It was in singing that he first Knew that worsening was not worst. His father's large disappointed face Tickled him inarticulate with terror Until he forged, Below sharp time, Monster suns of images. Invented heaven has a charm: litter Of apostles, magenta trees that dissolve As vapor, where golden sparrows sing And do not sink. He thought One wanted seeming, An altered Strangled attitude of bird. A harsh man's countenance wavered In ocean distortions of the moon. The kneeling son felt a burning prayer At his back, and ran, and ran In stark fright On broken bones Beneath a salt-dead tree.
"What things real are there but imponderable thoughts?" ---Ahab There was Tenor in his party grave, sharing All of the same old sick jokes with himself. 1 He says, "What is there besides imagining? These four occasional walls will not bring Spring or sorrow to any unsuffering thing. It is the will that wanes, in summer dark, After clogged stars have scraped the sky and left A newer dark for some cold singer's questioning. Rusted apples gathered, honey melons dusky gold, Cherries rosing in the tinted sun, what was invented If not these things? Shall my hand remain Unfloured by its own effort? A pointed oar Plunges and plunges in a white war and remains An oar. The mind is not so meager; it becomes, Once its rent raiment roars, in polychromes Above chalk waters that it held and gave, That of which it sang and did not hear, because Too busy singing in undivided, tensile mystery." 2 If, on the wings of sparrows, men's feet shall flesh Who shall fly, in contrapuntal destiny, In waltz time, alone, beneath The unceasing testament of the waves? Tenor Semblance in his water-wings, bulbing At his back, held his breath and dived, at 4, Into the tossing terror of a tame sea. Once caught among the coral's shadowing, he saw The flash and error of dying fish in that dim maze. Their antlered looks and opalescent eyes Placed a holy horror in his slalom breast Racing, among more mobile lights, out of death's Abrupt shade. He knew of earth by this buried paradise. He told his parents of the sharking waves and sea. Alone, His executed gestures in scarred sunset seemed The switch-back hesitancy of leaves. 3 It was his mother's going, her poignant death, Like still water, that made him hear Curlicues of God's named trumpet, world. A French horn paddles in his ear; Finches mocked the minister at her wake, his frown Emitted solo labyrinths, corona icicles of sound. Tenor Semblance, leaving, knew his feet were tambourines, clashing in the grass. And when he whispered, it was with sorrow That he could not sing himself a barrow. In her twinking time upon this mortal orb, In laundered air, tender sequences Of love and love, flashed from her bright center Like perpetual suns that sang and knew their tune. It was because of her he sought A personal, vocal dew. 4 Semblance swelled in his soft decor. Like an awkward Alice, he used his vital eye To distill a separate scenery in the dwindled grass. Little thunder smoked the mountaintops. Gnats as vultures bulked silence on their prey. But a swung censor, sacred scenting, never lends Its incense to these more airy tendencies. Neither garland of flowers, in a stiff ring, Nor any distincter bloom was worn. Victim in winter, he tried to say The measureless landscape he became: Desolate branches, details of packed snow, Paired tracks of deer, or south-seeking geese Dispassionate as the sky. There comes A crowd of moths, an abrupt lamp flapping In discontinuous circles as he speaks. 5 But should we sacrifice infinite finesse for that Snowblind and last, fatal profundity? Sonless Semblance once, with gagging glands, Turned abrogated Pa; the wincing world Trickled from his groin. He clawed out an eye And dived, lost in a reef, resulting in a sky Made blue, by harshest imagination, by Exclusionary rules. Was it a mincing butcher's Cleaver thumb, his abusement of a One, Chopping up the single digit we pretend? False finesse? The sky was blue; he claimed To be the author, and his grave Was dug in blue clay; bluets brushed the edge. His mineral bones are scavenged by worms that die. Thus we see, beyond cut division or misty ending, Death is daughter to imagination's venting. 6 A man is image and is sound, Imagining sounds; a blare of being Scribbled like a cloud, pinched nothingness Palely resembling himself, in a mirror; Unalterable shadow, that falls As seasons fall, in whitest trumpeting. Thus was Tenor in his dirty grave, In severest evening, uttering A few, essential words. In his halter, Dawdling day undid the staunching fist Of night, and materbirds like mandolins Twanged his very song. They were his toys, who, Hautboy accountant, made of his breast Final register. A second heaven, set Beside the first, is best, when we forget Ourselves in what our wish of death becomes.
