Aug 272015

"He who dies shall live."

Gregg G Brown

Copyright © 1988

An Annunciation

Drowned in the puling cradle emptiness has lit,
In empty action of a tragedian's strut
Hollow on a stage, a struggle in the sheets
Tosses some watery image up, toiling to be born.
What rose, with stolen bone or shafted ear,
Lash-astonished, oceanic there?
Was it some dragon-fantastic
Imago of a phaseless man, phantom-real,
Or a sea-struck Hamlet's ghostly father
Rising out of night to the topmost walk
When all the mind's aroused?
Those dying eyes in a face blood-suffused
Scan the gathered stares of men, new-ignited
Out of an age's hesitations, dying to be born.

Burning Byzantium

In night-devouring pride
God and ghost deride,
And not knowing what is best,
Peering past his death
Man's untiring vanity
Consumes his bitter rest.

Flame emanating, spout upon spout,
Flame on his head that shouts
Fiery Dionysus climbed
Olympian plenitude and dined
On rarer bones than men's eyes
Before or after spied;
Then, finished with that golden feast,
Burned statues down, head and feet,
In serpent-seas of fire that we
Might build again from perfected memory.

What if destruction of vast colonnades appalled?
Wrecked form to formless called:
Holy fire makes wide mind a wall,
Paints thereon, and names that image All.
Water and desire and stark upright flame begin
Where world grew ocean from some ecstatic limb.

Starved eunuchs hunching bald-eyed at the law
Know Adam to the marrow, jumping to the fall.
An engendered emptiness can beget
Strong delight for those whose minds are full;
Stark contemplation hollows out delight
Save when sword or scalpel pull.

Answer to sorrow or suffering comes
Displaying ornate mask or abrupt gun;
Michelangelo lobouring in the sculpted dark
Blazed imagination forth upon uncertain tides---
Pale constellations of his thought
Brought death and life out of one troubled heart,
Or might have brought ---O How long can man
Out of narrow sorrow extract a song?
Right action finishes out the thought
A lonely exalted mind began;
Long-loved monuments fixed in the sight
Assemble us out of desire to dissolve
Into that unutterable One again.

Die Wille

I banish all
Who fret and stall
To finish out my work:
Pitched to that extreme of thought
Or dark, and shambling room to room
As from spirit to spirit
And always preparing for that
Never-arriving guest,
I have labored over-long
Or too-thick with theme and means
Have overwrought my song.

Out of night like a distorted dream
Or storm more mysterious
A penitent ghost that cannot crest
The bound of rotted day appears;

Poets, learn to live as clay
All rich substance to underpin
Whatever a great man might make
Tinkering with his fate
In momentary play,
Or more solemnly erect,
Out of an undistracted hate.
All our lot have spurned and sung
Brevity of man, necessity of guns,
Unable as any mirror
To sing ourselves aright
Caught in enlarging night
We turned from face to face
As if every face would save us;
We who had arrogance enough
Of thought to have thought
That careless hands had made us.
So that a few good words might not perish
Or empty imagining sink unmanned
In unalterable loss
Collect like solemn children round
The myriad confusion of the foam
And write it out again:

Live, and live again, as old men say
Anxious for eternities
That make their own wisdom seem
But momentary toys that gleam
And are beaten back to mud.
I am not that holy sage
Remembers the misery of knowing all
Or turning to a wall completes
What body and its pleasure
Were forbidden to decide---
Under burdened moon
That sinks in July to rise on fire
Out of the glittering wheat
Knows man and his defeats
All the sudden infirmities
Blind violence took for sureties
And looks on them and laughs.

     From the womb man falls
     Or from the widowed breast
     Dispatched to a sultry grave
     That gives no rest.

