Copyright 1990 by Gregg G. Brown
This Book Published By
Every day there was a little less of himself, A moon of diminishing hues, Less and less, as he strode from the balustrade To the roses, each night a different leaf fallen, Each day a new ambivalence in the sun's assertions, Proverbial gold in a stale world Where the water tasted tinny and the tap spat Erratic chuffs of water in an empty cup And something or other had died a day earlier, Had died and had its poor death recorded, Less and less itself, or its wintery twin, Pacing from the terrace to the garden.
Calmed lightnings in the evening sky Shuttle, like warm humans, from sty to sty. If ever there were an evening readiest For comparisons, gilded in flashes, half real, It is this evening, blotched by light, Spumed with cloudy figures of our imagining. And so the erratic discharges of our thoughts Are themselves significant, Indicative perhaps of the circuits that we make Circling one disaster and another catastrophe, Symptoms of a discord so profound, Malevolent fragrances of black, pitted things, That long-fruited hopes have withered, and everlasting airs Crimp their silvery middles tiredly And the brazen horizon awes us a little less With its simmering magnificence Dull a little, and a little cold even in summer, Shunted to one side a little, and old and used. Wormy lightnings, restore the discords of your colorings; These are the makings of our end.
Is it a death of the self, or of the self's One projection, fatal ray, deadliest beam Unfolding from out of a stillness the self contains Like scissors, or a dove's placid wings, abruptly flown From brooded palms, this quiet that returns To the stone house, empty and white In a whiter air? Something deeply tired Has taken the place of the cows, Still morose, filling the entire structure With placid breaths, but what is it? Is there, in this fix of airs, an extinguishing anguish That broods from the barn, the tired reds Falling in the air under a Dutch hex And a soggy roof buckled by the weather, Something that ticks in the empty hayrick Or yawns from the creosote timbers Leaning together a little in the space left By the solemn breathing of the cows?
The pines in their shadows are distinguishing themselves Detached in a softly shaking emptiness Separate from themselves and their riveting greens, Voraciously vivid, beyond coughed words, Beyond a last leaf stretched in a last silence Like Hamlet at the vacant end of the meadow, Dying in summer, breathing a last breath In the final rye and grasses, seeing the trees loud sway At the rim of the yellow field, shaken Softly, softly, following a blue track through the pines.
Does the moon sail in its sumptuous heaven Disfigured by pity, Blindly tearful in an icy lair? To walk in the moonlight, to trod The verdant ambers, and to think of nothing, What sort of matter for a poem is that? Is it a matter of having nothing In the mind, icy sequester Of nothing, of nothingness layered in its own absence? Or is it a matter, rather Of nothingness icily conceived, icily meant? It is a matter of sinister consequence. To walk in the violet moonlight Discussing the moon from which it flares Disfiguring the roses Is a kind of nothing, a suave Hollowness that we may hold near Or suspend between us as we walk. O savage celestial, misty moon, Snarling in your lair, speak, If speak you must, in dismal syllables Some more blatant human meaning.
Picaresque birds cry hi-yi-hi From the lustered branch Festooned with ants. Crocodiles mustered in the bayou Flutter melodious tails Under oaks. Captains of the stratosphere march high, march high Stepping the squalid dews Of gaudiest clouds. When the marshal of the swamp cries hi-yi-hi It is his essences' valence Neatly strummed.
Standing a long time before the pond, in November Standing and looking at nothing Or looking and forgetting it is oneself that looks One begins to think That the sinewy residue at the bottom of the pond And the pond, and one's consciousness of the pond Moving over it like an enigmatic cloud Are one, that the famous watery veils are no longer Waiting to be torn, or that, torn already, They have left only these sinewy shreds, Gluey blacks thinly dispersed in the space Between the self, astutely observing, And the brown pane of water that lifts the clouds And the bottom of the pond.
When the house stands empty, the rooms disgorged Of all the crumpled laundry daily life imposes How conditional our maundering sorrows seem, Another routine, like sleep and death, Engaging our restless spirits As soccer in Brazil, the overnight weather, The uninhabited chair, weighted with fringes, That stares in the leaning mirror morbidly Or the dirty shovel that leans in the garage, A little old and uselessly, by a mended fishnet.
