Sunday, July 15, 2018

Forbidden Beauty in Huntington Beach

Why does poverty shine so brightly down every street,
Screaming “pay attention to me” with blue balloons
And 50’s finery, some weeds in parking cracks
If one is lucky? The rusted bus stops with sun-bleached
Canopies, where shopping bags hang swaying in the breeze,
Are all one can bear not to see, and the carts parked
Too easily at Blue Wave Liquor across the street, next to
The pet cemetery that’s been there forever, and a vacant
Field for lease. It’s not the rot and mildew one has to
Attend to soon, in the cool drive through this clean and sunny
Boulevard, that’s even cleaner and even sunnier
Than the one’s one used to know, when one still thought
About the homeless under cottonwoods, and the
Hammered scraps of planks and boards  
High up the neighbor’s tree, not fit to be a crow’s nest,
Instead a squatter’s flag, that advertises, in the quiet
Smirk of green, the maw of what was never said,
The forbidden beauty of want on which one could not
Look away.

End of Day in Canyon Park

The residents pretend there are no people here.
Birds whistle to be heard above
The sirens and the floating children cries,
To be heard at all, with the hiss of acacia,
The whispering oaks: So much to say,
So little told. The moments pass too quickly
Not to be remembered continually
To swirls of wind that lift the leaves already lost,
As if what hadn’t yet been said was too sacred
To allow a past at all.
Still the giant lifeless fronds hang down
Ominous and golden like they own the place,
And their brown blades on the ground
Release the green to be taken by the sun,
Leaving summer’s dead, the unholy ones,
To bask in piles of dust.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stevens Textplication #42: Stars at Tallapoosa

The May 31, 1890 issue of Scientific American featured the small town of Tallapoosa, Georgia on its cover. This tiny hamlet, located on the then-main railroad line between New York and the South, had a bright future according to the journal, due to the modernization industrialization had wrought. Stevens undoubtedly rode that same rail route in his travels through the South settling business insurance claims, and almost assuredly spent enough time in this poetic-sounding locale to gaze up at night skies still presumably unobstructed by the lights wrought by the same industrialization.

One may even speculate this laudatory article may have been left in the depot as late as 1922 (when this poem was written) for waiting business travelers by an enterprising Chamber of Commerce to showcase the progress the town was making (and to this day has yet to realize). For the adjacent story in the issue was “Position of the Planets for June.” This is just the type of non-linear combination of topics that could spark a frisson in our enterprising poet, and result in a meditation on the relationship between the fixed stars and ever-industrious humans. 

The poetic meditation in question follows:

The lines are straight and swift between the stars.
The night is not the cradle that they cry,
The criers, undulating the deep-oceaned phrase.
The lines are much too dark and much too sharp.

The mind herein attains simplicity,
There is no moon, no single, silvered leaf.
The body is no body to be seen
But is an eye that studies its black lid.

Let these be your delight, secretive hunter,
Wading the sea-lines, moist and ever-mingling,
Mounting the earth-lines, long and lax, lethargic.
These lines are swift and fall without diverging.

The melon-flower nor dew nor web of either
Is like to these.  But in yourself is like:
A sheaf of brilliant arrows flying straight,
Flying and falling straightway for their pleasure,

Their pleasure that is all bright-edged and cold;
Or, if not arrows, then the nimblest motions,
Making recoveries of young nakedness
And the lost vehemence the midnights hold.

The poem opens with a sharp demarcation between the stars and humans. “The lines are straight and swift between the stars” refers to the common experience of stargazers, who can almost literally see the mythical facsimiles of lions, crabs, etc. outline the constellations. It’s easy, in other words, to see an order in the night sky, even a higher astrological purpose. The heavens, however, have limited impact on humans because the earth is our home: “The night is not the cradle that they cry.” Double meanings here for the words “cradle” and “cry” suggest both “the stars are not the protective crib where we express our deep emotion” (such as making poems?) and “the stars are not the originary force we declare them to be.” For we, “the criers,” can only express ourselves under the limitations imposed upon us by our earthly home, “undulating the deep-oceaned phrase.” Thus our relationship to the stars (and by extension God and the heavens) remains vague and fanciful, however awestruck we feel and however thoroughly the celestial bodies have been mapped out by the ancients: “The lines are much too dark and much too sharp.”

“Herein” (in this earthly location) “the mind … attains simplicity.” This is a clever reversal of the normal assumption that abstract reasoning – the ability to link seemingly disparate phenomena into a coherent essence that can be categorized as a whole – is a higher mental function. Instead, it is human’s inability to do this – through being aligned to the earth and its multiplicitous manifestations – that is the higher attainment. Thus, “there is no moon, no single, silvered leaf.” There are so many phases and appearances of the moon, and so many distinct appearances in all the illuminated branches in the forests that we can’t say it is one connected thing, as we would say of a cluster of galaxies, for example, that it is Canis Major. 

We can't even accurately perceive ourselves. “The (human) body” is not a celestial body we can see in the sky, in fact it can’t be seen at all since we are part of it. We are only the Emersonian “eye” that sees what’s around – or, rather, doesn’t see, but “studies its black lid.” As a night sky can be only faintly perceived, our “studies” of what is around us are limited by the fact that 1), we can only sense ourselves sensing, and 2), our eyes are closed, aka we are living in a dream. This idea of both waking and sleeping life as being equally a dream or illusion appears more definitively in the poem “Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion,” written about the same time.  

This inability of humans to perceive or conceive of their world should be a “delight,” somehow, to the “secretive hunter” introduced in the third stanza. There are actually two secretive hunters. This figure addressed as “you” is revealed to be Orion, one of the brightest constellations periodically passing through our night skies, known, because of its bow and arrow, as the hunter. There’s also the more earth-bound trapper of sustenance referred to as “these,” who, observed from starry heights, go “Wading the sea-lines, moist and ever-mingling,” an evocative picture of a fisherman breaking the ripples of the ocean, his encroaching wetness part of merging with the water.

Extending the description, the earth-bound hunter goes “Mounting the earth-lines, long and lax, lethargic.” In case one was wondering what the term “earth-lines” means, the poet helpfully supplies “long[itude]” and “lax[itude]” to indicate we are talking about the imaginary lines around the earth. “Mount” in this context suggests navigation – historically accomplished by tracking the stars – something that all hunters must eventually do.

“Lethargic” is a curious word here until one considers its Greek root of Lethe, the river of oblivion where the dead forget their earthly life on the way to the Underworld. From a distance, humans seem lethargic – like astronauts in space – because we wander around in forgetfulness, dreaming and misperceiving the world. “These lines are swift and fall without diverging.” The speaker speculates that the quickness, isolation and finality of human lives are what would make them such a delight to the higher being looking down on human affairs.

