I just saw two boys. One of them gets paid for distributing circulars and he throws it down the sewer. I said, Are you a Boy Scout? He said, no. The other one was. I have implicit faith in the Boy Scouts If you talk about it long enough you'll finally write it— If you get by the stage when nothing can make you write— If you don't die first I keep those bests that love has given me Nothing of them escapes— I have proved it proven once more in your eyes Go marry! your son will have blue eyes and still there'll be no answer you have not found a cure No more have I for that enormous wedged flower, my mind miraculously upon the dead stick of night
we drank in the remains
of ruined buildings
and we sat in a cave or
wrecked houses on farms given back to the bank
listening to men who’d been raised
in ways that were lost
and we strained to make out
the use of their news
they were crazy or passed out
speed notched with a cross
they drank from the flask and the mouth
they came in and shook off the rain
inflamed and dismayed
calm and arcane
the least one seethed chanting whitman for hours
then wept at the dregs of the fire
foam formed at the edge of their lips
we drank and waited for something to drop
you and I looking and sifting
for signs written in wax
we were young we knew how to die
but not how to last
a small man who claimed he was blake raged
all night and probably he was
he had god in his sights
white crosses shone in our eyes or acid mandalic
in the ruins the men talked:
seraphic and broken
glowing with gnosis and rubbish
we sorted their mad sacred words
these dog-headed guides to the life after
and the life after that
After reading Ash Wednesday
she looked once at the baked beans
and fled. Luncheonless, poor girl,
she observed a kind of poetic Lent—
and I had thought I liked poetry
better than she did.
I do. But to me its most endearing
quality is its unsuitableness;
and, conversely, the chief wonder in heaven
(whither I also am sometimes transported)
is the kind of baggage I bring with me.
Surely there is no more exquisite jointure
in the anatomy of life than that at which
poetry dovetails with the inevitable meal
and Mrs. B. sits murmuring of avocados.
Here, where you all are,
language is an accessory
to bodies lying in the street,
prone in government rooms,
bloated in the waterways.
Or language is an accessory
to the refutation of bodies
lying etc. This too will pass
as search vessels in the delta
pass for smuggling operations
bringing illicit food to refugees
being autocued for media
appearances. What commerce
would you with us all. What
coverage can you offer for
coastal breach, aid refusal,
for the taut sinews and caught
breath of seated uprisen monks.
Two shall be born the whole world wide apart,
And speak in different tongues, and pay their debts
In different kinds of coin; and give no heed
Each to the other’s being. And know not
That each might suit the other to a T,
If they were but correctly introduced.
And these, unconsciously, shall bend their steps,
Escaping Spaniards and defying war,
Unerringly toward the same trysting-place,
Albeit they know it not. Until at last
They enter the same door, and suddenly
They meet. And ere they’ve seen each other’s face
They fall into each other’s arms, upon
The Broadway cable car — and this is Fate!
Sheaves of wheat in cement relief Supply the beauties of Archer Ave. Past the scaffolded brick church spire We turn on the vacant corner lot Through winds worthy of Hopkins (Gerard M.) New words — Alexus — Everything must go "Include everything in poetry" Even the things you think are nothing Like the way the new white snowflake Decoration waves its wild tentacles against the high blue sky loop and angle Black graffiti palimpsests the yellow official sign of Danger in bus stairwell She stares at me unsmiling with cold Northface Notices me writing but says nothing with her eye The corner lot I used to chart or cheat in its ‘vacancies' Configures new blown trash and walk through paths Subjected to random search Has grown a mouth of gravel Constructed in a cone Surrounded by temporary fence Of blue nailed board Now on Roti Avenue Cutlery & Wang Quai Amalgam of chairs, Jamaica Island Center
Passerby, these are words. But instead of reading
I want you to listen: to this frail
Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.
Lend an ear, hear first of all the happy bee
Foraging in our almost rubbed-out names.
It flits between two sprays of leaves,
Carrying the sound of branches that are real
To those that filigree the unseen gold.
Then know an even fainter sound, and let it be
The endless murmuring of all our shades.
Their whisper rises from beneath the stones
To fuse into a single heat with that blind
Light you are as yet, who can still gaze.
