Tom Merrill is a poet, painter and photographer who prefers to let his words, paintings and photographs speak for themselves. In fact, it required considerable
persuasion on our part to get him to reveal so much as his name! But once we had earned his trust, Tom agreed to let us publish a number of his poems in the form
of "exclusives," which delights us, and hopefully will delight you also. His latest book,
Time in Eternity, can be purchased from Ancient Cypress Press by clicking the hyperlinked book title. In the past he published as T. Merrill.
I Threw Off Love
I threw off love the other day,
The only thing I'd keep;
I flung it at the giver of
My very peace in sleep;
For so the after-hours revealed,
One price of my rash sin
Was purchase of a rockbed no
Sweet dreams could flourish in.
Away I go, away I ride
Across the plain on love's fast tide
To meet upon the other shore
Your love, which faded long before.
Price of the High Horse
He thought he was quite a brilliant guy,
though no one I asked could tell me why.
He'd ramble on about what was best,
that much they recalled—but as for the rest
their only memory of Mister Last Word
was the surer he sounded, the less they heard.
A Response to a Translation
The lovesong of the nightingale in the tree
revives no romance in me.
No, all I hear is my heart screaming foul
to every shot that made us be,
to the irremediable swindle, the callous cheat,
the injustice, and mechanical cruelty.
A Family Banquet
Today for some reason I'm wondering
if salmon are aware of us.
It wouldn't surprise me.
Their spawning ritual
drives them to suicide.
Their roe, no less prized
may at least be spared ever making the run.
Try them together sometime,
the parents' pink flesh with caviar
though the black kind goes with it best.
Say the children you served were adopted.
Just keeping the beat
which can either be fun
or make time seem less long.
Merci, mon ami, for so many things,
companionship, backup, animal warmth
not to mention those olympian lengths
you've gone to to please me.
(l'herbe etais creatif ce soir)
and of course as always the beat I'd prefer
is every whippersnapper's due.
No cracks here alas, no beggar's song.
Addressing the Assembly
They could go on forever.
they may never end.
(as if there were anyone there)
Isn't brevity the soul of wit?
Don't say I never did you a favor.
(as if there were anyone to be spared)
Maybe I'll thank myself at least.
A witty ditty for the crowd
(as if I weren't it)
Something to fill the moment,
whatever it be
short of veneers like azaleas
and ruses that make shit seem lovely.
Blankout of course would be better
than puzzles to work at
but for bypassing temporal crawl
take any available track.
Even with nowhere to go
just drive on hardly caring
patching together whatever
gets birthed for repairing.
It could finish in god we trust
or we helplessly paid and lost
or nothing matters much
but the passage we're sharing.
Our Ranking Bamboozler
into s&m too
keeps his finances hazy
even pays big to screw.
Both a deft sloganeer
and exploiter of keywords
he enjoys stoking fear
and detests disagree words.
Focused only on telling
the flock what is true
he's been busy myth-selling
to bolster their view.
i hate blood
it is my deadly enemy
and a grotesque enemy
i recoil at the sight of it.
The Ultimate Con Man
No doubt he was born to court believers,
who perhaps mistake him for one of theirs,
seeing how gamely he invokes the almighty
playing him like a trump card.
We skeptics, who know he's not one of ours
as we watch superstition's outlets fold
like to think that's a sign he may yet get hoisted
on his own petard.
Finally, he went into waiting mode,
awaiting the grand finale.
He would not join the call for an encore.
The show had shattered, terrified, wasted,
relentlessly forged a cast-iron cynic.
He had often glanced at the exit door.
His vision had dimmed enough to see
like that scoffing infidel al-Maari.
His vote was for parching the quenchless valley.
An Air Fit for Song
If whenever you hear
an ass blasting gas
you at once break forth
in a rousing rendition
of the hills are alive
with the sound of music
you'll always upstage
the inspiring emission.
Let Old Acquaintance Not be Forgot
I remember Vergaza and Diddlyweed,
who drove me to Tina and then Flambé;
there were numerous others along the way:
Mere Ois and Reptile, Genghis and Pogo,
Martha and Mother Superior,
Majestique, Weenciepoo, Skew the hobo.
Pinnochio's gone, like RH and Daisy;
Leena is driving old Boblett crazy;
Twinkle and Juliet got the heave-ho.
Troisieme's zoo lacked the esoteric:
just whoozit, what's-his-face, so-and-so.
Mine tends to be more nongeneric.
Into the Winter Clad
Into the winter clad the great
And lovely pinetrees go;
When all that made them sing has flown,
Some meet the season so.
No numb display for ones they held
When arms were filled with feather;
But maples strip themselves and wait
The balm of bitter weather.
How We Landed South of Paradise
Polly wanta cracker, Tweety asked,
and Polly did.
No parrot feels too overtasked
to speak as bid.
It's best just to travel along unnoticed,
project a pleasant persona,
shave, dress nicely, be courteous,
never let on that you've met Desdemona.
Sing to yourself as you whiz past the limits,
O where are you hiding all fat and sassy
like a snake in the grass in Tallahassee
with your big shiny badge and license to poke us.
The Joy of Just Being
There might be something to it or there might not,
but it hardly matters as he smartly implies.
Of course you say nothing since there's no point.
To open your mouth is to fight for air.
Rapunzel was being immature this morning,
but that's de rigueur now and why even notice.
Enough to check that you haven't been cheated.
Let your mind drift to modern art on cheeks.
He's got bigger losses he might have to face:
blood tsunamis and stepping along both at risk.
But turkey-day's looming, last of three yearly hauls!
(complete with "It's-needle-in-the-haystack-time")
Shut in by spirits blocking all
Escape in sounds or sights,
Their prisoner stares at endless days,
Nor finds release in nights;
His mind so sealed within its bone,
So hopeless to uncage,
Not even sleep will come to turn
A mute, unspeaking page.
Our Bodies Are Our Sworn Enemies
― for B. Russell ("The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice")
They're intent on their lives having meaning
and on making them seem worth the price
which is why they're so hellbent on screening
out all futures but bright Paradise.
But when fact points to nothing redeeming
with its sweet gifts of torture and dread
can it ever be more than pipedreaming
to think earth augurs great things ahead?
"Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs...."―PL
Too long it had only been for this
that he slogged through each duplicate day:
to sink so deep into sleep
that no trespass of any perception
could make his escape incomplete;
only for perfect vacancy,
space with no inner sense,
a truly out-of-touch retreat,
with no chance or threat of intrusion―
no memory, no thought, no night-borne illusion.
The Suspicion of Being Noticed
I sometimes see myself
in what others say,
in their descriptions
as if I might've been their subject.
Most likely not but still I've wondered
if I've stirred some comment along the way.
Do I give a damn?
Probably only in rare jurisdictions.
The Grand Bequeathal
Soon enough the world will be theirs
as once it was ours;
only they (oremus) will know cares
or wait out long hours;
have dreams, dreads, body repairs,
odd slants on dumb powers;
retire to underground lairs
where God freshens His flowers. (oremus)
The Misfit's Lot
He was focused on all the exit doors
because his tastes were not like yours
and nothing at all that he could see
looked better than simply not to be.
Mechanism Will Of Course Prevail
Who really knows if what's borne by the born
is confined to known mercies of sense
or if death can be trusted to really provide
a final escape from existence.
Infinities more may lie in store
(to hope not is not to be sure)
and maybe once in, there's no way out
and you're forced to forever endure.
But why try to nudge with possible fates
when those sure ones we all can see
never seem to deter nature's tools from deploying
their brute power to make a life be.
Lost In The Crowd
When a new grief sets in, the kind endured
when the core of your life goes increasingly missing
and "then there were none" seems to sum up your prospects
a simmering anger mixed with gloom
can mingle you more with streams of space-litter
floating endlessly by on your vacant moon.
Symptoms of heightened blankness return
like my own recurrent mechanical pulsion
toward extra journeys to shrink time with distance,
excursions expanding a fixed routine
which might be stale enough already
without added tours of a desert scene.
Time Is A SeeSaw
Because I had found a future at last
that I hardly believed I was seeing
I arranged to disengage from the past
and present I was fleeing.
Dreams materialized in my lap
and in arcs of my favorite conceiving
and many moons turned blue at my snap
if my heart still had bouts of blind cleaving.
I now sip a Caesar on some terrasse
while I gaze out at nothing appeasing
and nurse a lost-world case of the blahs
after puffing to make it more pleasing.
Author's note: "Caesar" is short for Bloody Caesar, a Canadian invention I believe. It's a variation on the
Bloody Mary, and the only mixed drink I drink.
Never Quite Perfect
There's always something better he said
and it's true, since whatever you most long to touch
will always remain untouchable
like any shape in the realm of ideals.
But if semblances of secret snapshots
filed in your mind's most revisited album
ever step up to talk businesswise
you might sign some lines on proximate deals.
Smoking Up an Image
After a puff or two,
I typically study myself,
my composed reflections,
something I never do when grounded,
and am always struck by their alien sound
and start wondering whom I'm talking to.
No mirror provides an outside view
but when scanning my mind's from illicit heights
I sense an advance scout,
one dispatched to gather data
for the use of some future delegation
unversed in the native milieu.
A Response To A Friend Who Saw No Difference
Between Characters In Sacred Poetic Fiction (e.g. Hopkins)
And Those in Fantasies and Fairy Tales
Well, Odin and Thor are fine, I agree;
to us they're like figures from fables;
but a trio like The Trinity.........
are they seen as quite as unreal?
