Epigrams for “The Departed Friend”

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Aug 212011
  If my dear love were but the child of state, 
  It might for Fortune's bastard be unfather'd 
  As subject to Time's love or to Time's hate, 
  Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather'd. 
  No, it was builded far from accident; 
  It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls 
  Under the blow of thralled discontent, 
  Whereto the inviting time our fashion calls: 
  It fears not policy, that heretic, 
  Which works on leases of short-number'd hours, 
  But all alone stands hugely politic, 
  That it nor grows with heat nor drowns with showers. 
  To this I witness call the fools of time, 
  Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.

Who has not dreamed to achieve a great thing, 
do some one great deed in the eyes of all, and, 
what is more, in one's own eyes? 

Venom and Agony

 Introductions, The Departed Friend  Comments Off on Venom and Agony
Aug 212011

Innumerable inchoate feelings all seeking expression and definition contemporaneously are here encoded for the reader. But with myself, and with that art which I most highly value, understanding precedes expression if what is made is to be art at all. In these poems I was caught in a curiously Edenic mode. I was surrounded and imbued with a richness of griefs, and still had not one syllable to name them. I had all the full feeling a human art could cry to posses and none of the sensibility through which to express it. The chaos of my grief had borne its lapidary apple, but I had yet to eat of it and understand. Cynicism is the crassest shortcut between a full heart and an empty mind-empty but well-ordered. It is no coincidence that minimalism is the reigning contribution of the latter half of the 20th century to expression’s vocabulary. It is comprehension without being comprehensive; it comprehends through vital exclusion; it is a supreme form of denial and, as such, never makes a positive, uncynical stand, and can never be ‘proven’ wrong. Invulnerable and vapid, its objects glare in diminished insistence. Ashamedly, I must say that this twerpy type of cynicism makes its debut in lines of what follows here as well. Mostly in the toothless conclusions of the poems there is the oversimplification of a scab, and not the long-thumbed memory of a scar. Perhaps the elision of a decade will help to sort my inner chaos into outer order; perhaps selective forgetting and cowardly crowding-out of old memories with new heartaches will perform the aesthetic grunt-work that poetry demands and that my sensibility exhorts. But oh how my heart cannot wait the decade out! Ruptured, not enraptured, I ululate before my auditors-more full of sighs than songs.

Gregg G. Brown

Nov 2, 2004


The Departed Friend Style Notes

 Endnotes, The Departed Friend  Comments Off on The Departed Friend Style Notes
Aug 212011

There are lots of questionmarks in these lines, as befits my ignorance. A friend of profoundly poetic tenor pointed out to me the other day that I also enjoy employing negative statements that imply or outline a positive poetic feeling. If I were to have written Hamlet, for instance,

To be or not to be, that is the question.

Might have sounded something like this instead:

Not to be or not not to be, is that the question?

In the poems that follow there is much that is doubted, and many an assertion will not come unattended by its qualifier. After all, what king would step forward into such august company as you yourself provide without his page? Good my page, let us go forth like Wenceslas and provide for our poor and hungry souls the wine and meat of poetry, cibum et vinum . Notwithstanding all the misfires and queries contained in here, I know with severe certainty, as if gripped by a divine hand of lightning, that the feeling is true.

I will not wait for some un-looked-for good to come, but will make my present its own sufficing memory.

Gregg G. Brown

Jan 1, 2005



 [Poetry], The Departed Friend  Comments Off on Missing
Aug 212011
  for Marie

She walked with me some while beside the wood,
Knowing only what we neither understood:
The way was dark;  the path confused, but good.

What'd tumbled down to make the walking trouble
Came, at least, from above to have us stumble;
At least, though lost, we were paired and doubled.

All about us moved what we took as gloom,
A dark in darkness beyond the dark of rooms
-Unsure if ourselves or wood had bade it come.

She sang in fallen night, the moon standing by,
Sang of something farther on, past sky
And night, past unanswered owl and me.