Listen simply, if you will. Silence is a threshold
Where, unfelt, a twig breaks in your hand
As you try to disengage
A name upon a stone:
And so our absent names untangle your alarms.
And for you who move away, pensively,
Here becomes there without ceasing to be.
Again the white blanket
The fierce teeth
of steel-framed snowshoes
bite the trail open.
Where the hardwoods stand
and rarely bend
the wind blows hard
an explosion of snow
like flour dusting
the baker in a shop
long since shuttered.
In this our post-shame century
we will reclaim
the old nouns
If it rains
we’ll say oh
If she falls
out of love
with you you’ll carry
your love on a gold plate
to the forest and bury it
in the Indian graveyard.
Pioneers do not
The sweet knees
of oxen have pressed
a path for me.
A lone chickadee
sings in the snow.
as if out of air
but surely they come
bearing what news
from the troposphere.
The sky’s shifted
and Capricorns abandon
themselves to a Sagittarian
line. I like
this weird axis.
In 23,000 years
it will become again
the same sky
the Babylonians scanned.
Between the train’s long slide and the sun
ricocheting off the sea, anyone
would have fallen silent in those words,
the language of age in her face, the birds
cawing over the broken earth, gathering near its stones
and chapel doors. In the marina, the sea and its bones
have grown smaller. Though the tide is out,
it is not the tide nor the feathers nor the cat
that jumps into the street, the dust
lifting with each wing and disappearing. The rust-
colored sheets that wrap the sails of ships,
I don’t know their name nor the way to say lips
of water in Italian and mean this: an old woman
stood by the tracks until his hand stopped waving.
a line of faces borders the strangler’s work heavy european women mist blows over dusty tropical plants lit from beneath the leaves by a spotlight mist in my mind a riffled deck of cards or eccentrics was i a waterton animal my head is not my own poetry is neither swan nor owl but worker, miner digging each generation deeper through the shit of its eaters to the root – then up to the giant tomato someone else’s song is always behind us as we wake from a dream trying to remember step onto a thumbtack two worlds – we write the skin the surface tension that holds you in what we write is ever the past curtain pulled back a portrait behind it is a room suddenly lit looking out through the eyes at a t.v. programme of a monk sealed into a coffin we close their eyes and ours and still here the tune moves on
My language has its own world
where he doesn’t know how to live,
but he should learn my language;
then he can call my mother to say
that I am dead. I drive too fast
and someone else drives too fast
and we crash on the icy road.
The death sweeps me away.
He can tell this to my mother
if he learns my language.
Her large yellow voice travels
and hits his body, but at least she knows
that I am dead, and if I die,
I want him to tell my mother
with his deep voice shaking.
I like to think of your silence as the love letters you will not write me,
as two sax solos from two ages across a stage, learning the languages
of kissing with your eyes closed. I like to think of you as a god
to whom I no longer pray, as a god I aspire to. I like the opening of your joined palms,
which is like an urn where my ashes find a home. The music of your lashes;
the silent way your body wears out mine.
Mostly, I like to think of you at night when a black screen of shining dust shines
from your mines to the edge of my skin, where you are a lamp of flutters.
I remember the spectral lashes–marigold, tamarind, secret thing between your thighs,
of closed kissing eyes. At night, the possibility of you is a heavy
sculpture of heavy bronze at the side of my bed,
a god. And I pray you into life. Into flesh.
We drank hard water.
Spoke in plain language.
Said what we didn’t
with a joke or a look.
One went missing—
let silence drill its hole.
A second fell ill.
We cloaked our mirrors.
Slashed a red X
on the door to our house.
Pass over us, I asked
the raven sky,
or burn in me
a second mouth.
Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it’s raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt’s shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift-go in,
your shadow covers this page.
They were nearing the end of their story.
The fire was dying, like the fire in the story.
Each page turned was torn and fed
to flames, until word by word the book
burned down to an unmade bed of ash.
Wet kindling from an orchard of wooden spoons,
snow stewing, same old wind on the Gramophone,
same old wounds. Turn up the blue dial
under the kettle until darkness boils
with fables, and mirrors defrost to the quick
before fogging with steam, and dreams
rattle their armor of stovepipes and ladles.
Boots in the corner kick in their sleep.
A jacket hangs from a question mark.