Three Songs

I. The Glass Mountain

Night and fire surround a broken tree
Made blacker by the fire;
A head, an arm, barely distinguishable there
Cant towards a broken sky---
Black eyes unwired in the ancient face,
His old heart's thudding done,
Hangs that great man who's mind's a sea;
Red torches gutter tongues.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Nor proscenium nor orchestra
Nor gilded balcony set
About the vaunting terror of the scene;
Idiot crawls to idiot
And idiot begets.
And none's alive who'll now recall
Utter nobleness of limb or sin,
Beauty beyond a fall.

Sang the burning lion on the burning mountaintop.

I picked a blank mask
And put on a changing soul,
Exampled by those blessed men
Who suffered all in all.
But I reject the holy past;
That banner cannot lift again.
Forgotten men can't raise a song
Or change my ranting soul.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

II. The Salt Heart

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

Death's insults emanate from ourselves;
Terror riven images that complete
Man and heaven, heart and feet.
Scarlet briars in her hair---
Love from I know not where
Descends the bitter air.

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

The empty prosecution of the skies
Stares at a struck stage
The tired heart derides,---
Man's best instincts gambled there---
And the watery heart about to burst
All lose out to the worst.

Sang the burning lion from the fierce mountaintop:

Beaten man twists his neck to curse,
White head in heaven
Golden heart in a hearse---
A scolded boy or oblong body bends
Dark by uncertain suavities of fire to request
The sea's intercessions.

III. Third Song

God built man in a black fit.
I tell you suffering a pall;
Lone men could not fashion it,
Could not create themselves at all.
Heaven itself is what I gate-keep;
Descended from that sphinx
Crossed centuries between her paws,
Another hand has finished me.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Emboldened by riches
A steeple mind had heaped,
Father son and holy ghost
In his flaming mind are linked.
Stale generations that bred him
Recanted at the leap;
Rule square and trine
But toys to make the typist think.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

A man displaces a woman
With the image of her face
Until some loud stone betokens it,
Mixing ecstasy and grace.
A great Adams and Hawthorne knew it,
Knew it and turned sour;
But it is the best that man can do
Unwound by the backward hour.

Sang the burning lion on the fierce mountaintop.

Blue Heron

Among the wrack and disorder of the day: dusty floors,
Half carved resemblances and journey-work,
A symbolical blue heron stands
With wild protesting wing and look
No living heron could have struck
Deep in the grain; every crack,
Every waver of the resinous wood
Wakes a pulse in the unnatural neck.
Barren out of a barren sky---
A heron falters to the waters here.

That artist in his studio having aged
Past all bitterness to stark astonishment
At life's rapacious play
Hammers out, from all other unlikelihood
Or savage guess at parts, his fixed man
Crouched in dark patterns of the wood;
And because that image, once complete,
Can finish up the man who bodied it
Gangs of ghostly herons range against the glass,
Stiff against one window to witness it.

The Drowned Head

The gangling legs are absent; nothing whitens
The deep blue surface curling there
And never breaking. A stiffening face
Turned mask-like and muscle-stricken frightens
White birds that pern in whiter air.
Riotous cries cannot give its tossing countenance a place;
Blotched reds that crust the desert water
Until all color cakes and lies motionless, falters.

What but attitude of all man in a rage
Can reverse a death's complacency and kick
Up foam? Agony of living lonely as a bird
Between sun and moon, moving like a spade,
Empties the ragged features, the dull wickless eyes
That looked on nothing common, commonly interred. A bird-
Like woman lingers on the quay's interrupted sounds
To witness drowning sailors, her head in beauty bound.

The Overturned Head

Stands in this sand waste
An abandoned stone,
An overturned head a half house high;
Waters that have flat its cut
Vanish as a dream untold.
But on this head is concentrate
Intolerable memories
Of youth grown old.

I am that bright familiar
Wanders through the street
And banging merchants' windows in
Must beg for my milk and meat;
My old face by time betrayed
To an indistinguishable mass,
But when night and wine grow great enough
I dance on the weedy grass.