NOTE: This poem originally appeared in this collection, but later had a sequel written. This poem and its sequel are collected in “Rehearsing Repetitions on the Rappahannock.”
A dead cork moon erases, shams The swift subscription pediments of light--- Blanche magician's hand before a card, Eternal current voyager of sight, Endlessly inscribed. You, who section out the broken Window's fragmentary glaze In gold, auroraborealis ruins that shake The scattered genet weedlings here of late, Untranslatable deathcard of all hate, Who full-sail mocks the sun, know I come to dance beneath your fake Hepatitis curve of being, welcome skater Who deals with a slick grace the last Mother-admonishment to poker hands. Lilies launder moonlight in the lot. A moving silhouette will break their dust: Imagination is its own remorse Recalling ancient beauties, one by one, until The reinvented dead ladies emerge From the trapped torrents of a late laboring mind And coo and call and sveltly wend their way To demand in time imagination's final lie: Its death; at last, to make One monumental animate corpse of fate.
1 Dutch decorations groom the hours. The parted dark resumes its essential black, Its pasteboard panache, dressed blues of indifference, A more vital seem. Still the old men dicker In deeper dusk, realer hues, from Below the perch of being in parrot patricides That consume the expert, whistled throatings Of loftier loons, whose red retina shift To scan a level heaven, unplummeted. 2 They were like the colors of these things. Old men of the river rocks, disparaging Old men of the river rocks in pairs. A portion of the evening looked down Among palm fronds and purple sand, and glared A nimbus of new stars that pierced A rarer dark than thought or action formed, Whitely condemning with unalterable blare The blandest barb of neutral fact. 3 The oceans stars were reflected in the men themselves, Their trudging bucket hearts and bleary souls. Chrome, The streaked adjustment of the light, apt intrusion Of subjective singe and burn, shook step by step, until The stars were lost because the total sea was stars. Their stony heads moved in unison, great grey rocks, And tumbled towards the momentous moment of a cliff To invent a waterfall. Their old hearts poured Whiter than before, among dashed rocks that babbled As they poured. 4 But who can carry empty starlight in his purse, Or sew together toes for fins, hands for wings? The ancient bretherns' hearts must fail. They flop as they reflect, endlessly; a soul Must take a darkness from its carbon work, A scattered semblance tinctured of its grain. etched pine swamped in black ink retains The arbitrary suaveness of its growth, carved above The image of twelve men like trees. 5 Wrong boys threw up spectrum dust at sunset. they beat the rocky heads of elders viciously, Like drums, like drums, like drums, in time To the whirred sensation of white wings. Their dewy hands hardened with a thought. Imagining, they made their pockets weighty With caught stones. They leapt, leapt, leapt, Without their blue bodies diminishing. Imagining, They braided their loose fingers into beards. 6 Twelve boys danced in violet night, in a communal Hymn that offered nothing brutal. It was their game. This they knew, their short spaghetti beards and uncut Minds like bangs, in diamond time forever ripening, Took the minor light the unspent stars had saved And poured it on the orchard's hair, and fissured earth Like wine. Their sweet limbs were never heavy In that sleepy paradise. They chant aloud their names: Impatient to insistent hands, moving as they mend. 7 I descant upon a dusky theme Illegibly. What there is is this: The men are trees. The men are rocks. They mar and mark upon each other ceaselessly. There is no outside agent agitating. They invent Themselves. The clock is riveting their veins. They have never seen a star. They fly On fins. And all of this I saw in some Mirror-making, mirror-resembling dream.
Up from the coral came, loud and lost, disguised, The boiled apparition of a one-time man; His pockets bristled brine; an oyster clipped his nose, Pearless. The ocean offered him, we Could not deny the gift, without endangerment; without He had the outer aspect of a tardy sacrifice. The closed committee of our welfare Immediately convened. They sought, they said, The last abolishment of will for justice's sake. The man hobbled off, in winsome chains, To the hanging place, Dragging upright flippers of glinting gold.
