I stumble into my bathroom at five, turn on the light, start the shower. When I look into the antique mirror my mother’s face stares back. What the hell?
“You’re supposed to be in bed,” I say.
“I don’t feel like sleeping.” She reveals two crooked front teeth in a raggedy smile.
I grab a washcloth and wipe the mirror but it streaks soap over my mother’s face. She grimaces. I spray Windex and wipe it clean.
“You know,” she tilts her head sideways as if examining a picture. “You’re starting to look like me.”
I lean against the sink. “Jesus, what does that mean?” I examine deep grooves along the sides of her mouth, mismatched jowls, red spider veins on her nose, a tanned hide. “How long have you been standing there, Mom?”
“I can’t get ready with you staring at me!”
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me,” she says with a frown.
“Why can’t you leave?” I ask.
“As long as you look like me I can’t leave.”
I turn out the light, but she is still there when the light goes back on.
“You know dear, you really should start using night cream. It helps save face as you age.”
“Mom, this conversation is ridiculous.”
She starts to cry. I reach out to touch her but the mirror gets in the way. “How did you get behind there anyway?”
“I’ve always been here.” She smiles.
“Go away,” I shout at the mirror.
“Don’t worry. I’ll look better after you start using cream,” she winks.
I look into a hand mirror to get a clear picture of myself but there’s my mother again. I hang it on the shower rod behind me but now hundreds of mothers stare at me …in front of me…behind me…staring from all angles…so I rip the mirror off the shower rod and throw it in the trash can.
My mother frowns, furrowed lines, memories of time spent in the sun. “You can’t get away from mirrors, but you can pretend it all isn’t happening.” Her eyes fix on the night cream.
“Will you go back to sleep if I use it?” I ask. She nods.
I unscrew the lid on the jar, dip in three fingers and slather cream over the mirror.
Watch your step.
she is merely a thinker
drained of unrealized potential
a smile on her cute, dimpled face.
She would never take
care of herself.
They were betting trifectas. This means you have to pick all three fastest horses in the right order. They already knew who would who would win and who would show, they were only worried about who would place.
“Madam Butterfly or Mary Jane’s Last Dance?” Juan asked.
“Most betters are going with Madam Butterfly but I don’t know…”
Dave looked down at his race sheet.
“…Remember Marshmallow Martini was favored in the last race–and he didn’t even place.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“Damn everything starting with an ‘M’ is bringing us confusion,” I say.
“Shut up and let us think,” Juan answers.
They were right. I was a terrible gambler with no knowledge of the mathematics or madness dancing like pin balls inside the minds of the addicts. They were scientists of the sport, and I was merely an admirer of the beauty.
“You go get some fresh air buddy,” Juan says. “Let us think for the last minutes we have to place this bet.”
My shadow was hovering across his race sheet like a ghost. He was scared and so was I. This was the last of our money: five thousand pesos. This was our last chance and though I couldn’t contribute anything to their discussion I certainly didn’t want to be blamed for the outcome.
I walked outside over to get closer to the track. I wanted to get a good look at the horses as they waited to make it into the stadium.
Madam Butterfly was black and very masculine, not at all feminine like her name suggests. She kicked at the dirt with her long legs, picking up sand as her jockey patted her head and kicked his heel into her chest.
I tried to find number four, Mary Jane’s Last Dance. She was golden and fantastic. One of the finest horses I’ve ever seen. Her legs were nimble and strong; longer than Madam Butterfly but looked much calmer, trotting slowly in little dance steps as her jockey smiled and spoke softly into her ear. Mary Jane’s Last Dance was worthy of earning her name, and I knew she was going to place.
I tried to find the two favorites. There was the number one horse, The Sky is the Limit off in the corner with his head down. He looked like a doctor just before surgery; complacent and confident in his capacity yet completely aware of what was required of him, not paying attention to any distractions. He was a brown stallion, and very large and it looked as if that horse was made to run like hell and do nothing else.
“Number two is going to start off strong,” Juan said. “But then he’ll be a goner and ‘il fall back at the end ‘cause he’ll have nothing left in the tank.”
“Hell yes,” he said. “The Sky’s the Limit will be spent by the time he reaches that final corner–and that short final straightway will be when Violent Storm gets into full gear and takes over the last couple lengths.”
“It’s designed for Violent Storm,” I said.
They looked at me like I was an idiot.
“What?” I said. “That short straightaway ending is designed for a horse named Violent Storm.”
“Please don’t talk,” Juan said.
I walked away to watch the horses enter the stadium. I always love it when they come out. There’s always a crazy one, with legs in the air, howling like a wolf.
“Errrrrrr,” bellowed Sugar Tequila in the corner. They were struggling to get her into the starting booth. The filly didn’t want to enter and her jockey was nearly knocked off her neck a few times. He was screaming at her, swearing in Spanish and sweating like a pig wrapped in bacon frying in the heat of the sun.
“Pinche pendejo chingona,” he said. “Vamanos–por favor Tequila–ahorita odale pues guey!”
They final got her inside and continued down the line at the starting gate. The Sky is the Limit was the next to enter. He did so with no hesitation at all; head bobbing back and forth slowly. I knew that colt was something special from the first time I laid eyes on him. Silver mane shining beneath the sweltering noonday Tijuana sun he danced leisurely onto the track. He was graceful and methodical and a vision to watch. Looking at the scoreboard the betting odds had her paying five for ten, and slightly favored over Violent Storm.
Madam Butterfly was paying thirty to one and Mary Jane’s Last Dance was thirty-seven to one. I didn’t know who we wanted, but I knew Mary Jane’s Last Dance was going to get it. I knew we would make a lot of money on the trifecta if we won. Winning: that’s all that mattered.
All the horses were in and ready to go. I looked back but couldn’t see Dave or Juan. Everybody was standing up and ready for the final race of the day. Almost all the money was on Violent Storm and The Sky is the Limit and rightly so. These two took off strong in the number one and two positions, inching ahead of the pack and then pulling further ahead after the first corner. They passed my position flying so fast it looked like their feet barely touched the dust.
There was no way anyone was going to catch them and The Sky is the Limit looked like he was pushing so hard he was trying to launch himself into space. But then his head started shaking lower to the ground and more violent. I was watching the jumbotron to get a better view and Violent Storm was making up ground fast as they made it around the final turn.
In the pack there were two horses fighting for third. They were trying to get ahead and both decided to go for the inside at the same time. The horses’ legs buckled in slow motion and “agggghhhh,” swept through the crowd like a broom rubbing across the faces of the patrons grabbing their mouths and chests.
An accident took down a couple horses, tossing anorexic jockeys through the air like rag dolls. They landed on the track and were immediately smacked like a piñata, horses somehow managing to continue as if their bodies were nothing but shadows.
The two favorites crossed the finish line and I didn’t even have a chance to see who won. The whole pack was fighting to place, five horses jockeying for one position on the platform. They crossed the finish line in a furious cloud of dust, whipping the horses with madness and hatred.
I sat back complacent and waited for the scoreboard. After a few seconds, number eight, Violent Storm, was posted in the highest position as the winner.
“Wooooooooo,” roared through the crowd.
“Yeeeaaaahhhhh,” I screamed.
Number two, flashed in red lights in the place spot right beneath number eight. The Sky is the Limit did it. They were right and I knew it would be awhile before the final number was posted. Everyone was waiting, frozen faces and no more shouting. A few women were laughing and a man drinking next to me tore up his ticket and threw it up into the air. His face looked sick and I had to turn away. I ran up the steps looking for my friends. We came to Mexico with twenty thousand pesos and this bet could double that if all went well.
“Come on Madam Butterfly sweetie–come on number seven–come on Madam Butterfly, come on girl…,” Dave said.
