lane, one fighting night above Niagara,
Troops unready for the Brits' fire and bitumen-- 
A blaze of blood to end all advancing, 
Rifles' firelight a flame of snake in the waters,
The falls a sourceless roar around us: war! 
The dead spilled everywhere like Indian beads.... 
I would not have such red spillage now. No, 
Dash and pause is the plan, a sidewinder waltz. 
Wait, and work the odds, then pitch the table  
Hard enough, and the most stubborn marble rolls. 
Confine the Confederates from advance, cinched 
Hip-by-jowl in our close contredanse--slow 
The fiddle, and slow the fife--here at Washington. 
Then twenty loaded gun boats, and forty more of men 
To sweep the Mississippi's spine quite clear, 
A slithering pas-de-deux, in one blasting pass; 
And make what blockade we can at oceanside, 
Threading in ships-of-the-line at adagio speed. 
Soon you'll see, without the terrible expense 
Of invasion and defense, the dance'll come 
Back round to us.  Cotton will go rotten on their docks! 
Plantation men are money men, McClellan, 
Those fire-eaters will be in a fix but quick, 
With cold water hosing down their backs! 
It all winds round to politics--the dance 
Of dash and pause, the slink and strike of snakes. 
If, by gunboat and blockade, we impose a pause-- 
Dash against dash must annihilate in peace, 
As self-meeting ripples cancel when they kiss. 
Let's spare our southern brethren and ourselves. 
I would not raise my hand against my feet; 
The dance is not a dance that has no steps.... 
Let us lace our anaconda constrictor  
Around the rebel states, and let the pauses 
Pull them home by inches to our loving arms. 

Choosing Sides; or,
Mark Twain Enters the War, Almost


If the bubble reputation can only be obtained at the cannon’s mouth, I am willing to go there for it, provided the cannon is empty.
~~Mark Twain

Here at Hannibal, Zeb, unhurried waters
Ain't much in a fit, so let's us not rush 
As war turns its great gears--let time loiter, 
Turn the riverboat wheel like a paint brush, 
And see what water greenesses unfold.... 
  
War's not such a thing as we've been told 
Reading chivalrous tales of Ivanhoe 
And gettin' on a horse dressed up like a stove. 
What it is, though, I don't likely know. 
Saw little kids parading, yelling ‘Jeff Davis!' 
  
Since there's not yet no song for all this  
Whatever it is the country's doing, tearing  
Itself to nothing like a worried bone. 
What dog's got us in its teeth?  Go wary, 
Zeb, them Union men mayn't leave us alone 
  
As we row along to Memphis.  At home 
They'll be busy choosing sides, picking teams 
For all this folderol of flags and hats. 
Take the bend easy, who knows what dreams 
We may disturb at the blockade, or what-- 
  
(A cannonball smashes the pilothouse windows out.)
  
"Good Lord a'mighty, Sam, what'd they mean by that!?" 


A Parade of Gallantry


“I am Henry Wilson,” said he, “United States Senator;” but the teamster, perfectly unmoved by the announcement of the dignity and importance of his petitioner, cried out, “I don’t give a — who you are,” and lashing his mules, sped on his way.
~~Cornelia McDonald

"A parade of gallantry, surely," she said, 
Servants fetching fourth the wrapped roasted 
Chicken and basket of champagne to pop the cork 
When push becomes shove, and those rapscallions 
Run high-tailin' it home.  "They look so small, 
Even in the opera glass, our men, Henry--
Have a glance where dusts are gathering some."

Unfolded by their picnic, idle congressman and wife
Thought a day of arms would settle a ten years' strife
And snug closed the fraternal argument sprung
Open among wide America's battalion of brothers.
"There's a snap, hear it? And some skinny pink fingers
Amid the cotton balls. Must've crossed Bull Run, swung
Left into their scattered flank. Soon we'll see, dear.
Pass the asparagus, thanks." 

                             Sometimes a little cheer
Rose among the checkered blankets, ragged and thin
As half of Congress applauded itself, the creek 
Thickening with skirmish, and, after a few hours, 
Ghostly and sickening, the Rebel Yell, 
As if from those about to die and win.


The Traveling Darkroom; or,
Mathew Brady Carrying a Camera


Eyes that… stare too wide to close.
~~ W. D. Snodgrass

A spirit in my feet said ‘Go,’ and I went.
~~Mathew Brady

More dark!  More dark!  Let's see at last 
What war has left upon my plated glass. 
Carrying my heavy camera to the front, crumbed
In dust, I frame the conflict with an artist's thumb.
Here at Bull Run the NY fire zouaves 
Put a sword in my hand that I might preserve 
Life and limb a minute longer when the Federal line 
Collapsed snakelike, a windtorn kite's dead twine. 
Each plate I rescued from the field of battle, 
Slimed with collodion like a salamander's 
Skin, mirrors in miniature the exploding world:
Shells like sunbursts, spasmed faces angry and bold.
I follow troops in my long duster;  a black tent,  
My traveling darkroom, dragged on horsecart. 
That's where alchemy becomes advertisement, 
So newspapers can print what war has wrought. 
With exposure, light passes through a glass 
Darkly and excites the emulsion, as 
God shining down upon the soul does. 
Bathed in ferrous sulfate, I bring forth those 
Final images of modern men from time's 
Gluey muck, shuffle the glass cards, and then 
Fix 'em like an insect pinned in my collection. 
The mortician's touch of potassium cyanide-- 
Too perfect to change!  Let's see what verified 
Heroes come jumping from this chemic pool, 
The square of ruby light catching me coolly 
Red-handed at my work.  When John Q. Adams 
Sat in studio with his lion's mane, 
I felt Franklin's lightning beat my fist and let 
The shutter drop on history, my best 
Camera lens the doll's eye of posterity.   
From the first, I pledged to my country 
To save the faces of historic men and mothers 
So we citizens might recognize each other. 
Something's coming through now, shapes of shapes. 
I see the tilde of a zouave officer's flying cape--
Would-be blue blurs are moving over clearer 
Figures grinded to a stillness nearer 
The killing ground... are these all dead bodies? 

In cartes de visite I made my first real money; 
I told departing soldiers packing their haversacks 
Down at the recruiting station: Tell your Mom that 
"You cannot tell how soon it may be too late."  


Trouble at the Ford


Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.
~~Donald Trump

Did that dread-sick blue-grey couple spin 
Drunk about a cracking axle? 
Broken music of the grand battle 
Swings mud-laden boys around again 
Where Bull Run stream breaks the land 
And a gambler nation lays its longshot hand. 

Congress came with cakes and wine, 
Gallantry to make fine ladies swoon 
Shot and counter-shot done by noon, 
Checkerboard kings crowned by dying men. 
But the dancers of that great game 
Were blind, and soon enough grew lame. 

Soon confusion enfiladed every line, 
Filleted the Union on their back 
Reversed them down their beaten track 
As if all clocks rewound the time; 
Although new blood flowed by the old Stone Bridge 
Defeat was all men had to give. 

10,000 men in grey gave hellish chase; 
10,000 blues threw down their guns 
To ease the striding of their run--
A wild rebel yell bid them haste 
While summer ladies whipping parasols 
Raced pell-mell through Congress' halls. 


A Bedside Whitman


Bacchus-browed, bearded like a satyr, and rank.
~~Bronson Alcott’s description of Whitman

Two boat loads came about half-past seven last night. A little after eight it rain’d a long and violent shower. The pale, helpless soldiers had been debark’d, and lay around on the wharf and neighborhood anywhere.
~~Whitman, The Wounded from Chancellorsville

Whitman loped through hospital wards 
His brotherly shoulders huge and stooped 
Over the endless injured. 

Whitman bending through hospital wards 
Wiped the weeping white-hot iron brows 
Of heroes held down. 

Whitman sat attentive in the hospital wards 
Big spry hands cradling an inch of pencil stub 
Taking restless dictation. 

Whitman walked the rounds in hospital wards 
Dripping water careful as communion wine 
Where dry mouths chirped. 

Whitman exited backlit hospital wards 
Nightly beneath the rapid stars 
Striding, striding, striding.


HIGH PISGAH


I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?
~~ W.E.B. Dubois


 

Reenactors

We come in clothes of yesterday to save tomorrow's history. 
With lifesavers of facts, we enter Heraclitus' stream 
And run time backward until we see fons et origo of 
Today's catastrophe.  With Thucydides we wade to war 
And drive our wayward Volvos home by GPS and guess; 
Here, Lee. There, Buell camped or tramped, tents speared 
Heavenward in plea and supplication--a million Iphigenias 
Sacrificed upon the bow when confounding headwinds blew 
Us back upon ourselves, pledges that've rattled packed 
Since Adams and Hancock fled the Redcoat flood to Concord. 
Words must amend what time upends. So we, doughty 
In our woolen socks, with crates of hardtack rations bought 
By ApplePay, are walking words buttoned up to do some good 
On Instagram and Facebook, where kids will laugh at Dads. 
"We inhabit the post-apocalypse of Lincoln in blue and grey,"  
I say beneath my Union selfie. "We're the zombies of that day!"  
Young emoticons undercut me with memes and zingers 
As I pace my final picket circuit and whistle back to camp: 
"We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain..." 
And wild in the woods, when the moon intrudes on shoulders 
Tapping us back to a fantastical past, it is for us alone 
The campfire hustles, the smell of rashers real in air, 
Cold muskets carefully at-ready, our scripts pre-written 
Who believe no more in God or Fate.  Are we the men  
Our forbears were, wakeful where they slept? Tomorrow's  
Tableaux vivant tautens invisibly in dreams, the battle lines 
Drawn in ready dust, the punch and counterpunch of armies 
Arresting rest, until we, too, fill our diaries with prayers. 

"I do not know what comes, my dear, for me, although I know
Great forces constellate about this present nexus, with only 
Inches of river between the drowned man and the saved. 
I remember you, the farm, our home;  and you again, my love."  


To the North Star


When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.
~~ Harriet Tubman, crossing the Mason-Dixon line

Follow me, follow the North Star 
That parts the Red Sea darkness, 
That makes us strangers at freedom's shore   
Arriving proud and chartless. 
  
Woods are full of sounds tonight: 
Every owl a hooded accuser, 
Invisible rivers galloping hot 
Are horses of bounty hunters. 
  
Brothers, we were not called to birth 
To live and die by starlight;
Cast into a cage, or worse,  
We were born to run tonight. 
  
Toward no stray star we climb, 
But follow unhesitating 
The northernmost that abides, 
Its steady fire not forsaking. 

Ben, don't be the runaway horse  
Who losing his way returns 
To the master's gate perforce,
Half-tangled in his reins. 

You won't find love awaits you,
Harry, calm words and a patted snout, 
But a whip and a hiss that you 
Had ever ventured out. 
  
Keep the trail and keep your feet, 
Through root and wreckage spur;  
If we lose our way we'll navigate 
By the sturdy Northern Star. 

It's one star that snaps our ropes,
One freedom that we chase,
One freedom's constellation trace 
In footsteps of escape....
  
Once past the Pennsylvania line 
Where choirs of stars stare down,   
The jewel of all that shine     
Will be our hallelujah crown!   
  
And there, as kings and queens we'll dance 
Who never dreamed of scepters-- 
Ben and Harry, please, just this once 
Follow me, follow the North Star. 


GETTING TO GETTYSBURG


The broken light, the shadows wide--
  Behold the battle-field displayed! 
  God save the vanquished from the blade, 
The victor from the victor's pride. 
     ~~Ambrose Bierce 
 
 

The Rebel Belles


If you knew my brother, I’m sure you would not fire upon
him.
~~A Warrington belle, down at the Green Hotel

Southern girls circle floors in their hoops, 
Rebel belles who obligingly dance, 
Slim fingers stoppered in ears 
When "Battle Hymn" music is heard. 

Caught in the crossfire of chance, 
Deftly circling floors in their hoops, 
The rebel belles were ladies first 
When partisan cannonballs burst.   

Whatever victory, whatever defeat, 
Love waltzes on pass after pass....
Damsels circle floors in their hoops, 
Their dancecards folded and neat.

Heavily their families' hearses 
Driven with seven fine horses--
In defiance of death they dance, 
Circling worn floors in their hoops.


The Quiet Man


Afterward, men could remember nothing more than the fact that when he came around things seemed to happen.
~~ Bruce Catton, Grant Moves South

"Well, he had a hard look, and soft way of talkin', is all." 
"He weren't nothin', just a slouch hat and no rank 't'all." 
"When old Colonel Souse was howled out of camp, Grant 
Sauntered in with a shrug and said ‘Guess I'll take command.'"
"The fairgrounds were a fair place to preach and practice 
Discipline: first, last and second place, as they say." 
"Them Illinois farm boys was sweat into an army 
That long summer, parading every sunset after 
Daylong drill and drill again, under a brunt sun." 
"Springfield to Quincy is about a hundred miles 
Footsore marching.  But we'd be damned, if the gov'ment 
Wanted to send us to war by freight car, we'd walk." 
"And walk is just what that danged Grant had us do, 
Whistling to keep awake: Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel." 
"Our feet taught us more than any Army Manual." 

Years later, in his memoirs, the quiet man explained: 
"Give anyone, even a volunteer, a reason good enough 
And he'll follow you to hell, smooth as Aristotle; 
Common soldiers are as smart as town folk, you bet." 


Night Drill


[He felt] strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle…with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars.
~~Stephen Crane, Red Badge of Courage

Out of the old wood with whicker and stamp 
A soldier's horse escaping camp--  
‘Coward!' cries the owl, the moon balloon-huge 
Caught in branches bare as a dirge. 

The rider listens for the picket's hist 
Then taps his horse onward to grassy mist--  
A burnt shadow moving in a cowl of milk, 
Steps soft-fallen as a kiss on silk. 

Soon enough, reeds arise and the river wakes, 
Silver manacles clasp the horse's shanks; 
The far bank lifts a lover's face, 
Heart and foot find quickened pace. 

Horse and soldier race in moonlit circles, 
An empty lasso whipping endless; 
Fires from camp catch the deserter's eye, 
Stars sunk in woods from a fallen sky. 

The solider faces the remembered camp; 
His halted horse shakes his reins and stamps. 
Slowly the river's cold molasses is recrossed. 
"Who goes there?" comes the picket's hist. 


Another City Night


What hospital nurse has not a bone ring or trinket carved by her men in the ward?
~~Jane Woolsey, Hospital Days

He passed away with less than a whisper-- 
That agony more than mortal finally 
Relieved.  The cap he kept at bedside here 
So regiment friends would know more readily  
Their campmate "swaddled like a darned baby," 
I place upon two hands I hold and cross: 
Perfect, white, elegant as a lady's; 
Hands that kept his captain's charger glossy. 

I fold his last letter home, told through gauze, 
Read back aloud to get the humor right, 
Imaging his mother's laugh, his father's brays. 

Outside has come another city night, 
City lights granting summer air a haze--
Not these tears, I swear, though I bite my lip. 



The Plank Bridge; or,
Major Pelham’s Overnight Bridge


We used to dance a great deal too. You didn’t get an idea of how strong he was until you danced with him–that was grand…. There wasn’t a single line of hardness in his face. It was all tenderness, as fresh and delicate as a boy’s….
~~Bessie Shackleford

SHE 
His face is a splendid boy's alight on his bay, 
Youthful and edgeless, sun of a million rays. 
HE 
Between our grey houses meander grey floods 
That disfigure her shoes with grey Georgia mud. 
SHE 
Summer days are running, and I run all the more 
To trouble the mud that lays wet at his door. 
HE THEN SHE 
"Come dance in the parlor, come sing one more song."  
"Night rain is coming, and I soon must be gone."  
HE 
So I built a plank bridge, an oak rainbow of wood, 
That her feet may stand spotless as Noah's doves stood. 
SHE 
At dawn came a bugle, and grand cannon in town; 
I heard his bay racing as I reached for my gown--
HE 
To war, my horse, to war, now clamor the planks 
To save all our dear ones, for whom we give thanks. 
SHE 
I saw him once more as he crossed his plank bridge:
Through his face in the coffin--a bullet's red ridge. 


Master of the Monitor


All my underclothes were perfectly black. I had been up so long, and under such a state of excitement…my nerves and muscles twitched as though electric shocks were continually passing through them. I laid down and tried to sleep–I might as well have tried to fly.
~~Dana Greene, executive officer

The ovoid deck is tidy, trim and flat, 
A shard of soul steamrolled for war 
And riveted to a central spar--
The turret's a kind of revolving hat. 