Down this long shore as a boy
Body and soul were sure
As any pale, unalterable rock
That I now dance before.
Hands urgent as a hangman's cord,
All body warped to a board,
Creep in the salt beneath a face
Heavy, androgynous.

Sliding up through valves of storm
And mastered by a rage
The variable sea has seen that form
Descend from age to age.
Wind-beaten I but seem,
Flat on the wetted sand,
A derelict, not worth
The dock-dog's howl or tooth.

Archangels Comb Their Muddy Hair with Sticks

Twelve white birds glimmer in a ring
About my heart like fiery thorns of things
Unable to be forgotten;
And of all things else
Oblivion alone most would bring
Ease to the burnt heart's ash.

The Weeping Womb

Out of woman's weeping womb
Strode Hitler, Jesus and Michelangelo.


Upright in nostalgia's vice,
The newscast knocked me flat; I am
Hammered from
A stiff expectancy that the past,
Under augers and a strong carpenter's hands,
Could endure
Into significance like a three-legged stool.


Starting sex up out of books, pale apparitions
act again the hairy rounds under always weary skies
Straining sweating eyes for a typed text
Always the same. Always the same
Ghost upon their heaving back like nets igniting
Spines of blue fire, turbulent on the doused skin,
Falling with hope of the dead on locked hearts to find
Coffins of beating victims too glad to die.

Disturb the Eagles' Nest

Blasted rocks and an old warped tree
Lift above a still spot of the sea
As though some vague hand had painted them;
A little back from the verge,
A step or two back from the verge,
And compelled by a strong salt wind,
A clanging ear and troubled eye
A battered head without a tooth,
Rags and crutch and old broken bones---
All that wreck which I call myself,
Having climbed an unaccustomed stair
In a changing state of mind
Or with a bewildered mind,
And revealed to the weather 
On the promontory,
Stood shaken by a vision.

A burning woman and a man
In Quattrocento gesture struck
Above the bed where all began;
Half-risen above the multitudinous sea
Above the tangled branches of the yew,
Their abstract bodies are not mixed
With commoner dirt, nor sullied by a cut
Thought of sin or guilt begot.
Is that sweetest skin, ghostly there,
Half human still or all celestial?
World-engendering Pythagoras
Stalked Heaven and never took a bride.
---O all that golden multitude
Had clarity to unpuzzle it. I,
A skittish old man upon a rock,
With a mouthful of rue
With a slippery crutch on a rock
And reeling backwards in a fright
Am blinded by the unbearable light.

An Old Man's Hawk

An old man raving picks up sticks, vitally erased
Under mazy roughness of his thumb, except where
A counter-coalescence of the grain
Turbulently surrounds a knot of blood.

Out of fisted clouds, white
And distant as his stiff bride
Coiling in her grave, a falcon
Eyes the wormy meadow and descends.

No arm, no mind controls
The powerful muscle, falling to a branch
Heavy apples mellow to a bow
Aimed at an aimless sky.

Red memories of the man disperse
In meditation like an arrow's throw;
The turning falcon's shaft
Falls in its desire.

The Old Man and the Demon

OLD MAN Vanquished is the sorrow
                   That rages in my breast;
                   I am too old to care.
                   What passes for the serious
                   Is a younger man's affair.
                   Loves have burned and leapt between
                   Yet staring doubt announces:
                   Have hands as old as these
                   About a woman's lightness crept?

   DEMON Rough centuries have trod
                   Your thin spirit out.
                   What can woman's body hold
                   For one who's worn and thin?

OLD MAN I am an old man, a withered
                   Stick, lacking all right monument.

   DEMON Lacking all right monument,
                   Gather close what worth you can,
                   Draw your spirit in.
                   For when you lay you down to die
                   What can she but by you lie?

OLD MAN Until all, all penalty of God
                   Or eternal mystery forgot,
                   Dissolve paradoxical
                   Into death's bone knot.