“Why is it taking so long?” Juan asked.
Juan wiped the sweat from his face. He was red like a lobster, sun burnt so bad he was glistening, looking quickly back and forth between the screen and the heavens like a demented lunatic. He was praying and pinching his cheeks, lips moving; saying nothing. Something had to happen.
Number 7 flashed across the screen in the place spot.
“Goddamnit,” Dave said.
“Ayyyyaaaaayyyyy,” Juan said, “Noooooooooo…”
Juan sunk back to his seat in silence. Dave pounded his chest like a gorilla. Now we had no money for tequila, only a little beer and tacos and weed. No heroin, only sunshine and senoritas and promises of better trifectas. I decided to brighten the mood and break the silence. This sadness is madness and we should have planed this trip better.
“Same old story–mañana, mañana, mañana–but I would have went with Mary Jane’s Last Dance.“
The flowers left by the spot
where he jumped have dried,
his memory unable to keep them
alive. The cards are dog-eared,
ribbons have begun to untie
themselves. I do not know him,
why he chose to jump. All I see
whenever I look down are swans
curling their wings as if carrying
something precious. And the river,
folding itself in the shape of a mouth;
waiting for answers to be given.
From the kitchen I watch
the view turning into a scene
from a Wordsworth poem:
Serene sky, pearly clouds.
The chestnut tree outside
my block rocking in the breeze.
I prepare a bottle for my baby
son and carry on watching the scene.
A group of girls wait
at the bus stop across the road.
They cannot see me watching,
noticing the slow swell in their
bellies. Soon the vapour
will thicken, start to kick.
Their mouths will dribble rain
in their sleep one night
and the sound of erupting thunder
will echo across neighbourhoods.
like music boxes
at night, filling
streets with the sound
Stray cats dash
under the protection
of parked cars; commuters
watch their newspaper
the downpour and think
of their childhood – times
when they stood outside
and tasted each drop
on their tongue, rolled
around in the newly formed
rivulets. Their adult
skin remembers those times,
weeps with the thought of loss.
After your cremation the sky
lights like a kerosene lantern.
By that glare, Rick and I loot
your desk, finding scissors and paste,
tweezers, eye drops, toothbrush, pens
with ink in six colors. At last
the mother lode: a drawer full
of cream letterhead stationery
embossed with logo and address
of the company you founded
and ran in secret. Treeline,
you called it. Rick and I divide
the stationery, planning to run
the business in your absence
although we don’t know what products
or services you sold, or to whom.
The air tastes sooty and greasy.
A strong wind billow from the south.
Rick’s uneasy. He wants to box
everything in this dusty office
and sell it by the pound for scrap.
I turn and look into your eyes.
In your long black velvet coat
you seem as sturdy as a prism
of basalt. I hadn’t understood
that allowing your ashes to rise
up the chimney into the ether
would allow you to reconstitute.
As you smile your little viper smile
your shadow so intensifies
that Rick and I fall through the floor
and crash-land ten feet below.
When we peer through the hole you made
you’re laughing down from a height
much greater than we’d expect,
and you occlude the light the sky
had generated in your honor.
When I joke about your obsession
with mushrooms and orchids you gaze
with inhuman flicker candid
as a reptile’s. The Sunday light
refracted by your smile hurts
the churchgoing crowd you despise,
and like me they regard you
from the corners of their eyes as if
afraid some curse will apply.
Some claim you sleep under toadstools.
Some even whisper that the pink
of the lady slipper tempts you
to a devilish sort of excess.
Yet you’re harmless as the flora
you admire, excepting the toxic
amanita, the flesh of which
is tough and white as your thighs.
Why are we sighing over books
when a short walk away the sea
exhales a thousand shades of gray?
The cottage can’t hold us all.
One bedroom looks so haunted
with four-poster bed and quilt
indented by invisible corpse
that no one wants to enter it.
And the kitchen fumes with propane,
causing headaches, and the parlor
offers a shelf of best-sellers
from the Fifties, plus board games
missing half the playing pieces.
So why slouch around indoors
quoting Derrida at each other
when we could bend ourselves to the wind
and walk as far as the lighthouse,
scouring the tide-line for shells?
Tom, Jared, Kate, Nancy, George–
come on, someone walk with me.
Despite the resetting of clocks
to Standard Time and the wind-shift
to the east the air’s bright enough
to open your pores and fill you
with legends of shipwreck and drowning.
We all could use the exercise.
Remember that Derrida’s theories
killed him because he sat too long
over his brazen French grammar.
So let’s step out and brave the world–
and if the cloudy light should strike
the sea at just the right angle
we’ll see around the curve of the world
to France, where Derrida’s buried
in the rubble of Marx and Kant.
Seed worms have become scarcer.
This autumn I’ve dug up so few
I fear the war can’t continue.
The seed worms are the males. Often
people expect the females
to carry the eggs, but because
they’re so highly explosive
the males tote them underground,
so deep that if they explode
by accident the earth whispers
rather than erupts. The worms
are parasitic. They penetrate
without pain, reside in the heart
where they sample the blood flow
and alter behavior. The crimes
they prevent by inducing stupor
go unrecorded. Only when war
breaks out do the worms perform
public service. The eggs become
the subtlest form of hand grenade.
Sprinkling them on the enemy
produces shocking results.
We no longer use artillery
or train recruits to fire rifles
but pepper worm eggs from above,
from helicopters. But the lack
of seed worms this season compels
hiatus to our favorite war.
Today we have to hunker down
at the polls and elect a new
and younger commander-in-chief.
A worm’s already in his heart,
already in all our hearts.
The blood-thirst of the worm becomes
our own hunger, and we live
and die by it. The dry weather
rustles like money, and the bones
of our exploded enemies
lie gloating wherever they fell.
First we unseal his mausoleum
and toss him in the back of a truck.
Packed in ice, he arrives in New York
safely. In a lab in New Hampshire
we apply electrodes and spark
his pickled heart. Lifting his dome,
we massage his brain. Spiders
have nested here but scamper away
in the blue fluorescent glare.
Lenin opens his eyes. They’re glass
but see us anyway, his spirit
returning in a long gray tide.
He coughs up a clot of Russian
and thanks us in brittle English.
Having conquered death he’s ready
to run for U.S. President.
Reborn here, he’s a citizen
and eligible. His huge forehead
intimidates all conservatives.
His love of violence impresses
liberals, transvestites, religious
of every persuasion. Stalking
on rigid and upright dogma
across the nation, he advocates
bulldozing all those institutions
that coddle inept intellects
and let women dress like men.
He advises selling our parks
and forests to private enterprise
and shooting bankers and realtors
in front of their cringing families.
On Election Day he pockets
a mandate to run the nation
as he pleases. But his structure
quickly decays. We can’t prevent
liquefaction although we pack
his pores with canning wax. He sighs
and implodes. We package the mess
in a freezer bag and declare
a week of national mourning.
The Smithsonian will preserve
his remains until a new era
requires a strong man and attempts
a fresh reanimation, perhaps
by pouring him into a mold.
We’re glad we tried, his expression
rumpled as ancient papyrus
and his glass gaze big as the sea’s.
Naked on the Common
Convicted of infamous libel
I’m forced to stand naked, shivering
on the Common where the east wind
fumbles in leafless English elms
and commuters clutch leather cases
as they elbow to the subway.
The cold seems more impossible
than the libel I published to prove
you conspired against the dignity
if not the life of the senator
who fathered your favorite child.
The poor creature sported antlers,
complicating birth, but surgery
resolved his headgear. The senator
paid the hospital bill and tipped
the surgeon with a new Mercedes.
The article I published claimed
that sex with the senator triggered
a fatal earthquake in China
and helped melt the Greenland icecap.