I am bound by iron as she is bound, 
Having sworn lucre and limb and deed  
Obey what martial duty decrees 
And not the useless bright cry of the hounds. 

With bit and whip and serrated spur
I chased bloodhounds through columned trees
Chased patter of possum and fox and me
In the flying hours before the war.

At sea I'm less than a socketed eye, 
A man of gears and grinding oars  
Who sees the world through slits, nor soars 
When he hears the useless bright cry of the hounds. 


A Balloon on the Loose


an episode of the civil war

It was a weird spectacle–that frail, fading oval gliding against the sky, floating in the serene azure, the little vessel swinging silently beneath, and a hundred thousand martial men watching… powerless to relieve or recover. We saw [Gen’l Fitz-John Porter, without a pilot]… no bigger than a child’s toy, clambering up the netting and reaching for the cord.
~~George Alfred Townsend, Campaigns of a Non-Combatant

A balloon suddenly relieved of its gas will always form a half sphere, provided it has a sufficient distance to fall in, to condense a column of air under it. A thousand feet, I presume, would be sufficient.
~~Thaddeus Lowe, Chief Aeronaut, Union Army Balloon Corps

In July when spiders fly swinging in their sacks, 
I go ballooning above the Rappahannock. 

I unsnare sandbag ballast and snag a cable. 
I swing beneath a ball, half-silver, dawdling. 

At the mistaken snap of a rope, I go soaring. 
Soldiers look up to see myself unmooring

Into snaffling clouds, webbed and horrible. 
Ten thousand gasp like safety valves in mourning. 

I drift witnessed.  I cross opposing lines. 
Rebel rifles pop and flower and flak the sky. 

But I am a cloud, a cork, and unbridled I climb. 
Eight-eyed and alone, I write and I spy. 

Richmond hills and Richmond men wave vividly   
Beneath my rapping knuckles, mapped and tiny. 

The town lays squared and gridded, a waffle. 
Front lines are scars in the grasses' ruffles. 

Confederates swarm like dots in a great restless etching 
Of a final edition still being written. 

War draws two sides together in a pucker, 
The last inch all shyness, each waiting for the other. 

Ascent throws the ball into opposite winds, 
The silken sack turns sulkily north now; now flattens. 

Ten thousand gesture and lightly cry "the valve!" 
I spider the netting.  I trigger the latch. 

A white hissing goes up in hues of ovation. 
I land harsh, my chute torn open in nettles and thatch. 


One Unday in Shiloh


Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
~~Song of Deborah, Judges 5:4

(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
~~Herman Melville, Shiloh: A Requiem

 
We saw Shiloh church and marched to the bells. 
Nothing was littler than that spire toward God. 
The guns were thunder, and their fire was Hell. 

Was Sherman still sleeping when we came to call? 
Pews were still warm in the April dawn's cold. 
We saw Shiloh church and marched to the bells.

Through pasture and wood, that Sabbath appalled. 
We whipped 'em in pieces to Hornet's Nest road. 
Our guns were thunder, and their fire was Hell. 

We fought with their rifles, slept under their steeple, 
Shadows ourselves after such loss of blood. 
We saw Shiloh church and shots rang the bells. 

"We'll lick 'em tomorrow," rose Grant's voice from a well, 
His cigar pointing back where old Shiloh church stood. 
The clouds were thunder, and their rain was Hell. 

They came on at daybreak, backlit and fell. 
They pressed their advantage, and we cursed our God.    
We ran from the churchyard whipped by the bells. 
Their guns were thunder, and the fire was Hell. 


Bread and Tears


Union troops on the road to Gettysburg

 
The land rolled rich in Maryland 
Golden miles of unmolested grain 
A yeoman God had tilled and laid 
In endless rows on endless plains. 
A farmer came with bales of bread:
Undivided loaves, yeast-burst 
Risen crusts like handfuls of sun. 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread." 

The land seemed hurtless, hale and fed,
Combers rolling gold and green
To feed them all in amassing peace 
Till time and tide and all were one.
Farmer and wife stood upreared as trees
Over the loaves' uneven crests,
Soft bricks pugged and fired and fresh. 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread." 

The farmer's wife was an apple of sun,
Had kneaded and kept the fire just so 
Before the hours of night were done.
"Oh, boys, ye don't know what's before you!
I fear there's many will be mangled soon-- 
Lee's whole army is dead ahead 
And there'll be terrible fighting then." 
     "Walk up, boys, and get your rations! 
     Bread and tears, tears and bread."  
     
     

Sharpshooter in Repose


They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.
~~Union General John Sedgwick just before being shot
by a sniper at Spotsylvania

 
Cornered in a coign of vantage, my eye is well 
Hidden, dark as a crack in cold boulder rock--
Along my rolled rifle's endless track 
A lead ball bead sweats unshelled, 

An angry star decanted into atmosphere 
And thrown into blood as into an ocean; 
It stops the salt sump of a heart at once 
Against the edgeless engine of its sphere.  

I'd played high among these old orange hills 
Endless days;  looked lazily out to dream, 
Or sip a cracked clay pipe of cornsilk crimson 
In the shelter of summer hours spilled. 

Those boys I now knock down with thunder 
Climbed alien trees and sang in another school 
That marched them down my hollow valley, all 
Unready to touch the lightning in my finger 

Pinched in a small, steel trigger. 



Unfolding Harper’s Weekly


The Constitution of the Southern Confederacy has been published. It is a copy of the original Constitution of the United States, with some variations.
~~Harper’s Weekly, The Two Constitutions

No fool but thinks this fool war's a foil 
For his private thought, grievance and toil 
Of thousands a canvas for his picaresque.
Only his tongue's motion gives his mind its rest. 





Longfellow in His Study

Longfellow in his study, reading the "terrible news"
Penned no epic about the mess, whose terror 
And error
He so intimately knew.



The Rebel Yell


Others live on in a careless and lukewarm state–not appearing to fill Longfellow’s measure: ‘Into each life, some rain must fall.’
~~Mary Todd Lincoln

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.


Cherry Ripe


I will not be afraid of death and bane,
Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.
~~Macbeth

At the head of the snake, song broke out:
"Cherry ripe, cherry ripe, ripe I cry"
And various haloos resounded, wry
Laughs as fellas skedaddled about
Over fieldstone walls, sniping cherries, pop
Pop pop back at men still marching,
Whipping to hand sharp camp hatchets:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop." 

Loaded down limbs swung red minie-balls
Like Christmas come to Dunsinane,
And cherries flying and mouths open
And a hail of wet spit pits over all!
Cherries for the officers riding without stop,
Cherries for the soldiers marching,
Singing handy with their hatchets:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop."

Antlered now, and merry, we descended
Between declivities of hills, ripe ripe
Ripe as the master sergeant's stripes,
Toward a valley town defended--
Tired ourselves of singing as we looped
The final little hill we rounded
And their distant cannon sounded:
"Cherry chop, cherry chop;  chop, chop, chop." 



Night Ride
(Toward Gettysburg)


Whole regiments slept in the saddle, their faithful animals keeping the road unguided.
~~J.E.B. Stuart

At first the harness' small jangle-and-dangle and ease 
Played smooth music through the moody close wood; 
But after the harsh rasp of moonless miles these 
Musics offended, an unrelenting irk-itch of sound. 

I pulled down my slouch cap, pulled up my coat collar, 
Crossed reins over pommel, lost worry to darkness, 
And let my horse follow what horse he would follow 
Until turns turned again to blue moonlight through leaves. 

I dreamed when I dreamed of the slap-dash of the sea, 
Restless crests of the waves, the deepness of being. 
Dolphin and merman, finned and webbed, we rode the sea's 
Symphony: not flying, not falling, just floating....

A whinny of raindrops woke us much later, shook horse 
And rider out of their doze, mists raising fine steam 
From hillside's frail dawn, the clopped trail drawn loose--
First from the forest, and last, mile by mile, from my dreams. 



The Midnight Ride of Abraham Lincoln; or,
The Tale of the Two Old Abes


A nearly verbatim transcript made by his friend Ward Hill Lamon. The Oval Office, midnight

I have something to tell you, Ward! Lock the door.
You know I always thought you an idiot 
Fit for a strait jacket for your apprehensions  
Of my personal danger from assassination.  
You also know the way we skulked into this city
In the first place, has been a source of shame 
And regret to me, for it did look so cowardly!
Now, I don't propose to make you my father-confessor 
Or acknowledge a change of heart, yet I am free  
To admit that just now I don't know what to think.... 
Tonight, about 11 o'clock, I went out riding 
Old Abe, as you call him, to the Soldiers' Home  
Alone, and when I returned to the foot of the hill  
Leading back, I was just jogging along  
At a slow gait, immersed in deep thought,  
Contemplating what was next to happen  
In the unsettled state of current affairs,  
When suddenly I was aroused--lifted, I may say  
Out of my saddle as well as out of my wits--  
By the report of a rifle, and the gunner  
Not fifty yards from where my contemplations  
Ended, and my accelerated transit began.  
My erratic namesake, with little warning,  
Gave proof of decided dissatisfaction 
At the racket, and with one reckless bound he
Unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar plug-hat,  
Without any assent, expressed or implied,  
On my part.  At break-neck speed we soon  
Arrived in a haven of safety.  Meanwhile I was left  
In doubt as to whether death was more desirable  
From being thrown from a runaway federal horse,  
Or as the tragic result of a rifle-ball fired  
By a disloyal bushwhacker in the middle of the night.
I tell you there's no time on record to equal that  
Made by the two Old Abes on that occasion.  
The historic ride of John Gilpin, and Henry Wilson's  
Memorable display of bareback equestrianship  
On a stray army mule from the scene of battle  
At Bull Run, a year ago, are nothing in comparison,  
Either in point of time made or in ludicrous pageantry.  
My only advantage over these worthies was
In my having no observers.  I can truthfully say  
That one of the Abes was frightened on this occasion,  
But modesty forbids my mentioning which of us  
Is entitled to that honor. This whole thing seems farcical.
Yet, here's the hat, and that's the hole!  No good  
Can result at this time from giving it publicity. 


Out on a Scout


Let’s slip out on a scout; I’ll ride your horse, and you can ride mine.
~~J.E.B. Stuart to his clerk, Eggleston

He was enamored of my horse 
And we rode, I supposed then, 
For the pleasure of riding our course 
On an animal which pleased him. 

As stars were beginning to fade 
We leaned in and had a race; 
The war before us no more than a road, 
Danger a wind in our face. 

Our paces blurred pines as we passed 
Beyond the pickets' caution; 
We rode into dawn at the last 
Like mist over the mountain. 

The general gazed only forward, 
His form like a balancing cat's; 
He spoke to me as we sortied, 
His unearthly voice detached: 

"What are scouts who peer and run 
But sparks thrown off a match? 
And battle lines little more than one 
Spark that happens to catch?"



Little Round Top


I have never returned to Emmitsburg, but it would astonish me very little to hear that the two armies had gone to Gettysburg to fight on account of the miracle performed by St. Joseph, intervening in favor of these pious damsels.
~~ Colonel Philippe Regis de Trobriand, remembering the
nuns of St. Joseph’s Convent of Emmitsburg, a few
miles away from Gettysburg

Ten thousand angels upon a pin 
Whirlwinded little "Round Top" whistling 
Death by the minute fifteen decades ago
Where our placid picnic spreads its afternoon 
Visiting green Gettysburg again-- 
Pickett's charge drawn inevitably up 
As an anchor from the sleeping sea.... 
Ten thousand angels in infernal clouds 
Flashed bayonets like wingtips in the smoke 
Where I rummage for a final cigarette 
To put our wine and sausages to bed, 
History re-folded neat as napkins in our basket.
We shotgun stale heels of bread-ends downhill
To the instant screech of skirling birds.
The knuckled minie ball you roll perhaps 
Had pinned some farm-boy soldier through the hand 
Or aced a captain's eye from its socket.... 
But the lounging lemon clouds surrounding us
Show nothing of the web in which we're stitched 
In the skinned wind of the world.   



Lee’s Retreat

Seventeen miles the badgered men 
Bent greyly southward, beaten back-- 
Ambulance and stretcher burdened full 
Past Lee, who stood upon the track 
Murmuring those words like water: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  

Gettysburg grew small, turned blue 
Behind them, cannonade and crack 
Of rifles silent as the hills; 
Letters home filled with the endless wreck  
Of lives interred by slaughter: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  

Lincoln's words had not yet arisen 
To redeem the crisis, ruin and rack, 
To give to men drowned red, who fell, 
Some rippled pulse of meaning back-- 
Only those words that fell like water: 
      "You fought nobly, none better; 
       I'm sorry; the fault is mine for all."  




IN MEDIAS RES


What’s dying but a second wind?
~~Yeats, Tom O’Roughley


 

In Medias Res

A runner arrives at Lee’s side after the failure of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863

My heart is pinched, my eyes are dead 
With great sweat as the battlefield shrinks 
Littler than this folding tabletop of maps. 
The high ground's denied us, cemetery 
Ridge and seminary ridge and the twin 
Roundtops bristling blue above our grey 
Fog of men twisting listless in the valleys. 
Long the thought and long the march 
That brought us raiding north through cherry 
Lanes, and wheatfields rife with grain. 
Tomorrow revolves the calendar round 
To Independence Day, and we may yet 
Set new fireworks in American skies! 
The lines of battle are a hash of graphs, 
All our rebel arrows bending back 
Like fountain spouts to their hidden source. 
Defeat is a beginning too!  The hazard 
Cast and failed returns the dice to hand.... 
Choking smokes boil gold with sunset, 
God's driving rays divided and feebled 
As troops of angels fall uncaught to Hell. 
Whip the stolen swine toward Richmond! 
Vast patchworks of cattle low homeward, 
And endless bins of raided goods are gone 
Down south to clothe our bare necessity. 
What we've garnered here will keep us 
In peaches through the wailing winter, 
And blot war office ledgers black.  Even 
Jeff Davis' rail-thin visage will fatten 
By the thickness of a smile when these 
Long columns are totaled and summed. 
Pickett!  I see the charge I ordered, 
Noble and doomed, following your sword 
No more than a glint above the tarry tide 
Of blood and men, and death and men. 
I thought surely--


Lincoln

A long frock coat, a stovepipe hat
Straight as a core of coal,
A long black ribbon at the top,
The ax-drawn face hanging there
As if Old Testament prophets
Had burned to a single stare.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

Gettysburg incurred a debt
Blood's spontaneous blot put out;
That no wrong word, no marring phrase
Or disjointed look would come
He held a vigil of long silence--
All the simpleness of a sum.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

Because the Union had grown sick,
That fine, long hand atrophied
That had put the British from the field
And shovelled back the Styx,
A single, revolutionary mind
Clacked truth from the burial bricks.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.

"All men are created equal,"
A troubled voice had said it;
Calm lightnings play the mortal storm
Where dead limbs had bled it.
Flies flit and alight among the faces
Torn by universal wishes.

	Ghost to ghost, those shoving men
	Push heaven to the ground.  



VICKSBURG AND AFTER


We’ll teach them dancing fine and neat
With cannon, sword, and bayonet.
~~Dixie All Right

And the Master Runned Away

The scritch-scritch of the chickens 
Is just the same 
As the scritch of chickens 
Yesterday. 

"Them Union tramps is tampin'  
Down on Vi'kberg this very night,"  
Ol' Master said, and sure enough 
De thunder was a fright! 

His fine buff travelin' hat 
Settin' on its peg 
Was gone when the moanin' come--  
Guess ol' Master used his legs! 

Smoke and mist on the river 
Blow this way n' that; 
But I never seen my master run 
Till his peg lost its hat. 

The scritch-scritch of the chickens 
Ain't the same 
As the scritch of chickens 
Yesterday. 