The Solitary Body on the Pallet

In the high tomb, the windows blackened
A solitary body stretches on its pallet.

The hush of broken candles, glistening
Attend the vault of remotest night, listening

To the exquisite montage of the moon decieved
By that which ancienter vocables had revealed.

Strumpets came bearing like tom-cats in
The bronzen flesh of him, of him;

Primping ladies laid the ledgendary body out,
Quip on quip, in storied profusion.

Prepare the touncing oils, maids, to scent
Vestigal joys that pip the corpse.

Some backwards catastrophy of the stars
Looked in, like a forgetful mother,

At the voice laid out in state, hugely blue,
Hacked out as it was from one immenser slab

While sleepy birds unconscious of their pains pursue
The day's spontaneous symphony, beneath

A watery dawn that washes out a sink
Full of the moon's bleary oils.

The Discarded Tower

Blows that wind of every sound
Upon a battlement
Where a ripping Andy Jackson stirred
Every rebel heart to its head.
Raging after beauty in a fire;
Horses tremble; men-at-arms are quiet;
Heavy cannon are crunching through the wood.
     Noble minds all by ancient battle set ablaze.

Upon that black battlement where
Great Caesar stoked,
Half in admiration,
Rome's mother-forges against the barbarian herd,
Not Egyptian Cleopatra's whispers
Nor Antony's sweet words,
Could still his already conquering hand.
     Noble minds all by ancient battle set ablaze.

Staggered stars over the geared stone whirr.
Electric fires in the mind's eye blurr
Till all the creeping hill's a blaze;
Pacing ceases; the last
Bird dies into dark;
All night sounds transmogrified
To a monotone.
     Noble minds all by ancient battle set ablaze.

Eisenhower's Son

Turning in my mind
That famous, heroic face
That ciphered out
Right government from wrong
And brought boys flying
Out of bed to death,
And because he is dead
And cannot annul my choice,
I make my name and death.

Before a great Greek head,
Half ruined and knocked
From a blank rock
At bleary midnight slumped,
When night-owls in their hunt
Toil from branch to branch,
Some wrong-eyed philosopher puzzled out
That all mind's sunk
In the rut of the world,
And can't drag out its ragged theme
Because frenzy-driven, riven mad
By terror-ridden hours that rend
Shifting tapestries of soul.
All man's but broken pride,
Wars reduced to bandages.

Because all image
He can be all suffering
Or exultant hatred personified
To a deity. What once
Wan man, and now's a shade
Stands here--- lonely as the hawthorne
Tree traced in winter's
Resiny dews. Dead shade
Hammer again this form, if you can
To make of bone and tendon
Pure image.

Famous men and solitary souls
Have cursed with equaL breath
Generations of stupidity;
Monuments flooded in a hole.
I fed by the boards as a boy---
But when I consider that,
Old and wrong and out of breath,
I hammer out my death:
Repetitions of mere breath
Satisfy my thought.

The Mareotic Lake

A bald summer and an empty lake return
Imagination to a childish race
Past strange muds broken-up by the sun
Some famous dead indian's grave breathing face
Hung its stone arrowhead over as I dug
Down the sharpening years as the edges mix,
Rattle blankly in a rich pocket, and repeat
The one sound early delight had fixed
In whatever's left of the mind's ground.

Unremembered faces are crowding to the top
Of a mist-covered muddy lake; sharp cries
Rise and stop. On hands and knees I grope for bones,
Clacking the blanks, back and forth, back and forth,
Casually as dominoes, or bullet them
Back to mud--- to see how the flesh gasped
Or must have, ebulliently spilled to stone....
I watch my life appear as the waters drain,
As if some restless hand had opened a vein.

I set all compass by this wrecked shore,
Dry blood shelved dryly against a wood;
Deposited among all that lush scenery once,
And outfitted for a war, we put on an alien mood.
Ten years' unholy sweat for change, and after
What man, bandaged or unbandaged, what man
But brought a jungle to his house? There breaks
Beneath the out-worn branches of the lake
Some invisible water-bird's penetrating cry.