Call out a name like The Paraclete's
and some may jump from their seats as if seized
and begin to shake and reel.
Which kind of figure do you think is more likely
to be taken to heart by anyone,
and become as possessing as zeal?
Not those embalmed in mythology,
which only retain historic appeal.
From a Bystander's Perspective
They've all been winning prizes,
and triumphantly getting published;
you hear that some of their stuff's
not being heaved and rubbished.
It almost shakes your conviction
that crowers so noncommittal
could always be safely ignored
having questioned so little.
By Land Or By Sea
Away from the ever-dragging chain
Of human industry,
I sought a lonely beach to breathe
The spirit of the sea.
And in and in and in they roll,
Lumbering toward the land,
To cast their burdens down and go,
As froth runs off the sand.
For The Seeing-Impaired
The original cause is the culprit, God,
accidental chemical interaction, the thing
that started the whole ball rolling,
call it whatever you like.
Nature is too adept by far,
either by chance or design,
at dealing out incommutable sentences
for forced engagement in a futile fight.
To find it a great adventure, like Whitman,
or to say like Jeffers that one part's majestic
but another is monstrous, well, others just grow blind
to any charm where justice is nowhere in sight.
Heat engenders, darkness engulfs;
diverse imaginations explain it all;
but what it bodes for consciousness
is anyone's call.
Confucius Say Never Wend Way To Uncertain Finish
Of course all they are is terse distillations
of readings of your environment
and sometimes advisory warnings about it.
They arrive just by popping out of your throat
a little like a burp
if a bit more ornately articulate.
Most likely fruits of a long gestation
they're telegraphed by your personal processor
after sifting through a heap of shit
all ready to be succinctly delivered
from your seat in the observers' gallery
as summations perfectly fit.
Often flourished like flaunted children
they do get shown off a bit,
their role seeming only to be anointed
and given place. You don't need to look far
to find one, to wit:
expect nothing, and you'll never be disappointed.
Deep Sea Fishing
With a sort of underwatery motion
trees in the park have been swaying
like deep-sea-plants when faintly stirred
by some far-felt surface commotion.
Off to one corner, a miscreant church
in its duncecap stands tall but properly mute
while some diligent deepwater crab continues
its hunt for a sea urchin.
You can tell that rushed caravans laden with loads
are driving in hard en route to release
the way a whale of a time gets beached
when wet seed explodes.
Up near the juncture of Ocean and Summit
some half-crazed junkies returning from trips
are being chased by bona fide phantoms
back to the depths as they plummet.
The seabeds are void of sweet dishes to go
and nothing drifts in but stray pieces of trash.
If crustaceans are starving where faint winds blow,
overhead, waves keep breaking where climax meets crash.
Is there anything more to life-creation
than mechanistic murder?
Consider anyone's darling,
some steamy union's hapless fruit
that plumpened until it was time to be pushed
out into Adam's lost Eden,
a punitive state of perpetual peril
where every arrival is left in the lurch
and the ultimate prospect is soil enrichment
and embedment beneath tended turf.
If guilt is assuaged by supposing your loves
are bound for compensatory bliss
since anything less would be wrong,
overriding all proud celebrations of birth
a constant chorus of hopeless keenings
keeps bewailing new tributes to earth.
So whenever I hear they're out fighting crime,
I recall what creation's Creator said
about whom to finger first.
"Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf." ― P.L.
If brute nature's too strong for arresting
in its drive to keep planting new seed
the result so cries out for protesting
no lost cause seems more worthy to plead.
It concerns those at risk of induction
into ills we all suffer and mourn
and the facing of grief and destruction
for no reason but having been born.
It commends sparing others diseases
and anger and fear and despair
and such mercies as flow from sweet Jesus
and the hopelessness driving all prayer.
"Get out as early as you can, and don't have any kids yourself."
To do it ourselves would be faster,
but since instinct seems bound to prevail
it's more likely to be by disaster
that we come to the end of travail.
One could argue there's cause for heroics
and good reason to expedite fate
but it's asking too much of born stoics
to do more than resignedly mate.
So while forces too fierce for engaging
go on beating us down till we're done
we'll keep rearing new conscripts for waging
the same war that can never be won.
Incidental Effects of the Revival of Fascism on a Provincial French Island
And now they begin
to get uppity, par exemple
as when Alex, a freewheeling
handsome young local
schizophrenic and militant
tippler (I mean, it's
his right. . .it's
. . .his destiny!) on his way
to my door the other day (de
rigueur bottle in hand)
was accosted by some smart
superior new neighbor and advised
to scram, take a hike
exit the area, or
Mr. Class would stick forth a grand
poke off a trio of beeps, blow
his personal horn, order
a special unscheduled pickup, and
in short, summon
some troops to sweep
out the trash. Now, Alex, who was born
just a few houses down,
has lived in and around
the neighborhood all his life,
while the arriviste
prick, whoever it was
but likely equipped
with a custom-crafted
bathroom throne in the shape of
an ice cream cone (that thick,
squat waffle-wafer model, say)
to sit on and be moved,
as prompted by his muse,
sublimely to extrude
most richly inspired passages
spiraling swirls (each maybe with
a maraschino cherry on top)
is only an imported gift,
one tip of an insidious
viral transmigration from
a very correct, catechistic world. But,
like Alexander, Julius and a lot
of bugs, he has conquered, can afford
the rent (perhaps not
alone) in the adjacent
newly refurbished Victorian
flat-front apartment house adorned
with sooty brick,
stained and leaded
iron-railed balconies and a few
transitional art deco
so of course
supposes he's the boss,
just like the tall
bald guy with the little
dog the other evening as I
was putting out my
weekly donation of well-drained
bottles and stale news:
"Contravention!" he yells
(me thinking: Mon Dieu!
Fudge Sundae on the block?) "Well,
but what should one do?
I'm asleep when the new
law says to
put it out," I protest. "It's true,"
he admits, "but it's not
very pretty, after all, and you'll
be fined if they find
your name in it." Recalling
a sticker on The Gazette,
I took my cue,
hauled it back in,
concerned lest Mr. Park Avenue
should have a trigger
too. It even occurred
to me from his arresting yammer he
might be an official
Bloomenbroom Party member,
camouflaged cop. It anyway
seems my turn had come
to learn the price
of Eden, see
how it feels to be out of grace
with the lord of the manor, welcome
as a turd on the kitchen floor, invasively
checked, challenged, monitored,
saddled with the fate of being
in your own backyard. It's hard
facing an alien infiltration,
enduring the callous axioms
of a purifying regime,
a circumambient animus,
a purging, pestilent atmosphere
aggressively seeded with threats
by slime-leaking snots. For
the window boxes this year,
I wanted black flowers,
draping down from mon balcon, yes
to mark a funereal mood, but more
by way of displaying dissent
from the clean, pretty, homogenous,
patrolled and guarded
stifling prison culture where
blossoms are rife but somehow merde
is still the only
scent in the air (though,
no doubt, they'd
just be smelling gardenias there)
but had to settle instead for the cheery
standard party-colored rainbow
of saumons, purples, yellows, reds,
as if the daily promenade
still featured la resistance francaise
and not Bloomenbroomers on parade,
as if there were cause
anything more ahead than that
when someday Alex and I are vagrantly
sipping a vintage Armagnac
from my popular crystal snifters,
some sitting local resident bard
will plosively half-evacuate
both nether and nasal
outlets, sniff his
heady art, decide to apply
for a patent on that nifty
poetic device of mine for royal
asses (in white or tan
shiny gold-crested porcelain) and
make such a splashy killing off my
cone-thrones he can scoop up every
piece of the Skippy
Peanut Butter pie, take
Gray Poupon to the cleaner's, become
The Emperor of Ice Cream, rake
in shitloads of cash by
providing a fitting place,
repository for the race's
ripest, most eloquent,
most reliable product:
Advice for Winston
Why not just impose the old Zurich curfew,
drive everyone indoors early, arrest
anyone caught in the street past eleven.
Surely that would bring to an end
all disapproved transactions
conducted in the blind of night
as well as providing a superabundance
of quietude, a lullaby
for the fierce upholders of right.
Maybe you've never been approached
by someone peddling forbidden fruit
and felt glad the option was there,
but far better they, any day, I'd say
than heaven's unleashed hounds
accosting anyone they please
with gratuitous curiosities.
Do you really want to live that way?
And now with all the good people
being asked to spy on everyone else
and supplement the force, Winston,
make yourself thin, shrink
out of the screen's wide eye,
it's a quarter century ago,
1984, here we come.
Come Lord and Lift
Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
To have the lost be found.
The heart that cries—let it but hear
Its sweet love answering,
Or out of ether one faint note
Of living comfort wring.
Time in Eternity
When you were as an angel in my arms,
Had laid your bare head just below my chin,
Your length pressed up to mine, entrusting charms
My whole youth's starward longing could not win;
With still the murmur of your love in me,
Miracle-tones of all my lifelong hope,
I wished that there might start eternity
And seal forever that sweet envelope;
And as it did, my thoughts are now for you
As every star is blotted by the sun,
And so the sun itself
Has perished too,
And with it, every dream of mine
Her ears pricked up so much, Madame
LaBouche, decrying all disturbance
Insisted sounds around be less
City-like and more suburban.
One bistro gave Madame no rest
Until it was at last subdued,
And vexed by yakky cabbies next,
She finally got their stand removed.
