Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Poets of Phenomena

The morning ice plant,
The thatch lair of an unclipped palm,
The asphalt that can't clothe the earth
Sprouting golden grass through tears ...

Man has such hunger for what isn't there,
Not being aware of what is.

There is only looking.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Effects without Cause

The silence of palm blades
And the neighborhood in gold
Is just that sound

A bluesy caw propels a red dragonfly
Over the green and brown magnolia
To its lotus-boat flower

Which is suddenly
What I wanted to say
As my feet release a leaf  to the sound

That makes the branches shake
And the mind cry
And the winds come

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Disappearing on the Third Turn

Material things break, the immaterial 
Disappears, like they are two Buddhas
In disguise, asking which of them is real,
Karma the teacher, or Dharma the taught,
To liberate the student and be true?

You shine your light on the outside shapes to learn
All are separate from you – you will never know
The rivers and mountains, the eyes and mouths,
And because of that you will suffer, as a drop
In a suffering sea.

The voices within call your suffering wisdom
And your heartbreak at a broken world compassion,
And you glow in the pity that you suffer alone,
As the forms you thought were yours
Fall into the void.

But in the nothingness, there’s still an essence
That needs to be expressed – the unreal waits
To be chiseled into shape and then released –  
You act without hope, thus without intention, no second
Guessing, to let the expression breathe.

Soon you cast loose all resistance to the stream,
And the vibration of unity catches, everything you touch
Teaches the beauty of you, the mountains are a mouth
And the river has eyes, and your mercy for yourself
Becomes a cry of love for all,

For all that is comes from the way you perceive it,
As your voice becomes the wind to other people,
And your face becomes the glow on golden walls
And even you believe you'd be more yourself
Never to have existed at all.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fear and Ice Cream in Irvine

The all-sustaining, all-devouring Job
Wears the robes of God, to render Him
More visible, if no less inscrutable
And just as confusing as to whether it’s
What you do or who you are that adds value,
Or how your soulless task could make life more holy,
Or why if you’re so unique do you find yourself
In a heartbeat on the street.

The chickens and perimeters can watch themselves, it seems,
And money compounds on trees without being told how much
It matters. This thing at the end, the product you've grown numb to,
Is dust compared to your experience in making it;
The lessons that you took are the objective truth
To the bottom line end of the rope’s illusion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

37 Gaymoor

That terrible feeling of not wanting someone to hurt
On a chair in the middle of our lawn,
Nervously rocking as I tried to explain, 
Under her cross-examination, what a heart is
-- Instead of asking, for example, why
We’d been divorced for six months without my knowing.
I should have seen, in holy hindsight,
She’d been free of me the whole time, 
To tour the jewelry stores of Europe on my dime
While I cleaned up after the cat
Who'd long ago replaced me in her bed.

My love was real, it turned out, how could I have doubted?
I felt her pain and tried to ease her disappointment,
That's the only way that love can take responsibility,
But my love was strong enough, in the end, to exist 
On its own, with only shadows to sustain it,
But the somewhere else that was she used to maim me
With words from which there would be no recovery,
For I expected them to turn true, eventually,
When the heart she lacked had a chance to grow,
What I stuttered to provide her as I shuffled in that chair,
Her cold raised brows as close as another person can be ...
There never was a mirror for me, only a dark obstacle
In another's eyes, and an insatiable need to please.

I couldn’t bear, in that chair, to see her leave, somehow,
And soon I helped her move away, made promises
She’d never keep, signed her lawyer's release
And, when she started to cry, after she'd attached 
My last material connection to this planet
In the name of love, I knew that nothing left to steal
Meant there was nothing left of me, and it was sad 
Equally, on this side.

I chased you, Susan, through the ruins of many lifetimes,
But you did not seem to recognize me
When I found you, and saw the scars
You didn’t need to pretend not to have,
And you preyed, as if a moment had passed,
On my compassion again, and through the cracks fell
Not the shiny new coins of this abundant realm
But my hope, the thing that sustained me 
Through centuries of unredeeming fate,
It’s a wound not just in me, but on the face
Of everyone I see, the wound I was born with,
Sent to find you in the billion peopled world,
Not to heal, I learned too late, but to tolerate
The truth of pain, the endlessness of feeling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Abercrombie & Fitch Model

The eternal rebel kid in your living room
     is the same as the one in the photo
          and the same as you remember,
An archetype
     who held all you put in it,
     into the pout,
          the wind-brushed hair,
                the vampire pallor
-- there was a time
     a look was
          deeper than philosophy
                and just as empty,
When the world had
     stopped us dead
          in our tracks
And all we could
     muster was
          this reaction
Part-Prince, part-martyr,
Like the only heroism
     left was to die
          in an original way,
     and be mourned
          by the doomed.

The same extremity that
     drove them to that
Now drives us to envy
     of them,
How the silver plum
     hasn't yet
          crushed their crown
     and the mouths to feed
          aren't yet
          talking back,
Their poses of ancient gallantry
     grow into stone
As our jealousy
     slowly turns
           to scorn
In helpless

Monday, September 10, 2018

Elegies by Hölderlin: Elegy

Every day I go out, and look for the forever other,
Where she asked long ago, only country paths;
And everywhere I visit, only shadows, and springs
Of cooling ridicule from above; spirit strays high and low,
Begging for rest; so flees the broken game into the woods,
Where darkness is the only place that’s safe at midday;
But the green retreat never revived a heart
Destined to sleep, as it carried the thorn around again,
Not helped by light’s warmth nor the cool of the night
And in the ripples of the stream his wounds are dipped in vain.
In vain he prepares the healing herbs of the earth
And in vain the breezes stanch his foaming blood.