The next stanza clarifies the relationship. As poets and philosophers have noted from time immemorial, humans are inherently separate from the earth that imprisons them in its bounteous life (“the melon-flower … dew … web”). Nothing of nature is “like to these.” In contrast, humans are just like the mythological archer, “a sheaf of brilliant arrows flying straight,” aiming at truth for their Jovian pleasure. Unlike Orion’s cold and inaccessible lines to humans in the night skies, the real and imaginary lines humans make are something the observing hunter can genuinely relate to.

The poem progresses from alien stars and familiar earth to familiar stars and alien earth so subtly one can hardly notice the play of imaginative sympathy the speaker engages in to get there. Only by looking at humans coldly – from a star’s eye view – can the stars themselves warm up, and the connections between stars and humans be revealed.

The fifth and final stanza deepens the relationship further, to the point where the separate realms become interdependent. “Their pleasure,” that of humans, is also “all bright-edged and cold.” But, no, those aren’t actual arrows (for either side). The “nimblest motions” of humans are instead a drive to recover something of their starry home. What is recovered is described in a flash of poetry: “young nakedness / And the lost vehemence the midnights hold.” The midnights are where the constellations reside, with their almost human passions and drives, which they hold in continual, vehement expression.

The genius of this poem is to suggest the state of unattainable wisdom the stars possess is ultimately the same as the pure state of innocence (“young nakedness”) for which humans, far down the cosmic chain, are prized by the Gods. Humans seek both equally, caught in a nether world between the two, utterly unable to comprehend the simplest of facts about our place in the universe, that, as TS Eliot wrote, “in the beginning is the end.”

The key is the word “lethargy.” We have forgotten, and things like the imaginative transport of poetry help us at least to know we’ve forgotten, and to comfort us, as all great poetry does, from our loss.

This obscure little poem set in a small town covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? How much can be made from a delay at the train station on a magical night.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Partisan Cinders

It’s like they believe in
what they know won't
exist,

filled like plastic
with gas so light
it makes them smile.

What they take to be true
no more than a cartoon
drawn on a nondescript wall.

That’s what visitors do,
find in every tchotchke
at the bazaar

some valence of meaning,
else they miss the place
entire.

What they must wear
as a scar to prove
they belong!

The yesses grow
from passive whispers
to paling roars

as no’s grown 
inside the heat
tumble against them in circles

turning like a whirlwind
of ever-veering, ever-
contending spin.

Something brings the question
of their purpose
to a boil.

They hear in every platitude
a response to
words they used

and injustice in
the indifference
that comes of not being heard.

Only an orphaned soul
can look until it sees 
what it wishes to be,

to take that much in,
just to will away the wisp
that contradicts.

And all to want,
sincerely want,
the other to be right,

to shake off the haze 
of unshared beliefs,
and not be belied 

by the mind
and its savory 
tongue,

so they can look once again 
on the blood-drenched streets
and see in it only beauty.

And I am referring,
of course, to me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Penalty for Being Wrong

That quick flick of hair … is a piece of the whole,
Each off-the-grid urge intrinsic to the thought.
Wanted: Mistakes, Perversions, Lies,
Perspectives that cancel each other out,
Oooh, those especially.

The God of large numbers uses them all
In his blindingly full calculations.

How can a mere singular know
What problem it resolves
Or what multiples it factors,
How it can be substituted or subtracted,
Or if it’s imaginary, virtual, abstract?

Our job is to fix things, His to spit on our fixes
As a cloud of polynomials spill out stochastic haze.

But a compiler of weights sits behind it …

We can stand for ourselves,
Or be different from what we represent,
And the formulas will reduce and adjust
And we’ll have made it all different somehow,
Though the code is so vast it’s impenetrable,
And the directive to calculate continues unabated,
Everything on every side systematically cancelled out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Haunted Anniversary 2

The dust of the other floats like a feather.
What grandeur the unreal has.
All this time thinking that I was observed
When the blind eye that turned was mine.

Things stay on like surface smoke, cling to memory
To cloak what used to be with semblances of meaning,
For the mind strives valiantly to know the feeling
That is loss, that is emptiness, that is that that never was

But seemed to be. There must be some proof somewhere
That the love I felt was shared.
Is the record only shadows, the implacable loved
Still resisting her entombment as ideal?

So like the dead, she refuses to budge, says she must be
Who she is, only, a force of tangible flesh and moving blood …
As vaporous as clouds, in other words, like I must relive
In fading waves the day she disappeared.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: To Eduard

Second Version

Old friends overhead, of the eternal star,
Heroes, I ask you, how is it I am so
Subservient, subjected to him?
And thus I am called by the mighty one.

I cannot afford to forfeit much, only
A few things I can offer, my blessed fate,
Its single aim, to commemorate
Days in hindsight that were more abundant,

And this I would give, if he needed it, this
Other one, my chord would go where he willed
And follow with singing, brave even
To the end, when the dearest things go down.

"With clouds," I sang, "does the thunderstorm soak you,
Your dark ground is stained, but with the blood of man;
So silent he rests, as his equals
Above and below do, free of the charge.

Where is today’s symbol of love? Where does the
Heart speak? Where does it rest finally? And where
Does it turn true, what we, night and day,
Announced from a burning, long-ago dream?

It’s here, where the victims fall, dear ones, it’s here!
And the solemn train rolls! Already flashing
Its steel! Its clouds of steam! They fall and
Echo in the air and earth praises it!"

If so singing I fell, you’d avenge me then,
My Achilles, and say, "He lived thus, faithful
To the end!" The earnest word, it’s the
Judge of my enemy and of the dead!

Although you and I rest; still it rescues the
Wood, saves the mountains, is as earnest as you,
The maternal, still the one noble
Pupil who is held secure, the wisdom

That sings the old song of the cradle, it weaves
All around you, holy, dark, but see! The clouds
Blaze molten, ringing the distance from
The god of time’s admonitory flame.

The storm stirs up its wings for you, it calls you,
To take you up to the lord of the heroes;
O to take me too! With you! And bring
To him that smiling god, the easy prey!

------------------------------------------------------------
An Eduard

Euch alten Freunde droben, unsterbliches
Gestirn, euch frag ich, Helden! woher es ist,
Daß ich so untertan ihm bin, und
So der Gewaltige sein mich nennet.

Nicht vieles kann ich bieten, nur weniges
Kann ich verlieren, aber ein liebes Glück,
Ein einziges, zum Angedenken
Reicherer Tage zurückgeblieben,

Und dies, so ers geböte, dies Eine noch,
Mein Saitenspiel, ich wagt es, wohin er wollt,
Und mit Gesange folgt ich, selbst ins
Ende der Tapfern, hinab dem Teuern.

»Mit Wolken«, säng ich, »tränkt das Gewitter dich,
Du dunkler Boden, aber mit Blut der Mensch;
So schweigt, so ruht er, der sein Gleiches
Droben und drunten umsonst erfragte.

Wo ist der Liebe Zeichen am Tag? wo spricht
Sich aus das Herz? wo ruhet es endlich? wo
Wirds wahr, was uns, bei Nacht und Tag, zu
Lange der glühende Traum verkündet?

