Monday, May 17, 2010
Everyman the King
for Ava Lynn Hayes
One: Everyman the King
Friend of despair, of hope,
green stone suspended over the fire,
your encounter with the sky.
from Elegy for Omar ibn al-Khattâb
He stumbles over roots that become his steps,
not wanting to disturb the worms. When he passes
churches the bells are silent, when he breathes
great armfuls of laughter swell from his lungs.
Wearing garments of stone he stands naked
under the sun, reveals his flesh to the void
where his body floats over the great abyss.
His nose searches for essence, his knees never
buckle, but when he stoops his heart bleeds.
His mind loses its threads stitching knots,
hands weave memory into tomorrow’s dreams.
He stirs, sips coffee in the palace of the world.
He’s so hungry he eats his own tongue.
A man of autumn, he dies in the sweet season.
The roof of his mouth full of nails, he sweeps
mines with his teeth. From bay to shore he rows
his skiff with stones and bones. When he dreams
little sparks fly from his flesh. His mind breathes
the lands of his fathers, sorrow and horror.
The groom of martyrs and saints, he speaks
in silence, removes his robes, reveals the secret
bodies and thoughts of the earth and the seas.
In a night of strange words, he becomes a seed
buried deep in thought, a part of life itself.
Welcome him home to the world of mirrors
attached to windows and landscapes beyond
his reach, past the outlook of his eyes, through
the forests, meadows and streams, then to
the ocean where the moon straddles the sky.
This is when he dreams another life, where
he is joined by sleeping stones, the climate
of new worlds and ruinous words of a language
he can’t speak, where the voices are burdened
by wind, his tongue frozen to the horizon.
He creates and then devours. His appetite
is as terrible as the sea. He goes out
to the sky’s end, where the horizon stands.
His eyes burn the land and damn the stars.
A double, his twin yearns to die and be lost.
Living in a dream, he portrays his hunger
by fastening his look to doors that open
and blind him with original light. Knowing
stones better than people, dogs surround him
in glee. A distant frontier pulls him to where
the weight of his mind bends him over.
When he arrives he turns and sees nothing
but a lonely stare that meets the world beyond.
Bride to God and tyrants, he prayed for shelter
in the underworld, where he hid his wounds
and stabbed himself in back. His life was ferment,
foible and trouble, occasional evil. Dark light
surrounded his dreams, he struggled with voices.
In that black hole he suspended faith and belief.
Through nights of ache and sorrow he thinks back;
his heart jumps, pulsates his lips and cheeks.
He whispers, and fears winds echo his thoughts.
The world is a shallow place deep in his chest.
He’s hungry so he bites the apple of his lower lip.
The taste and smell of blood on his tongue, down
his throat, he claims he’s hurt no one but himself.
He’s thirsty but has no beer, so he drinks sweet
spring water at his brother’s farm. He plows ahead,
tosses it down, coaxes thought out of the earth,
and burps. Excusing himself (there’s no other there)
he wipes his lips, forgets they’ll bleed again.
His thirst quenched he goes back to the barn
where his Lab greets him with a smile, wags her tail.
Despite his age, today he climbed the maple
in his front yard. There were so many things
to grasp he couldn’t focus on the entire picture:
the branches, leaves, the rooftops of his neighbors’
homes, the ice-slick street and muddy sidewalk.
Then he glimpsed a saw cradled way above, its teeth
embedded lockjaw on a gnarled limb. He thought
of the trees he’s planted, four years and ten feet now.
He waters them all summer, autumn’s gathers fruit.
The persimmon was here when he moved in
and it’s a masterwork in all seasons.
From dark green leaves to bare winter months
it stands alone, above the lawn and ferns.
Even with the wind it barely moves, so thick
and stalwart is its trunk. When its flesh is ripe
he gives it to his brother, sweetheart, neighbors.
He’s right here, everyman, sinner, saint, barbarian
and King, with visions of heaven, armed with his legs
and furious feet. On his forehead he wears warnings
against these petty times; on his lips, blood and God.
His loved ones are those who saw him last, looking
ragged at the ragged hills, lost on the frontier
of mind where his thoughts dwell. In a corner
of the non-existent room his shadow walks and frets,
fingers flex and head floats off to the other world.
He longs for a flower to place above his ear,
burns with his own light, greets no one but himself.
In his dreams he suffers daily terror. With his heart,
words and deeds, he offers transubstantiation.
for Gordon “Bud” Black
He swallows blood and flesh, the housel.
You, Christ’s body, beat his chest with blows
his fists repeat in tattered clothes and bone-thin
elbows. He backs off from religious tirades, trades
his mind for peaceful thoughts, comes and goes
between alleys, churchyards, duly charged
with confession, the futile hope he’ll be redeemed.
What’s the standard coin for faith, belief.
Not his sinful ways and questions; God or truth,
good or real devils? He makes quantum leaps,
proposes peace between his snapped synapses
and his derailed thoughts. He hates making
fervent deals, so fluxed with myth. In general
he stands fast, tries to expel his demons.
for James Carr
The short life of his empire, a dream never
fulfilled. Across his stern the arrows wound;
his thoughts, his heart and bones. At the end
of this fallow world he comes to terms;
with his needs, his life, the span of a dream.
In his nightmares stallions stream from hills,
armed men on their flanks. Surrounded by spirits,
in his robes of stone, he rows across seas,
to the old cities, where every man is king,
and the rage is a desert wind, salt stinging.
