Monday, April 30, 2007
Saint Margaret Mary's faces
Temple Bethel through
the uphill triangle of benches
that points down to flowers and a box,
locked and polished for a slow
ride north. Electricians
probe the neon sign: “ALTER
FUNER.” Tools jingle and clink.
The living line the benches, sip
air from the various past, rehearsing
shopping lists and coffeecake,
glad of the slanted sun. Net
bags balanced on slats,
they talk of dwindling circulation,
their wars, or test the quietness
of cane and pavement. Some sleep,
lulled by narrowing light or the sheer
gravity of groceries and time.
Maples drift and whisper, drop
their bright mementos on the scant,
leveling breeze. The leaves scrape
the slate pavers, wear the stone.
Past shrieking, glassy goods,
banks and bars, Paradise's
flat marquee, between slabbed
walks in a green accident
above the buried, growling trains:
Poe Park. Bullets chatter
from the bandstand, send
Mohawks howling through
the swirling skirts of ghostly dancers,
innocent obligato. Kid
size, the cottage holds his relics:
a cupboard bed too small for sleep,
a window good for one eye,
a dollhouse desk. He stares
from the wall, train-tilted, entranced
by time’s stately, phantom waltz.
A small boy peers inside,
sees dark, leaves a little
puddle on the nameless ground.
Between black spikes
under the idling trains
the busses spew their blue
monoxide. Last stop:
Woodlawn. Tall stones
lean like teeth, spit
red mounds in the bright,
prosperous grass. Angels
oversee the gray
procession, arms upraised
in stony benediction,
spilling prayers and solace
on the populated earth.
I greet the permanence
of peach, blessedness
of blue, grateful gray.
Across the hollow figures
dot the hill, rooks
perched among the lilies
lined like monuments,
each alone with his breath.
At my feet I watch
the virid, ravening grass.
Mine. And breathe: breathe.
By blue, tilted slate,
under windows hidden by
the aisle of old red maples,
Angelo creaks uphill
with the willing rhythms of his aged mare,
vegetables fat for the neighborhood wives.
Past Jimmy's Thunderbird,
the red-kneed roller skating
girls rocketing cracked-up
past initials keyed in concrete
near the mailbox that was horse
and drum for every skinny kid:
Monroe Avenue. Home.
Doors that let me into life
have weathered. Chips fall. New
names announce the letterboxes,
fleet inscriptions on a row
of burnished tombs. But the trees
still fill the street with leaves,
still music the scattering wind.
Friday, April 27, 2007
The conversation that is love
goes on, haphazard, hit or miss,
undisturbed by questions of
noesis or parenthesis.
Strolling solo, nowhere town,
I hear you praise the open space,
a clear, cerebral, almost-sound,
quite nonchalant, a commonplace.
I hadn’t questioned in our time
how you’d inhabited my brain;
how the mind I thought was mine
was an equivocal terrain.
Our arguments, if quieter now,
go on as ever: nothing goes
unchallenged; nothing’s disallowed.
As ever, thorns adorn the rose.
Thirty years, and twelve apart,
and still your voice informs my sleep,
still schools my autumn heart
in what we forfeit, what we keep.
Monday, April 23, 2007
my street to
day brought out his
kid and had him baste
himself with Vaseline
and gasoline and just like
Abraham come home again he
bummed a match and balancing on the
highwire of his faith he struck a light and
waited for the Lord to come suggest he use
a lamb instead but then a white dove fluttered from
thin air (the air thin with miracles) and set himself
ablaze for all to see (proclaiming no doubt the
sacrifice of the spirit) but a burning
feather settled in the can and did all
the onlookers to a greasy turn,
all except the boy who didn’t
burn for some reason, only
sat there singing merri-
ly merrily mer-
ly life is
Saturday, April 21, 2007
The snows of April having passed,
we test the alien weather now,
knuckle frigid window glass
to guess what nature might allow.
Leery of the cytotoxic light
that both illuminates and blinds,
the rain that nourishes but might
dissolve enamel traffic signs,
we drive two hundred horses down
the street to get the morning news;
as arctic creatures starve and drown,
we send tomorrow up our flues.
Convenience cripples. Comfort kills.
Freedoms harden into chains.
We sell our lives to pay the bills,
content ourselves with what remains,
which is to say the enervation
gripping us by close of day,
the time when sundry corporations
vie to be the ones we pay,
with ghostly semblances that skid
across our screens, hissing lies
precisely pitched for falling lids:
our psyches open as we close our eyes.