Yet still, some night-owl might abort
The dreamshift of LaBouche's week,
And pop her prized unconsciousness
By passing with a piercing shriek,
Or other nuisances emerge—
But when, for my part, out a window
I spot Madame surveying things,
Hard eye a-gleam, arms set akimbo
All poised to nail some passerby
With shrill bursts from her magic flute—
I see the sole noisemaker I
Have lately dreamed of going mute.
After defeat, in grief's most hopeless hours,
With no resort remaining but the void,
The vanquished yet may turn to hidden powers,
Begging protection for a heart destroyed.
As crown or cross perhaps recalls some scene,
Bead by sad bead they may beseech the air,
As though in precincts silent and unseen
Lost angels could be helped by human prayer.
Each may, as if some hearing had begun
In secret parts where all the dead yet live,
Cry out to walls the innocence of one
Whom now no other aid is left to give.
And whether justice anywhere may reign,
None here can prove their witness was in vain.
Praise the Lord!
Some ensure their speech prevails
by turning on their built-in microphone,
mastering mass by volume.
It's hardly a wonder when you see
them all alone. Still,
their agitated yapping
meets less resistance in some people,
borderline bestialists maybe,
who perhaps derive a secret thrill
from manic bursts of such weaponry.
I hear one haranguing the world right now,
jamming airways with high-amp yammer
not unlike that obstreperous steeple
down at the corner,
whose tyrannic clangings and gongings
flood mon balcon twice daily
with an insurmountable clamor,
enforcing its will that none but the bellwether's
blustery ring should be heard,
that all further persiflage be deferred,
usurping acres of space with a grandly
imposed reminder of hell's infernal
contempt for any affairs but its own.
A tiny bit softer tinkle or ding,
something a little more in tune
with their promise of heavenly harmony
might seem just a tad less ironic,
would certainly be less deafening,
might even bolster one's sagging assurance
God's welcome committee could maybe be more
than a gang of roaring pigfaced louts.
Try addressing a barking dog someday―
then praise the Lord for not muzzling its snout.
Current Attractions Besides Frère André
Living alone in a box before you're dead
can prove a bit of a trial, to wit
how to remove a weight of hours
from early-rise to early-abed
when there's nothing but time ahead,
not even a stint at the treadmill for fun,
hardly a thing but forced absorptions,
self-imposed puzzles or chores,
evasive maneuvers performed to diminish
a sense of infinitesimal progress,
of standing still in a stagnant dimension
stretching to kingdom come.
So happily facing another black morning,
its only stimulant chuggishly trickling
into a stained pyrex pot,
I lugged two bags of recyclables down,
dropped them in their usual spot
beside an ailing tree in the pre-dawn
murk of an amber-lit sidewalk.
And now, hooray, a check to be written
presents itself as another fine way
of slightly budging the clock.
Later I'll probably latch onto other
rare rungs in my climb through the day,
the latest edition of Tass let's say
(as I dub a local free speech organ)
with its monolithic insipid array
of enemy lines to be spied on,
or maybe some noticed urgency,
like recurrent gaps in my liquor stock.
That's about what it's come to
since they banned the entertainment industry,
ran out the only wizards at hitting
the daily jackpot of foreign spare income,
crowned their virtue with a virtual ghosttown,
brought to an utterly derelict end
a nonstop ten-year winning spree
that had showered down riches on everyone.
with the children safe as can be
in a warm woolly sock of deprivation
where only the rampant fuzz are free,
with pretty much nothing left to see
but strings of tots passing sluggishly
through a sort of spiffed-up cemetery lot,
I'm thinking of starting a free soup kitchen
(for nothing but the company)
as well as an overnight shelter (why not?)
perhaps out of some recrudescent desire
for even a lukewarm body's comfort
as much as to nudge something hot.
Knuckle down to the family life I say,
bow to the dictates of the day,
when things have entirely gone to pot
there's hardly a reason for staying awake
except to join the flock and Baa
or methodically feel inspired to jot
out a ditty, and sing
They've been wondering how to advertise
their city to the world, as if
a catchy title might suck in more tourists.
Assuming it could, I'd advise against
dubbing it anything like "the windy
city," since that might be a deterrent.
And I humbly submit that if they honored
our demand for truth in advertising
(much as this might cause them distress),
they'd defeat their purpose again, unless
billing the place as "Police-Controlled"
like Nazi-occupied Paris
would prove more attractive than I suspect.
But no, my guess
being probably not, maybe fibbing
would be their best approach, since back
in bolder days when it would not
have been untrue to call the place
Sin City, when here was a land
of rare opportunity
and freedoms forbidden elsewhere,
there were never enough rooms
to accommodate all the relief seekers
flooding in from everywhere.
the lie, alas, would not guarantee
The eye is turned inward these days,
away from the gloom in the glass,
the window's vacancy,
the desolate picture left in the wake
of the latest revanchist crusade
to restore a compliant past.
Facing the remains, an imposed deprivation,
saddled with a heftier load of time,
one begins to make adjustments,
resorts to creating distractions
like this very problem I'm solving now,
whose unyielding grip on the mind
won't be shaken until it's fully resolved.
The social regime of rural religion
leaves one in a doctor's waiting room
and makes absorption in such problems
useful in diverting
consciousness from the creeping clock.
So the eye is turned inward these days,
turned inward because it has to be,
though a few staunch rebels
still lingering out there like sitting ducks
ensure that even now
ironically embellishing seats of wisdom
with inspired masterstrokes relieves,
a little at least, one's awareness the doctor
is seeing countless other patients first,
like that always too-busy god for which they wait.
A Catchy Tune
Where to go with this is the question
when it's all gone,
all gone up in smoke,
lost before I start.
Maybe one absorbs the rhythms
of one's environs, however foreign,
by the timetable governing one's surrounds.
Maybe the signature melody
of a purified city reduced to a town
is just the sort of unbeginning song
I'm hearing in this lockout state.
Early, at any rate, has come to seem late,
too late to be poking at the grate
or caring much if any sparks leap.
Blame the outer bleakness or not,
winter is now year-round,
an endless series of shrunken days
gone prematurely grey,
and it seems enough to note no undulant
aura of heat hovering over the ash-heap,
that the time for donning sheets
has indeed arrived,
the dreary hour
for turning off the lights and beginning
the final leg in the creep
like some dayflower folding up for sleep.
The light has left, been extinguished
and the night, with its climate of stark desertion
could very well be catching. Could even
be the cause of non-performing art.
Their agenda being to keep all the stock
in harness and pulling, right up to the grave,
they discourage you from running wild
and urge you to breed an amenable child
they can hitch to a workload and duly enslave.
"Industry and sobriety"
are the gist of their merry marching song,
since producing things is what they do,
myriad things they hope that you
will spend your cash (or credit) on.
They're such a thrill to listen to,
like the clock's relentless tick-tick-tick;
who'd ever think to chuck their plan,
jump the fence, say yoke be damned
fuck the plow and go maverick?
Filtering Out Impurities
Now too, just as before,
when others were hoping to slip smoothly through,
grim-faced guards at every gate
are keeping watch, alert for any
or hint of possible heterodoxy.
as between places,
it never yet has been assured
that everything may pass, and words,
when untrimmed to the reigning flimflam
can count as much as any
pinch of inspirational herb
as dangerous contraband.
History could make the thoughtful wonder
what extant literature might include
had many voices not been stopped
for taking exception to The Truth,
had speech been a protected species
and braver tongues not failed to elude
the flames of purgative centuries.
And now, with anointed successors
of book-burning masters of auto-da-fé
becoming hi-tech-adept, who knows
which insubordinate texts may get through
to speak to newcomers facing the sure
ineluctable purge of each new day.
Some sanctified bug christened "error-free"
and targeting the inexemplary
could serve as well as fire to expunge
all trace of thought that struck the wrong key.
But life is rife with the righteous, you say
and all their fraternal twins in the state
have been just as given to radical cleansing,
just as determined to root out the rot,
and just as partial to choirboys as they.
True, and the sun's no conservator either,
and no words will last long either way,
So maybe it comes out the same—saved or not.
Stranger than anyone he sits
in gravel lot with food in hand
in kitchen chair set up with four
chrome legs, a seat, a backrest, and
eating his supper there alone
amid jalopies, litter, dust
and tar-patched backsides of sweet homes
lived in by ones few bankers trust
he thinks, typewriting at his corn,
the summer stillness of the scene,
ruptured by scream and screech and horn
might well as not be briefly seen.
Useless though these walls have been
For keeping out hell's horrors,
Here they stand, against what glides
With ease through solid borders;
Or stand they must, if seeming no
More bound to serve than I,
Who know how fiends come drifting in,
Yet wait love's urgent cry.
Adventure beckons everywhere
To any child at heart;
Creation, just by being there,
Precludes a life apart.
Undimmed within by souls grown old
They never lose the world,
That oyster with its magic hold,
For them forever pearled.
Secret Message to an Imagined Friend
I worry about you all the time.
I love you, you know.
I only get so one-track-distracted
about the ones I love.
You aren't at all
my idea of peace of mind. No,
but since it's a fact
that there's only one trembling star of the show
I always seem to be thinking of
I guess I'll keep trying to give it a go
however much you worry me,
however blind you are to snares
designed by brutal trappers
to sucker the hard-up with easy means
into a dread-driven state of affairs.