The wind orchestrates
its theme of loneliness
and the rain
has too much glitter in it, yes.
They are like words, the wrong ones,
insisting I listen to sense.
But I too am obstinate.
I have white walls,
white curtained windows.
What need have I
of the night’s jet-black,
What I am after
the way music plumbs
as straight words do
the air between them.
I begin to learn
the simple thing
to an impulse at once lovely
and given to love
that will not be refused.
Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water
Where do they come from the King gushes these talking fish
Show me at once
We see the writer buried under a collapsing mountain of scribbled-over
While ink blurts from an overturned bottle
Speech is silver the King mutters
They discover a fabulous ancient city
Flag of smoke
Where we turned to look
Skulls, bats, stars, spirals, lightning bolts
Words spoken in anger
Flowers for sarcasm
The sequence continued to work in references to the brevity of life
Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact
They discover a fabulous ancient city
Under the water
None of the inhabitants
‘Be reasonable . . . ‘
Increasingly faint trace of inked
for Jerry Estrin
The hills one by one
San Francisco 1874
Words later language
At home when
Light writes 1974
We move where
The Lives of My Books
Not legible as themselves
Historical time 1989
Startled leaves us
Died in 1993
Moved in 1994
In pink stone
Earlier in “The Park”
Wrote shells and cherubs
Then there was beauty in what clung,
vertical and multiple against a damp tombstone
where no one goes, or has gone forever,
the stone carved in another language
and the weed-life overgrown.
We knew they must know movement,
but they would not move
while being what they meant to us.
Where the headstone’s windowpane
meant to protect the crucifix and photograph
was cracked apart, we saw how
on its inward, wetter side,
the infant shells began self-generation in a line
like vowels strung inside a child’s understanding:
this belongs to this. O perfect succulence
with which interiors adhere to forms, O open mouths.
Should we have found the world more often
clinging to words describing it?
What would have been the afterlife of that?
In the land
I stand as still
as a tree,
and let the words
rain down on me.
Come, rain, bring
your knowledge and your
while I grow green
I’ll stand as still
as a tree,
and let your blessings
fall on me.
Step-ladder, tiny pyramid for miserly hunchbacks, near-
sighted reckoner, the reseda, gathered in its cunning
little cabin, breaks up, clears itself of perfume.
This flower is the friend of silent eyes, of century-
old hands, of honest blades.
She grows near modest shale-like clusters — these,
devout, dyed purple, or else those, burnt to brown
ribbons, daughters seen from a libertarian star.
When the limed soil turns toward the sexton, the weekly
herb heralds, at the bottom of some old fashioned desk,
some thin copy-book bound in boards of somber blue and
covered with beautifully written secrets.
When she’s moved by a ridge of fired peat, the flower
forecasts for the initiated only such a display of
nymphomania, such nutritious folly, nauseating tropical
And when she becomes incrusted in the millennial
foundations of bits of shale, she’s the prophetess of
the glass reed, the measly pot, the head schoolmaster,
the starched virgin, the pigeon-breeding spiritualist.
Her perfume is a secondary condition since its
disproportion to her stem and its continual layers make
The past lies in the brine Of equatorial water, Parchment-folded, Black ink veining where the quill paused. Rich doldrums Full of gold Where Spanish sailors Threw the Queen’s horses, Palomino, the color of her hair. On the Outer Banks Each wave a breaking Promise of the New World, Lost colonies, Lost ships, wild ponies Swimming even now.
The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Myrtle and forsythia follow.
The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.
Now people say, He passed on
Instead of that. Unit
Of space subtracted by one.
It almost rhymes with earth.
What is a poet but a person
Who lives on the ground
Who laughs and listens
Without pretension of knowing
Anything, driven by the lyric’s
Quest for rest that never
(God willing) will be found?
Concord, kitchen table, 1966.
Corbetts, Creeley, a grandmother
And me. Sweater, glasses,
One wet eye.
Lots of laughter
Before and after. Every meeting
Rhymed and fluttered into meter.
The beat was the message. . . .
(for Robert Creeley)
Tu Fu, "Thoughts While Traveling at Night" There’s a wind in the grass— Is there here a boat’s mast claiming my lonely night too? I see the stars can’t be called hanged, exactly, just hanging down, not over emptiness, but honest ground, the moon trying the black skin of this river, black corpse... But, even plainer— I wonder if these words, my words, will ever bring me fame. I have my age, my injuries. They limit me. I’m like some spook bird I know, solo and roped between where rotting happens and a sky.
Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.
Add a little color for emphasis.
I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object
through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.
My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,
my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room
to hate his speech,
the almost symmetrical science of it.
Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.
Today make nothing happen very slowly.
I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise
all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head
and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask
if we are among those left in a dark forest
with our flare guns pointed at the ground
or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.
Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.
Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.
Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—
so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.
Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap
Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.
memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.
My dreams always fell flat.
The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.
I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,
starts in again about the illusion of motion—
If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.
He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.
Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable
I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.
I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:
we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.
I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,
and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat
literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,
casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.
And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.
So I made him look at the poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,
and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn’t look as if he thought
bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot
to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later
that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.
“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.
Remembering the past And gloating at it now, I know the frozen brow And shaking sides of lust Will dog me at my death To catch my ghostly breath. I think that Yeats was right, That lust and love are one. The body of this night May beggar me to death, But we are not undone Who love with all our breath. I know that Proust was wrong, His wheeze: love, to survive, Needs jealousy, and death And lust, to make it strong Or goose it back alive. Proust took away my breath. The later Yeats was right To think of sex and death And nothing else. Why wait Till we are turning old? My thoughts are hot and cold. I do not waste my breath.
You were having a stroke – i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
brain sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man no
pushed something away i was
in a rush en route to big time
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing you were losing yourself i
was gaining something you
stumbled out of your coat unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your feet down to
the depths of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite burning
ahead of me to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i wanted you
i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not lift your suffering
it was too late the current pulled
i was floating away (i noticed it)
This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.
Let there be footfall and car door. Let me
be finished with fire. Let
the man get on a plane for his morning
departure, erasing each reverie. Soon
there will be only daylight,
maybe a blue envelope, torn. Maybe bracelets
of color from the petunias. I will need
to know how to recover
the familiar, how to open the door
in the evening. How to again lock it.
Almost everything about me goes unspoken,
but commas and colons. I live with this
heart rate, multiple times, its direction,
its tempo: my 4/4 with acceleration, sometimes
tuned to an alternate signature. Think of Brubeck’s
“Take Five.” Those blocky chords were the result
of an accident—dead on arrival, they said,
after he smashed to the surf. Think how
he switched it around, made his hands
do what he wanted to hear, and forgive me
for the analogy. May I never
rush a surge for a better experience.
Every Sunday all over the country,
apologies gather. When I’m not in this
small cottage, unreacting, I cascade sound
and a few sentences from a cramped
room to whoever will listen. I know some
people think it is sinful to love such temptations,
but I stay with my face soft against
microphone, announcing my moral
directions. Sometimes, I’m convinced my blood
needs all those crossings. I’m not after
absolution. The man I love taught me to want
without lyrics. Remember I haven’t
gone anywhere. I’m in a thirsty way
sort of possessive. I shouldn’t show you this
side of myself. Try to remember I’m also praised
for my kindness. We each need to learn
to turn off some dreams so we can play
hours without creases.
I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d’Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.
And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.
You can understand why he titled the painting
“Arrangement in Gray and Black”
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman’s heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.
As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.
It would be like Botticelli calling “The Birth of Venus”
“Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,”
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
“Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn.”
Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it “Study in Orange and White.”
But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.
The snow falls, picks itself up, dusts itself off
a sparrow flying like a leaf back up to its tree
The future does a backbend toward you, it’s
what you can almost see, scrimmed
in the clouds which crowd the sky, elbowing, laughing
After that I see space and its influence in a bucket of spinning water
and two calcium atoms shoot forth, twinned photons traveling
back to back, arms unlaced, perfect
swimmers in the lit dusk
Where are they going?