The Manor-House

Slow and late, with bloodied
Paw and stumbled hoof
Slouching huntsmen drag themselves
Through the opening gate
Retiring hands had bolted.
Unshaken belief is proof
That the abjured rounds of pursuit, and late
Loss of a scattered trail traced to mud
But confirm the circuit
Of hound and blood.

Unliving bodies lie heaved to the brink;
Heavy-bellied gulls stare about.

Low and rough, a drunkard mouths a tune
Down the old dirt road,
Half out of mind---
A tune the king's players once
Repeated at the palace.
"each moment dies and
Nothing may its breath renew.
Yet minute piles on minute
A solace none wise would dare refuse."

Whispered low the drunken man
Near where slept the hound.

Failed fathers that have failed to deepen
The ancient track of an old race
No bunched mountain's back
Could have rightly steepened
Rant at rigor mortis;
Deep tears eat their faces.
Lead bells tell the hour of the house.
Children blow their candles out.
Ashes cover the coals.

Unliving bodies lie heaved to the brink;
Heavy-bellied gulls stare about.

"Out of all slaughter, the one
Globe sundered by a gash
Far past the antique wit
Of Solomon to sew,
That black day may come
And may yet come
When no high death can save
A rare daughter or extraordinary son
From rash disaster
When we've to destruction come."

Whispered low the drunken man
Near where slept the hind.

A Barren Moon

Moving among the moon-drained hills
Remembering the dead,
Lover to ghostly lover cried:
'Whenever I see a sweet man's body
Great pain within me dies.

'Enough of such rough comforting
Drives out much suffering,
Clapped in a ruinous grave,'
Cried that distracted woman
Under a rude, red moon.

'All night having grown unnatural
We drop to the distended ground
And there beneath a man-shaped tree
Sick with sweet labor of sighs
I cradle nothing between my thighs.'

The Poverty of Motherhood

Raised from the proveless dust
Like a shrouded bird into the sight
And set tumbling with the rest,
I daily give wet suck to one
That is a barbing brat
Tangled in my skirts;

I'll not bother to raise him right
Lost in the indifferent dust
Under sky as bruised as that
Tumultuous spot that got him;
But I daily give him suck
Because he's the nearer dirt.

The Hysterical Girl

Nothing was there to see,
A girl half-starved ranting at the sea
Where the soulless moonlight pins
Heart terrified in agony of sin.

Repeated syllables teach her mouth to pray
In abstract hatred of the everyday
Indigence of things, dull pain of a table
Sat at too long or in too deep thought.

And now she casts her moonblind eye
Upon cracked hills the sea derides
With desperate complexities of sound,
Lashing furious meanings at the departed ground.

It was not her singing sent
Drowning blanche mermaids to the tent
Of the solid man who mastered them in thought
But found their floundering forms were soiled;

Nor commanded, in sapphitic fury of a dream
Drained among grey stones in lurid streams,
The empty apparition of the departed moon
Fail and vanish, and hide its scorn.

No one living saw her there,
Rapturous between null sea and thoughtless air
As she, thin-waisted, blind, hypnotized
Blank waves of the sea, stark desires of the skies.

Among the Stables

Pitching in a hay-cart
How many discarded sighs
Must beat upon my breath
Before you unclench a thigh?
     A singing boy will solace us;
     I paid him twelve and eight.

Exhausted by post-mortem
Duties to the state
I watch a great bay's racing mind
Rehearse its fury at the gate.
     And a careless boy is singing,
     Singing past the garden gate.

We shall hear him straining there,
That collar shattered, the thick heart rent.         [spent.]
Swallows ordered in at dark
Will keep the mares content.
     A singing boy will solace us;
     I paid him twelve and eight.

