Leonard J. Cirino (1943) is the author of twenty other chapbooks and fourteen full-length collections of poetry since 1987 from numerous small presses. He lives in Springfield, Oregon, where he is retired, does home care for his 95-year-old-mother, and works full-time as a poet. His 104 page collection, Omphalos: Poems 2007, is from Pygmy Forest Press, 2010. A 64 page selection, Tenebrion: Poems 2008, will be from Cedar Hill Publications, in summer, 2010. His full-length collection, Chinese Masters, is from March Street Press, 2009. Cirino will be the featured poet at the Outsiders’ Art Festival, Lincoln, NE, in August 2010. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.