First, to Holland, then
to calcium-kiss her bones
And in Holland the streets are made of water, the dolls & dogs gather
round lit picnic tables like happy rags
The body is in the root cellar
When snow falls our dead gather close to our bones
because the cold’s ghost has come back to haunt the cold & the body,
too, is a happy rag
Tree, take a photograph of her thought, you can do it
with photosynthesis: silhouettes of seals appear, a swarmed planet and its satellites, a
celestial atlas that breaks when tapped (it’s glass)
Some giraffes, some elephants, a lion scatter
in the clearing; in the clearing
the leaves of the world turn toward the light as do the letters of the word
the words are beautiful not for their accuracy but for their dream:
words-are-arrows that loop between no-man’s-land and the wetlands, soft
flints flying toward their target
—words bird the zone—
when home was adopted as mother
area was given here
[a future of] all surface, no border
I met her, as we had privily planned,
Where passing feet beat busily:
She whispered: “Father is at hand!
He wished to walk with me.”
His presence as he joined us there
Banished our words of warmth away;
We felt, with cloudings of despair,
What Love must lose that day.
Her crimson lips remained unkissed,
Our fingers kept no tender hold,
His lack of feeling made the tryst
Embarrassed, stiff, and cold.
A cynic ghost then rose and said,
“But is his love for her so small
That, nigh to yours, it may be read
As of no worth at all?
“You love her for her pink and white;
But what when their fresh splendours close?
His love will last her in despite
Of Time, and wrack, and foes.”
were copped from Gramophone.
cassettes jammed into a factory-
issued stereo deck of the hoopty
i rolled around in. a bucket. bass
and drum looped with some string
sample, fixed. a sliver of perfect
adjusted. the scrapes of something
reconstituted. there was so much
space to fill. an invitation to utter.
Iqra– Allah said to the prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon Him).
a- to b-side and around again. a circle
a cipher. i’d drive down and back
in my mom’s Dodge for the latest
volumes of sound. i’d stutter
and stop and begin again. lonesome
and on fire. none. no one i knew
rapped. i’d recite alone on Clark St.
free, styling, shaping, my voice
a sapling, hatchling, rapping
my life, emerging in the dark
of an empty car.
there was a time when hip-hop felt like a secret
society of wizards and wordsmiths. magicians
meant to find you or that you were meant to find
like rappers i listened to and memorized in history
class talked specifically to me, for me.
you’d see a kid whisper to himself
in the corner of a bus seat & you
asked if he rhymed & traded a poem
a verse like a fur pelt/trapping.
some gold or food. this sustenance.
you didn’t have to ride solo anymore.
Jonathan was the first kid i met who rapped. he was Black
from a prep school, wore ski goggles on top his head & listened
to Wu-Tang which meant he was always rhyming about science
and chess. his pops made him read Sun Tzu. his mans was Omega
a fat Puerto Rican who wrote graffiti and smoked bidis.
& they’d have friends
& the backseat would swell
& the word got passed/scooped like a ball
on the playground. you’d juggle however long
your mind could double Dutch. sometimes you’d take
what you were given/lift off like a trampoline
rocket launch. sometimes you’d trip & scrape
your knees. tongue-tied, not quick. words stuck
on loop, like like words, stuck, like that. but break
thru, mind, knife sharp, mind darts
polished & gleaming we’d ride
for the sake of rhyming. take the long way
home or wherever the fuck we were going
cruise down Lake Shore & back, blasting
blazing. polishing these gems.
trying to get our mind right.
I want to reach you—
in that city where the snow
only shimmers silver
for a few hours. It has taken
seventeen years. This trip,
these characters patterned
in black ink, curves catching
on the page like hinges,
this weave of letters fraying
like the lines on my palm,
all broken paths. Outside,
no snow. Just the slow pull
of brown on the hills, umber
dulling to a bruise until the city
is just a memory of stained teeth,
the burn of white marble
to dusk, cows standing
on the edges like a dust
cloud gaining weight
after days of no rain. Asleep
in the hot berth, my parents
sway in a dance, the silence
broken by scrape of tin, hiss
of tea, and underneath,
the constant clatter of wheels
beating steel tracks over and over:
to the city of white marble,
to the city of goats, tobacco
fields, city of dead hands,
a mantra of my grandmother’s—
her teeth eaten away
by betel leaves—the story
of how Shah Jahan had cut off
all the workers’ hands
after they built the Taj, so they
could never build again. I dreamt
of those hands for weeks before
the trip, weeks even before I
stepped off the plane, thousands
of useless dead flowers drying
to sienna, silent in their fall.