Two: Derailed Thoughts
For my pages, life itself.
Call him the devil. Call him the plague.
Sorcerer, prophet, doubter, mocker, he is King
of the abyss, the edge he carries on his shoulders.
He’s the sea’s memory, the wind’s long idiom
over forests, cornfields and meadows.
He’s discovered the voice of time, the age
of earth, his enemies are truly frightful.
He destroys all weapons but the word, defies
swords at his throat, turns them on the future.
He believes he lives among the dead. He’s proof
against the petty present, the fast-food sell.
He has no place. All the eternal spoils are his.
Each lake is a wounded eye, the stars
look down, sun burns up, leaves sleep in flight.
On riverbanks, between love and death,
the commonplace inflicts us as we cross,
the wounds beckon us to heal them.
Add to that the language in which bells
choke stones, and the voices of the wounded
bleed fire. It’s an act, this history of pants
and zippers, buttons and nylons, hoods
in the lands of the dying. With one brown
eye he hears the dust speak, illusion.
Here he is: brujo, shaman, fakir, sage;
a wise one perhaps, or just a wise ass.
When the stones approached his mind,
he dreamed the world within a fire.
The madness began with boys speaking nonsense.
It was a sing-song of delight and lament:
a song as silent as retreat itself, while
the wounds of the world remained defiant.
He is among us: cannibal, ghost, savage, ghoul,
helter-skelter demon of many thirsts and tastes,
native speaker of guffaws and oaths, trailer trash
or fisherman of souls. Who breaks bread with him?
Party guest, spirit host, youth in hostel
or just plain lost, what feast awaits?
Gang-banger, panty sniffer, punk and jerk,
is he called by any other name?
Is he reptile, fish, or flagellant? Whoever
crosses his path should look both ways, behind.
In front of him the world beckons. Bear
or barracuda he’s behind the eight ball.
Everyman’s The Fool, a king of hearts, an ace
of spades or diamond found in ditch. Asylum
patient or prison convict, dirty politician
or CEO, he fails self, content with hypocrites.
Flim-flam man, musician or mock artist,
he comes about in wind and turns with tides.
He piles on lies, deceits, plows crops under,
destroys forests that he can’t see for timber.
His life’s a bitch. He won’t sniff blossoms,
he’s no Ferdinand. He hoses and gets hosed,
sticks his nose in where life’s a false truth.
Yuppie scum with hollow mind, he thinks
he’ll get ahead, but he’s just fry in streams
of shakers, movers, those greed-driven
whores of industry. His tastes run
to finer things; Impressionist paintings,
abstract art, the post-moderns, who in truth
aren’t worth their water. Youth is wasted
on the young, someone said a while back.
He scraps and scrapes to get ahead, yet
is in arrears. He thirsts for Ipod, Blue Ray.
His is a material world of little use or worth.
Housel, host, Eucharist, communion, he snacks
and makes a toast with bread and blood. It’s really
wine blessed by the priest, it’s really his first
and last time, but he’s a guest at this Roman
Catholic Church and wants to do what’s right.
Left of him sit an Italian couple, or are they Polish,
black Irish? By their thick brows he can’t tell.
They pass the hat, or is it basket? He’s a case
and can’t donate much, gives quarters while
the children giggle, snicker. At last the service ends.
He gets off knees, gives thanks one more time.
Does the forest know it’s an army of trees?
some fruitful, some strangled. All that green
beauty torn inside his heart, begging his lungs
for breath (as only trees can help us breathe),
for their bodies to believe in something new,
and not slaughter. They take their time growing,
then surrender, giving all of themselves
to the butchers. They live innocently,
but must have committed a terrible crime.
They erase, expunge the language of sin
from a God who is yet to come. He cries
over the horror. His face sheds the skin
of these ghosts falling like discarded skulls.
They define where spring ends and life begins.
All his riddles thrown into ash and dust,
a whole book of poems lying in dirt,
torn pages, some burnt like flesh, others scarred
with blood and nails still crisp on his palms,
like wafer on tongue, the stroke of a loved one.
All his lost words and phrases swollen
into ocean and earth. The bleak clouds
and mist surrounding the flowers of speech
he breathes into life form absent thoughts,
strong, tender idioms spoken as if
they are his, but stolen by a jackdaw
picking the prettiest baubles for itself.
He carries the light in his damaged eye,
broken mirrors in the one that sees.
Oh landscape of the beyond, the far-fetched
loneliness of a dreaming man, may the earth
be his sleep and his bride, a bed of comfort
in the orchard, among trees’ swollen blossoms,
in the nights of streams and moon, daylights
of alders and willows, with cedars at dawn
and one star at dusk for faith. May these songs
spread true wealth to the forlorn, oppressed,
the disappeared, and roses to those
who search for essence, the beautiful.
May the years he has left nurture plenty,
a generous bounty shared with others.
Three: The Cedar He Hoists
‘If only we were just clay.
Or an ember, or still in the between,
in order not to see this world, not to see
its hell and its god twice over.’
from The New Noah, by Adonis
The Cedar He Hoists
The cedar’s the flag he hoists, his flesh
torn on branches, inscribed on wind.
It falls to earth with leaves, crumbles,
and becomes compost. He lives in this soil
with beetles and worms, fungi and ferns.
When the sun comes out he hides,
waits for the butterfly’s shadow to hover
his bones, like cedars savored by insects.
When fires arrive he turns into a lake.
When the rains come he bows with grace,
washes among stones, and rushes with wind.
