Night, Night

 [Poetry], Night, Night  Comments Off on Night, Night
Feb 112020
 

NIGHT, NIGHT



Birth defies belief.
Love brings grief.
Death, relief.

 

 

Reaching After Realness

I ask: how do I make my dented self 
         beautiful 
with this old pencil? 
     ~~Daniel J. Weeks, Self-Symphonies

 

Our legs look broken when light bends them in the swimming pool. Once our heads are under, immersed in the experience of wetness, the illusion disappears. Our legs are restored to us in their wholeness, where they can be repurposed as impromptu fins to propel us elsewhere. Which of these sets of legs are our “real” legs? The broken set, the restored set, or the Aquaman set?

Entering a poem is like entering that other, underwater world. We are restored to a wholeness the pain of life and its deceptions has convinced us is missing. But, we can only hold our breaths so long before our imaginations burst! And still we go down like clockwork into the dark otherwhere of metaphor, easing past the shallow end of simile, our imaginations and lungs aching. However dangerous the journey, we will not be denied our diving, our entry into depths.

The act of writing is a way for poets to break the surface tension, to transform and explore with all of their sets of legs at the same time–water-skimmer and octopus at once. The act of, not just imagining, but creating the distortion of a written record, a pool for others to enter, is part of the mystery. This writing things down, however, is not what may be called a clarification; that’s a mistake many neopyhte divers make, arriving back at the deck of their exploration vessel with the bends.

Let me propose that both imagination and reality are equally real, equally imaginary. A grown-up Velveteen Rabbit has a smoking habit, perhaps; perhaps the dourest accountant over-charging on our tax prep is a weekend balloonist– or, more daring yet– a plummeting parachuting enthusiast.

Whether this need for othering ourselves, appropriating the ocean’s indigo, pretending a purpler sky, being winged in imagination whenever we watch a bird in flight, is the result of an evolutionary symbiosis of inner and outer selves or some kind of meshuggeneh co-dependency, I cannot tell. But I know that it cannot be otherwise. Real or unreal, one hand will always be reaching after realness–a stuffed, velvety rabbit dangling from the other hand. •

Gregg Glory
July 4th, 2017
 

I Confused by Honeysuckle, Childhood Misunderstood

Memory is liver than sight. ~~William Carlos Williams, Shadows

Night, Night

I sneak out to the fluid night 
Sky bedizened and soft grass 
Forever under my walking 
Trees besides assaying the hush 
Easing my looking, my seeing, 
Stealth in each threading step 
Holding stones I ache to unown 
Throw where vastnesses hide  
A lurker unloved among cosmos 
Among toads sowing yawps 
Into a black that is matte, that recedes 
As far as pupils' going knows 
Blue iris shuttered on nothing 
But stars' particulate light 
Fine as dust distilled 
Falling in my hair, on my face... 
As if the green, rackety backdoor 
Fixed and taped against winters 
And loosened each year for spring 
When mellow all comes welcome in, 
Now as I pass through to dark, 
Creaking the lintel, begins again 
To show the old summer places-- 
Constellations sleep had forgotten 
Opening straight into outerspace.          •

 

 

Tree of Death

I climb the tree of death 
My father climbed, his tree 
Growing in the cistern of a pool 
Drained for a winter longer 
Than any he knew before  
Where his bald cranium nailed 
The roots with a cross of blood. 
The tree grew with weeping, Dad, 
And I am climbing it, limb over limb 
From that empty pool, the cross 
That lifts from your skeleton  
Once quick with fat and wit 
Fleshed with a scorn of smiles
Lies that made you rich as sin 
And lost your sons forever--
How you derided the sticks of time! 
The sticks lift above me as I climb 
A brachiform blot on the stars, 
The knock in the ribs the heart keeps 
My only guidepost.          • 

 

 

The Niagara of Mothers

The maternal smell of water,  
That arrogant brake where  
The Falls drop into nothingness...  
Pillar mirrored by pillar and all  
Roaring white a colossal edifice  
In motion.  Where an edge  
Should appear blindness remains 
My hands empty before me 
Reaching.  

Billows explode like ghosts  
Panting ripping toward the past,
The strained water--rapids  
Giving and failing like mothers  
Everywhere, and you  
No different, no worse.  
Mother, I would eat every lie, 
Every truth, to see for one minute 
You again!  A crowded brace  
Of mossy wreckage is teething  
The rubber bow before me:  
The glass plank hanging 
Over nothingness, deafness  
Roaring and then--          •

 

 

A Visit


          divine sparks or burning calories
          bodies and souls are on fire

The so-little graves of parents 
And the parents before them…. 
Are they only doused flames
The used-up candle wax sloughed 
Off, or resistless matches 
Held bravely aloft in the dark 
Tom Sawyer in his pirate cave 
Digging at crevices for treasure? 
I close my eyes for sleep 
And my flashlight finds you 
Instantly alive as Polaroids 
In pantsuit and dungarees, 
Bitching your way toward divorce
Even now, even in death
Even in the dreams I sought  
For solace.  I toe the muddled 
Earth between them carefully
Mother here, Father there
Looking for daisies among the weeds.
They lay there looking up and 
Talking:  Pity us!  Let the past 
Drop from our bones like teeth
Drip from our bones like wax
Or fade at least to pastel at last
So that you may paint your days
By what wayward light you find
And not these childish flares--
Vituperations, curses, our
Forever unfinished bonfire!          •

 

 

Sprung

A spring resists its winding 
A road would rather be left alone 
A ballerina's slipper doesn't need 
A restless foot to complete it-- 
Entropy has ensigns of its own 
Signposts of rust, dusty accretions 
A look worn to translucence 
Like the detective's trick mirror 
Awaiting its awful candidate.... 
Fifty has given me a face 
Thin as a sail, as changeable 
Wanting only its original 
Darkness, the rubber bathtub 
That squealed me here, applying 
Disasterous brakes in a panic, 
Leaning into soft headlights 
That showed the indifferent road 
The ballerina's empty slipper 
And 10,000 empty days ahead--

But what could I do about it 
Sprawling in the icy nurse's hands 
The red spring in my belly 
Already loaded tight?          •

 

 

An Overturned Canoe

Under an overturned canoe 
We kept tacked in lieu of a dock 
On the edge of the old reservoir  
Welled like a waterbead overbrimmed, 
A height of welted skin but cool 
To the touch, I found my breath 
Echoey with surfaces among the ribs 
Of the overturned canoe. 

Fibrous light rooted in somehow 
Casting lines above me as I breathed 
In all that hollowness no one 
Visited but me, the lines strange 
As neon hieroglyphs racing bright 
Over my hands as I reached up 
Tangling in their starry business 
That swam the sky inside with me, 
An intruder in the web.          •

 

 

What Drought Brought

When our reservoir was holding  
Its breath, low, baring a shamble 
Hash of sticks, spills of pebbles, 
Dead trees like ribs of black water 
Or inverted umbrellas lost 
Straying in a storm that stayed, 
I'd slide on my dungareed ass 
To walk along the sandy skirt 
And saw how water corroded 
The world, the whole overcast woods 
Hanging precariously revealed 
As cloud bellies, wattles of roots 
Lumped above the nothingness 
I walked, fringed with iffy dust… 
Fragments of the caveworks still 
Wet with birthing and shy of light. 
I'd spend hours kicking stones 
All around the res's tender rim 
Wide as an eyelid limned in sand 
Getting the secret feel for once 
Where water had lapped and stripped
Of underground things unshadowed 
And made uncomfortably known-- 
Trees that couldn't run succumbed 
Spending years sometimes just leaning 
Over the horrible mirror.          •

 

 

Seasons in the Sun

How strangely the artifacts of childhood 
Grow in grown imagining!  When work 
Lapses like a gasp at dusk, a red wagon 
Rolls by the blue inflated pool 
Suzy splashed in, her puffy hair in knots. 
After dinner, among the table's bric-a-brac, 
Eyeglasses aside, the trees we ran through rise 
Acre on acre between the plates, games 
Of chase and war, indians and aliens. 
Vying like twin stags in the forest brake 
We pawed and clashed, cracking dead branches 
For antlers, bleeding after the prize 
Of who Suzy would take to the antic dance 
Beside her pink plastic Barbie player that spun 
Her one black record scratched to static: 
Seasons in the Sun.          •

 

 

The Golden Keyhole

We hid crouched, bunched to see 
What Sally had got on and what 
Took off, all those summer  
Days ago when no one knew 
Anything about girls, or boys 
Being dogs who wagged our tails 
And punched each other quietly 
Away from Sally's bathroom door 
Her brother had corralled us toward 
With stories beyond our ears 
Of slope and dip and fluffed cleft 
Darkly lapping like a wave 
Crashing us to pieces while 
We kneeled in mute accord 
Breathing the golden keyhole's steam.        •

 

 

Little Red Wagon

	when the thirst for love first came
	it was not calm or tame

Pell-mell and hell-all down the hill 
The little red wagon we rode on 
Skirted roots that promised gashes 
Skittled swaths of pebbles in a spray 
As the hill steepened its deepness 
And the battered path narrowed, 
A yellow ribbon in a dowdy wood 
Dappled for hand-held dawdling 
The naming of leaf and birdsong 
Not this rattled race to a quick crash 
Her smile big on my shoulder 
To nibble an ear while I steered 
With flailing handle in hand 
A gasp pushed back to teeth 
Jarring our muscles in dusts 
With an aftertaste of toothpaste 
And foretaste of ecstasy 
As we wheeled the last hairpin 
Squealing until the tears came-- 

And laughter after as we tugged 
Disheveled shirts and skirts back 
To playtime's regular order.        •

 

 

Penumbras

The grass burned with summer's green. 
We burned like grass 
With an end-of-school-fooling-
Around-the-playground fire 
Waiting for the eclipse. 
A midday moon was coming 
Like Pac-man to eat the sun! 
Our science class stood in a circle
Holding squares of smoky glass
Where horizons looked a moonscape, 
Our tree a hooded visitant
The school a blade of cave. 
At first the world went dimmer 
A weeping edge of cloudburst 
Closing one slow eyelid over us-- 
And then coldness seeping, a wave
A snowy wind from nowhere
Hastening through the grass. 
Half the sky turned turquoise,
Lapis lazuli wetted by a cloth 
Before we caught the sun 
Begin its blinking off: 
Its penlight kept getting whiter 
And smaller than a soul 
While a line of midnight skirmishers 
Advanced across the field;
Our school was disappearing fast 
Under the eclipse's dome! 
When we were fully underwater 
The birds forgot their song--
The silence kept us looking up
At wild ill-lit fins of sun 
Surrounding a dot of blackness, 
A circle like ourselves.          • 

 

 

Cutting Copper, Welding Voices

When the welder's laser torch 
Puts a blue tongue to the throat 
Of pipe length, a thin scrying 
Hisses pixel dust out of the pipe 
As it reddens in its vise-- 
When the cut is almost through 
When ruddy heat at one end 
Hurries hot air through the flue 
Dark arroyos of longing open
A soft moaning loosening
A low vibrato bass note 
Coming from the whole length 
Of scissored copper tubing 
The hopeless hollow sobbing 
Of a boy 
Not wanting to be heard.        •

 

 

Handmedowns

Daily our fights like falling axes 
Felled love that buds in brothers 
Love that holds small hands like hafts 
Chopping winter wood in unison, 
Love that shelves all razorthin leers  
Of anger too high to easily reach-- 
Instead he teased snakestrikes over 
Nothing, over lies and pride, 
An inch chalked on a doorframe,
His fist with a reach like a whip
A slap that sounded like laughter
On cheeks red as slaughter
Until trust like a crumbcake was
Eaten, and your mouth full of spiders 
Cursed the dapper little fellow 
You first hugged, first learned to walk behind 
In his bleached and patched handmedowns 
To playgrounds and ponds and friends 
Who waved and climbed while you waited 
Alone, a little ignored, looking up 
Under high masts of sycamores 
His voice calling all pirates to battle 
And everyone in the neighborhood 
Crying ‘Aye, aye!' but you.          •

 

 

The Realness of Velveteen

At 7, the Velveteen Rabbit told me 
Real is a thing that happens to you 
Inflating himself off the page 
Left ear, right ear, a fuzzy balloon
Squealing alive into raw moonlight 
Decolorizing my room like 
Black-and-white TV into moon 
Valleys and moon hills, the fish  
A moon fish circling her lunar bowl. 
Two big feet thumped bopping 
Onto the polished floor, his rabbity 
Glance vulnerable as bubbles--
I looked down in surprise unfolding
Sleepy in my bluebird PJs
Watching his whiskers twitch
Unrolling my arm to hold his hand 
(Or had he reached up to slap
His long velour paw into mine?). 
Howsoever, barefoot together 
Floating over whirlpool bedsheets
We became realer and realer and realer
Like clouds do when their shadows  
Darken your house, a shiver arriving 
In the middle of limitless day 
And walked out the window talking.        •

 

 

Confused by Honeysuckle

Where tentworms had set up the dog 
Plunged through blindly his nose afire after 
The wet stick chucked amongst all them flowers 
Gowning down to grass like a giant's wig 
Old Dukey stuck with that ratsnest cobweb 
Blob of gossamer grossness, a felt patch 
Battened in his mane and over one eye  
While I hold him steady carefully combing 
Silken gauze off in knots from his pelt-- 
A mistake yes I'm sure of it for my part 
The throw all awkward at elbow and wrist 
Can't blame the stupid dog too bad really 
Dumb dog's just gonna sit there and watch me 
Catch it with the switch when Dad checks on us: 
Don't worry Dukey I won't hit you for it 
Confused with honeysuckle is all we were 
Really if you think about it fair and square 
The honeysuckle luminous today  
That had been beige grey just yesterday 
A riot of blossom and the scent like candy
Amid what yellow galaxy of stars--
As soft goodness as any nighttime Mommy kiss
When pillowy dreams come sifting in like mist
And now this unaccountable mess jesus 
My hands all full of broken silver threads 
The comb wrecked and suddenly I can feel  
The worms' irritated circling on my hands.        •

 

 

Cold Burial

One melancholy duty with a shovel 
Was chipping free bodies of birds 
Who threw themselves like snowballs 
Against our bank of 4x6 ft. windows 
Sunset after sunset thinking 
They're flying home to nests they know 
Through what looked a bit of woods 
Real trunks repeated back in glass
Hanging over a gorgeous splash 
Of frozen reservoir so white 
We played there wearing sunglasses, 
Cool skiers in ads for spearmint gum. 

Every evening like fireworks 
Birds thumped stopped against the view, 
Strange fish flat to aquarium walls
Leaving behind halo puffs of dust 
Lingering like fingerprints, then 
Flying off shaken and confused 
In a tangle of awkward wings 
Not ready to abandon air.
Others hit the snow jingling,
Icicles dismantled in a wind,
Small ribald scribbles of color laid 
At odd angles like a swimmer 
Photoed in Sports Illustrated, then 
Hopped afoot in one blink, one twist 
Flying away with a warning: 
Not all woods are woods indeed 
Nor home always where we expect 
Flying fast to beat the night 
And save our necks for sleep.

Next day I always found the worst 
Popsicled overnight, and carried 
Now by me to the frozen pile  
A pyramidal igloo sort of pile
Bigger every day until spring 
When wetwork and a proper hole 
Began to be dug--until then I
Nestled them gently down with "Sorry" 
And a shovelful of fresh snow.        •

 

 

Greggo the Great

I still remember when I first 
Saw a fan of cards like a wingspan 
Flutter from a magician's tuxedo: 
One fan, two fans, dozens fluttering, 
And from his upturned hat 
Into which a pitcher of milk 
Had threaded, doves--doves white  
As milk, their fantails crested 
Like wheels of cards appeared 
From the nowhere of elsewhere 
Black potentialities and spaces 
Emptiness like a new moon hiding  
The full moon in its shadow-- 
The trick of it invulnerable  
And real.  Afterward, backstage, 
I ran up to him, up to Gordo the 
Great, who simmered with the smell 
Of aftershave and success  
And asked if I, I too.... 
"If you, too, can be a magician?" 
He flicked a business card  
For his downtown magic shop 
From behind my ear with a whisk 
And a wink, into my palm, saying 
"The first thing you need, kid,  
Is a really good stage name."          •

 

 

II

Earthquake Minor,
Middle-Age
Explained


      ...bet w/ humanity 
      not against it 
that's the kind of animal you are 
      not a robot, an angel 
      ~~Jacko Monahan, One-Legged Poetry

 

Showering

The world slides off in steam 
Not fire, not ice;  sweat runneled 
To a drain, and that is all. 
Skin snaps like a fresh umbrella 
And I am lily-new, lily-white 
In a rainfall of feathers 
Delighting the aging body 
Fold by fold that leap by leap 
Cartwheeled backyard sprinklers 
Hammered puddles in rubbers 
Through every storm that boiled 
Into cloudburst.... The world's no more 
Than a sentence away from youth, 
From death.  This rain has come before.        •

 

 

Shaving

I run the razor on my face 
And wood shavings appear 
Around my bare feet, gathering, gathering, 
As the mirror's camera records 
My changes.  Whoever I am  
Becoming requires this quick 
Cutting away of old selves 
Face by ragged face, the razor  
Sharp and smooth, etching  
Occasional detours into highways 
The way a river basin ravages 
Itself into existence, in a new 
Groove among the ancient hills. 
My past lies in bleeding curls, 
Frets my wet feet--my ankles 
Are covered!  And my jagged face 
Is guessing its way out of its 
Riverine box, a man's face 
Not yet ready for death 
Slaps aftershave on a totem 
That slept in the treetrunk's grain 
All the days until yesterday…
It's rich itch of potential  
Bearded by bark, by years 
Adding ring on ring of routine 
In active indifference.  Today, 
My palm wipes condensation 
Like drawing a curtain--
With a shiver of hatchets 
A new, raw face arrives 
Chopped into the pole's  
Resurrected top.         •

 

 

The Bag of Oranges

Looking up through blue drafts 
My drifting boat spins, 
Knocks through narrows 
From the weedy wreckage 
Of an industrial wharf 
Wheeling to where breakers open 
In the flat-bottomed bowl 
Of simmering ocean. 
I left the dock I don't know when
Confident as a oarlock
A bag of emergency oranges 
Hauled along for safety's sake 
If the wind grew frisky
(Their scent a sack of sneezes). 

Now sky in endless arcs 
Roofs my journey 
Of hairpin skids and lapses 
Where water and weather 
Give no more guidance 
Than a drowning man's 
Weathervane arms-- 
I see that I am lost 
But not how I got here, 
Sense I am moving 
But not my motive. 
 
My rowboat's boundless arrow  
Spins like a broken compass; 
The bag of oranges  
At my feet 
Is nearly empty.          •

 

 

A Dance?

The average hours of usual day. 
Of course it is a dance, of course.          •

 

 

Holy Mackerel

          for Gabor Barabas

Shellacked to a bullet sheen 
Set mantelpiece high and aimed 
For the Azores or thereabouts 
Where fins inhabited life 
Eye more than a glass bauble 
Scales more glittering than paint 
Alive to plunge and feel the weight 
Of water water everywhere, a bliss 
Of frisson shuttling the sea's loom 
As I pace the shallow fireplace 
Weaving memories like wires 
Recalling taut strike and strife   
Tapping my pipe in Morse code 
Tossed between ashes and ocean 
A fisher admiring his rigid prize 
Visitor eye to museum eye 
Archeologist and the mummy-cloth,
Fingers flush against Pharaoh's belly 
Lingering where silvering scales 
Fall that flashed a fist for years 
A wake arriving after each flash 
A thousand wakes together like a flag 
Woven in meaning and motion
Invisible threads thrashing, streaming 
Pulling the living garment wet 
From the rack--supple, shoulderless 
Slim as in a dream but real 
Their choir of buried voices 
Liquid in every ear.          • 

 

 

Turtle Poem

An old turtle crossed west
A primordial stretch of highway, wide
Where cars came on in thunder
Under sun's dead lightning whiteness.
Time lay flat beneath his feet
That liked a sempiternal heat
Stepping to keep his slow appointments
Made before his egg was digged
And left mooning in the earth.
He is as a wheel of fire
Eating the strangeness of time
Eagerly in mincing licks!
For hours he walks the asphalt
Pushes grass with his hawk beak
Seeking mud and reeds and release
In doppler ripples of the old pond
Where he sighs sinks down and shows
Shyly until nighttime only
His nostrils above the waterline.          •

 

 

Crossing

	and the seagull flying like a crucifix 
~~Emanuel di Pasquale

Walking into my long morning 
Shadow where I stretch 
Where tarry pilings stand  
Like me, like me charcoal-touched  
By shadow, anchoring  
A walkway flatness for my foot 
Where sand is slipping always 
And water winning landward 
Throwing coins of tideline light, 
I saw an arrow's smallness 
A seagull's crooked cross 
Crossing me with shadow wings 
(With shadow wings endowing) 
Where forward wind had slowed  
Him, then he lifted slowly over 
The glassware of the sea 
Taking my dark wings away 
To rumors only ocean knows 
And keeps in a deepness more  
Than me--though ocean deepness shone  
More homey, more close-in, more 
Interior after 
Our long morning walk.         •

 

 

Dream Split

My head a bowling ball again 
Trying to make the split for the win 
Fingers stiffed in mouth and eyes 
Her engagement ring in my nose 
Then screaming red down the lane 
The room ass-over-tea-kettle spinning 
Blond boards blood-slippery, waxed 
A mile long before I knock 
Pins apart, skinning my forehead 
(That'd been kissed to sleep last night) 
To its nobbled and native skull 
The one x-rays show rivered 
With fine lines and cracks, the plates 
Where thought first stitched to thought 
Hanging my face like a grass skirt 
From its ball, a curtain which winks 
Showing live eyes, dead teeth and the whole 
Vaudevillian rigamarole  
That directs my life like a puppet show 
Has me bleat ‘love' and mew when scratched 
Obey all traffic signs, dodge hazards 
And generally walk erect when  
My recalcitrant head's attached  
And not hefted on elbow and aimed 
A pinball flippered in an unknown game 
Rolling, rolling, rolling.         •

 

 

Metabolic, Metaphoric, Metamorphic

Paint slops, and there's a daisy. 
Another slop, and the reedy stem 
Fattens to a skeleton a brush 
Emboldens into form, into firm 
Outlines on a canvas, all those 
Acres of whiteness that yet need 
To be invented like the night 
Gestating day in its egoless cradle 
To see what shapes darkness dreams 
Revealed filleted by the dagger day, 
And changing even then through shadow  
Rotations as a sundial tells the hour 
And events defeat imagination 
And love and hate and envy, pride 
Deride their painted lineaments  
Besotted by chaos as Rorschach blots 
Until dreams carve the mystery again, 
Put paper people at their marks 
Assign the scripts and invent the day 
Like a play that only needs rehearsal, 
Conviction that the fiction's real this time--
And we awake fresh as paint to watch 
Day go incorrigibly awry.          •

 

 

A Jazz Enjambment

A jazz voice never listened for 
Emanates in syncopation 
From behind the closed door 
Inside a littered taxicab 
Stale as wet cigarettes
I duck to enter.  "Where  
Are you headed?" the driver 
Says over the river of radio 
The two voices braiding 
In my ear live and lithe 
Inviting as in a new-spun 
Dream a night journey 
From the low-watt dimness  
Of the shut door behind me 
On to where the roadway 
Lies slick and glistening, 
Whispers of earlier rain leaving 
The black wide pupil brimming 
With overmuch of emotion almost 
Save that the jazz voice busking 
Broken hearts brings strange 
Comfort, pain easing pain 
Telling me whatever dream 
Is rolling like a tear tonight 
Has rolled this way before.... 
Forlorn elms and watchful skies 
No strangers to what muted me 
To what had those radio voices 
Unspool like talking smoke 
I could inhale, inhale, inhale.          • 

 

 

The Entire Sky

The gentlest racket 
The rattle of a doorlatch 
Opening to beach fireworks 
Come so soon again 
While my quiet world grew 
Warm as two rheumatic hands 
Holding my face all those 
Cold years ago. 

                         Grandmother, 
You kept this house swept 
For company, the model boats 
In naval trim as Granddad had, 
Fresh zinnias on the tabletop, 
Lemonade twisted by hand 
And left sweating--once 
A bee struggled to his sweet 
Death in the glass-cut pitcher 
Like Snow White in her glass 
Coffin, but a bee instead. 

Tonight, the entire sky 
Will whistle and celebrate 
While I stand on the bare porch 
Of this now disordered house. 
My life feels abandoned, 
A boat spinning from its dock 
 Into darkness, the tide out, 
The stars a chaos overhead…. 
So I think to turn back inside 
And slide into sleep when 
The first crack arrests me, and 
The whole bowl of the sky 
Fills with zinnias.          •

 

 

Questions Are Beautiful

The wry neck of a swan 
Wrenched into a questionmark 
Answers as the beautiful always do 
A question with a question: 
--Are you graceful only on the water? 
Can you read what's written there?
--Does your flight echo the soul's after death? 
I've never died before, have you?

Still as a lotus on the pond 
They float like clouds, like blossoms 
Mirroring heaven, while beneath 
Black feet revolve dark, strong webs. 
Taken altogether they are 
An image of contemplation 
That pushes the mind's mirror 
With black feet, strong dark webs. 

Fifty-five years and the pond remains 
Crowded with beautiful swans 
And questions;  here the sunset grows 
More lustrous as the minutes pass, 
An ember edging the water's tongue. 
Half-lifted swans batter their wings, 
Shoulders like a swimmer breaking free, 
Necks straight out into darkness.          •

 

 

Earthquake Minor

Notice of it came like a nail 
Jerked from a new-cut two-by-four 
A spiral squeal as if the walls 
Were papier-mache, fingered 
At the seams, tossed unloftily 
As last week's overtipping trash 
That hit the kitchen floor rolling, 
A pup obscenely frisking; 
Water hiccuped in the goldfish 
Bowl, lensing the orange fish 
Into a convex abstract. 

A neighbor at her balustrade 
Shouted "Earthquake!" her infant 
Swaddled close and looking up 
Babyishly at a cloud.          •

 

 

Botanical Gardens

A thousand swats of water 
Stagger leaf to leaf 
In the Botanical Garden dome 
The jungle flora breaking 
Into blossom like a swimmer:
Helliconia, orchids, monkey brush, 
A thrashing passionflower 
Stigmata-red and starred,
Glow among moroser leaves 
As we navigate the catwalk 
And consult our heavy guidebooks 
To ogle this pulpy Venusian 
Terrarium in Brooklyn 
As stranger voices skreak, and
Hidden wings restlessly emerge: 
Macaws, cotinga, oropendolas 
Unlimbering their leider 
To tattoo our eardrums as we 
Climb a ladder stairway up among 
Throngs of heavenly feathery hosts 
Whose language is not our own-- 
Clear panes of sky have exiled 
Pure spirits with us sinners 
Condemned to eat the bread and 
Birdseed sweated from our brows 
So hot to hear them singing 
Enchantments like a new beginning 
Before brother beset brother 
Before a sword bolted the gate, 
Turning slowly the great green leaves 
Wherein we read their world.          •

 

 

The Parachutist

"Love is letting go," I hear, 
Slapped through the cutout  
Into a sprawl of cloudwrack 
Imprecise as serried dreams. 
The air pins my limbs back 
And pressures a rictus grin 
As I swallow curls of screams: 
Such beauty!  Such beauty! 
Idealized shadows hang blue  
As Plato's ruthless smile 
Enlivening the skies.  Below, 
The world's laid out like a grave 
Ploughed for seed, all that Iowa 
Loam beneath clouds' pageantry,  
The wind so loud it is silence. 
I never felt my body more than 
In that moment of first falling; 
My eye all eye, my stomach 
A helium balloon, hands claws 
Legs stiff in a sculpted vice. 
I realized all I was was a clod 
Of earth--misplaced, tossed up-- 
Out of my element among  
White spires, candelabra touched 
By some genius of whimsy  
As I fell my way back home.          •

 

 

Rembrandt’s Faces

Are the most human, rueful 
And ruined of masterpieces 
Chafed into paper with a sad 
Wit too aware of time and time's 
Humiliating erasures, pulling 
From the wreck the sensual 
Wrinkles of Diana at Her Bath, 
Her rust-colored puckers piled 
Like a couch too long sat upon 
Thoughts too deep and grave to give 
Voice to their sorrow, words to marrow 
Until only a Zen charlatan's  
Shinbone flute is left tootling 
The haunting airs of fieldhands  
Which Rembrandt also drew, noting 
A muscular rangy strength 
Bundled arms and thighs bursting 
Bunches of blood grapes unpicked  
Weighty with harvest, while in those 
Hands so sensitively rendered hangs 
The black heavy arc of the scythe 
Swinging the wheat headless, 
Stroke after stroke of sketched wheat 
Under a crayon sun.          • 

 

 

Walking the Talk

Conversations rise around 
Us like hossanahs 
Flock after the Ark 
Of the Covenant-- 
A blessing that bathes 
The ears that see 
The souls it blesses. 
Words for the mendicant, 
Words for the wife, words 
For the ticket-taker 
Standing at attention at 
The theater of your life. 
Weavings, meanings, they 
Hammock us in wholeness, 
Two peas in a pod 
Of words, words, words. 
Asleep or swaying 
We huddle together 
In our sheltering web-- 
Not one, not one thread 
Of our woven home 
Would I snap.  Together  
We've talked the decades real, 
Together our time 
Abided.  Together 
We pull the needle clean 
Of the housing shroud; 
Together hoist up 
To our narrow, old 
Shoulders the Covenant.          •

 

 

In a Parkinglot

Workmen in orange vests 
Hammer at a cracked drain 
Seeking beneath the grate 
The vat blackness where water 
Like a shadow goes only 
Lately its been sitting here 
Stiff as a mirror the sun 
Beats his gold face upon.          •

 

 

Landing in Bed

	a country far away as health
	~~Sylvia Plath

Illness, Illness, a brimful life 
Cancered, ulcered, reduced, abridged
To a flat plate of licked gruel 
Stinks and sinks and embarrassments 
Unending as a diaper rash, 
The grinding doing of others who 
Orbit you, you who were Pluto, a 
Planet demoted to a sick cot 
Down a few organs at last count, 
A chore for the devoted.
You issue mewling protests, how
Even memories go icky grey 
In the daily wash, how only the steel 
Bedframe is real, the mealy 
Pillow yellow with unworked sweat 
While dreams of drowning drip-drip 
To wake you in a gasp of tubing, 
Walls cubed as an Escher etching 
Receding in series, a white mirage.... 
The whole house of cards kicked 
Flat on its back--and you too, clueless,
Sure to the end that death's just 
That fuzzy, unfazed after-light 
After a flash.          •

 

 

Michigan Lumber, 1886

The saw blade worked white to lick 
Dust from the living core of wood. 
Held taut between us double-dutch 
It's rhythm slithered like a lullaby 
Of bees cozied in closed peonies. 
Sweat that felt the wind kept wary 
For what might come to pinch our work, 
Turn the day to waste and wreck the blade. 
The tree was balanced now on less than half 
Of what had held it lofty all those years 
Before we came to use its strength for houses. 
With a nod we doubled rhythm now 
To surprise the pine that couldn't run away 
And keep our luck to leeward.  We'd apprized  
It'd fall between two garland oaks 
And lay obedient to be timber.  At a crack, 
We knew we'd psalmed the solemn child 
Asleep, and sang our saw blade backwards 
With a twang to watch all sleepy nature sway 
Like a woman dancing for her man 
A moment--and then the horrible crash like
Tearing ears. 
And silence like a blanket after that.
•

 

 

The Haskell Invitational

	 for a quintet of poets 

A constellation of friends 
In a Pegasus configuration  
Abet my summer writing jag 
As a fence abets a horse's 
Jumping form, legs strained 
To effort and flight, flashing 
Most where crossed 
Highest where hindered 
In the muddy brown stream 
Of his strong running 
From the starter's gun. 

Beyond their stoppages 
I canter in circles,  
The sacrosanct circuit  
Their stars have lit for me: 
Speech like a bettor's prayer, 
The finish-line a typewriter ribbon  
That breaks against my breast 
When a poem's intoning  
Is done. 

Each critique sticks 
Like a jockey's whip 
And foams my lips, the blinders 
Tight beside my eyes that
The little man above me might
Wear a new hat, I a hoop 
Of flowers like a yoke. 

All night I watch my brothers 
Revolve in races of their own, 
Myself a glimmering participant-- 
Summer's final star, perhaps, 
Shining under a coronal 
Flare of tail.          •

 

 

Circumloquacious

Clouds rumble their thunder bubbles 
Piling nimbus on nook and crag 
On etiolating white tendril where 
Shadow shoots like a handkerchief  
Patting away effort and sweat 
With cool assurances of talk. 
I talk my way around the lengthening day 
A simmer of indifferences
Affinanced to the lazy scuds above
Reluctant to come again to ground 
The dark of earth, the insistence  
Of grass... I am a brush that moves  
Among watercolor clouds.... 

Such afternoon summeriness  
Has left me leaning  
On dreams, the rifted  
Fabric of skies 
Tall as my leaning eyes.          •

 

 

Cry of the Cat

The cry of the cat 
Fat as a baby's cry 
Pricks me from sleep 
Up the long slope of day 
A ladder of witless pegs 
And serial embarrassments--
The stubborn self shudders away, 
A red stain licked on thick
Bruising splinters. 
Quickly everything is gotten  
Ready and dispensed with; 
Speedily the road rewinds 
From work to home. 

The cry of the cat 
Takes my coat, seats me.
Like a grinning cannibal I 
Dine on the dinner of myself: 
My heart a purple plum 
Gone splayed with waiting, 
A liver in ribbons, lungs 
Two worthless wordless sucks 
Of grey breath, a foot 
Coy and uncallused as 
A princess' palm.
I eat until the sky 
Is black.          •

 

 

Smoking the Pipe

Pulling open the tobacco bag 
To a stir of leaves 
Autumnal brown but moist 
As breath, the careful 
Mouth of the pipe 
Roots among rummage 
For a shovelful of coal 
I bring to my lips 
The bit between my teeth 
As a feather of fire 
Comes instantly close 
Enough to start a star 
In the bowl of Cosmos 
That had been blackness only 
While I inhale 
The furious engines 
As deep as lungs can go 
Without remitting breath 
From lips as round as song 
Which sends a signal 
Of heavenward smokes 
In spiral galaxies, a wreath 
Of woven laurels 
I dream may yet come 
As I shut my eyes 
To taste it all again, 
Redolent and resonant.          •

 

 

Dark Cypresses

Dark cypresses without sound, 
Soft upright voids, lofty flames 
Erasing the mission of light 
Standing as you do for night 
No matter how burnished the day,
Cut-outs hanging substanceless! 
Where are you going, where arriving? 
You black pantlegs on the march 
You dancers moving in plush rows 
In shoeless midnight dancing 
Touching the dreamer's cheek 
With moon shadow and snow shadow 
Drawing darkness from what depths-- 
Vaporous chill of damp earth, 
Living earth we know nothing of 
Who wander its surfaces like grass 
Noisy and dry in our myriads 
Like grasses perishing innumerably 
Full of the empty sounds of wind 
Passing, passing  
Beneath your great, grown silences 
Dark cypresses without sound,
Under sigils of your bonfire.          •

 

 

Among the Whales

Far off the port-beam sightings 
Of sainted spray, feathers 
High as houses, rollicking 
Toward the tourist powerboat 
Like quilled teams 
Of Shakespeare's copyists 
Hammering away at Hamlet. 
Soon enough their acres 
Of skin were all around us, 
A smell of industrial rubber 
Enclosing us in a dome  
As the spouts circled. 

Hills of humping muscle,  
Ailerons of fatal flukes 
Dark as midnight soil 
A midnight rain had wetted-- 
Sheets of living tissue 
Near enough to slap, it seemed, 
And we enraptured in the dream. 
Down came the feathered 
Waters, the bowing plumes  
Of drum majors among us 
Dancing a disparate rhythm 
On the slick deck.

And it was hot, hot as a kiss,
Hot as blood the spume spray
Splatting about us in blots
Viscid as afterbirth, 
And we grinned like kids 
Shamelessly running, running
Through tumescent sprinklers-- 
No awe, no shame at all in all that 
Fantastic whiteness blown 
Hissing around us.          •

 

 

III The Curve of Her World: Love’s Conundrums

[Women] will do what they can once again to warm our gut and heart ~~John Logan, Dawn and a Woman

 

 

The Seneca Doe

The white Seneca doe is rare 
And here;  she nibbles on a swale 
Of cantilevered grass half past 
Its greenest age, more stale than hale--
Even so, the eaten grass becomes
A part of whiteness, swift whiteness 
Stepping quick like a compass tip 
In tentative exactness 
Measuring the left-alone landscape 
Two miles off the highway way 
Amid a mix of wood and field 
This buttery day I came to sit 
Stiller than a cenotaph 
And watch the Seneca doe awhile 
Go eloping with my hopeful soul 
Paper-white and puppet-limber 
Leaning through tree shadows like a ghost 
To eat and depart forgotten 
Had I not come in expectation 
To eye her oil-dark watchful eye 
In silence, and count the motions 
Of her lips as if anxious myself 
Of a lover's kiss, or writing 
Now of what I saw and did not miss, 
A lover's kiss recounting.          •

 

 

The Lost Rib

Flow gently, sweet dreamer who 
Lies beside wandering lost 
A lax magellanic cloud 
Of impulse and perception 
Shimmering rivery in summer 
With a sheen upon which desire 
Floats downstream sweetly 
Unswattable as starlight 
Reflected in water.  Desire, 
Is that what had the lost rib 
Run off by herself and grow up 
Into this unknowable companion? 
You would laugh to hear me  
Say it, but it was written  
Before we were born--a story 
More relatable than the news' 
Imaginings that twitter 
At us unprompted!  Un- 
Prompted as the dream that 
Seizes you curling your 
Fingers like ribs in tension 
Of a new birth;  what child 
Are you shuddering into life? 
Your eyebrows bow, approach 
And meet each other where 
A stream appears between them 
Dark in a pale brow, pinch 
And pang of the new-- 
Not novel, but new again, new 
To us, the forbears of a dream…. 
After a while your breath 
Slows re-regulates relaxes 
And it's as if the new thought
(New as you lying here was 
To me) was always here 
A ripple rubbing the stream 
Something for moonlight to touch 
Cascading beside me when I'm 
Prompted out of sleep;  or not, 
Always shining your own way 
Onward through what bonnie braes 
Sweet dreamer, flow gently.          •

 

 

Birds of Summer

Ladylike birds gather summer 
Like a brace of arrows 
Snapped in a fist, 
Their fetching feathers fletched, 
Their beaks stone arrowheads 
Out of pre-Colombian mists 
Darting at a spillway of seed, 
Eating the grain I gift them 
With the quick attention 
Of surgeons plucking shotgun pellets 
A childhood accident had left 
Inside my scarred left knee 
Keeping me bent-legged 
As a bird up any stairs, 
My ascent slow, unfeigned 
On wounded and winded wing 
To where Jenny sits at table 
Grading boughs of assiduous sheets 
Her student flocks have gathered-- 
Birdscratch of pencilmarks, false 
Flights and failed landings-- 

Her face in a nest of lamplight 
Looks up at my entrance, 
Offers me the golden grain.          •

 

 

The Curve of Her World

Tears that pepper her cheeks 
Refresh a softness in her gaze, 
Give back grace now the monster 
Sorrow has swum away to sea 
To bother other deeps, other shes 
While my darling thoughtfully 
Walks barefoot back ashore to me 
From over the curve of her world
Spatted amazed, pinching her top 
Back into place, even smiling 
And almost meaning it, meaning 
To mean it in the near future, 
Her face a new polaroid  
Shaken slowly into focus-- 
A dolphin of shadow darts 
Into tidepools of her eyes 
Come from her lone sea-sojourn 
Not all the days ahead will keep 
From circling the boat of us 
As she approaches my hammock 
Swinging like a hanged man which 
In tarot simply means ‘change.'        • 

 

 

Without Thought of Harvest

One summer we were proud 
To watch our overmuch of flowers 
Overpour their beds and out- 
Match the virtue of their stems: 
Downward nodded every head  
As if golden damozels  
Were bowing in rows.  It was  
An avalanche of flowers! 
Some tidal wave had landed 
And left the coastline richer-- 
Flower on flower beyond bounds 
With woes of colors cresting 
With splendid displays of petals 
Until overfull of feasting 
We closed our eyes to rest them 
As if blind inside the rainbow 
Dumb with a moment's prayer 
Amazed at what summer had made 
Of our refusal to be of use, 
To stop and stoop and pluck 
To sell at a corner stand 
At two dollars a bunch 
Sharing our garden bounty 
With the whole neighborhood,
Refusal to dazzle
With blossom and art the household 
Vases left shelved, closeted in dust 
 That last year blazed the tables-- 
How instead this untended gift,  
This unweeded bounty, had burst 
Without thought of harvest.          •

 

 

The Housewife

	Nature frightens us into love. 
	~~Richard Poirier

I kiss my husband's cheek, 
A fine grit that acts like teeth. 
Every day I wear away another 
Layer in a kind of decay until
I wear a face like a knob. 
Turn me, I'm too smooth to complain! 
I fall backward like an open door, 
An empty rectangle you lean on-- 
Come in, I'll lead you everywhere.          •

 

 

Bandamages

I feel that she might just be 
The medicine that I need 
The bland to allay my acids 
The dagger to scissor my spasms--
Her blasé cloud covering 
A sun of pain like a figleaf,
Tinsel edges forge-orange
A spiky halo hinting fire. 
But a bandage is not a cure 
For self-harm, self-alarm, for
All the selves I peel back, rank 
Tooth and sputum in a dish
Sordid splats of blood, of blood. 
Still, I feel that she might be 
The balm-calm bee in a mad hive 
Dancing the buzzing huzzahs 
In my mazy eyes to hush 
Me to sleep like a spill of inks 
Blotting out the bastard day 
To dream and dream again, the dream 
Forgotten as they always are 
Telltale shreds of mist diminishing… 
The bandage renewed as the 
Wound's renewed, my hacked scabs 
Growing spider legs 
Tearing themselves off and running.         •

 

 

The Mistake

Love has torn my life in two: 
Before and after the--then glad, now sad-- 
Mistake as I have come to call it, 
Defining my eras by error as 
I look back upon my footsteps' track. 

Love had pulled me through the needle's eye 
And stitched me witless with desire 
Told my tale upon a pillow seam 
And rocked my soul from its lonesome groove, 
Locked in a dance I could not unchoose. 

When the ship of me then foundered sundered, 
My wreck picked to ribs by bony crows, 
Naked I arose to mosey onward, 
A worm escaped from Eden's apple. 
A gate slid shut with a sound of oceans.
•

 

 

Fiancée

A tourniquet of love 
Enwounds my finger now 
Like honeysuckle holding up 
Its triumphant yellow bloom 
On a dead net of twigs 
Too long alone with the sun. 
This ring of elfin silver 
Braids my knuckle white, 
Brands me with a lash of fire, 
Connects beyond abandonment 
Another's troubles with my own. 
My fear that love would loosen 
Like teeth, and leave me to worm 
My way to death alone, 
Our small ceremony atones-- 
Hands held lightly, like branches cross- 
Ing, two pines that share a shadow 
In acidy sandy soil for all 
Their lives, bristling against the weather, 
Pinecones cuffing like coughs 
When wind beats them sideways.          •

 

 

Spines of Light

The black conveyer belt 
Hauls rivers of diamonds 
To a mouth of slush, 
A slurry of vomit 
Only patience can screen-- 
Patient implausible fingers.  
Some raven that lives in  
Midnight with a beak  
Like a drill-bit pecks  
Earth's holocaust crust 
To perch upon a finger 
One tear of the sun.  

It takes a diamond 
To find a diamond:  
The three-faced drill 
Cores stone and coal  
Seeking a vein  
Of light, a ripple 
In the earth where  
A finger, a snake  
Of sunlight died, 
Crushed multifaceted 
Into permanence-- 
Spines of light.           •

 

 

Juliet Manqué

The moon pulls me from bed 
Like taffy in my long gown 
Tittering slipperless on marble; 
Its wide craters effervesce 
Champagne I drink pinkly
Pearling my snub nose. 
I am pitiful and alone. 
My legs ache for embraces 
Like a bad tooth--pull me
Out, pull me up, dentist moon!  
This pain's too intimate  
To forget, too stimulant 
To ignore, painted wet 
With every cup of breath, my 
Loose arms open like a noose 
To hug the tainted stone flying 
Away, away from love, from me.
Come down!  Come down!
You foolish light!  I am your perfect lover-- 
A windowed prisoner pressing 
Her moon-face to the glass.          •

 

 

The Beauty

She cut off her nose 
And offered it up. 
She trimmed her ears 
And offered them up. 
She kissed her lips numb with a shot-glass 
And offered them up. 
Her skin broke out from her makeup, 
But that was to be expected. 
She punched her feet into guillotine shoes 
And offered them up. 
She prayed on a yoga mat 
Until her back broke. 
She despised her eyes as too small 
And offered them up. 
She coaxed her nails into claws 
And offered them up. 

She offered them all up 
Again and again in ritual 
Until there was nothing left 
Until she was finally beautiful.          •

 

 

Streamers

Hazel streamers from your eyes 
Entangle in ribbons from mine 
According to Renaissance lore-- 
Love pulls us through the eyes 
Feels the ganglia tugging taut 
As rainbows arise between us. 
I hold your nipples like a rosary 
Sensitive this week as eyelids 
While always this prayer is rising 
To dissolving lips a red scarf 
Thrown over the bedroom lamp 
Burning swollen as a heart.          •

 

 

Finding Fossils

	I hugged the ignorance of stone. 
	~~ Stanley Kunitz

She lies next to me sleeping 
Quietly alive, foot off 
One end of the double bed 
Steadily paddling home  
On a pool-float, her breast  
Milkily over the summer sheet 
Draped loose in summer heat 
That breath might sustain an ease 
And stillness enter at last to rest 
As at last she rests, yes, while I  
Remember her ceaseless wheels, her  
Doing that goes like a hummingbird 
In circles of forward and back 
Around the daylit apartment 
Around work and it's circuits 
Pacing the corners, igniting  
With fingertip tricks and a match 
Candles when evening loving comes 
And touching stretches, being thrums 
Until at last this sleep arrives 
Slows the breath undoes the eyes-- 
Her able hands for once so calm, 
A fernprint on a stone.          • 

 

 

Dream No More

Wordlessly you rise wary 
Into day, pitch awake 
On an L-elbow, pried eyes 
Carnivorous for coffee while 
Birds pinch your face with their 
Enviable singing outside, 
The flimsy scrim of screen 
Inundated by waves of sun 
Defining you out of darkness 
Like a rediscovered key 
Picked out by drunken headlights 
Last New Year's Eve, or last before-- 
And you moan into the mayhem 
Of consciousness again 
Pressure of bladder and bowel 
How feet flatfoot the earth after 
Flying for hours in nightgowns 
Knowing nothing but wind 
The occasional cloud-fluff 
Stars everywhere like friends.          •

 

 

Needlework

I mend an image worn 
By sitting, by fluffing, by naps: 
A spatter of nasturtiums 
In a delightful but unnatural pattern 
Printed on the drugstore's  
Two-dollar needlepoint kit 
In 1983.  Now I mend 
A confusion of nasturtiums 
Back to crimson, petal by petal, 
A task for Ariadne 
My spidery fingers finesse 
In evocations of thread. 
My heart dreads 
I shall not survive to renew 
This pattern again-- 
Some stranger's backside will come 
To endorse all I've done, 
All I've left undone... 
My basket of needles long sold 
Garage sales ago. 
I pause my pace 
And stare at the half- 
Resurrection in my lap, 
How the new infects the old, 
How the old degrades 
Beautifully as a sunset 
By Turner perhaps, or some 
Byzantine icon touched 
By too many lips.          •

 

 

IV Tightropes: More Formal Poems

Wisdom changes hands among the wise. ~~Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

Trying

Gently, without hurrying, try it: 
     Be the bowl of shadow in the valley, 
     Go with the river over knowing stones 
     Smooth as a catfish belly. 

Let pine trees breathe needles in your hair: 
     Follow that compass where it points, 
     Walk until your feet are padded, 
     Your toes as black as a fox's. 

The wind is trembling to begin it: 
     Are you ready to be led by the nose? 
     Forget your own life and inhabit it! 
     Gently, without hurrying now, 

Try it.          •

 

 

Tightrope

Walking curb edges for practice 
The tracks of departed trains 
I've sought, I'm always seeking 
A kind of balance in the brain 
An equipoise, a perigee, a grace 
Where thought and its subject 
Equally displace 
Each other (and themselves) 
On principles of mutual alliance 
The way Earth pulls back  
Her punch into the sun, and sun 
His enthusiasm contains 
To less than hellish flame. 
So that survival might feel 
Restful, I beaver at my niche: 
I count my words like beads 
Into the sorting dish: red, 
Blue or black, alive or dead, 
I've all the signifiers assigned, 
All the labels that I need 
To have my cusséd abacus succeed 
--To keep my accounts unsettled 
That entropy would nettle. 
I count the wordy beads: 
Charity, dignity, hope; 
Keeping your head up is like nothing 
So much as walking a tightrope.        •

 

 

Water, Water

        ...deep dark surroondin' darkness I discern 
     Is aye the price o' licht. 
    ~~Hugh MacDiarmid, Milk-Wort and Bog-Cotton

Downcast as thoughtless waters' face 
When a stormfront steals the light
I boot the edging muck and wail at fate 
A boxer simmering for a bout; 
But when the spry sun cast coins 
In cash on bricolage waves 
My spirit like a new-washed face 
Shines benign, myself am salved and saved. 
Well long lying I've watched for dawn, 
Well known the subtle cups the moon 
Pours on darkling waters' scorn,
Sibilant ease in which night is born….
And oftener still felt sprigs of spray 
Whip, dot and whisker me for spite 
Turning my inmost grouse of thought 
To imp-laughter and wet delight. 
A thousand hours down on elbows, low, 
I breathe the skirl of air from off 
The dance, the mantling of the lake-- 
Shavings, glintings of light and self.        •

 

 

One Afternoon

The sun swarming on my upturned face 
Warms me into place. 
If ever I moved from where now I lay, 
Love, it was not today. 
Long hot summer holds me so hammock-snug 
Gott could call, and I would shrug. 
I'm a cat whose paws overstretch its stoop; 
Night is when I leap!          •

 

 

New Places

I thought we were going somewhere new, 
A place undiscovered, at least by us, 
Where new day would startle us quietly 
And new night silently confound. 

But there were all the old stars above us. 
We hadn't taken the turnpike far enough 
To reach escape velocity, despite our losing 
Home and cell phone coverage along the way. 

All around us, trees kept on being trees, and  
Although the land crept up the sky somewhat 
More than usually for us in old New Jersey, 
The clouds came down to meet it just the same.
•

 

 

A Map of Bones

Tiptoe on the mountaintop was not enough. 
Some part of me sparked up crying: more sky, more sky! 
My eyes swept the flowered hills, and the gulfs 
Where the water went, and sometimes hazed, 

And none of it, sparkle or living quilt, was enough. 
Inside me, full of burning teeth, was the eater of days, 
Dissatisfied dipsomaniac of incalculable thirst 
Dragging me from mountaintop to top 
  
For vistas so magnificent they hurt. 
The body follows its map of bones, laying out 
Fingertip, fingertip, fingertip--or tilting 
The pelvis upright to see how we're not alone  

As we walk the flat unpatterned plains between 
Thunderclaps of mountains that help us up, 
Whose stone bones grow so long that they poke 
Through the scenery.          •

 

 

The Dancers of Sleep

The dancers of sleep hold flames in their hands. 
We follow them down into caves, under the earth. 
Stones glare into existence, bursts of incredible light. 

Tall blade-shouldered creatures fearless in daylight 
Walk like Egyptians down the dusty path clapping hands 
To awake the napping bats entangled in edges of shadow.          
•

 

 

Reluctance

All day the steeple bells 
Harangue an empty sky. 
The sky is crowded with clouded 
Now, and will not answer why. 

The trees themselves are swinging 
Like bells held up to skies. 
The sky is silent and itself 
And will not answer why. 

The birds compete with tinny 
Bells alert in tree and sky. 
The sky is blue, alarmless 
And will not answer why. 

A man comes late on silent feet 
Between trees and bells and sky. 
The sky he looks at satisfies; 
He will not answer why.        •

 

 

Day and Night

Into the woods we ran at ten like Indians. 
Into the pond we dove at twelve like crocodiles. 
Into the grey fields we walked at thirteen 
Holding hands until stars nosed close 
     And loneliness fled. 

II 
Before the old fire's fine red we sit, and stare 
Into the old years we've passed together here. 
Into our old eyes unbidden rise grey tears 
And old stars come down close to us 
     And loneliness flees.          •

 

 

This Soil

The soil is ready before I am ready. 
Already a youth's beard of weeds 
Greens the garden plot, and March 
Just barely by. 

This soil has turned up old arrowheads before. 
When the hoe tapped a hardness more than stone, 
I bent and cut a finger open 
Down to the bone. 

This soil loves a tender thumb pushed in, sighs 
At the tamp of my palm under our one sun, 
The gurgle-tinkle of water from the rusty can 
A baby's cry. 

The soil boils with vegetables all summer long. 
I stoop like a mother, attend to weeds 
And pack my ratty baskets to a crown  
While singing songs. 

This soil needs turning under, now winter's here.
Hoe, rake and shovel lean idly in the shed. 
Dry leaves blow among the picked stalks lisping 
Death's easy hiss.          •

 

 

The Trouble with Simple

Simply put, is the loss 
Of detail that staring entails 
Until a total blur besets 
The doilywork, and only 
Loops of cloud remain. 

The trouble is where to begin 
Sanding the filigree finial, 
Erasing the Hindu panoply 
And awakening the grain 
Of Amish monotheism. 

The trouble is when to stop, 
When polishing reflects the polisher, 
When steel and stone, spoon 
And moon, are one--and only 
A mirror to your circles. 

The trouble is with hummingbirds 
And bees and butterflies, all those 
Eccentric improbable flights stopped  
Cold, or reduced to arrows, or 
Gravity's earthy entropy. 

The trouble with simple, simply 
Put, is how one keeps forgetting 
To edit, adding totem on totem  
To the pole, chop by magnanimous  
Chop, in beneficent indifference.          
•

 

 

Skinny-dipping

Childhood's millpond margin smells of peat; 
The black water drowns thirty feet; 
Millenial mulch slowly sifts to silt, 
Soft on my ankles as tongues of guilt. 

Our laughter echoes to where woods turn wise 
And dark beyond intelligence; 
The pulpy water we swallow and spit 
With shredded swimming light is gilt. 

Arms to arcs, we frogleg to the mill-wheel, 
Catch an edge where supple water spills, 
Turns small voices to shouts against the rush 
Of liquid Time's naked churning push 

Piggy-backing shoulders, while the stone lip 
Syllables oblivion, invites a slip.-- 
We grind ourselves red-handed as we grip 
And watch the jagged water jump.          •

 

 

The Homestead

The house that had me call her home
Where I went from pip to grown
Showed me, among her nestling trees,
Our reservoir's sparkling restful ease
Where a thousand flattish stones were skipped,
Quizzed the surface of what is with ripples
Then sank to nothing known by man or wish
Who would not plunge awhile and be fish.
This house that had my childhood kept
Has herself grown double with subdivision
And invited others into her provision
To hear new voices slide from treble down
And down and down and right on into ground.
•

 

 

Time-Piece

Time, faceless, stares all faces 
To tatters;  unarmed, disarms 
Quick bullets with slow rust;   
Legless trips the sprinter 
With age's crutch;  breathless, 
Breathes first and last. 
Of all songs the tempo, time; 
Of all debates the winner.  Time 
Furls the trimmest sail, marches 
Crowncrest mountains down 
To hills, pounds hills to sand, 
And sand to I know not what. 
Killer unkillable, time;  death 
That dies not.  Time is free  
That imprisons me, that,  
Senseless, robs me of sense--is dust
That drowns my every word 
In oblivion and silence.          •

 

 

Bouquet

Where our engagement flowers have fallen 
Flares awaken, soft forceful eyelids  
Like light-stitched depths of gems held close 
(As this amethyst ring in earth was held, 
Loved for the fireworks it reflects: 
Diamond-pointed lotus petals--perfect.)
•

 

 

Fox and Rabbit

She knew all 
And I knew naught; 
Thus the Fox 
The Rabbit caught.          •

 

 

The Gift Refused

My mistress is throwing away her scarves 
That had wound in her tresses like tentacles 
Tightening coils of beauty like the stars 
In the black of her night hair, heavy and full.-- 
One by one they flutter in bright spirals 
Dropping to the pebbled earth below her, 
A pile of starshine like vines in piles 
Throbbing with wind only, no longer her fingers. 
"Out of my hair, threads and deeds of yesterday; 
Out of my house, Tommy, whatever you say."
•

 

 

The Pig of Day

VanGogh's hills arise like muscles 
Blended with broken sky--a blue 
Of veins and midnight tears and 
Much else besides.  A wand loaded 
With oils random enough to curse 
Clarity from eyes' wilderness of use 
Until the pig of day had ravaged him 
Calm with truth or tooth.          •

 

 

Minatory

Age is a nylon stocking 
Pulled distorted over the face 
The waxen features melt and fall 
The under-eyelids distort 
Like gutters torn from the roof 
Their salty waters tumbling 
Past a warty demeanor  
Into weak neck-drapes tacked back 
To showcase the final act 
--A farce, a tragedy, whatnot. 

Chase the kisses you once reviled 
In your most secret heart. 

Your grave's turned down like a bed, 
Grasses pulled up to the chin; 
The time you had is passed, is passed 
Never again to begin. 
Your last supper is laid with wine, 
Fillet the time most finely; 
Taste the avid meat upon your plate, 
Tuck in, tuck in! 
Tear the knotted nylon from your chin 
That faded lips may part: 

Chase the kisses you once reviled 
In your most secret heart.          •

 

 

What Scent

What scent is this but dust: 
Lilacs in their manifold bloom 
Bluebells dangling from vein-thin stems 
Red roses reaching up in wrath 
Thistles with their blistering hats 
Dogwood eating its feast of whites 
Moonflower showing her face at night? 
Inhale, inhale, till lungs burst! 

Here's silly Annie, not two, not yet, 
Old Stan crotchety in granddad pants, 
What scent are they, what role fulfill? 
Marjorie panting on the pink bedspread 
All those kisses new love's been fed, 
What scent they, for breathe we must? 
What you, what me if't comes to that, 
What scent are we but dust?          •

 

 

Deceptive Airs

I 
Spring again has brought 
Such loveliness, such access 
To one's pores 
How can one conceive 
Of death the ogress, or guess 
One's rotten to the core? 

II 
Oppressive summer sweats 
Too aggressively, undresses 
Our thoughts of nimble ambling 
Through woodlands and the wild-- 
Reduced to indoors and nude 
In a tub of ice cubes: 
Less adventurous, more umbilical. 

III 
Autumn's rousing storms 
Reminds the body of its bones 
Drops fruit in wanting buckets,
Blonds trees, hawks walks; 
With every wand'ring breeze 
Fills bellies fee free 
With a salesman's generosity. 

IV 
Winter's icy indifference 
Deepens the sense of deception-- 
The false clarity age manages, 
But only in its cage: 
Trees scribbled with a writer's rage, 
The sky an empty page.          •

 

 

Like Cake

"God's a phony," my professor said, a hipster.
"Even the news is fake.  Prayer never works." 

At midnight I drink my Pabst, kneel 
And throw the dice;  prayer never works.

I emptied my pockets and took my hat;
Pulled over halfway home;  prayer never works.

"Three hundred dead" the newscast said.  
I sobered in the dirty dotted light.  

"Sarin gas smells like incense at first,"
The translator said, "like cake."  

By daybreak, my eyes a sandpaper glitter,
I hear myself say: "Gregg, prayer never works.

Put a prayer in every word you make." 
•

 

 

Playing in the Orchard

You had run up into an apple tree 
In a springtime game of hide-and-seek. 
All the world was empty as you hid from me, 
And I ran down aisles of apples for a peek 
Of your skirt disappearing, or a shoe fallen off 
Into the green green grass, empty and soft. 

It was apple-blossom time, and time 
Told me you were lost, the last year's 
Apples weighty and rotten on the ground, slimy 
Beneath my hurrying feet.  In fear 
That you were lost to me, I collapsed 
Beneath the scent of blossoms in the air. 

I was looking up... it was the nearest thing to heaven...
A soft blindness of flowers everywhere... 
I looked up... it was heaven... and you were there!
•