Something settled round her then, some shine;
A startlement in branches brought a shadow down;
She was not the world's;  nor was she mine.

The Return

 [Poetry], The Departed Friend  Comments Off on The Return
Aug 212011

Pale and leery, alone in bed,
Alone in bed, pale and leery,
Unawake and lively-weary,
Selfless as coming slumber numb,
My speaking self a word of wind
Sighing simply "Nevermind"
Til I one nothing do become,
Selfless, single, pale and weary.

The slow lightning of moonrise,
The cloudscape depths of pearl,
Consecrate my mood and room,
Entomb me like a knight-at-arms,
Cross-handed, on his final pallet carved:
My feet in pale armor sheathed, setting forth
To no Jerusalem.  Dead men wail
In the woeful wind that pushes
All aside from the frowning moon.

The moon in bone-blank vision nearing,
Cold and haughty, a dead man's face,
Through the pulled-back curtain shines
Pale and weary and alone.
The quiet casement looking in
Unquiet undream apprehends,
Forlorn beyond the memory of friends:
Here my human heart in dread
Lingers loath on what had been said.

How softly sounds the shell of sleep
Calling our visions to its verge
That had not otherwise been so deep;
How softly sounds the shell of sleep!
Traffic of splashes, remote yet near,
Small edges blent to one static shush
As even now the boat draws clear....
Softly, softly, Windemere.

When our causes, obscure as eddies,
At last had crested to their crisis,
I failed the fathoming!  My love
I let recede when tolled the tide,
An unwinning and a winless game,
In violentest crash the green reef
Cracking, killing.

Hush!  now the frowning moon's a man,
Shadow from wed shadow departing,
Nimble-light as moth-wings darting:
You come in sorrow into the room,
Ghost of exhausted meditations,
And at the bed's foot look sadly down,
All silvered-over as if in snow.
Dear live ghost of my living ghost,
Memory sacred, not serene!

Self-salving waters of the breast
That spill in richness mixed with dust,
Sigh your human blessing in the night!
Come, tears!  Let your salt effluence
Replace the bitter pourings of the moon!
Here am I in my human minim,
Unperspectivized man
Too naked now to endure the cold
Howsoe'er endued with warmth
I once was.

Let salt pelt out salt til salt alone
Weeps into being our green souls.
The nightmare, the scar, is here, here.
Like a battery's pile grown large 
With potential charge-- would but some salt water 
Soak and connect their shocks!
Those memories are high-piled 
That wait for charitable water
To flood from my unfortunate eyes--
Then-- oh what mystery and what light!

The shore recedes, and recedes the day,
Softly, softly in sweet delay
Until all shore is shorelessness
And a damping fog is in the eye
Turned outward-inward in the mist.
And then, what wetness?

The Departed Friend

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Aug 212011

Even now the wrestling winter wind
Struggles in the window's flaw
And the charity of the sun is given over
To night's empty menace.  My fingers
In sympathy with the very ice
Whiten and grow longer atop my coverings,
Hoisting the sheet simply as a wave.
Wind at the casement inks with creaks
What I had kept in lightest sketch,
Rounding to flesh with roars and moans
What I had kept in a whispering skull,
Dawn to dusk inside my soul,
Kept locked below some workaday hum
Whose once-amusing tune now tums in dread.

How can the body breathe when no hope gusts through,
Panicking the shutters to the outward sky?
So my body and my bed lay together stacked,
Mortised mates: the cadaver and mortician's table.
So I lay at the nadir-bottom of my thoughts
That had been high bearers-up before,-
Frothy self-involving silvered clouds
Radiant as watered stones in moonshine;
Now down in the sultry sinkhole bottom
Of a stirless pool no unburdening breeze will bless,
Over-crowed by moss-black cypress trees
Dripping no redemption from their dank,
So I lay, as now I lie in mental projection:
In the reeking warp and bursting of my coffin-box.