The senator couldn’t sue me,
his public persona too grim
to place before a jury. But you
with your weepy blonde cunning
demanded a criminal case,
regardless of established law.
A panel of judges sentenced me
to spend twenty-four hours naked
in the stocks. Dusk falls. No one
notices how blue I’ve become,
how eerie the early snowfall
looks in the blurring lamplight.
At last you stalk past grinning
like a brush fire. You testified
in court that I, not the senator,
fathered that pitiful child.
But no one did. You reproduced
finding no male ripe enough
to please you, and none brave enough
to get so close to the grimace
with which you wither the world.
Bobby’s mind is convoluted.
From dark corners, specters
chase monkeys. Black bananas
grow mold. Subconscious urges
embrace the dark foreboding things.
Rationality is a weak twin sister;
proud and pretentious, it lives in
the dirt. Ivory towers are made
of mud. Napoleon leads the
light brigade. Impotence is
a tacit king. Ah, but the sun
a shining while it’s starting
to snow. The snow delights
my hedonistic eyes. Look!
The snow is green.
A Nazi youth corps has broken through our lines and captured our flags, including the French flag and the German and Italian flags we had previously captured. We flee south with the remaining flags. In a previous episode Hitler had been trying to kill us personally but our elevator got stuck between floors, leaving him shouting hysterically just above us and pounding helplessly on the locked door. As we flee south we run into the young King Hussein moving north. He had previously been allied with the Nazis but is now allied with us. Farther south we meet up with Queen Farah. We promise her to look after the king and also to bring Condoleezza Rice in safely. Just as I say this she arrives and there is much relief. I continue south and am told by Ehud, my commanding officer, that I am being put in charge of Camp Qui Vive because my mom and dad will be staying there for the weekend. I am to relieve Gen. Darnell Worthington, the first black general in the U.S. Army. I arrive by jeep and spot him right away. He is to be my deputy now. I ask him to brief me. He starts talking very fast and I wonder if I should be writing everything down and even search my pockets for a pencil. I tell him that I am really not qualified to take charge of the camp. He puts me in the hands of Col. Babcock, his chief of staff. At this point I wake up, wondering immediately if I can use any of this material. It is as I am considering this that I decide to call the general Darnell Worthington, thinking of Denzel Washington, whom I saw in the news talking about the screen writers strike, though in the dream the general is white. There is no Col. Babcock in the dream. I put him there because Babcock strikes me as a nice name for a colonel and once I have the name I need the character. Because I have made up these names in the margin of the dream, so to speak, just as I wake, I consider them an integral part of the dream.
The dream is so vivid that I go downstairs to write it down. It is 5:30 a.m. As I am transcribing it I decide to call Hussein’s wife Farah, though I know that this is the name of the Shah’s wife. Or perhaps this was already her name in the dream. I can’t be sure anymore. In any case I am thinking of Farrah Fawcett. I call the camp Qui Vive after Jeb Stuart’s camp in winter ’61. The elevator comes from my old building in the Bronx. I don’t know what Hussein is doing in the dream. He looks very young and has his familiar mustache, though slightly thinner than in later years, and is probably wearing his red checkered keffiyeh. Condoleezza Rice is in the area talking to Olmert and Abu Mazen. Ehud is Ehud Barak. The road south is the road from French Hill to Ramot in Jerusalem, which actually runs along an east-west axis. I call it south because this seems a more appropriate direction for a retreat.
Dreams are a wonderful mystery. I rarely analyze them. I prefer to record them and leave the mystery intact. The dream transpires in an imaginary dimension of the world that can only be entered in sleep. If you attempt to resurrect this world in a waking state it loses its magic. If you imagine yourself acting in such a resurrected world you find that you have passed into the realm of fantasy, which has its own attractions but, paradoxically, none of the reality of the dream, for a dream, like a hallucination, is real on its own terms while a fantasy is merely willed. In a dream the world is given, and though we inhabit it as constructs of our own minds we act in it as we might act in the real world. Of course, when we are in a dream world we do not know that we are dreaming and there is nothing about this world to suggest that it is not real until we are awake. Were we not to awaken we might dwell there permanently, albeit on somewhat different terms, under a different kind of harmony, and live a life no less satisfactory, and perhaps more interesting, than our own.
Within the dream world everything proceeds with a certain logic and our minds operate along familiar lines: we think and feel just as we often do in the waking state – we reflect, we have insights, we engage in introspection, we are aware of belonging to ourselves, and we believe that we are freely exercising our wills when we are in fact being borne along. In this last sense, and again paradoxically, the dream is very much like life. In the real world too we are borne along, not by the forces that actuate our dreams but by the forces that rule our lives, though many would say they are identical. Say then that life is like a dream, not in its transience but in the way in which we are locked into ourselves and compelled to be what we are. In life we are the prisoners of ourselves just as we are the prisoners of our dreams.
The illusion of freedom lies at the heart of the human experience. We live with it as comfortably as the blind live without light. It is our condition. We know no other and are not equipped to know another. Consciousness does not make fine distinctions. It embraces the whole and calls everything within its sphere the self. It is in a sense coterminous with the self, inseparable from the self, and yet not the self, just as a mirror image is not the thing it reflects. When the mind has a thought consciousness is conscious of it and simultaneously throws it back on the mind as a datum of consciousness. Consciousness and the data of consciousness are coterminous too, so that when the mind conspires with itself to create an illusion, consciousness is deceived as well. The mind works behind a veil. It throws out thoughts from a dark place that come back to it in the purest light. If an image is tarnished it averts its eyes.
The mind protects us from ourselves. It stands guard over us in our waking hours just as it does in our sleep. It will not let us perceive ourselves as we are. It hides us from ourselves so well that we think that what we are is what we see. When we are moved to think a thought, want an orange or a woman, or perform for company we think we are free, for these urges, and even counterurges, are experienced as unmediated expressions of a will. In fact they only express habits of thought and social reflexes, all the unseen connections of the unconscious mind, and the imperatives of our nature. The will is the loudest voice. It reflects the balance of things behind the veil.
In the dream we slip behind the veil. Here too the world is given, but in the dream the world is my representation and as I enter it I am drawn further and further into myself. This is the final frontier. At each turn in the road a world vaster than all the universe opens itself to me. I am there. I think. I feel. Do I dare to step across the line and lose myself in the country of the dream? Do I dare to be free?
The road to Ramot, mirrored in my dream, is the road to such a country. What was going on there? Who were these people? What was this world of unexplored possibilities, opening doors I’d never imagined? And a war being fought and the enemy approaching and Denzel and Babcock and myself sorting out the chain of command and Queen Farah perhaps inviting me to tea and nothing holding true anymore. I see the camp now. It is full of activity, vehicles and men in constant motion. It must be winter because the ground is muddy. What will I find there? What lies beyond? It feels a little like my life.
These lived elusive times,
our spans derived depths of brine,
tear lakes together in puddles,
so magnificent as their aquatic flowers blooming
Only so many meteors might fall
until the ocean belches
more that it whispers
when waved winds acquire
Chance’s coach reigns white horses,
shape-shifters, meant to tweak convention,
to distress the requiem
of shadowy literary forms
for Henry R. Schepp (1908-2001)
If you had been beside me, sleepless
or chilled by the sudden violence
of the winds, maybe you’d have walked
here with me, or come after
to see what kept me standing in the night–
you’d see nothing. Only, what
dissolves: dark to dawn, shore to wave,
wings to fog, branch to light:
the vague design that doesn’t come
from me, yet holds me
to it, just as you might, another time.
David St. John, from “Until the Sea is Dead”
Strike a match, the century is almost over. The dead
sit up in their chairs; willows fan out to listen.
Rocking chairs creak: a long awaited sigh
moves across the porches of the world.