From his heart to the spaces above,
the edge of moon and humming stars,
those he condones; prophets in stones,
mirrors of the beyond, exiles of fire,
he’ll sing of earth and clouds, veils
and curves, the graves he acquires.
Whether he’s mute, with no voice at all,
or snarling like wind that hurts his flesh,
the faces of skin hanging from limbs,
he’ll go on moaning, the soul as his theme,
blossoms as his songs, terror and horror
in his tunes, with the joy of hymns.
He dies, pulling daylight into dark, with
all the words of his dissheveled mind.
His mind is dismantled, dismembered.
He remembers little or nothing of youth,
the trials and errors of madness, asylum.
He thinks back to when he had teeth,
two eyes, and hair on the top of his head,
He can’t recall much of his schooling
or the proper way to say things. For him,
less can be fewer, two too’s can be more.
No longer in fear of losing his mind,
when things are over they’re gone.
His events done, he thinks back on the last
fifty years, looks at himself with humor
and scorn. A lot of life went up in smoke,
parts of it with hard dope. He pulls up
his sheets and covers his ass. He hasn’t
much left except for the truth and his faith.
His madness knows two cultures, one of pearls,
one of crime. He writes down the story of life
with the pen of death. At his feet, stones
among the ruins of civliization, the country
where rivers dominate the landsape and their blood
runs from streams. He screams for this land,
he sings, the winds among his wounds.
He knows better than to drink the water,
the blasphemy of rivers. If he could dock
at the wharf his words would be at bay,
but he has no anchor to purchase his thoughts.
His homeland is lost, torn, savaged by wind
and greedy men. Its soil goes fallow, farmers
plow and furrow mud and dust. Its women
are handsome and vain. Despite dying
it goes on in the minds of some as a grand plan.
Once wild and alive, now it’s a widow. War
has bled it, killing fed it in an evil way.
He glimpses its future and his eye burns.
He gathers its past and it seems as if nothing
went wrong. His homeland’s the earth
where truth is the last to survive.
He’d bless it like a host should,
but its corpse burns in the wastelands.
The bridges burn before the roads
are destroyed, the path of all countries
and flesh, all kingdoms and hierarchies.
In these petty times he prays for marriage
between the living and dying, youth and guest.
Tomorrow the shadows of songs and stones
will stick to our teeth like fish and fruit.
The flood returns like the dove, its body
crushed. The children are delivered
like laundry, people thirst for lust.
Time is buried, like flags, in the dust.
This is it, the land of torture.
Once, the world was a land we dreamed,
a land of plenty and milk, of dew and grain.
Perhaps we inhaled its scent in a prior time.
Just maybe this land was for us and the bells
went without tolling, stones rejoiced in the sun,
snails lay down in the rain and waited for summer.
Gardens flourished as did orchards and all the roads
opened to new horizons, wheat and corn were born
in the rebellious soil, the people had no master
but choice. Then we started to breathe the travesty
of fear and slaughter began in the cities.
Our flags flew higher and our freedoms diminished.
The roads closed with blood and the wild places
were emaciated. Dressed in the winds of tragedy
we chose to pluck out our eyes to please the gods.
He leans against her waist, creates the wind
he hears, and learns to compare it to his own
breath. He grabs a cloud and washes his face
with water and the elegance of anemones.
The cedar smiles and loves its own kind
as well as others. There are no laws and water
thirsts for self-fulfillment. His eyes are swept
up in the past, and memory opens toward
what came before. Nothing mocks but birds
and rocks in streams. The sun labors,
and the world is as it was. The earth
is free, there are no prisons. The blood
of gods still fresh in our words, we walk
hand in hand among their echoes.
In his blood, the dust of illusion.
He knows too well no light smiles on him.
He writes these poems as dark as crows,
without companions, in the shadows
of his room where his dog lies and doesn’t stir.
Forgotten, he sits and waits for the next word
to pounce upon his mind, like a cat on prey.
He prays for things that know no prayers,
ideas that bear no fruit. He is alone
with his hymns from midnight till dawn,
cuts the threads of darkness until they lie
soiled in his thoughts. He hurts like nails
pounded into flesh, no one knocks at his door.
Terror conflicts his songs. Who are you,
And where? is horror. God afflicts his tongue.
He survives all omens with prayer.
God, methinks, is relentless.
God and I, in ruins. Our path with no creation,
our bible, deception, illusion. Is it madness
that guides us, or the search for absolution?
I pray that we might agree on something,
that a magic might swell the tides of our thoughts,
that we could find common ground in fire
and ashes, in our love for the downtrodden earth.
But how could this Lord embrace a pagan?
How could my words meet his swords?
Oh God, that obstinate fruit hanging above,
take my wings, have me bow down to the land.
I’m filled with You, that hollow inside my heart,
the portion of my tongue that wags image
after image. Rock, be salt in my eye,
thunder, blast away the road to heaven.
These poems were composed and revised in the late
evening and early morning hours from February 6th
to February 17th, 2010. Some of the ideas, phrases,
and images were drawn from Mihyar of Damascus:
His Songs, Poems by Adonis, translated with an
introduction by Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard,
from BOA Editions. My gratitude to all involved.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
after Wallace Stevens
1 The Self
High in the evening trees the oracular screaming
Gives little rest, and the color of the birds
Is a savage orange, the way the sun develops
Heat in the summer, and how his muses
Scatter his thoughts, made whole from the luminous,
Which vanish as if criminals at loose in the larger
Society. It is among them, the trees, the muses,
And the birds of dusk and dawn, that he comes
To delight in the frail autumn winds, unlike those
Of spring that are harsh and cruel. It's his desire
To mark his past violence deeply in his verse,
Like a shark would its teeth into flesh, because
That is a part of him upon which he becomes merciless.