Woe! So it is, your gods of death, like that! To no avail,
Once you have and firmly hold the vanquished man,
Once you have taken him down to your night,
Then to seek, or to beg, or be angry at you,
Or to practice patience bound to your abode,
And when you smile on him to hear the devastating song.
For he, like the other, must exist within his laws,
Forever grow old and never leave the empire of horror.
But still not, O my soul, still not able to get used to it,
Dreaming in the middle of a resolute sleep.

Day of love! Do you shine over the dead as well, golden one?
Pictures from a brighter time, does she shine his light on the night?
The sweet gardens, his, her crimson evening mountains
He welcomes, and her silent paths of the grove.
Witnesses of heavenly happiness! And her, all-seeing stars,
The consecrated eyes that were granted me then!
You, you lovers, too, you beautiful children of the spring,
Silent roses and, you, lilies! Often still I call, – 
Your confidant! You living all, once near the heart,
Once truer, once brighter and more beautiful!
Days come and go, one year squeezes out the next,
Alternating and altercating; so terribly time passes
Over mortal heads, but not with Elysian eyes,
And the lovers are granted different lives.
Because they all, the hours and days and years of the stars
And man, wreathed otherwise and otherwise to desire,
Happier, more sincere, all of them, as true children of the Aether,
Lived, united in bliss, tender and eternal around us.
But we, innocuous, like the peaceful swans,
When resting by the lake, or rocking on the ripples,
Looked down at on the water, where silver clouds are mirrored,
And the heavenly blue beneath the wake tails of ships,
So on earth we walked. And he, the North, threatened too,
The enemy of lovers, creating distress, and falling
From the branches to fly in the wind, the leaves, of rain,
And quietly we smiled, felt God and the heart
In familiar chatter, in the bright soul song,
So at peace, wide eyed and blessed, alone.

Oh! Where are you, now, lovers? You have my eye
Taken away from me, my heart has been lost to her.
That's why I wander madly, like a shadow, and so must 
Live the pointlessly long life it seems remains to me.
I would like to thank, but for what? Is it not consumed, at last,
Even the memory? The lips are taken, then they’re not,  
The better the pain to speak to me, and not enfeeble the curse,
To throw me the strings, and wherever I begin, take them away?
That I sit dumb and idle through the day, like a child,
Merely see, from my eye, many cold drops slip,
And in my shivering breast the all-warming sun
Cool and fruitless dawns, like the effulgences of night,
Else I’d otherwise know! O youth! And if prayers
Do not bring you again, not ever? Does not a path lead me back?
Should it also be me, like the thousands, in the days
After spring when you lived loving and vengeful,
But on the day of the avenging fates taken drunk
And secretly guided without lament and song
Down into the all-sober kingdom, where, in the dark,
Manipulative apparitions float past madly in hordes,
Where, in the slow time of frost and drought they are counted,
Does man only in sighs earn the praise of the immortals?

But O you, who were still in way of my birth then,
When before you I sank, rejecting the most beautiful, you,
Consolation, to look too high and to sing of the silent gods,
Silently, in silence once of inspiration,
God’s child! Do you appear to me and greet me as before,
Do you speak once more, as before, of life and peace?
See! I have to lament and cry before you, as if thinking
Still of the nobler time in which the soul was ashamed.
Because too long, too long on the matted paths of the earth
I have, your familiar, gone lonely in the midst of,
O my guardian spirit! For like the north, the cloud, the autumn day,
Hostile spirits scurried from place to place away from me.
Thus melted away my life, O! So it has changed,
Since, oh dear, we went to that quiet stream.
But you, you received your light in the light, O heroine!
And you received love for your suffering, O celestial, you!
And she herself, nature, and her melodious muses
Sang out the belittling cradle songs of home to you.
Still, still she is whole! Still she floats, from head to sole,
Steering in silence, as usual, the Athenian, in front of me.
Blessed, blessed is she! For it eludes the children of the sky,
Who even run from Orcus, as from the immortals themselves,
But on your brow, lenient spirit, they are content with the ending,
As you bless and keep them safe down here, where they too steer.

Therefore cared for, you celestials! In my thanks at last
Sounds the prayer afresh from the singer’s lighter breast.
And, as if I was with you, stood with you on the mountain heights,
The heavenly breath enlivened me to strive.
I want to live as well! For the earth’s green paths grow
More and more beautiful as the sun closes in on itself.
Come! It was, like a dream, yes? The bleeding wings have
Already recovered, to watch over our restored aspirations.
To serve Orcus, whom it pleases! We, who made the silence
Into love, search for gods along our way.
And you guided us, with your votive blessing! The sincerity
Of youth! O you remain, through our holy intuitions, our
Pious pleas, and our ecstasies, and all our
Beautiful genii’s, for you like to be with those who love, and
Will stay with us ‘til we reach the blessed islands,
Where poets of love, ours perhaps, will be, or even go
With us where the eagles are, to the Father’s air,
Where the muses, and all the immortals, are from,
Where the strange and familiar will astonish us again,
And we can begin again the year of our love.