Hier, wo die Opfer fallen, ihr Lieben, hier!
Und schon tritt hin der festliche Zug! schon blinkt
Der Stahl! die Wolke dampft! sie fallen und es
Hallt in der Luft und die Erde rühmt es! «

Wenn ich so singend fiele, dann rächtest du
Mich, mein Achill! und sprächest: »Er lebte doch
Treu bis zuletzt!« Das ernste Wort, das
Richtet mein Feind und der Totenrichter!

Zwar hab ich dich in Ruhe noch itzt; dich birgt
Der ernste Wald, es hält das Gebirge dich,
Das mütterliche, noch den edlen
Zögling in sicherem Arm, die Weisheit

Singt dir den alten Wiegengesang, sie webt
Ums Aug ihr heilig Dunkel, doch sieh! es flammt
Aus fernetönendem Gewölk die
Mahnende Flamme des Zeitengottes.

Es regt sein Sturm die Schwingen dir auf, dich ruft,
Dich nimmt der Herr der Helden hinauf; o nimm
Mich du! mit dir! und bringe sie dem
Lächelnden Gotte, die leichte Beute!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

On the Overriding Importance of Meetings on the Left Coast

Here I am at the far shore
Where the gold retreats towards
The ocean called indifference.
I no more exist here than I did there,
But back east there was always the other
To say how there’s no evidence I exist
In a colorful range of drawls ...

There’s no such resistance to non-existence
Here, the desert just concocts mirage oases
Where blond figures stare right through me,
Muscle cars represent what is now only memory,
Wedding-cake white script whispers in neon
“Maybe”, the eternal maybe, the free and always lucent
Possibility …

Such as Crème Tangerine, a vinyl stand in an Airstream;
I’d stalk a DC week through unrelenting heat
To chase down tuneage so celestial 
And for weeks it would linger
Like evidence of heaven. Here it passes
Like bikinis on the beach, the daily red
Shoes on the yellow brick road of excess,
Beautifully false, perfectly meaningless,
Just tangible enough to keep away the ghosts,
Tenuous enough to peer right through …

You need to, the dream is too close
When there’s no waking up, when you know
That the dream can’t escape.
No longer the slow afternoon
Thinking how the mind, like a key,
Could one day turn.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

American Sonnet From Your Past and Future Assassin

A response to Terrance Hayes

Every day you wake up to write
A brand new poem about white people,
How our problem is: we are white
But seem oblivious to that fact.
You call it the privilege of whiteness,
An easy assessment to make
When we’ve become, in your eyes, less than human.
I must become abstract for a rage so pure
It burns without need of a fuel.
You say you hate me. How can I reply
When whatever hatred I possess
Isn’t spread out like yours across
The Sunday supplements? My voice,
In fact, has been silenced by the mob,
And goes quiet when you decide to be free
With the truth and the motives of others.
There aren’t enough martyrs in your mirror
I guess, but there’s no sense in putting my face there
When it’s only the idea of yourself you despise,
The idea, you say, of America, that burns so strong
You can’t wait to set fire to the next belligerent
— Even the pretense of a trial is obscene.
But your false Confederate flag
And KKK kandidates can’t save you now,
We can hear the Mockingbird talking points
At 4 am from the Adrenochrome dens,
Have films of the children’s faces sawn off,
And snaps of the plans for the mass extinction
Already so far along you can see it in the sky.
No amount of black assassinations can justify
The slavery of minds you, a chattel for so long
You’ll defend to the death your captors,
Urge to go on perpetually, as natural as death,
You say, or war, or division, a game to play
When there’s nothing at stake but the zero
Sum gain of the power we crave over others,  
What you call justice, of which, thankfully,
There is none here, only the opportunity
For healing. Like you, for example,
May have once strung up Negroes on trees,
As I might once have felt blessed
To have taken my master’s seed.
The life that it left for us is our lives today,
Glaring with fortuna’s cards across the table.
To eat your anger would be to destroy
My own. To embrace your suffering
Would mean I must forgive my own.
Here’s some black coffee in a china white cup.
Write another poem.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mimosa Trees on South Arcadia

When I woke, the world was meaningless.
People laughed and grabbed at silences in space.

The pain that could be a real thing
Could never quite rise to exist.

The streets became abstract, something to extract
A feeling, without a practical purpose at all.

The passersby light as summer air just waited for
Another breeze to change who they are.

There was no trace of mind on the leaves or flowers.
They resisted even the sun and jostling wind.

All waters headed down.
This is what surrender looks like.

See how everything seems to play in a hidden field.
There is just no wanting it anymore.

This place is yours now, the blank you drew
So you can give birth to the actual.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Happy War

There is a war of great happiness,
Where the women cup their breasts with flags,
Say "make war, not love,"
And build bonfires on the beach
As a prayer.

There is also a war in the public square,
Where colored shrapnel fills the sky with smoke
And the townsfolk with awe. They too smile,
Thinking of how the war lives and grows,
And they move together as toward battle.

There's another war in the neighborhood, where
Through the night explosions bloom in each backyard.
The families in chairs are glad invisible armies
Fight for the just cause. The side they themselves will take
Can be decided again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Solmar Verses X

Children carry mesquite branches to the highway.
Arches glow like pink history above the dark sky.
Storefronts capture silver dogs in the middle of their baying.
Under moonlight, the black swans never sleep.

So the lines bristle, in aquamarine stanzas
And the chaos of shore makes scavengers of all
Who are caught in Mexico’s Howling Coyote sun
When even the palms whisper “stay away.”

Life here consists of a yellow rope, where on one side
White-robed martyrs sell marionettes, Christian ornaments,
Sarongs batiked with skulls, twisting fish-lure bottle openers,
On the other side the drunks, who mimic their children’s shrieks of glee,

Helplessly, before the sun turns the sand prints into shadows,
The gimcracks into gold, each day, to the passing jet ski rhythm.
The joy of being lost, and floating, eventually becomes the same
As the joy of manta rays that leap in play, hovering and scudding,

And stilled by photos like the watercolors stilled Old Mexico
Like time that moves so slowly it doesn’t move at all –
It’s safer that way, to not leave that much of ourselves behind,
Only take what we never had, that scrub of land we call identity.

The philosophers who sit around the pool, proffering their sage
Elucidations on what is real and illusion aren’t heard
By those inside the pool, who can only detect
The raucous disruptions across its surface.

Neptune’s fishes work for Neptune, and the water that takes you
In takes you out, in the notes of the blue trumpet
On the blue veranda, which says something of the blue breeze,
But is drowned in the incessant shishing of the sea.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Solmar Verses IX

How could I possibly explain
Why I drink upside down,
Balance on the flute of one leg
And snuggle my head in the nether regions of my body?
The world out there is not so pretty,
Its mudflats, lagoons and mangrove trees
Are like shit to a lotus
Where I, to quote you humans, hide,
You who attribute my pink milk, egg and feathers
To the peculiarities of my diet,
As if you don't go crazy like a bovine at my rose.
But tell me why am I always adjusting my sticks of legs
To achieve some ineffable harmony?
How can my infinite curve of neck take my head in every direction
Yet I keep the same bittersweet expression?
And why, in a world of pink, are my eyes orange?