Maddened by the elemental and noble quest
For the unimaginable, he tears grist and gristle
As if the beautiful could be touched and known.
He makes the most of savagery, like a civilized man should.
He stores it in his dreams and mind. His every thought
Contains a madness unknown to the normal. He might
Be called a widow, black, and sharp as the night-
Shadows he loves, those that appear in a radiance that parlays
The earth and the sky with the stars and moon.
He starts to think and a certain viciousness appears
Like a rabid animal or caged panther coiled about
By a serpent, being squeezed in the gut by the boa.
The boundaries he knows circle the jungle, its scents
Of beak and fruit, and the yellow buds straining for life.
But he cannot call it all a dream he remembers
From his earlier, opium-soaked years.
Sweating in his pilgrimage he writes the book of birds,
Their songs and colors, of the trees that hold him hostage,
Of a vaster myth, the northwest end of continent
On which he stands and walks daily, of his total circumference
That is large and ungainly like the minds of men, and beasts
Burdened with heat and fang. Always it is further north
He goes, to escape from sun, to explore the wound of wilderness
And his own insides, pink and gory like a glacial fossil,
Colossal like the myths of youth and the surrounding tundra,
The elk and moose that haunt like ghosts, fish that hum,
Forever dreaming of the life and child he denied himself.
It was all he had, this progress toward the essential,
His rotten carcass relentless on the path to hell, that place
He ignored as one would a little sister or overbearing father.
Then there were the sounds he tried to shut out, the roaring
Madness drumming inside his head. It was as if the blood
There flowed with the power of a tributary of the Pacific,
The longest and the widest one that ran with the relative strength
Of a cornered wolverine. Between the environment
Surrounding him and his interior, there came to be
Less of an abyss than he'd expected. It was normal with him
To voyage intermittently into the starlight as well as the sea.
The adventures others saw as forbidden became commonplace
As his imagination took part everywhere he went. It was a grim
Seduction, this unraveling of the self, and in it he flourished
With a harmonious zone of pleasure. And for that he paid dearly.
He tossed between the old-time juvenilia and the criminally wicked.
He became as abhorrent as a nihilist terrorist and he rejoiced.
As intelligent as the soil or the clouds that drifted, he darkened
His mask and his face became sheer, tortured by the weather.
He tried to drive away his fellows, and the shadows grew darker.
He'd inherited more than a gloomy disposition. He was starkly mad.
Nothing approached him, everything was in fear of him, both the within
And the without screamed like flocks being beaten. So badly
Did his body ache and head hurt he struck the earth to knock away
The monsters and remove their pain. He could not relieve his agony
Or relive his youth. He became so quiet, he was afraid to mutter,
Because he knew it disturbed the balance of the universe.
His excursion into time, and time demented by the future,
Swore at every inch of his being, his passion vanished, he could not
Gain purchase. He measured himself by grains and grams
As he lost miles to his enemies. A patient, his world collapsed
Inward and outward simultaneously. He was included in nothing.
He knew himself a clown, an apprentice on his journey
Through madness, and his world whirled like an asylum dervish.
And in asylum he came to know the world of the other:
The killer and serial rapist, the child molester, the simply
Insane catatonic dreamer. From the mundane boredom
And the everyday he drew his thoughts and learned a little
Of himself without the help of a therapist (the-rapist).
He came to confuse the others with his words, and the words
Of others with himself. He controlled nothing there
And there was not much to bother with but introspection
And compassion. He was among the worst but not so awful
That he didn't make friends with those so-called beasts.
This world was brutal, just like the beauty he'd known before
And came to know after. His was a cruel initiation
Into the awful, where humankind can be found.
In these others he realized himself as criminal. But, he also
Learned a kindness and some truth, a small portion of the real.
2 The Other
A draft of doubt in the mythology of self,
That teary-eyed realist a single thought could negate,
His mind kin to soil, the sea of blue and green,
So uncomplicated one could gather
It with hands and smother it with kisses,
Then know it as a cap of dunces,
The first and last thought worthy of what seems
To be whispered by the moon. But soon
The voices sank in waves of particles,
Matter, strings of theory like the mustard seed
So abundant in the wind which calms the mind
And restores forgetfulness to rain. O Lamb,
Clip-clop your way to the craters of the moon,
O strained lyrics of the pasture, song and dream
Of a wilderness that dissolves in sun and pain!
What could speak it clearer than the elegant voice
Of a minor composer whispering the message of the Mass
To masses, that there's nothing left of them or any other
Worth much more than dung or yardarms hung with flames.
O, verboseness of the storms, the loquacious wind,
Stem the tide of Ministers, Cabinets, and don't leave
Justice to the Justices. The mild lie groveling.
Their minds and hands are memorials to their gestures.
These forbidden clerks and dockworkers,
These typists of the ordinary, with reluctant
Worried eyes, and fists as hard as brass
Knuckled into their boots and chests, the last
Gasp on their tongues, and in their breaths
Oaths and curses for the bosses, explicit asses,
Drawn, quartered, in their dreams of purpose.
What is proposed for those who have been scorned?