Täglich geh ich heraus und such ein Anderes immer,
Habe längst sie befragt, alle die Pfade des Lands;
Droben die kühlenden Höhn, die Schatten alle besuch ich,
Und die Quellen; hinauf irret der Geist und hinab,
Ruh erbittend; so flieht das getroffene Wild in die Wälder,
Wo es um Mittag sonst sicher im Dunkel geruht;
Aber nimmer erquickt sein grünes Lager das Herz ihm
Wieder und schlummerlos treibt es der Stachel umher.
Nicht die Wärme des Lichts und nicht die Kühle der Nacht hilft
Und in Wogen des Stroms taucht es die Wunden umsonst.
Ihm bereitet umsonst die Erd ihr stärkendes Heilkraut
Und sein schäumendes Blut stillen die Lüftchen umsonst.

Wehe! so ists auch, so, ihr Todesgötter! vergebens,
Wenn ihr ihn haltet und fest habt den bezwungenen Mann,
Wenn ihr einmal hinab in eure Nacht ihn gerissen,
Dann zu suchen, zu flehn, oder zu zürnen mit euch,
Oder geduldig auch wohl in euren Banden zu wohnen
Und mit Lächeln von euch hören das furchtbare Lied.
Denn bestehn, wie anderes, muß in seinem Gesetze,
Immer altern und nie enden das schaurige Reich.
Aber noch immer nicht, o meine Seele! noch kannst dus
Nicht gewohnen und träumst mitten im eisernen Schlaf.

Tag der Liebe! scheinest du auch den Toten, du goldner!
Bilder aus hellerer Zeit, leuchtet ihr mir in die Nacht?
Liebliche Gärten, seid, ihr abendrötlichen Berge,
Seid willkommen, und ihr, schweigende Pfade des Hains.
Zeugen himmlischen Glücks! und ihr, allschauende Sterne,
Die mir damals oft segnende Blicke gegönnt!
Euch, ihr Liebenden, auch, ihr schönen Kinder des Frühlings,
Stille Rosen und euch, Lilien! nenn ich noch oft, –
Ihr Vertrauten! ihr Lebenden all, einst nahe dem Herzen,
Einst wahrhaftiger, einst heller und schöner gesehn!
Tage kommen und gehn, ein Jahr verdränget das andre,
Wechselnd und streitend; so tost furchtbar vorüber die Zeit
Über sterblichem Haupt, doch nicht vor seligen Augen,
Und den Liebenden ist anderes Leben gewährt.
Denn sie alle, die Tag und Stunden und Jahre der Sterne
Und der Menschen, zur Lust anders und anders bekränzt,
Fröhlicher, ernster, sie all, als echte Kinder des Aethers,
Lebten, in Wonne vereint, innig und ewig um uns.
Aber wir, unschädlich gesellt, wie die friedlichen Schwäne,
Wenn sie ruhen am See, oder, auf Wellen gewiegt,
Niedersehn in die Wasser, wo silberne Wolken sich spiegeln,
Und das himmlische Blau unter den Schiffenden wallt,
So auf Erden wandelten wir. Und drohte der Nord auch,
Er, der Liebenden Feind, sorgenbereitend, und fiel
Von den Ästen das Laub und flog im Winde der Regen,
Lächelten ruhig wir, fühlten den Gott und das Herz
Unter trautem Gespräch, im hellen Seelengesange,
So im Frieden mit uns kindlich und selig allein.

Ach! wo bist du, Liebende, nun? Sie haben mein Auge
Mir genommen, mein Herz hab ich verloren mit ihr.
Darum irr ich umher, und wohl, wie die Schatten, so muß ich
Leben und sinnlos dünkt lange das Übrige mir.
Danken möcht ich, aber wofür? verzehret das Letzte
Selbst die Erinnerung nicht? nimmt von der Lippe denn nicht
Bessere Rede mir der Schmerz, und lähmet ein Fluch nicht
Mir die Sehnen und wirft, wo ich beginne, mich weg?
Daß ich fühllos sitze den Tag und stumm, wie die Kinder,
Nur vom Auge mir kalt öfters die Tropfe noch schleicht,
Und in schaudernder Brust die allerwärmende Sonne
Kühl und fruchtlos mir dämmert, wie Strahlen der Nacht,
Sonst mir anders bekannt! O Jugend! und bringen Gebete
Dich nicht wieder, dich nie? führet kein Pfad mich zurück?
Soll es werden auch mir, wie den Tausenden, die in den Tagen
Ihres Frühlings doch auch ahndend und liebend gelebt,
Aber am trunkenen Tag von den rächenden Parzen ergriffen,
Ohne Klag und Gesang heimlich hinuntergeführt,
Dort im allzunüchternen Reich, dort büßen im Dunkeln,
Wo bei trügrischem Schein irres Gewimmel sich treibt,
Wo die langsame Zeit bei Frost und Dürre sie zählen,
Nur in Seufzern der Mensch noch die Unsterblichen preist?