Which may be why we have the thought,
with April suffering a freeze,
to get the car we should have bought,
with all the right amenities,
and why we fly in salads worth
the lives of happy, foreign elves,
and why, if we’re to save the earth,
we must awake, and kill ourselves.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A kid who keeps his eye on God
is much to be preferred to one
who’s tubed out or on the nod,
unless the former has a gun.
The nicest people go berserk
for no apparent reason here,
another baffling national quirk,
like heavy cars, light beer.
A slaughtered family’s genre news:
the sensible suburban body bags,
the neighbors gathered to review
the ritual removal, the sag
and moan at gurneys going by,
and always the owlish loner Sonny
casts a genuinely puzzled eye
on all the fuss at what he’s done.
Murder is our national art.
We love its methods and its tools;
the theory’s graven in our hearts
before we’re old enough for school.
We’re acknowledged masters of a form:
the empty existential gesture,
random, public firestorm,
the quasiterrorist disaster
undefiled by politics,
pure of motive, but for the yen
of yet another lone, virtuosic
nut to be the News at Ten.
The planetary perpetrators
mean their doings to be newsy,
live docu-sieges catered
by Kalashnikov and Uzi.
(Our M-16’s been known to jam
when everything is on the line;
good enough for Viet Nam,
a silly risk in prime time.)
Any act of mindless hate
on any public thoroughfare
will make our viewers stay up late:
catastrophe is market share.
Any senseless act of violence,
any vision out of hell,
will always find an audience,
and audience will always sell.
So welcome, children of Fatah.
Coca colonels, send your minions;
hail, saints of Hezbollah:
spray the studios with billions.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Who Read Poems
By the Wire Window
In the Crazy Hospital
Cam-ell, you said. Can I have
a Cam-ell. You smiled at
such uncertain suicides. You
must be mended now,
enough for ruffled cuffs,
or habit. Or did one
of your inescapable arguments
finally prove to be conclusive?
You read Dickenson
through the flydrone days,
the same few, head tilted
as far to the light
as the neck brace let it,
absorbed, ticking like a frozen fence.
You were “ready.” Opinion from on high
was that you’d find a way to fly, or fall.
You were imminent, Electric, snowy distances.
A medical embarrassment.
Sometimes your sisters
from the convent came, left gifts:
missals you launched at the walls;
your confiscated rosaries
sanctified the nurses’ station.
Green came sun through wired glass.
Your mere turning of a page
was a thing to be watched. A yawn.
Cam-ell, you said. Did you make it?
Friday, April 13, 2007
We breathe the theoretical
mechanical air sighs
from grids and grills, spotless,
stripped of any particle
that might distract our circuits
from the unrelenting
focus on ground
zero, stripped of any
rumor of biology,
scent of war. It cycles
through us, absorbs with a certain
the freight of our outcast
released like Brownian pinballs
into the outer air,
become the gray dust
settling on the spotless
benches of Nuremberg.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
She whispered from the forest, my love, my own,
when the sun was burning down the empty sky,
called me to the cool athyrium glades
of her acquaintance; in accumulating shade
we spread a blanket while the years went by,
bent to study what we’d always known.
The years went by: all that afternoon
we watched them pass, pale sun and thunder
echoing the weathers of our love,
nothing more. No flourishes above
our private climate gave us pause to wonder
at how ancient we’d become, how soon.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Bald for the past two or three years,
a constant creak and clatter overhead,
the old mimosa taught us a certain fear
of heavy weather, an encroaching dread
of anvils in the west, of summer lows,
taught us the frailty of roofer’s slate.
The neighbors all agreed: it had to go.
One had a two-man saw to inaugurate.
Mill-bright from its rec-room wall,
the six foot grin of edges sighed
into the bark with hardly a sound at all,
less than the inspirations we supplied.
But older winters sang to the new spring:
we bowed a double bass adagio
until we touched a fundamental string
that parted squawking like a wounded crow.
The heartwood fought, bit the steel
in a kerf as wide open as before,
and my heart at its desk began to feel
counterstrokes aimed from the sticky core;
we traded teeth for splinters in the chest.
I was spent when it began to lean,
fell with it, waiting for arrest.