“I Am a Verb”


The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer.
I signify all three.
~~U.S. Grant

I am a verb. Wait, waiting, to wait. 
Vicksburg terrifies me to my fingertips,  
A sawmill blade set spinning to split  
Me intemperately in two, if I 
Cannot mollify this gnat impatience,  
Invisible and ever-present against my skin. 
Impatience!  I hear the word only as a mad  
Imprecation against my rolling going on. 
Was McClellan's awful caution a virtue then?
God Himself could not command that man 
Out of his dithering, hither-and-thithering 
Of flying supplies, and men cemented 
To their posts, shining boots to a pupil-sheen. 
All the logic of supply is "scarcity."  
Pile high the warehouse against the day 
Bitter shots ring among the shoe-stuffed shelves-- 
Let epaulettes lie in golden ranks unearned; 
Tons of bullets packed like peas for porridge; 
Headless hats that wait in safety for the rain.... 
Not I, not I.  To live cossetted in a scabbard 
When war's molten lava is at the gate-- 
Boots!  The way this cold and slowing river  
Meets us, mud and current to the knees, 
Claims our long boots with a loving suck 
As my forward scrim of men attempt 
A snoring corner of Vicksburg's embankment. 
Look at the scene night and river give me: 
Sixty-thousand Confederates stoppered-up 
In walls as great as Troy's, cannons a lance 
Of steel to keep me back.  To wait, to watch, 
While each least imp of breeze implores the bell, 
Ring!  Ring says the hammer to the anvil-- 
I the hammer, Vicksburg the only anvil. 
I am the fire, Vicksburg the limitless tinder! 
I the guillotine, Vicksburg the hapless head. 
I am a verb--
They also serve who can't stand to wait. 


Cannon Are Ringing Out;
or, Melt the Bells


Melt the bells, melt the bells,
… transmute the evening chimes
Into war’s resounding rhymes
~~F.Y. Rockett, written when Gen’l Beauregard appealed
to Kentuckians to contribute bells to melt into cannon

Bells, not bullets made of dullard stuff, 
But bright metal hammered alive enough 
To leave red forges quick with sound 
When lifted far enough from ground, 
When into belfries above choirs lifted. 

To the cause, the cause, they fall conscripted, 
Torn from skies their songs had christened 
By hands no longer paired in prayer 
To deform their voices' joyful playing, 
To bring their singing beings to the fire. 

Broken bells beaten new defend the town, 
Iron echoes of their sounding rounds 
Ringing fire to the bloody ground, 
Keeping every enemy at bay but time.
Time remembers the silver lilt of chimes. 



Morgan’s Great Raid


Those who swam with horses, unwilling to be laggard, not halting to dress, seized their cartridge boxes and guns and dashed upon the enemy. The strange sight of naked men engaging in combat amazed the enemy.
~~Bennett Young

 

Hoist Morgan on your shoulders, boys, 
And round the campfire drag him-- 
Bragg orders us to stay, 
And today we disobey him. 
Drink to John Morgan and to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 

Rain delayed us, picking daisies; 
Tom Quick broke his right rein arm, 
Such omens won't detain us. 
Morgan's raiders, swarm! 
Drink to John and drink to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 

We break for Brandenburg 
To ferry the swift Ohio river; 
Such wild crossing's easy, urged 
By Kentucky's blue defenders.  
Drink to John and drink to Duke, 
Drink champagne from your boot! 


2.


We moved rapidly through six or seven towns without resistance, and tonight lie down for a little while with our bridles in our hands.
~~Bennett Young

 

Ellsworth, knot the telegraph lines 
With false report and false surmise-- 
To sit such fine horses is to ride 
Streaming dawn astride an arrow!
Burn the bridges and pester flocks 
Where hens pile eggs and barns are stocked;
Trace Kentucky's hump through Ohio's wilds, 
And leave the rich fields fallow. 

Guard Indianapolis and Columbus, 
Like statues stand at empty doors. 
We'll raid defenseless shores 
Subterfuge and guileless ruse 
Have left, like magic casements, open. 
Our fingers grow rings, and our saddles 
Go belled;  ham hangs from our bridles, 
Who on no kindnesses depend. 

Down Jackson streets in ladies veils 
(To defeat July and make it mild), 
With cobalt bolts of stolen cloth 
And goods of equal lustre sail 
The lightning regiments of death. 
With railyards wrecked behind, and more 
Devastation on call before, 
They strike with steel and stealth. 


3.


As the red flames created by the great burning timbers rose skyward, they illumined the entire valley, and in the flickering shadows which they cast for several miles around… huge, weird forms….
~~Bennett Young

Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 
Men asleep on horses, and the horses falling down. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

The chase is on in earnest that'd been but seek-and-hide. 
No time to cook the stolen meat, or brush proud horses down. 
Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 

"Axes to the fore," the cry goes wide and high-- 
Another narrow roadway, and every tree chopped down. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

Pot-shots from the farmers, their wives leave poisoned pies. 
Man and horse move hollow-eyed, and night and day are one. 
Bridges burned before us, and bridges burned behind. 

The brazen bugle's revellie blows ugly and unkind. 
"Our last day in Ohio, men, in Virginny's our next town."  
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 

At last we're at the river;  all is black and we are blind. 
Are Union gunboats churning round Buffington Island now? 
Bridges burned before us, and our bridges burned behind. 
Rivers, rivers, rivers, and the Ohio running high. 



Snowball Salute

Snow came with Christmas, filling the camp with quiet. 
Sharpshooters trespassing skillful through the woods 
Licked snowflakes from their frozen sights and were silent. 
Morning began with coffee in the tin, and was good. 

Hardtack, foraged fowl and a garnish of shucked peas 
Done with before our prayers were said, or thought of-- 
A dishrag of brownbread shining the plate with ease 
As Major Anderson began to stir: "Look smart, boys, look smart." 

He marched us dizzy double-time, and we had a hunch: 
Here strutted a martinet in a polished boot, 
A ten-cent picture soldier not worth a punch-- 
Till Old Billy hatched a plan to ferret out the truth. 

Major Anderson tiptoed tautly along the drawn line, 
His beardless cheek shaved close as a new spring apple, 
His black Maine hat as he passed, a target "as fine 
As it was tall," hissed Billy as he bent grinning to scrape 

A quick snowball from the scarves the night had left-- 
Not too powdery--and flicked it, and it burst and popped 
Off the major's hat with a hop, which his gloved hands caught 
Beneath a reddened face pursed and contemplative and soft. 

Then a staticy laugh cracked at the back of the group        
And ran like lightning through a frozen pond, smiles 
Unzipping everywhere, laughter's thunder following up 
Until even the major was laughing after a while. 

His eyes glittered down the elated line: "Atten-hut!"  
And all laughter clamped shut like a splint. "Tell you men what-- 
I think you snow-ballers need a wee bit more target 
Practice. Y'un's nearly missed me! Bill, why'n't you paste your hat 

On that fence post yonder."  Billy did the whipped-pup walk 
And carefully placed his brand new two-dollar Hardee hat 
As we shouldered arms, watching him brush the black nap 
Goodbye. "I suggest you men aim at the bugle crest." 

And we did as Major Anderson suggested, the whole troop. 
In a minute, wasn't much post, let alone hat, left but scraps. 
Myself, I guess I clipped the bugle's loop.  As for the truth? 
Well, let's just say, after that day, Old Billy always "looked sharp" 

And snapped the first salute. 




Jefferson Davis on His Sick Bed


Your letter found me in the depth of gloom… disasters have shrouded our cause.
~~Jefferson Davis, New Year’s Day 1862

It is the old story of the sick lion who even the jackal can kick without fear.
~~A Davis supporter

Varina, here, hand the hissing stack of papers hither. 
I've more correspondence going out by pony to Bragg 
Mired in Murfreesboro, his ranks fanged with vipers. 

The Union's first retreat has mired and snagged, 
Casting black iron from the heights across Stones River 
To spike and sink all hopes of once-boastful Bragg. 

Whatever else gets that gimlet man so hated, 
Where he puts his screws they anchor and bite, 
Keeping thin timber to timber sturdily mated. 

Take this poltice of words for Polk, too.  May the sight 
Of it renew the sweetness of a friendship abated by
Distance, and help him take Bragg's burrs more lightly. 

How go the Cumberland roses we planted last spring? 
I have not been up once this week of days, helping 
Deepen earth, or prune to health the tender things. 

If only Bragg's first telegram hadn't heralded victory! 
How much more bitter the dregs, more dark the clouds 
Hang on us now--those once blinding skies an effrontery 

To this minute's remembrance of them!  Cry aloud, 
Dear Varina, as I must make these inks crawl and cry, 
Each cold word drawn out to web the page in blood. 



Harriet Tubman in Ecstasy


Tubman underwent brain surgery in Boston’s Mass. Gen’l in 1898 to alleviate sleeplessness, pains and ‘buzzing’

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
~~Emily Dickinson

I'll bite my bullet, doc, if you but bite your tongue! 
I've seen a man in tearless pain grimace lead 
Nearly in two while the surgeon took his leg. 
What served for his anesthesia will serve for me. 
My brain cannot sleep, and all I've seen disables 
My eyes from closing--visions and varieties 
Of reality beyond a mortal's power to name. 
I'll point and be silent before the throne of God. 
Take your knife and knowledge and carve 
A little darkness in my skull where sleep may dwell, 
And I curl there like a possum, too, at noon. 
All my life I've had the sleeping fits, sleep 
Slipping under my eyelids day or night; 
At least, since that overseer knocked a knot 
Of iron against my head when I wouldn't nab 
Augustus as he took to his heels in flight. 
"Catch your own fish," I told him plain, and he 
Answered plainly, too.  It wasn't too long after that 
That visions came unbidden, green-edged 
And lively as a willow in a windstorm, 
A million ribbons breathing, beating, 
And on each a hidden meaning writ revealed. 
Some things are more than the thing they seem,
Said one.  A man's tongue will look more purple 
When he lies, inscribed upon another ribbon. 
Oh!  I feel you now, the clapping clack of bone 
Where the top of my head is coming off! 
Old brains, greet the very air! Pray you find 
Your cupful of oblivion again when sealed back in. 
Sweet the cerebrations of ignorant sleep. 
The surgeon touches a node of me, and I 
Smell candles.  I see the faces of my brothers 
As I try and talk them North.  Follow me, 
Ben and Harry, follow the North Star.  No matter 
The miles, we'll find the rainbow's end, I've seen it. 
And now I see them turning back defeated, 
And feel myself turtle on, small and hard 
As this sour bullet between my teeth. 
Again and again the lighting divides my mind. 
Each strike emancipates a moonlit escapade. 
Varied and vivid the hands I held, traipsing 
The underground railroad house to house 
To Canada after the 1850 compromise that kept 
Blood off the streets a while, and my people 
Staked and abandoned in a Southern sun 
A decade past their liberation date!  Follow me, 
To the green land above Mason-Dixon's line, sky 
A color unrecorded in the dreams of the unfree. 
Again the finding knife intrudes, and another 
Memory rears searing--down the Combahee 
River we are raiding, those tall good soldiers, 
Faces dark like mine, solemn over Union blue, 
And I commanding, salvaging slaves by the boatload, 
Unrivaled behind-the-lines spies every one. 
"Part the waters, Moses!" I heard the babies cry. 
Women running with a child at hip and little ones 
Worn round their necks like grain sacks. 
I still laugh to see that woman who slung a pig 
In a bag, and led a second on a leash, black 
And white Beauregard and Jeff Davis as we 
Named 'em on the creaky crowded steamer. 
How those pigs did wrestle and cavort! 
Over 700 Gen'l Rufus counted. Over 700 saved 
And brought by creek and stream to Freedomland. 
A wind is running through me, surgeon, and 
A scalpel of wit unrolls the final writ of ribbon: 
Women's suffrage, a voice and a vote. 
That, I'll lend my life to, too, and gladly  
Emancipate sister after sister to vote  
The Republican ticket, straight.  "Listen folks,"  
I'd say, "I freed thousands of slaves in my day,  
And could have freed thousands more, to boot, 
If only those poor souls had known that they  
Were slaves."  Me and Susan B. can see all people 
Share essentialities from fingertips to spine. 
I'm sure you understand, my friend, who's held 
A battering human heart in the bareness 
Of your human hand. 



Stars Above Tennessee; or,
The Ragged Stars


I see the stars at bloody war
~~ Mad Tom’s Song

Terror and courage and the rest 
Arrive and don't tell why; 
Ten thousand good men lost 
In one toss of arms. 
Terrible the day today, and 
Graveyard night the same. 

In the lee of a watery ditch 
Beset by sweat and worse, 
The cavalryman unhorsed 
Drinks from the moon hitched 
At his waist and sighs: 
May tomorrow never come.

May night unroll forever
Its ragged battle-flag;
May day and its great heat
Never crease horizon's rim.
Roll me up in your rag of stars,
O night, cool and everlasting!



Landing in the Crater


The rich grain was standing high in the surrounding fields. The harvest was almost ripe, but the harvesters had fled.
~~Horace Porter, Grant’s aide during Petersburg siege

It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war.
~~Ulysses S. Grant

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
~~ Henry V

"Go on in and see what the matter is."  
So the miner went, hunched, with a candle in his hat 
Tracing the exhausted ash of a fuse, 
Facing extermination if a spark 
Should show ahead in the low-beamed tunnel. 
Could the fuse prepared have sputtered out? 
The coughing candle showed a zone of hole, 
Soughing almost soundless in interred dark. 
At last the tail of fuse, inertly unlit 
That had paused the thousands set to attack 
Twisted back and forth in the miner's fingers 
Insisting a new length of fuse into place 
And rolling back two hundred feet to find 
Colonel Pleasants rapping a pack of matchsticks 
Against his fidgeting thigh. "Have at it, sir."  
Thist! went the matchstick and hist! went the fuse 
Sparkling uneasily into the interior gloom. 

Hark! An expectant stillness enfilades the field, 
A hush as was before the world was made, 
And us no more than cosmic dust, a breath 
Unbreathed, a nothingness from nothingness 
Bequeathed.  So stood all on tiptoe in predawn 
Dark, dawn herself but a secondhand's sweep away. 
Sharp the intake of breath, a boiling pan, 
When every Union eye perceived the blast 
--Clean as a cutout from the now dawning sky-- 
A volcano of ruin moving like a freight train 
Voluminously upward, and lightnings 
Veined eyeball-like within it, roving painterly 
Spikes of angry orange throughout the mass 
Great as a cathedral of spewed earth, 
Great as an Iceland geyser filled with arms and legs 
And cannon bright as gilded toothpicks, 
Spinning compass needles gone to Hell. 

"Forward!" cried the sergeant, and the captain. 
"Forward!" cried the colonel, and the general too. 
And forward went the men into a crater 
Frowsey grey with endless dusts, till they 
Were grey themselves and looked half burnt-up, 
Unsure with every step they were not ghosts 
Hovering above a pock-marked moonscape; 
Aberrations of a living grave dug by fire,
Poor soldiers caught in a whirlpool of flame
Or Inferno's undertow;  walking dust
In a waste landscape of the unlabeled dead, 
One face the same as the next in the end. 
The crater unmanned the redan and left 
A scar, raw and bleak, between bewildered 
Confederates gawping gape-mouthed at dawn,
Unsinging grey kingbirds as they clung
To the fractured walls they held, grey wings
Toward a screeching sky, flightless, lit up 
Themselves by sunrise, and sighted by 
The busy shells of Union men bristling blue 
Along their enemy redoubt, a hundred guns 
Strong, and just one hundred yards away. 

"Thirty feet deep if an inch, I'd say. Thirty feet 
Of dirt and death, an open grave if we 
Don't mush on and take the little hill, that green 
Mount behind the lines of all their battleworks
History hasn't quite spiked full of tombstones
And victory or defeat will paint white as bones--
Blanford cemetery, an oasis in the air, 
Plain, with an easy excess of unturned grass,  
Still filigreed with leafing trees, and a view 
Full-on of downtown Petersburg, street by 
Street as if snapping a map.  And there we'll 
Point directions out with artillery and bayonet 
Eviscerating resistance from our crowned 
Crowsnest, our precipice of destruction." 
So high officers prophesied and prayed, 
So stood looking at the Crater's smoking gash 
Full of hope and silence-- 

                             But in the pit 
Fools were standing, gulled and moored, not led, 
Not guided and inspired;  acres of riflemen 
Wild to attack, but hamstrung on the leash 
Incompetence had necked them with, as if 
An ominous noose had been laid out by fate. 
The Crater was too deep to leap once entered. 
Later, many men were unburied here, chained 
And damned, if black, or doomed to Andersonville 
And blamed for war's forlorn continuance. 
But here and now, all's a roar: confusion! 
Shut from that happy pasture behind the lines, 
Thousands churned in the gulping hole, cliffs 
Of sand surrounding them, drowning them-- 
Tumult of guns, horrible faces half buried 
Throughout muddy waves of earthen wreckage. 
People, even here, in this hole, found heroes 
Equal to the horror, the hallelujah  
Of brave souls rearing to their uppermost, 
Doves outspread against the shotgun's buckshot. 