Aber o du, die noch am Scheidewege mir damals,
Da ich versank vor dir, tröstend ein Schöneres wies,
Du, die Großes zu sehn und die schweigenden Götter zu singen,
Selber schweigend mich einst stillebegeisternd gelehrt,
Götterkind! erscheinest du mir und grüßest, wie einst, mich,
Redest wieder, wie einst, Leben und Frieden mir zu?
Siehe! weinen vor dir und klagen muß ich, wenn schon noch
Denkend der edleren Zeit, dessen die Seele sich schämt.
Denn zu lange, zu lang auf matten Pfaden der Erde
Bin ich, deiner gewohnt, einsam gegangen indes,
O mein Schutzgeist! denn wie der Nord die Wolke des Herbsttags
Scheuchten von Ort zu Ort feindliche Geister mich fort.
So zerrann mein Leben, ach! so ists anders geworden,
Seit, o Liebe, wir einst gingen am ruhigen Strom.
Aber dich, dich erhielt dein Licht, o Heldin! im Lichte,
Und dein Dulden erhielt liebend, o Himmlische! dich.
Und sie selbst, die Natur, und ihre melodischen Musen
Sangen aus heimischen Höhn Wiegengesänge dir zu.
Noch, noch ist sie es ganz! noch schwebt vom Haupte zur Sohle,
Stillhinwandelnd, wie sonst, mir die Athenerin vor.
Selig, selig ist sie! denn es scheut die Kinder des Himmels
Selbst der Orkus, es rinnt, gleich den Unsterblichen selbst,
Ihnen der milde Geist von heitersinnender Stirne,
Wo sie auch wandeln und sind, segnend und sicher herab.

Darum möcht, ihr Himmlischen! euch ich danken und endlich
Tönet aus leichter Brust wieder des Sängers Gebet.
Und, wie wenn ich mit ihr, auf Bergeshöhen mit ihr stand,
Wehet belebend auch mich, göttlicher Othem mich an.
Leben will ich denn auch! schon grünen die Pfade der Erde
Schöner und schöner schließt wieder die Sonne sich auf.
Komm! es war, wie ein Traum! die blutenden Fittige sind ja
Schon genesen, verjüngt wachen die Hoffnungen all.
Dien im Orkus, wem es gefällt! wir, welche die stille
Liebe bildete, wir suchen zu Göttern die Bahn.
Und geleitet ihr uns, ihr Weihestunden! ihr ernsten,
Jugendlichen! o bleibt, heilige Ahnungen, ihr,
Fromme Bitten, und ihr Begeisterungen, und all ihr
Schönen Genien, die gerne bei Liebenden sind,
Bleibet, bleibet mit uns, bis wir auf seligen Inseln,
Wo die Unsern vielleicht, Dichter der Liebe, mit uns,
Oder auch, wo die Adler sind, in Lüften des Vaters,
Dort, wo die Musen, woher all die Unsterblichen sind,
Dort uns staunend und fremd und bekannt uns wieder begegnen,
Und von neuem ein Jahr unserer Liebe beginnt.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Another Sunday Evening Reckoning

From the evidence of the trash, our days are wasted;
How can consciousness account for what it isn't conscious of,
In its victory march of forgetfulness and blindness?

We've done something good for someone, we suppose
But what is known is only desultory,
Connected not by thought but by some instinct

We are right, as shown in our accounting of how the world reacts
To our ill-gotten gains with less than fatal punishments.
The unintended consequences all adhere to our side,

And what was never intended becomes the plan.
We know all this, despite the rolling eyes,
As we say to those we love the damnedest lies.

We're blessed to have forgotten
So we can show again what makes us worthy of this life:
That we can do a better job at everything next time.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

How can the sun accept such sadness?

Like the desert dirt – useless –
Finds room for its own – lizards.
The sticks have become bones.
The tumbleweeds wait like haystacks – rough
Becoming – the bushes shadowed with suffering –
The sporadic green screaming and shuddering –
The bleached out sea of sameness of the hollow trees
Who say “there’s nothing there” as if it’s the wind –
The cactus bulbs like bruises, wasting away,
So small they seem, together in such light –
Lone yellow daisies plea for love with such plangency –
The shade blanket dapples the spikes
While the dry bush glows with intent –
Black seeds repeat the day’s frequencies
In a kind of efflorescent death.
Lower and redder, it’s known now by the thistles
Explosive as twilight,
The leafless tufts dangerous,
The bare trees like blood vessels –
The humps and tracks and ridges come to life
As if to grieve what never was.

Then the sun, as if responding
Turns on a symphony of pity
For all it couldn’t say before,
When it said it all,
What the mountains of blue smoke now repeat
Without even knowing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Recovering the Other

The mind is unkind,
Parts hearts every day

But souls know to roll that way,
Spirits play,

Refreshed in death’s breath
Between life’s strife,

Where what you knew isn’t true
And what you felt melts,

The you who knelt before the blues
Becomes the you who grew

By choosing shoes for new losing
Along the avenues of clues,

Going there to share,
And wear your caring stare,

So the universal brain cell can tell you
Your song is wrong,

Your touch too much, the crying
Nebula eye you rely on a lie.

Everything divides
So the other side can be pried,

The guide tried,
The decider elided,

The larger than life
Brought down to size

So it may rise
More wise next time.

Thus the sublime rhymes
Like breeze through the trees,

The invisible available to feel,
From the unassailable real.

How else could we comprehend?
How thought never comes to an end …

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Gray Commute

The white sea appears through gray shapes
As the homeless come first to the streets
Bearing well-stocked carts and a wave
And a name to one another like businessmen
At elevators.

