Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Library

My first books were Peanuts and Poe,
Which I've owned 50 years or so,
Plus a child's story of warfare
(The librarian didn't care
If I returned a book or not).
Today it is a capacious
Rest home for the aging ink blot.
Yes, some might say, ridiculous,
"Too large to read before he dies,"
But, every day, he tries, he tries.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring (Jean-François Millet), Sonnet #238

The winters harden these years, and the snow,
Feet of it even in March, melting slow
In tepid, foggy air, washes our dregs
Into the broken river. The aging
Magnolia in the yard, stung by frost,
Still blossoms, only a few petals lost.
Now begins the long-deferred uncaging
Of sun and sex and bud and leaf and eggs.
My Ruthie and I walk the park most days
And notice, after thirty years, it says
What it always has, that it's merely ours
To wander and watch and never to touch.
Inside a log a young kit fox cowers;
Above, the barred owl's talons shift and clutch.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Floor Scrapers (Gustave Caillebotte), Sonnet #237

The worker who can concentrate,
Lose himself in the hardest task,
Scrapes up time at double the rate,
Creating what? He doesn't ask.
Muscles are meant for heat and toil,
The eyes for precise measurement,
The voice for whispering contempt,
Listening, for the night bell's toll.
It takes a man to scrape a floor.
(God offers no alternative.)
He will go to bed drunk and sore,
Not knowing what it means to live.
The half-finished floorboards await
The restoration of their fate.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sunset Over The Sea (JMW Turner), Sonnet #236

After a year of cityscape and trees,
The eye yearns for depthless, rimmed horizons.
Without them, consciousness begins to freeze
Its geometric and organic zones
Into old, dry, slowly-fading patterns,
The cages of the obvious present.
Oh, to see, not the Sun, but nine Saturns!
Fling stones to speed Andromeda's ascent!
I am content, every summer, to stand
On the beach and ignore each grain of sand
(I seldom look down); the horizon line
Is where, squinting, my eyelids almost meet,
Drawing in from lake and sky, vast and fleet,
All that can momentarily be mine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (Sargent), Sonnet #235

For Julia Rose and Alice Bea

You watch from the periphery,
Until one begs you, "carry me,"
Or, when you're not needed, you turn
Away, then back, because you yearn
To remember all you now see.
They draw, or paint, or mold with clay
The world as it is on that day,
And little of it will survive --
Their art, not its world, stays alive.
Twenty years later, I still leave,
When I must, turn back one last time
For just a look at them, to grieve
With joy, days running out of rhyme.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kappa (Hokusai), Sonnet #234

My pet Kappa (more indentured servant),
Once returned my bow and polite address,
And the water poured out of the deep dent
In his head, leaving him quite powerless.
I replaced the water, brimming his bowl,
And since then I have commanded his soul.
A notorious eater of children
And cucumbers, and raper of women,
My Yokai river sprite is now the guard
Of a young redbud tree in my back yard.
Oh, he is miserable, lies and weeps,
And offers me coins of gold and twenty
Geishas, if I return him to the deeps.
He dies bowing low to water my tree.

Note: Yokai are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. They can be mischievous or malevolent, or both. The Kappa, which resembles a turtle, has a bowl-shaped indentation in its skull, which it keeps filled with water. It is the source of its power. Being very polite, if bowed to, the Kappa will bow in return, spilling the water, leaving it paralyzed. If you refill the bowl, the Kappa will be your life-long servant. The speaker in this sonnet is a Japanese gardener from the 18th century.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Dance To The Music of Time (Nicolas Poussin), Sonnet #233

I once watched a conductor stop the world.
At the end of Mahler's Ninth, vibrations
Still fading from the concert hall, he held
His arms up, motionless, for a minute,
Forcing the audience's attention
On the growing silence, to the now mute
Voice of what had come before, of sorrow,
And obliteration of tomorrow.
It was as if he said, Behold, what's gone
Of suffering and death, all that's beyond
Us now; behold and do not be afraid.
And when he lowered his hands no one said
Bravo, cheered (though some wept), or applauded
For forever. Then the room exploded.

I believe in something we call Time
As if it were my own personal god.
I slow it with meter, speed it with rhyme,
And know when it's even and when it's odd.
Under anesthetic, I've completely
Vanished in a vacuum of duration.
In my dreams it embraces me sweetly,
Dancing me in circles of cessation.
I fight Time sometimes with my memories
And foresee circumstances to stop them.
Time indulges my mental forgeries --
Time's the poet; I am but a theorem.
Time is a beautiful woman, ugly
Only when she's gowned with eternity.