Stars fill the drinking trough
While frantic moon invents a cloud---
Enigmatic, passing out of sight,
And the night cries out loud.
     And a careless boy is singing,
     Singing past the garden gate.

What Joy Departs?

What joy departs the heaving night
When we stretch out upon the stone
In momentary bliss;
Laid like sticks and together bound
Indifferent to hurt,
What love remains?

The Thorn Tree

O I had all of them
That had all of me,
A drop of sweat that stung my eye
Under the old thorn tree;
Yet some dark trembling in the blood
Recalls what troubles me.

Bloated moon escaped the limbs,
Night-bird to night-bird called;
Unknown arms at midnight lift
Body and limb appalled
Into the light-terrifying Heavens.
Whatever it was it was not God.

Many men have come again
Beneath the twisted thorn;
Now they but seem as light as breath,
And love's not worth a stone,
For there's a greater glory
Shrieking in my bones.

New Age

All watch blindly because all are blind,
Mixing in a bitter ditch, while hands and eyes
Bolt new brains on a body tamed
Out of all unnatural instinct at last
Until all stand, skin to skin, with all who stand
Ecstatic round one plate, honey-filled,
Like some dark-bodied community of bees.

Like some dark-bodied community of bees
All turn to that one vast image hung
Forever sweet in an abstract sky:
Riotous selflove perfected to a stone
Until no man is shaken with a hate,
Or cold eventuality of death---
Adam and Eve out of one stone struck.

Adam and Eve out of one stone struck;
Interrupted churn of heads, or worse,
Confused there, welded in the air, as if once
Fury of the sexual onslaught begun,
No deliberate loveliness
Could its purpose or pleasure deride:
All watch blindly because all are blind.

After the Bacchanal

Smoky midnight torches slowly enwound
A wine-heavy head; my old eyes
In ominous moonlight upon a photograph confound
Some ancient satyr's head drowsing in its beard;
Fabulous syllables out of the bitter heart rise;
Embittered fables of the Emperor instruct
Oceanic ache of sex and blood
What's most noble in the bone.

Out of those lamp-lit or flame-lit mouths
Flickering vaguely there, flash thousands,
Upside down or upright in the air,
Battered abstract complexities of flesh;
Dark turmoil of flesh begetting flesh.
But all mind needs image to be complete:
Rage-minded Timon thrashing riches at a stone,
Or that huckster Richard abandoned to a throne.

Self-invented, or tossing thought of age,
Cast-out circles of the flames reveal
A single man upon a stage, all Lear
In his proud lineaments thunderstruck:
Confusion of a mind unable to set a scene
Among a multitude of scenes,
Dramatic images that repeat
Tumult of living body stylized to a theme.

That Place

Is it like a light
That dissolves an empty street,
That place where dancer meets with dancer
Whirling like a top
And does not ask for music
So long as dancing never stop?

Or is it more like some
Time that revolves when the skies
Are overthrown, and dark comes
Ravening the tomb
Or heavier delirium
That body lays on eyes?

Realist at Atlantic Highlands

Empty eyes emptier of thought
Returned to turn upon the upturned stone
That still fell although it stood.
And the river empty a little after, alone.

The hollow space of the wave determines
The shape of space a wave may take,
Filling itself, suspending itself until it break
In predestined syllables upon the fragrant rock.

The Wind That Lashes Everything at Once

The wind that lashes everything at once
Came lashing at the lutanist on evening's hump

Disturbing chords, flinging river pebbles at his back
Hunched to deeper strains emerging near his hands

In a wind which is a wind and not a motion
Of elemental ardors making speeches.

The lutanist deposited hid lute, like so much trash,
In dusky golds, till gild and gild congealed,

Shrank, subtracted from each other as they became
A part of the haloed wish for a universal whole

Where lute and lutanist and avenging dusk are plucked
To one hue, convincing, not permanent, but arranged for, vented,

In the wind which is a wind and not a motion
Lashing everything at once.