One would think that they’d be free
Of obligation’s evening animosities
But they barely can look upon the world
As it is opened, or the sun as it peeks
Through a wool lapel.

Out of the smoke of hidden motors
The workers come out holding thermos’s
From the secret treatment plant, dazed
From the all-night lightbulbs nestled in the
Rebar and 2 by 4 frames.

Temporaries, pulled from lines, are gathered
Into circles like bonfires for assignment,
They shake their feet and tilt their heads
As if listening to anything in the foreman’s instruction
But the ring of lucre.

The headlights slowly stutter down the hill,
The colors they have can't compete with the gray
Of highway and sky; meanwhile, the lateness
Of the train and the pallor of the hour
Knits furrows onto platform faces.

A curtain of light falls through the clouds,
And a bluetoothed salesman begs a client
To not hang up by holding himself hostage
Pleading all the things he will do and say
To make the day not wasted.

The sky is as metallic as the containers
Where more, in hordes, submit
To the molds that require the mind
To be wound and unwound like clocks to chase
The moments at a distance.

Though the data to extract and condense
Will never relent, they are so slow to act,
Resistant at every step, as they tighten
Their straps, fasten bags, and fidget
Gnashing until dark,

Lost inside and fumbling for each other’s arms,
Which become, as easily as the sun is released,
Something real, not just to be desired, but
As needed as the tracks that bolt
Uncooperative wires for spark.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Billboard on Hill

The wind that whisks the people through the city
Fills their heads with thoughts as well,

The tenuous and discontinuous
Multi-tasked facts, spontaneous conjecture,

Memories conveniently retrieved
And inconclusively released ...

The wind must cultivate these reveries 
In the moment before they flee

As if a needle dropped in the spin
Would reveal a symphony,

But there’s only the bluster of the wind
And the face of Dudamel like an archon.

Monday, September 3, 2018


The long slow ride, from being an alien
          to becoming a suburban-ite,
what changes is
          you no longer need a home,
the illusion of connection traded
          for the one of sameness;

the all-consuming eye
         that lays waste to life
And takes what it calls
now fertilizes smaller plots, cultivates
        a more mannered death.

Negotiations between weeds
         and blossoms
in a long-term engineering project
         to turn toads into frogs
(as if a childhood imagined through
        could be recalled, much less used);

what you imagine now
        becomes much smaller,
that the people who love you
        won't leave,
Though they always

The lonely dog beyond the backyard
        howls and howls,
that is your perfection,
        only marred
by the pause it takes to listen
        for a response.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


I kill the vines of life, that move
their Fibonacci curls across the branches
so elusively, as to different worlds.

When I unwound their lustrous strands, they went on
to infinity; it takes that much to kill the host     
– the line of death and life so close.

They’ve become the rooted things who’ve earned some sun
and produce real stems and fronds; they’re like their only
friends, in fact, what they are slowly assassinating,

with blooms that mourn and say it’s all for the best.
To rip them out as if they don’t deserve their life,
to save, we say, a life, is more savage than we know –

the sounds of Hanna’s piano float, as the alms
of green entanglements are carried without grief
to a new death – compost – purposed for rebirth.

Harmonic 9ths, like vines, may find a way to connect
– if only in the mind – but will always find the crying
that’s best left unexpressed – it’s kind to call it closure.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Some Lines

Back to the thinking
with its crossing paths,
its peaks and drops,
currents that override
    evolving formulas,
that fractions the roots
    and turns back
             into furrows
in a relentless balancing
that shudders with implications
             as the nerves
             branch out
in circles and curves,
v-shapes and triangulars,
sacred parallelogram
that form and dissolve
in continuous churn
of mind comprehending
            and building
translucent arcs of force
to shatter like stones
           in the discovery
of impermanence
as a breath of endless
where everything tangible
and everything spiritual
           bends to a shape
repeated in patterns
           that multiply
           and spiral away,
some frothy creator’s
           pure joy,
manifestation’s gateway,
how much can
          exist in
a moment
that was
through the entire
historical flow.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Stevens Textplication #47: The Virgin Carrying a Lantern

And so we come to the last poem in this series, the last one Stevens wrote for his first book of poems, Harmonium. It would be another eight years before Stevens wrote again with any consistency, and he returned like a soldier from a war a very different poet: emotionally raw, deeply skeptical, focused on the singular quandary of where reality (the other) ends and imagination (the self) begins. That gives his later poems a lucidity and depth that is only hinted at in the strange and mannered poems we’ve covered here, which, for all their renown and panache, require some type of interpretative apparatus to fully feel. Thus, for both poet and explicator, “The Virgin Carrying a Lantern,” this last of Stevens’ apprentice poems, carries the air of “a farewell duty” to wrest light from obscurity. Here, from 1923, is the poem:

There are no bears among the roses,
Only a negress who supposes
Things false and wrong

About the lantern of the beauty
Who walks, there, as a farewell duty,
Walks long and long.

The pity that her pious egress
Should fill the vigil of a negress
With heat so strong!

Stevens employs an uncharacteristically strict verse form here: a rhyming scheme of aab ccb ddb, unusual 4-stress, 9 beat iambic couplets, with a final four beat line in each stanza that is also rigorously followed. This construction makes the poem lighter on its feet than the others in Harmonium, just as the supportive framework it provides for interpretation doesn’t bear perhaps its customary hard lean.  