People are ready for travel: empty seats wait
for everyone at J.F.K. International. . .
I worked three jobs and still had no money:
there is no time or place
for love. I stood staring for hours
at death: heads of corpses, wheelbarrows of ash
nodding toward the waiting Earth.
My grandchildren sleep inside of me.
I will never forget my Mother’s
sense of humor. I will never
You were stoned and beaten
in New York’s Lower East Side,
a young Jewish immigrant
only eight years old.
You walked home, wiped away the blood
and sat down to read with your brothers,
who shared with you
the truth of the written word . . .
I loved her brown eyes and dark Irish hair. Sometimes
I swear I could see the moon
rise in her skin. We met
because I was selling shoes
in Akron, Ohio, and she loved shoes.
I could count on her coming to the store
at least once a week. I swear, the first time I saw her
my heart was lost forever.
Anyway, she must have had an eye for me, too,
for she invited me to play bridge
one Saturday night with another couple. Would you believe
that both this couple and she
didn’t know a thing about bridge?
So I spent the rest of the night teaching them
to play bridge, and I fell in love.
My oldest brother, Red, told me years later
that he knew we would get married
the day he found us
on opposite sides of the living room
sitting on davenports, each of lost in a book.
The air around us is heavy
like a fine mist of oil, and smells
like a kettle
of soup left on the stove
since early morning. Church bells
rinse the trunks
and branches of the sycamores:
a congregation of leaves
left on the ground.
The presence of God
is everywhere, like the unseen
language of a dream: people
cut roses and pick
tomatoes: a young couple washes
a dog in a baby pool. A black widow
is busy at work on its web
which blooms between the gutters
of a two-story colonial
and a young red maple. Every natural
is a state of mind: the sky’s ability
to sing throbbing down
through the branches
and out from the lips
of the grass.
You are late, strike a match,
the century is almost over. Newborn children
stop crying on cue: even the guns
are quiet, the air around them moving
through the leaves
like hands sifting through grain.
You unloaded boxcars of watermelons
in Akron, Ohio, sometimes earning a dollar a day
and sometimes soup and bread.
You never complained: you dressed in rags . . .
The century watched as you turned sixteen
and stepped on a train bound for Chicago, Illinois,
unloaded a shipload of Canadian whiskey
and a stranger handed you a hundred-dollar bill.
In America, he told you, no one can touch you
if you have money.
Imagine the looks on our faces
when the drill sergeant told us to grab a bridle
and go get ourselves a horse.
Most of us were from the city
and had never ridden a horse. A few of the braver men
ventured over the fence and started chasing horses.
Most guys ended up with a mouth full of dust
and a lot of laughter in their ears. Before long, however,
most of us were out there too, chasing horses around.
We were a sight to see.
Did you know we were the last
of the cavalry? After us,
the army phased us out for good.
What the hell. Everything ends sometime.
I suppose it’s like that when we pass away.
We are each given a bridle and told to go out
and pick a horse. Anyway, it probably doesn’t matter:
riding horses is hard work.
The light appears to bounce off the rooftops
and the blue jays begin to dart and screech
as the sun rises and burns
away the stars. I think
I can see her watering carnations
beside the house, her feet
covered by a puddle of grass,
her legs set off by a backdrop
of marigolds. Across the ocean,
in Africa, I board a plane with orders
for the allies to invade Sicily.
Never again would I feel myself
to be such a part of the breadth
of the world, never again would the memory
of that light bring so much:
this small town with robins and marigolds,
her words in my pocket a game of chance
only time would unfold.
Strike a match, the century is almost over.
The gray whales
from Alaska to California
change their songs — everyone begins to drink
black coffee and read Chaucer, forgive
each other’s sins, and ride bareback to mountain cabins
without running water.
The ships that left the United States on their way
to North Africa
were packed with soldiers.
The worst place to be was below deck, sometimes up to five
decks below the surface. Down there,
you could count on getting killed
if the ship was hit by a German submarine. I can remember
placing my hand on the metal, the ship’s side:
you could feel the water rushing by, the sheet metal here
less than an inch thick. I will never forget that.
It scared the hell out of all of us.
We spent most of our time
gambling: huge crap games that went
into the thousands of dollars. The winners
would run immediately to the chaplain
and give him their money
in case they were killed.
We come here, ship after ship,
die on these shores, and still
we are left without answers.
Why do we pray?
We ask, again and again,
if we find ourselves dead
on this hill, beneath these stars,
how long will we sleep?
You will sleep beneath a black moon:
I will take you in my arms and breathe
into your eyes. You must believe
there is a rhythm, a sequence
you must follow: your home
which is never far: your body
a little puddle filled
I believe in asking questions.
A person who doesn’t think about the world
is going to end up in trouble.
It has always been this way.
Is the world a frightening place to you?
it was to me, when I was your age.
I’m old now. I’ve outlived everybody.
I remember when I was a drill sergeant
in charge of the firing range
a young soldier ran up to me
and stuck the barrel of his rifle
right in my face. I grabbed it, moved it out of the way,
and it fired, shattering the drum of my left ear.
I was so god damned mad
I nearly killed him. What the hell.
That was a long time ago.
I can hear all right. I like to sit here
and look out my window,
wonder why everyone is in such a hurry.
I can’t complain. I have everything I need.
Believe it, burn a candle — sing — the century
is almost over.
The painters have cleaned their brushes;
the guitars are in tune. Now, it is time
for dancing, for anything
we haven’t done before,
for everything we’ll do again.
for Ana Rina
Time was once a fluttering bird
inside your body, a flicker
that sends the love in your eyes
the unwritten commands that make
you a mother.
apart from you now, in beds
warm with their own little
When they dream
you can sense them in your own
guarded sleep, for your love
has built invisible threads of starlight
which the angels use to safely guide
every wish you hold for them
to their waiting souls.
Trouble with you,
you were always afraid of dying,
always afraid to let go.
Remember, the dance floors
are vast in paradise.
The first time you heard the word
you could feel its reality
like the first time you heard the word
and suddenly everything
became uniquely finite.
A shame to be spoiled by words,
to let words be spoiled by shame.
Death is a nursery story.
There is a lesson at the end.
Lift your shaking arm and shave.
My soul cries out for every undiscovered dog
who still crawls toward birth
in the sexual water
in which we swim, breathe, dream.
Kay Nina (b. 1939) Soul Dog Soul Fish
Dogfish in the shade of the stream,
tails and scales: here
in this dream of water,
water ladled under the body
like a puddle of memory
we swim through to return
to our lives.
But we are afraid to return
to this swamp of graves.
We are afraid to remember
the crawling dog-spirit
at rest with its nose
on the edge of the sea
after eons of gill-song.
How easy it must be
to feed the dog, feed the fish,
move your hand over the water
or drop your donation
in the basket.
You can nibble and bark,
tow the line guard the house:
Hallelujah brother dogfish!
Dogfish has his mind on simpler things
this evening, enough
of all the lawn mowers
and sprinklers, he thinks,
this suburb needs a paint job.
It’s time to go caving.
Look at dogfish!!
He’s in the caves, brother!!
Dogfish is in the caves!!
Neolithic drawings of fat
wounded animals graze
through his hungry mind,
and Jesus bides his time
next to a fire only heaven
can put out. Dogfish thinks,
Brother, this fire is too warm.
I need to get wet
and chew bones.
Still hungry, Dogfish jumps
in his ’63 MG convertible
only to catch Jesus and Santa Claus
in the rear-view mirror
directing a chorus of tight-lipped
sea monkeys through the gospel
Take a Lap around Mt. Sinai.
And just when you think
this crazy gill brother’s done it all,
Dogfish goes back home
with his tail between his fins
and has a beer and a smoke.