I say I guess I will because
your cycle of chemical escape
only compounds the ruinous cost
of living in debt to the unforgiving,
makes it progressively harder to muster
the ransom required for release.
Your first love is the enemy,
the rupturing agent that's brought such quaking
to formerly stable ground,
that's traded sweet oblivion
for the hyper-vigilance of the hunted,
for ceaseless window-to-window surveillance
of every ambient sight and sound,
from glances cast by passersby
to message-senders with hazard lights on.
I long for us to be free again,
but unless you can work a miracle,
can help me help us recover calm,
can fend off relapse for both our sakes
I can't guarantee to stay consistent
in never forsaking a threatened friend.
You always say it takes two to tango;
well you're the dancer and now's the time
to dance our frantic cares away
and save every shekel tossed your way,
the time to meet your chum halfway
and pitch in toward our ticket back
to casual days when the world outside
could never sever us from pleasure
or block our enjoyment of whatever,
a walk, a meal, a game, erections
by commandeering our mental space.
It's time to end the living nightmare,
to give the hellhounds back the bait
that was offered only to subjugate
and impose an enslaver's reign of terror.
It's something we should do together,
but since I've seldom thought of you
as one I could easily live without,
I guess the silver can go to loosen
at least one devil's grip on an innocent
the rest have denied a dime of faith.
Orbiting a Potentially Dead Star
My heart got hooked again last week,
full of foreboding,
I'm reading all the signs as grave,
sensing an ominous vacancy,
non-existence as fait accompli,
a savior come and gone like a god
no god can grant eternity.
Two sacred little bottles missing
from my quaint majolica humidor,
a perpetual "sorry, call-limit reached,"
that hopeless head two nights ago
wet on my ceded chest and sobbing
"I curse the day I was born" all seem
to point to those two times before
when he tried to rob the world of treasure,
plunged deep enough for wakelessness,
for being forever out of means
to deflect a mind from helpless orbit
around a single constant care,
from a huge gravitational trap of feeling
bound to a heart no longer there.
Unwithered by all casting out
My demon drives me yet
Down the dark path that always ends
In sorrow and regret,
And leaves me to repent again
My neverending part
In injuring a perfect love,
And breaking my own heart.
However well you show the way,
My brave and ailing child,
By meeting every demon with
A spirit angel-mild,
Still I go plunging toward regret,
And cannot learn your art,
Forever lacking strength to bind
My action to my heart.
I watched love weather, near as you
The dagger of the word;
Like pharaoh from his throne I watched—
From love, no cry was heard.
I watched an eye that gazed its gaze,
I watched lips firmly still;
I watched a valiant mask, as if
To watch my dagger kill.
And as a helpless cheek betrayed
The certain hurt within,
I did not stem the tide, but watched
Blood blossom on the skin.
And when from love a sound rose up
That rent my heart in two,
I watched—I watched a thing too weak
To swear its words untrue.
The current outlook has started me brooding,
asking myself as I writhe in my box
how many long stretches more
should be left to chance, to whatever
common treacheries still lie in store.
between decidedly wishful
enlistments of any chore or bore,
there's scenery galore,
just oodles of riveting decoration
to help expel the daily prospect
of sluggish passage through a void
and expand the rescue team of vital
things like this still left to be done.
Right now it's springtime again,
and a week or two ago while pacing
the space between uneasy escapes,
I must've paused to check the view,
a proscenium arch of chartreuse leaves
disclosing an anemic row
of daffodils over across in the park,
all which might've seemed less deja vu
had the politicos ordered a headstone or two
to cap off their visionary landscape art.
In the meantime, the scene's turned green,
and I note the hanging half-wreath is capturing
a bloomless bed's gray edging of cobbles,
so I guess that brand of granite instead
must serve to show how a dream of beauty
can produce so engrossing a land of the dead.
Well, don't expect anything great.
It's just a way of knocking off
another block of time.
Bon nuit Tommy,
you will rest in peace forever.
These days will stretch into never,
then be forgotten.
And that'll be that, forever.
Probably Feeling Neglected
Remembering how your dope-talk
held me a bit in thrall,
I'll be sure to set my hope-clock
on your promised future call;
I'll wait until the phone rings,
and maybe even answer;
I'll endure any news it brings;
just spare me terminal cancer.
Pollyanna Having A Nightcap
What's to say in the long run
except that it all seemed useless.
To augment drying up in the sun
a few may have helped pump you juiceless
but for any profounder wisdom
you'd better consult Confucius.
Be as content as you can with being
an item on the food chain,
just another fine canapé
suited for diners genetically steered
to eat you all up.
Be consoled that at least at present
it's mainly the small fry,
bacteria, viruses, fungi
that visit you uninvited to sup.
There's more than one way, mon frere,
of feeding on celestial substance,
and if other consumers someday arrive,
perhaps equipped with man-sized
Cuisinarts and Jennairs,
your very own soul-bearing brand of beast,
pleasingly plump or spare,
could conceivably come to occupy
a quite prominent place at the feast,
might even culminate presented
under glass just like a pheasant,
who knows. Things
could always be a tad worse, so why
not just be glad you're not yet popping
every scoping eye,
may still be eluding the sensors of many
space-hunting species with cravings akin
to those of anthropophagi,
that still for some you likely remain
an undiscovered rare tidbit,
yet to be tagged irresistible fare
fit for a ravenous king in God's
divinely inspired universe, where,
let's face it, everything
from microbes to stars,
always sucks the brains out
of everything else.
A Minor Croak
I hear them trilling bird songs to each other
in the cherry blossom climate
Pigeons on the roof
seem to parody this pair—
but they will go
with the wandering summer ease of lovers
along the river's turns, and I—
I can only feel very
like a frog held captive in a columbary.
Seeing that ill must come between
And neither can be true,
How either you are bound to leave,
Or I to part from you—
We lose too much to sad regret,
Too much feel joy as sorrow,
Too little trust in what may keep,
Too well foresee tomorrow.
It runs through the yellowed,
of banished melodies
I hasten towards.
Romance by the Book
Suppose just one might suffice, one
matching your vision well enough
to blind you to the rest.
Imagine how in your covers at night
you could fall apart,
perish in the pillows together,
vacate the present
perhaps to reunite in the future,
where one of you might awaken
to behold again
in the other's unshifting immortal light
how nothing alone survives night.
Consolation for the Disenchanted
Time will stop
and death will come;
all will perish,
Why complain then?
is only temporary.
Framed in my front slider now,
maples masquerading as giant
forsythias in full bloom
will very soon be revealing how
an early leaf's a short-lived flower.
But greater than any loss I prevision
in April's fleeting golden hour
is a building promise of release
from another eternal winter's prison,
wide-open doors and the long-awaited
warm luxurious freedom of being
part of the scene again, at least
till its culminant powers unfold a final
tapestry made to fade away . . .
in earth's perennial pageant of decay.
Heeding the Prophet
He warns the keg's about to blow
Unless they do as he's suggested.
In view of those who run the show,
Perhaps his theory should be tested.
Quoth the Raven from the Ballroom Bar
Neither the understanding of the dead
nor that of the living, can ever be enough,
can ever be more
than a sort of dark familiar, say
which, when perched on your belly at night
often speaks to you when you gaze
through its locked obsidian eyes
and see a kind of chronic
malady of mind,
an inescapable vision reverting
again and again to life's bright harvest,
the permanent absence ahead,
and you sense at the core a sort of shocked
apprehension of being's essential neverness,
of the blot-out factor in the blood,
at least until an indifferently riddling
tongue begins to block your thinking,
and you start sinking
down toward desired oblivion,
down toward the ocean's nightbound floor,
where seeing hopefully is done.
There really is nothing more
to share than this ultimate understanding
of organic fact, the process of decay,
innate corruptibility and the gradual
breakdown of all that seemed solid
and real. And yet, notwithstanding,
it's a ball, an opera, a bar—your due
and fully owed ration of every sought thrill
though it's still,
though none of it ever really happened,
just whatever happens to you.
Why are you there?
It's why I'm here:
to beat you.
With my love.
He lives, beyond his life, in many
in many imagined things,
though only as speaker,
as one to whom it is possible only
to listen . . . and listen.
He never listens himself anymore,
his hearing having grown impaired;
never hears ceilings or floors
channeling rare selections
through a medium uniquely attuned
to whatever-the-matter's tongue;
no, he only broadcasts now,
a distant turbulence funneled
like wind through a conch—like ocean's
ferment echoed afar,
like some deeply inconsolable sound
from fathomable depths offshore.
Tempis Fugit When They Go Slow
Just say it's nothing much more
than his latest accession to its never-yielding
demand that it be done right,
or call it the nearest proof to hand
of maestro's having again been driven
to demonstrate his might, or,
quite possibly for
no glorified reason, of his having given
himself the glorious chore.
So why not imagine
some mundane explanation for
his having forced himself to be forced
to bring such a thing to completion . . . ?
He had this insight he'd sometimes share
with jobbers bobbing away with all their
pistons firing in a hyper-rapid
countdown to the launch, i.e.,
how awareness of time precluded pleasure.
Could that shed any light
on what brought the finished thing about?
He at any rate kept devising scores
he knew were bound, like himself, for the furnace,
devoting days to smoothing them out,
whittling away at perishable substance
though maybe he liked them better inchoate,
preferred the vanished hours before
the thing got done, when the outcome was still in doubt.
Working For Peace
It's not unlike a pressure valve: with a bit
of manipulation, some of the pent-up
element is released.
