The late John Moffitt wrote about Moore Moran:“Few poets show the stylistic range that he seems able to call up at will. He
moves from free verse to accentual to syllabic to traditional forms, often including rhyme. Reliably, his choice of form serves the message,
and the message is indelible.” As the poet himself says, “I have attempted to communicate my affection for the art by exploring
many of its beguiling forms and presentations. These include a generous helping of the traditional.” Moran studied under Yvor Winters
at Stanford, then left academe for the advertising world where he served as a copywriter and creative director for a number of years. He
continued to write poetry, publishing early on in The Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Chicago Review, Yale Review and elsewhere. With
his wife Pat he raised four daughters and a son and presently lives in Santa Rosa, CA. His first full-length book, Firebreaks, won the
National Poetry Book Award in 1999, and he has just finished a second book, A Late Persimmon Moon. Moran has recent work in The
Prairie Schooner, First Things, The New Formalist, The New Criterion, Candelabrum, The Poem Tree, The Texas Review and Edge City
From the jacket of Firebreaks: “Imagine a poet who can deal with the experience of Jack Kerouac but with too much
intelligence to limit himself to the road. You don’t have to imagine him. He exists in Moore Moran. Moran has many skills, all of them
beautifully bright, and on occasion when he looks into the abyss they take him safely over it.—Turner Cassity
“Moran is a fine writer, a really wonderful poet. He shows education without showing it off; he shows sensitivity without being
sentimental…and his landscapes of the West Coast—from Baja to San Francisco and the Central Coast, are unforgettable."—John
To the Golden Gate Bridge
In 1942 when I was ten
and you were five, we got together Sundays
as I’d head north to military school,
flagging the Greyhound down. Those were not fun days:
Mother, broken by life, had left the scene;
Pearl had called father to a four-year fight.
My scruffy boots, the tell-all uniform,
spotted and rank-less, put on view the fright
I was at fifth-grade soldiering. Then I heard
through open windows how you’d worked it out—
towers in the wind, singing above the sea,
anthems of self-belief, innate, devout—
and you became a brother instantly.
As weeks passed and I listened on that span,
your riffs of joy seemed almost tuned to ease
my chronic fear of growing into a man.
Some you did not convince as easily.
May they, drenched in despair, who could not heal,
return to light somewhere down harbor skies,
beyond the flotsam and the listening seal.
Appeared in First Things
Tonight I ask You in to help me mourn.
You who help whom you please,
don’t leave me just with these—
a loincloth, timber, nail and scarlet thorn.
I‘m what I earn to think, not think I am.
Nor love, wisdom or art
sustains the baffled heart,
and fact contains no holy anagram.
Be more, Lord, than my hope, Your innocence.
Reason has never known
how to live with its own
immaculate, hard-hearted arguments.
Originally published in First Things
When Paris Lay at Helen’s Side
When Paris lay at Helen’s side,
and she was lightning on his limbs,
few doubted such authority
would finally tame him.
And he was hers in bed, in war,
in revelry, in argument;
her femaleness drenching his wits
with endless want.
So what becomes of long devotion
when suddenly death takes the lover?
A harvest lost? Is passion mortal?
Does promise weather?
It’s said that every hundred years
Helen returns to tend his urn,
that in chill walls of Trojan bronze
the dust yet burns.
I am exhumed on the express,
Out of the aftermath of five,
And though I starve on consciousness,
Dead reckoning keeps me alive.
Transient, I ride like sun on chrome.
Velocity, my brightest skill,
Sustains me like an ordered home;
Meaning is individual.
As the enigma deepens, I,
Who hunt on plains of sensory error,
Mete out the judgment of my eye
And multiply in finite terror.
My love is waiting near her bed,
Great shadows fall upon the West;
Train, freighted with tomorrow's dead,
Take me to fury, not to rest.
Originally published in The Paris Review
She sleeps in a palace of rose innocence
Under day's murmurs in the slow vine's hold;
From coral walls is culled an utterance
When stray birds come and pick at her rings of gold.