Within a week the stump was shot with green.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
loved the ladies
and his brew and he
would sit on any
glass not destitute,
whistle wet until
the cuckoo clucked and
then flap crapulous
back to his little
blue bit of fluff next
door. And this went on
for years, until the
day he ran in
to the big
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Pilgrims from the first bare encampments,
founders of the ancient cities of the self,
the stone skulls peer astonished through glass
into the spotlit, busy murk of the museum.
Sifted from strata deeper than temple-dust,
below the fractured titans, the ruined pots,
these crumbs and shards of reassembled earth
were each the pinnacle of evolution;
these reliquary smiles could be
the risen faces of our absconded gods.
They made us in their image, did they not?
Our eyes would still be quite at home
in these sturdy orbits; something persists,
echoes like chants in these stone vaults,
cranial cathedrals, apsed and buttressed
by the patient toil of learning to survive,
our dwelling place in all generations.
With their teeth we chew our daily bread,
and as we spin ingenious hymns of praise
the hands they built for us are on the keys.
First, some manmonkey monkeyman.
Upright skillet-head, stick-wielder,
fringe-dwelling author of us all:
an empty case, a vacant pedestal.
Fond of an unlatined, timeless privacy,
they survived when Eden chilled and dwindled,
cast them into a wilderness of grass.
They reaped with watchmaker’s fingers, learned teeth
to mill their seeds, grubs, berries, bones,
into the architecture of our mortal coil.
Homo habilis, handy man,
naked systems analyst,
head only slightly larger
than the planed-down vogue,
slim-jawed, smiling human.
by bush-nibbling brutes,
they brought technology to bear,
learned to gather what they found
in folded leaves, strips of bark,
to carry back, share with the others.
Sharing made them masters of the earth
for more than two million years,
gentle and creative gods
with time to look to our devising.
Ecce erectus: a piece of work.
Low-domed homer, logophone,
stole more than fire from the sky:
they woofed language to a warp of flame
to weave a mail of culture at their hearth,
filaments of fact and fire-dream
combining to domesticate the world.
They’d pass unnoticed on the football field,
but in the locker room there might
be smirks at the box turtle skullcap,
ledge of brow, yet some had brains
as big as some of ours. Because
they lived by their wits, wit lived,
eased their march across Africa,
Europe, China, Indonesia.
Think of them when you hear tales
of Nimrod or Prometheus;
bless them when you lie awake
in the deep night gazing up
at the high, white moon to question
the implicit miracle of being.
Be sure they did it too. You are the answer.
The old man had been sick a long time, so it came
as no surprise when he finally went, though everyone
did feel a bit anxious about the future
now that he was gone. Everyone’s teacher, he knew
the herds, the snow, the plants for wounds, those for burns,
which to brew for tea against fevers, knew
the words of the other people, enough to treat with them,
exchange the meat and skins for honey, baskets, fish.
When his sons had hollowed out his place they laid a bed
of woody horsetail in, then him, knees to chest,
a child in his mother waiting to be born. Then
the parting gifts: white and pink yarrow, cornflowers,
hyacinths, yellow groundsel, mallow, thistle.
At last the ones who loved him placed the earth and stones.
Later, one would emerge to sit in his place, chosen,
steeped in the old sapience of Neanderthals.
Peering from the bottom of your new pool excavation,
Cro-Magnon would wear a smile neighborly enough
to send you straight to the patio phone to call the police,
and the beetle-browed detective would need reassurance
from the half incredulous medical examiner
that no missing person had ever turned to stone.
Homo sapiens: us, but for the dice of time.
They figured out that seeds were embryonic plants,
learned to till the earth, defend their vested interest,
defend the settlements that sprouted near the fields
from browsing animals and creatures like themselves,
learned the risks in having something to protect.
But they left us more than war to know them by.
They left exquisite paintings in the galleries of Europe,
sculpted the finest flaked laurel leaves of flint,
tools whose single function was to embody the beautiful.
They discovered the land route to the Americas.
Before there was a New World, they made it so.
What are we to make
of this last specimen,
the current model, here
on the end, sapiens sapiens,
Would an empty case adjacent
be less pessimistic
than the wall, or more?
Is this the paragon of animals,
or will some apter species
but issue at least implies
we lived to evolve, smile
though they well might
at the shape of our skulls.
If we do survive
we’ll send forth a new,
slender creature, to move
through the world on business
we can only dimly
twig; like apes watching
habilis package seeds
three million years ago
on African savannah,
we’ll watch, mystified,
as they succeed us, fluent
in a sleek new
grammar built on our
trued to the new world
we created for them.