But Stevens still does a lot within these constraints. The storyline is straightforward enough: A virginal, soon-to-be bride takes one last stroll alone at night with a lantern, but cannot properly consummate this final, exiting duty of her maidenhood because she still longs – despite her lamp – to see what is out there in the dark. The sexual overtones are palpable, from the dangerous bears that hide in the feminine roses to the conflation of heat and darkness as sexual desire in the virgin’s mind.

As suggestive as this depiction is, the wording of the poem is ambiguous enough to support an even more suggestive reading. Specifically, the negress and virgin could be read as two distinct people. In that alternative, the African-American servant watching the bride-to-be as a vigil is the storyline, and her desire for the virgin is what generates the heat. Imagine how perverse that variant of the virginal female trope would have seemed in the 1920s!

Closer reading, however, does not support this second interpretation. Only in the first reading would be possible Stevens’ clever play on the term “negress” as either (or both) a beautiful virgin of color and a figure who only appears to be black because she is behind the lantern in the dark. Similarly, it’s tortured to read “a negress who supposes / Things false and wrong / About the lantern of the beauty” as referring to the negress making a negative judgment about the lantern the virgin is carrying. Is illumination “false and wrong”? But the virgin could easily suppose “things false and wrong” about / around the lantern she's seeing from, because everything is dim, provoking fear and uncertainty.

One of the more interesting theories about this poem came from L.B. Keneally of North Texas State University in the spring 1978 edition of the Wallace Stevens Journal. He believed the poem based on the Biblical account of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11:29-40:

Jephthah had vowed to Yahweh that if victory in battle were given to him, he would offer up as sacrifice the first thing that greeted him when he returned home. His only child, a daughter, ran to greet him. Despite the fact that the Hebrews as a group had outlawed human sacrifice, the daughter agreed to allow her father to fulfill his oath. She placed one condition on her consent however, that she be "free for two months" to "go and wander in the mountains, and with my companions bewail my virginity." She walks, as did Stevens' woman, "as a farewell duty."

If Jephthah's daughter and Stevens' virgin are the same, then the" duty" referred to in the modern poem becomes a little clearer. The virgin ["Walks long and long" -- wanders for two months – before she] must bid farewell to life. [p. 49]

That interpretation would also clarify the heat referred to at the end as “the burnt offering” referenced in the Bible verse. It would also support the use of “egress” [meaning exit] and “vigil” [with its connotations of religious observance], and even the use of the term “negress” to denote an appropriately dark-skinned biblical character.

Scanning the poem as a gloss on that bible story, the bears and beasts are not a threat to the rose virgin, for she must confront the dark plans (“false and wrong”) of her fellow humans (and ultimately God). What she sees with her lantern is only a reflection of the grief she otherwise experiences, not the actual external world. The darkness outside is a darkness within. That’s because her true witnessing of life is a leaving. That’s the pity. Death is the mother of beauty indeed.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Red Days of August

My life is not my own;
It's for other people,
But not necessarily
The same other people
I want it to be for:

The hangdog losers, not
The soupkitchen victims;
The lords of my time,
Not the elusive fool
I chase down like leaves for amusement.

I whine but
I’ll think what I’m told to,
Be guilted into carrying 
Some overindulged brat’s shit
As if it was luggage – and I was a porter.

Still, summer and its fire
Never quite softens
Enough to feel good
About the hand on the back
Of the neck pushing forward

As the future fills up
With requests and to-do’s
From increasingly shadowy figures
And my only question is what
Would be the cost in walking away?

But the ones I seek, those neglected
Innocents carved out of sunshine,
Won’t meet the light in my eyes half-way
Unless I’ve attended to the others first:
The deceivers, the demanders, the vampiric.

The sprites always float a few inches away,
Whispering “Please don’t ruin the illusion
For them,” for it’s been a long time growing
In the darkness of their soil
And the tears dropped down in love.

“How is it service
If they deserve it?” They ask, "And
Why do you quibble with father time,
Who bends and stretches you
Like a white summer suit?”

They are amused
I have forgotten
That soon I will wander the cool
Streets again all alone
Looking for any companion.

“You get what you get
When you get it.” The words
Burn, as they peel back any
Illusion that I am what I am
And can be what I’ll be …

So into the dark comes the shards of light,
But I only resent them because
I want to keep sleeping, free
Of doubt, bound by timelessness, 
So easily merged into others,

Instead of having to carry
The simplest truth
Like a new-born chick
Through the enmity
Of enemy territory,

Or having to own
My own impatience
When I see 
How much happens while waiting
That’s not seen,

Or having to hear 
How loudly someone can
Claim to be me
In a blur of red-brass rims
And tattooed head,

Thus to be judged by myself
Though perfection streams
Through every pore,
Forced to admit I can’t predict
What I know ...