The truth is, I am hideous
And cursed to wander a place even uglier than me.
I seek the most negligible of things, the beautiful,
And never find it, so I preen and poke at my outrageous feathers,
As close as I will get to living in my own skin.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Solmar Verses VIII

What are the monumental sculptures littering the beach
Where California ends supposed to teach us?
Songs hum through them far from human pitch.
Their faces have turned monstrous.
Demon angels stare down the crushing surf
From far above this intersection of oceans,
The folds of their stony robes veined with gems
Like the fabric of thundering foam below,
Where huge black femurs and pelvises lay shattered
And dripping sand has petrified to pillars
To tell us who we are, before the friendless horizon
Where cormorant white wings are transparent in the sky.

It's beauty, whatever land's end is holding.
The splash and sparkle of this catastrophic merging
Is not, somehow, for us.
We return, as we must, to the beaches
And crowds and the white hotels and towels,
Passing on the way an ornamental garden
With translucent lizards, vivid hibiscus,
Golden koi...
At last a beauty we can contemplate,
As delicate and fraudulent as we pretend we are.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Solmar Verses VII

The moon is a hard thing to step away from.
To look at its clarity from a dark nest
Is to lose the inevitable self
In the flare of its city of glass
Across the black ocean.

The games don't understand the people who play them
As kings don't understand their subjects
Except in what they do, the wishful steps 
They take from their personal void, to say
"I exist" to an indifferent sky.

To see the moon, what they desire, as only light
That displays the jeweled coldness of ocean
Is like the faithful kneeling at the gates
Waiting for the rapture that never comes
Finally sensing the slow drift of flowing mind.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Solmar Verses VI

Sunny moves her hands to the Peruvian flute,
Smooths away the angers in the blood,
Pounds out the grief from the insides of lungs,
Makes muscles that held the impossible yield to bay-rummed touch.

She is even grateful for you,
Feels your pain with her eyes,
Turns it into a smile that is all you
Although there is only her inside,

Like she is empty where you are
And you have nothing that is hers:
The brave way she navigates the mystery
Without needing to think where she is.

That is the way she heals us,
By exorcising the demon of mind
That always lurks, always waits
For a better explanation

When none was ever necessary,
And the words the flute sings
Can be heard through the waves they turned into,
How there is consolation in living.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Solmar Verses V

In another world
These note scrawlers
Would be poets
And would be reading
Poetry books by the poolside,
But in this place
There are no poets.
The water merely drowns,
Laughter restricts,
The bodies are bones,
The spoken words clothes,
While the pink leaps off the walls
And the palms keep
The more cerebral beats
Of a wind that says too much
To be heard.

No, my spot is in the balcony
Sharing papaya with the ghosts
In the empty chairs,
Saying things
Unspeakable to others,
While the little birds
Quote Octavio Paz:
"Una silaba diafana como el silencio."
We see what is invisible,
The real around which
So many struggle,
La sol, cielo, viento, tierra, arboles
Piedra abismo.

What the wind says
The waves repeat
With perfect intricacy,
What the sun says
To retreating sea
Is transparent.
What are these words
People use,
That barely move faces,
Prompt silence
And a moving away?
It's not the smooth turn of palm,
The reiteration of surf
By the curve of the hill,
The firm indentations in sand.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Solmar Verses IV

Why did the nuns riot here in 1585
When the priory was 100 miles away?
There are many theories -- the brick will never tell,
The partially reconstructed parchment lies,
The somewhat intact urns have other things to do
Than to add up the glitches in this tale --
In the stories of the ages
And the sun that still obeys
All one can see is the wistful face
Willed from the most negligible of circumstantials.

In the other room, the coffee brews,
Papaya is sliced, the maps are out
To plot some imagined intersection of plans,
The floats need to be blown up, poolside cabanas
Reserved, the lotions like God's blessings
That can never be enough spread.
This spot of so much mystery
Has solidified to fact:
The food is more expensive there than here,
They must be down by 8 to guard the umbrellas,
When the smooth jazz percolates through the parakeet scrawl
They'll blow up the rafts for a dollar and a quarter.

The white rock beyond it all, shining like a saint,
Replies with neither what you want it to say
Nor what it knows. It just allows
The historian to be called lazy
And the rest of the vacationing family
To be cursed with the present's judgments,
Their tasks, and how they do them.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Solmar Verses III

Yet ... some great pain
Arrives at the airport,
Loads onto the blue vans,
Sits listless through the variations
Of sun, sea and sand
Manufactured by the tropical machine.

At night it wears balloon hats
At El Squid Roe hospital of pain,
Where sushi chef orderlies
Dance without smiles
And force-feed tequila
To the conga line
As they administer
Emergency shocks
To nervous systems:
Flashing lights, shivering liquids,
Go-go platforms pounding
In dark deafening sound.

Such extremities are needed
To relieve the misery of living
Without feasible dreams.
A skeleton hangs on a noose
In red socks and Nike shoes
To warn against the dangers
Of not partying.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Solmar Verses II

Or could it be what's on the
Other side of the wall
Is what was re-enacted?

The voices were no more
Than gusts in caves,
Secreted to alphabets.

Experience at a distance
Led to assumptions
Of what is:

The golden seaweed braids
That lured me out before
Generalized to amber,

So the echo spray,
The batter-spreading surf,
The spatter that persists inside the ear

Were moving hands,
Imploring eyes,
Phonetic lips:

Powders for the painter
To render the transparent
Boundaries of his world

And find a face
In the edge of wind
Distinct from the air,

It moves at a remove
From the sea
As from me,

Seemingly asking to be caught
In flagrant delecti, the naked,
What is not.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Solmar Verses I

Against the intelligence of violence,
Its silken rage and flowery ardor,
Are so many murmurs beneath what the surf breaks
As the mezcal makes them care
About speaking more than being heard,
Like a raw and lusty wind that longs to swirl
As if its laugh could echo in the numb jars
And could slowly rub its hands against the walls.

The laughter has the blue of the liqueurs,
The harp guitars' arpeggios of sea,
The things that make us believe each other
Under bubbling salsa drums with limbs akimbo,
And shiver inside like the dark leaves of mesquite.
It's so much water falling
In a calm of bristling wind.