She does not hear the silver rains that fall
Through palace silences, nor does she heed
In the east wood the flute's insistent call
Rife with sweet rumors of awakening there.
Prodigal sunsets dote upon her, till,
Racing to reassert its old hauteur,
A late persimmon moon scatters its chill.
No, nothing here is known—nothing to learn,
Only time's fingering which will never stir
In her French arms the tendons of concern.
Originally published in Sequoia
Ordinary Time in the Pews
Ordinary days again.
Advent, Pentecost are past;
who now will accept our sins,
raise the dust in which we're cast?
Cold the God flesh on the tree,
banned the crèche to attic murk,
sheer the silence after prayer,
nothing seems at all to work.
Yet we try and try again
serving Him we hardly know:
honk if you love Jesus, friend,
beeping blessings as we go.
Here we meet, who somehow must
rescue meaning from the dust,
where betrayal’s kiss presents
our best hope of relevance.
Scent of cypress gusting cliffs,
Black gulls sit on the sea,
Sun a part of it and not.
Everywhere sea thunder.
A draught of autumn month on end.
Like every native boy,
I heartily climb these rocks
As fat as kings, and study
The momentary pools
Composed no more of water
Than wind, and for hours take
The rock crab's view of things.
Foundering windmills creak
A few stiff turns at the sky,
Pumping only the rising fog
Of afternoon. Time and again
They are halting to check
Their joints for life.
The old barns, bleached
And battered by a century of fury
From the sea, still breathe
Through their scars. They groan
And sway like alcoholics,
Dazed at the unguessed
Emptiness of years.
Into our sky
Like giant ice blocks
To a punch bowl.
With thunder, rain, wind.
Stingers of cold ream the black
Furrows of the fields
And blast the sagged barley;
Thatch-ruffled goats wait it out
On the hill.
We walk tumid earth,
You small, glistening,
Holding my thoughts
As if they were my hand.
Strawberry pinks and clarets
Quilt the valley as far as eye can see,
To the first pined up-turnings
Of the mountains of Santa Lucia.
Along the potholed two-lane,
Tailgates down for the harvest,
Old pickups doze under new paint:
Canary yellow, patent leather black.
Teeth flash in Latino heads
Bent to the picking;
They appear to see only the work
Of their hands. I know better,
Waving Godspeed as I trespass
Through the birthright of their silence.
High on the cliff
I watch a black pelican
Crouched in the rocks
Below the wind.
Trained on my cliff,
He’s making his stand.
As the wind drops,
He calls out, flopping
Toward flight, keeping
At it till the night
And the sea claim him—
One more loose rock
I could tell you
Of a kitchen in Castroville
Where love once lived,
Then hardened like
A dishcloth in sill frost.
Tomorrow I’ll head up
And drink with a Mexican
Widow I know;
In side streets,
The drinking and
Lying done with,
We'll listen to
The leather sounds
Of the old houses
By the artichoke fields
Under the wind;
When the wind quickens,
Blowing the moon down,
We’ll scoot through
To her fire.
Originally published in The Texas Review
Saul heard my poems and brought me to this place,
And loved me though he knew men prophesied;
How could I save him where aghast he died,
His land disordered like his mighty face.
The host being young, composed like none before,
Stalked westward to the ocean like my star,
The blue towns fell like children that they are:
I was the lamb, the lion was no more.
With ingrown love not sword I held the land
And not for God did I raise my wet city;
For the weak I wrought Jerusalem in pity
Who thought I slew Goliath with my hand.
Now the rich host waits, aging in my keep,
The core of summer in the fruit and mind;
Shining, shining, the warriors' heads are lined
With yesterday, and one by one they sleep.
You, partner to my sinking lust, must try
Bathsheba, this uncertain heart of sod,
Before the Jews remake me as a god,
And call me this slow force I perish by.
In you I leave some measure of my wrath,
Lest you be outraged when your impulse falters,
Your knowledge less than love which ever alters,
Beautiful child, and still all ways waits death
Rimbaud and His Muse
Black birches full of autumn sound—
like rain their few excited leaves;
what honest passion can be found
where light dissembles, touch deceives?