Anger is the inkling
That this scenester here
Instead of being conveniently
Needy and defeated
Is actually a God.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hanging with the Fly Ash Sunrise

The sky is too painful to look at
– It offered so much hope –

Now it’s death again from above
And we can’t pretend anymore

To be children pulling up daisies
When the war is out in the open

Although few of its victims will look
To see the scars that streak the blue

And those of us who do doubt
There is strength in knowing

Maybe the truth must fester in silence
For all the harm that comes from speaking

Maybe ignorance is the best defense
It’s the devil you know that hurts you

The one you can thank for the pain
You otherwise would not feel

How it sets you apart
From everyone and everything

Makes the way back long
To where you lost yourself

The insanity of being alone
Is in direct proportion to

The astonishing ineluctable divinity
Of your being

It’s long but fulfilling
To lose the heroes you never chose

To learn to stay on friendly terms
With a world that is your enemy

To find the flowers come from your eyes
And not that empty vending cart …

How funny, in that simple shift
No feeling

Has been lost
No compassion sacrificed

The universe of consequence blinked
Not at all

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Some Gossip for the Voiceless

The sun shines palladium today
The trees are as metallic as the sky
The cars have come to life
Through some quicksilver trigger
And the living things have settled into stone

All things known have a way of coming undone
Mind fluctuates from black to white
As if one then the other is the whole
'Til what is seen deceives
And what is not
Clamors in the leaves
To be believed

For it is you
Neglected and unrecognized
As if you could exist as simple shadow
A form as on a screen folded from 3D
A thinking blink of energy
In a bulb without its eye

Monday, August 27, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: The Shackled Stream

What, wrapped inside you, sleeps and dreams you, young man,  
     And edges the cold shore, long-suffering one,
          And does not regard the source, you, that
               Son of the ocean, to titans a friend?

The messengers of love, who the father sends,
     Do you not know their breath of life in the wind?
          And does the word not reach you, clear from
               Above, sent to you by the waking God?

It sounds, sounds already in his chest, how, since
     He plays in the lap of boulders still, it swells
          In him, then he remembers his own
               Force, its enormity, now he hurries,

The procrastinator, mocking the shackles
     Now, and takes and breaks and throws the broken ones
          Out in anger, in play, here and there
               To the resounding shore, and in that voice

The son of God awakens all the mountains,
     It rouses the forests, it hears the herald
          Shuddering from the distant chasm
               In the joyous again breast of the earth.

The springtime comes; it’s dawn for the newest green;
     But he wanders alongside the immortals;
          For there is nowhere he can stay, once
               Received into the arms of the father.

Der gefesselte Strom

Was schläfst und träumst du, Jüngling, gehüllt in dich,
     Und säumst am kalten Ufer, Geduldiger,
          Und achtest nicht des Ursprungs, du, des
               Ozeans Sohn, des Titanenfreundes!

Die Liebesboten, welche der Vater schickt,
     Kennst du die lebenatmenden Lüfte nicht?
          Und trifft das Wort dich nicht, das hell von
               Oben der wachende Gott dir sendet?

Schon tönt, schon tönt es ihm in der Brust, es quillt,
     Wie, da er noch im Schoße der Felsen spielt',
          Ihm auf, und nun gedenkt er seiner
               Kraft, der Gewaltige, nun, nun eilt er,

Der Zauderer, er spottet der Fesseln nun,
     Und nimmt und bricht und wirft die Zerbrochenen
          Im Zorne, spielend, da und dort zum
               Schallenden Ufer und an der Stimme

Des Göttersohns erwachen die Berge rings,
     Es regen sich die Wälder, es hört die Kluft
          Den Herold fern und schaudernd regt im
               Busen der Erde sich Freude wieder.

Der Frühling kommt; es dämmert das neue Grün;
     Er aber wandelt hin zu Unsterblichen;
          Denn nirgend darf er bleiben, als wo
               Ihn in die Arme der Vater aufnimmt.

Translator's Note: How can anything be this beautiful?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

New Amsterdam Triptych

The plumes of blue forgiveness open
Their closed blinds – and onto the white lights
Of the City, on rooftops, tobacco and fluff shops,
The Village night of Shih Tzu’s and vintage clothes
Through someone else’s eyes to not see through –
New York turned to California while I was gone,
Cigarbars now are organic smoothie sheds, the smell of weed
Has replaced that of hoisin.
                                                   Every 5 years you should check in,
As on an old lover, the one you made laugh and thought
That meant they cared. Though lambs now graze to
Gregorian chants by the locked church graves of imprisoned 
Saints, and unicycles now have brake lights, and Afros have 
Become jejeune, and the Village Voice is a field of weeds, 
Not much else has changed; they still complete each other’s 
Sentences, the beard on Peter Cooper’s statue still is
Growing, the Jews for Jesus still are chanting along
With new white folk song protests against white supremacy,
And the old man with the gut bucket still plays for change
On the pallets of a long-defunct gas station.

The same moving, to the same unknown destination
Happens here, the same light islands through the trees
Light up the passersby who look any which way but the sky
In a world a few miles away, where hemlocks imbued
With college ivy open for sun from the expressway,
And birds move the light as they dance on the leaves.
The trains skim through overgrown golden green
Satellite towns of leaf and seed above the turnpikes of vine,
Some high-rise strands lifted by sun, the river uncovered
Moving slow, showing its silted branches and fly-whipped fish,
Its leaves and ripples flowing without a gate but light.
The ancient dappled trees are lines of reasoning that reach
To the sun, spread bolts of branches charged with new
Green thinking, and straight-out radiant horizontal eaves.
Slabs of rotted wood hang towards the sun, roots unable
To loosen from sodden banks, fruit for bracket fungi shelves
That give their smoke to the light, like white-edged strings
Of butterfly wings caught in mid-flap up the bark,
The sheen of mud, the shine of berries …
                                                                           the shade and not
Shade, in the one the black of expression, in the other
Glimpses of what formlessness feels like. Inside the river
Canopies the capillaries contend to fill the sweeping curve
Of sky, but outside white’s the limit, it glints in winks across
The warping water ridges. Only the sky calligraphies are
Still, just as unreadable, just as clear, the pockets of light
Their own sphere, that joins with what is there, as the light
Joins us all and reveals what eyes at all levels revel in,
Though knowledge is patchy and the robe doesn’t touch
Except as heat. Yet, wherever such light talks there,
There is beauty.