But it's always 3 AM somewhere.
A different kind of breaking
Expresses itself then,
As the void crashes in
With a dissonant lull that cannot resolve
Except as unanswerable objection.
It seethes against all resistance
With voices, glasses, chairs,
Finding the contention instead is mere air.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Stevens Textplication #41: O Florida, Venereal Soil

“A poet looks at the world,” Stevens once said, “the way a man looks at a woman.” That is the theme of this poem from 1922, which marked a welcome stage in his poetic development towards more direct emotional honesty. In it he provides his own unique take on the invisible lover/muse theme that is a standby of poets throughout history, from Homer to Dante to Machado to Montale, to name but a few. Yes, the word “venereal” means sexual desire, as well as some of the diseases that stem from it, but he’s primarily referring to the Roman Goddess Venus, who conveniently ruled both love (including sexual love) and beauty (as well as being the ruling planet of Stevens’ astrological sign Libra). Here is the poem:

A few things for themselves,
Convolvulus and coral,
Buzzards and live-moss,
Tiestas from the keys,
A few things for themselves,
Florida, venereal soil,
Disclose to the lover.

The dreadful sundry of this world,
The Cuban, Polodowsky,
The Mexican women,
The negro undertaker
Killing the time between corpses
Fishing for crayfish...
Virgin of boorish births,

Swiftly in the nights,
In the porches of Key West,
Behind the bougainvilleas,
After the guitar is asleep,
Lasciviously as the wind,
You come tormenting,
Insatiable,

When you might sit,
A scholar of darkness,
Sequestered over the sea,
Wearing a clear tiara
Of red and blue and red,
Sparkling, solitary, still,
In the high sea-shadow.

Donna, donna, dark,
Stooping in indigo gown
And cloudy constellations,
Conceal yourself or disclose
Fewest things to the lover --
A hand that bears a thick-leaved fruit,
A pungent bloom against your shade.

One of the points made about the last poem, “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” was the uncompromising nature of the muse. Here you see it dramatized in the effect it has on a hapless man, who is powerless before her as he would not be before the most alluring lover.

“A few things for themselves … disclose to the lover” speaks to the mystery at the heart of love, the tendency at least in males to chase down the elusive prey by searching in small objects associated with the beloved for clues as to her true nature, and more importantly her true feelings. Such seemingly inconsequential things as jewelry worn, her favorite animal, or even the bicycles on the street she lived on can “disclose” no less than a wink, an unexpected touch or a rich laugh, the feelings of the beloved, and in so doing bring her closer.

When the imagined lover, as here, is hidden within the entire Sunshine State, these clues range wildly, from sensual in form of convolvulus, an invasive yet beautiful genus of weed with its word sound shockingly like “vulva,” and coral, whose pink color is associated with both Venus and the female body, to life-affirming (“live-moss”) to rife – as South Florida is – with decay, in the form of buzzards who feed on putrefying flesh and undertakers so inured to death they pass the time fishing. She sends, in other words, “mixed signals” that are too various and “sundry” to reveal anything but the “things in themselves.” This “dreadful” conclusion culminates in the speaker calling the beloved a “virgin of boorish births,” which notes the disparity between the feminine ideal and the banal children that come out of her – the gap between the ideal Beatrice and her reality. There is only the barest hint of her presence, in the form of tiestas, the local headwinds that come from the South.

All that changes at night. “Swiftly … after the guitar is asleep, lasciviously” she not only appears, but is “tormenting, insatiable.” This vivid – and highly charged – personification of nighttime Florida as the most disruptive of lovers “discloses” the extraordinary effect of unfamiliar beauty on one sensitive enough to its effect, specifically the way it seems to speak from beyond human terms. It also suggests the “insatiable” beautiful object herself wants communication as well, that it is two way.

There is some discomfort, however, in the natural world interacting with that of the human. The next stanza presents an alternative, one presumably preferable for the Goddess of harmony and order, to “sit, / A scholar of darkness, / Sequestered over the sea.” She should, in other words, remain distant from humans, and carry on whatever existence she has without disturbing her or our isolation. The humans can make metaphors as they will of her unknowable appearance, describing the windswept colors as a “clear tiara” and imagining her as so engulfed by the sea that she sparkles. Despite this attempt at rhetorical distancing, red is mentioned here twice, as if the straight reporting of the color cannot help but merge into a more sensual desire.

Thus unsatisfied, the speaker turns to address her directly, as “Donna, donna, dark,” using the Italian honorific for “lady.” He begs her to “conceal” herself or “disclose fewest things to the lover,” as if he needs her modesty for the sake of his own too-powerful desires. This is despite her already wearing an “indigo gown,” the most hidden garb imaginable, and “stooping in … cloudy constellation,” already well-concealed among the stars. The point is clearly that even the barest hints of poetry in the natural world are too much for his amours.

Instead he asks, ironically, for something more tangible, a physical hand to display the fruits of her exotic sphere of earth, and a scent to remember her, a “pungent bloom” set off against her “shade,” which could be her shadowy presence or her ghostly absence. He wants more, that is to say, less. It is a poet’s cry for normalcy, to stop the urgent voice from beyond the physical world. She clearly seems “real” to him, but she can only be “imagined” in the non-poetic/prosaic world where most humans – including, it seems, our speaker – live.

Despite the man’s noble intention to shoo the mistress away, the poem makes the contrary case that he is terminally smitten and will not, like so many before him, be able to live again in the place that existed before she started pining for him. It will take many years for Stevens to finally say farewell to Florida.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Suicide Light

The time of day has grown stale 
The light can't distinguish what's seen
The blue only answers to the horizon

As insight becomes repetition
The familiar an insoluble maze

For the people are now what they seem
Unable to answer the melodies played
And becoming a background in gray

Who make, as they walk the stage,
The scenery disappear

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Variations on a Bumper Sticker

                                                          My other horse is a ghost.

I've seen these clouds before,
Although they're newly formed,
And though the palms are more
Than a million years old,
It's like they're saying now
Their first words.
The cars have headlights on
As if they're in a funeral
But there's nothing dead enough
For us to see,
Just things that are escaping
From the prison of what is:
The wait for rain
Where there won't be any coming,
The memory of seeds
Long since blown away,
And the willingness to stand
Next to all this pain
As if the painter of grays
Could understand her paintings,
Why they were carried away.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Impressions of Decadent Sea

Morning comes like tiger stripes
     to flap upon the swells
Like gulls that pull invisible sails
             across the agate tinsel,
As the sea's kind pewter serves up 
     beads of sun like runny eggs
And distant grapefruit shining
             topped with Maraschino cherry.

From our pirate masque we call the clouds
     macabre along the Baja,
As the rolling boil of blue sends would-be shapes
              to the unseen:
The blue translucent dunes, the bolts of sun obsidian,
     all the unborn shores and fields to know
In the moment they are gone, and in between,
              the thing we call the void.

But the sea protects its fishes, makes every gleam
      of sun seem jumping life
As phantom fins rope weedy skeins
             as if on mystery feeding,
Yet a dolphin breaks the plane 
      to children squealing
And rainbow spray bears languidly away
             from white-capped frosting.
   
Still something deep resists, as peaks drive restless tribal lines 
       in long irritations of current
To neither yield nor connect, just collide 
             continually, without consequence,
Sheared off plumes of sea that express
      the milk of impossibility,
Forever torn by white and wrinkled black
             like slackened fabric pulled back tight.
     
