Tom Merrill: Recognizing a Rare Voice
by Michael R. Burch
It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. But I don't believe that
applies to the best poetry, or at least not for me. I have never tired of
reading the best poems of my favorite poets. I can still remember discovering
poems by William Blake, Robert Burns, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, John
Donne, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Wilfred Owen,
Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman and William Butler
Yeats as I flipped forward through the pages of my high school English
Literature textbook. I didn't bother with the prose sections; they could wait
until the teacher imposed them. But there was something quite mysterious,
even magical, about some of the poems. I wanted to read them, and I
didn't want to wait. I was hooked. Nearly fifty years later, I'm still hooked by
the best poems of the best poets: those poets I consider to be great.
But are there any great poets left, today? Haven't
great poets become mythical beings, like Orpheus, or a long-vanished species,
like so many exotic butterflies that no longer grace the earth with their
For whatever it's worth, I'm going to nominate Tom Merrill as a candidate for
what is commonly called the Canon. I do this realizing that my nomination is
primarily a personal affair. Individual readers must decide which poets pass
their tests for that sort of recognition, if the
question interests them enough to consider it. The best I can do here is share
the poems that convinced me Tom is worthy of such consideration.
Perhaps you will agree with me, perhaps not. But I believe his poems below will
make a strong case for your appreciation.
Before anyone accuses me of nepotism, please let me point out that I published
Tom more than any other poet for years, before asking him to become an
advisory editor to The HyperTexts. My deep admiration for his abilities
came first. So I don't think there is anything out of order if I simply affirm here
what I have long believed: that Tom Merrill is an exceptional poet. For me, he
is a great poet. And thus he is included in my personal Canon, along with the poets I
Furthermore, I believe Tom's is a rare—indeed a singular—voice for the right of
the unborn to remain unborn, for the rest of us to exit life whenever we please
and by the most merciful means available, and for the permanent consignment of
religion and its "gods" and all other forms of superstition to the realm of
mythology and ancient history where they so rightly belong. To my knowledge, no
poet of the past or present has advanced as far as Tom in these crucial areas. And now, without further ado on my part, here are
the reasons I think so highly of Tom and his work ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Consolation for the Disenchanted
Time will stop
and death will come;
all will perish,
Why complain then?
is only temporary.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It runs through the yellowed,
of banished melodies
I hasten towards.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.