He’s trying to sort it all out:
charcoal grill, baseball, Buddhism.
The Olympics come and go
and Dogfish loves the synchronized
swimming — underwater breath
barks. What intrigues him
is the image of Buddha
at the bottom of his favorite
aquarium, head bobbing open
letting out air. Dogfish thinks,
Buddha should have a gold medal.
He’s been down there longer
than anybody I know.
He leans over the aquarium
and hears each bubble-bark
as it pops: yah-blup, yah-blup.
There is an unmistakable
gill glory on this muzzle
as he barks this song
he knows too well:
scales on the doghouse wall.
and unfastens the curtains of memory
where everything lies down
in the grass and finds the sky
refracted and human:
pictures we see
more than clouds,
lives we inhabit
more than atmosphere
where reflected sunlight
from a nearby star
holds us down,
the weight of lingering grief
in the jet stream,
words on the lips
of the dying
like unsheltered open wells
enters me like the still
light of a pond
at rest in my mind:
you ripple through
the room, the pebbles
I toss from my eyes
to set your image in motion
have lost their origin,
and move over the landscape
of your country
to the shore,
where the waves bend the light
in your eyes to a whisper
only beauty can hear. Darkness
follows, now moonlight
the canvas your words bring
to life: dewdrops from a star
you drop not by note
in this poem.
There is the church, the trees, the cars
moving by: he can see the things
that matter little to him now.
The light on his face
gives him an ageless appearance:
he has been alive in each decade
of this century, and looking back,
he says, is like looking into the shapes
and forms of himself
he can now hardly recognize.
As he talks, his hand sometimes
caresses the top of his head,
smoothing out the hair that remains,
and sometimes he closes his eyes
and tilts his head back,
the memories rushing in so strongly
there are no words left
to bear them, no words
to frame them, and it is here
that we embrace and part —
I am left with the image
of light on his face,
his closed eyes heavy
with the years inside them.
or stop my life from turning
into a tumbler of fear.
The cops wait for me
in the driveway, the phone
is tapped — I might as well
flip on a turban
and stretch my thoughts
back through the centuries,
where only the symphony moves
forward, somehow reaching
for God: I have seen one hundred
ways to die and chosen none —
the bourbon on my lips
looking for your kiss
that remains an elusive memory —
sunk in living room pet dander
and stale air.
when a broom falls
a couch slides
at the moments that pelt us
the screams bangs shouts
We are the ones who can’t see
the brevity of the storm-
only wince blurrily as we
and wait for it to all be over.
We are not the
family portrait people, not the
Christmas letter writers.
We are the ones trying to
notice that when the light hits us all
we look beautiful
Then Billy expanded on it
with a bass line he thumped out
on an old wooden telephone pole.
And Johnny joined in, strumming out
a rhythm on the telephone lines
stretched across the black velvet sky.
Jerry did us proud with a screaming solo
wrung out of the wrought iron
fences lining the cul de sac.
And I, for my part, sang some maximum
rhythm and blues dredged up from
somewhere deep inside a dark night of the soul,
My voice joining with the band, a siren’s song,
summoning the demons of rock and roll
to seduce heaven’s horniest angels from their hymns.
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one.
There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
Come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.
If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.
And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.
So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.
You should have seen the faces of the onlookers
as I tried to bring the bird back to life.
I figured this was my chance to make something
of myself: a life-changing chance to give life.
After all, this was Easter week: I knew M street
could survive another resurrection.
First, I rubbed its torso down the length
of its beauty, careful not to disturb the feathers.
I noticed how my fingers could not sense
death: like a lover, sometimes they are the last to know.
Then, I pulled its claws and let go —
I watched them delicately spring back
into place — rigor mortis
had not set — it sets, like the light we tender
as ours, but here, on this patch of sidewalk,
I let go of my desire and watched its colors
fade — the same light in the same way
that will someday claim mine.
that cannot be described.
Down the road, there is a group
of words huddled together
near the railroad tracks.
They are about to make love.
They have no problem with infinity,
and either do I.
Come on, let’s go!
J. Spanos (1933-2009) Crossroads of the Infinite
Of all the places
I was given to love,
there is a place made of water
where I return
every time language fails.
I remember to stay here
a little longer
than the rest of the Earth.
I like the way the leaves
glide, as if the current
is holding its breath.
Some words take longer than others
to surface, and this one
is worth the wait.
If nothing else, I can chase
my shadow under the trees,
or follow the cardinals note
by note through the underbrush.
They know where they are going —
I do not need to understand.
I can see the hole they cut
into the Earth. At night,
it looks like a pool of black
water where ghosts swim
on their backs, long strokes
that stretch moonlight
into wavering fingertip threads.
They are afraid of the water.
I can see them huddle along
the edges for warmth.
They take the little of me
that remains and change
into a game the dead
play on vacation.
I see them blowing rings
with my breath.
I hate them. I want to
stop them, but I cannot stay.
They have nothing to say.
I see you making love.
I cover you with everything
I have. I cover you
with my silence,
and when you move,
you sing together a music
that holds me here,
where your notes and your key
echo my desire
to be human, to linger.
I turn you lovingly
into living sculpture,
warm to the touch.
I measure you carefully,
your flesh in my hands like clay.
I never learned the difference.
I do not remember my origin.
I know one constant: look forward
into the void.
I wish I held a string in my hand
and could follow it back
to its origin,
but I might not like what I find —
I know only two letters by heart:
alpha and omega.
I would rather stare forward
and travel into the places
where a language is never born.
Here I begin, each time
I open my eyes.
I want to whisper
to tips of trees as twilight
recedes and ripples
into memory: the first time
I touched atmosphere
and created color.
No one was there,
but I can still see the way
the leaves turned in my arms
as I pressed again
into the language of vein and cell:
I never let them down,
never lose my touch.
Early July, a breezy afternoon,
and I am outside looking at flowers.
As I remember
now, beneath this bubbling splash
of rain, I tried to step
into your tiny blue
eyes, to touch the sharp needles
of the pine trees beside the porch,
taste the green perfume
and watch the kaleidoscope
inside your eyes twinkle
as I strain to part clouds.
I can almost hear you speak
a wish, a whisper,
a wisp wholly human,
but I am not permitted
to remain — I move
out of range,
I sleep on the edge
where your dreams
are born, where the light
is your alone.
Look at me
passing over your madness,
water and grass
so much of what I love
I forget to shine.
I become a snowflake
that cannot find its way South,
my life for a moment
alive in a wordless flame,
the constellations writing
the only words I believe,
Spring dropping its weight
into the medium
my life becomes.
There is only one element
left to find, but I cannot
remember its name.
I have no lips. Smile for me.
It is not too late.
F. Lystrander (1168-1224) Metaphysical Elements of Praise
I cannot remember the world.
I hear the sounds of a guitar
echo from the walls of houses.
Colors from the market
sift through my body,
smells of coffee and warm
carnations satiate my spirit.
I know the world is not mine.
There are no doorways
I can open. I have nothing
to sell: my thoughts
have no meaning here
Dust falls on cobblestones
and shadows take flight
into hands the valley
will never touch.
I am lonely without the world.
only in the scarves of memory,
I appear in an open courtyard
fated, fickle, formless.
I show them everything
and change nothing.
I scratch a quill on parchment
that will someday open unborn
flesh. I know you:
instruments where instinct
cannot hide. I see
how so much dust in the air
never reminds you of a final
flicker of breath. I move
hands until they wither
into fingers on new hands
writing old words
on new parchment
in a dead language. A new tongue
is all I need to move rocks
and wait for praise.
I know where echoes sleep.
True, the toil to carry language
is theirs alone: syllables weigh
the most just before they find time
I know when they are ready.