I'm reminded of this
because just a moment ago
I spent a few minutes adjusting it.
I never really notice
how much of the stuff is sprung, so to speak,
but it's done
till further adjustment suggests itself.
Probably not tonight.
For a modicum of manual labor,
you can get back a seismically sizable burst
(complete with an attendant shudder)
and can feel, if you got your money's worth,
relieved of sufficient supercharge
to limply gravitate toward sleep.
That's half the point of the exercise—
a purpose, for me, it shares with reading
a novel or poetry,
or studying a foreign tongue.
The other half? . . . to pull the mind free
of a restless distraction, an urge for action
disrupting its idle drift. Those then
are the foremost reasons I often resolve
to rise to the occasion, try my
hand at the shooting-range, so to speak—
and why I, fairly frequently,
grab my trusty pistol and,
with a will, start to polish my gun.
It never lasts too long, the time
between when the trip begins and the final
bang, but it's still
a nice enough way to depressurize
the head-space of the mind,
as well as pretty solid proof, I'd say
that working for peace
can sometimes be fun.
It every now and then can seem
as if you lived in a pressure cooker,
the way the steam
starts kicking at the lid, announcing
it's soon about to blow and now's
the time to lift the top and lose some heat.
But be entirely assured,
the intervals between
your valve adjustments may grow longer . . .
volcanoes sleep, after all,
no one's upsurge is getting any stronger,
and sadly enough
your element's likely to grow more inert.
But, for anyone oddly like me,
who continues to find it a useful technique,
you might want to keep on hand a special shirt
. . . to catch any spillage or spurt.
The Last Hurrah
So comes the final freedom,
freedom to root in moveless time;
to follow whatever happens;
to record eternity in rhyme;
To be a witness disallowed
because he had too much to tell
and felt no reason to be cowed
just because he lived in hell.
Although what comes tomorrow
Cannot be told today,
A change of weather's likely
And always on the way;
And where no clouds are noted
Nor shadows seen about,
The rain will fall regardless,
When all our luck runs out.
What's left to do
now you're no longer you,
when whatever you say
goes the opposite way
till one's driven as always
to doors slammed on hallways
then relief one's alone
in a hostage-freed zone;
except call off all bets,
be untorn by regrets,
once again one's heart's master
as progressively after
enough numbing swindles
no fond thought rekindles
that old wish you'll come back
now you're no one I lack.
A Sad Instance of History for Once Not Repeating Itself
Now that we're even more lost to each other,
me to you, you to me,
what's left, to one of us at least
is a satellite bound
to its conditioned orbit,
captive revolving by habit around
its accustomed center, which keeps on
exerting gravity though gone.
Matter's physics isn't quite
the same as that of the mind,
stays inconveniently locked in circuit
however uncompanioned in space
by anything solid or bright.
You're asking me yet again to forgive you,
to absorb and try to get beyond
the latest shock in your latest militant
marathon of recidivism,
to stay in a recurrently losing
game and keep paying to throw the dice.
Many would rather suffer a crime
in silence than summon assistance,
because, however much needed
when the help at hand is far from the kind
you'd care to recruit for resistance,
it's easy to get defeated,
stalled in a squall of conflicted emotion,
stuck just careening
through the labyrinth of a paralyzed self.
But after enough crazed laps in the maze,
your dizzy head can start palpably pleading
for any escape you can find,
for any shutoff switch you can flick
to unload the frenzied circuits
and blow the storm out of your mind,
even if the exit ticket's
a force more adept at breeding tension
than at hosting a comfortable time.
Some funerals are bound to seem anticlimactic,
but impeaching your judgment's the hard part,
branding your standard trusty tactic
for beating the odds as no more than a fond
belief that your inner guidance system's
so sound it could never keep driving you on
toward most gamblers' fate.
Faith is no easy thing to abandon
when your heart's acuity's at stake.
DeGaulle's Ghost Returns to Quebec
I've been watching objectors strutting their stuff
(and sometimes—intriguingly—striding by in the buff)
and confess I keep thinking they can't march enough.
L'etat policier the place has become
instead of that free zone you'd flee to for fun
now resembles the Amsterdam Anne Frank shrank from.
I applaud the nerve they nightly vaunt,
and don't mind at all if they challenge and taunt
those who've commandeered streets I once loved to haunt.
They whoop and they chant, and when sans habillements
they all the more endearingly flaunt
my disgust with a picture no free mind could want.
It's been something worth watching at least, so I brought
a bouquet for troopers who may seek what I sought:
Vive les etudiants!
Despoilers in their cochonmobiles
have been gliding around today,
and daily for years,
like tiger sharks in a tank of puffers.
A mean-eyed school of them
has been steering alertly through
intent on a catch. Even the low
evokes that grim subtracter's shape.
And there's indeed
been a dwindling of merchant
marine life in the pool.
One stunningly veers to left or right,
targeting this or that fucked fish,
startling its prey with a sort of sinking
blow on its inner tuba. Often
another gap appears in the ranks.
The tank has become so full of sharks,
maybe soon they'll turn on themselves,
start devouring one another.
gives one a tingle at the tip
of one's pecker, to imagine them going
after about all that's left.
A Crack in the Confraternity
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.—P.L.
They hate it when truth
is actually spoken;
it contradicts everything
and thus the pretense
of kinship is broken:
when their mantra's new life
and yours is just leave.
Over or Under?
People that can
preferring the dream
of still breathing air;
while people that can't
won't embellish museums
who was born heaven's heir.
Pour Le Mauvais Garçon
—écrit à Flambé (Bobby)
Quelques mots, de ma pauvre main à lire—
pas d’amour, pas que tu
es mon précieux;
alors, que puis-je dire?
(being unilingual in the Western Hemisphere.)
Je te donne ce que j'ai. Pas beaucoup,
vrai. Maintenant je suis plus vieux—
ce n’est pas comme je voudrais.
Je voudrais… être pour toi
un peu plus beau, plus comme tu es
pour moi. Dommage que ce ne soit
possible . . . alors, je n’ai a t’offrir
que de petits cadeaux:
“le professeur”, peut-être? mon gros appetit?
ma porte ouverte? (mais sans la clé!)
ce moment de délire
bilingue? les poches de mon pantalon, aussi?
L'histoire des Lapins Effrayés
They were hurrying, scurrying,
racing and tumbling
across a wheeling charge of beams
like rabbits fleeing a fire.
It was a dark fall night, and the wind
was gusty, strong.
But the wind, and the rain that followed,
had to stop,
and they had to settle somewhere, anon
in a soggy heap, most likely,
More Distant Recollections of the NYer
I only saw them twice a year, courtesy of Ed,
my ever-cordial dentist in Harvard Square,
whose drill-room window framed some famous
ivy halls, and lent the place
its only other touch of haut decor.
I only took a look because they were there,
adorning a wooden shelf that ran beneath
a somewhat less illustrious window-scene
in an anteroom that featured little else
but chairs, and the hope of a key to the can.
I always browsed their indices of titles
for the two, or sometimes three per issue
with "Poem" printed beside them, and then
incuriously would riffle past the scads
of waxy prose direct to the luxury items,
that magnanimous aforesaid trio (or fewer) provided,
which I would successively scan. I remember
liking the typeface, although the blinding
glare I'm seeing now on those glossy pages
may just be a trick of an unretentive mind.
You can at least be sure that one was signed
Amy Clampitt. I remember them all
as nicely enough composed and seeming
not too shabby, as upscale word-art goes.
And I guess it was nice enough having
something to twiddle away the time
until Ed's plump hygienist
would pop out announcing she was ready
to rescue me from my restless studies,
and brighten my smile.
Peut-etre au Naturel!
Bobby came two nights ago,
his back still hurting (probably
a lumbar strain, so-called, from a fall
in basketball) but still
performed without a flinch (and eagerly)
exactly what I like
despite the position (which isn't
the simplest) and despite
the trial of that lingering pinch.
He came as soon as he could, too.
(But then, last night, when he came again,
he aborted the launch when he started to wince.)
Some cynics might contend he came
only for my salty rival (or should I say
accomplice?. . . ) but every now and then
I'm willing to bet (how much I'm not sure)
that's just not true. (Chalk it up
to all my antennae gone askew.)
He looks, if you care to know—like what?—like . . .
all I've got. Compact, small,
bronze skin drum-tight
over ripples, back bowed (and delectably curving
into prominent mounds), a decent holding,
if I say so myself, as hot properties go.
By custom, we jauntily haggle
over the fee, the outcome known (give or take a few)
in advance. (But even for your slightly pricier
pre-dawn special, sweetheart—take my word—
you're never overcharging—plus, as we know
I can always score on you for free . . .
which reminds me . . . my birthday's coming,
and you still owe me three! And,
since I see you're back today with your back
miraculously healed overnight,
I guess I won't be afraid
to execute my designs a smidgeon less guiltily.)
Canadian Club vs. Catechism Class
Can it be me?
Or is it by chance
that whenever I sing
there's no one to dance?
(I might as well put
the whole world in a trance.)
With my opulent view
am I so out of touch?
Too far out of sync?
Not normal enough?
Are my sparkling bijoux
just a little too much?
It's hard to care
when none of them,
however finely constructed,
can escape destruction
or survive as a permanent record.
that documents our lives,
every illustrious proud token
of a diligent,
or even inspired
existence, however sovereign
of its kind, in the end,
like its maker, is diffused,
to invisible elements, atomized,
"poofed," and then—
just forever not there.