Are they left with petered-out myths that end the quest
With a deluded self? until nothing remains but a skeletal
Fragment, stark and bare in a naked world where the sun
Blasts too bright and the chapels are lit without reflection.
What to call this light but nothingness, the nada.
Like a blood-stained salad it's mixed with greens and spices,
Sprinked with dressing. But O, the particles it leaves
Between our teeth, wilting in our mouths, rotting
On our tongues, and we, unable to spit them out.
And then we cut ourselves with words, so much prettier
Than with swords, which only bring the blood. Herd!
Can you hear the thunder of the hooded, those loud,
Forbidden paeans spoken in broken dialects and cantos?
But is it important to myself? they heard. I didn't hear
My name called once, they said. Should I have listened
To some other world? Should I have been more aware
Of the suffering of the insentient? But that is nonsense
They decided, some philosophy of the mentally ill.
We can't bother with abstractions when there is space to conquer,
And the places of privilege reserved for our comfort.
Displeasure is for the homeless and the beasts. We are
The middle-class concerned with the education of our youth,
Not some poor trash begging on the corner, living in prison squalor.
It's only theirs by choice, and by choosing, let them vanish.
Is it self or other? Or does it matter in the long span
Of extinction on the earth?
We learn our foibles from history if mistakes are meant to teach.
In theory we evolve and modify our past. Is that the riddle
Of civilization? that we become less humane, with less in common.
The thoughtless baubles charm our monsters and the masses.
The insignificant becomes enormous in our crush for purchase.
What frantic end do all our objects bring? What material
Cut from the ethereal is lost? What do we really boast
But the opportunity to own and value non-intrinsic things?
Who now knows liberty, justice, those intangible abstractions
That define our freedom. We're only human, and a fraction
Of the celestial. We're merely mammals, but too far gone
From the world of common beasts.
This is our enormous burden: the myth of opportunity
And the mask of independence, but our abundance
Is mostly worthless trash. We were told to husband
The earth. The divorce has been ugly, with our lineage
As the losers. Our borders are freely crossed by geese,
But closed to others. In truth, most of us despise the earth,
Do not trust a soiled hand or callused foot. We do not grow
The food we eat. Our thirst is quenched by gadgets
Produced by slaves in foreign nations.
We drink, we toast, suck-up to the important hosts.
But at what cost? The servants bring us liquor
Wishing they were more like us. We disdain their needs.
We're all beasts, just wall-hung trophies of the respected rich.
It's what you have to do to be a hero.
Monday, July 30, 2007
A Thousand Points of Light
…that's why you need an imagination
to make poetry die of starvation…
…poems of praise should not be so damn noisy…
A thousand points of light
the dark blue
like a window shade
drawn on ten thousand
or a thousand mosques
The sea of people
is all colors
six billion currents
electric blood flows
what is left
of the garden
a little stream
of mole hills
made out of loam
snails and dung
red and yellow fish
the beauty of age
Summer, The Oval Office
A woman with long legs
and ten men without
arms or ears
smiling at the cameras
and ten with ties
by the window
looking out at the rose garden
air-conditioner on high
logs burning in the fireplace
Fishing for Gold
Looking for money
looking for cash
lost like fish
in the sea
At the bottom
at the bottom
of the pocket
Fish for gold
an even trade
Girls Who Kiss
Girls who kiss
with their eyes
tears on the coat
wet with salt
They don't even know
the blinding light
Heaven and Earth
Your eyes look small
and you wince
as I say
We were right to shift the moon
and raze the sun
Only light can burn us
lower their gaze
the fog lifts
We are completely
alone in the dark
the whole earth
Elegant as slender fingers
she's a little shy
when it comes
in mind and body
in her chair
when her mother
The distance opens
to the sea
Near the headlands
abalone poachers listen
for the sound of craft
as the poet
looking from the hill
beyond the sea
listens to the roar
of surf on sand
the sea caves sucking
in his breath
The Price of Good Medicine
My fish is sick
I take it
to the hospital
where the nurse laughs
Don't be concerned
I take him
to the movies
if he will laugh
The ticket seller says
a quarter for kids
and a nickel for the fish
I take my pigeon
with a bracelet
for a leash
and people laugh
The pigeon squawks
and shits on them
and write a poem
My pigeon struts
thinks he's smart
all day long
I don't know about
I eat fish
The doorbell rings
I don't answer
I let it go
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Thanks for visiting and comments are always welcome.
…a gradual eulogy to the world…
I love the gap in your voice when I say something silly,
when your stones in the light pay tribute to dawn.
On the scale of one to ten I'd give you a nine plus
for all the beauty you bring to one blossom.
And when the room sucks in your air with a gasp
at one of my misstatements or misreadings, I just
stand there, shifting my feet, and stutter at the tongue-
lashing. It's fewer not less, you let me know
in a tone reserved for your children.
Like them, I'm happy to accept your guidance.
And you've learned not to say, That poem doesn't
make sense, but to caution that my metaphors aren't
reasonable. I've learned to listen, and well at that.
Your rhododendrons need pinching, you tell me lovingly.
Three Samples of Autumn
The first is the driving heat drafting up
from the cow dung in the meadow,
settling on the limbs and leaves
whose husky thirsts derive from want.
Second is the fruit on these limbs,
the apples, cherries, and pears
that rock left and right in the slight breeze
bringing relief, and fragrance from the flesh.
The last is the rain that gives way to frost,
when the rest of the garden is picked
and the stubble has gone to mulch,
when the robins arrive and peck for seeds.
