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Jack Foley

Jack Foley’s poetry books include Letters/Lights—Words for Adelle, Gershwin, Exiles, and Adrift (nominated for a BABRA Award). Foley’s Greatest Hits 1974-2003 (2004) appeared from Pudding House Press, a by-invitation-only series. His critical books include the companion volumes, O Powerful Western Star (winner of the Artists Embassy Literary/Cultural Award 1998-2000) and Foley’s Books: California Rebels, Beats, and Radicals. His radio show, Cover to Cover, is heard every Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. on Berkeley, California station KPFA and is available at the KPFA web site; his column, “Foley’s Books,” appears in the online magazine The Alsop Review.

The Skeleton's Defense of Carnality

Truly I have lost weight, I have lost weight,
grown lean in love’s defense,
in love’s defense grown grave.
It was concupiscence that brought me to the state:
all bone and a bit of skin
to keep the bone within.
Flesh is no heavy burden for one possessed of little
and accustomed to its loss.
I lean to love, which leaves me lean, till lean turn into lack.
A wanton bone, I sing my song
and travel where the bone is blown
and extricate true love from lust
as any man of wisdom must.
Then wherefore should I rage
against this pilgrimage
from gravel unto gravel?
Circuitous I travel
from love to lack / and lack to lack,
from lean to lack
and back.

On Hearing Frank Patterson Sing "The Fields of Anthenry"

“A beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English tenor,” said Aunt Kate with enthusiasm.  — James Joyce, “The Dead”  

“Low lie the fields of Athenry”—Why are we always forgetting
the sounds of vowels until we hear them sung
by someone with a voice like Patterson’s—
“a beautiful, pure, sweetIrish tenor.” Singing
which alters us with sudden “images”
that hold us in their sweetness as they touch.
I think of the vivid unknown presences
that grace my father’s scrapbook, how they lurched
into my heart, unwilling as it was.
“Phoebe—1917”—what end forher?
She burns across these nearly ninety years.
And Laura Wood, once graceful as a bird.
It makes no sense to greet them with my tears.
They tear at memory, but their tongue’s awry.
I see them in the fields of Athenry.

Portrait at Sixty

—for Anthony Holdsworth

This man looks out at me
eyes full of interest and perhaps suffering
whatever he looks at registered on his face
It was not the actual circumstance the artist painted—
me, posed, at ease, happy to be with an interesting friend—
but something “other” which only he saw
and which makes me look over and over again to see what it was
Is that me?—that whirl of light in which red (fire) predominates?
It is only the sun reflected on my forehead
but perhaps the artist sees me as the sun—
Apollo? The poet?
The artist is my friend,
but it is not our friendship which is reflected here
but some inward, powerful thing
which manifests even in these public circumstances—
a café, a little table, my glass before me.
It is a gloss
I guess at.
Does he know, does the artist
or was my face a passageway
into an underground
in which he was as lost as I?
It is vivid life
I look at with such intensity
and which looks back at me,
life neither “in” me nor “in” him
but something shared with the sun,
life all around, in my glass, in the lamppost behind me,
life insisting on its own facticity, its utter presence
so we cannot look away
but stare
into this heart.
“I’ll paint you so you’ll know what you really look like,”
said the artist, smiling.
What he painted was not “what I really looked like”—
though everyone says, “It looks just like you”—
but something like the real
something like life itself
leaping and dancing.
When I hung the painting,
I put it in a place
where the light shines


Today (my 66th birthday)
I saw a white-haired man with a bird on his shoulder
The bird perched the way a parrot does
But was clearly a seagull
The man explained:
He had saved the bird’s life once
And so the bird wouldn’t leave him
The bird was even jealous of the man’s wife
And would peck at her fingers if she gave him
Too much attention.
That is the way it is at 66.
You saved my life:
My life is yours.

From a Ch'an Master

Words not in italics from The Poetry of Enlightenment: Poems by Ancient Ch’an Masters; words in italics by Jack Foley.

The point of recognition is enlightenment
She turned to me
The instant one thought returns to brightness
And laughed suddenly
All traces are swept away.
And then amazed me by
The moment is refreshing.
Bouncing on the bed
Refreshing, quiescent,
Her naked body flung
Peerless, independent
Into the air and down again
Tranquil, harmonious.
Her bush
Nothing can match it.
Wet and shining as I said: "Do it again."

Eli, Eli

“It would be bad enough if I were the next-door neighbor. But this is like God doing it. Jesus doing it.” “First Person: The Confession of Father X”

Father O’Fondle comes to town
Hoping that your pants are down
What’s your sport, me lad, says he
Can you sit upon me knee
(I have sport enow for thee!)
Let me look upon your dangle
Try Confession from THIS angle
What I beat is not a drum
Who put the “cum” in “Vobiscum”?
(Which of you dare call me “scum”?)
Bishop, Bishop, though I’m lacking
I know you will send me packing
To another parish bright
Where I’m sure I’ll do all right
I'll bring “God” to them and theirs
And they’ll remember in their prayers
In the night when dreams are wet
They will see me smiling yet
Holding out God’s helping hand—
There’s a sweet and sacred band!
Till Hell turns to ice and freezes
You’ll make Love to me—and Jesus
I’ll apply the priestly arts
To your troubled private parts
Here, my lad, ’s a welcome solace
Let me touch your throbbing phallus
Hear the Sacred Choir thrumming
As I prepare my Second Coming!
Father O’Fondle, troubled man
Needing love, and under ban
In such desire for the Son,
Would I have done as you have done?

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