So here I sit, composing
nothing finally, more
than an ephemeral jot
before reposing (hopefully
not forever, this time, but
if so. . .well, in advance:
over and out)
Going with the Flow
Pick for yourself
something you'd like;
let it be deep
or guiltily light;
let it have rhythm,
let it be sad,
let it be happy,
let it be mad.
Who really cares
if it's any of those;
you might as well stick
to conversing in prose;
you might as well say
what they'd all like to hear:
how it's good, really good
that we all landed here
where nature's best laws
backed by church and by state
keep dispatching fresh ranks
toward a heavenly fate.
Ravages of War
Yesterday morning around nine,
when it was still hazy and warm,
well before sky paled
and a fine
spray wafted in and dampened
prospects more, deepened
the sense of delay, the street
seemed deserted as the moon:
forever till noon. There was,
in the park, it's true,
a city truck and a raking crew,
and after a bit, even a threaded
teacher-pulled train of tots strung out
like goslings hitched to a goose
chugged sluggishly through
(feel free to dab in
at far edges, an extra
figure or two.) And today,
again starting dry, the same:
this sunny chartreuse
maple morning, this
briskly bright beginning
to an empty spring,
of surprise having been
methodically removed, victory
in the turf war between
two competing breeds for hire
won by the more state-funding side.
The village now has its pretty green.
Approved workers promenade.
The desert will bloom but not provide.
Still Abraham, with ready blade
Prepares the altar, hangs the vine
Each season with new fruit to quench
Earth's thirst for sacrificial wine.
Executor of nature's will,
He serves the sod, must till and bring
With every celebrated birth
His ancient lord an offering:
His ripened yield, the precious fruit
Half-shrunken back to seed in time
Yet one more wrathful vintage crushed
By rote transitions of the clime.
Playing Pharaoh at the Neighborhood Playhouse
To let the essence be,
undramatized by mind,
to fade into audience, see
for once on its own,
undirected, not as slave
to mime, but voluble
with intent, freed
from all halting sense
of the absurd, of embarrassment—
to resign as governor, be
an unselfconscious witness
to the action, to the sharpest
tones, responses, be
voyeur to one's self, relaxed
allowing smothered identity
to break through the scripted
cover and erupt,
abrupt with realism.
To bring the outer
in line with the inner
with no impasse between. No
longer to watch "the professor"
over a dark full moon,
or be abashed,
but to feel the abandon
a great stand-in.
A Hoot for The Labor League
They knew no reason to secede,
Those village criers, smooth or rough
Whose industry-abetting words
Did not suspect clear nights enough,
Nor note in starry midnight's shimmer
A dead-eye's homicidal glimmer
Observed when staring into space
Before the witness is erased.
Inside oneself one sounds all parts:
A vague suspension of the breeze,
A rift between raw pulp and clime
The first frost of the meta-freeze.
A rugged oarsman's heave and pull
Keeps muffled drumming audible,
Mind mindful of an aural whir
Like summer nightfall's teeming chirr,
Of ice, locked hinges, treacheries,
Cold timbers groaning on high seas.
The Way of All Scents
Good news! Someone's apprised me how
To write the one true poetry:
The key is sounding just like you,
The one your friends all recognize,
And not like one they never knew.
As if it mattered either way,
The stranger's voice, your own—Mon Dieu!
More soundtracks made to be erased—
More dying echoes to recall
Your one-time residence in space.
When history lapses and the words
Go mute as all the blotted blessed,
When not a nose is left to sniff
Your gas, who then will even like
Whiffs of his own emissions best?
with soothing thunder
every trace of passage here,
wall and turret,
out pie-dough smooth
and flawless as the blank
bright face of its governing sphere,
the lumbering leveler then
the beast swings east;
in slow recession
starts to slide,
wrinkle by puddled
Along the furrowed
flat’s lapped edge,
summoned by secret
bell, some guests
by turns alight
in a string and stand,
expectant as profiteers catching
the cheap scent of plight.
Voided armor of stragglers tomorrow
as ever will litter
where birdshrieks of children
no doubt will be startling
the peace once more.
Magic lovers longed for more
From seedlings sprung in restive hours,
Some hint of happy times in store,
A forecast bright as springtime flowers.
He hatched them in his hat at night,
Companions courted to advance
The time, but struck by chilling light
They withered like a failed romance.
A Method Of Acceleration
His rescuer assigned a chore
To lob him over heavy hours,
But in the balance did not bore
As much as more oppressing powers.
It always sealed him off from time
In echo chambers of his ear,
Another vein lineworkers mine
To help make hours disappear.
Manna Tips the Scales
Weighing similar symptoms people had
When they would heed a potent master's call,
Life on a yoyo-string against that mad
Daily careering back to grief and gall,
Since neither tipped his scale either way
Or sparked an urge to join a race in chains
Or in the balance had sufficient sway
To tempt a trade of sloth for all its strains—
He loitered in a waiting space between,
A medium of humdrum and surprise,
Time-heavy at its worst, a slow routine
When manna ceased to fall from fickle skies,
But when it came, he worked a hard beat too
Until some hoisted harvest moon shone blue.
The Immortal Path
"The assassin discloses himself,
The force that destroys us is disclosed....
an adventure to be endured
With the politest helplessness...."—WS from EDM
While Pater Noster blazed away above
Cell blocks in
Hartford, he would turn the dial
And scan eclectic spaces of his mind
For airings of a more dissenting style.
Deaf-eared to channels wooing from the past
He'd sound electric pipelines like the blind
Until seditions took the place at last
Of all illusions crooned to toys of time.
Perhaps a vision came of Heraclitus
A fireball packed with rabbits in his hand
Dispersing from his hot magician's hat
Menageries to fertilize the land,
While farther off he saw our father raze
His daughters, sons, the search, each novel phrase.
some say ee cummings had a poets soul
loved his motherfather (wifefriends) could write
most beautifully (if always on the whole
not as those with higher eyes and oes might;
but then it was lamented sorely by
a few at harvard at the time that all
the best poems had been written;so why
try to climb old mountains but to fall
(having etched short of the supreme engrav (e)
ing) back into a crumpled ball; and why not
try hand at some quite unbeforedone (brave
thing) and outjink the comparative blot
of shakespeare shelley byron moore hood keats
and leave them towering high; in
(old) dead beats
Well boxed, and neatly packaged like a thing,
Back from the final purge he duly came,
The pulverized reduction postmen bring
When bodies have become cold feast for flame.
Into a vessel made to store the crushed
I poured the coarse remains of someone fine—
A bag of bits, of gray and grainy dust,
One shocking essence spirit leaves behind.
Housed now in hard cement beneath the ground,
He cannot share the living's deep concerns,
Nor must he yet endure, unsafe, unsound
As we who tremble while we wait our turns.
Behind him lies the pain past all relief,
The love that yet makes good its threat of grief.
Frequent Flyer Program
Life sometimes seems like slower suicide,
Since taking happy flights is half what kills:
The fuel consumed, the surge and beat past dawn
Of countless re-accelerated thrills.
Still, why put off all flying stunts till heaven
When now or never's when to claim your due—
With yeast to hand, and Sodom yet uncrushed
Why not let geysers gush in Xanadu?
Embarrassment abates inside a cloud,
Where blushing selves more freely join the act—
Sworn tipplers lose and find themselves in fog,
With other trippers who steer off the track.
Some say it's best to live before you die,
And silent choirs of angels all know why.
Bypassing The Mill
Man added to our last reward the torture
Of doing things one hates, on old death row—
And as grape turns to raisin in the scorcher,
Aghast his slaves all face where they must go.
Condemned though innocent, one serves one's time
Because...because—it seems the only choice?
And while the world mechanically wheels by,
One does what seems required with muted voice.
Yet there are those who do not bear the yoke,
But find a way around the rote ordeal—
Who let sweet Chemineaud and the odd toke
Command their hours and get them primed to feel,
Who if they waste in some half-snuffed Gomorrah,
Still let Old Faithful spout and tend the flora.
The Marionette Show
Back on his business, the king's men come
In search of a role, a stint with the leery,
A ticket to pipedreams, new means when they're done
To breathe hallowed air and seldom grow weary.
He jockeys them well, their coarse, grainy lord,
A puppeteer whisking them to and fro
From treasuries tapped, to divine reward,
Sweet pinches of salt burned after each show.
His slaves labor hard, and play a part too,
Sometimes so eager to please and suffice
It enters your head that it might be you
They are seeking, and not their true love's price,
You even who might be pulling the strings—
As if one could rival the king of kings.
Though almost every time he spoke
His nose was sure to grow,
Truth's beauty did not much concern
Our Old Pinocchio—
Except in love, where pugs were all
He'd warn each passing schoolgirl crush:
Just never lie to me!
An Ideal Substitution
Erase, erase, erase—call up a blank,
Let nothing be where nothing was before,
A nothing that seemed something—only see,
Behind your eye, some piece of dead decor.
Empty your head of haunters, wring and wring
Desire's root until you squeeze it dry,
Gorge on ideals, till bored by everything,
Lapsed and replete, your mind is free to die.
Ever and always singing their old tune:
"You won't be disappointed, O you'll see!
Back and back we'll all be coming soon,
Prepare yourself for promised ecstasy"—
And onward ticks the clock, and no one knocks.
Time to review some ancient mental buttocks.