The waves smooth out by afternoon
     from the white steam iron of sun,
Wool brushed to burnished pearl
             that swirls, and lists in golden light, as
Smoke like a Portuguese Man-of-War appears,
      waves nebulize in mist that hits the deck
Like teapot fog, releasing every vision back
              to fresh white nothingness, born-again sea.

The blue grows bolder as it slips the dying sun
     and its peach-skin purple implications,
Whose circle bangs around our brains 'til
               fish scales rise against the spiral
Of man-made lamps on the inky whirl, where
     we impose what we want on the ocean,
Still churning in this final wilderness
               in search of the familiar.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: Nature and Art, or Saturn and Jupiter

From on high you rule the day and with your law
It flourishes, you hold the scales, Saturn’s son!
And divide the lot and rest gladly
In the fame of immortal sovereign arts.

But in the underworld, so the singers say,
Where you expelled the holy father, your own,
To fathomless lamentation, the
Savages of justice stand before you,

The innocent god of the golden age: once
As fluent, even greater than you are now,
Though he uttered no commandment and
No mortals ever called him by his name.

For he’s cast down! Or ashamed at your lack of
Gratitude! And if you want to stay, and serve
The elders, begrudge him that, before
All, to gods and man, who the singers call!

For how all your lightning that comes from the clouds
Comes from him, what's yours, see! So give back in word
To him what you’ve made, for from Saturn’s
Peace every power acquired arises.

And I have something living only in my
Heart, dawning and felt, what you’ve manufactured, 
And it lives in your cradle in me,
Ecstasy, as the age drifts into sleep:

Then I know you, Cronus! Then I hear you, wise
Master, who, like ourselves, is a son of time,
Giving to us laws and proclaiming
What is recovered from the holy dusk.

---------------------------------------------------------
Natur und Kunst oder Saturn und Jupiter

Du waltest hoch am Tag und es blühet dein
Gesetz, du hältst die Waage, Saturnus Sohn!
Und teilst die Los' und ruhest froh im
Ruhm der unsterblichen Herrscherkünste.

Doch in den Abgrund, sagen die Sänger sich,
Habst du den heilgen Vater, den eignen, einst
Verwiesen und es jammre drunten,
Da, wo die Wilden vor dir mit Recht sind,

Schuldlos der Gott der goldenen Zeit schon längst:
Einst mühelos, und größer, wie du, wenn schon
Er kein Gebot aussprach und ihn der
Sterblichen keiner mit Namen nannte.

Herab denn! oder schäme des Danks dich nicht!
Und willst du bleiben, diene dem Älteren,
Und gönn es ihm, daß ihn vor allen,
Göttern und Menschen, der Sänger nenne!

Denn, wie aus dem Gewölke dein Blitz, so kömmt
Von ihm, was dein ist, siehe! so zeugt von ihm,
Was du gebeutst, und aus Saturnus
Frieden ist jegliche Macht erwachsen.

Und hab ich erst am Herzen Lebendiges
Gefühlt und dämmert, was du gestaltetest,
Und war in ihrer Wiege mir in
Wonne die wechselnde Zeit entschlummert:

Dann kenn ich dich, Kronion! dann hör ich dich,
Den weisen Meister, welcher, wie wir, ein Sohn
Der Zeit, Gesetze gibt und, was die
Heilige Dämmerung birgt, verkündet.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Just Slightly Above the Ground

The eucalyptus silence
Yearns for comprehension

Mere knowledge is not enough
When the world below doesn't know

So it poses an illusion
That even the sleeping can dream

Of some higher realm where
There's no second free from perfection

And it leans into our hungry
Numbness with coy forgiveness

For knowledge of the light
Will always stand apart

Unyielding and not understood
The best we can do is call it beauty

What stirs our sentience
Without reaching our wound

The boughs will slow to stillness
To absorb what we cannot

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Prince of Minutiae

The kitchen window tree
Tries to talk to me
As if I am some hero
Moving plate canoes
Through cataract cascades
But I'm not even able to see
How the fish ever circling the bowl
Has the universe entire
Swimming through her.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stevens Textplication #40: A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Now we come to the part of the program known as The Mother Poem. Typical for its genre, it displays little of the original wound it is there ostensibly to conquer. The depth of emotion behind it must inevitably remain sublimated. However this IS Stevens, so as usual there is something larger and more universal to take away from it.

From 1922, it’s called “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”, and it also marks the first use of a concept that would later obsess Stevens, most famously in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” that of necessary fictions humans need to create to live full lives. This poem is pretty famous in its own right. Here it is:

              Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
              Take the moral law and make a nave of it
              And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
              The conscience is converted into palms,
              Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
              We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
              The opposing law and make a peristyle,
              And from the peristyle project a masque
              Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
              Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
              Is equally converted into palms,
              Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
              Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
              Therefore, that in the planetary scene
              Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
              Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
              Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
              Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
              May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
              A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
              This will make widows wince. But fictive things
              Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Imagine, if you can, the curse of being born a poet in a household where the highest value is fealty to the biblical word. The chief requirement for being a poet – a topic Stevens would understandably come to explore time and again – is to take direction from an oracle known as The Muse. She is, as has been demonstrated as far back as Plato, an exclusive mistress who does not take the received wisdom of others kindly, especially that which is designed to organize – a.k.a. control – human society. Instead she urges her acolytes to remain in a state of intoxicated mystery, forever reaching just beyond the surface of things for a truth that dissolves just as it moves beyond the thing. The “poetry,” epithets and hymns of the Christian religious tradition enforce, on the other hand, a rigid set of beliefs in terms of right action, consequences and the will to salvation. On the surface, however, they seem to be poetry, the only true poetry, in fact, a pious believer (like Stevens’ mother) would unwaveringly conclude.

To be denied, thus, one’s calling to live life in the heightened state of poetic awareness is in a real sense a tragedy – at least to the sense of identity, place in the world and in the family. It is a primal wound, in fact, so deep, it cannot be looked at directly, but deflected with a series of “winces,” turned, in other words, into a gay but somewhat painful comedy.

Stevens enlists help for his cause in the form of his college mentor George Santayana, the philosopher of beauty, who argued in Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (the book he published when he was friends with Stevens at Harvard) that religion and poetry are both, equally, fictions, in that they express our longing for the ideal and give our lives direction. Aha, said the young Stevens, sharpening his blade, but the older Stevens, having let for the sake of familial piety the youthful possibility of poetry slip away (except in the courting of a woman his parents disapproved of), knew all too well how impossible it was to use such a subtle philosophical rock to move a high-toned old Christian woman from her hard place. But now, almost a decade after her death, firmly ensconced in his poetry vapor bar, he can carry on the argument in his head, on his own terms.

Suitably soused, he one-ups Santayana by declaring that poetry is, in fact, the superior illusion (“the supreme fiction, madam”). He proceeds, with an argument that grows progressively more convoluted, to tell us why. The alert reader will detect the anger in the passage that follows:

Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven.

