Gregg Glory [Gregg G. Brown] Published by BLAST PRESS Copyright © 2017 by Gregg G. Brown
Stuff and Nonsense
Dark Poet, your pen scratches at the heart of life. ~~Antonin Artaud
Nonsense is often the most sensible kind of sense. This is counterintuitive, but trust me for a moment as we proceed. This is no three-card monte. Nor is it like the wonderful magic of Emmett Kelley the clown sweeping his spotlights into a single circle, and then putting that circle in his pocket, patting his pocket and smiling like Einstein after he’d eureka’d light into a corner.
Nonsense reveals all of us—our self, our situation—in a single pop of recognition as we are trampolined from our usual assurances and then forced to regain our footing, to regain our meaning, on the fly. Like an old-fashioned photographer’s flash powder, we are exposed to an extreme of light, with no visible space left for secrets or lies. This is part of the odd exhilaration of nonsense. And, don’t get me wrong, nonsense isn’t some sly encyclopedia where all hidden truths are stored and we must simply discover the index—oh, no. Rather, the puzzles that nonsense reveal are genuinely unsolvable. Gregor Samsa will never come back from being a cockroach; his transformation in the story “Metamorphosis” has simply revealed the pickle he was already in, but didn’t know that he was in.
What nonsense reveals, at its best, are genuine mysteries.
And, like Gregor Samsa, the character in the poem “Nagging Question,” who wakes up with a pile of feathers at his feet after having torn his pillow apart in his sleep, all he can do with a true mystery, once it has been revealed, is to go back into the realm from which the mystery emanated. Gregor cross-examines his family situation, and the character in our poem returns to the realm of sleep and dream. But, with new, perhaps sharper, questions in mind with which to confront the mystery that has been revealed. Or, it may be, with no questions at all, simply with one’s eyes widened.
This process resembles the scientific method, except for the fact that there is no control group. What variables could nonsense ever control for? There may one day be a science of comedy, but never one for true mystery. The only control group we have in poetry is every other poem ever written. Their mysteries abide, and it is into them that we go to confront those mysteries again and again—and to find more of ourselves more truthfully (or at least more fully) revealed.
[With] the pillow exploded uselessly between your hands And what looks to be a chicken carcass Piled in an inscrutable white mound Headless between your bare feet [...] There’s only one place for you to find your answer. Gregg Glory August 28, 2017
(How To Be Invisible)
The shaggy sea wagged its big, wet tail. I walked right into its open mouth And was never heard from again.
This entire time I’ve been stealing peaches That look like my face. My hand’s shadow Grows crooked over their innocence As if I were shaving them. Soft as they are, They talk softly in my pockets together, Accusing me of many crimes.
I knew a girl who began disappearing From her feet up. First her toes faded out, then her heels, Her arches were twin bridges to nowhere. You could still hear her clicking down the sidewalk, But she no longer stopped at the shoe store To windowshop. Her knees gave her some trouble And you could see the kneecaps gleaming Like little cat skulls. She was so relieved when her ass finally disappeared She threw a big party and danced all night But mostly alone since no one was sure Exactly where her feet were, or if she still had any. Last week I went around to visit And had to let myself in. She was just a pair of lips on a throw pillow On the couch. I spoonfed her a little chicken broth And blotted her dry. She talked a lot, various histories and opinions. We talked over each other quite a bit, And I wasn’t sure if she could hear me. On my way out, she asked me To apply some lipstick for her, ruby woo. But, I couldn’t oblige. I’m all thumbs.
The Poet Wild
for Joe Weil An echoing bear snuffles woodward. His head sways heavily back and forth, A shovelful of earth. The bear has eaten the world. His eyes are full of sorrowful stars Typed like whited-out asterisks. The bear pours out his voice, Black licorice poured on roaring waters. It echoes in the earth and air.
Reading in Eden
The books are more like trees. Tall, with letters like people bending. You run across the pages naked, Roll endlessly into the binding laughing At your clumsiness, the pages like cream, The sun warm applause on your back as you struggle. The flat people around you stare wide-eyed as Egyptians, Silent, your foot caught in the plot.
The magician disappeared into his hat. The rabbit had hopped off long ago, But, there was his shadow. * I am ferried everywhere on the back of an ant. A leaf, an aphid. * I am disappearing like a silk scarf pulled through a ring. A small hole, an ear. * Disappear with me, the best is yet to be. Quoth Browning, quoth God. * I ride in upon a magnificent wave of birth, raving and foamy. When I retreat back to death, I leave behind A salt grit, a stink.
A Hard Wind
A hard wind is bending The wintry world. Tree after skeletal tree Seems tentative That had been solid As wainscoting before. Walls holding in, Windows looking out. Blue corners of the sky Are being torn. The straight line of the horizon Weeps like eyes Bowing downward At their sad corners. Sad world. And no tissue big enough.
Life is shit They all said. But, they didn’t Really mean it. Life is suffering The wise man said. But, he Didn’t really mean that. Life is… is… is... Unavoidable! one blurted. And they All laughed at that.
Politely, devoutly, With head bent down, the reader Asks permission of the text: May I see what my imagination Has already cooked up? Can I smell the key lime pie, Lick the great comedian’s face? Loyally, I wanted to kill Issac, too, But I stayed my hand. Isn’t that right, little book? Didn’t I chase a white whale And feel the harpoon’s spur? I kissed with Eve, And I hissed with the snake. The pages fell over me Like wings, like ashes. Pages spangled With ant-like letters. Walrus words thundered Into the sea After the good fight, Their white tusks Hidden underwater, Their eyes mysterious, Human as a mermaid’s.
The last time around I was a flea for sure. Dodging the dog’s teeth, the dirty claws of his foot. Mounting the spine of an eyelash to make love Or see the endless dogscape. How the world moved With the slow gait of an elephant, tilting Precipitously as a great sailing ship in a storm. Such vistas of grass and sky and dingy living room furniture! The dog was splendid, a saber-toothed bear in battle Who slept all afternoon after a meal. Speaking of which, there was always plenty to eat, You bet, steaks of skin and gobbets of blood to spare. Pull up a chair. Hair of the dog and all that.
Words Without Music
Whenever I think Things are going too great, That the total amount of joy Is adding up To one fantastic finale, One oceanic applause line, I stop eating for a fews days. Just to remind myself How things really are, Or usually are, Or are often enough, Or were once, Just to remember those things That come to mind as your stomach shrinks. Like carrying a goldfish Home in a bag with a leak. The fish flips Harder and harder In a smaller and smaller Corner of the plastic bag As its gills get bigger and bigger. Under the transparency, Red and agitated As a cut under a fingernail, You feel them Desperate against your palm, Golden under your thumb.
Who could’ve put the stars up to it? Shining up there like God’s hooks. Bait for what fish? A soul in a gown? Only our satellites have gotten so far. Tossed burning from the Earth In a dash of hope, like poetry. They send back pictures of vastness. Same as the view from here: vastness. Who knows? Maybe we’re already hooked, Already being reeled in. Our invisible line to God Already tightening, already shortening. Eventually, even the satellites we sent blink off, Drawn out of black water and eaten raw.
How to Be Invisible
Look like yourself. Find the average wavelength of conversation And neither exceed it nor cut it short. When strangers approach you assume That they are looking at something Over your shoulder. You’ll almost always be right. Try to go around feeling Like you’ve just stolen an apple, Or a dozen, your sweater pockets bulging. Carry on with an anonymous air of savior faire Pasted on your face As you exit the supermarket. Getting married can be very effective. You’ll be talked to half as often, And couples are twice as hard to see in a crowd. Soon, you’ll be like a cloud no one remembers, A misty uninsistent thing. After a few years, She won’t even know you’re there. But, trust me, save it for a last resort. And don’t ever, ever call the police. They’ll just take your fingerprints In ten little puddles of ink, And you’ll have to start Filing them off daily. One last piece of free advice To feel invisible as fishing line, as sky, As all those assumptions you make. Don’t buy a dog. Seriously, Whatever else you do. Dogs never let you forget That you are loved. Loved utterly.
Water. I keep trying to think of it. I only get as far as thirsty.
Consider a Stone
It’s already too late. Whatever lava Roared like a furnace in the Permian period And made it a stone, has been stopped cold. A stone is a stasis. Chipped littler and littler By gossipy neighbors nipping at its reputation. Locked in grey skin and quiet, there’s endless time For regrets—like after getting married or arrested. I’d say it’s a frozen tear, but that’s too lachrymose. In your hand, there’s weight enough for murder. When you put one up to your ear, you realize At your feet everywhere roil fossilized bubbles, Drowning men crying for help.
Remember that movie Hellraiser? All those pins pounded in his skin? An army of darts. When something creepy happens We get those same Pins, prickles of intuition. Hackles raised as if we were Reverting to wolves. There’s a parable I know about that, But I’m too tired to tell it— Trying to get back to sheep, I mean sleep, Turning over and over again As if basting in an oven. And all those pins digging in Right where the wings Are starting from my shoulders.
Step right in, ladies and gentlemen-- Gilded and ribbed, there’s A cage for every occasion. One for being born Nubile and pink, soft cordons Confused in the wet umbilical. A cage for work, oh yes, All varieties, from rust To resolute platinum. A cage for marriage Red with love, red with strife. Rattle them, my inmates! Make sad music with your cup! Sway when the master walks with you Down the streetlamped way. A cage for every occasion, And a cage for happiness, too, Fit as a shoe and able to dance A whirligig jig or two. One last cage, a bonus cage, A cage of stars for your soul Where the mind peters out In the dark, far, far before Its ragged hands reach the bars.
A spoon lays down Like a droplet, Or buries its head in the soup Like a ostrich. In the mouth, it’s like An extra tongue Wrestling For a dollop of ice cream. Confined all together, They clang in the drawer. A folded xylophone, A music of muffled intent. Turned over, a flock Of silver peahens arrive, All of them pecking For a beakful of feed.
How can I be alone in my house If I’m not alone in my soul? Folded together from memories A house imitates a home: The buried dog’s outstretched skeleton, The cozy oven, Christmas omelettes. In the empty street the houses Blow about like paper lanterns. The windows wisely lock me in. The trees keep count against the panes. My mind’s not right, when so much night Pours ink upon my sins. Voices vanish, yet whispers stir— A fly that lands upon the skin. Time keeps to the clock. I was, but now am not.
Wiping My Lips
The seamstress is feeding Bat wings into the sewing machine, Doves’ wings, pecking My stitched initials. The finished handkerchiefs Flutter at my neck, Crouch in my lap, Kiss me after dinner, a peck. Once I got this set of six, Mixed, semi-transparent, Just clouded enough to keep Me embroidered.
Come to me, little blue button. Stop up my gaping smile. Be held and whole. Serve our warm closure, Sure as a handshake. Let’s survive another loveless day Together, hugging.
A whispery fan Brushes My exposed skin With coolness. Its brushes rush Over me Eagerly As dog wags. I can’t quite Make out Whatever it keeps Insisting. Its blowdart Has missed and The propellant breath Is delightful. Whatever it’s saying I’m sure that Eventually I’ll Agree completely.
A needle traveling In the dark is not More mysterious Than I— Seeking its splinter Of light, it’s gap In the night From which It can emerge With its Terrifying face Intact. A needle is less Insistent Than a question. It pricks, But it doesn't Gnaw. There’s A politeness in needles I hadn't considered, Pulling their surgical White threads Again and again Through my skin.
Once I saw a man make a pyramid of chairs. A dozen, perhaps. Gangly, ungainly cane chairs Threaded together somehow, linked leg to leg, A strange assemblage Duchamp would’ve painted, And hoisted in one elegant lift to his chin! Our hands applauded in a burst of gunfire. He continued to stand like that for some time. Arms out, eyes fixed on the swaying chair bottoms Which made a sound like trees in winter. They twirled like a chandelier hung over his nose, A little smile spreading under his mustache.
The Far Side
The windows are falling. They are pieces of sky falling. Or pieces of air. At first glance, a window seems like a kite stuck in a tree, Something simple, a thin pane of clarity trembling— There to help us feel the tug of flying. That’s what windows are, in essence, This sense of something falling that keeps on falling. We fall through windows with our eyes, Arriving at the far side of walls, in open space. Words have windows in them, too, vowels and ladders, Invisible squares we fall through to an otherness. We sit reading in an attic with Anne Frank Or a tree suddenly grows in our Brooklyn. Our parents faces change when we look at them, And we are no longer who we were before. We have fallen through this invisible thing.
It’s a Rosetta Stone by design, a solution stone, A Stonehenge with the eld symbols still visible On its tall, crooked tooth. Combine them at will and light appears Square and docile before you, a rag quilt Pulled blurrily over the entire room, a cloak Of fire That gives a ghostliness to the life You inhabit. The Rosetta Stone in your lap When held before you like a wand Will help you to make sense of the ghosts Thrown like sheets all about the room, Your life now softened by their omnipresent glow. It will help. You will find it helpful.
Shoes take the first step. They come to us like petitioners, Their tongues turned out for a drop Of holy water, the impish benediction Of a toe. They wait below the waterline of our attention To embrace The calm presence of an arch, The elastic pressure of a ball, The flat command of the heel. After a while, years maybe, Having given their soles to our direction, We peel them off like grapeskins and Examine their pulpy interiors dark as clotted grottoes, Rank as dead fish. And then we discard them Without noticing even once How perfectly, like supplicants, they have taken Our image inside themselves, the weight of our identities Shaping them and breaking them at last.
The Washing Machine
Its face is a Charybdis Full of soiled underthings. We come to it as to a confessional, Shed our daily skins like dirty snakes And pour ourselves in for punishment To leave with a watery burden. Refreshed, we drag the burden Out and pin it on the line to dry. The human figures dance, though the sky is grey. Soon the sun looking down makes us Ashamed, and we pull our old sins back on, Clean-smelling, one leg at a time.
The name of the thing is Thing. But it’s really a hand in a box That shuts itself in with a lid. Sometimes it pops out of another box Or shuts another lid, after helping To hold a nail or straighten a tie. Thing’s shadow-puppets are dramatic and informative, A kind of one-handed hula. Today, Thing loops a lariat, or is it A noose, and leaves it neatly coiled On the old-fashioned table for later use. Now, what am I to make of that? Thing dances a little, gives a firm OK.
The Beginning of Spiders
Not, certainly, a splat of teriyaki on the tile Which then wriggles and walks away. Not that shadowed corner of dark crinkles You ignore at the edges of your eyes. Nor spider veins that invade the body, spikes Of blue midnight, cracks of live lightning! None of these is how spiders started, Those inveterate inhabitants of nightmare. Spiders, with their crowd of eyes like pustules Of blackberries, began just the way you did. Just the way Socrates got started all those millenia Ago: by cell division: wheels within wheels. Like Socrates, spiders may be given poison To drink. Unlike Socrates, they’ll bite you first.
Sweet isn’t the word I’d use— A parrafin, a first bite of sour gum That never gets chewy perhaps. Juice like a fourteen year old’s kiss, syrupy, thin Waterfalls down your chin as you laugh And go in for another green bite. Thoughts are green like this apple. Timeless, bright, with a circle of brown seeds hidden In all that sour whiteness. When my stomach is full as a fist, I reach back into the packing crate And start whipping them against the side Of the Eden Orchards barn.
All night spent practicing The flop of rabbit ears, They grey trunk of an elephant, The giddy-up of a horse. Later, there’s the legs Of two lovers dancing on the wall, Getting the narrow feet to leap And land just right. Around 4 a.m the lamp Tilts a bit drunkenly. Or is it the yellow moon Leaning in on the fun? Last thing I do Before dawn takes the wall Is work on the little, square Eye of a crocodile.
Alone as a dot In a snow-filled meadow Your pencil tip Sheds black feathers Like an old crow. The sheet is ice Or desert, Void or supernova. It doesn’t say which And you don’t ask. You slide down whiteness Holding hands And stop on tiptoe To acknowledge The endless cliff.
It is when you were absent, Visiting your mother, or missing, That night most advanced Its absence. But it was when night was gone And you were here again, that You, wearing your hat or not, Were most absent.
Solving for X
Lab tables of fireproof resin Kept partners paired In their experimental setup, X and Y chromosomes gleaming. The Bunsen burner’s flame Like a needle between them, And a walnut crucible balanced On young tongs. It was delicate, wasn’t it, The way her curl Was drawn like smoke To the blue fire? My fingers still sting Where I patted her out, Leaving a small scar Visible behind her ear.
Long ago she stopped asking about you. Stopped making inquiries into your welfare. Or wondering what you were doing right then As she puréed the skinned tomatoes from the garden And poured another tall afternoon Bloody Mary, Falling asleep in her trashy novel on the chaise lounge Where you’d made love to her with careful athleticism Letting the little wheels help ribbon the rhythm, Her face turned aside for an imperative sidebar with God All while you’re cursing and grinning like a demon possessed To the cool applause of the pool.
My tongue loops over my tongue Slipping into a slippery knot As she shifts out of her dingy peacoat And sits down to dinner with Me again. Her hazel eyes are to die for But I resist their deadly insistence, Cooling my heels and blowing my soup While daintily she slurps her minestrone Like a lizard. Finally we’re alone on the roof Holding hands with the moon— Hot as two dinner rolls, making out, Buttering, unbuttoning her tight top, Tying the knot.
Gussied up, the broom Wags its golden wig Over the debris, the dust, the days That have fallen to the floor. I like to think of it as a romance. The broom, beautiful and slender Picking up after her drunken husband, The lout in dirty work boots And no time to talk. But, years ago he would sing Johnny Mercer tunes So beautifully to her in the car. Like I say, I’m a romantic.
Here she comes again Handing me another Cherry lozenge because My throat’s stuck coughing Like a motorcycle choke. She comes back a bit later With spoon after spoon Of blown-on broth, and a Palm on my teakettle forehead Like cool water. Whatever patience is It has a face like hers, Bending over a car wreck Like a tree bending over a river, In its leafy hands a wrapper And a cherry lozenge.
How, if it happens all the time, Can it count as being a surprise? This moonlight Alive in dark rhododendrons, This tension in a whisper, If it’s you whispering in my ear?
Ducking, dodging The swipe at my puss Like a pro I land A kiss like a fly Six-legged, delicate On your apple cheek.
One by One
The senses arrive With daylight, Like birds Lining up to sing On a wire. They take the small Seeds of dawn Into their alert beaks And break them While the pale shells Pile fluff Between the claws.
Sunlight makes everything grow up. Yet still the night comes, is coming again Even though it is barely past pink dawn And the friendly mirror is waiting for me To comb my unruly hair like a good boy. The cereal is waiting there in its white box, The patient milk in its red carton. Spoon, bowl, In their dark drawer and closed cupboard wait Like springs in a clock. Tick and wait, tick and wait For the morning the owner winds down, and rust Covers the clock.
Between the stabs of rain, I remain.
The first cigarette of the morning drifting In through the open window. Ah, Spring!
A few disheveled Bits of scenery. A bus that drives by In the mid-distance. The little girl’s bicycle waiting For her return from school. Every day this neighborhood Becomes a moonscape. I’m the only alien left Typing on my magic box: The man in the moon Made of shadows and craters. The sundial ticks, My nose grows longer.
The Bite of Memory
Bite your fingernails. Bite the clouds, If you’re up for it. You could spend hours practicing Biting smiles in faces, Spitting out the seeds of teeth. Your mouth will empty itself Eventually, A bucket done with fetching. Look, in one day you’re old, Maybe even a little lonely. You will be bitten back.
The River Forever
Watching the snaky surface of the river forever, Dim in the river valleys, light on the river crests, I ask myself: “Is the river moving downstream, or is it I who am moving down rivering time forever?” The river only hisses, shows me snakes of sunlight That writhe in a pile like spilled lines of mercury, Seemingly going nowhere, the striving river flowing so. I—who?—watching the snaky surface of the river forever.
Hurry home, dark cloud. ~~ Charles Simic
Just Like Heaven
That little corner in my dream Where the buildings are made of Legos: A pretense of an apartment, a town, a country. Little brick dogs sniffed other brick dogs. People shook hands like constructing a friendship. The clouds were a heavy, discolored white, drifting... Large rudderless cruise ships or giant squarish sheep. My best friend was there, his face a grey diagram. He had died some years before, but here he was. The clocks moved their crooked, blocky arms. It was always the same day, again and again. It was my favorite place.
Loitering After the Funeral
Misfortune scrawled her phone number on my hand, Curled my fingers shut slowly, my hand in hers, And whispered: Call me. Bad luck follows me like toilet paper sticks to your shoe. You never know that it’s there, trailing whitely, But everyone sniggers as you go by. Sadness isn’t so horrible if sad things are happening. There’s a congruence to it, not some hangman laughing At the radio as he pulls into work. Tragedy, frankly, is more than I can lay claim to for myself. Even on my bleakest, blackest days, I’m not tragic. Rained out, sure. But tragedy is art. This isn’t art. Wheedling a cop out of a ticket on the way To the funeral home, shoes clubbed with mud and crying Because your friend or mother has died.
Children circled around to look inside the wheelbarrow At the dead owl, its eyelids blue like Grandmom’s, The dead feathers speckled, not yet full of fleas leaving. There’s a solemness in the little ears like marked pages Never to be returned to, never to be read again. The claws are amazing, longer than a lady’s red fingernails, Tines still sharp at the end of their forks. Tommy looks under one eyelid, bravely touching it; The great eye seems alive between his fingers, The head just about to swivel 180 asking “Whoo, whoo?” That’s when Steve backs off toward the woods, Uninterested. From his back pocket there dangle The two rubber arms of his slingshot.
for my Dad I don’t remember what he called himself. Lank as a construction crane, He passed through town like a hook through a fish, And taking the town with him so that I’m missing him terribly at an empty table. The four corners are the four corners of a map That’s all Sahara, blank as a sandbox. He’s nowhere now, the back of a Möbius strip. The toys have run off to play with the neighbors, The child who smiled here has died. I feel this answerless vastness, not even an echo, Like spending all day counting graves, Walking to where two iron fences meet And turning back through graves again, through A few trees, a wind like a scratchy record.
Long after you are dead —Yes, you are dead— As your head lies in a bridal veil Of galaxies, and your feet Have rotted through your shoes, And everyone you knew is written off And has written you off, You will begin to find A way back, a secret hole That leads to your old self, No matter how far you have gone No matter how dead you are, Like waking up still drunk To the acrid smell of coffee.
One passed in a fever. One was burned in a mine. One was killed in a brawl. ~~Edgar Lee Masters It came with less surprise, less and less, With each iteration plucking Eyes out of those wayward dolls. Now they are lined up naked Blind and dead, These waxy cadavers of the field. Time had been as broad as daylight, Fiery as wine. They ran around the house like secondhands. Now, no houses will be built in this field Except little stones ones leaning on crutches, Grooved with names Evening fingers touch and pluck.
Cut a slip of door Open to find the light Spill like a lampshade Into day. The sun’s an old man With his beard on fire. Quick, before it goes out, See everything.
A chalk stick figure Written on the blackboard Jumps off to sit beside you On the train to Long Island. You worry he’ll rub off On your suit sleeve. But you ride out together, Eventually leaning back, Crossing your legs in sync. You two are much alike You decide, whistling tentatively As the scenery passes. The chalk figure Picks up the melody easily, Its lips A perfect circle, And you harmonize until He rises at the next stop To hop off, his slim center bend Leaving a white dot on the seat.
Winter picks its way carefully Over the rolling summer meadow, A big fat ball of snow On stilts. If you stand under the winter You get rained on, Cold and salubrious As a fever bath. If you follow the winter All summer and into the fall, Tracing its tipsy steps Blue shadow by blue shadow You’ll wind up back In the meadow, only this time Everything’s sheeted white Like a corpse. Wrap yourself up in the sheets And start rolling! Don’t forget to grab the stilts On your way out.
Small reddening lines creep under the curtain, Cracks in a delicate shell. Dawn is welling like a cut, a blood light To walk dogs by, piss quietly beside the sea Before the dark tide of tourists unpack. I follow the dog as I follow my body outside As we go beyond the scalloped alcove of curtains. For now, the rocks are still sublime, green outlines Like pensive bottle shards huddled close And the sea fitful between them. White spray lifts in bliss, in blessing As the small moment passes. The dog tugs my leash.
God must be at home in this muddle. Dim air heavy, a hot muggy wig As Suzanne says, her blond hair Limp and damp, a slap of yellow paint. Dots of sweat fit for a goblet Pinprick her fatal forehead, Clear and lickable as champagne Poured down in glimmering lines. My beer is blind and wet with sweat. Insects were born for this hot, humid glue That has me losing my dry binding Until I fall apart soft and crumbled In your hands again, Suzanne, Neither God nor insect.
Night and Day and the Poet
The painter looks up at night’s enormous suave. The singer listening to the choir of stars is calm. The poet is unhappy in the sweaty bed. He counts the fleas in summer’s threadbare fleece Groaning on arthritic knees. By day, the painter packs a lunch, details the regatta Like a thousand flags blazing all at once in the sun. The singer is trilling and making her tea. The poet waits for the mail, but it’s always late. The box sticks out its silver tongue, Eloquent beyond his labored sonnet Lying misspelled in the cluttered grass. As they trot back down the drive, The dog looks up at him with hope But is always disappointed. A hundred birds erupt from the bushes as they pass, singing mightily. Shut up! the poet screams at nature and himself And goes in to lie down on the threadbare bed. I know, the poet decides finally, sweatily, I’ll just write down whatever the birds were saying.
The Optimism of Opening a Window
What’s out there, I find myself asking Like irregular clockwork. I’m stuck in this Air-conditioned stasis Listening to flies. Such know-it-alls! Cruising the fruit bowl Or praying on the television. And then I spot a thumbprint Of sun on the windowpane. Let’s touch it! A moment of pain, An almost sizzling gold Mixed with Bhuddhist orange.
Thousands of invisible mice Are pulling the shadow of the barn Eastward as the sun drops West. Millions of unfindable doves Race upward with matchsticks in their beaks To light the wicks of stars. Billions of underwater sleepers Lie swimming in their beds To arrive at island dreams.
The children have been playing Their endless games Of hide-and-seek, Waterslide, hop-the-sprinkler Like so many flowers Uprooting themselves From the field And running around Screaming in endless joy Under a sky Scuffed with clouds Or endless blue Over a yard called home, With father and mother There Endlessly tall Cleaning up the icky barbecue, Packing up fork And plate and Enormous soda bottles As sunset sets And everything goes slightly Lemonade-tinged. And the children at last Are called in by their Roundelay of names For the endless walk back To the house and to bed.
The songs of birds are for other birds, mostly. So I figure that laws are for lawyers to obey, mostly, And taxes for accountants to pay, etc. etc. Leaves seem so at home in trees, why do they depart? Clouds move from place to place so peacefully, then A zipper of thunder, and they pour themselves away. Are the birds lamenting the leaves’ hasty departure? Are the clouds paying their taxes all-at-once? Lawyers stamp around on the damp ground, looking satisfied.
Walking Later On
Countless pebbles In the darkening road Look perfect As statues’ eyes— Blind white, Round as clocks. As we walk together The late afternoon Closes them shut, And evening leaks Upward like rust On an empty shed. The pebbles chuckle Like hens, even though They are just eggs. Leaning here, we find Time for silence Despite ourselves. The country sky Opens, unfolding Its somber umbrella As we continue In the small rain Of pebbles falling.
Over the summer tavern with its rocking chairs A cheap electric string tenses in the wind And then relaxes back into a lighted smile. The clear globes have one filament of brain each Like a jellyfish, flashing dimly yellow Above dim patrons dipping into beers: A row of bar birds, like those ones you see With little tophats and thin beaks of glass. Drinks are emptied, and laughter shoulders Pamela high enough to nab some bulbs And pitch them against the swinging tavern sign With the plosive softness of puff mushrooms While glitter gathers beneath it in the dirt. A stray dog whines and circles excitedly. Above them darkness recedes, who knows how far? The moon seems close enough to unscrew.
In Praise of Moon Rocks
All the grasses like green minutehands Are keeping westerly. They stop when the frost arrests them At quarter to midnight. I want to feel the grass barefoot. I step outside Through moonflower wings of faintest gauze And sliding glass— Or through flies’ wings, and the frozen buzzing Of metal grinding backwards, I think when my feet crackle the miniature shivs And a shiver undoes my back. I proceed to the old garden patch Guarded by stones. When I pick one up and inspect it closely, Dense as a brain in my palm, I’m holding a moon rock.
The 6 a.m. train coming on is a lion’s roar With a mane of carbon sparks. We ride inside an electric eel And read the illegible graffiti of frogmen. Cold tunnels appear and swallow our longings, Holding us in echo after echo. When the station platform arrives like a diving board We rewind onto it Graceful as exclamation points! We swim off to work.
The teacher erases the blackboard so carefully! So carefully, so completely. The equation that explained time and motion, The history of East Texas—gone! What’s left is this presence from behind the stars. A black potentiality, a malice Demanding never to be marred again, Chalked, degraded, colored-in. The first letter, an I, lands like a feather From a passing tern. Soon the whole silent universe is crusted over with feathers: Crabbed letters, a line of hunchbacks, rockettes. At the end of the day the teacher Exhausted with explaining everything once again Removes all evidence of herself And goes home, wherever that is.
Everything was peaceful at first. The wheelbarrows brought in the whiteness Silently overnight—and everything looking clean Like a napkin before the soup course. Little by little during the day, the edges Get a bit soggy, or a corner tears open Revealing the black, dank eye Of a log in the woodpile. More and more of the napkin Gets dirtied by passing cars, by lipstick, by soup. Random dark spots appear on the x-ray And start connecting like cancer. Soon, all that’s left of whiteness Is a grimace or a grin here or there— A stray piece of spaghetti Stuck in your teeth. The final photograph in the series shows everything Exactly as it was before the snow Began to fall all over itself. But now, everything’s miserable, cold and wet.
1. Winters I talk to the mendicant fly on the wall Of metaphysics, starry-rayed emanations, The sunlight falling filtered and pale. 2. Each spring I grow a new leg, or two legs, Just for dancing, for running Up to new lips to steal a kiss. 3. In the fall the leaves do all the talking. I practice being a beetle, opening and closing The valves of my coat. 4. In summer—have I said what I do in summer? In summer I drink wine And let my beard catch my meditations.
Whether the knife falls into the melon or the melon onto the knife, the melon suffers. ~~African proverb
Conjuring a Yawn
Before the world turned Into a computer screen, I watched leaves play In the scuffed yard. Each leaf was a little country On a map, an outline, Or a man standing up Like a shadow, Arms and legs wide. Sometimes at sunset The man, the country Would flare up on fire, Burning incandescent red (A sacrifice, an emblem) Before rejoining The dark conversation. Once, a wind came. The whole sea was burning.
Ah, here they are now, Fresh from their decapitation. For your vase, For your buttonhole, To bring out the blue in your eyes.
Day After Tomorrow
The police artist is drawing my face In charcoal, line by line, in grim brimstone For a stranger, one who attended the ill- Attended impromptu poetry reading Under a chilly streetlight flickering Where we used the forbidden words With facile ease as in the old days: She is as in a field a silken tent. Genders, pronouns, she, he and all that. The stranger hadn’t seen much, though, Just a zee zaying zomething, a blur Like a face wearing a beard or sprouting one, Two feet, or maybe one was fake, the stranger Hesitated to say: other-abled, some color Or other. Yes, yes, I think zee was a shade.
Watching rain gathering in a street gutter As it picks up twigs and leaves along the way, Little by little, on a growing gush of silver, The hurrying water twists like a wet Towel as it swans down the drain... As it goes cavorting down the black grate Like oil returning to the dinosaurs, bearing as it does A red ant rowing a broken stick to oblivion, looking For all the world like Christopher Columbus.
Picture from Life
The newspaper unfolds like a bird Flapping, squawking, almost extinct, Its chicken scratch of facts Passive as mirrors passing On the side of the glassworks van Developing pics of sidewalk life In their instant emulsions. A slouchy kid, a happy couple strolling. An armed guard with his rifle Tipping the lids of garbage cans.
It always feels like you have to go too far back To find any good news to report. Men all across Germany shaving their Adolph mustaches Just before the Allies roll into Berlin. The breadlines getting shorter as the war machine cranks up. Chamberlain’s “peace in our time,” the pages flapping As he descends the long gangway of the cruise ship. The war before that ending, the one to end all wars. Then there was the invention of canned foods, But that made the Civil War drag on, I think. Or was that Napoleon driving a bayonet through Europe? In any case, the French Monarchy was toppled at last, And there was a moment of holiday in Paris Before the guillotine was trotted out for L’Terror.... At least the king’s old chief of secret police kept his job After the revolution. That’s something.
The Way of the Dodo
Without fuss, friendly, meaty, flightless, They make their dim-bulb way To the sailor’s tin dinner plate. They talk Among themselves of evening things, How pearly grey a rainy skein of sky is, How docile the nest with its beloved egg! So many good eons gone by scratching Among roots for adorable grubs, edible Bugs—scratch-scratch, whistle, coo and cackle— As among them long white legs angle, and night Comes, ever so gently, swinging its club.
The story where the boy set sail for the South Seas In an overturned hat. Or the one about the old woman who lived in a shoe, Her children tightening the laces. That one where all the animals stood around talking After killing the farmer. How about the Chinese protester and the tank? The flea who ran away to the circus? Reminds me of the story where the mad composer Conducted a beautiful sunset. Or the story where the surgery was a complete success But you died anyway. That story. And the one after that.
A Man Asleep Under His Hat
for Charles Simic Everything’s normal at first. The trees are just trees, His dog is not a wolf, The wife is not an electric chair. So slowly it is unnoticeable The flowered wallpaper Becomes a waterfall Of beautiful roses. Then, a waterfall of thorns, Then blood, Blood with teeth Salted in, Hands trying to swim, Butchered feet drowning. The smell is atrocious And abiding as an abattoir. The wolf wakes up And starts chewing on everything in sight, The wife clicks on And her voice is 10,000 volts. The hat shifts In the sunlight, A hungry fly Lands on his nose.
The last feathers fall like slow licks of snow, The pillow exploded uselessly between your hands And what looks to be a chicken carcass Is piled in an inscrutable white mound Headless between your bare feet. What the hell had you been doing in your dream? The blue pajama stripes lead nowhere, the feathers Curled up like questionmarks everywhere else. You lie back down carefully, no pillow now. There’s only one place for you to find your answer.
Sleep unfolds a staircase from its magic bag. I walk into its countryside in the ceiling, Elbowing clouds awkwardly away. My head pops out of an especially fluffy one, Impertinent, pale, as if on a pole. This is where I’ll unpack my suitcase And set up shop for the holidays. I lay back on the couchy cloud’s flying carpet, White plush like a plucked sheep, And look up where the observatory roof splits open Abruptly, serenely Into a perfect square of stars— As if the night sky were lifted there just for me, For my dark and my dreams.
if the night is long remember your unimportance ~~ W. S. Merwin Four walls of tissue paper And the stars behind; Eye in my bed, a stone, Alone and blind. Days come like forkfuls of food I’m forced to eat; Night shines a moment, red wine Acid when I drink. Night opens a little door at the foot Of my bed. I follow its black thread Spooling in my chest. Dreams come like forkfuls of cloud I’m forced to eat; Dreams of doors and stars And shining thread.
A Student of Insomnia
The table walks Like a pterodactyl In my dreams, Steps its highheel Spikes on one nipple Then the other— Until I stop it Cold by dumping Granite study books Quarried From my backpack On its sweptback wings. These earliest vertebrates With the power Of flight, I read. I read About their voices Of torn aluminum, Their extinction, The dissecting table, The surgical table, The butcher’s block, The map table War rooms use, With battle units Pawed like pawns Around the globe By rapier Croupier sticks. The kitchen table’s Wings Give an indolent Flap. Mom’s tropical plant Elongates To a green beak. I panic, Double down on elbows And eye the clock.
The doorknob keeps saying ‘turn me.’ Then when I get outside, I look back At the other doorknob saying ‘turn me,’ And I am tethered by my mind Inside. Night folds me in its leathern wings, And I fold myself in my nest. From my bed I often hear a voice, The doorknob’s plaintive squeak saying ‘Turn me.’ And my mind goes there, I am neither Outside nor inside, myself nor Someone else, sleeper nor dream. I turn all night in my bed, A doorknob.
Only two more words. Two more, And I can swing myself Off the hook. After all this banter, This panting— The pantsless naps and Apelike perspicacity: Carving poems in a boulder With a toothpick, Blowing hundreds of clouds Into the perfect Shapeless shape. One, two, Then sleep: THE END.