Here, in the mire, my meaning is near
My hidden wish insists I miss him,
Cause and consoler of my misery!
A foulish pool of moonlight at my feet
Shifts and shapes into his living shadow,
A sad long form too full of thought;
I stare into the abyss that I have brought.

I cannot speak, weak ghost, frail light
Overmastering me!  All my mind's
But memory of our untold hopes!
Shape of my friend who shaped me so!
Dear ghost, do not go, but let me rehearse
Our storied history to your toneless face;
Face whiter than the day gone blind.

Many hours had we trod the wood, near twins,
In each other's sidewise countenance
Discerning ourselves!  After a little onward way
At a fenny brook stopped up we stopped
Restoring its foot-light laughter to the wood
That under many an autumn's confusion of leaves
Had clotted to brown silence.  Heave
Of hands as wet as their work, as cold unfrozen
As vapored breath!  At the stoppage's heart
In the very bolus of the blockage's glut
A dead raven wormed, fat with drowned maggots
Eating the mealy flesh that could no longer
Hold the wetted velvet of its feathers together.
Its dead eye was as sunken as the pit
Where we buried it.  An office of farewell
Performed perforce in mutual accord
As like our old friendship together then
As unlike our alien parting now,
Never vetted in the abstraction of a vow.

Vengeance and ire are exiles to this mood
That even in the hurricano's house
Leave their livid imprints.  Oh ghost
Called up from the waterspout
Of tears unwept and inly kept
Deliver now no elegy of division
That sunders life from life
And vanquishes the vivid phonemes of our dreams!
O newly denuded world
Bereft of friendship and benefit
Shorn of scorn and sorrow both
That have no object on which to act!

No syllable will tell
The night hauntings your each look has cast
Deep into the telling silence of my soul.
My soul!  And what is that?  A hollow word
More echoed out by poets than looked into.
But when at nighttime and for all the night
I search the remorseful strains of memory
To find some babble that will heal
Beside the note "Forget"- that and that alone
I say is soul- the willful welding
Of has been and is.  If I could recall it all
Neither in melancholy nor high-hearted joy
And leave not one instant back to rot
I'd count myself a thing beyond a day.
How often has the robin's song come to this sill
And I noted it not?  From that oblivion alone
I begin.  Her redbreast puffed with expectation
And with mirth, and song trilled out as water
Spilled serially over the serried rocks.
Flow back up the stone along thou's song!
Let memory's viol play you as a tune
Worn true with loving,
Made soft-edged by your worth, our youth.

Communal comminglings of sun and moon
If each were source and both reflectors.
To've shared what we have given!
Day gathers day in its trooping hoop
And rolls on, agile and endless.
Although the spontaneous waterfall
May loiter at its foaming foot
Distilling a stillness in the tumult's depth-
Even so the swelling pool will whelm the lip
In moon as in noon, seeping the pristine banks
In affectionate and curious insistence.
So what we are flows to what
We must come to be, until our ruddy drops
Beset the universal ocean, whelmed
To give, and give all, and end all giving.

What cares the bee for the blossom's nuzzle?
What cares she or knows she how her work
In honey laid shall see a spring
That she herself shall never know?
Still the flower receives and the bee busily does
Whatever whiteness the one or buzz the other,
Mutually do they do, and mutually know not.
And yet, were they to know, to think, to care
What pause would press between the passions
Of their touch?  What bee might meditate
Alone and unpollinated on some barer branch?
What flower shut to dawn its streaked pinks
So warmly showed to the showering rays before?

The mind remembers each tweet each note
And each soberer lowing of tuba or bassoon
No matter how distant the conductor's commencing click
May seem to present ears and hearers.
All's memorial from the moment of its making
To its last, dashing regretful recall.
No matter how blithely frivolous we live
Or howsoe'er delicate or fleet or half-materialized,
How subtle-soft, how hard to catch or kiss,
How almost nothing as a faded impulse unexplored-
Each unknowing moment of our fluttering is
In amber laid.

Now in my maturer melancholy
I long for the native joyance of my youth:
A sodden blossom beaten by the rain,
I sprang to the sun at its first clearing,
The skyey vault light-washed as a robin's egg,
I, who now am a rude sturdy twig froze round
As a hoop. Too many winters
Has my heaven-intending form laid low,
Frozen with distorted weight to whatever
Brambles crawled along the ministering dirt.
Physician!  How can I find the cure
I knew so well when I did not know
I knew it!  Now within me still I sleep,
A hibernate creature gone to moody caves,-
And cave and creature both wander lost within me!

I wander lost as Oedipus over earth, heartsore
When his crimes had cracked him to his core.
Wavy lengths of my hair sweat matted
To my forehead, heavy with road-dust;
Hair this wild year had left unshorn,
Numberless as the fruitless thoughts
That have pursued me- my own phantom-
As when the mirror presses darkness on my eyes.
Stars of eve, once the ready angels
Of my bedtime prayers, twinkling on my hopes
In looking wonder from the firmament,
Now cast chilly chastisements on my course
And make each way onward a mirror fouled
By the ignorant chance that moved me hence.
Onward naught and rearward naught
And oblivion within!  In such state am I caught.

I am christened "Lost." My want of self
Haunted memory returned re-cleared to me,
As when in a clearest pool silver-laden
I saw what the world saw was me.
And when some minor upset rolls the pool
And puts the silver salver into sine
That self may still be seen in highlights and lows
Distorted but unbroken as it goes
Even unto the edges in an ermine flash.
Be it a leaf that loures upon the plane
Done with autumnal ripening
Or narcissistic lock let down
From avid, too avid, self-scrutiny
The result is still
This unstillness and its bends.

I stare at the soft frost edges of the room,
A moody amanuensis to the moon
Until elegant as a weeping pine
My soul steps from its sleeping source
And all the air is fraught with mist.

This image past of spirited play
Wavers in a mirror rude:
Slipshod appraisal of apprentice days
When love for love's sake came half-amazed
And gazed the neighboring fence half-along
Staring daisies into blotched sun-spots
And not the bright warm things they were
Themselves alone.

A demarcation has occurred- one unloves another.
A "cruel neglect and contemptuous silence ever since."
How can I respond to this new, denuded world?

Oh!  Full many times I myself have seen
The glory's crown that old Coleridge taught-
Self-enhancing shadow of a thought-
When round my fallen shadow's head
A rainbow glory glowed in the snow
As I trudged with my sled up the steep
To the tipped top of the wintry hill
Ready to plunge again like thunder down
Into the gulf from which I'd come.

Convoys to their various destinies post
Finding their ways as they make them
Amid that startlement of the waves-
And to find themselves have lost the fleet
That sent them seaward into mists,
Sharpest demarcation of their long self-pursuit.
Now with more constant heart and firm resolve
My face may bear what winds upbraid me-
Or is this but a lie I level at my will....

The ghost is vanished!  The departed friend
Filtered out the window without a syllable;
I lift myself and follow to the frame.
Is there some silver-tinged disturbance
Adding its fretted lattice to the leaves
Of the windy maples all about?
I cannot speak so well as shout
And fear my voice will only tell
Dead and final as a parting bell.
To the porch then-under stippled skies
I feel the clear vigor of the cold
Where a thousand stars like errless watchers
Pin me to my outpost.  There, there
Hope deludes me with a moment's wish;
It was perhaps some serried sound
Of household dog turning round
To return to his hunter's sleep in peace.
But still some welling white is there
Besides the moon's.  I see it blur
The boldened boundary of the field
Crowded with unfound flowers gone to weed.
Some shape is there-oh surely there-
Not all I know of one is departed yet
Still some mere shred lingers to be loved
And take of me forgiveness in the night.

Block all jealousies-all wrongs-all time
Beside the moment we wear now,
A gown new and mutable to our mutual need.
-One moment's presence is all I ask!
"Come!  Turn your back to me no more, come back!"  
I cry and the cry is like a thundercrack
Inside my grieving skull.  No more turn away!
This night shall be as first light and life
Come from the most high into humanity-
Only let it touch what most remains
Of what we are this instant.  The silver swells
At the field's end, growing larger as my
Charging heart!  Ah yes!  Companion prime
Of hope and heart-high hero of my contemplation
Turn to return!  But wait!  Tis gone, tis fled
All that was of brimming light has burst
And the iron balustrade cuts into my striking thighs
And the alien field lays darkened and undewed.
This single tear has dribbled down my face.
One friend one loss one parting!
Not if all the world were mirror for our woes
Could ten thousand lines tell the tale:
How heart is rent and soul must wail,
How in conversation with a blank
There is no love to conquer all our labors;
Amelioration is stemmed, and dead's the tide
That had flooded all our flotsam and our hopes.
No expectation had been too heavy to be borne
Along the continual susurrations of such a main.
Dawn herself, and her twin, dusk,
Came and went well-colored by the clarity and depth;
The clouds that cooled and shadowed us
Were themselves sustained
By the liquid intercessions of watery faith.

The question of a quisling, of love
Lavished on a lesser thing, the friend departed
Who had been Palestine, home returned
And companion of adventure in a world of deeds,
This artificial death and detriment
Of two who had been connected
At their very source!
The isolated echo made moody and alone
-Gone the solidarity of arms embraced
Twins insistent as the signal sun
To burn our beings brightly and as one.

Now by sympathetic charm of grief
All friendship comes to this belief:
That those who now do love me well
Shall leave me soon in abandoned hell;
Like a rosary I keep these words
Beside me, counted close, and counted
Over again in each hour that I mourn.
Vain words that rehearse this rose
That goes away the way the sunset goes.


 [Poetry], The Departed Friend  Comments Off on Conclusions
Aug 212011
No more can I turn aside with sunny face
When the shocks of life upbraid me;
No longer can I see in the casual stranger's face
Opportunities new unknown for causal love.
Whatever has brought me to this pass
Must heave me onward!  Nothing without
Bears my trust as had our friendship bourne
--How easily!--as on a giant's back lighlty rides
A sparrow!  heedless strength to carry all
And to tar all things with easy hope.
Far into the night with weariless footpad
We had pressed, uncaring where the journey led
So long as sojourn had no ending.
Suggestive shadows of rock and claustric wood
Held no terrors for we two;  we two
Who knew our honest talk could shrink
Dark's impostures down to shadow's sham.
Gone are those trusts, that happiness.
Now rock and dark (ay, and rust and rot)
Penetrate my nimble being like a pin
Whose first sharpness opens slowly into wound
Raw and unmendable, flinching if an ash
Although cold as the bearing wind
Should light upon its open redness.

Now every face in my kind circle 
Comes to nothingness or less;
For ain't it worse than all the loss
Of miser-miserable death to lose
What has no reason to be lost,
Imposed division, needless cost?
Who'll now give heart to my restless quest,
Remain for dinner and depart a guest
As closely allied in the heart
As one who never did, or would, depart.

I sing of him whose heart had hung

 [Poetry], The Departed Friend  Comments Off on I sing of him whose heart had hung
Aug 212011
I sing of him whose heart had hung
	 Above all struggle or wonder
	 Of our broken woes. Far oh far
Beyond our little lays he'd sung.

Yet here's no death, no reason, and
	 No loss. No loss? No loss but less
	 Of friendship than I'd lief confess,
A faded castle, fallen sand

Built up upon imperfect hope
	 Toward another sky. Lost, the dream;
	 Lost the meaning once deemed more firm,
The promise more than swami's rope.

We'd had heaven's ascent held fast:
	 What we'd reared in reckless dawn
	 As though God's own brave secret shown,
Looms a gibbet now dawn is past

And sunless exile welcomes me.