At dawn, every face is a nightmare,
freckled children and heavily-bearded men
swirl about with garbage cans and school buses,
all checking the clock and rocking the streets.
Later, the business suits turn their eyes
to their watches as their wives gather
on driveways or porches, wave good-bye
wishing the absence would last longer,
or maybe not as long, while they struggle
with pucker-faced kids dawdling in doorways.
The laments they could turn into songs
remain frozen in their modern minds.
Dreaming of ten thousand Buddhas,
they go on, hopelessly fruitful.
His own tiny destiny at hand, and skin
the color of dusk, with the small glow
of autumn in his mind, and a trailing wind
that blows him from the meadow, he grasps
the small coin of dream and goes to war.
It's so beautiful, he says, when he tells you
why he loves it. The desert is as lonely
as a wolf, and the packs of marauders
are as dangerous as flint. There is a fuse
in the eyes of the enemy and life is short.
Someone is hiding in the flickering light
of the hallway and he doesn't know
if the staccato sounds are in his head
or the fresh wounds of nightmares.
The paper money in his pocket makes a shuffling noise
when he puts his hand down and pulls out coins.
Outside, a few bird nests rattle like banners
so he knows troops patrol the neighborhood.
He has reached that place where life fools him
with the subtle awareness of a stranger's false teeth
in his mouth. He thinks, My whole life is a failure,
and looks at the hind legs of his dog thumping
the couch. The futility gnaws at him. He can't
chew the sandwich his wife left him for lunch.
Beef is so damn tough, he says to himself,
wishing for peanut butter and jam, or something
to go down easy like the brew he's sworn off.
Then he feels the dog lick his stumps.
A Eulogy for the Remains
In the beginning there are flowers
scattered on the ground, singles
and in pairs, there are also cards
and soldiers playing with guns.
They are like triplets waiting
to ambush the children who pass.
At the end of the street, a pretty girl
looks with her suspect eyes in motion,
with the calling card of terror in action.
Shocked with red, someone
takes a photo of her head blown off.
We think, how strange this is,
the daily reports of civilians
exhuming their children's remains.
Small Town USA
A grab bag of disaster, no one comes to town
anymore. The doors are barred, windows shuttered,
only a few winos and homeless at midnight
track down alleys, across town to the park
where they try to sleep without the bother
of killers or cops, the same breed in their minds.
No news is good news, they say, rising at dawn
to use the bathrooms locked down for the night.
But it's spring, the winter is over, and dogs
out for a walk read yesterday's news
among the smells of blossoms over the sidewalks.
A good day to die, a warrior might say.
But it's not so. They go to the bank to give blood
and hope their small curses won't curl their tongues.
We forget how strange it is to lose out
to death, but it always happens.
The oddest memories creep up
and become vivid in our oldest years.
How to say we live in lonely quarters,
and with not much more than quarters.
As lonely as looking into the street
where we know no one, not even
the neighbors. And our children
live in different places, one north,
another east, the first lost to war.
On the rare night we are up late, we notice
ants scurrying the cupboards. Next morning
we're surprised at gaunt cheeks and missing hair.
A Night at the Opera
Unable to pick up our feet from the mud,
we stand, fingering our hats, watching the fish-
monger hawk his wares in the rain.
It's not unlike going into a stream
and coming out in a storm. He flails,
the drops sail, and the wind bites
the umbrellas out of our hands. At the restaurant
we think, What a tasty way to sample dinner,
as we pass up the fried shrimp for three shots.
One too many, we notice, as our legs
buckle and laces untie. This is no way
to get to the theatre, you say, as a cab
passes us by and sprays gutter water.
Let's just go home and drink ourselves sick.
The Hand that Shook the Devil
On both sides of the tomb, a shadow stomps
its feet into my heart. Who could be this lonely
in a dream, with no one else in the other half
but the face of a demon squinting through moonlight.
The shadow reflects from a cave where one
enters alone, filled with fear. It plays in darkness,
shuffling cards, wands, trumpets, jesters and queens.
I am the Fool stepping off a cliff, into the abyss,
with a dog at my heels, wearing the yellow
clothes of the mind. Clearly misfortune waits
at the bottom, where I've been headed for years.
Jump, says the shadow, as my feet listen.
Below, skulls snore in the grass and laugh,
mock me for thinking I wouldn't live past death.
Searching for something paranormal, I look
for God. Shuffling its way through the orchard
it plucks an apple and eats, then climbs up
a tree and dangles its feet in the autumn light.
Surprised it wears no clothes, I look up the skirt
of the limbs and notice it's a hermaphrodite.
I give thanks the leaves don't scratch its genitals.
The sun warms its back and it stretches, points
a finger at me. I'm warned that it can't stay
here forever, the rains are coming and after that
the frost and snow. Get me some garments,
it says, I can't go out in polite society like this,
people would think I'm a freak. I invite it
to wear my best pants so I won't have to look again.
Monday, July 2, 2007
(after Gu Cheng)
These poems were written while reading SEA OF DREAMS by Gu Cheng. Some of the phrases, images, and ideas were taken from his work, but in its entirety it is an original composition. It was written and edited in six separate early mornings (late evenings) from February 15th to May 8th, 2007, while listening to Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Mississippi John Hurt, Cannonball Adderly, The Quintet (recorded live from Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, 1953), Wynton Marsallis, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle.
…your luggage just keeps getting heavier all the time.
It is strange that death goes on,
that after I'm buried I come to live.