On the Urgency of Replenishing the Workforce
When all earth's paths are bound to double back
Upon themselves, no matter what we do,
It somehow seems mere critical presumption
To be demanding anything of you
As if one bore more claim to any right.
The fly is on the wheel, and we are on it,
All brought around in time, to something black,
Dumb and unknowing, cured of every zeal,
The race's bluster, and all pride of reason.
Enough to bear with that, to where it leads
Without a superadded servitude.
No wonder some slip harness and secede,
Go snatching wages where and how they dare,
Then fling them cavalierly in the air.
The Rock of the Redeemer
Each week he orbits back again to mine
Old quarries, prop the faithful, and be swept
Rock-borne from door to door, through days and nights
And on to where revered remains are kept.
Some groomed disciple then will softly keep
Long watch, until the moment when at last
All done with sacrifice, the rock rolled back,
The lamb bursts forth, intent on breaking fast;
So weekly feasts are hastily prepared,
By way of thanks for many feats performed
And toils endured to keep old fans attached—
Some scourging, blood, and other gifts to leaven
The outlook of his flock, which deems the rock
His church stands on, the keystone of their heaven.
Behind Enemy Lines
"I have learned that to be with those I like
is enough."—Walt Whitman
Spotted where dropped, its neat, unread
Still folded pages testified
I'd been afloat inside my head,
So buoyed by a presence I'd
Escaped resorting to the trends,
Or tracking our squirearchy's scheme
For locking my more wayward friends
Out of the landscape of their dream.
Then—lift for lift—I'd played chauffeur—
Slipped out an outcast who slips in
And braves the backlash of the pure
To smuggle me my favorite sin
Or just pass out a room away
While I drift in my mind all day.
That Old-Time Religion
"Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy
your philosophy of life, too."——-John Ashbery, from "My Philosophy Of Life"
Ashbery wishes us good times,
And me, I hope they won't abate.
I want the moments I have now
Never to evaporate.
I've made a niche, and won some thrills
By luck at playing hit or miss—
Enough to keep my outlook rich
And life appearing generous.
Since one now holds a special claim,
I tend desire's lesser leaks
Until that bronze funicular
Returns to run me to the peaks
And sets an eager artist free
To blanch a canvas jauntily.
—————pour Beekerson Fleurimond
A Loan and A Lease
He lay so quietly I reached
Over to feel if he was warm;
Hearing no breath, I needed proof
No chill was on that too-still form.
He came without his one-track side,
Just humbly handsome and polite,
And it was good of him to both
Show himself and spend the night.
A switch I got to mute the bells
Stays off or on as I allow,
But at the moment keeps the peace.
My house will not withstand its flaws,
But while my lucky star shines on
I'm hoping to renew the lease.
Letting in the Draft
Like birds, my friend, our goose will soon be cooked
And there'll be little else to hold our view;
There's prob'lly somewhere else that someone's looked
But I have no idea where or who.
I know it's not myself who's speaking now,
It must be he who comes on certain nights
And gives me something special to endow
The reading public with, on their rare flights.
It's . . . well, like leaving earth a while and then,
Far out among the visions one beholds . . . .
Just . . . letting you be you, or just pretend
You weren't in sight of all the constant scolds.
It has its way of making one content.
I'm not so much a rebel as a gent.
What nugget gleaned may we bestow
To mark the passing of the torch
Who watch the darkness watch us go
Steaming across a lamp-lit porch.
A few steps off our haloed stage
The boundless night with sealed lips
Counts out the customary wage:
An ineluctable eclipse.
It comes to us in daily thought
And haunts us every day we breathe,
How we without a hope have sought
To love where we could only grieve
And only honed a skill so wise
To take a sage to his demise.
So Seasons Sound
I speak to them, I notice, in my strange
Yet native tongue, and let them guess what's new
Where out beyond the mythic land I range
And storied wonders cannot gloss the view.
So some against annulment preen their sound,
As if all slates were not to be wiped clean
Or honers of a bloodgift were less bound
For all their fanfare never to have been.
So seasons sound their trumpets and subside,
Inflate and wizen for sweet nature's sake,
And while swung oceans fling to either side
The latest chosen for a foamy wake
The news still spreads our goose is hard to cook
And no blank page will mark us in Time's book.
On A Proposed New Course
It's said they keep their distance, perhaps are
Vainly cryptic, for all their humble prose,
And no close kin to any erstwhile master.
Well surely it's not everyone who knows
To tune his lyre to a living ear.
Some find their vaunted taste for our true tongue
Belied by phrases ringing less familiar
Than those of those we daily prate among.
The outworn ousted way was out of touch.
These birthed a lingo nearer to our own,
Clipped clean of artifice and with a much
More earthy lean.
—Sweet secrets wrapped in loam!—
A full house, then, will be assured, of course?
What native could not wish to master Morse?
In God We Trust
Absolve yourselves, believe them saved,
Whom hungrily you brought to fare
As chance decrees, and leave to them
The fortune to which you rose heir.
Now theirs shall be the kingdom too,
This one and that, and all they hold,
All marvels present, and as well
Fresh wonders when the flesh turns cold.
All you who by blind pulse renew
The primal blessing cast in heat,
And to a season's course entrust
Frail issue weather can defeat,
Who from flung seed grew anxious too—
Deny earth feeds on them and you.
A Brief Alarm
Like everything, this too will soon be lost,
Forever out of sight and out of mind,
A brief alarm resorbed into the sum
Of passing things that leave no trace behind.
For its duration, it would summon all
To a restraint heroic—to be brave
Beyond all generations gone before,
And make a sacrifice more sure to save:
To starve the ground, and lay no further feast
For bloated Earth's unflagging appetite,
But be content to plow redemptively
A barren field in which no seed seeks light
And make your plots the last wherein to toss
A harvest raised for neverending loss.
Why keep your senses grounded here,
Or let them have you sharp and clear
Who wakened you to numbered days
To yoke you to their futile ways?
While tickings winch you nearer toward
Your execution and reward,
Why not imbibe—or pick your trip,
Let them ram home the standard script
As you, absorbing what you like
Risk transport on a one-way flight;
Let our grand architects complain,
Who pull their mighty weight in vain,
Only to end as they began,
Fragile freight of a circling hand
That flicks the feeble out and in
And each back to his origin.
A Slice of Life
When two drugged men in Bucharest
Met recently for a repair,
And one became less self-extending
In consequence of the affair,
Just how the sleeper sensed the change,
Or by what absent feeling learned
He was not quite his former self
When duly consciousness returned,
Who knows—but in a clearcut way,
Though their engagement took a twist
Unscheduled and surprising, he
Yet found himself as promised, fixed
Since in a burst of rage, his healer,
Soused, had scythed his foremost feeler.
Where they now go to catch a wink
Who stretched out on the green before
Or made hard benches beds because
They lacked a key to any door,
Who knows, but parks gone tenantless
And prisons crammed and overfull
Suggest how sudden aesthetes made
The local scene so wonderful.
Fat tabs for sleeping out of doors
Collectible in cash or time
Now equal several millions owed
La ville by ones without a dime,
And jail for all nonpaying guests
Keeps flowerpaths more picturesque.
Square Times Blues
The only show in town shut down,
Dispatched to some unknown address,
A leafy peace has settled in
Where none had come to convalesce.
Le carnaval, for all those tricks
Condignly sampled on the cheap,
Still leavened with expectancy
A long day's journey into sleep.
Perhaps in some unpurged locale
Yet free for all to occupy,
Our banished horde of hawkers hail
And hook such gamer passersby
As we who, undeprived had plied
A city not yet countrified.
A Mon Vieux Mon'ray'al
Not to clip sick summer leaves,
Nor watch them drop like autumn gold
Into a leafy lane nor see
A mimic's rustic dream unfold,
Not to endure a vision void
Of promise more than early sleep,
Not for a filtered view was my
Balcony seat acquired cheap.
It was because all clocks had stopped
Before the wholesale cleansing came,
And for a common ground where most
Could set themselves and stake a claim,
Or loose and slick and maverick, roam
The scene, and almost feel at home.
Palmistry in Paradise
Strange, how in the
Three wheeled around on me and one
Required the reason I was there;
No doubt some wondered what I'd done,
As I, best as I could impaired
By lips gone gummy with alarm,
In forced defense invoked the plot's
Exclusive new Edenic charm.
Directed—"for our safety"—next
To show my palms, I did; and then,
"We want no more dead bodies here,"
Said he, who may, to weed out men
Check lifelines of all comers who
Resemble him he said I do.
Preparing for the Pageant
Our tiny central park transformed,
Renewed, its state-appointed heirs
On brighter workdays come at noon
To claim the space an hour as theirs.
Few, of the once emboldened who
Had plied a seedy green unchecked,
Now brave the odds and navigate
The precincts of the New Elect.
Unleashed by some contestant's dream,
Wry rovers licensed to coerce
Compliance, hound and hold them back,
While I, who watch the tide reverse,
See, where the undisturbed now tarry
A pretty city cemetery.
Death in Life
Though his demise was not like that
Of billions lodged beneath the ground,
Yet it was cast as such to one
Who must believe him buried now.
It helped sidestep analysis
Of faith's demolishment by phone,
And rendered pointless idle queries
About affairs no longer known.
Should he be spotted on some rue
Not visibly yet void of breath,
That hunched ghost shinning into view
Might but recall his sudden death,
The funeral held, the obit quoted,
And down an aisle a coffin toted.