Traverses, hidden trenches, a ruin of wood 
Spavined the Crater and men madly crept 
Sheer walls to bear their muskets against 
Fear-stuck foes in grey who, slow, reconvened  
At the precipitous lip, as at a pool  
That invited diving in, brimmed with blue. 
Shot, and rocks, and mortar soon poured down, 
Hot terror deboning the bluecoats' cool. 
Officers shouted themselves hoarse, swinging swords, 
Offering themselves to the fire to upend 
The soupbowl of soldiers and take the hill 
"Up there!" a quarter-mile, or less, green 
And trim, a haven like unto heaven then.
When the colored troops marched the rim's flanks 
(At last released to fight who had trained first),
Fast and keeping good order in the maelstrom
They mustered at the Crater's far end 
And most of those below began to follow them 
Halfway to the graveyard, through sniper fire 
Laughing at their lateness to the task. 
Their battering forward soon boomeranged--
Bare-knuckled though they fought, they failed.
Back the black men tumbled to the cauldron, 
Attacked by an encircling scythe of grey
That stabbed them surrendering, or shivved 
Like crabs those who showed black backs to them.
Black regiments at their crest were halted;
Back they were turned, one upon the other,
Unsaved by fate, by luck;  returned they were,
The brave few following, all were returned--
Pushed, rushed into the pit, into the pit
Crushed as waves by waves are crushed till only
Seas are seen, are heard, one great clap of
Chaos, one being, one terrible discord. 

Carnage incontestable was occurring 
Cartridge after cartridge in the Crater, 
Yet not far off stood Colonel Pleasants, 
Hip against the battery's small wall 
Worrying his watch fob in distracted thought 
Sorry perhaps for having started it all
Listening to a fellow miner from Schuylkill 
Listing how he'd "Blow the damned fort up quick" 
With sufficient shaft and charge to do it. 
With that, Colonel Pleasants surveyed the scene: 
Battlements like interlocking teeth faced  
Battlements--a trench war grim and endless  
Chewing men and munitions to a cud, 
Swallowing all.  Was there a place these two 
Ferocities touched, an incisor that he 
Fearlessly could tug?  The engineer walked 
Zigzags day and night with his theodolite  
Digging practice shafts with bayonets, camp picks 
Hammered to a miner's measure for deep 
Untrammeled work--it could be done, by God! 
Here as near as kissing came the eager walls, 
Here the slope would drain, the high ground be obtained 
If but the enemy's pale fang was pulled, 
If abatis and barbican were culled. 
Why not begin in earnest, get the brass behind it?  
The way was plain as day, and today the day. 
Swiftly flew the work, there yawned the gap. 
Without meaning to, the colonel's feet 
Danced a tango step, and the loop returned 
Dancer and dance to face unpleasantness: 
The boys were overwhelmed by bruising blows; 
The soil was eating up the fellows now, 
Consuming what the firefight refused; 
One son made a motion of obeisance 
And pulled a dead man from the mire, laid 
Hand over hand in a crossed last rest. 
Damn all the generals who let them 
Slam forward only to teeter into the pit: 
Damn Ledlie, damn Burnside, damn Ferrero!
Damn them, damn them, damn them, damn them! 
Damn all generals who conspire to kill 
All men on every side for all of time: 
Jolly devils who only long for death, 
Death before them and death behind.      

Death was on the minds of men the night before, 
Stitching names and regiments into their coats, 
Such as who could.  The black troopers singing 
Songs belonging only to themselves, fires' 
Long shadows and tall light casting over all 
A beautiful and solemn mahogany, 
The soulful sounds drawing awkward men 
To quiet attentiveness to hear how goes 
The spirit of men meant for the first push, 
Meant to lift up arms against oppressors 
Wanton in their crimes.  How then sang these men? 
Their voices lifted up as one vast organ 
Choice and melodious praising creation-- 
Bitterness had no purchase in their souls, 
Little cared how plantation days wore away 
Simple dignity with outrageous assault. 
Civilly they faced their final day, and sang: 

I know moonrise,
I know star-rise--
    Lay dis body down.

I walk in de moonlight,
I walk in de starlight--
    Lay dis body down.

My soul and your soul
Will meet again one day--
    When I lay dis body down.



The Peacemakers


Over the rebel parapet near the old mine crater came a white flag, with a bugler to blow a parley…. By the mysterious army grapevine, word went up and down the rival lines: the Confederacy was sending a peace commission to meet Lincoln….
~~ Bruce Carton, A Stillness at Appomattox

We desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honour and independence.
~~Jefferson Davis

Let us discuss securing peace to the people of one common country.
~~Abraham Lincoln

Late came the day,
                    and the sulky cattle lowing. 
Late the table laid,
                    and late the peace-seeds sowing. 

Three men step across
                   Southern battlements;
Three men arrive,
                   and Union lines must part.

Three cheers arise,
                   arise in ragged grey;
And three hoarse cheers more
                   in soiled blue reply.

Down Hampton Roads
                   a riverboat rolls waiting--
Lincoln's long shadow there
                   in the picture window sitting.

And last there came
                   dovewhite ladies in a row.
Late, late in the day,
                   and the sulky cattle lowing.

Three men gone away,
                   and weeping ladies waving.
Late, late in the day
                   the peace-seeds sowing.


Mrs. Bickerdyke’s Battle;
or, Milk and Eggs


When one surgeon dared to ask where she received permission to do what she was doing, Bickerdyke retorted she was given orders by ‘the Lord God Almighty. Have you anything that ranks higher than that?’

Hospital days and hard tack, 
Chalk milk and sour eggs 
Were the bane of Mrs. Bickerdyke 
Mopping brows and counting legs. 

In the Union's Memphis hospital 
Each sheet was straight and whole; 
Quick-attended let each man and boy 
Until he died or rose. 

"Milk and eggs, milk and eggs!" 
Cried every feeble mouth; 
But milk and eggs could not be had 
In the war-torn, war-poor South. 

Mrs. Bickerdyke was small, was fierce, 
And had a soul of ‘sterner stuff;'  
With iron spine, eyes clear of tears: 
"We'll soon have enough." 

The epauletted surgeons scoffed,
"Those enemy lines are garrote wire 
Pulled tight at supply line necks." 
But those who coughed knew well the while 

Who would fill their cups and plates: 
"The milk will be as a river, 
The eggs a flotilla upon it-- 
Mrs. Bickerdyke will deliver!" 

Through the rifles of Johnny Reb 
Her tracks ran frail as lace; 
At the slaughterhouse of Chicago 
Mrs. Bickerdyke unveiled her case: 

"Our blue men lay wounded, wanting 
No more than milk and eggs; 
Throw wide your pantry doors, Chicago 
And give me what I beg!" 

Thirty days she was gone away 
To siphon milk and gather eggs; 
On the thirty-first her train arrived 
Lowing, topped by cackling crates. 

Mrs. Bickerdyke beamed, wreathed 
In haloes of hissing steam: 
"These are Union cows, boys, 
And loyal, abolitionist hens!"


Quiet at Camp


Without music there would be no army.
~~Genl. Robt. E. Lee

The campfire throws faces, form after form: 
Faces adept at battle, or unready for the first charge 
Rise and recede in the unsteady flame. 

No time for thought when the lieutenant calls, 
When the barrage hails fate into your lap. 
All's disarray;  endless disturbance of a waterfall. 

But now the tents are pitched, the camp at peace; 
Exhausted soldiers lie fallen in a snow of sleep, 
A calm rustled darkness of leaf on leaf. 

Indelible things have fallen to every boy and man: 
Sins of ages a few torn years must mend--  
Shoulder-to-shoulder the blue, unready regiments stand. 

But now no fife of patriots taunts the heart, 
And all the soft fire's lofty murmur is gathering in 
Face after face: angry, ecstatic, mute. 




A Nest of Copperheads; or,
or, Capt. Hines Takes a Holiday


Chicago graveyard. Democrat convention, 1864

Millions for defense; not a dollar or a man for aggressive and offensive civil war.
~~Clement Vallandigham, founder of the Copperheads

[My escape with Morgan] owes something to the fact that I had just completed the reading of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” containing such vivid delineations of the wonderful escapes of Jean Valjean….
~~Capt. Thomas Hines, Confederate raider

Close your eyes and swear the oath, Vallandigham, 
The Peace-Knights of the Golden Circle need you. 
Hand me that tracing paper, Beall, we've got 
Another Democrat voter mouldering in his grave here, 
Shrapnelled to smithereens at Antietam, looks like. 
Repeat after me, Clement, "I hereby swear: surrender 
Before war. Peace above prosperity, and the defeat 
Of Abraham Africanus above all!"  Well done, now 
Take off that blindfold, here's charcoal and paper. 
I'll unfold a plot complete, my sixty stout 
Confederate conferees and me tidily devised 
Last month in Toronto.  We've arsenal enough 
For Rock Island penitentiary and the six thousand 
Good men in grey snaffled harmless there. Six thousand! 
You know I snaked John Morgan out of the Ohio Pen, 
Well, I'll charm this passel of greybacks free as well. 
Just keep listening and collect those votes for peace.
Cold feet, Clem?  Think what mighty shoes we'll fill
After such long years of wearying, rearing war!
Copperheads, don't those liberty pennies on your lapels 
Mean anything in this degraded age?  I'll need 
Five hundred minuteman Chicagoans, any who 
Avoided Yankee service on principle will do. With them, 
Moonlight and luck, we'll have six thousand merry 
Raiders ripping up track and blowing up armories 
From Lake Michigan to the Mississippi in no time. 
Howdy-do, the Union will sure sue for peace then, 
McClellan run into Washington on the peace plank 
Vallandigham has penned with widows' tears, 
A bald eagle feather for a quill--all his hiss 
Of rights everlasting, rights to secede and breathe free. 
Gather me those papers, Buell.  Here, hand over. 
Look at these new votes we've stacked nigh high 
As a Gutenberg bible to swear a president in upon. 



Sherman’s March to the Sea


See here, [Gen’l] Cox, burn a few barns occasionally, as you go along. I can’t understand those signal flags, but I know what smoke means.
~~Wm. Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman stalked the dining room,
Lush upon a high Atlanta hill; 
The wallpaper, ornate and still, 
Writhed fire in the reflected gloom. 
Bayonetted cotton floods the street 
With pale, incandescent heat. 

Shouted voices spread the news 
But could not outrun the light 
Flicker-cast toward Georgia night 
Of his march's burning fuse. 
What shone revealed, what dread, what grace, 
In each illuminated face? 

Sherman strode the cold seashore 
All night beneath starfire--
His hooded eyes a mystery 
Homeless, aimless, and alone. 
He paused where firepale waters rushed, 
Heard his prayer, hissed, and did not rest. 



Backward Flag


…a sudden figure, a man, raises himself…stands a moment on the railing, leaps below to the stage…catching his boot-heel in the copious drapery (the American flag), falls on one knee, recovers…
~~Whitman’s report of Lincoln’s assassination

How I have loved the old flag, can never now be known.
~~John Wilkes Booth

The flag curls over like a wave of the surf, 
Over its lines a cold fold of stars, enough 
To show what sky can be when night is come: 
Red alive as rockets in the fabrics dim, 
White stripes welcome as oceans breaking home. 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 

How split, how hate-estranged we've grown, old flag, 
Stripped of half your stars, your red stripes but rags 
To bandage bloodied men or bury them--
Fife, drum, and solemn bell are all your music now. 
Flown, blown apart, we two, who once together flew. 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 

I'll stitch myself into the national scene, 
Rehearse my lines and look the part--I preen 
To patch divided stripes and each stray star return. 
Nothing but love, love alone bade me do this: 
Fire, jump, and shout ‘Sic semper tyrranis!' 

Catch me by the heels who can, or catch me not at all. 



Mary Chesnut’s Diary


I do not write often now–not for want of something to say, but from a loathing of all I see and hear. Why dwell upon it?
~~ Mary Boykin Chesnut

Darkest of all Decembers ever has my life known, 
Sitting here by the embers, stunned, helpless, alone.
Lay aside, faithful pen, and write no more; 
Richmond is bleak as a cauldron of burnt teeth. 
I'll close my eyes awhile, and lie prone 
Until some sweeter thought arises. I remember... 
The canopied bridge to Mulberry, tree  
After tree alive with yellow jessamine  
And with cherokee rose writhing wild  
On post and pillar, as we rode to James'  
Father's placid estate, Colonel Chesnut 
Erect and spectacleless at eighty,  
A fine speech on his lips about his visit  
Preaching generosity and Jesus  
Down at the Wateree Negro Mission. 
"I preach to them as to my own, young James, 
Our prayers made knee by knee to God above."  
When long life at last sent him onward, 
The plantation rained with tears, and all 
Was lamentation and appreciation 
For one who'd filled his cup of life with grace. 
Old Scipio was first among the pallbearers 
Who'd "dressed him in life, and dressed him dead." 
And night came, and a soothing singing came  
Up to the manse from the little slave cabins. 



Pieces of the Old Battle Flag; or,
Hoe-cake and Hominy on the Way Home


My sisters that night made me underclothes from their skirts.
~~John T. Wickersham, in his homecoming narrative

A bugle broke night's silence as the colonel arrived,
Drunk we thought, tilting on his stick-thin brindled mare;
"The war's done, boys. Head on home."  And in a few strides

He was gone himself.  Kelly had his knife, and then and there
Began to parcel out the battle flag which had never veered
To ground, although three good colorguards weren't spared.

Some men wiped tears, some crept quiet from camp, hunched
As if unspined, but no one raised their voice to sing our anthem
A final time, nor have I heard it since, that song which once

Marched us from Missouri's shores to the vale of dread Antietam.
We soon enough were counted, and paroled to wander hence 
Barefoot to Memphis, or ride the Delta Darling steamboat down 

From the point of its departure. I rode until they threw me off, 
Unconscious on the docks of I knew not where, but not home. 
Alone and light-headed, I heard a colored woman close enough to scoff:

 "Po' devil, and Sunday comin' too," who led me like a lamb 
And fed me hominy and cornbread--of her poor portion half 
Until three weeks of days nursed me back to what I am: 

A sinner on the roadway with a hoe-cake in his hand. 
"Honey, don't you go it, you'll for sure die if you do."  
"Ninety miles to the Missouri line, I must try it if I can." 

Not a barn was left standing, not a town unburned, no, 
Not a cow in any pasture, nor a white man in the land. 
Not a black man played the stranger, but gave me kindness, too; 

Rough food to keep from fainting, sweet hands to bind my feet. 
Some went to hunt their masters, some heading for the North, 
Every one of them my better, to my shame and my regret. 

One night, near expiring, under the rainfall's gentle wrath 
I saw a lamp that beckoned me, deep in wood and sleet; 
On hands and knees I made it, too weak to try the latch; 

Within I heard them praying, a muffled forlorn grace, 
And put my ear the nearer who had not given thanks; 
Words, it seemed, imploring, to see their loved one's face 

Lost to war's disorders when taken from their ranks.
With their prayer ended, I knocked and entered, felt the fireplace
Warm me like a brandy that relieves the fever's shakes.

"Bacon and rye coffee," I heard.  "This man is almost dead!"
The voice was my own mother's, and my sisters circled near;
Father, serving coffee, cried: "Why, it's our own dear Ned!"

They embraced me all in all their arms, shed relief-fed tears.
They bathed me in hot water, and closed up every wound.
To God I give my every thanks, who took away my fears.



CONFEDERATE STATUES

In freedom's cause their voices raise, 
And burst the bonds of every slave; 
Till, north and south, and east and west, 
The wounds we bear shall be redressed. 
     ~~ James M. Whitfield


Let us cross over the river, and rest 
under the shade of the trees.
    ~~Stonewall Jackson


Christmas Eve in Whitneyville


An invention can be so valuable as to be worthless to the inventor.
~~Eli Whitney

Easily a thousand times I'd touched a cuff, 
Flexed the luxury of a high thread count 
And dropped, as though left drowning in the surf, 
An empty sleeve without a second thought. 

Only now, in Whitneyville on a visit, 
Piling my cart with bales of breathable shirts, 
I think about the town's history, how it's stitched
Day to day in time's continental drift. 