It is at once an elegant and clear-headed description of how religion may be perceived as a “fiction” as well as a vicious put-down of the belief system of people like his mother. The emotional sense is poetically expressed through the repetition of the word “nave.” Literally, a nave is the central part of a Christian church, where the parishioners worship, but it sounds exactly like “knave,” a dishonest or unscrupulous person. In the context this suggests that the Christian church uses “moral law” (implied to be objective in some sense) to make dishonest fools of people, who proceed to help the church construct a “haunted” afterlife (implied to be a fantasy).

The attack only intensifies from here, if that’s possible:

Thus, / The conscience is converted into palms, 
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.

Again, on one level it’s a seemingly innocuous philosophical proposition. The believers transform their intuitively known moral law into grace through the use of symbols, in order to identify with the ideal who will bring to Earth the higher law (in the form of the palm branches Jesus’ followers spread for his final return to Jerusalem). They become vessels (cithern is a hollow-bodied stringed instrument somewhere between a lute and a guitar) who live in the desire for God’s word. The passage could equally be read, however, as its messy poetic antithesis: that belief in the Christian dogmas turns the human conscience (and by extension the soul) into a meaningless symbol, to be left with no more consciousness and will than a musical instrument on which the meaningless choir book is played. This sense is heightened, once again, by word sound. The word “cithern” echoes “cistern,” a holding tank for water that is at its linguistic root a prison or dungeon but in Stevens time most commonly referred to toilet tanks.

This bizarre Dr. Philosophy and Mr. Poetry schizophrenia continues as if Mr. Poetry isn’t even there: "We agree in principle. That's clear.” In other words, the philosopher logically may be able to find some common ground (in theory) for his sagacious understanding of the root of religious practice. It’s funny, pathetic, bitter and tragic as the poet tries to assert it. This poet, like so many before and after, has a hard time explaining himself to others.

This “opposing law” of poetry is not exactly, however, what the speaker has in mind with which to “make a peristyle … (a continuous porch of Greco/Roman columns around the perimeter of buildings, often enclosing, as in this case, an courtyard) [that will] project a masque (a lavish dramatic entertainment in the royal courts of Europe, usually based on classical rather than Christian themes) / Beyond the planets.” The “opposing law” clearly references – as a philosopher undoubtedly would – the ancient world, which had its own moral laws and monuments to higher powers. It is opposing only because it was opposed and ultimately defeated by Christianity, not because it represents some contrasting principle of darkness or evil. The reference to planets is also sly, given that the stars and planets were understood and named in the classical world, while the Christian world was often mired in the cosmological confusion created by the Bible. The idea is that the classical ideals could aspire beyond the understood planets, to the great unknown, with the implication that this was something unavailable to the Christian tradition.

The Greek alternative referenced here is also, of course, the birthplace of poetry muses and man as the measure of all things. “Thus” it offers a richer source of expression than the rigid church:

Thus, our bawdiness, / Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last, / Is equally converted into palms, / Squiggling like saxophones.

The Greek tradition honored the principle of life by elevating the temple prostitute as the most revered of humans. The term “bawd” means prostitute, so it’s not as simple as saying sexual debauchery is equal to religious ritual (although that is clearly what the passage suggests). “Indulged at last” invokes the firm hand of puritanical repression yes, but “Unpurged by epitaph” evokes a focus on life rather than the Christian preoccupation with death, or rather, viewing life only in terms of a final accounting. A less constricted, more sexual human “is equally converted” (bringing back Santayana’s formulation) to palms, a symbol of victory over death that ironically predates Greek as well as Christian cultures but was shared by both.* The meaning, of course, is that immortality is not limited to the Christian religion. But into this straightforward formulation comes again our Mr. Poetry, with the line that I personally would kill for: “palms, squiggling like saxophones.” It’s hard to get lustier than saxophones, or more evocative of the heightened state of being our decadent modern life can create for us. Yet the simile, for all the rich associations it connects, does not mean anything literal. The heaven of poetry is equally as elusive as that of Christianity.

Thus, “palm for palm, / Madame, we are where we began.” Neither the poet nor the unnamed Christian woman have unobstructed access into ultimate truth. And neither Stevens nor his mother can ever find common ground in what are, truly, separate spheres of reality.

“Allow, / Therefore,” – the note of desperate pleading comically made to seem like an uncontestable formulation …

that in the planetary scene / Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed, / Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade, / Proud of such novelties of the sublime, / Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk, / May, merely may, madame, / whip from themselves / A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.

The key word here is “flagellants,” a long-standing Christian cult who furiously whip themselves in public while singing hymns in order to pay penance and honor the suffering of Jesus. They are qualified as “disaffected” (unwilling to support the authorities) because for most of Christian history such practices were considered heretical, to the point that many flagellants were burned at the stake! They are “well-stuffed” because, like play animals and dolls, their insides (in this case blood) come out when the skin is ripped. They exhibit the Christian sin of “pride” in “smacking” [hitting] their “muzzy” [woozy] “bellies on parade” [in public display]. Stevens drippingly dismisses their novelty “of the sublime,” presenting them, perhaps the most extreme yet pious of true believers, as representative of the Christian faith. He even mimics the sound they make as they walk along whipping themselves, as if it was a popular tune. While the bitter poet has scorched the earth with his high-rhetorical bludgeon, the philosopher is still willing to concede that this self-flagellation “may, merely may” create a connection with the higher planes of consciousness, or as the poet more sensually (and quotably) shows (rather than tells), “a jovial hullaballoo among the spheres.”

Then, just as we begin to believe this poetic rant disguised as argument can’t get any weirder, widows make their appearance:

This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.  

What is the “this” that “will make widows wince?” The sight of zealots whipping themselves? The reminder in the sight of heavenly hullaballoo that their husbands are no longer with them? The blasphemy of comparing the penitential sacrament to something as unsacred as poetry? Instead of clarifying, the poem distances itself further into the mystery: “fictive things / Wink as they will.” Leaving aside the enigma of just what a “fictive thing” is, “wink” could be read in any of three ways: to close and open one eye to acknowledge something shared between two, to pretend not to notice something bad or illegal, or to shine or flash intermittently, like a star. “Fictive things”, read as things created by the imagination, poetry specifically (since it is “the supreme fiction”), really do all of these kinds of winking: they acknowledge shared secrets and jokes, avoid topics that aren’t “poetic,” and can assume the quality of natural or ethereal objects. As we’ve seen, these qualities are not predictable, and cannot be produced systematically, they more or less naturally appear (“as they will”).

There’s a marvelous sense of freedom expressed here, that the responses of the widows (for whom we are presumably supposed to feel compassion) don’t have to be explained or accounted for, because the spirit of poetry metes out its own, ineffable sense of justice. The muse, rather than being traumatized by the sight of widows/mothers wincing, is actually strengthened by it, because the emotional material that comes out of such pain creates great art. Thus after purging all the anger of being denied, the poet can finally earn out of the experience the palm branch of victory.