In martial mode they pass and pass,
On bicycles, in cars, on foot,
Relentlessly parading proof
Old laissez-faire has gone kaput.
But strategy grows more refined:
Compounding tensions on the rise,
In unaccustomed spots appear
Sly pairs positioned to surprise.
You had supposed yourself alone,
When something then still out of view
Was poised to startle your repose.
Seated on a park bench two
The other day—I felt their eyes—
Tracked traffic in New Paradise.
US In Them
The long neglected park now blooms,
Is groomed, subdued; its tame affairs
Kept bland by badgering patrols
Who promenade the streets in pairs.
The shift appears about complete,
From hub of local untaxed trade
To guarded garden spot reserved
For workers less covertly paid.
Cyclists wheeling in at night
In search of rebel remnants scan
The iron-fenced perimeter,
But beams disclose a vacant land,
Beachhead secure from blade to bough,
A strong south wind prevailing now.
More and more, as he kept tracking new
Awakenings of flesh, and nothing served
To ease the pained awareness out of mind,
He feared his final bill for life was due.
As rivers trespass fields in a flood,
Defy containment, spill their banks and run
To regions rarely focused on, so spread
Such poisons as men nurture in their blood.
Though apprehensive, he resolved to wait,
Content to ply his pleas as antidote
And hope a miracle might detour fate,
And while odd feelings preyed upon his peace
Supposed, if something had him by the throat,
This way or that, sensation yet would cease.
To prove the seasoned skeptic still
Hopeful enough to cheat,
He plied the same smooth promises
His doubles never keep,
Then pocketed his gains, and left
A fool to fume regret
While watching clockhands calculate
One more dishonored debt.
Of Modern Mysteries
My love is no new poet,
But has a simple tongue;
To love, no use in speaking
Except as to the young.
And whom else should we speak to
If not the one we love?
And so I seldom speak as
If speaking from above.
I do not darkly draw what
I most want understood,
But often say "I love you,"
As bygone poets would.
Who Long Kept Hid
I prayed to stars, when I was young,
To lure love where I lay
Lone as a shore that calls a sea
The tide has turned away.
Love did not come, and oh they seemed
Indifferent to my cry,
Who long kept hid how love could be
A kindness to deny.
Excerpts from the Author's Note to Once Scenes, the book in which
certain of the photos and one of the poems below ["There But for the
Grace"] originally appeared:
Two weeks before 9/11, 200l, at the end of August that all too memorable summer,
I was proudly showing off Manhattan, my birthplace, to a French friend who had
come to the US to spend some time with me and see some sights. We had driven
down from Boston, where I now live most of the time, planning to spend about a
week in the city. One day during our visit—I believe it was August 29th, but I
could be off a day either way—I took him to have a look at the WTC. It
had turned into a foggy, drizzly day, a good time to be indoors, so we decided
to enter the center and see what we could see from the top of the south
twin. Due to the weather, the openair rooftop promenade, which was located
above the tower’s top floor, the 110th, wasn’t open, so we took in the
sights from the observation deck on floor 107. I had brought my camera with me,
and, moving from wet window to wet window, spent maybe half an hour snapping
pictures of the city as it stretched out in various spectacular ways from the
four sides of our since-demolished outlook. At the time I had no idea, of
course, that the pictures I was shooting might ever mean more to anyone than the
usual holiday mementos.
The horrific vision of the explosions, and then the collapse of those two
soaring behemoths, in which so many were trapped in an avalanche of destruction,
has branded itself into the memories of millions. The first section of this
book, especially, "Lost Island Views," is intended as a commemoration
of that tragic watershed moment in our history. Since the city lay under a
blanket of fog at the time all but one of the pictures in this chapter were
taken, and the tower’s windows were blurry, the overall mood of these views
seems somber, the accident of weather having imbued them with an atmosphere that
seems peculiarly fitting to the theme of loss and grief.
The Manhattan series segues into a series of scenes captured further north,
in Quebec. The picture entitled “Spotlight,” which leads off this second
group, was placed at the chapter's beginning because it seemed a kind of visual
metaphor of 9/11, and in fact brought back to my mind the TV coverage,
incredulously witnessed by so many, of the buildings burning. It was that photo,
also, that inspired my poem “There But For The Grace,” which also appears in
this chapter, and which expresses my feeling of personal connection with the
In the Stillness of Many
Many nights when undrawn to the living,
I have gone to the graveyard instead,
And sought out my truth among ashes,
And for beauty,
Lain down with the dead.
In the stillness of many a midnight,
I have warmed to their wakening sound,
The impassioned, and scorned, and unliving
Who speak to my heart
From the ground.
How Only Cold
If to such happiness an end must come,
As ends may swallow all dear hopes and dreams,
And should you vanish, and my heart grow numb
With sorrow, as though yet so soon it seems;
And if the bitterness should long consume
My thoughts of you, who briefly lit the day,
And sun no more return to re-illume
And lift the flower withered in the clay;
Yet memory of a distant atmosphere,
Travail obscure as rock in some dark field,
The glassed-in din's dull pulsing in my ear,
Faint throb of stars, so long astir but sealed,
Recalls a love left even more alone,
How only cold released the ache of stone.
I Had of Love
I had of love, when it first came,
A single, lonesome bolt;
It had but one—and I could find
No living antidote.
And so, I made my cure of hearts
A cold night wind instead,
And all the sadly brimming stars
Shone down on our chill bed.
And then I hummed forgotten fields
A lover's lullaby,
And by the fallen gates of hope,
We wept, the wind and I.
Though Sorrow Mock
I shall not give you up for lost,
though grief prevail,
Though silence join with ash
to prove all perish;
though sorrow mock my hope
for all I cherish.
There But for the Grace
Tripped by a flash
painting of a silhouetted
square pair twilight-crowned
with fiery sunburst flaring
out over them
like a blast from an open
furnace cleaving cloudmass into dark,
billowing wings a vision branded
deep revives, sudden
in side by side
of dust spilling down,
tombs sealed the way snow
slips off mountains, gravemaking
thaw of steel
how a curious
master of heights surveying
the world from a summit late
one summer stepped
so casually, blithely
recording last days, lost sights.
How spring's first green is gold
the not yet weeping
when in the sketch called April, they
like faint forsythias glow.
like men who must endure
though all their treasure pass,
mark summer's end where fall's first change
lies golden in the grass.
Composing the flock I thought I heard
When wonder drew me out the door,
A solitary mockingbird,
Busily being more,
Absorbed in his little crowd of sounds,
A parody of me,
Was gathering in his singleness
Some songs for company.
I Do Not See
I do not see the stars tonight
Nor wonder if they shine,
For many years have passed since I
Wished any beauty mine.
I do not seek the flowered wood's
Unworldly hush and stir,
Nor are there cherished haunts of mind
As long ago there were.
I find no sail to lull me now
Away to courts of dream,
And upward from the sod I push
Blue skies fade out unseen.
Then to Thee Gladly
if in the sight of Thee
is peace, and happiness
fills all who look
And where Thou art,
truly cease, and Thou
art truly, and as said
Then to thee gladly
I send forth
my love—to Thy
an ill-used guest;
From sorrow, anguish,
tears, to aeons of
which but to look upon
This poem hangs between two flags in the museum at the
Cathedral of the Pines in New Hampshire.
I seek no gift of song today,
but something hard
to draw the chilling shade.
Doubtless sleep would better serve
to rouse them
from their lairs,
and make the stealthy shadows come
and take me
But in this blind
and watchful mood,
which stalls the flow of time,
since dreams are far,
I move the sun
by wrestling out a rhyme.
Clocking a Harvester
Clocking a harvester,
from nut to underground larder and back,
found the course consistently run
forty seconds maximum—
and I clocked his clockwork awhile;
and seeing how hard he worked
at building up his stockpile—
at such a relentlessly steady pace—
and since a rest seemed due,
slipped out and scattered a few
by the hole to his home.
When I looked, later on,
they were gone.
I had put out the peanuts to see
if the jays
or the squirrels would get to them first, but instead
found a new mouth to feed—
not at all to complain. Truth be told,
sharing such stores I suppose is an old
custom of mine,
and recalls a time
when all my best handfuls were aimed
at arming another against the coming cold.
When somehow you appeared and took
this heart not mine to give,
and spring broke out again and gave
me every cause
It seemed as if some power had sent
a spirit to restore
that other Eden
that I knew,
when all was lost before.
Blessing the Cup
While morning yet was rose,
as if newly born,
I came across
a romance here:
he hadn't seen
the shadows clear,
to be at all aware;
and was content to stare.
I thought of how a love began,
of Eden, too,
the dawn of man
and how that garden
turned to grief;
borne without relief;
I did not fail to bless
the tainted cup of happiness,
nor reverently to tiptoe by
this sleeper in the flower's eye.
Tomorrow Some New Star
Upon the stars tonight
appears some care,
some stricken pulse, as blurs the silent pool
or wavers in some ancient's vacant stare;
Say they were borne there
by a love proved cruel,
drawn as by some brute hypnotic power
out into fields of deep night's lonely hell;
as vigil lights
are wrenched in their low hour,
something not yet lulled by time's dim spell
seems waked in them; which heart's fresh longings
and reach up there to wring
perhaps some life from those emerging eyes
so almost moved in their frail glimmering?
Tomorrow some new star must yearn,
one heart grows still, and one turns blind to men.