How, quick as a cat, Eli's nimble gin 
Clawed free a thread, crystalline from end to end, 
And that thread reached out across lost time 
To wind me in these sheets for bed....  

Did Eli know his cotton gin would bring 
Us here together among the shining aisles-- 
He and I, and Southern slavers in a ring? 
And, by their rings, black slaves in lowly file? 

I dream of fields of cotton, brown and white, 
And dusky figures bending in a singing row, 
And colored sunset moving on toward night 
Where only sleeping darkness is allowed. 

I lie alone among the cotton clouds, 
Drifting in the droning surf of central air, 
My sleeves lifeless as my premie shroud. 
I hear my heavy breathing claw the air. 



Reviving the Wreck; or,
The Raising of the Monitor


It was like finding a palace, with all its conveniences, under the sea.
~~Nathaniel Hawthorne

The sea is full of sobbing 
Yet into the sea we go, 
To find that historical darling 
A tin ship from long ago. 

We fight (as they fought, perhaps, 
Who unlimbered cannon and tracked 
The foe) who (amid salvage and scrap) 
Wrestle seaweed and wrecks. 

With mask and fin descending, 
We delve disguised to the depths
To uncharm the storm's spellbinding 
Upending you to death. 

Here's the Monitor that made such noise  
Harassing Merrimac on the James;
It lists in a funk of silt and weeds, 
Rusted, contrite, and tame. 

History's filigree of detail, 
Its palimpsest of scribbled layers,
Shows stripes of filtered light mottling
A hulk abandoned by prayer. 

The darkness of Hatteras' stream
We pierce without wit or pity, 
And the glance of our trifling beams 
Reveals a sunken city. 

Here glimmers a little Manhattan,
The keel quaint 6th Avenue
With Wahoo and Bluefin pedestrians,
The whole glozed over in roux. 

All war and the waging of it 
Must come to this they say--
Two skeletons in an inverted turret 
Where minnows are wont to play. 

For weeks we belt and balloon and inflate 
To heave the iron whale by inches 
From the heaviness of its fate; 
Yet in my chest, a rebellious fish 

Quivers with questions and guesses: 
To itch at the layers of mystery, 
To reveal in detail what had been messy, 
May change what was of history.

To scrape through the dark unknown 
With an arrow of light forlorn,
With new instruments of our own.... 
Would we survive such inspection? 

Let Davy Jones entertain his guests,
Let leviathan still swallow Jonah,
Let Eve's innocence stay lost,
And disturb not Shakespeare's bones.



In the Field of Lost Shoes


They faltered not, but kept the line.
~~About the adolescent VMI cadets who marched through heavy mud, losing their shoes as they advanced on the enemy at New Market

We planted palm-sized flags in uncounted rows 
As wind taunted them taut-- 
The colors almost gone to watercolor now 
Winter's passed and spring pants. 

The field still marshals blue and grey, although 
The skirmish lines are lost....  
Where wildflower and meadowgrass grow long 
Memory simplifies to mist. 



Confederate Statues


Draw the sword and throw away the scabbard!
~~Stonewall Jackson

To stand and stand and stand 
When every knee would fawn; 
To be a statue, resolute, 
That greets the pinkening dawn. 

No more can one man master 
Than his own traitorous feet; 
No more's expected, wanted, 
Than refusal to retreat. 

So Stonewall stood, and stands 
Granite and complete; 
Each fieldstone laid by careful hand: 
Duty, honor, brave intent. 


Lee’s Return

When sullied world is gone, or rent
Hidden meanings like hidden ghosts arise.
That Lee might live the thought fidelity,
To defeat or victory indifferent,
A world's measure of gain and loss
Lies in his sword's ceremonial cross.

	O nothing but a passion burns
	Mourned countries to their soot.

Spotless Appomattox first and last,
Lee's ruinous duty, and after
Kent's canon that shook the stocks,
Who served a sane, distracted Lear
Because he knew a royal soul was one 
Human before humanity had come.

	Long, long lay the shadows on the grass;
	Uniformed men flit and pass.

How many of the undiscerning multitude
When Lee passed there had thought
His great grey face all gravity,
Stone blossom of a moral root.
What first might drive a man
To live an abstract thought?

	 O nothing but a passion burns
	 Mourned countries to their soot.

Courthouse shadows judge the field
Where Lee both tried and failed;
A lonely, exalted thought that still
Drives restless as a nail.
O How had Athens come and gone
Without one such man?

	 Long, long lay the shadows on the grass;
	 Uniformed men flit and pass.


 


Some books I read while writing


There’s a million books out there about the American Civil War. This is one of the facts that daunts, rather than tempts, the fidelity-minded contemporary writer. Some of the books I treasured, and mauled, the most during my journey through these sparse traces of poems are listed below. Of special note, to me, were the compendiums of contemporary accounts, tales and folklore (B. A. Botkin), or books that threaded a narrative together mainly through excerpts from eyewitness accounts, contemporaneous newspaper accounts, and official battle reports (Eisendchiml and Newman, Commager). I also enjoyed the robust and well-known popular history narratives of the war that use such accounts to bring their retellings to life (Catton, Foote, McPherson, Brown). You won’t regret picking up any of the titles below in addition to (or instead of) the little poetry book in your hands.

Civil War Treasury, B. A. Botkin 
Civil War, San American Iliad, Eisendchiml and Newman 
The Blue and the Grey, Henry Steele Commager 
Bruce Catton's Civil War 
Shelby Foote Civil War Trilogy 
Patriotic Gore, Edmund Wilson 
Vicksburg 1863, Winston Groom 
Battle Cry of Freedom, James Mcpherson 
Gettysburg, Noah Trudeau 
Life of Johnny Reb and Life of Billy Yank, Wiley 
War Stories, Ambrose Bierce 
Words For the Hour, poetry, Barret and Miller 
Poets of the Civil War, J. D. Mcclatchy 
Embattled Rebel and Tried by War, James Mcpherson 
Embattled Courage, Gerald Linderman 
Ironclad, Paul Clancy 
The Battle of the Crater, Charles River Editions 
Sherman's March, Burke Davis 
Dee Brown's Three Main Civil War Books 
Landscape Turned Red, Stephen Sears 
Don't Know Much About the Civil War, Kenneth Davis 

Any book by Douglas Southall Freeman 

Helps to keep a good battle atlas at your elbow, rather than internet maps.

One-Legged Poetry by Jacko Monahan

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Jun 042018
 
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One-Legged Poetry



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Purchase from Amazon

One-Legged Poetry

 

Authored by
Jacko Monahan


To experience Jacko Monahan reading his poetry live, which he did every month for more than twenty years at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, N.J., was to experience what a number of auditors have called his “word-uzi.” In One-Legged Poetry: Tragedy, Politics & a Sea Monster, Monahan has published his first full collection of poems, so that readers can experience his highly readable work in print virtually for the first time. Jacko once said, “Life is pain, and you have to learn how to survive it.” The poems in One-Legged Poetry are, more than any others he has written, about working through pain—the pain of losing his sight, the opening of old tar burns on his legs, and the loss of his leg to flesh-eating bacteria, all the while remaining intensely alive, human, and creative. Monahan’s voice is unique and powerful and these poems break new ground.

About the author:
Jacko Monahan was born in Passaic, N.J., and grew up on the streets of Palisades Park. During the 1980s, he was the front man and lyricist for the punk rock/hard core bands Fatal Rage and Dirge. Fatal Rage put out a single eponymous LP in 1983, but the latter band released numerous recordings, including two LPs—Flesh Crawler and Soul Storm. Having begun his musical career as a teenager in Palisades Park, Monahan has worked in some forty different bands in a variety of genres, writing original lyrics for them all, and has appeared on at least thirteen recordings. He also served for twenty-three years as the booking agent at the Brighton Bar, an original music venue in Long Branch, N.J. He estimates that he put on 10,000 shows at the Brighton and other venues, such as The Saint and The Stone Pony in Asbury Park and The Court Tavern in New Brunswick. Among these shows were the monthly poetry readings at the Brighton Bar. Monahan started writing poetry when he was fifteen and has continued to produce poems at a prodigious rate ever since. “I had a fascination with words from an early age,” he says. His work has appeared in Wanderlust, This Broken Shore, and The Idiom. A number of his poems appeared recently in Palisades, Parkways & Pinelands: An Anthology of Contemporary Poets (Blast Press, 2015).

Publication Date:
May 04 2017
ISBN/EAN13:
0998482919 / 978-0998482910/dd>

Page Count:
178
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.5" x 8.5"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General

CreateSpace:
https://www.createspace.com/7178744

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/0998482919/

Thistle Wins by Gregg Glory

 [Poetry], Thistle Wins  Comments Off on Thistle Wins by Gregg Glory
Apr 282018
 

Thistle Wins

A book of poems

Gregg Glory
[Gregg G. Brown]

Published by BLAST PRESS
324B Matawan Avenue
Cliffwood, NJ 07721
(732) 970-8409

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gregglory.com

Wild Places

Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.

Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs. When observation and observance sharpen beyond the roar of words we soothe ourselves with, the tickertape of conscience and prayer unspooled to silence, we can see the action of life plain. The constant taking, the inevitable greed, camouflage, and waste inherent in all things.

The sun knows nothing but to burn. The salmon little else than to breed and feast. Our arteries are red with burning, veins blue with hunger. A paranoid, irascible eye sees many raw things civilization has regretfully gilded; an eager ear—with its vestigial muscle for turning still intact—may yet attune itself to the strangeness of what is. Listen.

Parables are everywhere is our daily doings if we listen, the ear of consciousness arranging random notes and facts into pattern, the flare of consciousness illuminating new mosaics in the old catacombs. Life itself, in all its accident and happenstance, is transformational because our consciousness is partial.

We can’t see all sides of an object at once like a cubist artist. We cannot even experience ourselves consistently across the daily divide of sleep; at best we are strips of stuttering film. We bridge these gaps with memory and imagination. And reality is the perpetual testing grounds of that self-invention—and poetry, at its finest, with its honest looks at what is—is the checklist for that reality. Words are the net we use to draw reality into us. So use that net, anxious to add meaning to your ultimately unknowable life—the omnipresent wilderness.

Gregg Glory
April 1, 2018


Shy in their herding dwell the fallow deer 
...spirits of wild sense... 
Printless as evelight, instant as dew. 

John Drinkwater 


After Thin Winter

My tongue fell like a gravestone, flat Into silence, when I heard the darting lark, An amplitude of bees at the azaleas in spring And the mad abandon of frogs in their croakeries As the kiln sun outlined fingerling icicles, and snows Receded. What was killed at Christmas was made ready, Made mud and substance for new life at Easter, Elegant as grass dancing from the fundament. What songs I had cribbed in my dab, crabbed hand All winter long in my grey oyster’s cloister Blandly abandoned their pearls in my mouth; What I had deemed gospel is proved uncouth. Only silence and stillness can I bring to what’s given, The badge of eager ears my only sign of office, A wideness of eyes my warrant for living, A narrow nose my keel, and sighs for my sails.

River Dazzle

The sun hooks the eye— A fishingline of light Teases daubs, gobs Of unready tears From the prone fisherman. The arc of history, the arc Of his lazy cast, are Identical to God’s, one More blind parabola among Many hits and misses. Still, he watches his bobber, Sun of its own solar system, A clownish bellybutton Pinned in its gravity well, Helpless as a marble. Something beneath bites; His wary, wired eye sees No more than Schrodinger Trapped outside the bottle He fishes to investigate. The bobber is an eye- Ball in a troubled socket Nippling the rubber sheet, Inflicting wrinkles, crowsfeet, And no nest to home in on.

Salmon Run

Baby salmon are born simple fillips of thin light, Thumb-smears of ectoplasm, long eggs Unfurling into elegant flags of tails That plump through long late spring luxuriously As any mat of pasta filigreed with fins. The racer spritz of underbelly speckles Makes her indivisible with the river, devotional, A sweptback speedboat divoting the current Lambing the surface with sunny braids of wooly foam, Then, dive after dive, memorizing each shadow grotto, By lounge and lunge investing the homeplace with myth…. Sleepy or ecstatic she swims, until the day comes When salt first touches the innocent lip Alerting galvanic gizmos in the svelte groin And the salmon, in mass chorus, beg the river To lead them away, like following the grain of an etching. Away from childish eddies, from mild tideless nights, Away from reeds in their tactile millions, from oniony beds Of emptied fish eggs; away, away and down To the silver-slippered whaleroad of the sea! Down to the breakers and badlands, borderless lagoons, Completing, with raw luck, a Pacific circuit As round as the world Magellan imagined, Where each nimble slit face will bleaken into a claw, Each corvette exterior ripen to bitter red And only the sly survive.

Constitutional

Bales of daybreak scatter broken hay— Shreds of light the early parkground Feeds the eager eye, waking ringing birds. Golden gears of day get going, annoying Drunkards and latecomers, laggards Too timid to escape their asylum of dreams. The foot crunches cinders on the cold park path As woods enclose the walker in dew-dim green, Ears and eyes awake for what brambles disclose: A syrupy dewlap repeating to its mate, The bitter gabble of a squirrel on high, How the referenceless blue of sky intrudes. At a stop where rubber joggers stretch He sits, a chalky bubble doming at his feet A moment’s irritated digging reveals To be the stark arched catacombs of a skull.

Woodpecker

The woodpecker hammers in deafness, An arpeggio of ellipsis dots Turning the trunk into a thunderous drum Loud as a cloudburst, a wail of electric Lightning in the downpour of his beak, Itself a splinter of the woodpecker’s brain His single nail of intention drilling A rabble of insects from the desert wood, Fleets of them fleeing Egypt, half-grown wings folded Like packs on the refugees’ backs Seeking Sinai beyond the impassable banks— A place of sacred song, bonfires and worship, Their stump wings become angel feathers Themselves grown golden in face and limb Raising all their hallelujah voices in song together A circle of safety and praise “Hallelujah!” And only the tamed accompanying tumble of drums To remind them of the woodpecker.

Two Pike Beneath the Rail Bridge

for Mat Spano A snake of shadow doubles in the water— A grounded pike in his cold redoubt, his Troubled blur of darkness underneath him Rolls over motes of stones like a cut kite-tail, In a water-flight of greedy feeding, snap and Strike after strike into terrorized small fry That blaze his evilly thin needle teeth with blood, Curling broody clouds into lake-light and weeds And obscuring the dumbshow action of a life. II The weight of the pike, black as a wrenched rail spur, Meditates in his mysterious underworld, gleeless And deeply green as a Christmas bough— I am life! I am knife! he seems to say, scissoring His blunt course beneath the taut causeway, A troll below the ebony river’s surface, shadow Inside shadow, his deathly inches glistening ink As he writes the page of life black as himself Or his shadow-self, the self that guides the knife.

Moment of Silence

The little brown hen, beheaded Ran about the dusty clucking yard like an abortion Her spur of blood a race flag Stippling the yard with dark dots, beautymarks For a full minute. The other hens stopped clucking And left their feed unattended to watch, To feel the dark sprinkler pass by batting them— Their eyes vaguely gathered, vaguely lit. All scratching hushed, and the sun stopped. For a full minute I think it was, yes.

The Duck, Shotgunned

The duck, shotgunned Caught the full volley of pellets, Steel circles like pilled thimbles Spreading inner fire with a hundred matchsticks Struck in the smoking under-feathers, The trim wings wide, as in delight mid-flight But here is suffering and ripping, A million zippers stripping skin, All your fingernails blown off in a single twinge And nerve and blood left to baste in air, Bathe in pain Forever.

Death of a Housefly

This is the basis. A faceted particle Bearing its pair of window-wings, a fractal Reflecting Nature’s majesty in grim miniature. A dot of the universe made blood and hair, The infinitesimal start of the Big Bang’s buzz. The nodule, the nada. This dead housefly Practiced spastic pratfalls through the rooms— A black note following what conductor’s wand? Among damaged fruit and unguarded ears It made its itchy way. Stumbling, staccato, on tiptoe. I watch the billion connections blossom From his rainbow bowl-of-gumballs eyes To my duller ones, practiced and lidded. Do you see, the fly whispers, how alike we are? Were you a gnat, I would swat you, fly says. As you are, I sip blood from your hairy walls. The dead housefly flitters from the counter To the floor in summer’s mangy breeze. Its universe is over, its finale played and applauded. I negotiate broom and dustpan in procession, Knock the little bugger into the too-full dustbin And ring shut the metal lid like a cymbal.