Every night, days before, I dreamt
those hands climbing over the iron
gate of my grandparents’ house, over
grate and spikes, some caught
in the groove between its sharpened
teeth, others biting where
they pinched my skin.
Jets shake the air and snow
breaks off a tree branch in little puffs. One
cardinal. Cars moving slowly downhill on the ice.
It is always someone’s last day.
Dearest Bird, she read from the card she’d found unattached to the flowers,
Happy Day To Our Sweetest Hart. Love Monster And Beef Dad.
Their secret language.
Manischewitz, she calls me for the sweetness.
Manitoba, for the expanse.
Deer rest in snow,
charcoal muzzle to charcoal hoof, heads slung over
their shoulders like swans.
One is in REM. Look at it dreaming, she said.
Fern buttons unwheel in a dark place behind the snow,
a contrast she loves in me.
The sledding hill is closed, the days like an unused billboard,
but sunsets have been fantastic,
jewel-toned as the flowers unattached to the card, or hot like the cardinal
who pins the whole picture up
with your eye. Meanwhile,
her tree is an iron room with the moon inside. Its branches
have a mental disorder so sunsets keep dodging them.
I am the color of that tree
she loves and nearly as still. And my blood, which is not in this picture,
will soon cool, sunset winking out in my eyes and her eyes
welling in a language that once fell and rose
in drifts then melted, starry, she said, starry, into my warm coat.
Where the heart was, a domestic chasm, an abyss bridged by snow
As France, once great, collapsed into tourism and poetry
Behind the sublimity, obscene
Unable to command even the words useful to propose toasts
Having filled space beneath the zodiac with debris
And found the moon in its rounds merely vague
This is the town he has chosen to live out his time in:
A DELUXE BODY & FENDER SHOP
INSURANCE & REAL ESTATE
MEATS & GROCERIES in emergencies call THE OPERATOR (dial zero)
He conforms to everything
He worships pleasantly
He tinkers endlessly with mixed drinks
He reneges on the Revolution, though it tore him from his chains
He tolerates melioratives
He addresses queries to psychiatrists who answer in
He deplores the inhumanity of the avant/garde
He praises fools, and suffers them gladly
He preserves himself out of perversity, and perseveres
And in secret, at odd moments, he makes metaphors of royalty
Self piteously beginning Petrarchan sonnets thus:
After the Coronation
Forthright, busy Fortinbras summoned me,
Courteous, condoled a little, and then,
Snapping for his secretary, took pen
And signed me out ofhis drumming country…
Surmising that force brings no apples from the bare branch
Like a dark prophet in a wilderness of bright people
Full of exotic necessities
Or like a rational Messiah
Sojourning with brutes, sweet boys and hairy girls,
He busies himself studying the culture of perfume advertisements
But it’s really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself
you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep
buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought
and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you
asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window
traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won’t mind death only dying
what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,
they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room
I took a break from writing about the dead
and drinking from writing about the dead
to walk around my childhood neighborhood.
Everything’s for rent. Or for sale, for ten
times the amount it’s worth.
Palm trees are planted in front of a mural
of palm trees under the Ocean Park Bridge.
In the painting, the metal horses of a carousel are breaking
free and running down the beach. Why didn’t I leave
my initials in cement
in front of my parent’s apartment in the eighties?
Nikki had the right idea in ’79.
I walk by a basketball court, where men play
under the florescent butts of night’s cigarette.
I could have been any of their wives,
at home, filling different rooms in different houses
with hopeful wombs. Agreeing on paint color
samples with their mothers in mind.
I’ll bet their wives let their cats go out
hunting at night like premonitions of future sons.
They will worry, stare out the front window,
pray that privilege doesn’t bring home bad news
like some wilted head of a black girl in nascent jaws.
To say nothing of the owl who’s been here for years. I hear him
when I’m trying to write about the deaths I’ve admired.
I hear him when the clothed me no longer recognizes
the naked. I hear him while writing and shitting and sleeping
where my mother’s seven guitars sleep.
I hear him in my parent’s house,
their walls covered in my many faces,
traces of decades of complacence.
My childhood neighborhood is a shrine to my success,
and I’m a car with a bomb inside, ready
to pull up in front of it and stop
At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.
Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.
There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.
These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.
I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.