The air is heavy before rain,
before wind opens her lips
one last time.
I look for the last place on Earth.
Go ahead. Try to find answers.
Look in the hollows,
look in the sadness of my eyes.
If you know where they are born,
you do not need me.
I will understand.
I have patient hands.
I wanted you to continue,
fly through my body,
find your home in my breath.
Our existence is fragile.
Yours is made of tender air, blown kisses
that find a home beneath your wings.
Your shadow on the ground
is all the proof I need,
and now, without you,
I will warm your body,
even in death.
I have certain limits:
I cannot pass through solids.
Imagine the mess inside flesh,
the damage I would do, the unexpected
revelations as cells burn for me.
I mistake each cry for help
as a song. Inspiration is pure
when its origin is forgotten,
taken for praise. Think of a dam,
pools of heat that rise unseen
next to trees, boulders, torsos.
At night I trickle back to nothing,
each particle of my being moves
through blades of grass and up
the trunks of trees that lift me
into the open sky
where I rise
above everything I touch
and call it day.
I sculpted your body.
Each wrinkle felt my lips,
each blemish felt the brush
of my hands.
My fingers made a rosary
of your body.
When they placed you
in the ground, I pressed
my eyes into the soil.
I wanted to see
the hidden language
where flesh is born.
I wanted to hear
my name, where no one
not even me.
I saw you wash your hands
in the open. You tried not to look
at them. The clouds that day
spelled forever in every tongue.
My happiness was complete.
Today, I could see
through flesh, and nothing
made by human hands
would stop me.
I began to sing
as I passed through clouds,
and I could see every pair
of eyes turn toward heaven.
When metal and blood
came together at last,
I began to hear your words
soak the ground.
I entered the earth
at last, the hidden places
opened up before my name,
and even death smiled.
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein, What I Believe, 1930
. . . and this question from Nick (four years old): Where do the colors go at night? Suddenly, everything you thought you believed begins to unravel. You find yourself, after a long journey, finally standing in the center of where you have always been: inside a poem, finally alive, no longer seeking, but finding. Language will take you where you want to go if you simply listen. Hollis Summers, professor and writer from Athens, Ohio, once said, “A poem is everything I know about being alive.” Alive, the writer must learn to live in a room full of darkness searching for colors that only come when spring arrives. Alive, the writer must ask the questions that language itself may not be capable of answering. Alive, the writer becomes a conduit for answers to questions that may never have been asked in the first place.
Is there really a place where the colors go at night? Is God hungry? Are you strong enough to kill that monster? I have been listening to these questions, and I do not have all the answers. I tell him the colors are tired after a long day of delighting our eyes. He wants to know about delight. I tell him de light is good. He wants to know what we should give God to eat. I tell him milk is a great place to start, because it is white, the color of God, and they make it all the time, even in our sleep. He wants to know about killing monsters. I tell him the biggest, scariest monsters fall hard when you use language they do not recognize. I tell him this is how we dream in color. I tell him this is what I know about being alive. I tell him this is poetry. . .
Try to remember
History records many open windows
And only one constant: light.
L. Astorelle (d. 578) The Mystery of Light
I let paint move where it wants-
within reason there are many rooms.
Later, my hand will slow into shadow,
determined to lift the life of object
into substance. I want to add notes,
if I could, but they do not let me.
It is not time. The leaves catch little
of me that remains here, and later,
rain will fall. Happiness comes
and goes–I need
sleep, and sweetly, soon.
Slanted, I stretch across the open
window–the child is almost born.
The mother is flushed with screaming
blood. The hands follow me
into darkness, where god waits-
they know what to do.
No one is outside. Here,
with water, clay jars, linens and milk,
there is time for one last look
at the stars, then I am finished.
They torture me slowly, of course,
with a knife that is blunt on one side.
My screams stop at the moment
I become animal, still gurgling
after my head is gone. The windows,
covered. The chanting, goes on.
Without thinking, I curved
love into a ribcage, little
by little settling into form
and measureable language.
I knew time would lift
hidden designs to a suitable fate.
As I walked on sand,
I thought of wet
grass, distant stars,
and oil, soft gurgle
of hidden elements
that wait, sometimes,
forever. Eyes, I know,
find all the answers,
and lips, lips
never tell the truth.
I was her only salvation,
inside her skull,
the miracle, mirror, masquerade.
Now she will touch mortality
for the rest of human existence,
and I will touch water and soil
before I pass beyond the visible,
before I reach the unseen,
where other worlds wait
to be born
and no words exist
for this, or anything else
that hides in darkness
I made sure the fields were warm
and shadows beneath the foliage
cool to touch. In the open,
I could hear vultures
cry out with meaty beaks.
It was a good day for killing,
and from what I understand,
a certain glee engulfed the survivors.
I remember one, wiping his mouth
on his sleeve after it was over,
and then he stared at the sky
for a long time. Our eyes met
somewhere miles beyond
the horizon, and I was unhappy
when he looked away to kiss
I stretched out my arms
to meet a weary traveler.
I knew he was ready.
I saw his face through the open
window, and his eyes
never left mine. It was
time: I could see
clouds move in his
iris, and each one spelled
a different word
We bring our children to the cocktail hour
with a battalion of toys—
blocks, books, board games, binoculars.
We want things to keep them occupied
so there will be opportunity to talk.
They play quietly on the floor near the fireplace,
orange glow on soft cheeks.
We sip sweet manhattans,
nibble herbed chevre on toast points,
discuss the charm of our new president and how
he will make American life more dignified.
There is debate about remodeling,
a battery of opinions on music,
strategically planned trips and a recent
version of Macbeth on stage.
Children hold camp as we retreat
further into banality, a jungle
of language our only defense
against the stealth determination of Death,
who waits to ambush us all.
I never thought of it as dark-
confused, cynical, leery perhaps.
But dark? Dark is burnt toast, a scar, charcoal,
I admit to embracing wickedness some days-
basking in bitterness, apathy, judgment.
now that seems more appropriate.
I like to teeter on the cliff
above the valley of oblivion-
write things down that won’t
make sense to anyone
not even me.
Better to be on edge
than in the dark.
From here I could jump
over to the camp of optimism, odes, the overt.
In order to uncover epiphanies
for art, they told Dr. Quigley
the spoon must be shiny
and clean, so they gave him a new one.
He began to ladle the air
in the room and then lift it
to his eyes
to see which colors appeared.
Certain rooms are full of red,
maybe a spoonful if you are lucky.
He wondered the house for days,
looking for red, but he only found blue.
He scooped the air again and found darkness
which he brought to his lips
to sip for the first time.
There is no reason
to believe this. Some never do.
Fine. He has seen light fall
in chunks around them as
they sit on frozen chairs
and wait. They never hear the flutter
of wings near the ceiling,
they never see his spoon swirl
with a trace of feathers.
Dr. Quigley is not surprised.
Who could question the flight
of birds in a room full
of so many
unsettled brush strokes?
Look just past your doubt,
where, even in the dark,
all colors merge and become
nameless, free from blame:
here, up to his waist
in his favorite lake, in a room
with too many mysteries to name,
the colors on the water
are the only words
he needs to hear.
lo venni in luogo d’ogni luce muto;
The stench of wet coal, politicians
. . . . . . . . . . e and. . . . . n, their wrists bound to
Standing bare bum,
Faces smeared on their rumps,
wide eye on flat buttock,
Bush hanging for beard,
Addressing crowds through their arse-holes,
Addressing the multitudes in the ooze,
newts, water-slugs, water-maggots,
And with them. . . . . . . r,
a scrupulously clean table-napkin
Tucked under his penis,
and. . . . . . . . . . . m
Who disliked colioquial language,
stiff-starched, but soiled, collars
circumscribing his legs,
The pimply and hairy skin
pushing over the collar’s edge,
Profiteers drinking blood sweetened with sh-t,
And behind them. . . . . . f and the financiers
lashing them with steel wires.