Lying down among flowers, I am mutilated
by the light. This is my opportunity
to greet the sun, to say hello to the forest.
Looking closely, I see an oak change
into a sparrow, stare at a garden which turns
into a desert. Their voices are only appearance.
The sounds I believe are but a child's, digging
a grave for his rabbit, as the birds scatter.
Autumn at the Farm
I step into the world with many lives.
One is not finished, one other has not yet begun.
Sidling past the river stones and bark canoe
I hear the meter of the forest, the gnawing insects,
the heaves of cows in the meadow, the ferment
of fallen apples. In the orchard, the bugs' fervor
praises the fruit, the cowflops are profound
with mushrooms and maggots. Lifting the skirts
of cedars, a tarnished wind brings metallic odors.
It is a day to lay flowers on graves and sweep-up
the clutter of old wreaths. A few red breasts surge
while I saunter to the barn and finger wormy leather,
step into the river at the earth's ledge.
Three children pass down the road.
One is dressed in red, another green,
and the third wears stories and dreams.
They talk to each other and themselves.
The girl in red speaks of flowers,
the boy in green says, lions,
the third child remains silent.
When they get to the red girl's house
the green boy tells her he'd like a kiss.
The dreamer swoons and rolls his eyes.
The girl blushes and smiles at the green boy.
Then the two walk on. When they part the sun
is high and the green boy sweats. The last says,
I'm a stone. We can only hope for shade.
for David James Smith
All stones are solid, a foundation of brothers.
I have no sister, so who will teach me
of delicate things? I hear armies
of goldenrod thinking my songs
are planted in earth. Battalions
of bluebells open and I find the sounds
that I dream are rock-solid sisters
and brothers, our foundations from others.
We gather stones, flowers, dreams;
and form with ideas, image, and essence.
Dusk at the Farm
Fields lie beyond the green ditchwater,
clouds so dark they thin slowly. Here,
I wait for the light to grow dim, to churn
and bring the wind from the woods,
full of dormant children waiting to grow,
their tired eyes kissing the spring, sipping
water filled with the light of cherry blossoms,
with dusk's odors falling down
from the tree tops, the cedar spines,
and the large, aching maple that makes
me want to stop and rest, to breathe
and be joyful about the moonlight
and your eyes that are still new and unknown
when they look at me, then toward the clouds.
A Beautiful Oval
My voice is quiet, with a single bird
as its companion, somewhere in the tree,
here in the wind, altogether lost
in the forest with the dreams of oaks
and beetles, bark and wounded cedars.
And here one sees the silence the moon
sinks into its caves and craters,
its gouged-out skin with a reptile's surface
and its jagged edge of a file flaring
like flint, the stone that brings fire.
Then the voice takes off with the bird, ogling
the moon, a beautiful disc with painted eyes.
The World Circles
a small place of thirty acres
with a stream and surrounding woods,
an orchard, a maple, many cedars
and firs on the banks of the river
still young, having been planted
years ago, but growing above
the boulders and underbrush green
and gazing at the hillside opposite.
In this small place a man walks
his pasture, the trails to the woods,
the wetlands and badlands of the bear,
cougar, coyote, where, downstream
beaver dam the creek and a pool
rises in spring, subsides in the summer.
Growling ever lower, faces appear
on the wall, men with their feet backed-up
against eternity, where the bullets strike
and shriek, and the men remain quiet
having dug their graves with words
broken open like the span of a heron
rising to flick its beak, to peck a fish
or frog, even a lizard, those creatures
near the tops of rivers, on rocks and pads,
near the bottom of the chain that dangles
all our lives in the balance of one.
The well, a large jar, dipped in
daily, and with joy at the wonder
of water and life, the source.
It was a world with cook smoke,
wood fired saunas, the crickets
and tree frogs to the left and right,
all around the outhouse.
I wish I could taste it again,
that pale creature, the Pygmy Forest,
the light in the pines at dawn
making a stunted-tree bonsai
with the mist crawling over
the fragile stems, and the roots
barely able to open the hardpan.
The Pygmy Forest
The whole five acres was a drainfield
in winter when the rain rushed down
and the clay hardpan was three inches
deep in floodwater. On each side of the land
were ditches with torrents of brown
tearing off the scum left over from summer
when frogs dug into the mud
and badgers fed on the bodies of mice,
voles, while swallows picked insects
out of air at dusk with the bats.
At dawn, when fog camped on the pines,
the world grew small with rhododendrons,
wild blueberries, mushrooms, and trilliums
surrounding the logged over redwoods.
Monday, June 18, 2007
after César Vallejo
His dreamknots, purple wounds
whispering for pale afternoons,
a moon waxing and yielding,
with an eagle feather dusting
earth and sky, with the real
solved and absolute, as he
hawks a quilt, or shadows
the dome of trumpeting sun:
knots from this dumbfounded man
lame of femur and shin,
wide at the skirt of the waist,
looking like leprosy, a flower
decomposing, angered by wind,
chased by storm, one eye blind.
Yellow cutthroat sun, bloodknot
letting spine, impaling brain
with the dust of spite and spin
between the distance of the earth,
the rough and ragged froth of sea,
and the immaculate stone of a beyond.
Deliver us from gain, to the absolute
rain and storm, from the dance and song
of modern poems, the this and that
of neurotic charm, their bliss and tedium.
Blow away a dam, burst a bureaucrat,
blossom the bomb, a universal storm.