One has lived long enough Among rusted hills, and the solemn sunlight Spinning its steel shadows out of itself Over those hills, thickly gathered at the arbor Where matted vines still move on the latticework, Purple embrasures, seeming almost to speak In a light that is constantly fading, Shifting its emphasis, a sliding center That creeps over partial hills, Real where revealed, invisible elsewhere Full of hidden masses and interior kisses The way a sliver of grass is an entire field of grass, The way a man represents a man, Without feeling, in the inhuman landscape.
Dun Madonna, caped and veiled By modest night, the color of shale, Unclench the spools Of moroser weather Tucked by fingers beneath your vermillion cap. Unclench the spools Of angrier rains and redder tornadoes From your tense cap While the violet moon's sisterly sap Drips bip, and bip, and bap, bap, bap. Her slender tongue Unwrapped the whitest portions of the night. In the hills, green winds prevail.
The sun, scintillating cadaver, Refusing blue, or mauve, or sincerer purple For the great step he was to make that day Entirely out of himself and into the world Where dull mauves congeal, purples espouse darkly, And blues irresolutely go blank, Unpacked his scalding instruments in the dark Listening to the machinery of crickets, grown tired, The imperceptible brrr Of cold discomfort that enmeshed their foils And, tired himself, threw the rude cash of light In the moon's urinal.
The native muse of this rock Wakes dumbly in the morning mist, and in the garden, Attaches itself to a cockerel by thin tins Of light from the bleakest planet; Wakes, and stumbles about the house in a robe, having misplaced Dawn's engines, the consciousness of a dawn In the folded dark of sleep, last night When, by the bedstand, it seemed a few syllables had made life cohere. The native muse of this rock, dumbly awake, Preens against an obliterating light.
The butler of the weather, Essential lumin on a globe gone dark, Parsed us out upon the table With a certain ceremonious, filial delicacy. What we were we were, without detail, And so was he, tracing his investigations out The way a dachshund traces the motivating fuel Of furtive foxes darkly red. Even so, rising to its perch A bird of poignant recitations Cries sky and sky and sky In American barrenness. Each thing in the evening tried to find What sort of thing it was, and how it had arrived In the evening of which it was somehow a part As stars descended Over Florida.
The builder of cellos in solar weather Extracts a suavity from knots, true trills That mock the swilling catbird in his royal chair. But from what seed increased the pilfered wood? Farm boys and their milky maids grown old Must, as hale timbers rudely weathered, Must strain, and crack, and, in their scale, break Remoter love's fiercest chord, dwindling At length as even the grandest cock Goes rolling, listlessly, on to noon. II Blue rabbis without hats are chasing still What rabbis, bending at their lamps, construe To be the bright perennial, in renewing hues Emerging, out of so much ephemeral dust. Hearers of thunder in their flamenco capes Make much of its minor terrors and mimic hate; Dividing time between one disaster And another catastrophe, that kills, They are like drowned rabbis beholding doom In a stoven ship of their own imagining While blazing fish peek about their bones.
You can see the earth shake, no doubt, Its myriad images In your broken glass. You can feel it, no doubt, In your tenebrous nails. Or in the nervous laughter that the sky Shakes down. Pointed voice, mixing blues and browns In a vivid mash that riffles the eye, These solids, and these, Remain impenetrable. O how I regret not having killed The mouse in my childhood. Enfold me, lucid muds, I would go cloaked in earth the way a duck Dons water.
for Amy Disconsolate in the deepening weather Of a miserable December, Cincinnatus made a house of song Pinching out the solar imperative From other, more miraculous strains That salted the winter air And coated the simple ice on the porch. Without aids in impossible weather, Cincinnatus made a house of song And took up, in primitive measure, A primitive abode.
Oh let the Light Be Broken
Oh let the light be broken That soaked and solemn Out of the sun's mouth spoken Climbed the virgin's hide And the grave of her face. Be buried in the stolen stone Each word of sight That from the tongue's priested Memory is severed Hunkered in the seed of the cold. Oh let the light be broken Over shackled genesis Until the husks have spoken Word and weed and sizzling stem Out of the grave of her face Alive again, and the once burning Turn of the world Stumbles back to ochre. Let man and woman and infant dread Out of harrowed heart Lain long and solemn Step from the narrow incision Speaking in leap years The carved distresses Scourged in the drop of a tear's face Hanging and grieving After its home of fruit Under bruited tree Bruised and fishnet against the sky Solemnly detached as a leaf's face Ghosted on stones Waiting for the last hanged man To dive alive at last.
Less and less sure, O soul, the rain Repeats its residuum Blanking church bells with its ultimate referent: Itself, or some other final thing That bears the buffets of ceaseless existence Like a paper that rolls over in the wind Or the wind that rolls the paper, which, Startled itself, is full of paper sounds The mud on the moon illumes. The rain is rasping against the panes. A dark, familiar change, Elusive elysium, starts at the edges of the ear, Chewed by flies in a forgetful sun, Hollow as a father's falsest word Before drunken dinner, sheds its drunkenness On a few, familiar objects. What word will ward these mute excursions?
One bakes and waits in the roisterous sun Tapping out universal time with a particular foot, A principle shoe, worn leathers unable to reflect The merest shard of all that solar crisis Burning in the sky and in the apperceiving chest Like boxed jewels winking out of showiest velvets. One waits for the desert to be done with itself For the holy sequoias to drop their arms, One more martyr, torn down by storms, Reduced by the sun to one skull of dreams Throwing one more shadow away from the hill Like a river that flows out of the mind at last. This earth of cakes and sweet excrescences Lets us eat the loam, lick saccharin sands From our lips, taste smeared blazons of cotton candy, Raspberry and chocolate, the florid saps We bite from the tree, laden with glistering fruits We ourselves have made, and ripened in each eye.
What has life's bitter disappointment brought Laid in a narrow, breathless bed? Shall we curse all our drunken, muddy lot Lain with long bones of the dead? At the end of a rifle or parting stream Pursued by a pursuing dream Man wakes up to find his enemies again, The end of dreams, and all friends dead. What stays hid in the marrow there, Thrust deep underground? Things purposed in the unpurposed air Die when those men are dead. Whether father or brother still pursue Their work, or others' work, I do not know; I read it on a narrow, upright stone Cast by the long bones of the dead. Fathers sacrifice long-loving sons To a nameless, breathless bed; Stand we under an island sun Or lie with long bones of the dead?
Socketless and sailor In the world's winded veins Scented genesis and coffinsilk I mock the soberest cockerel Diving from the prism-spitting Pinnacle of the world's mast Uselessly singing And rant like a wronged girl All my sweetest notes Over ignorant houses Slumbered in death and morning light. Out of the closeted shout this echo beats Features of a sinning man on tin More pressed to anguish in a dial's sigh Than any victim of time heretically cried Has been bludgeoned by suns Or a pauper's bliss been Crimped in a penny's fear Or any tale of the world Cauled in a scorpion's sting Has twisted its smile on a man's side Or any climbed tirade Spoken in wishes That nature's weary fabulist Set down. Graveturning in wishes As a wish is a kiss My manbones shriek In blooded inks Out of a rage welled and calmed As any bird's ratcheted turn Over the thumbing sea at dawn Crawls at clouds In inching desire as each wingbeat clips Over measured cessations Chewing ships and bones to flour. Out of each brick The cold dawn shakes And each root tooth of daisies Cragged in the fingering spring Floods pulse and fever To ramshackle gods agog As saints in whispers Each aghast their closed wings keep Singing of statuary And the boiling joy Of the devil's boyish kiss. So I this saintly mort cry down And each nailed lip kiss Quagmired in hatred Tried and hung, on pentecostal cross and hatch Birthing the blood plant Insisting in stitches For this world the word's wound. So I, crumbling on windfall, On sold bones and the tarot told Watch hatred disaster, man and god fall, And all loved things end.
On undemanding ground Shot through with hollow sounds Bird or bullet make Or some other keen cry, I take This man for model, though in truth A small man of the town; and although His grandfather was a thief And his father worse than that, I respect his grief, for what else can I That wander in the clay? There was a man had died Frozen to the mountainside And, nothing in his climbing pack And less upon his withered back, He ascended the wintry peak Sang a rich bar tune and died. It was out of pride The old man had died. He gripped a flute, knew God's great lie, And had a clarity in the eye. And at the last, a damned wretched gaiety Suffused his frame. Mountain echo upon echo Hollowed out his fame; Dying, trying once again To empty himself of troubles by the score-- "This joy of death Stops the breath." In the trees, excited laughter; And after, the silence.