*It is also an important symbol to Stevens, as indicated by the title of the very book we are using for this series, The Palm at the End of the Mind.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Momentary Reveries of Summer

The swirl of excess desire
Is inhaled by invisible bees
While the lover inside merely breathes,
Waiting, with the world, for attention,
So that I can become an extension
Of the stars, moon and sea etc.

All the stiff forms
That taunted my perception
Melt translucent
In empathy eyes.

Still the metallic brick
Keeps us gripped to the cliff,
For what is behind
— Mind interpenetrating mind —
The whole that is already there
Too much to bear...

Something holds onto shape here.
What is bird must only be bird
To turn into anything else.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Two New Moon Intentions

I.
The bags were sticky with the refuse we'd collected
As sand birds scavenged scraps blown to the tar
And the low sun mist turned the tattooed six-year-olds gold
And the sea froth yellow. The few who remained
To stare at the foam
Still hoped for a new way to see.

II.
The day the chemtrails stopped
The Hollywood Bowl howled,
The caves of LA emptied,
Its hillsides posed for portraits,
And the pueblo voiced itself
In street flute and rough timbales.
It pulled the homeless from their smoke,
Families out of balloons,
To extricate the real from summer fountains...
An afternoon of waiting turned
To a merger between equals with the sun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reflections on the Homeless Man in the MAGA Hat

I.
The hanging tree
Says “marry me”,
Carved by the knife
Of Lady Liberty
In impeccable bloodlines.

The slaves were not slaves,
The dead did not die,
But these, these …
In vehicles rumbling
With gold exhaust plumes
And jeweled bumpers
Like upholstered elephants of yore
With Emirs fanned by fronds
Of rock ’n’ roll
With their entire sheikdoms behind them
As they disregard the curbside powerless
No matter how much they wave
Their HappyCupsTM in desperation.

There’s no justice in the world
Though there are those who seek it anyway.

II.
She wanted me to play
With boys my own age
She said,
The one who taught me
How the world is insufficient,
But these boys were just neglected,
Swam in the latent violence
The therapist coaxed out
With the foam-covered shafts
They used to pummel me.
He liked the way I was present for them,
Or maybe he wanted to diddle me,
At any rate I was invited to a Red Sox game
As if this was a real family
And we could eat at least hot dogs together
While we seethed in our animosities.

I still feel guilty for saying no.
How could it have been so hard to refuse
Gifts to the homeless
If I had a real home
Or professional intervention
If I was actually sane?
The thought that still taunts me
Is how disappointed he was,
How hard he tried to get me
To change my mind, his voice
Of despair, as if the angels
Sent a guide down here
To re-arrange some chairs.
I’d like to think he knew
What I knew, 
That creeps with badges
Don’t seem like the law
But still he seems as clueless
To any flaw in his constitution
As my family, friends and dog,
Who said it’s only a baseball game,
Can’t you be friends with anyone?
The fact that time has revealed 
My instincts as correct
Makes the pit in my stomach worse,
That I couldn’t be strong enough
To serve him.

That’s the scam, they say,
But what if he really believed it?
Like I believed in my own madness,
My need to be left alone?

An old friend, the best in all things,
Especially human compassion,
Was sent away last week
For a long, long time.
His crime was too heinous to say,
But nobody who knew him
Was really surprised,
For he had that gleam in his eye,
To serve or to die.
It was like a cancer invaded his will
And the truth long repressed
Had to speak in his voice.
He mentioned the priest,
As a confidence, in passing,
As if he hadn’t prepared to share
That since we met,
And he said it helped him understand
The pain others felt.

We give and give and give and give
But it’s only what we offer.
When the other side asks
For what’s needed
We don’t know, we don’t know,
The pathos for others
Bleeds into terror
And nothing short of our soul
Gives more than a voyeur’s silence.

III.
How many children are in these boxcars?
How many sex slaves will it take
To deliver this evening’s propaganda?
How can compassion fight evil?
When the emperor smiles
At the subjects in chains,
How can our hearts freeze
In the face of his misery?
Too powerful to be sacrificed,
Too weak to end the bleeding,
And he, after all, is the one who
Fears judgment from subjects
Whose judgments are all of
Themselves, under his watchful eye.

So tarnished with horror
At the depth of his secrets,
Compassion is all he can see.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: Encouragement

{Second version}

Echo of the heavens! Holy heart! Why, why
Did you become silent among the living,
Sleeping, free of those broken from God
And cast forever down inside the night?

Does the ethereal light still keep vigil?
And does the old mother, the earth, still bear fruit?
And though the spirit is no longer
Practiced, doesn’t love smile still on justice?

Only you are gone! But the heavenly ones
Incite and the breath of nature exhales, to
Shape the silence, like a barren field,
In the exhilaration of one soul.

O hope! That soon, soon the groves will no longer
Sing life's praises alone, because it is time
For the tongue of mankind to pronounce
And proclaim the beautiful soul again,

So the element forms out of a bonding
With loving mortals, and only then reaches
The breast of the earth, where it unfolds,
Thanks to pious children, the infinite,

And our days are again, as flowers, bestowed
Wherever you, out of heaven’s sun, exchange
Sight in silence, and are glad again
In the gladness that light finds itself in.

And he, who is without speech, anonymous,
Prepares for the future, the spirit, the God,
In the human word, on the sweet day
Ahead, where each, as once, speaks each other.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Ermunterung

Echo des Himmels! heiliges Herz! warum,
Warum verstummst du unter den Lebenden,
Schläfst, freies! von den Götterlosen
Ewig hinab in die Nacht verwiesen?

Wacht denn, wie vormals, nimmer des Aethers Licht?
Und blüht die alte Mutter, die Erde nicht?
Und übt der Geist nicht da und dort, nicht
Lächelnd die Liebe das Recht noch immer?

Nur du nicht mehr! doch mahnen die Himmlischen,
Und stillebildend weht, wie ein kahl Gefild,
Der Othem der Natur dich an, der
Alleserheiternde, seelenvolle.

O Hoffnung! bald, bald singen die Haine nicht
Des Lebens Lob allein, denn es ist die Zeit,
Daß aus der Menschen Munde sie, die
Schönere Seele, sich neuverkündet,

Dann liebender im Bunde mit Sterblichen
Das Element sich bildet, und dann erst reich,
Bei frommer Kinder Dank, der Erde
Brust, die unendliche, sich entfaltet

Und unsre Tage wieder, wie Blumen, sind,
Wo sie, des Himmels Sonne, sich ausgeteilt
Im stillen Wechsel sieht und wieder
Froh in den Frohen das Licht sich findet,

Und er, der sprachlos waltet und unbekannt
Zukünftiges bereitet, der Gott, der Geist
Im Menschenwort, am schönen Tage
Kommenden Jahren, wie einst, sich ausspricht.