Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Chasing Down an Echo

Those roses play that chord.
Somewhere these two
twinned by circumstance
will meet more officially,
the dry raconteurs
who have been telling stories
to each other the whole time
but have only now,
serendipitously, met
at some tropical country club
where the chairs look out at sunsets
that seem to last forever.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: The Goodbye

{second version}

Weren’t we going to part? Dreamed it good? Deemed it smart?
   Then why the actors’ shock at the murderous deed?
      We know each other little,
         For within us – oh! – is a God.

Who betrayed? It was Him, who gives us everything,
   Life and meaning brought to being, inspirer,
      Guardian over our love,
         This, this I cannot hold inside.

But others fail to conceive of the earth’s meaning,
   Others exercise His office with different laws,
      And that's what the spirit wants:
         Day after day the use of us.

Well! I knew it before. Ever since the grafted
   Came to form, the fear that separates gods and man
      Must be atoned for with blood,
         The lover’s heart must be broken.

Let me be silent! Never let me from now on
   See this fatality, for even though I go
      In peace, it’s still lonely there,
         And the farewell at least is ours!

I reach for the bowl myself, so that I can save
   Enough holy poison from the Lethe to drink
      With you, to share everything,
         Hate and love, all is forgotten!

I want to go. Maybe in a faraway time
   I’ll see you, Diotima, here, with wishes bled
      To death and peaceful like the
         Deceased, to go round as strangers

Go round, conversation leading us back and forth,
   Pensive, hesitant, until the forgetful re-
      Member their place of farewell,
         And a heart thaws inside of us,

Astonished I would look at you, voice and sweet song,
   As from earlier days, would hear and play the strings,
      And the lily would waft up
         Golden over the brook and gone.
Der Abschied

Trennen wollten wir uns? wähnten es gut und klug?
   Da wirs taten, warum schröckte, wie Mord, die Tat?
      Ach! wir kennen uns wenig,
         Denn es waltet ein Gott in uns.

Den verraten? ach ihn, welcher uns alles erst,
   Sinn und Leben erschuf, ihn, den beseelenden
      Schutzgott unserer Liebe,
         Dies, dies Eine vermag ich nicht.

Aber anderen Fehl denket der Weltsinn sich,
  Andern ehernen Dienst übt er und anders Recht,
      Und es fodert die Seele
         Tag für Tag der Gebrauch uns ab.

Wohl! ich wußt' es zuvor. Seit die gewurzelte
   Ungestalte, die Furcht Götter und Menschen trennt,
      Muß, mit Blut sie zu sühnen,
         Muß der Liebenden Herz vergehn.

 Laß mich schweigen! o laß nimmer von nun an mich
   Dieses Tödliche sehn, daß ich im Frieden doch
      Hin ins Einsame ziehe,
         Und noch unser der Abschied sei!

 Reich die Schale mir selbst, daß ich des rettenden
   Heilgen Giftes genug, daß ich des Lethetranks
      Mit dir trinke, daß alles,
         Haß und Liebe, vergessen sei!

 Hingehn will ich. Vielleicht seh' ich in langer Zeit
   Diotima! dich hier. Aber verblutet ist
      Dann das Wünschen und friedlich
         Gleich den Seligen, fremde gehn

Wir umher, ein Gespräch führet uns ab und auf,
   Sinnend, zögernd, doch itzt mahnt die Vergessenen
      Hier die Stelle des Abschieds,
         Es erwarmet ein Herz in uns,

Staunend seh' ich dich an, Stimmen und süßen Sang,
   Wie aus voriger Zeit, hör' ich und Saitenspiel,
      Und die Lilie duftet
         Golden über dem Bach uns auf.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

After the T’ang Masters

The only difference between a mad house and our house
Is that here the lunatics are in charge.

My voice just increases the inconsolable screaming,
Dismal whistling, petitions for happiness withheld.

I'd escape, if I could, to this quiet alcove,
Reflecting on definitions of love:

How it is always kind, and never remembers,
And perseveres through faith alone.

But the daisies so white placed here in the glass
Make all of that seem so shallow.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Have Knots

The desert wind
          changes everything.
You sing
          in dead limbs.

In desolation
          what is living
Seems more alive
          for silence to speak.

Still too much
         dust to overcome,
Too many blossoms
         calling for bees.

New frogs
        in landing squads
Run from algae nets
        across the parched ground

Chasing the scent
       of roses.
What it is
       can't be chased,

The thought occurs
       to elude its capture.
The insects swirl
       eccentric centers.

The thought of abundance
       is earned by trust
And taken away
       by doubt.

There is no other equation,
       though it seems
What can be taken
       fails to yield.

The same spring breeze
       that tells us
We can't have tells us
       we are loved.

Hummingbirds like cataracts
       fly near cactus yellow,
On either side, a hunger

And that, not
       where it ends
Is what the light, the final
       friend, desires.

The glow becomes
       almost visible
Like what rises in our blood
       and moves our hands.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stevens Textplication #36: Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb

On the Manner of Addressing Clouds is one of many early Stevens poems that present traditional Christian practices and belief in starkly unflattering terms. “Sunday Morning” is perhaps the most famous example of this, where a Baudelairean pursuit of aesthetic contemplation is substituted as philosophical ideal for the meaningless rituals of churchgoing.

The darkest strains of Stevens’ contempt for religion as it was almost universally practiced in his time and place can be found in a series written in the aftermath of the apocalyptically deadly but spiritually meaningless first world war which might be termed “Christian burial poems,” such as Clouds, Cortege for Rosenbloom, “The Worms at Heaven’s Gate,” The Emperor of Ice Cream, “To a High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” and today’s poem, from 1921, “Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb.” These poems all reference the sine qua non of Christian belief – that today’s sacrifice to the word of Christ will redeem us tomorrow with a perpetual afterlife. As evidenced by funeral ceremonies, these poems suggest, there is no evidence whatsoever for this proposition. Death is presented as an ocean of nothingness that offers no reason for the living to follow the conventional religious dictates of faith, worship and service to others.