Give us tit for tat, not some sweet tart,
explode the goddamn thing insane.
This is the meat on which he sups,
a fist of malt and grit to mouth.
He's mild-mannered to the max,
smiles and shows off yellow teeth.
Miles ahead in mind, and far behind
in time, his loss is gain. His body
masses, searches out the truth,
he loves the mystique of the Mass,
loves the music of 'Trane and Monk.
He teaches nothing. Too short to dunk,
his sport was track and he won with grace.
Years ago he lost his mind. When all
was done and known, he'd committed
a tragic crime. A dime of heroin
fixed his habit; he filled his veins.
Fame debunked by beauty, myth-
now his dream is art and truth.
He toasts the flesh as he would
a loaf of bread to crumbs,
massages with his mind
and tender hands what he knows
of love. And for sport he kisses
death with his most fatal wishes.
Still, he moves his body out,
motions the one he blesses
with caresses, and tiny nips
of bud. He boasts his love
is hard, excites the blushing belly
and the nipple. He sups and sips
on lonely skin, profound
yet doomed, loves back in kind.
Blissninnies with their snotnosed dreams
of wealth and fame, with their fancy clothes
and cars, their fairy myths and future
trophy wives. To hell with them, he says,
the curses coming from his twisted mouth,
oaths that cut like welders' torches
through the false truths of their faith.
Put them to task in labor camps,
let them swing from lampposts.
Let them know what it's really like
to be stickfucked by a prison guard.
Have no mercy on their souls,
these sniveling pimps and whores
who have no idea of their coming hell.
Armed to the tooth, he slaps
his palm and raises fist
to his so-called journey, quest.
His is a tale of sheep and fish.
O Christ, he asks, why do I desire
so? O Buddha, he says, how do I
get out of its grasp? My body wants,
I need touch back, what is this thirst
that heaves my chest, pulses heart,
and absorbs the mind? Could I just
leave the pain behind, should I pull out
my eye, behead my neck? And my brain,
how do I deal with that? My dreams expand
the realms. What to do, on whose command?
He has hopes, but knotted
in his throat the phrases lie
compound and fractured
by the fast-food burn,
the shock and awe of modern
poems. His are the storm
and thunder of the classic
myths, made personal
in his life of grief and chaos.
But, he wonders, what if
he wrote of the blooming
pear with its pale flowers,
his time of youth when he had
the answers, without illusions?
He hates with hope. He learned when young,
You're known by your enemies as well as friends.
The gates open and a ghost appears.
He hates himself for that. He hates the bureaucrats,
their token crack for the ghettos while they snort coke.
But what does he wish? To approach his last years
with a kind of peace, with thoughts unleashed
against the corporate shills. With mind askance
at the distance he's come, arrived, and been at home.
At best he's happy when alone. At worst
he's crowded in a bunch. His physics teacher told him,
There's no such thing as a free lunch. He hates
mob rule but hopes for riots in the streets.
His drugs are cigs and coffee and his diet is sweet.
Raw veins in the hands of doubt,
blue and restrained with a touch
of faith and little hope, gather
and pool in the palms sloping off
to the wrists and up the arms.
Dope in the shape of a heart,
a pill or fix for what's not right,
left over from youth, or a life
spilled over from the actual truth
of asylum and prison, now versed
in the classics and beauty,
but still damned by thoughts
of murder, mayhem, caught
in the chaos and cut deep.
O ye with little knowing, minds
as small as ants, and fear everywhere
in your daily humdrum, with thoughts
as limp as Tennessee Williams' wrist
flagging down a trick or flaring up
to strike that bitch, the morphine
in his heart and veins. What faith is this
with his seductive masters? What fool
could he love most? It's just that
In The Winter Of Cities is at its best
when he is at his worst. How to suffer
his unsympathetic jests, the curse
of language brought forth with beauty
by one who hosts the flesh?
It seems strange, but his life is three-
quarters gone. At times he still feels young,
others, old and tired and pained. He's gained
weight the last few years, his hair's long gone
as are over half his teeth. With one eye blind
and a swarmy grin, he looks as mad as he really is.
It seems strange but he welcomes the end.
He began blessed, went through some storms,
emerged in a relative calm. He's broken
all the Ten Commandments, yet he remains
religious. Nearly dead long ago,
he gives thanks for the love he's known,
for his mother who's now ninety-three,
his family and friends, and Ava, his dream.
He's said it all, he can't say more.
He's told the truth with little white lies,
he's laced with salt the wounds he wished
he'd never done. He's dreamed and sung
this choir of sorts, one could say a minor Mass
or tiny concerto. He's tuned the drums
and timpani, blasted out the brass and bass.
Never one for opera, he scans the score,
shrugs, and says, It's Greek to me. Sometimes cool,
at times a geek, he tells tales but not quite literal.
He masques the face of truth and myth,
covers his path like an escaped convict.
He slaves away but with no honors. He'd like
to think he's van Gogh or Flannery O'Connor.
He loves his dog, he loves her fleas.
He loves his cat and Ava's knees.
With his mother at 93, Ava's the one
he loves the most. He toasts them both
with wine and song, but, down deep,
he thinks he's doomed. Ava Lynn,
O Ava Lynn, you're the one who brings
him hope. You tame his dreams
and love his skin. They almost seem
like two in one, happily coupled
but not in need. He's the steed you ride,
you're his swan and make him grin.
He's loved many but not like this,
you make him shout and twist.
He loves your moods, he loves your wings.
They are together and each other's twin.