Amber uncertainties of day decrease. Cinema skyscrapers, Ice-strong in August's simmering, by custom, Strain, vertical ambassadors of a raindown faith, Unbuttoned pageantry of striptease In mineral prayers by crystal seconds click Skyward where the welter minutes works Oblong in loss, incomplete, reversed By hasty tobacco minutes of falsity Puffing from a face; casual, displaced--- Break the blue nerve-strings from olive eyes, And amber eyes, that we may see you once unclothed; O beauty with a mind to terrorize! O ghost that haunts and leaves the self undone, An abandoned shoe of spirit amid--- Radiant presentment of headlights, streets Too seeming-perfect to harbor scars, Rivers of the face, deep windings Of the conestoga's strut, Manhattan accolades, Segregated tenements of hilarity, lets The lost sea rage alone its winner-take-all And spaded waves. Those with taper memories, burn In silent aquatic lives, cinched tendencies Of gain, condensed and closed Soliloquies of the inward gaze. Recall, love, the angled awnings that louvered In the street and rescind their makeshift wanton Gathers and their stays that stripe Jazz consistencies of dreams, locked arms of thought. And freedom of the broken mind spends night Like fragment glints of pennies, dimes, In an uncertain, subway sallow tenement Linking past and time and sanest beauty immutably. How many hands have lent their grace and power, Past strict steerage of the sky, agile abandoners, To build with conscious thought of staying these Sandstone monuments of dreams? O lordly city, living sepulchre! Never unwind The beaking strangulations of your light, Clipped and clipped, astute on broken boxes And bandaged lives. Twenty hundred thousand move out In convict kicks, coral syllables of mouths Uttering lovely convolutions in sharpest salt that brims some vast veins' vented tension flow. O river city, sapient of light, there is more In the level skeletons of your praise And mazy words than you or I, leaning above Any silver quay, may guess in any Sun-silk scattering of days.
Music in the mind is water Spelling white mansions in manacle light By sloppy oceans, by Atlantic blue. The boats became a syncopation of the art, Swift cutters paddling up to start--- Jutting in some over-occasional spray.... Splay, the tragic motorblades that mix Bones of rubies, your lost and salted eyes, resolute Of oceans, seamed into one white salt. Who can take the tiger-chime of arced spray Away, deep among the dimensionless swoon of day, As diamond-dusted angle-trees cure a blue? Loops of light on clear glass circulate endlessly As the shadow of some unbent beauty Blends an anchorage with graphite spillage of its heart In one still spot. Tranquil water takes The unaltered burn of day and rainbows it abroad: Exact bright bands of unconquerable split light.
She stood in her summer arsonage, complete; Her arms shoved beauty to the brink. In the rapt child-sway of her body blessed, She liked to watch it totter. Allocate of praise, alone in lividness, Her Cleopatra charms derange a face Made numberless, the legion losses Summer and moonlight conspire to take In the shrill seconds preceding birth, Blazing awkward apt adjectives of light, Explosions of burnt rose, blasphemies of sight: Her embarrassed breasts consoled a sigh. With bicycle moods of syllables, wise Soft sofa ministries of age displayed,--- The scrubbed violation of too many hands Already resting after The aching dilation of too many years. Opinionless as steam in vapor rage The undiluted, vast minions of grey age Remain and inculcated the glass world's verdure. O mirror-girl who swam with me! Your otter plash alarms, quelled seemings, balms No untethered slash of wind will solve With treasured fingers, knives of burnt cellophane, Remain to dissipate The slight indignations under fiber lies that Display and disingenuate The twenty mobile armistices of face In alcohol alacrities of soul. You blinked There, in antechamber emptiness of air, By a blank slant sea Shelving its green shoals in coral fashion Against the petticoat interiors of railroad stations: The lazy, shoved accoutrements of waiting. We were everywhere at once, one summer. Her working woman's apple-soul Daunts momentously the unworked opinions of stars ---Daunts in a moment's unmaking The slipped and gradual symmetry of stars. white velvet siftings of the filter moon Slept in lonely pages of the leaves; Sister swelter of the sapphire sun forgot, they became The downward shaft and symbol of desire.
Chaos is eccentric else, among the green Habiliments of this disease, This earth, this atmosphere We sicken of and breathe. The arrant mind Ticks like a cockvane in a white sky. Blackly circles the tragic thought of death Around an empty farm: the false, shadow-sharp Concern that it invented. Past tipped buckets And abandoned calves, lonely for their mothers, Sick-eyed mermaids maunder in their scales, Electric after A crumpled pail Of the pure, chiaroscuro myth.