Metal Detector

A flying saucer on a stick swings back and forth Over the dirty beach, the dribble of grime That marks the tide’s high assault, the clamor Of a slug’s cold unwanted kiss. The flying saucer swings, and swigs of sound Filter a staticky hash through my cupped earholes, The sound post-apocalyptic, waiting for the bright bing The inimitable click that signals a tossed coin, The fine wire of a hairpin, the lost Mayan gold Of a forgotten money clip.

A Wheel of Hooks

Turns in the eagle’s flying eye, zeroes down To peg a live shadow in the grass, Haul it sputtering to nest. Two chains of hooks its feet Dangle shaggy dragnets Over Sumptuous innocuous indolent meadows. A hundred hooks gather into feathers, Climb the frigidaire air barb by barb, Clawing against gravity to flight. A hook, too, is the prowlike Bastion of beak Battering ribs with its stick, incising Designs into totem, Curve after curve In the bloodied broken side of its prey.

Slender in the Grass

Snakes are boneless trombones sliding slender in the grass. Their alphabets are all hisses, “Asss to Zsss.” Their eyes, like birds’, are liquid wax droplets of black, Pools of dark rumor and wells of ancient observation. They ride the damp ground like a whip writhing to stiffness, Thwacking desperate cracks in the dirt to attract a skinny mate. A snake’s razor mouth widens to a gulp when any beetle lands near, Its split rainbow back a Swiss Army knife of displayed wings. When rains come, churning and flooding the ripped field, they swim, Their lengths alert S’s suddenly alive as kitetails in the teeming wind. They know no road but hunger, and sleep their meals down for days, weeks, Giving back to the damp uncaring ground a mouse’s intricate skull, A spittle of skeleton, forever ivory and wideeyed.

Setting

Where to begin? A confusion of thorns Besets the setting sun with a hash of prison bars; Night’s limber elements are rising from the earth Reanimating darkness, giving limbs to missing light, Raising a black wave over our heads Cricked down for evening prayers, then a meal. But for now, all is still confusion— The old barn taut with disintegration, its hard Lean away from light; the tempest of songbirds Arriving noisily to nests in the sun’s abatement; The raccoon’s paw awake to darkness and theft; Thrills of a million moths detaching themselves From the sloped sides of trees, their daily guards. The eagle, the snake, the hawk, the dog retire. In their place, night’s minion, the hidden thrust, The secret grasp—oh, death by any other name, Death by a thousand stratagems—all recorded In the reflective eye of the cat at the window.

Cadaver in Vastness

Time the hammer and time the anvil Claws raw gobbets from the cadaver. A quiet of observation invades the hills, Wraps the sliver viewer in vapor. The child’s dog had run away down the road No farther than here; Here were no green ingots of gravehills, Just one dog rotted to a husk, A blackened comma stuck out beyond His tongue’s final saying. The cliffs, quilt-patched like coral, Still melt in immeasurable mists; Trees swing their long beards over the brook, Fish alive among their barky toes. But here at the dark roadside, a cavern Axes dead halves of a ribcage Into darker futures, a vastness Realer than stars.

Lizard Evening

The lizard in the ditch, his brain a chip Turns his chipped eyes to the sun The lichened rock he spraddles is pocked With stars of greenish lesions A harshness of stars is in his twenty Fingerends roughed for gripping He is sure of nothing, not even gravity As he glares at the universe from his rock— Along his spine a constellation gathers Like a trail of bulletholes in God…. The lizard in the ditch, impatient for flies Slowly splits his jaw, spits his split tongue As if to lap up the sun, its tunnel of cauldron One changeling flame at a time Until night comes, however ugly, and only his Spine of stars is shining

Watching Wildlife

She’s surprised, her eyes foolish, owlishly large, Twin fishbowls slopped with infinity, her mouth Dropped doll-like open in a pinkish, pale gash A slash touch of drool spooling a corner. What is it that she’s watching? A second moon Shouldering out from behind the first We know so well, like our own splotched hand Familiar and veined and always available? No, not that. It’s something closer to home Like a threat, a chainsaw hiccupping off a nail, Its blade loud and wild, a deadly blurr, A blaze of steel thorns throbbing sparks! She watches so carefully, so pitilessly, a poised Tan animal about to pounce perhaps, Watchful of her victim’s teeth, array of claws, Hidden stings, woodpecker’s beak like a sewing machine, The power of muscles thumping a bone skull like a club. Yet she herself is still, fearless— Alone, empyrean, detached, fatalistic, A girl standing at the edge of her own green yard, Ambivalent, balanced.

Vultures

Flesh was never less alive Than in their claw-hammer mouths, Gobbets and blobs dripping from beaks Wry as fishhooks. The spurring rabbit the truck wheel had winged Left nailed to the asphalt Now a grim etching by Durer, tendons aghast, Gashed open like a surgeon’s how-to To the slow thoughtful desecration of the doctors Hunched around their diagnosis.

Thistle Wins

The icy field is stiff with thistles, Pencils jammed in a holder, grey bristles on a chin. Thousands of bareheaded golf balls rolled to a stop, Each beheaded head bedizened with pins. How long did it take for these roots to creep? These spiky knobs to rise like fists? Each hidden root connects to another root, root to root, A starchart under the earth’s dirt. I stand here alone as winter makes us alone: Banging my hands for warmth, stamping my feet. If I had a mirror big enough I could show this overrun world its face.

River Waving and Waving

A stillness is in it. Leaden. Even though it is waving, waving continually It’s always with the same, tame, martinied Glassy indifference. Green-eyed, squatting, squalid As a toad, as lipless gelid. A fresh-water jellyfish or squid laid on a board Would look as lively, as livid, lurid. All day loping the gaping bank, its wound of water— Summertime anglers, day-campers Never too far from stoves and faucets, The womb of home. I put my hand into river coldness. I drop a baited hook into its goop. I stoop for smooth dull stones to throw at it. Or reach into the silver house with a threaded wish To catch flesh I de-shingle and eat— The red welt of fish-wealth held in the fire’s fingers As evening gains in the trees And darkness erases faces. Szzz—Too hot to touch! This Frying sliver of river. But stabbed with a stick, I bring it up Greedily between my teeth.

Bats in a Cavern

Here’s no light but an echo of light Light like a black ear flapping Small-boned bodies flapping in a known womb-cave The whole place the scraped inside of an eye, waiting And the sprawled dawn-cry comes, a thousand cries Skreaking and streaking like train cars— Twice a thousand ears eating dawn like an egg! A black egg, viscid and filling All is known, all is revealed, x-rayed by those cries The bugs the guano the catacomb litter Their little fur chests line up like soldiers Glued to the gleaming ceiling of the cavern Clawing the raw stone One thousand faces split and dripping

Gnats

Less than a thimbleful will make you lose the will to live. Gnats attack at the interstices Where sweat lives under an eyelid, a slick Lick of paint no one could mistake for tears. A peppering of infinitesimal bodies Intent on your discomfort, they fly into hinges Of elbows and knees Giving their gamey smell when crushed Of rotted olives. Too small to wipe off They remain, a grit of pulverized guts Waiting for the laundromat’s absolution, The shower’s cloudy powerwash.

Song Sparrow

The sparrow, wrestle-breasted arrow of song, Indignant arc lamp of day, sky’s-spy, deliverer of God’s notes To mute mortal ears, lug jug-handles on the wine pot— How like a spook you move in the thin limitless air. How beyond deftness your swiftness. Sheer circles of light! And in an endless ring you are singing—phrases, prophecies, The moulting basketloads of insects yet uneaten! And the sun comes through your mouth, too; the sun, And all the crying stars of yestereve, tearpricks in the blueness. Constellations align to your wingtips, grasses part at your Passing, nature and songster at one in the dewsweep. No more clotted gobblings of domestic turkeys, blind clucks Earthbound and beaten to repetitious hawkings of mere sound, Bruised wattles hanging diseased over all song, any singing. Here is a choir of velvets and visionings, long lusterful sighs That folds the sky in your pocket, all in one fluffed breast. It seems to have no nest, but when the nest is found, Tucked like an ear under a crest of rosebush, or suddenly There beneath a worsted whorl of fieldgrass, with old bandages Of eggs, cast off crepe from the birthday party, sharp discardings That gave rise to this, to you, gripping your perch, The striped bullet head bent back in laughter!

Nesting Swallows

Stars turn blue in the untended bucket While belly sleeps and wing slopes. The day was yours, tin beak, The night I keep, says eyelid asleep. The nest rides quiet like a lip of wave, The evergreen ever-vigilant of its dark shade. There’s nothing to see between the sheaves Of branches, except the feathery skin Of the wind At last at rest.

Rockface

A war-wind licks the tattered rocks Frosted with lichen stubble, spare faces Visible above green beards. The remains of a farm, of a home Washed, tumbled to a lumbar spine of fallen wall Spoiled by a seafoam stain. All the lives here are bone again, are green Mouldy birthmarks, are mottled handprints flimsy As a kindergartener’s Thanksgiving turkey. Shamrock sigils of vigils past and failed— Hail fellowships birthing only this mint rot, this Nothing of wind warring wind And lichens’ fading greying faces.

Prickers

Prickers stick to rough jean cuffs covering scuffed work boots. Unshaven stubble shows the stiff imprint of age, Gaunt gristle of days lived and forgotten, an old sailor’s youth Sailed grey among cows and seas of grass. I pull at them at the stone churchyard doorstep, slap Stubborn stubble on worn and faded cuffs. My long heedless stride got me here, gathered green days To this scruff of stars washing round my ankles. Prickers gather thick as ticket stubs in a bottomless pocket, The washed-out dates distorted and mangled. All my life I’ve come alone through these fields to this frigid steeple Like a compass needle that always comes round to North. And these with me, least eminences of the neglected field, These rustling pricker-weed seeds with small arms lifted astonished— Ferrying always with me on my open journey, sticking it out, Until I cast them In miserable heaps to the doorstep.

Landscrape

He stood alone, wild in the merry-go-round junkyard. Jagged stacks of tires creaked a rubbery babble, Oily water caught rank in the empty rims. Where had they driven, these rearing carnival-wheels? What seen, these charcoal eye-holes outlined in bruise? Miles they’ve revved and spun, millions of miles, Miles going round and wearing out, like hearts. And now: a bird pulls out a bit of wire, The hasty scamper of a rat keeps dry in mysterious rain. A weed reaches its thread through some wheel-hole, Waiting for fate’s snip-snip in the afternoon sun.... Wheels ridden to strips against earth’s wheel, Paired gears kissing and grinding in lifelong marriage, The little gear worn through like a wound, dirty, A wound too old now for even a bandage, A wound no longer bleeding, really— A wound where the sky leaks in, And a swindling Wind whistles To hatch a crow, a black rainbow Bent in emptiness over emptiness But flying Ted Hughes

You, Over There

Something happened to you, over there. A snowy owl invests your shoulders With hunches, black minnows drown Your eyes, between the transfixed cross Attached at your brows—the stiff track Of a crow’s kinked foot in night snows.

Graveyard Ravens

Not to die. Not to die. The small worm-eye of the raven is so black It is blue. Blue-black, flattening its wings Against a nude sheet of snow, legs Of tree roots still dark, unconquered by the frost. The raven looks about, a small shirr of dust Drifting from his black forehead, his eye Of outerspace—without star, without moon. He hunches in his overcoat under a juniper bush. To be a raven is to never die, he thinks. How many coffins I have stood atop! His wings Spread like an evil phoenix, a mourner’s umbrella. To him, a tomb’s as good as a barn. To the far left, far from the bee-gatherings of cars, A pack of ravens scuttle in the margin of a ditch (With a sound, if it could be heard, of cards shuffling) Eating some earthly remnant, some essence Of snake, a whipcord pulled to death Laying its blood-tar scar against new-fallen snow. They are in no hurry, as the snake is not. They are seven judges at a trough unburying justice. They dig up old pasts into new light, new stabs Adorning an ancient halo’s glory radiant as irises— That arrangement of spears around a central nullity: A void, a hunger.

All Is Calm

for Anna Moran It was in winter that she left us, Her grey good voice gone still. Her laughter that caught us has kept us, Although her laughter has gone still. Her hands that held our own and patted, tutted And cajoled, upon her breast lie still. Snow like drumtaps on her coffin fell, And snow is falling on her calm grave still. Winter has entered, and she has left us. We gather remembering and grow still.

In Memoriam

Twelve mourning doves walk abased in dust Soft as nuns at their small solemnities, Their tan wings folded back to balance The hiccupping strut that takes them back and forth, Nodding their sidelong eyes with white lids Disturbingly human, though no bigger than A pinky’s fingerprint, cooing docile as ghosts All together where the old dogwood dapples petals, Each claw-fingered step pawing the ashen earth. II Twelve mourning doves are cooing in a ring, Soft doxy voices that touch and soothe, such soft Wood-night wood-dark wooing forgetfulness Under dogwoods dropping pleasant last petals Under a gun-metal morning Under the weight of stars Disappearing blue.

Winter Crows

A crush of snow and the house settles, mellows. A roofline of unshaved icicles greets a morning hangover Challenging the cold adjustment of dreams Their dark ache of song that passes the night hours. There’s something tremendous in a world erased overnight, Like listening to Wagner backwards or exploding dud ordinance. The afternoon funeral looks stark as the Donner party, A line of crows milling around the golden corncob. Afterwards, there’s an undeniable deaf amnesia— Something gracious has been mislaid, and then forgotten. You never knew so much weight of what is could be, That wings could be so heavy, could drag so low. Conversation stopped the day before last, afraid of more news: Cousins insane, grandmothers crippled and punctured, Divorce served with thin slices of the Christmas beast And a gravy of tears. And now the power of snow Shows itself in our guarded, hunched, held-close looks. Our hands are unable to dig out and find each other. Something vestigial in us is waiting for spring But we do not remember what a sparrow sounds like Or the shaggy look of a new tulip, blood buds of a maple tree. The house creaks like a warning shot, and a step breaks While carrying out fresh trash; the blender burns out, Innumerable bulbs are pinched and replaced, or left To add a new shadow like a shotgun blast; a totemic Crow bestrides the balustrade like an inkblot. Time dilates; we live in the pupil; we skate in circles Waiting for nothing, hands on our ears, eyes closed, Fingers no longer crossed in our nylon mittens. We had not lived here till the first loved thing had died here.

April Fool

The years are burying our friends, And the beastly bees coming back in Spring Are buzzy again, the floods of flowers Trying on new dresses for new caskets. And the air, sweet as it is, is sour to me— A lone survivor smelling my way Amid fresh wreckage.

Now I know what poetry is for the widower said

Now I know what poetry is for the widower Now I know what poetry is for Now I know what poetry is Now I know what Now I know

Hitting Seventy

My spidery jalopy body Mad hair scuppered and scalped in patches Eyebrows of pig bristles, hands daft crabs Muscle stripped to bait, a gristle-brisket Hung from this skeleton of hooks All mornings hate my face, spitting Sunfire in my eyes to emasculate dreams To reason me awake like a razor dancing In the splay hands of an anarchist ex-wife Pointblank as the ceiling Last night’s smoky martini longboat Rivers away through a hazard of stars— Puffed to nothing, interstellar dragon-smoke— The stolen opium of Chinese poets Drowned in their emerald slippers Worm-white, I face stacked racks of stairs The mute unbearable glaring of pets And reeking garbage-trucks of pitiless chores With the featherless soul of a beaten pillow Cored mauled punched ignored

Black Dish, No Cut Peaches Fine as the Sun

Black leaves in black water in a black bowl. There is, in it, more than a stir of waters, More than black leaves going round, the brim Wetted by whatever the interfering finger does. Whoever had eaten here has left the bowl To weather. Was it myself who sat and ate Fat-fingered peaches dripping with sun? Or was that some other, now that autumn’s come? Black leaves in black water in a black bowl Sit on the midnight veranda still as thieves.

The Harp Player

Wounded, the flying chords work their salve Deeper into the ear canal, A mix of melody and grindstone— The rhythmic pistons of a piano Upended, gutted, on silver display And stroked like an infarcted heart Until the pain leaves the strings And the audience cries at the beauty of rescue While the song whirls on…. And the harp player, proud and dark In his trim dinner jacket Turns away from your fraught tears And deeplier, and deeplier, Hunches around the wing of his harp.

Hurry, Hurry

Hurry, hurry the grasses say. They point the easy way, Hands over their heads Like divers finding the pool. Swiftly, swiftly the meadowlark Lances from the grass Easy into skies, swaying His wingtips as he goes. Calmly, calmly the sunset Sets the field afire. If my days like grass must burn, Let night like larks aspire.

Crooked Hickory

“ To myself I told a lie, I gave it all my heart. And to that lie I’m loyal That lies within my heart. I cannot unwind the coil I wound with all my strength. She was young who bent it, And I am old at length. The lie that lies within me Has daily shaped my days. And to that lie I’m loyal, Although I would part ways. ” I felt uplifted, Like champagne in a thin, bright glass Ted Hughes

Cows’ Hooves

Cows’ hooves stand, planted apart, in earth While flanks gild blank statues in the sun’s Afternoon onset, rank spillage yolk and gold. They jaw cud the way chain-smokers smoke, The way old husbands snore while soupy brown eyes Loom and ruminate, beautifully lashed orbs Seeing all... or seeing nothing.... It’s hard to tell.

Horse Lessons

The dawn field was a single whistling white, Endless star-white grass As my feet held steady Against the gigantic pull of earth. I stood like a horse watching the sunrise Emblazon the land, picking out the stripes of grass One by one, and blessing them As dawn went on toward day, and the horses Paraded out led by children And the time for lessons pinched me into speech. Pommel and throatlatch; cantle, stirrup; bridle and bit. Giddup, giddup, And the whole line of us rose into motion like a wave, The grass it’s endless sirrahs intoning, And still cool, still sheltered By some shadow of night’s arrested rest, The rustling unhaltered rest of stalls— Standing still in limb and spirit, eventide divine.

Spider’s Lesson

The spider diagrams a sentence punctuated by death. Death to the fly that tries a new language. Death to the butterfly pining for thistles’ pins. Death to the moonblind moth tumbling moonward. Death to the ant marching astray. Death to the inchworm one inch at a time. When her sentence is finished, rolled up and eaten, She embarks on another before night comes vamping. Her spindle seems limitless, and glistens. She rides the lines that terrify with a swift spidery bliss. Her grammar is immaculate and intricate as the OED. She latches each line with her embroiderer’s glue, Shaking her insides dry in the sun. When her final web blows forth, Shining skull-white with it’s pirate’s sail, Even she is impressed. Even she, seeing the benign design Big as a spread-fingered open-handed hello, Has second thoughts.

Feral Cats

There’s a skunk skank you notice first, a burn Of urine marking a boundary like napalm— Beneath a porch, at the disastered end Of an abandoned barn, or where a quiet alley Narrows its waterway and tiptoe weeds Grow leggy after sunlight, the sky a blue trickle. Next, a bomb of exploded songbirds, never ravens, Their notes gutted that had drawn feral eyes, Old souls broken open as rotted ashcans and left Pocking the concrete apron with shotgun blacks, While at their queasy leisure in a patch of sunlight Stray rain-matted cats daintily lick their paws.

Cleaning the Bones

for Linda Johnston Muhlhausen Slumped at her typewriter as at a toothy skull In an elephant graveyard where dry savanna cracks And a wrinkle of valley invites the eye to descend, The writer examines her soul like a dentist Poking the broken white keys til it hurts And prying the hurt out for a good gory look, The roots a bit bloody and the roof caved in. She tastes the cracked enamel with her pointed tongue, Sucks at the hole in the skull for blue eons Where flesh is wet and tender as a jellyfish, Translucent and useless as unset glue— The elephants’ ribs a risen house around her Until thinking fails and her pink pain returns. Stooping with loupe and a diamonddust drill She makes a new tooth out of any old thing: A pebble, a lost marble, a thumbnail, a screw. Bent like a grandmother washing an infant She rolls it left-right, she watches she etches She polishes the simulacrum with exquisite skill And screws the new tooth in with tongs and a grimace In the place in the skull where the old tooth smiled Perfectly white and perfectly dead.

In a Wood

Strip me of language that I might hear The owlet’s cry climb limb to limb Uncursed by human questioning. In nakedness of hunger or plumed with joy Let the V-sharp beak declare, Unhelped by any too-human ears. Let every ghostly echo some human word Displace; let the death of a mouse In the leaves be the mouse’s death. Banish my striving mind, invisible life! Let sap infuse my veins and a bark enclose This too-insistent skin. Slowly I leech into the buoyant night As the unknown owlet regains its perch, Open eyes diaphanous as moons. The forest, full-tenanted, surrounds us With wooden moans, twangs and strange Sighs I myself begin to imitate.

Cycle of Force

Tadpole grew angry at the slimegreen pond And legged it onto land. Frog was wroth with his dry mudbank And humped into the water. Maggot in the egg hatched mad at God And helicoptered off the great, dead face. Tongue abandoned its big-mouth chalice And leapfrogged after the fly. Missus laid her suds-bag of eggs, Windy reeds bent to the ground…. “Our pond is mirror-fresh, is cool,” She sang, until Bullfrog sun beat it crucible.

The Raccoon’s Nose

The nocturnal raccoon’s a clown of course With his merry bandito hands and black butterfly mask Working the comic implications of moonlight and trash As he rummages through compost buckets Like reading a daughter’s diary, yesterday’s dirty coffee Casting a grainy grit haze over all the spoiled goods. His magician’s hands ferret out wands of hot dogs, Madcaps of eggshells, the delicious simmering mess Still to be made of last night’s abandoned dinner! And that old thief the moon has vampire fangs tonight, Grinning at his mischief, the quick work of chaos Hands divorced from conscience can make As if, in the minute it takes to return from brushing one’s teeth A miniature twister had landed on the back porch And pried life’s pasteboard scenery apart at the seams.... He waddles to the hollow half-sun of a grapefruit And sips its pink innards delicately as high tea; so delicately You’d swear there was the ghost of a tophat between his ears. The sweep of his ringed tail is spiffy as refrigerated minks, His bandit’s mask’s a mere costume for the evening’s masquerade— Rayed starlight hung up in splendid chandeliers above us, The ornate parquet flooring swept dustless for the dance As I bow to you through the sliding glass door And you bow to me, too, detaching the purple aperitif Of a discarded grape from its wiry dead stem.

Sixpenny Nails

The paling east belied the hurricane’s arrival As if harrying shadows had long since lapsed That were only coming up from behind in the west; Already a cloudweight of clotted darkness Owned the rest of the sky, and, in it, lightnings! And water like a tidal wave, a wet apron held Out before the belly full of aching waters. Already a thin ringing ran through uneasy gutters, A teetering high-pitched scree that made the dog look up— A squealing like metal wheels was rolling through the whole house, And the aluminum shutters wouldn’t latch for shit. We hurried with nails and plywood where we could, Beating out the light, keeping ourselves shut in To live out the time where we’d creeped safe. Our neighbor, a carpenter, helped drive the nails As we held up our hands steadying the awkward wood Until all that was left was to make coffee and wait It out, wait it out, while the carpenter napped On the couch. The wife petted the dog anxiously; The dog tilted his ears at the ceaseless screed outside, Myself quiet as a candle burning down when a long Gust suddenly had us all leaning east with the house, Counting ourselves and our luck when it finally passed And the roof settled back like a windswept hat. “Sixpenny nails,” was all the carpenter said, Turning back to sleep in the appalling weather, His shoes mud-knocked clean beneath a chair, The house hanging on but just barely.

First Things

First, lemon lengths of light trim the gables. The snow is easy still as if still first-fallen, All airy whiteness on eyelashes laid With the rods of trees black-wet beneath, a river Of wood roads, paths winter-asleep, though March is making The solid ground give out smoky wisps of new grass— The cold is best, you decide, swallowing glass, First gasp in a world of limitless ice, limitless slips As concrete steps stretch out and the day’s hunt calls. And all this as the dawn just gets going, the furious orange Retching up like a swimmer finishing his lunge His lionhead shaggy above the pool’s clean edge Red knuckles hoisting the weighted shoulders The dripping face averted as if too horribly strong. Dawn’s razorback breach has made its showing for today.

Barn Burning

A smash of fire ran mad fingers over the skeletal barn. Stiff-faced horses had raised stone heads how many years, Great-grieved Agamemnon masks, old wood masks of Troy, Hankered nosefirst in clunked buckets of morning oats How many years? How many years had dark-cheeked Dignity strapped on a mummer’s gas-mask, Chewing handsful clouts of oats while slow eyes feast On dawn’s no-man’s land of rank grass pasturage, Dawn’s fist a misty cauldron in the bolt-hole valley Where sun wrestles roadflares all along one edge In daily ghostly flameless burning how many years Knuckling white the weedy line between sky and earth.

Phalanx House

Damp shadows follow you through hairy woods Trailing—oh, a thousand things—as if a mist Bloodied, a mist made wine, made dark, made night. And through those shadows push spidery hands Making way for some lost face, crowning shoulders, As if walking here you were a stranger being born. In the middle of these trees arises a ghostly house Of grey timber, each plank knotted at its core, Its fieldstone chimney slipped like a old man’s back. Hampered daylight fills the tomblike home With strands of grey, and shows a battered mattress Where teenaged summer nights convene. Quiet heat, like a holstered gun, dots forehead And neck… and starts an itch of wonderment at all The echoed life that once raced these halls, Or ran barefoot upon the hill, or rolled a hoop, Long before any long shadow of wood took root And raised up leafy tabernacles, and blotted all.

People Beating the Fieldgrass

Everyone with a stick, or a cane, or an umbrella tightly rolled Is walking methodically through the fields beating the grass; Drowning in wild alfalfa, bullgrass, bluestem up to their armpits Their voices carrying the lost name like a repeated wave Susan Susan Susan Susan They tilt and straighten and walk and cry through the grass, Swinging wildly at the unmanageable weeds, the everywhere Interference of green and seed and tears twenty-four hours Have thrown in their faces as they pace and peer for darkness Susan Susan Susan Susan For some shadowy clot of curled being forgotten at the root, Dressed in gingham and bedded down exhausted, or tripped On a grey hidden risk bulking blind in omnipresent grass, Some black current having carried her where no ten year old Susan Susan Susan Susan The moth said: I am too shy, Too. In love to speak.

Beach Dig

Look what wampum we have gathered! Here where we honeymooned all those moons Gone by... shells burning in the sunset. Again this year we walk the wide surfline— Shells scurry to our hooked inlet, Pried by tide and intent into wet pockets. I fish a nickel’s-worth of wisdom out And turn your smile into a hook of chuckles, Digging after delight like digging oysters. We trail the sound’s tideline on the lookout For what the year’s vastness has left draggled, Glints of glass in the endless backwash. Such a wealth of seawrack and stink! Backs bent like hooks to troll for treasure We hold on, hands hooked together.

Love Undid

Sordid love undid Its ribbons and buckles Left its pants collapsed In prairies of desire; Where buttocks tussled Love was sunburn A red all-over slap That cools like a sore tooth. Love came roaring With its juggler’s chainsaw Its hissing hot kisses, Its tongue of raw fire. Love crashed Its charring stars Into your chest and mine, Our mire of human Snicked alight Like matchsticks.

Wedblocked

two weeks before By this point, I thought we’d be gasp-laughing, The marriage corvette hitting seventy without a hitch Our faces wasted with spring sunshine and wild smiles, The unrepeatable in-jokes that couples conspire: Memorizing lewd news to appall old Aunt Ida And zap Uncle Chuck into a champagne spit-take, Or doodling Acapulco details of our honeymoon Drolly on napkins at midnight rendezvous. But, Winter snows buried our playful April to the roof! We, who’d thought to kindle time ’til our May bonfire A matchstick at a whack! Frozen roads skid caterers And budgets off track, timetables plowed under— Cold curses crash, chatter vile links in an icy chain That grapnels our nuptials with anvil force, winch- Ing us crippled toward some drooling giant’s Hinged maw, jaws-of-life prized Endless as a waterfall, awful as passed gas.

Dimwelter

In the dimwelter of evening we met for a swim. The gawp of the lake aping the moon’s smooth light Took our floating bodies with a silver swallow As we swept our smiles filling with pushed water Into easy depths, trailing wings behind us as we Paddled and lunged, our hair returned to womb-wet, Your elbows now and then vivid with drips as a gutter Overpoured in storm and wind, the cold clean of it Cutting me into pure halves like a new pear, A pool of oblong moving shadow now, circling Wordless when dim clouds came obscuring the moonbolt That had been riveted so brightly above us— The stars coming singly clear when we stopped.

For the Love of Buttercups

For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups We take our watery walk slowly in good boots, Glimpse sparse splatterings of streams here and there Amid the blat of frogs. Simmered mists lessen westward As day ignites those golden buttercups hard yellow, And hinting love makes way for plain statement— All sepal-soft affection turned ardent seed. Pale tender bulbs survive the flinch of winter here And bring their crayon yellow to another summer (Keeping blossoms true even in months of floods) Lifting their buttercup’s branching crowns in air Like fleets of saffron monks on backs of elephants As if no other season than their summer ever was, No colors worn but their summer’s burning brands, Blond chalices lapping open around our moving knees Where we dodge humped tussocks in old boots And hold old hands like two roots entwined until Some seeping inner mist arrives, veiling face and eyes For the love of buttercups in a field of buttercups.

Sunflowers

We sat in the burning fields and shared a sunflower. Tall around us leaned the velveteen cornstalk shafts Of sunflowers by the mile. Jenny held the fallen god Like a pie plate in her open lap, the heedless seeds Black as tacks, teeming as ticks, getting picked One by one between index and thumb, eating their meat Like smashed bugs with staccato teeth and tongues. The sound of the fields was as a cat in a grocery bag, A papery bigness the dry leaves weaved into canopies That frittered the sun—the suns—nodding their lead heads Into bearable shreds of threaded light and shadow. Some of the sunflowers were still descending comets, Their yellow petals coned into harmless arrows, Their grin of seeds still hidden and small as a fist; Others, though, gave us the full black lamp treatment: Intense and downturned as saints at prayer Watching the sacrifice of their fellow at our hands, Pinching eyots of flesh that dribbled to our lips, Our raw fingers busy as boll-weevils, our eyes Themselves going dark as the million feeding seeds We ate and wiped antsy on our long blue dungarees, Standing at last amid a devastated harvest Of shells and whispering stalks, Silent with germinating thought— Done for the day that was not done with us.

The Fox’s Pelt

We woke to your skin on fire, feverous with dream. But day was docile, the sky a heating-duct grey As you shaved carrots skinless that odd afternoon A fox ran through the kitchen—on hard scrambling nails And subtle paws, his sharp mate-musk stink sticking Where spindle-legs, black-burnt matchsticks Had passed; ears alert, nose an arrow, eyes begging-wild As a starving child’s, his tail a lit roadflare. He shot, disoriented, past you: instantly loud, Perhaps rabies-mad, like BBs scattered on glass. All nerves, you said he’d run so near his pelt Airbrushed calves as you peeled—and your face Carried a strange look into evening after that. A preoccupation with the map of outside sounds, Hoots and windchimes, whinging dogs, paused you, rapt. Except for a pinch of laughter here and there, I’d’ve said you’d sent your lover an unanswered text You were so otherwhere and otherwise. And when I settled your faux fox pelt around your shoulders To escape suburban boredom for the theater, You touched the clean fur like a child’s scraped cheek And bit your lip, and pouted in the car, watching For some red flash in headlights that never came.

Stars, Tears

Stretched-out night taps at the tattling sash. Night like a dog wants to go for a long stroll, Tugging the cool coiled leash of me to get going— And I go, myself restless and dreamless loping Into my slip-on shoes, nabbing the worn Walking stick as the door clicks shut behind me and Night is everywhere at once like cold raindrops: On my skin and in my hair I feel the instant ice Of high stars; their frost, their freedom. And I Look up as if asked by the minister done with prayer And step onto friendly gravel, and beyond that, Picking a worn path that crackles through the field Like wild glazing on a shard of pottery. Taking my first breath at last I taste this tear.