So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.
whiter I make it when walking right in
unswerved, sweating fluorescent bleach,
preaching a moon page that says its welts:
learn this by heart is empty but do it
to do it. I make it somehow whiter, zombied
and I opified allover the absolutely
whitest room. I say keep your lines in line
and look at me now just lining them,
some flogged orthodoxen, ploughed
down sillion shiny sacerdotal lines
I’m supposed to like and looky I do.
I like what I like. I just like what I like.
I like to say look: dissident anachronistics,
shambolic stuff in master rows but look
at me. I even early balded to enhance
the interrogation. I meander in and form more
order. I like to point with my pointer, to
indicate. The most afraid I like to get is
a little bit. I app my accounts and survey
the advantage. I tower under.
I oxiclean the ivory. I shower and shower.
I dig on fonts. I wake up singing I say
never start with that but one morning
I wake up singing the Fat Boys. I wikipede
The Fat Boys. One of them is no longer.
The other is no longer fat. I assess the Human
beatbox via a Schwittersian optic.
I exercise my massive rights. I have the right
to remain. I remain. I interview just
like a glacier. I hand dance. I like just
what I like. My skin is white not. It fits
just tight. It burns on will. My horizon
is fungible. My will is like whatever.
My SPF is infinity. People seem to like
me. I was just born just this way.
Do not fall in love with a poet
they are no more honest than a stockbroker.
(Do you have a stockbroker? If you do,
your poet is with you because you have one.)
If you think that they are more sensitive because they care about language
pay attention to how they use language.
Are you included? Are you the “you”?
Or are you a suggestion?
Are you partially included as a suggestion?
Are you partially excluded because you are a concept
in some jewel-like nouns, almost throwaway,
yet a perfect resemblance?
How does narcissism
assist you, who is also the object of desire?
Do you become the tour-de-force?
Consider that poem’s vagueness doesn’t account for your complexity
and the epithets don’t suffice, you are not “one who is a horse-drawn carriage”
nor are you a “sparrow with hatchet.”
Perhaps they quote Mallarme when taking you to bed,
carefully confusing you with their charm and faux-chastity.
All this before voracious body-pressing.
The lovemaking is confusing until, you remember, they said something:
thus spake the dreamboat, your poet, alarmingly announces during climax:
I spend my fires with the slender rank of prelate
and then fierce withdrawal with a rush of perseverance to flee.
You are mistaken if language furthers your devotion.
You are a fallen person now.
They care more about “you” than for you (you, the real person you).
Line after line, a private, unmediated act done to you with confusing abandon,
flailing in its substance, however deceptive.
It will enhance your own directionlessness,
you will be harmed.
You cannot mediate it with caress.
Do you think because they understand what meaning looks like,
they have more meaning than others?
They are the protectors of feeling, mere protectors: earnest?
No. They are protectors of the flawed,
filling zones of bereftness.
The aftermath of pleasure. A contested zone for all.
What about the lawyer who loves the law?
Isn’t he just a poet with a larger book—
the way they protect and subject language
A kind of cognitive patternization.
Ultimately, both undertake the hijacking of language,
they won’t love you the way
you are; it’s in this inability to love—
unless you embody the poem—
you embody the law and its turn of phrase.
Unless you see the poet clearly: loving utterance,
an unadulterated utterance—seized and insular.
You must entice with otherness.
You must catch the poem as a muse does.
You must muse and muse and muse.
In thralldom to encounters that stand in for sexual ones,
we terrorize with sense-making,
it stands in for intimacy.
It stands in and suggests that all other kinds of feelings
and declarations yield to it.
It will move you if you ask for permission
to exist within its confines,
and you move the poet toward you and you hold the poet’s head,
wrapping your arms around it
strapped in your wordless hold, but soon words do come
and in the trailing off of speech, you will be permanently lost.
The rocks beneath her heart began to move
the night her daughter lost her native tongue.
No god of French-milled soap and lavender
could build a church on cradled hands and love.
The night that artist lost her native tongue
something seismic dropped, rolled away,
faith in that childish church of hands tested
and sung, the green-faced violinist played.
Something seismic drops through an open heart
these nights, gone missing between the cradle and now.
The face of the violinist green and dark,
fiddling toward some unknown gift, not found.