And the betrayers of language
. . . . . . n and the press gang
And those who had lied for hire;
the perverts, the perverters of language,
the perverts, who have set money-lust
Before the pleasures of the senses;
howling, as of a hen-yard in a printing-house,
the clatter of presses,
the blowing of dry dust and stray paper,
fretor, sweat, the stench of stale oranges,
dung, last cess-pool of the universe,
mysterium, acid of sulphur,
the pusillanimous, raging;
plunging jewels in mud,
and howling to find them unstained;
sadic mothers driving their daughters to bed with decrepitude,
sows eating their litters,
and here the placard ΕΙΚΩΝ ΓΗΣ,
and here: THE PERSONNEL CHANGES,
melting like dirty wax,
decayed candles, the bums sinking lower,
faces submerged under hams,
And in the ooze under them,
reversed, foot-palm to foot-palm,
hand-palm to hand-palm, the agents provocateurs
The murderers of Pearse and MacDonagh,
Captain H. the chief torturer;
The petrified turd that was Verres,
bigots, Calvin and St. Clement of Alexandria!
black-beetles, burrowing into the sh-t,
The soil a decrepitude, the ooze full of morsels,
lost contours, erosions.
Above the hell-rot
the great arse-hole,
broken with piles,
greasy as sky over Westminster,
the invisible, many English,
the place lacking in interest,
last squalor, utter decrepitude,
the vice-crusaders, fahrting through silk,
waving the Christian symbols,
. . . . . . . . frigging a tin penny whistle,
Flies carrying news, harpies dripping sh-t through the air.
The slough of unamiable liars,
bog of stupidities,
malevolent stupidities, and stupidities,
the soil living pus, full of vermin,
dead maggots begetting live maggots,
usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori
pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books,
obscuring the texts with philology,
hiding them under their persons,
the air without refuge of silence,
the drift of lice, teething,
and above it the mouthing of orators,
the arse-belching of preachers.
the corruptio, fretor, fungus,
liquid animals, melted ossifications,
slow rot, fretid combustion,
chewed cigar-butts, without dignity, without tragedy
. . . . .m Episcopus, waving a condom full of black-beetles,
monopolists, obstructors of knowledge.
obstructors of distribution.
“The imperfect is our paradise.”
I was only thinking when I wrote the poem-
you know the one
observing the sand shifting on the beach, clouds
caressing waves at the horizon.
You could really hear
the surf, feel its freshwater breeze, see
North Point’s green tip across the bay.
Months have passed and no one
has appreciated that piece like you.
It was enough for me too
until this morning
reading his poem about carnations-
about a poem about carnations,
pristine bowl cupping perfect blossoms-
when I realized that
the beach, though beautiful
to do with the loneliness I felt that day-
the way I wanted to run
across water, hop onto
uncertain clouds and ride
away from the shore
where all expectations of me
hollow wind through stone fort
near isolated elm.
Hazel eyes are vessels
skimming wine-dark seas beneath.
A gale wind fills them
With sleepless nights and dream.
An ordinary mouth
Made remarkable when closed
House gnashed, yellowed teeth
And a coated tongue
Wet with unspeakable rain
While just below the lower lip
a spit of dark hair
is island to the nose
whose flared nostrils and clenched jaw
over deserted farmland’s forehead
whose old rows
weather well-stayed feet of crows’
Hands fold into churches’ people
on left knee
as posture bends by gravity
Of books in dim light.
Worn brown shoes
Kicked in. Slammed shut
As legs in worn jeans
Sense their good luck
In being able
To stagger away
From five o’clock shadows
We are two limbs of tangled driftwood – spin
and stumble through the narrow rivers, twist
in faster currents, drown in driven mists
of falling water. Rocks are closer, lichened
river sandstone, loosened, stumbles free.
How do I not break you, our throes violent,
austere? Commingled boughs are bent –
I could snap in half, take part of you with me.
But water makes us softer – we are blending,
a blur of bark and heartwood, older, harder –
our sharper edges smoothed, severe refining.
Even pebbles once were upstream boulders.
The knotted whorl left over in the widening
estuary rests holy, polished, pure.
Being a Marigold
Being a marigold, I should flower long,
but blossoms dwindle, shiver back to bud-
shape over and over. I am willful, strong –
I arch my back and stretch my roots in mud,
the sweat of summer does not make me weep.
Spider mites and spittle bugs consume
my orange and golden plumes; my lifeblood seeps –
it’s so much harder than I thought to bloom.
In fall I tan, turn stiff and brittle; sisters
with their plantlets wonder, pity, will
I never loose my seeds, children scattered
beneath me? I am weary, tired, kill
the time by counting all the fallen splinters
of my flowers, like prayers, scattered into winter.
The sun is relentless-
trying to pry open
my clenched eyes to
the opportunites of the day, but
I hold fast
looking down, the crown of my head
its only point
of contact, determination
repelling its rays for
some unknown hero with
lassos a far-away storm cloud,
tugging at it
like a leashed dog
who wants to linger
under a maple.
I pull it close to me,
its dark beauty my
though it has flowers to feed
rivers to fill.
I need it more-
the staticity of its pent-up drops
as I savor the sour taste
I let sit, thickly, on
my dry tongue.
I know this cloud will not
hold its water forever, but if
I can stay here beneath it-
spoiled child with black balloon-
it could eventually
provide me a fine
You might be the ladder
I was looking for,
the unsettled image
rising out of a black line
on the sea. Stand there, try
to ignore the wave tips
wonder who placed the lock
on the highest rung, the one for
God. I need you
to be in this tower. It is quiet
a place for poets. The air moves
just a little, enough to feel the lights
hinder a grey sky
from becoming real. So much for the eye
on the horizon
filled with dashes of orange and red
brush strokes–the last to see Pompeii–
you have been here forever,
here you will stay.
I see your profile on the jacket cover and can imagine
you in bed smoking,
talking about daffodils
as they lean toward the window eavesdropping with their
earhorn blooms, wondering what poets find
so interesting about them, how we spend time
gazing into their sun-bright petals
marvel at the way their short-lived beauty is
indispensable in spring.
I laugh when you say you would plant
some in my hair if they would grow, that
together our shine would be unrivaled.
As it is I never wear yellow, my fair skin made sallow
against its magnificent glow.
But you will put them there-find an unusual
link between my asymmetric smile and their Greek name,
make a witty comment about how we both
break through frozen ground to stand
blazing for a few weeks before giving way to
blooms with real stamina like echinacea or day lilies.
For now you sink down beneath care-free sheets
staring up at the chipped ceiling, smiling because
you are in no rush to get anywhere and ask me
to bring you a cup of coffee on
my way out.
like a piece of furniture
dragging me from one room to the next to see
which corner I would fit into,
muttering about impossible measurements,
where you might shave off an inch here or there to
get a perfect fit. Eventually you quit
leaving me in the middle of the largest wall-
prisoner awaiting firing squad-
neither in your way nor
out of it.
She said she
felt trapped inside herself, as if she
was really someone
else who needed to get out, or else.
I listened for a long time, kept feeding her
drinks to get to the bottom of it.
I told her go see a priest and she said she
had tried and failed, she
ended up in bed with him, or she
thought it happened a long time ago when she
was little and everything
seemed. She seemed
angry suddenly, with me, and I
told her that I had to try
and help, after all, I was her
great grandfather’s sister’s
niece, and I knew
about it, in fact, I told her, I knew
someone who knew someone
who knows, therefore I know,
I am an expert
a priest, I said. She said she
felt trapped inside, as if she
was inside, as if she
said she, she said.
I can’t remember, baby,
What colours were your eyes;
I never came so near to
You to realize
Their deep intricacies.
I met you once, remember,
And you mistook me for
Another–but I tremble
When I recall that your
Body looked so young for eyes of such deep loss, such deep remorse.
Remembering that meeting
And how your passion took
The breath from me, I know your bleeding
Death must be a dark mistake
Numb hands stole from a book.
Baby, bodies fumble
Through agonies of self
And others who dissemble
Life and identity: they halve
Our love. But can dead hatred help?
You sang of a dead baby
A simple lullaby.
You sang to a small body
Of life. How could you die?
You told us to remember. Why?
Who did she resemble?
We will never know.
Our sweet baby fresh and new,
A babe so innocent and pure–
Not even a breath could alter you.
Why was your visit so short?
We couldn’t wait to hold you,
we were so ready
to enfold and unfold you.
A little room readied with
gingham and lace.
It is nearly time,
everything is in place.
Most likely eyes of brown or green,
sable curls waiting
to be stroked and cleaned.
So much love waiting here
for you–so wanted.
Did you feel it?
Do you feel it?
Once we meet you,
will we be able to play?
Why did God send you?
And take you away?
I. Painter, Maker, Musician
No poem is ever completed
No dance knows the perfect
Beat of his heart when the dancer’s feet are toeless and so
But we go on, we go on and act
We go on and act
Now that the circle is drawn
Now that the circle is drawn
You can see the dim outlines of dawn
You can see the dim outlines of lawns and a dawn
On the horizon of our faces
And each who follows will follow a line and trace
anew a new shape whatever the line he retraces.
Each who follows will follow,
will follow a line and trace anew,
and trace anew a new shape–
whatever the line he retraces:
Mountain, or ocean, or fire, or the sky’s grey arc:
he will wield a palette of possible poems.
into a word. They said
I might not be happy
with the choice, for it sticks:
there is no going back.
As I write this, I still do not know
its name, but I need to write-
after all, we forget invitations
and go places we are not welcome:
dead fingers, held in place
with the same wires hidden inside
to make a fake tree look real
but cold: there is no disguise
for death, and frigid fingers hold
nothing–no secrets, nothing–
and this is the easy part:
the dead know where the rain
is born, they know the last
word breathes life into the first–
but all I have is the promise
of a word that is still not here
and may never arrive
in time–in fact, I hope it stays
right there in hell.
My heart throbs.
It could be thick supermarket coffee or
thoughts of you following me down aisle three
where I catch my hungry reflection in the freezer door.
There is a twofer on waffles.
Maybe you prefer pancakes-
a slippery square of butter sliding right of center
real maple syrup rivers running, a taste too pure for me.
They make pancakes for the microwave now.
I wonder if you would like those.
Your wife probably makes them from scratch though
I like to think she cheats
a bit with Bisquick.
I can see you after breakfast in bed,
the scar above your left ear dark
against the hotel’s crisp white pillowcase
a drippy grin on your mouth.
We’ve met just this once because
she might cut corners in the kitchen but
that’s as far as it goes.
I don’t know how I will ever see pancakes the same again-
a billowy short stack looking just like the pillows,
the syrup your brown skin
and that pat, buttery smile.
A fine flower
knows no hour of discolor
no shaky state on distasteful soil
her only toil to be fragrant
with supple round petals
softly reaching upward
against the ashen sky.
She walked up to him.
He could tell she liked him.
Let’s hold one another
and feel the music.
Let’s see where it takes us,
she said, as we moved
to the rhythm
slowly feeling its pulse.
You smell delicious,
she whispered in his ear.
You are yummy too.
The music continued.
Was anyone else around?
Well, were they?
Did it matter?
She moved closer into him.
He did too.
so meant for one another.
She pulled back and looked deep
into his beautiful green eyes.
You are the most beautiful
man I have ever known.
You are, she said.
How did I get so lucky
to be dancing with you?
I wish the music could
last forever, he thought,
as he felt her soft cheek
against his rough cheek.
Words were not needed
We both thought the dance
would be wonderful.
And for forty one years,
it has been.
This sweet, sometimes fast,
always together dance,
Roads go on forever
in our minds, in the country
we were born to
and love, each rise bringing us
back, each curve bending
along the slow edge
of memory, where we find the roots
of every un-harvested field
we ever walked, where we discover
each other in tall summer
grass, searching in the fading light
for answers we would never find:
the trees too far away to touch,
the miles too long to remember.
I saw a naked boy in the street
asking for money from passing cars.
He reminded me of death:
covered in dust,
looking for what the living
would give up.
The kids on the bus
threw candy at him
when the pieces hit him
in the face,
as he scrambled
to pick them up
from the dirt.
The kids on the bus
and I was afraid,
knowing that death,
has no shame.
Before he passed out of sight
I noticed the boy
was not laughing.
He was looking for more.
so this pen can move with the pulse
of my vision
and somehow not falter
in blood or in time
and be willing to say it:
say it like it should be said.
Sip slowly this bottle,
say its name
and no longer be a fool,
say Cotes du Rhone
and still be far from Paris,
and to want you, to want you here
with each sip,
seems a wish beyond wishing.
this rat, clean it
for once, give it
a manicure, crop
like a boxer puppy, leave it
to bathe in a shower stall
with scented perfumes
its hairs, paint
its nails, whiten
its teeth, give it
a sexy name:
Misty, Candice, Bridget:
botox lips sown shut.
How much fun is it to work outside in the dirt?
Now, I am not talking about a little dirt … here and there. Oh no. The kind of get down dirty I refer to is slogging around in the dirt, becoming literally covered from head to toe, including hair, shoes, face and all parts in between. The soil and filth about which I, and others (you know who you are), refer.
Oh the pure joy of it! Could there be anything better for us grime-loving earth lovers of dirt? I really don’t think so. I like it best when it is not too wet, nor too dry, but somewhere in between. It can be loose, not too tightly packed, but not sand.
Yes! To be in that abject manner of impurity, so dirty you don’t want to stop, come in the house and clean up; yet not dirty enough to have satisfied the filth that is you. Some onlookers may stare, most likely thinking, “Now, how did she get so dirty?” To us dirt lovers, we take not a notice. We prod dirtily ahead knowing that we are in one heavenly state of uncleanliness.
I am soiled, stained, and yes, muddy. That is the mantra of the dirt lover. Dirty, yet joyful, content in the knowledge that they are doing exactly what they have been born to do. Their destiny fulfilled, their sense of raw defilement satiated. How much fun is it to work outside in the dirt? Just about the closest thing to heaven here on earth and every grimy, filthy, mud hole in between.
Find me on a slow whining saxophone
in a small dim lit bar
where the walls are midnight green.
Take that one step down
eat Burtha’s mussels
call Mr. McCoy;
he’s looking for a fat lady with a typewriter.
Charles will be there on most Friday nights
playin’ his crazy guitar.
We’ll drink a few steins
roll backgammon dice
and watch people
mezmerized by the music.
I took Mary Lou there a long time ago . . .
she didn’t like it
reminded her of Pittsburgh.
I happen to like Pittsburgh.
There is so much sadness moving
out over the water.
So much desire. The waves
try to bring it back
and fail. The clouds
catch onto it, change shape,
and glide on. It moves down
the coast, finds fresh
water, and spawns.
Desire takes it out to sea.
Huge chunks of it break
off the glaciers
in Alaska: they never travel far.
We buy tickets
and try to see it,
but never arrive in time.
There is so much
to embrace, so much
to disregard: we sleep,
work, watch movies:
talk about money.
We mow the lawn
or bake cookies.
We are afraid
to sit still
or be silent.