Waiting for it, on Crosby Street again, where the ghosts
Of the art from the dead artists who once lived here vie
For no eyes, while pigeons drop from trees on the people
Putting it out there at Washington Square. Here, a man
With mouse shoes and continuous talk tries to catapult his glory
Onto the next passerby, unaware of all who’ve come before,
Who made him what he wants to be.
                                                                    The Manhattan wind
Of mind, once it’s passed through, offers nothing but concrete,
The windows that once saw the crystalline vision of a city
Slowed to a radiant stop still see nothing by themselves,
They still refract back whatever the onlooker brings,
And the ateliers still live only in the sound of their pipes
And the way their lights turn on and off.
                                                                          The walls outside
Are a stiff impasto palimpsest of the posters of events
Of yore, as if they lived forever, as if the thick black letters
Now on top of them are memories of nights their magic
Cast its spell … but it was made to be disposable, to be of
Use in the endless longing to be seen and known, and the
Endless need to see and know –
                                                            The girl has moved on
To be part of another place that will take her temporarily,
In a flutter of chatter how she fits, she fits magnificently
In the center of a world as it is at this moment.
Everything else is history, the rust of water borne from
Tower tanks above; it all exists, like the vokka moon,
The CBD mocha, the skater’s knitwool beanie, to clothe a wound
That isn’t even aware of its own bleeding,
                                                                            So when the gallery
Viper passes by the earnest faces and thoroughly conceived plans
To reach for some amorphous splatter of blood, it’s also of a
Moment that’s already past, and equally hopeful, as they look
To the sky for the new, despite endless crushing disappointment
That at the time seemed like a pleasant waste of time,
Something that might just do the impossible, what we’d never
Otherwise let it do: define us in a way that includes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Turn in the Game

The friendly treachery of the other players
Seems to fade away with the realization
I am playing cards with the devil.

No matter how I want the numbers,
Higher or lower, or a conjured suit
Of earth, air, fire or water,
He stands at the mixing board with a smile.

On the final hand, where my opponents stick me
And I see all my schemes go up in flames
I say, finally, “nice game, devil.”

But the scorer informs me
I had won, not lost, the hand,
For my bid was for more than I remembered.
It was then I heard the devil laugh.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: The Courage of the Poet

{Second Version}

Are you not allied with all there is that’s alive?
     Does your allotment not nourish you in service?
          So only the defenseless
               Walk through life, wholly fearless!

Whatever occurs, all is sanctified to you,
     To be turned into joy! What then would be able
          To antagonize you, heart,
               And come between you and your role?

For, since the song that breathed forth peace was ripped away
     From mortal lips, pious in suffering and bliss,
          Humanity’s melody
               Has pleased our hearts, so we're the same,

The singers of the people, willingly among
     The living, for many things join here joyfully,
          Each one sweet, each one open,
               That’s the way our ancestor, the sun god, who

Begrudges to rich and poor a happy day, is
     In our ephemeral age, the impermanent,
          Erected on a golden
               Cord, as if to hold children, lasts.

Wait for him, and when the time arrives, receive him,
     See his purple flood of tide; go to the noble
          Light, versed in transformation,
               Like-minded spirit, down the path.

And evanesce as well, when it's time, for nowhere
     Does his spirit lack its due, so our happiness
         Dies once in life’s earnestness,
              Gorgeous nevertheless, the death!


Sind denn dir nicht verwandt alle Lebendigen,
     Nährt die Parze denn nicht selber im Dienste dich?
         Drum, so wandle nur wehrlos
               Fort durchs Leben, und fürchte nichts!

Was geschiehet, es sei alles gesegnet dir,
     Sei zur Freude gewandt! oder was könnte denn
         Dich beleidigen, Herz! was
               Da begegnen, wohin du sollst?

Denn, seitdem der Gesang sterblichen Lippen sich
     Friedenatmend entwand, frommend in Leid und Glück
         Unsre Weise der Menschen
          Herz erfreute, so waren auch

Wir, die Sänger des Volks, gerne bei Lebenden,
    Wo sich vieles gesellt, freudig und jedem hold,
          Jedem offen; so ist ja
               Unser Ahne, der Sonnengott,

Der den fröhlichen Tag Armen und Reichen gönnt,
    Der in flüchtiger Zeit uns, die Vergänglichen,
         Aufgerichtet an goldnen
          Gängelbanden, wie Kinder, hält.

Ihn erwartet, auch ihn nimmt, wo die Stunde kömmt,
    Seine purpurne Flut; sieh! und das edle Licht
         Gehet, kundig des Wandels,
          Gleichgesinnet hinab den Pfad.

So vergehe denn auch, wenn es die Zeit einst ist
    Und dem Geiste sein Recht nirgend gebricht, so sterb
         Einst im Ernste des Lebens
          Unsre Freude, doch schönen Tod!