Oh, Little Wilfred dutifully read
the Bible with his Mum and walked
with verse effervescing in his head.
~~Owen in England, Daniel J. Weeks
Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltry. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
Like a father pruning the limbs of his children, I have looked over my creations with a lenient eye. The worst verse has been relegated to the back of the book and is fit only for prurient scholars’ noses. If you wish, this last section of my collected works may simply be lopped off with a kitchen knife. But then, alas, you would lose the redoubtable “triple index,” which includes not only the Titles and First Lines of each of the poems, but the memorable cannon-shot of their final, triumphant line as well. This fixes a deficiency I feel in every big volume of verse my thumb has troubled to fiffle across.
I had long harbored a desire to collect the refuse of my muse, the afterburn of endless nights of wild inspiration, in a volume of collected poems. As the mirror disclosed a forehead growing more and more Shakespearean with the incrementing eons, the tagalong shadow of my desuetude became increasingly intolerable. Mortality would soon collect me and leave my litter of poems to a sadly disordered fate. I must act!
~~Gregg Glory 2010
Questioning Is Questing
Poetry is my Kingdom, Phylum, and Species
Western civilization is in a cul-de-sac. At the end of that cul-de-sac is a guillotine. Beside that guillotine stands the hulking executioner in his greasy black hood. Through that hood peer two red, maddened eyes. Below those eyes, as through a lazy tear, shows a long, slavering wolf-thin grin. Lightning stitches knots in the dead, leaden skies. Thunder interrupts the prayers for the dead. Doom. DOOM. DOOM.
Even so, my life is filled with primroses and wishes. I sit here—or lie, rather, languid as an American Oblamov rolled in his snoozy comforter— building my empire of words.
I’ve spent long, sad years loving people I never could come to know. Strangers whose alien minds lived other lives, pattering after petty pursuits I never really could come to understand. Now I fear that my own kindness and lack of company has led me, in an easy dream of desperation, to see Helen in every barmaid’s face.
Cold are the coals I have gathered, betrayed by a generous impulse that led me to love first and question second. Over evil rapids I have roved, slouching to the salt dissolution of the sea, who should have been climbing heavenward with Manfred—my eye upon some solitary cloud-wracked peak where every subtle shifting shape suggests a new, unborn greatness (or an old noble greatness renewed) to the seeker’s keen and lonely imagination. Instead, I have sunk my mind among warm elbows at a crowded table, seeking fellowship in banal company and dissipating what genius drifts to me in shrunken rounds of tavern talk. Few have been the companions time has tested true. I recall my Mom, downed in her home hospital bed and not the bed of her marriage, pointing at my nose with a red, imperious finger, demanding first and foremost (loved son or no) that I “tell it true.”
To that improbable pipsqueak queen, crippled yet proud as the devil in her flowered hospital gown—and to her regal charge–I keep my pledge.
I do not condemn others for my misjudgments, but, looking at the litter of years, I begin to perceive that there was something of method in my mismeasure. Questioning is questing. Leaving a question open encourages all comers to the query to have the experience of exploration; each hypothesis is happy to go unconfirmed, as long as the hypotenuse is mutually traveled by writer and reader in the coracle of a quatrain. There is something of Emerson in this energy of questioning, but none of his faith in God’s final ground, the rock of reality.
Lewis and Clark stood equally on the grass banks overlooking the Missouri. Who could say with assurance, seeing them leaning into the wind with their hands shading their eyes, which of the equal pair could see the coming settlements most clearly? Who invoked a vision, and who merely scratched a map? It is only now, with time, that I recognize that there is a necessity underpinning every river’s haphazarding. That, somehow, only a drunken Lewis who shot out his heart in dread despair could have whispered the new world aright into an impatient Jefferson’s ear.
May such dubious wisdom as my pain has gathered serve me well henceforward. May the narrowing of possibilities sharpen my focus, as when a saltine’s pinhole, brought close to the eye, removes the blur of distant things, clarifying every tiny difference and shutting out peripheral static.
In the poems that follow, however, it is the sharing of experience, the open stance of questioning without conclusion, that is most in evidence. And, in the extreme case of “Rehearsing Repetitions on the Rappahannock,” a meditative stance—at once open, aware, and inconclusive, is instantiated without the rhetorical crutch of a question mark.
My old compatriot in the arts, Lord Dermond, fondly dubbed me “the questioning poet,” and steadfastly refused to call me anything else. At the time, and still perhaps, since I myself am no settled question, I took delight in the name, seeing all things as things in flux, and enjoying the jouncing ride of the rapids, the variegation and contrast of the speeding banks. Dan Weeks, assembling a selected works of mine some years ago titled “The Death of Satan” also came to find merit in my querulous habit of mind.
It is only now, as this labor of years surrounds me on every desktop, that I am coming to feel that the best strength of my youth has been wasted elaborating a maze of quizzes instead of attempting to soar, however falteringly, into the omniscient sun. Was it a deficit of pride that had me prefer puzzles to plumage? Or some more insidious hidden desire to be touted and touched instead of respected and feared? Well, here I am again, ending each sentence with my shepherd’s crook (?) instead of the thunder god’s triumphant stab and pang! So much of our humanity is mist and mystery; so many of our hours slide by in incapable ignorance. But what makes our lives worth the sinning that created them is the moment the mirror comes clear, as if in a revelation, and every face confronts the tragedy of its character.
Miles to Go
This poem has no details
If you won't carry water
100 miles in your hands.
Break through the skim of ice
In December, right behind that silent glass factory
All one tall shadow on the Raritan.
Watch your hands shiver.
Feel your wet cuffs the first 20 miles
Until the sky is a shard in your palms,
And you fret about cutting your wrists
Why the Title?
Well, my original idea for the title was “Welcome to Mt. Olympus.” This warm, generous, applauding pat-on-the-back hand-up welcome to my potential audience reflects well my open nature: I’m a born patsy. My book of verse plays is called “A Million Shakespeares” in the same spirit. It has always been my conviction that there’s a spark of greatness in each of us—waiting only for a willing wind or closely blown kiss to fan that spark to flame. My friend and fellow-poet Dan Weeks had an instructor at Washington and Lee who was always gesturing to his class to “Join me up here on Mt. Olympus, people!” And I share that spirit of invitation and incitement. In a humorous mood, the title’s blandishment reminded me of postcards, bent and abandoned in their twirling black wire racks. And, as I frequented rock clubs in Asbury Park for several eons beyond my youth, postcards made me think of Bruce Springsteen’s famous debut album cover; a simple postcard with the words “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Inside each letter is a montage of vistas and perspectives, snipped snapshots. I certainly hope my words are so amply packed.
Finally, my mind wandered to Wallace Stevens’ (whose book I uncomprehendingly purchased with several weeks of paper-route pay as a 16- year old, and God know why) “Postcards from the Volcano”—a jewel of meditation on inter-generational sharing. Well, now you know something of how my knobbed and hobbled mind spins its dials and generates the green lightning of its associations, touching together black earth and blank sky. I hope it is just roadmap enough to encourage and ward your roads’ wandering more, well, let’s say more, rewardingly.
….. Here’s a million words. If only they were nickels, I’d be rich!