Postcoital Olive Grove

Here I lie on a shield of dust Beneath a black-green dapple of olivetrees, The sun in patches alive as fireants Over my beloved as she snores, sotto voce, The wine rolled emptily out of reach As steep hills fall away to a scent of hidden seas And my forgotten pipe burns, itching my fingers, My teeth fresh and shivery as if smiling, The white plate bare of all but a few grapes. A fire was lit, the wood spat. Robert Macfarlane

Day’s Catch

Between tremendous white acts of clouds The sky cleared, Bare planks of an emptied stage. The day is unwritten that would speak there, Act aloud Into the blue gape, the sky’s splendid gob of light A blue umbrella opening over our knot of fishing boat, Green-gunwaled, We’d untied into the broad morning stream: Rainbows ran away from the deeply crooked prow, Uncatchably sailing ahead Of the painful pant of oars; those bold, effortful strokes. To the enviously easy sound of the river we gave up All sound of words, Watching blobs of bobbers distort, listening only To the silent howls of fish we hauled wobblingly Over our knees To lie swollen beside our muddy wellingtons.

River Otters

Play keeps the otter on track for survival, Sweeps her back on her back for the key routines Of diving for meals, basking for supper. She’s got the alert look of a janitor on the hunt for trash, her variable mustache never settled beneath her nose But forever twitching and twigging to some Undiscovered opportunity for fun— Entering intimately the zippered water Swat-wheels of paws fanning liquid sunlight Riding the wide slide of a heavy wave Or pairing in play Fight midstream, two-eyed pirates Without a plank. An otter’s her own rodeo, her laughing lariat Hilariously cast to capture a tragic moon and cinch it into smiles. Always at wrestling rest with water, the otter Laps the stolid, waterlogged log eared with fungus And slaps curls of surf like a panjandrum As she comes round and round And goes around again, Easy as leaves in autumn wind. She’s never less than slick, a weight of laughter Oiling her pelt, keeping her slim and wealthy. She’ll eat a fresh-bitten fish like eating a mirror, Endlessly eager after silver and blood, the good new stink That fattens her milk for pups when they come Mewling into the grassy holt under willows— Blind naked and crawling longwise to find furred teats, They’ll ride their ready mama all night like a raft.

O Indigo!

Up from the bottom Of my belling boat, I saw Sky, only sky. A quick electric Cut pale as paper. Around me loured the sounds Of sky, white whispers Like smoke unrolling, The shifting sheets Of making a fresh bed. Such air! Unreeling invisibly over me— Nothing but indigo, One indigo cube, cut By my inward gunwales, My bolt-hole Unanchored as a cloud... Swiffering west, west, west As the stream hisses As my fresh eyes dream Of only this one Huge acre of blue.

Arrival by Water

The skiff put in with a harsh hush of gravel at the island’s edge. Nobody noticed the fog’s snug hoodie with the broken woods before us Opening on the campsite, the ashen eye of the old put-out fire Centering where we would raise the spider web tents and hunker down For a long week of stories, the tipped glint of eyes in a sleeping bag, Days spent loping about the island’s sandy pines and warped shrubbery Or reading in the drifting skiff among junkyards of stumps And the loud flap of herons fishing. Sparks sang in the campy air That first night, casting strange ensigns in the edge of sight As we gathered our civilization to a knot of masks hunched Grimly around the burning socket of earth, the terrible tribute Of twigs pulled and piled skyward, the orange ingot of log Sacrificed like a length of man clipped and thrown away Where the frightwig fire climbed, feeding Our meaningless stories with death’s spat light. Kathy heaved away into distressed shadow, and Dan Sheared off after her with a joke, their tent argument eventually Shivering with reconciliation as Manny chuckled ‘Life!’ That was the first day. The water wrinkled like a face In front of the prow, and that was the second day. Third day in, We set out for food more than what the river would give Willingly to our lines and time out of its silver mouth and Into ours; there were small deer and wild pigs scattered Shotgun throughout the tossed wreckage of woods, And we would tackle and prepare one or go hungry We swore, shaking on it after the tar of morning coffee. Dan, Manny, and myself, Samuel, headed east to start Our circuit of the island heading toward a swampy dip That attracted birds, since even a duck would serve, Plucked and picked clean, while Jen and Kathy stayed To clear the breakfast char away and order camp, Scoffing at our oaths and waving us away with laughter. Once beyond the distracted clatter of camp, we hushed Into a pack, Manny taking point as we arrowed into woods, Tuning booted steps to silence as precisely as monks: No confusion of intentions invests our steps.

Kitchen Duty

Smoke discloses The campfire’s claws Roped close To our greasy offal. If life is light It grabs such cast-off Daintily, Chews clawsfuls.

Grasslands

There’s less seen, although the seeking is ceaseless. The olivey fibrous tough stalks find needles of shadow Even when orange noon crouches in the valley licking. A flotilla of mice could be passing, washed in grasses, Invisible as whiskers, a rustle in the rough pampas. A fox, a squirrel, a snake here and there swaying S-like And still there’s no hissing insistence but endless grass. Like a paper screen behind which a dancer disrobes, The grass seems flat, yet folded, yet flat.

Catfishing

Myself flat in the water-mirror, with the hanging jowls And hooded eyes of time, am made rainbow-wavery, irised By the river’s uneaseful striving, acres of stained glass Finned with strafing rain and clubbed morning light Where hidden fish in seeming millions jump blind After duplicitous raindrops instinct craves into insects Until brawny brass clouds are bundled off the map And my baited line laces whippets in water’s renewed calm, Begging for fish-morsels to bite and crimp Fighting jaws on a bended hook joyed deep Into a catfish’s prow of snout, barb and shaft deep, Pulled mastered home by fisted reel, my miniature Mill-wheel of undoing. At length I clambered ashore, At length felt the knife’s finesse deftly Enter without flicker or spur the sudden Blood guts spreading gushed for thumbs Peeling the eatable fish to its depths. Its heart-spigot spat incessantly, stressfully red Until my steel puncture found its bubble, and red Waters ran away from the wound with a dying flush As flesh lapsed; lungs and bladder; intestine, crop and liver— Food for flies on the cracked, caked-dirt bank, The sudden blood a Y-river to trip-up cascaded ants Busily bulked at the stream of life falling stinky there, A snarl of amber snakes dropped drowned from clouds, My green waders holding me whole in eely skin.

Deadened River

Here among the dead Sun’s hard discards Lies an excrement Of mud unleavened Where the river leaves Off lapping, leaping, For August heaviness— Lethargic shallows that trap The trespasser’s shoe, Mark him mid-thigh With handprints of mud As he labors for the grey shale Shore, the vivid crevasse Through which, slipshod, he entered This endless kingdom of mud Glistening and viscid, Lacquered tomb of frogs And pizzicato flies attending The deathbed of glittering fish Greenly gasping Slashed gills amid a tinder Of leftover rainbows.

Underworld Turtles

The slow, snapping, fatal hook-faces Withdraw beneath peaty murk, guinness-dowdy stout; Stellae of stumps jut up their ancient wood turtlenecks, Interrupting radar ripples the ancient heads send out— Long antediluvian thoughts, green only in sap, in blood As old water uncoils to flatness. Daisy-dainty mossflowers crown the right-hand stump, Deeply ambiguous as dew, yellow-white as sunnyside eggs. I sit stiff in the splinter canoe until turtles return Blipping the surface like rain beginning, eye drill-holes black as the underworld In ratty light that skirts the island’s belt of mulchy decay. They arrive bald as ambassadors, bold as monarchs From their dipped-in-oil underkingdom, leaf plantation Of soft coffee grit that finds the cracks in graves. To what side of experience are they wet stepping stones? II Cornea-bulbed backs rise darkly coated as frying pans, Stub flippers studded with badger-cleats fanned out Wound-strike ready, forever extended as a garden tool Beneath the camouflage of river—its mirror deceits Part and parcel of the shadow-play turtles stage. Poked heads are wizened critics’ barbs, brainlessly sharp. Will they sort the worthy and unworthy, like Anubis? When winter steps to the river, fetching its cape of ice, These creatures bury themselves hind-first In muskrat burrows, settle-in in lump-mud debris; They lodge naked beneath rotted eye-arches of logs, Cozied dim in the underworld under summer’s business— Occasionally guessably visible below thick mid-season ice, They roll out of hiding like heavy wheels of revelation churning, Swimming slow and white as ghosts beneath the flying skaters’ feet.

Meeting a Deer

A scumbled scuttle, a tamped fusion of hooves Rattles my attention from a slouchy doze Aslant a twig-burst hawthorn were I’d found An old oblong of sunlight to coffin in an hour, While noon leans onward like a runner sketching Light-trails toward a dash of yellow ribbon: here A deer, disconsolate, nuzzles sweetgum leaves, Eating green stars steadily unto Kingdom Come; I see before me fine-grained flecks of flank Like a hazy TV left on long past the last show…. Her head is shy and broadly-spaded as a snake’s, The leaflike ears alert, the one dark eye I can see Potent as an eclipse—umplummable, purplish Depthless blacks, while her lips work the sweetgum And I wait without motion, floating raftless And buoyant in my Dead Sea nap—so close I inhabit The trembling huff of her nostrils, sour and warm, Her limber length trim as an unpulled scull At rest for this waste minute tide-bereft, Weaving and unweaving in the woods’ waves.

Moon Owl

A snowy owl puts himself alone in a room with the moon. He is silver as a Christmas basket, and the moon hangs silver too High up in trees’ intricate netting, ribbing the night absences. They present, from a certain oblique angle beneath them, A pair of wary skulls absolute in their terrible whiteness: Death and his hungry buddy divine retribution, perhaps. Both of them fly at us in the engineered silence of ages On wings of light like devouring angels, gowned and ornate. Witness them, the feathered one and the bald one up there: Both of them honeymooning or playing space chess or whatever Alone in a room together that we call heaven.

Thistle Wins by Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown]

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Apr 272018
 
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Thistle Wins



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Thistle Wins

 

Authored by
Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown]


FROM THE INTRODUCTION

Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.

Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs.

FROM Dimwelter

In the dimwelter of evening we met for a swim.
The gawp of the lake aping the moon’s smooth light
Took our floating bodies with a silver swallow
As we swept our smiles filling with pushed water
Into easy depths

About the author:
Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown] has devoted his life to poetry since happening across a haiku by Moritake, to wit:
Leaves / float back up to the branch— / Ah! butterflies.
He runs the micro-publishing house BLAST PRESS, which has published over two dozen authors in the past 25 years. Named in honor of the wild Vorticist venture by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, BLAST PRESS is forward-looking and very opinionated. He still composes poems on his departed father’s clipboard, which he’s had since High School. Author of approximately 50 books and chapbooks, including poetry, novels, criticism, YA literature, and children’s illustrated books. Published in, among other places: BlueLINE, Exquisite Corpse, Blunderbuss, Monmouth Review, Middlesex: A Literary Journal, Asbury Park Press (60K circulation). Co-Host of the long-running River Read reading series in Red Bank, which features NJ and national poets. Associate Editor of the literary magazine This Broken Shore. Founder and CEO of BLAST PRESS, a literary mirco-publisher that has published over a hundred poetry and literary titles over the last quarter century. Two-time Asbury Park Poet Laureate award winner.

Publication Date:
Apr 01 2018
ISBN/EAN13:
1986811271 / 978-1986811279
Page Count:
132
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.06" x 7.81"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General

Call It Sleep by H. A. Maxson

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Sep 182017
 
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Call It Sleep



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Call It Sleep

 

Authored by
H A Maxson


Call It Sleep contains a final section of poems about a son’s experience of a father’s illness and death. It give us a snapshot these events in a series of moments, from the onset of the illness to the final moment of death. The book is full of small and large acts of understanding, resonance and respect for one who has gone before. The book touches areas of feeling and experience that confront universal passages of living in a way only very fine poetry can do.

The controlled language, the integrated images, the sense of connectedness with life are undeniable. H. A. Maxson transforms harsh reality into indelible art with truthfulness and beauty-and an edge of, if not bitterness, perhaps a tragic clarity.

There are also poems that continue to express Maxson’s hallmark interest in the natural world. Swans, ducks, goldfinches and gannets all get their own poems. The processes of nature are examined with astute feeling in poems like "A Braille of Ice" and "The Snake." A passionate conversion with the natural world is what this book delivers: deftly observed, and always aware of of nature’s human resonance.

About the author:
H. A. Maxson is the author of 17 books-5 collections of poetry (Turning the Wood, Walker in the Storm, The Curley Poems, Hook and Lemon Light); a book-length poem (The Walking Tour: Alexander Wilson in America) and a novel in free verse (Brother Wolf); two novels (The Younger and Comfort-co-authored with Claudia H. Young); a study of Robert Frost’s sonnets (On the Sonnets of Robert Frost), and seven works of historical fiction for young readers, co-authored with Claudia H. Young. Over 1000 poems, stories, reviews, essays and articles have appeared in periodicals, journals and anthologies. He has been nominated several times for Pushcart Prizes. He holds a Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and has taught literature and creative writing for over four decades at the college level. Married to Maureen Maxson, a nurse and photographer, they are organic gardeners in Milford, DE.

Publication Date:
Aug 01 2017
ISBN/EAN13:
0998482927 / 9780998482927
Page Count:
106
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.06" x 7.81"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General

Night, Night by Gregg Glory

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Sep 182017
 
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Night, Night



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FROM THE INTRO:

Our legs look broken when light bends them in the swimming pool. Once our heads are under, immersed in the experience of wetness, the illusion disappears. Our legs are restored to us in their wholeness, where they can be repurposed as impromptu fins to propel us elsewhere. Which of these sets of legs are our “real” legs? The broken set, the restored set, or the Aquaman set?

Entering a poem is like entering that other, underwater world. We are restored to a wholeness the pain of life and its deceptions has convinced us is missing. But, we can only hold our breaths so long before our imaginations burst! And still we go down like clockwork into the dark otherwhere of metaphor, easing past the shallow end of simile, our imaginations and lungs aching. However dangerous the journey, we will not be denied our diving, our entry into depths.

The act of writing is a way for poets to break the surface tension, to transform and explore with all of their sets of legs at the same time—water-skimmer and octopus at once. The act of, not just imagining, but creating the distortion of a written record, a pool for others to enter, is part of the mystery. This writing things down, however, is not what may be called a clarification; that’s a mistake many neopyhte divers make, arriving back at the deck of their exploration vessel with the bends.

FROM "Among the Whales"

Down came the feathered
Waters, the bowing plumes
Of drum majors among us
Dancing a disparate rhythm
On the slick deck.

And it was hot, hot as a kiss,
Hot as blood the spume spray
Splatting about us in blots
Viscid as afterbirth,
And we grinned like kids
Shamelessly running, running
Through tumescent sprinklers-
No awe, no shame at all in all that
Fantastic whiteness blown
Hissing around us. *

Publication Date:
Jul 04 2017
ISBN/EAN13:
1548801348 / 9781548801342
Page Count:
134
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.06" x 7.81"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General

Disappearing Acts by Gregg Glory

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Sep 182017
 
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Disappearing Acts



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FROM THE BOOK:

Day After Tomorrow
The police artist is drawing my face
In charcoal, line by line, in grim brimstone
For a stranger, one who attended the ill-
Attended impromptu poetry reading
Under a chilly streetlight flickering
Where we used the forbidden words
With facile ease as in the old days:
She is as in a field a silken tent.
Genders, pronouns, she, he and all that.
The stranger hadn’t seen much, though,
Just a zee zaying zomething, a blur
Like a face wearing a beard or sprouting one,
Two feet, or maybe one was fake, the stranger
Hesitated to say: other-abled, some color
Or other. Yes, yes, I think zee was a shade.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION:

Dark Poet, your pen scratches at the heart of life.
~~Antonin Artaud

Nonsense is often the most sensible kind of sense. […]
Nonsense reveals all of us—our self, our situation—in a single pop of recognition as we are trampolined from our usual assurances and then forced to regain our footing, to regain our meaning, on the fly. Like an old-fashioned photographer’s flash powder, we are exposed to an extreme of light, with no visible space left for secrets or lies. This is part of the odd exhilaration of nonsense. And, don’t get me wrong, nonsense isn’t some sly encyclopedia where all hidden truths are stored and we must simply discover the index—oh, no. Rather, the puzzles that nonsense reveal are genuinely unsolvable. Gregor Samsa will never come back from being a cockroach; his transformation in the story “Metamorphosis” has simply revealed the pickle he was already in, but didn’t know that he was in.

What nonsense reveals, at its best, are genuine mysteries.

Publication Date:
Aug 29 2017
ISBN/EAN13:
1975749685 / 9781975749682
Page Count:
134
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
5.06" x 7.81"
Language:
English
Color:
Black and White
Related Categories:
Poetry / American / General