Between the trees she comes and leaves
shaken to learn of my seclusion—
I cannot ease the loss she grieves,
my art was built upon illusion.
The calm she looks for in my figure
restraint or death itself conceives;
through my long dream I trusted neither:
blind will alone confronts the leaves.
My skill was stronger than the leaves
and yet it falls away as fast;
she frowns and waits and disbelieves
that madness found me out at last.
Beside her now my shadow heaves
like meaning seen but never formed,
hugely alert among the leaves
where worse than madness is performed.
Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly
—in memory of Wallace Stevens
His pigeons have reached darkness
By now, and absolute shade,
The one fast color, hardened
The rich change of his blue gaze.
Indelible leaves falling
Across the Sundays, firing
An ice-rimmed sky or blazing
In his page, will hold his sound.
Earth only will find him cold.
How fair must have been that late
And inexorable stand
When, closely groomed, breakfasting
Expensively on warm wine,
Eggs Benedict, he reworked
Some dark juxtaposition,
His gaze led by innocence,
His hands in the moment, all
Malice suspended softly,
And heard in the seventh hour,
Dilating like the sea's prose,
That long formality: peace.
Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly
Late in the Night
Late in the night I dreamed I was to die,
to see through change to the unchanging season
where love is said to live and reign (blue sky
is for the called no less than for the chosen).
My love lay with me softly, murmuring
in sleep of cherished seasons come and gone,
sweet passings which in time soured, corrupting
our hands and lips and eyes. Who to atone?
Between two worlds I hovered, tried to hedge,
but no scheme came, only the terror in
surrendering what I am, heartbreak serrating
awareness to a raw and mortal edge,
and I, dense tangle of transgressions, waiting
for the dark, the accusation or the grin.
Originally published in The New Criterion
I can remember four
all because of two nights.
Mother and Father moved
into a Spanish house
that year. We came loosely
bundled after midnight,
down the alkaline road
south, so long, so fiery.
Big Eva, Dutch nanny,
read icy tales from Grimm
till the indigo sky
went black in the high car
Two pillow-minded drunks,
my sister and I reeled
through echoing cool rooms
to fall in shadowy beds.
It was a run-hide house
with a pomegranate tree
in the old court below
where the wind never came.
Within a week, the red
below my room (that no-
red-like-it red) took me,
with its tart seeds, fast friends
so that afterward when
the circus stopped outside
and I could not come down,
having been bad that day,
but high over the court
watched them in their costumes,
after supper singing
out through the tall rose gate,
up the around-town hill,
the pomegranate tree was
bleeding in the dusk,
redder than the clown's mouth
and redder than Rose Red.
Originally published in The Threepenny Review
The Killing Machine
In boot camp at Ord everybody was dead serious
About the training
As the war ground down to a
Terminal idle that still chewed up kids.
There were a thousand tricks to learn in those
Sixteen weeks, packed tighter than a Pound canto.
Gradually I saw that just two skills
Relative to the rank of private
Were going to get me through the moment
And whatever might come after:
Shooting straight and staying anonymous.
So I perfected myself in the care and firing
Of that edgy equalizer, the M1 rifle,
And slept whenever I could through the rest of it.
And it turned out in the platoon I had a clone
—Same height, weight, eye color and so forth—
Named Morgan. Put fatigues on us
And our mothers couldn't tell us apart,
So naturally the cadre
Was constantly mistaking us too.
I'd stay out of sight and he'd yell, "Morgan,
Clean the shit cans!" or "Morgan, police
The wrappers—let's see some ass and elbows!"
And Morgan, the poor bastard, plodded
Week after week through this plain
Case of mistaken identity and never did catch on.
The last day, when we were fully trained and terrified
The cadre said, "Well, Morgan, how does it feel
To be a killing machine?"
I told him the name was Moran
And that it felt piss-poor. He stared at me like
He'd never seen me before, which of course he hadn't.
Originally published in The Threepenny Review