It could be argued that Stevens’ reputation as a major 20th century poet derives from these poems, and the resultant critical perspective of him as a post-Nietzschean (aka post-death-of-God) poet, seeking humanistic alternatives in a world where traditional religious faith is no longer possible. Such a crisp, “modern” viewpoint certainly helps squeeze the rotund Romantic Stevens into Pound’s ascetic canon of radical reactionaries who came to deify the poet king by killing him first – just as it fits into the larger cultural “agenda” of “secular humanism” bent on catapulting the god of scientific materialism over the Judeo-Christian god just as surely – if not as honestly or elegantly – as the Greco-Roman pantheon was supplanted.

Thus Stevens is still viewed in many circles as the “atheist poet,” akin to Sylvia Plath as “confessional poet” or Bob Dylan as “protest singer.” The truth, not that such an arrow has much force in the face of such a passionate army, is that Stevens is almost exclusively and obsessively a metaphysical poet, continually capturing in his verse the unseen spirit that pervades all things. Granted, the great conflict in his work is between the ability of “poets” (Stevens’ all-encompassing term for what should not be understood as simply putting rhymes to paper) to see this mystic truth (through the vehicle of “imagination”), and the inability of much of the rest of humanity to be anything but “realists” who are trapped in a meaninglessness existence. But traditional religion, in his point of view, is just one of MANY blocks to humanity having a true, mystical perception of reality.  

That being said, there is something distinct, more personal, in these early poems on Christian belief that deserves a deeper examination. Let’s do so, using as our example “Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb:”

What word have you, interpreters, of men
Who in the tomb of heaven walk by night,
The darkened ghosts of our old comedy?
Do they believe they range the gusty cold,
With lanterns borne aloft to light the way,
Freemen of death, about and still about
To find whatever they seek? Or does
That burial, pillared up each day as porte
And spiritous passage into nothingness,
Foretell each night the one abysmal night
When the host shall no more wander, nor the light
Of the steadfast lanterns creep across the dark?
Make hue among the dark comedians,
Halloo them in the topmost distances
For answer from their icy Élysée.

Similar in form and theme to “Addressing Clouds…,” the speaker starts here by addressing, instead of specific “grammarians,” the more general “interpreters.” The inquisition, however, is the same: what can you tell us of what happens after death? Specifically, the speaker sardonically asks, what contact do these interpreters have with the dead, and inquires yeah or nay whether the “darkened ghosts of our old comedy” (a literary reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy for the interpreters) wander aimlessly about the dark, thinking they are carrying on their earthly goals (again like Dante), or whether they in fact no longer exist.

This unpromising set of choices is presented in an absurdly overwrought manner (“does / That burial, pillared up each day as porte [gateway] / And spiritous passage into nothingness, / Foretell each night the one abysmal night / When the host shall no more wander” is an exceedingly elaborate way of contrasting the “daylight” of a funeral ceremony with the “darkness” inside the tomb, for example). The possibilities are further limited by the suggestion that the still-existing dead only believe “they range the gusty cold,” which makes everything that comes after it seem like a pathetic gag, where the poor dears have no idea just how ridiculous their pretensions to purpose really are. The “freemen of death” (noble sounding but as ineffectual as the Keystone Kops) become the dark comedians of this dark comedy.

And what is more darkly funny, the speaker implies, the ghost that does not know its own absurdity, or the people who act like there’s a ghost when there isn’t one? The comic possibilities, at least, are endless.

This tone continues in the final lines: “Make hue among the dark comedians, / Halloo them in the topmost distances / For answer from their icy Élysée.” Hue and halloo mean essentially the same thing: a loud cry or clamor. Élysée is presumably the French variant of “Elysium,” the paradise of ideal happiness for the blessed after death. Its juxtaposition with “icy” suggests a contrast between an ideal or imagined state of paradise and a real location – the actual sky. These interpreters are in effect asked to noise torture the fugitive dead (as if they are Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega being bombarded by Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”) to get an answer, any answer, from them. It’s as if the more they talk, the more, rather than less, likely they will find the answers they seek.

The sense of comedy (referenced twice in the poem) is clearly that of irony. There are many interpretations why Dante called his magnum opus The Comedy, but one of the most prominent is the sense of irony, as in poetic justice or karma, everyone deliciously getting what is coming to them (including the poet by tumbling to earth after tasting heaven). The ultimate irony expressed here is that the interpreters themselves have nothing to interpret. Their punishment is to create a frightful cry out of nothingness and then try all over again.

The message of the poem is simple enough: all we know of the dead is what the living say. But the manner of presentation of this message (the degree to which heaven actually becomes a tomb) betrays a sharpness and bitterness uncharacteristic of the normally high-minded Stevens.

One fruitful way to delve further into this is to remember that Stevens didn’t seriously begin to write poems until after 1912, when he was 33 years old. That was the year his mother Kate died, and a year after his father Garrett had passed. He had not seen either parent since 1909, when he married Elsie Katchel despite their disapproval. While he described Garrett as “quite a good egg; agreeable, active,” he had a much more problematic relationship with his mother, by all accounts a devout and strict Lutheran who encouraged his artistic side. The sense – hardly commented on, since Stevens said virtually nothing his whole life about his mother – was that he carried with him quite a bit of guilt about not being a pious son, of not deserving all the care and attention she lavished on him, of marrying someone beneath his station, of not being able to get outside of himself to understand her before she died. Instead he was left, at her sudden death, with a terrible void, one that kept him from easily moving on to un-self-conscious adulthood. The one who created him had become nothing, and that left him grieving at the nothingness within and outside himself. All he could look to were the hymn books, scriptures and exegesis of a religious tradition that she lived in but that he could not, and in that he found – as if directly mocking him – a void as complete as that left by his mother. From the bitterness and pain of having stared into such an abyss he began a second lifetime where he continually searched for a spiritual alternative.