Gone missing between the cradle and now, hands reach
for any god—of hardboiled eggs, of nail heads—
fiddling on toward gifts not recognized nor found.
The girl keeps playing, beating time. She says
any god will do: god of plum pits, ice cubes,
dog hair, there’s always something to believe in.
This girl—the gift we recognize—found
and rocked, o hourglass god, beneath my heart.
In a city that now floats
in a bottle,
In a dimension outside
of the census,
within walls that were unregistered,
there was a painter,
Who performed his roll
like the Taino cave etchers,
the pyramid illustrators of
the scribblers of hieroglyphs.
Vigo painted the hallways
of the tenements,
While through the air
he flew upon a white horse,
Or smoked hashish for
his desert camel through
He painted rocks
which were heavy art.
Loose bricks were found
by landlords containing
An artisan of the streets,
whose smooth knowledge of
Made more lines visible
through the old face
of the barrio.
Against colorful bodega windows,
bright candy stores,
the epoch of the pachanga
Deep in the clubs of night
under the world
In the submetropolis of need,
against walls merely holding up.
Once we spoke of the art
of loose lions and hungry tigers,
He painted lizard instincts
along imaginary river bamboo,
Frozen eye sockets
containing tar and northern ice.
We recognized how we were
packed in the chance of numbers,
ciphers in the wintry spread,
noses popping out of sardine cans,
We spoke against the doo-wop of
The Paragons Meet the Jesters
Till dawn brought
a blue light upon
roofs—the city skyline bricks steel
edges jagged in the wind.
In a conference of the stoops
he maintained that Dulces Labios
Mayaguez was his origin,
he spoke of sweet mangoes,
Touching trees in honor
of the Tainos of his hands
stationed deep in his bark,
with his left hand where a tattooed
Vigo made a collaboration
between survival and creativity,
He stored objects that came with
Had a cellar full of broken gadgets
portions that could insert into
A bazaar in search of a dictionary
of shapes and proportion.
He brushed himself like
freezer ice Halka brilliantine shine,
never alone always with a
As evidence that I was there
on this other planet
I still maintain a rock
which he painted against
the laws of gravity
Now a paperweight
grounding the poetry of the tropics
Against the flight of the east trade
Remember when you put on that wig
From the grab bag and then looked at yourself
In the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
It was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
Who knows if you might not have liked to wear
That wig permanently, but of course you
Wouldn’t. Remember when you told me how
You meditated, looking at a stone until
You knew the soul of the stone? Inwardly I
Scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic Yankee
That I was, yet I knew what you meant. I
Called it love. No magic was needed. And we
Loved each other too, not in the way of
Romance but in the way of two poets loving
A stone, and the world that the stone signified.
Remember when we had that argument over
Pee and piss in your poem about the bear?
“Bears don’t pee, they piss,” I said. But you were
Adamant. “My bears pee.” And that was that.
Then you moved away, across the continent,
And sometimes for a year I didn’t see you.
We phoned and wrote, we kept in touch. And then
You moved again, much farther away, I don’t
Know where. No word from you now at all. But
I am faithful, my dear Denise. And I still
Love the stone, and, yes, I know its soul.
|for Etta Silver (1913–2013)
This is where the poem holds its breath,
and the people sway with the truth of it,
This is where the book closes and the clock
opens to song so the snow geese murmur
This is where the geese fly unabashedly out,
This is where tumult, this is where prophecy.
This is where the poem enters silence,
whose pages are aflame with life, whose
And this is where the poem holds its breath,
This is where it leaps wild about the child,
and the universe splits open for one poem—
About this poem:
“Etta Silver read and loved poetry all her life. I loved her and she loved me. Her grandson, my friend, asked me to write a poem for her funeral. Inspired by Etta, and having just seen the snow geese fly out of the Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico and heard the silence after they’d gone, I did.”
The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.
But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.
The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.
A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning
So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.’
Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn’t judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She’s really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d’ Amour.
In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road
I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else.
I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog feeder price lists
down by Larry the Lug,
I’d never get anywhere
because I’d never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag,
I heard their rehashed radio barbs—
more barbarous among hirelings
as higher-ups grow more corrupt.
But what vitality! The women hold jobs—
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church.
What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines