Monday, July 27, 2015

Verses, Old and New



There is a price to empathy,
The iron stab of memories not one's own
That hold one fast, spiked to other souls
Too often scourged of solace,
Hanging thus on pain of others' flesh.

True, it buys you shares of others'
Joys as well, but less so all in all,
There being hurt abundant spread
Like peat across the mire of the world
And even others' loves do no more
For them (as for us all) than shield
Our sensing somewhat from the
Terrors lodged within the soul,
A minor mercy empathy denies,
Insistent on the ego's deeper joining.

To make this all one's own perhaps
Is unwilled ache, encoded in the genes
To secret purpose, to temper pride
By way of universal grief and
Shape the soul to universal penance.
I do not know. I only hurt.

In the Asian Galleries

So imperturbable an art,
so motionless in plenitude of life,
these porcelains, ivories, jades:
coaxed to patient shapes as though
to work invalid time's remorseless bustle.

Here they sit,  having come downriver
(Yangtze of the centuries of forgetfulness)
 the unbusy work of an endlessly busy people
concluded now within these bright vitrines.

No turbulent dance
(strophe and antistrophe of occidental energy)
motivates these
dragons, lions, rings, and cups,
these riant boys and sedate old men.

I stand here rueful
of my agitated memories
and study stasis,
the ancient, unguent science.


in your buoyant brightness
I refine my wayward light,
shape wave and particle of
my vagabond self.

Reflected in your steady sight
I see my own illicit glow
made sane and whole.

Must I renounce such visions?

My conscience tempers
rectitude with hope: It's God
Himself who manufactured light
and said, offhand and unrecorded,
"Let there be eyes."

A Melancholy

I have spread my soul (my childhood's grace)
like jam across these decades,
trying to resolve a wearying dispute on
the proper station of the Fool
and thus regain my balance, reforge my
damaged sword, my tongue, my uncouth tool,
playing at Parsifal in an age decidedly

Posted, senses sentinel, on my porch in
this quiet south Ohio suburb,
startled by a helmeted barbarian shattering
the evening's silence through the full-bore
high whine gears of an unmuffled motorcycle,
my hearing tuned for the warning, waking,
wet diaper cry of my sleeping son,
I strain to hear beneath the mechanical
distractions and the nervous circus of
the crickets that fragile tone that is
the surface tension of an ageless Silence,
Signal beacon to our secret navigation through
this infinity of atoms toward the blank
interrogation that guards the entrance
to our ancestral home.

At times I argue with the Keeper of the Gate,
attempt to lead him by debate to visions
of the things that I would do.
Outside of that I live my quiet life,
eat home cooked meals accompanied by a
modest wine, entertain at intervals,
watch the dream take shape, plan
journeys which I may or may not make
dependant as they are on circumstances
which have been left for someone else to dream.

Or else I scheme,
recalling earlier seductions in which I
cannot place my part, those brittle
brilliant lights like comets which we
substitute for memory and urge to art,
knowing that they hold a key that they
will not surrender.

Those actions which the Eye encompasses
are few,
interplay of forces encapsulated in a
limited number of containers.
I know some half a dozen people whose
delight consists in this:
to cast reflections in a thousand borrowed forms,
sport in bodies only marginally their own,
loan their language to a passing stranger for
a joke.

There are others too, more serious
(these are my retainers)
remnants of patrician Rome intent on building
mythic cities on which to found a history
or vagabond Castilians engaged in futile exploration:
the fevered souls, the rapine ghosts,
defenders on a vanished barricade.


"Often in the early morning
of this or that fine day,
I cry," she said.
"There's no reason really.
The tears come on as sudden
as a memory, as inexplicable
as wind. I'm just a silly girl."

I sat surrounded by the clutter
of her sewing things (unmoved,
it seemed, since last I visited
so long ago) and lingered
over coffee growing cold.
She talked of friends and school
and men and I (no saint) moved
defensively in my chair,
eluding jealousies to which
I had no right, remaining balanced,
ever balanced...

"You have another life just twenty
blocks away," I whispered to myself.
Then added, slightly louder
 (being now and then the Fool): "True.
But that is twenty blocks away."


On such short notice
(having just hung up the phone)
I cannot write nor rhyme.
Still, in orders of importance,
a birth's a birth
(more so when it's yours).
Despite the weight of passing time,
your fear of wrinkles and
your mounting count of husbands lost,
all the days you've worked the earth
deserve some commendation,
at least a salutation
from a friend whose love,
imperfect though it is,
is love no less.
One wish then;
that you may live as lovely as
you are and wrest from heartless
years the heartfelt joy that brought
you crying to the world and keeps
you --- crying yet --- still there.

Sleeping Woman

Sleep form flesh soft
round shoulder suspiration
sea breath
the last ahhh...
thalassa. . .
all mothers when you sleep
childbearing dream dreaming on
continuance of a dream continuous
from Eve.
Quilt covered hair brown
pillow sunk abstract in
seawaves womb enclosed breathing tidal murmurs to
absent Adam's ears.
Female, from male, rib drawn
respiration of the secret scheme.
So dream...


(Item: 7 September 1970 --- A sea lion, quite dead, washed up on the sand
 at Drake's Beach, Point Reyes, California)

Salt blown sea licked walking on the beach
I passed it and, seeing that it was dead, felt
my bones shudder and demur.
(The currents revolve;
blank suns wheel the circuit of the universe;
time eddies in round pools, whispering: about!
about! about! about! The tides lament:
revolve, resolve, revolve, resolve...)
Dead. Quite dead.
And of its dying what to say?

It comes as no revelation,
no sublime surprise...
The tamed myth lies: Nature is neither kind nor just.
She plots with time and kills by whim.
(These years of tracing lonely city streets and lonely
seaswept beaches have left us sadly wise.)
Death's drama cracks:
bereft of power and of terror it seems suddenly so common,
the trivial surcease of life's ancestral anguish.
So not its dying, no...
not its dying.

And yet, to be dead so...
having played the stoic scene, the final tragic act;
having succumbed to time's imperial command;
(perhaps with some small sound or gesture
hinting at a frail, receeding grace)
having relinquished the joy, the agony, the pain and play,
the breaking waves and company of dolphins,
the shimmering harvests of the dark sea floor;
(perhaps with a final gentle sigh)
having, at last, finally and simply died... to be yet so...

A lump of bleeding refuse cast on the rude sand to lie
without mourners in an alien land sweating sick sap:
dead covenant of promises betrayed (or kept?),
an open broken jawbone lacking teeth and
one unblinking arid eye pleading mutely to the
bottles and the scraps of paper, the stubs of cigarettes...
garbage to garbage, trash to trash...
spawned, loved, sustained, drained,
shattered and spurned by this eternal Ocean,
(Brahma! Vishnu! Shiva! Brahma! Vishnu! Shiva!)
spewed useless on the sand, sport for sea birds and marauding flies...

So small a mercy to request
(and even this denied our sea blanched bones)
that, being finally dead, we might at last find rest,
at last we might come home...

(The tides lament:
revolve, resolve, revolve, resolve...)

Critical Opinion

A famous modernist, reputedly superior,
eschews the brush in favor of her derriere.
Her writhings are hung in the finest museums,
depictions of mankind's intemperate dreams.
"It's made the art world so much cheerier,"
admirers say of her posterior.

when asked to opine in a professional way
how the lady ranks with the best of the day,
Hinson, our astute curator,
proceeded roundly to berate her:
"She spoils a luscious, firm technique
by placing clashing colors cheek to cheek."

Two Flamencos for Garcia Lorca

is a wound:
cornada muy grave
on Death's other horn ---
the thing you must not think of,
stroking the white blow home.
The spiked moon,
how fatal!

The guitar!
sobs, abandoned in the
blue spotlight;
sobs, low in its quicksilver
a woman (dark as olives and
fatal as a dove)
wailing at the moon.

Suburban Interlude

We are aware that we are captives of the
moment, entangled in a whispered trick of
time which we are always just about to understand
but never do,
trying to sort beginning, middle, end
with imaginary words that will not fix an image and
cannot ascend to certain meaning which beyond a
moment we could not be certain we intend.
A feeble tool
with which to comprehend a ghostly passage
in an unpropitious season.


I confess these ambiguities to calm a fragile
excitation, an ancient pulse revived beneath the
sounds of conversation proper and reserved:
the offer of a beer, a glass of wine,
perhaps some pretzels or some cheese,
the ritual refreshments,
the obvious amenities.

The blood disturbs its sediment less savagely
among these well kept lawns,
cools sadly in the lazy arc of twilight sprinklers
slaking barbered grass, denies its hot intent
among the office haunted dawns,
the tricycles, the shining young at play, the
monthly web of budgets, taxes, grocery bills...
disturbs its sediment less savagely but
disturbs it still.

And in this patterned round where bodies
cannot move and dare not touch (for that
would break the sleeper's abstract trance)
nor passions grow incautious and change position
in the dance (we fear the weighty consequence)
the blood electrifies and makes the eye
audaciously ionic, restrains itself to flirt
with air, confines its lusts to courtesies
between two chairs, and in that space defies
the Laws that forged the ordered ages,
hinting sadly at an endless jest.

Late Night Phone Call

I interrupt my masquerade to stage
this midnight conversation
this moonspun wordfun salutation
(intimation of my larger exultation)
by which we wish that we could be
that being which we are and
not be forced to plot our course
among the small considerations of
these wholly faded stars,
discursive life of living memories,
wife and I remembering   (accused
among accursed) the kinks and catches
of a twisting journey turning on a
compass point the world has long forgot.

Elliptic eruditions this eclectic
verbal polyglot,
spirit symbols syllables of
spoken flesh syntactically defined,
electric speech inclined to kinds
of sentence sentience this instrument
transmits only intermittently,
subjecting to its dull inflection
hypnotic fires of a limber tongue.

Well,  despite a bad connection,
at least we have begun.

Conference Room

No air conditioning.
The sound of hounded heat in
dead rooms, that dull hum,
ineffective coils, condensers,
machines oppressed, oppressing,
fluorescent strangulation:
a dearth of air, heat made
tangible, expressed in grams,
in pounds per square inch:
that pressure on the chest,
this violated heart.

A meeting of the bored.
The word made heavy, given
gross weight, cumbrous shape,
trapped in three-dimensions,
formed in space,
like a glass, a water pitcher:
the sentence sentenced.

Then the soul's protective tic,
an unthought turning of the head:
this tree outside the window.