Of such struggles are great poets made.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Propaganda of Experience

What they don't know hurts those who do
For there is no path between worlds,

The entrenched corruption of appearances
Is somehow protected, its mirrors unbroken;

People still help themselves to what might be them
And threading the gift of recognition

Demonstrate they care by intending to share
With the absence that is there.

Our vibrations in heaven,
Holograms of the whole,

Don't mind what is missing,
The reaching away in love is all.

The thing inside that needs this
Too sacred to be revealed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Blue Flowers on the Weeds

Does the thought of those not free keep them slaves?
Or does moving away help them see?

Does the thought of God deny His being?
Or is what brings love being empty?

These are the questions that plague our minds
In starts, in shatters.

The smallest thoughts can topple walls
Yet they lift away to grow somewhere

And let the purple trees and succulents
Play inside the head like 50s jazz.

Perhaps in dreams they'll reappear
In the guise of long-dead relatives

Under purple trees, playing 50s jazz
-- The closest thing we have to forgiveness.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Through Layers Upon Layers of Mirror

As light communicates with the curb
Geometries spill across the street,
The homage in the white elegance of homes
To unknown Spaniards turns baroque.

Its art is the golden street, liquid fronds,
Green canvas sheet like a Hollywood wand
As if that's what light's for, to turn black birds silver
And vein diabolical what eyes would otherwise call real.

The iguana stares upright in his cage
At the clues the sun gives to the day,
A stare that seems empty as space. Of what he sees,
There is only what we feel there on his eye.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Odes by Hölderlin: Your Recovery

Look! Your dearest, nature, suffers and sleeps and you,
   All-healing, are missing? Or are you no longer,
      Subtle airs of the ether,
         And the source of the morning light?

All the flowers of the earth, all the golden fruit
   Joyous in the grove, all that does not heal this life,
      You gods, as it nurtures you,
         How was it that you taught yourself?

Oh! You still breathe and resound holy lust for life
   In your usual words of allurement, and yet
      Your flower in tender youth
         Shines, same as usual, for you,

Healing nature, to you, who often, too often,
   When I sank into mourning, smiled in disbelief
      With laurels around your head,
         Still a youth, same as usual!

When I mature one day, behold, as born of you,
   How I make new each day again, all-transforming,
      Your flame that turns to cinders,
         And there’s another I revive.

Ihre Genesung

Sieh! dein Liebstes, Natur, leidet und schlaft und du,
   Allesheilende, säumst? oder ihr seids nicht mehr,
      Zarte Lüfte des Aethers,
         Und ihr Quellen des Morgenlichts?

Alle Blumen der Erd, alle die goldenen
   Frohen Früchte des Hains, alle sie heilen nicht
      Dieses Leben, ihr Götter,
         Das ihr selber doch euch erzogt?

Ach! schon atmet und tönt heilige Lebenslust
   Ihr im reizenden Wort wieder, wie sonst und schon
      Glänzt in zärtlicher Jugend
         Deine Blume, wie sonst, dich an,

Heilge Natur, o du, welche zu oft, zu oft,
   Wenn ich trauernd versank, lächelnd das zweifelnde
      Haupt mit Gaben umkränzte,
         Jugendliche, nun auch, wie sonst!

Wenn ich altre dereinst, siehe, so geb ich dir,
   Die mich täglich verjüngt, Allesverwandelnde,
      Deiner Flamme die Schlacken,
         Und ein anderer leb ich auf.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trash Night

Finally quiet now, with the cans on the road,
The slightest crisp of wind blows through the palms,

No pretense from the neighbors, no airs of dogs or cars,
The lawn, wet with soft light, finally takes its turn to speak

To remind you that the work to do has already been done,
The peace of dusk comes at the end of what's left unresolved,

The moon will overcome the silent things that can't be said,
Its soothing light makes all that is invisible grow larger.

What goes on in the house becomes a gentle hue,
Taking guidance from the world of moving shadows and white clouds.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Conversation Between Man and Tree

The trees hold up their leaves for me,
Teaching the reach out to bees and light,
Showing my head how to nod, shoulders
To sway, finger to rise to a point.

The leaves that glitter like the sun
Wave unspoken honor
In a wind turned visible by birds
As if the field went on forever

And the branches didn't tangle
In the contours of the logic
That moved from to to fro, in circles,
Grasses lifting thought.

The force the boughs withstand
Is neither turbulence nor anger,
But their own openness to shock,
How they'll follow the unknown.

Flowers edged like butterflies
And vibrant as the bees
Share ambrosial happiness
Ever conscious of the source

Circling round a center that is nowhere,
As if air currents that decide
The shadow's letters, green leaf gestures,
The yielding from positions

Are not anything one could call ... meaning,
And yet they mean, the speech of spring,
Unbroken and unknowable, as the wind, if risen
Slightly, would take our voices in its sound.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Stevens Texplication #35: On The Manner of Addressing Clouds

Critic bashing is a noble sub-genre in all the arts – not just poetry. Rarely has the creator been more sly in “addressing” his critics, though, than Stevens in his 1921 poem “On the Manner of Addressing Clouds,” which turns the obscure words and abstract concepts literary critics have long been famous for keeping artists safely under control with back against them (with such subtlety the targets may not even know they are the subject of the poem – as evidenced by the many different interpretations offered for it by critical professionals). It’s Stevens at his most playful, which, as here, often ends up also being his most serious. Here’s the poem:

Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns,
Meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous,
Eliciting the still sustaining pomps
Of speech which are like music so profound
They seem an exaltation without sound.
Funest philosophers and ponderers,
Their evocations are the speech of clouds.
So speech of your processionals returns
In the casual evocations of your tread
Across the stale, mysterious seasons. These
Are the music of meet resignation; these
The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you
To magnify, if in that drifting waste
You are to be accompanied by more
Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.

The key word in the poem is the addressee, the “you,” who is identified as “grammarians.” This is an exceedingly old word, one that predates the modern idea of grammar as a set of rules for language. The closest analogue to “grammarian” in modern parlance is “philologist” (admittedly not a particularly contemporary term either), someone who studies word derivations, preserves texts, and offers interpretations. There were two major schools of grammarians in the ancient world, the Greek, who focused on literary art as we might conceive it, and the Hebrew, who focused primarily on religious texts. This creates a double meaning for the word, and the poem, as Stevens addresses scholars both literary and religious, and shows them how to address, or discuss, the texts they use as a rod of power in the human sphere.  

These grammarians make a grand and appropriately alliterative entrance in the poem, like a cloud moving across the sky: “Gloomy grammarians in golden gowns”. They are clouds to block the light, yet they wear the clothes of light-bringing authority. The speaker, when addressing them, continues the metaphor: “meekly you keep the mortal rendezvous,” suggesting their role, that of showing heaven to mortals, is a dreary, unobtrusive and almost contractual duty.

Their “manner” is to “elicit” – call to expression – “the still sustaining pomps…” Pomps is another archaic word Stevens retrieves – like a grammarian – seemingly to cover his real intentions. Separate from “pomp,” it is an ostentatious display of exaggerated self-importance. In that context, the rest of the sentence suggests an inflated manner of expression completely at odds with the paucity of meaning in what is said: “… pomps / Of speech which are like music so profound / They seem an exaltation without sound.” One could of course take this the opposite way, that the grammarians are guardians and cultivators (as they presumably suppose) of the most sublime expressions of the human connection to the divine – one too fine to even be heard by mortal ears (at least without a "guide"). These opposite readings come together in the sense that what is left of all the hubbub for us non-grammarians is silence.

On a non-literal level "pomps" suggests the appearance of fluffy clouds as they move through the sky, akin to the metaphor of pom-poms. But whether the pomps in question are the texts dissected by the scholars or the textual interpretations created by the scholars creates additional ambiguity that makes it appropriately hard for the reader to give these clouds definition. One must hold in mind when considering/addressing the nature of these clouds rolling across the poem the dual possibility that both the source texts themselves (at least as the interpreters conceive them) and the interpretations (aka the “lit crit shit” that Kenneth Rexroth aptly called “the fog machine”) are equally vapor.

The next sentence appears to confirm that by referring directly to the sources of interpretation, themselves interpretations (of reality): “Funest philosophers and ponderers, / Their evocations are the speech of clouds.” “Funest” is one of Stevens’ most noted unusual words. It stands out in the entire poem, and its meaning stands out in the context of its use: “Causing death or disaster, fatal, catastrophic, deplorable.” How could philosophers and ponderers be so hazardous? Simply because, in trying to determine the meaning of life, they are stuck instead with the insolvable question of “what is death?” Thus those who would reflect on their thoughts end up stuck thinking about death rather than life. This is “the speech of clouds” because it goes literally above our heads. 

The speaker goes back to addressing the grammarians: “So speech of your processionals returns / In the casual evocations of your tread / Across the stale, mysterious seasons.” Processionals are the books that contain litanies and hymns for use in religious processions, most notably funerals. In that metaphor, the only sound or maybe sense (“speech”) in what’s collected in the book to commemorate death is found in the funereal “tread” – "the manner or sound of someone walking" – of the grammarians themselves, completely outside of the book or its spoken/sung contents. In other words, there are, as people often say at death, no words. The seasons themselves (an apt metaphor for the cycle of life and death) are both “stale” and “mysterious,” reinforcing the sense that there is nothing in words or even celebrations to add freshness or meaning to what is inherently unknowable.

“These,” the speaker continues, referring to the steady beat of the grammarians’ steps, “Are the music of meet resignation; these / The responsive, still sustaining pomps for you / To magnify.” Meet – or just – resignation – or acceptance – of the enormity of death can only be found in the ceremony of silently carrying the coffin away. The almost imperceptible sound of that is the true text to interpret. This is not simply a bitter and mocking rejoinder to those who would comfort us by explaining the reasons for suffering and death, it is also a statement that there is something real in that sound itself, like a cat padding across a tin roof when it is raining, that makes it more important than the words people use, as if it opens up a vein of suggestion that connects the human to what is beyond human. The true poetic, in other words. Stevens plays here on the sound of the word “pomps” to suggest what the honoring feels like, a gentle (and tangible) “pomp” of feet. This sound, the poetic residue of experience rather than the mind’s chapter and verse explanations, is what is responsive and can be, the speaker asserts, magnified.*

After all the juggling of literal with figurative, literary with spiritual, contemplated with experienced, created with interpreted, addressing as speaking to with addressing as responding to, and life with death, the poem’s final lines shoot a Stevensian arrow through all the grandiloquence as if it was so much tawdry scenery: “if in that drifting waste / You are to be accompanied by more / Than mute bare splendors of the sun and moon.”

It’s an exponential leap to say, after vague and fanciful suggestions as to the identity of the clouds in the poem’s title, that they are “drifting waste.” “That’s the rationalist,” as Stevens wrote in another poem, the one who can’t escape literal reality enough to see anything beyond the impenetrable surface. All grammarians are consigned to this prison of meaninglessness unless they embrace what could be called everything from fanciful imagination to mystical consciousness: the natural, invisible and highly personal way feelings are generated and deepened in response to, for example, the desultory hesitation of feet. It may or may not be “real”, but without it even the sun and moon are just shiny objects, without voice (“mute”) or meaning (“bare”).

Stevens, then and now, is old-fashioned enough to still be hopeful such a thing might actually happen.

 * Note the similarity of the words used here (pomps, tread) to the similarly constructed Cortege for Rosenbloom, where the funeral procession also self-importantly dishonors the dead.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What We Know About Him

The facts are bare, but the only hope offered
To capture the firefly in a bottle.
He “might have felt this …” and “may have said that …”
Before making manifest what's disembodied.

So biographers prosecute the defenseless,
Sift the not prevaricated through sieves
To try the sole capital crime for the immortals:
Standing apart from the way life is lived.

And is there not one among you, dear readers,
Who didn’t wish our blessed and deified hero
To be another of heaven’s cruel jokes,
A rancid vessel for impeccable hopes?

Such effort to bring the saint back from the clouds
Where he floated when we had denied him.
If even one inmate escapes from the island
There has to be, has to be some explanation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Voices in May

Cigarette butts like flagpoles in black sand …
So beauty lurks beyond this moving screen,
Something calls us from some other world
To see, as truth, the diamonds in the tar,
The quiet music of the way chairs are,
Sunlight’s textures as it’s caught inside of forms,
Watch heaven overhang the afternoon

And people talk to no one on their phones,
Share flavorless brioches with no mouths,
Tease no eyes with their lips, provide no maps
With excruciatingly exquisite
Specifics, but trail ribbons that are rich
In nothingness, who resound with absence,
Singular squalls lost in city hiss.

A receipt is dropped, and swirls in the wind,
Merges with what moves inside the mind.
These empty figures, they are really in the sky,
And not among this paradise of birds
Who make their philosophie sound so free,
For they speak of sage and Europe, babies
And chlorine with the one that rules it all.

The wind turns the shadows into voices
To compose the unregarded responses.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Aristocracy of the Invisible

As the napkin is opened, the folds
Seem like something else
As the Peloponnesian War
Seems like something else:

A glimmer of a common inheritance
As common as something can be at least
Locked inside a private scrutiny.

The invisible shapes itself
Around everything we see
—The feeling is of poetry— 
Wordless, without form,
It lies within us, hungering,
To connect what is
To what we see— 

Layered in like a veil,
We lose it in the literal;
It is either not it or exact,
Shareable as crystal
Or non-existent.

A shade of blue
Is so much more than a color,

It seems impenetrable,
Like the universe
Or the ways of man,

But it is me,
With it within,
That can’t be breached,

I’m responsible
For what is endless,

Even as my own
Is nothing more
Than a persistent rumor

And my redeemability
More and more seems
To take the form
Of that blue.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Cost of Obsession

On the saddlehorn mounds
— Smell of pampas burn —
Wheelies fling through air —
One foot, no foot, no hands —
Contortions of bicycle and man —
The other riders would rather towel snap
Than praise — they watch the physics
Like disinterested scholars ...
                                                      But one man
Talks to everyone, the only professor in this
Living classroom. He offers tips, critiques,
Standards that seem in his way of telling to be
Laws. Fearless youth become in his guidance
A sober crew. They gain the mark of a tribe
Gifted and cursed with a light on what's right.

The bikes paint dust in circles
Through the blue afternoon
And it is almost by accident I see it:

The bent tires and pizza boxes
In a canopy inside the woods,
Faded blankets and garish shirts
Strewn across the soft green floor
Where a teakettle and candles also lie,
Commemorating some departed mind.
A woolen hoodie hangs over a branch
In late-afternoon gold, and over all
That smell, the tell-tale marker
When the one who lives here
Is invisible.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

First They Get Lost

What does it matter, when one is given a road
And follows it, if the direction is wrong?
It’s easy to see, looking down from the sky,
The waste and complication, but easy too
To see how it works out down the line,
How things must keep moving

Though we pray it will stop.
Yet we fidget at lights like we might miss something.
We never do. All facets of the illusion
Reveal themselves in time, and in a blink of an eye,
Reveal themselves as untrue.

Direction implies a destination, where you were
Supposed to go rather than where you ended up.
The life on the map v. the one on the ground.
Not different in any of the real respects
Except one you take with you
And don’t leave a trace behind.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Evenings with Harmonia

In an instant chaos turns to order.
It’s not easy living with the Gods.

No amount of graffito agitprop
Can destroy civility’s thread,

As if they must live these dark lives of
Excess, fret and disputation without knowing

How the inevitable balance will
Inevitably come out of the madness

No matter how hard they try
To be on the wrong side of everything but history;

Harmoniousness just flows, the doors open and close
In perfect time, the singing breaks out when the woman

Enters the salon. The flap of pigeon wings arrests the melody
But it adjusts, always, through the riffling of coffee cups,

Deep inquisitive cackles, the padding of the Athens cats
Clapping together inevitably with heels. An empty field

Between burned out roofs will open to a spiral stair
Dancing with the moon, weeds waving in tune. It starts

Just late enough, and ends only a moment too soon.
Things become so simple, when everything can be explained

But the pain one feels, and the way that it appeared is
Burned away, the many truths placed before the one.

No matter how irregular the tiles appear
There’s always a pattern. One they cannot escape,

This harmony balanced on the head of a pin. Such balance
As is required when the mistakes of humans must be evaded.

Friday, May 4, 2018

An Orthodox Church by Red Candlelight

The Christians have infiltrated every part of the holy city
But have kept a pilgrim’s innocence:
Look at this savior we just unearthed, isn’t it cool
How he’s outlasted death?

Pigeons hide on the cross.
Manifestation stays within our reach.
Madonna and Child are transparently
Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s baby.

Crowns on the caskets, beards on the priests,
The sun is a jar on a woman’s head.
The hymnless singing brings out beggars
To sell candles in full entrepreneurial force.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The History of Western Civilization

Red poppies – “you’re in my sun, Diogenes” –
The Attic Aristocrats still cavil – Peripatos in stone –
Gods and man one and the same are buzzing flies in grass –
The shade of the Judas tree at some halfway spot
Between what is and what is not – the checkerboard stage
Where orators played to two audiences, the people in the seats
And the Gods in the temples above – bamboo claps at
Applause lines provided by the sea, but the whispered
Words no longer are clarified – still, a graffiti eye
Stares up at the columns – why were we – O cruel Gods –
Forsaken? The grasses stand erect, obeying the syllables
That flow like water through stones glowing with
Embodiment, placed just so, precarious yet prostrate
In offering – moths float and dogs laugh in consummate
Distances – 
                      From our Civilization to the Gods
Is 30 feet of stairs – but it seems insurmountable –
The first columns stand oblivious to us – the threat of
Destruction we represent – but time has worked its wonders –
The perfection of decline – the scrolls are bit out, gouged,
Browned, the ceiling hollowed out to let in the blue – calling
What is not yet deceased, or born – what we’d call ruined –
Figures unrecognizable, as if what's there was only ever
Decoration – to be cataloged and piled – harmonizing columns –
For humans who build labyrinths – as if epiphanies can be
Sustained – but whose epiphany, and why does order rise
To the top? The cedars at the top shriek as if they know
And need to tell – forever disclosing next to the forever
                         I sit on the rock, like the poets before me,
Contemplating the poetry bloodstream of our history –
Only the most pure could make this trek – it is undisturbed –
The discourse that occurred here – spare and precise instruction,
No possible variation in response.
                                                                Over at the Greek flag,
However, the sky is the limit on what can be said now,
Any pronouncement can be unpronounced later – it’s OK
To scream or laugh or cry – the wind will help us forget it,
So when we revisit the same tremulous branch, it will bend
With ease, and we will gallivant as if it never will end –
For indeed it doesn’t.
                                        Didn’t that golden mean equation lead
Only to a library of unsolved explanations? So much blahblahblah
To Athena’s owl, who sees the black cat scamper across the rubble,
Like no human can, suddenly to disappear like the Gods
In the broken teeth of pediment – only the pious Carytids,
Always staring away, see.
                                              The marble that shines from within
Is the ground we walk on – offerings made from far away seem
Clearest in conception; when we get up close, knees weaken,
Words fail, the weight of all we’ve been told to be real lightens
As it deepens – the stones that guided the way through blind youth
Are revealed to be gems after all, more real for being pragmatized
As an ideal, like the dry beds we walk through where there might
Have once been water – a sublime that never needed to be captured –
The structure was built to be imagined into existence – the strongest
Foundation, the lightest air – in the valley, diamonds shine from roofs,
Another worship available from the immortals – art is what is
Crowned in acanthus leaves: the meaning of the Gods.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Two Temples

I. Hölderlin in Sounio

The Ionian coves – lit from underneath –
They no longer let the rock speak.
But the grass on the hill has something to say
About the Gods once dead and buried.

The rock partridge coos as she flows uphill
And Poseidon whispers in blue some variant of peace,
For there is still piety here on this rock, a minor
Architectural marvel turned into a thing of epic honor:

                        “Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep
                         Where nothing save the waves
                         There swan-like let me sing and die.”

Only locals and Germans come any more to this
Shore to savor ruin, and remember in photo memorials
This fort of war. The grieving Greeks don’t seem to
Grieve, they move through what is with ease

And recognize something in the care of the immortals
If not the same ones who died. Still, what has fled
Has yet to be replaced. There’s only the sun,
Our instrument, everything else is gone.

II. The Goddess of the Invisible

Amid the sacred forms she said
“There is only the invisible,” or seemed to,
In the move of the pistachio leaves.

Meaning whirrs where no claims can be made,
As Aphaia escaped from Minos by disappearing;
She’s the one who remains, still beckoning at what’s holy:

The rasping grass, the shine on seeds, the changing
Patterns in the fields. Speechless teaching
Free to be perceived or not, but the mind

That expands the universe does not disturb
The eyes or ears of those who trap meaning for a prize.
“Everything serves the invisible,”

She said, without further elucidation,
Because none was needed. I just thought
A moment earlier there was.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Life in Museums

I. Egypt
Poetry is written across the gowns
Of the impossibly serene faces with hands that
Hold palms and hooks of manifestation.
Green-skinned knowledge cries from secret eyes
For the real to be revealed as the ideal.
From Gods far more benign: Humans more actual.

What has happened to us? Who no longer put
The boxes of the dead inside our hearts,
Or ride papyrus boats with ankhs ablaze
Knowing dung beetles co-equal with kings.

II. Eleusis
Aphrodite, Demeter and Persephone,
Always those three, seated in the sanctuary,
Piously cloaked, while the arrogant spear
Throwing boys go unclothed.
Demeter reveals only her Wheat,
Persephone her Horses for the Journey,
Aphrodite her beating Wings.

The initiates proceed without knowing
If they are lovers, mothers, daughters, twins,
They only know the precise instruction
And that knowledge itself is the only salvation
For knowledge, as they offer myrtle branches
And are harnessed to otherworldly horses,
Having broken the death cult amphora.
The thought of death had kept them from life
As a mote keeps light from the eye.
Now they are free. Now piety begins.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Parisien Vignettes

I. Mansard Dreams at the Tuilleries
People in green chairs, a rarefied air where the real
Won’t protrude on the idée, where a crow glares
Atop marbled hair, like a priest says “Vive la guerre!”
Before the fountain, as gypsies trade in compassion
And free-range guitar threads the conversation
Through statues of women, all naked.
I’d declare, “The flowers are short, sculpture is long”
But the poet chairs are roped off: Too fragile.

II. The Haunting of French Painting
Monet creates … his own world
To save us from the one that calls.
A demi-glace of lilac frisson
To veil where light is pure
Abstraction. The source as void permits
All fates: Watery erasures, elaborate refusals,
A few boughs of earth in the spirit maze
Add solidity to cloud, gas to marsh grass,
Takes time back from the sundial.

For Van Gogh, the dry earth comes too hard:
No metaphysical haystacks and cathedrals for him
But ones you can taste, that taste like defeat
Starry nights when the moths die at your feet,
End of an era of light.

Eternal friend Gauguin mourns how one can’t
Have pity, only call for the colors from every aperture:
Prussian Blue, Helios Red, Raw Sienna.
You cannot be Christ
If you’re looking.

Everyone’s done their self-portrait
On the wall of the art supply store:
Every possible choice within limited means of vision.
It’s overwhelmingly close, not that impossible horizon of
lapis noire … gris de payne … vert moyen … ocre de chair …
The kept phallus of the woman Paris rose in light
As the clouds roamed the Seine and I realized why
The Impressionists failed so totally.

III. In a Station of the Metro
The subway speaks above the Gallic purr,
Some voice that had gone missing in the lust for contact,
An echo in the chasm of loss, as if through Gothic stone,
Sacred archways of emptiness tuned to instruction frequencies
From saxophones and steel drums off white ceramic walls
That weave between the realms in reams of sound
Jumpy and forlorn, as silent to the way things are
As riders with their hopeful eyes and pursing lips,
For love is always waiting, however long the pause,
However faint the flicker through the windows.

The stations are emblazoned in blue, and all the stops
Are at Saints: Saint Lazare, Saint Francois, Saint Denis.
The pilgrims take their bags and coats
And journey to the light. The sound below
From grates above has something of the street,
The distant hum of memories builds a nest,
A palimpsest where what is lost can rest.

IV. The Birth of Kings
Through golden glass, dust floats in heaven’s obsolescence
With tales of the cross preserved in words of mortal slavery.
Saint-Chappelle, where kings are crowned, next to the court
Cedes nothing to the freedom of the people to be
Other than equally invisible.
The crowned Madonna welcomes you with supercilious glare
As the Baby beams out petulant to the suckers at His toes.
The angels and the cardinals bow before an idea
Of overwhelming gold and blue sky glass.
The saints have turned to stone – they’re clinging to the roof.
The monks walk up in circles with their candles
Spreading light on scenes of agony that bring comfort to the room.
The halo-red apostles who with one hand hold a dove
Wield in the other a sword. They have forsaken the world
And Greco-Roman bodily perfection, to be giants in a realm
Where the heavens have closed in.

V. The Death of Gods
The cold marble of burial: Clovis, Carloman, Pepin Le Bref
With scepter, crown and lions even in death,
Jeanne de Bourbon with her dogs forever tiny at her feet,
The heart of Louis 17 on display if not still on trial.
They pray in marbled flowing robes of white
Save one black crypt: “Reine – identification incertaine.” 
But in fact the strictest scholarly tradition of France
Can’t vouchsafe said bones belong to said kings,
Rescued as they were from pauper’s graves after the crazy days
Of the bloody Revulsion, when they came with spades
To St. Denis to prey. They say the bones of Antoinette, Marie
Were brought back here intact. But the common ossuary
Of Merovingian royalty suggests otherwise.
The anointed ones were anything but martyrs
Before the peasants moved their bones, but now they glow,
In suspended state, a renunciation miracle.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Wistfulness Towards Ivy

The professor knows
What fools we would make him become
As the fire of our minds would burn through his papers
And our watery eyes deny him voice,

So he opts for the con:
That you, dear student,
Know nothing,
Just like Plato!

Incoherent theories
In unintelligible words
Are the only remainder

Nothing else is what it means,
No logic can survive
Inevitable inquisition,
Mind the Titan always eats its young.

It's easier to leave the children
With nothing but the dream,
For who can hang with history,
Its permanence of error?

Who'd track the clues to what must be unknowable
And convince the priests such tracings
Be preserved, their fragile shoots continued
In the hope that one day we may be less wrong?

The free market of the streets absorbs it all
Without a footnote.
They call it movement,
What it does,

The carving up of that which needs to be heard
To make it something mortal,
Its error unrecorded,
Its holiness implied not merely refuted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thoughts on Will

There is spirit in these creations.
Life despite it all shines out
From cars, houses, chairs,
More inarticulate maybe than nature
But just as needy. It wants to
Change us, so we vibrate with what
Grows outside.

But we can’t perceive this constant
Grace, the swirls on concrete that speak,
The squeal at the gate that needs listening,
The copter that needs to know it’s not mere
Dragonfly — it's like these steel shapes
And polymer personalities
Still are not worthy.

Even now we see the animals and plants
As senses to engage, real somehow,
Not like what we created, though
It always was that other mind,
The one that lets us think
It’s our decision,
Our plan.

The notes of a piano play, still alive,
From 1953, not what we want it to say
But what it is, what we would call
Breathing, if we didn't fixate on
The differences in our faces, in trying
To make the common
Stand apart.

The water expressed in a fountain's
Trap knows a freedom, like these
Words I capture that move on,
Nomads in the monad, to some
Frequency that calls
In certain turnings
Of the wind.

So we who are fixed, who can
No more evolve, may see
Celestial spinning
Of what we’ve set free,
With the look of the horizon,
The taste of apples, the sound
Of baby birds.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Regrets of the Hive Slave

And so the feel becomes the real
With nothing but antennae
To protect us from the hidden
The world inside no longer viable
Encased in a fear of the other

True immortality dies
As the waves of desire are conjured like a cobra
By the old invisible wands

A flurry of codes and numbers
A library of explanations
But nothing anyone says makes any sense
As what is real

The life within cannot be shared
It has no voice
It has no name
It only glitters with all heaven has to say
And nothing more

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Photos by Nan Goldin

The faces look so holy, so guilty,
Imbued with hues of blue,
But what they do, so angry
With finality, whatever suffering
They possess isn't there.

It’s in their eyes, with lip caught
Hanging mid-thought, hair
As it’s pulled back taut.
It overwhelms the streets
And rooms and piers
Like lights on chandeliers.

One wants to cradle instead what rots away,
Some dated monograph, some player
From the 50’s, some image
Of what stays, what never breathed
Our air, or made us disappear.

The gesture that cancelled is sweeter
Than the eye that never ends.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Words Again

Too much has been said.
           Will my last breath
Redeem words that were,
           when they understood,
Unfeeling, parsimonious
but voluminous, mellifluous
When I didn’t have a clue
of the damage I could do
Where silent people lived?

How could one be wrong so many times
            unless convinced that he was right?
And think that insight could be held inside a line
            like a shadow holds a branch
When everything’s already known,
            it’s just some children finding out?
Perhaps their smile is not the one
            that says they’re first to shore,
Perhaps it’s just a look of joy
            when trees give way
And the vista appears,

But it's a vista that’s so far away
            for what is needed here:
To receive an ice cream cone from someone,
            to prove that I’m not what they say,
To tell what I did, how it happened,
            who I am.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Report

How empty
light is
without us

tho we’re
by dark earth
and star rise

like we
have no will
only express it

as a back and forth
breath of
death and re-birth
in conscious turning

a report of what’s
too far below
for the Lords
to explore
for themselves

and we are
for the gleam
in our eyes
that remains
of the wait

for this, what has
happened to us
what we know
no more in need
of being

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dance of the Dilettantes

Moon clobbers everything;
       is nothing we think even real?
Our auras adjust like a hand
       at a party where
Everyone seems an extension,
       everything seems within reach
Of that old capricious heart that needs
       it just so, not too close,
Never far, we know how it is, exactly,
       we have lived it,
No matter how removed or concocted
       it seems, we can relate!

Oh the powers we have, to imagine
       the powers we have
And make them snug as a wet suit.
       They’re waiting for us now
To fall into their lap, with their pics
       of pizza and 9-year-old beagles,
Smiling like we belong there,
       and the quotes that they steal
Seem made for us in that moment,
       Who are on a first name basis
With presidents, date A-list royalty
       exclusively, know every ancient land
And every plot twist intimately, as if we
       could sense any trap.

There’s no distinction between what we hear
       and what they are saying,
Though the tapes, when they’re played back
       never validate our faith,
There is only a hiss, as if we were never alive.
       We’ll call it the still voice of yes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Building an Enclosure

Iguana Boy lays out his sadness at least
Like a man:
Uncompensated play …
The pain of unconsummated dreams …

Such a rich broth he stews in
Yet I can’t make the smoke blow away,

For I’ve been escorted in my day as well
From construction sites bearing insulation lungs,
No parents to teach me my value was zero
And no clue how to be, like the fool, carried over,

And I’ve done my children’s impossible math problems for them
While they gloated from the kindness of another room
At how stressed, when they requested me to do it, I’d become.

And I’ve felt every fiber that held me together
Break at the not-unkind words of a teacher
Who revealed how the world regards me.

And I’ve been enraged
At all the little queens and kings of the realm
When they scream to be protected from society,
But have backed off from ending their dreams prematurely
Though I wanted to scream myself, perhaps with them,
Like an executioner begs to be forgiven.

And I’ve cast myself adrift down indifferent streams
On a porous splinter, where there’s no more questions
Pity can answer, to be free of the shore where
They commiserate, and pluck off the garish blooms
From themselves and hand them over,
Every one of them a tear.

It’s inconceivable how unconditional one must be
When everything is naked, broken and wrong,
But that’s all there is, when being accepted yields so little learned,
A world misconstrued, broken and wrong,
With no value in experience
Or wisdom gained from pain
And no one to oversee the rules who can be viewed
Only imagined.

How could I escape? From the one family?
The bubble in theory that saves what is mine
For me, and keeps others’ needs on the outside
In reality failed when I first tried to turn away
And saw the young astronauts fall to the void
On tethers that really did break
And I heard the hive mind remind me again
– In its kind computer voice – of my failure to act,
My intransigence at saving the doomed,
For they never were doomed after all, merely
Misplaced, free of time and space,
Rogues, just like me, forever learning how not to bend
But able to make a fire from what is.

It still warms,
Still is visible from far away,
Still offers a future of meaning.

There’s meaning in blue lights
And hair color products
But none yet, apparently, in the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sunset Chiaroscuro

A shadow over Commerce where the dream bins lie at ease,
7-Up machine lit up in green,
The Intermodals find their way as the dark patina falls
To tell the people where to watch, who to believe,

Who, at the shadow's moment, spoke with end-of-day smiles
Remembering nothing, of salvation's smattering of sun.
There's still light on ticket windows where a woman tries to buy,
But salvation is only for the doomed, individual.

Well-lit warehouse floors, silent cranes, grinding derricks,
No windows in the office parks beside their carless lots,
As a distant tribe of winter palms awaits rebirth, not death
Like the rest of us bereft of possibilities.

A practice field with families under fog lamps,
Worry fills the emptiness inside,
Cognitive relativity rules the roost
And grudge warfare vies for what belongs to heaven.

Security bulbs above the empty trailer cabs,
There is a world, it seems: a distant highway billboard.
The people stepping down the ramps await some kind of signal
But no one seems to know what it is.

Long lines of fluorescents in the halls of storage centers,
Whatever it is that's tucked away will not be seen by us.
At coffee shops with neon cups the taste of blood came back
And people only changed each other's minds.

The rows of spying white lights look on blind
While what hides behind glass frosting won't be seen.
The river shows its darkness as its currents catch the sheen
And it rolls along the voices whose words fell in between.

A gallery of forklifts, centered by the flag,
A concrete car wash box with metal gleaming,
And signs for Walnut Ave, Victoria Court but nothing's there
Like no one breaks the white of Pete's Dry Cleaners.

The people sulk away from all of this into the dark,
Marching where their passions lie, anywhere but here,
Down corridors with eyes inflamed, as keen as rats,
Having lost the trust of what they cannot see.