Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nine Dragons

From the mist--
yellow eye lolling
a scaly lid,
blunt horn
jutting from a skull,
armored, undulant
tail so tapered
it might never end,
the body
only a guess
in veiling
belch steam and ashes,
multiplying night on the cragless
mountain, confounding the hunt.
There are no dragons, no mists.
Like shattered wind,
its deafening shriek
the null hope mystics
mumble on their featureless mountaintops.
Bag of water,
bag of blood,
hung upon
a single hook.
The jeweled brow frowns.
The spectator of the game of being
the spectator
lusts for insight, trembling
in the white pall
like one tongue
of flame. All,
immense, eternal--
the first is one of nine dragons:
Leering groggily
out of their late afternoon nap,
muscles tightening
along the spine,
they breathe in whispers,
trembling slits widening—
widening into eyes:
into into
into into
into me.
Where’s your face?
Where’s my heart?
The bed sheets mount up like thunderheads.
I find our love
between our legs
when she pushes.
Curtains billow on the summer’s breezes.
I’m sorry you
must go
away from me.
This time maybe
I won’t feel
so guilty.
Glass bowls glow on the bedside table
among flowers
and a pear
and a knife.
Their faces turn to green rock,
hair to rusty wire,
fingernails to nails.
Then they sleep until it’s time
to wind the clock . . . .
Where there’s love there’s some new thing--
a child with one eye practicing
piano without
a metronome,
painlessly adding
note to note
for his mother’s love.
When his fingers ripple down
the ridged back of the keyboard,
women reach
with bent back arms,
and chatter prayers
only old gods
The notes fall
like thin trees
hit with an ax.
The boy’s face distends to a thin mask.
His mother listens
from the ropes
and curtains
in the wings.
Each note dies
before the next,
while breasts engorge with milk;
nipples toughened and ready,
their bodies’ purpose transformed,
each woman clutches the near man, who,
is nonetheless glad for such embraces.
The boy stands,
reaches in to pluck the strings—
his mother lurches out on his blind side,
unaware of what’s been written—
his plain music,
simple to hear,
like love so much harder to feel . . . .
Shadow dog,
burning giraffe,
and Icarus
watch each other
fall into the blue;
for the last supper;
the ptarmigan perched
on the torpedo;
corks and angels;
the little people
born in mushroom shade;
the butterfly/
hourglass rhyme;
the ocean and the desert of the mind.
At the base of the upturned pyramid,
at the point of gathered weight,
a little man with a face of scars
yammers, “I am
not the one! I
am not the one!”
We cannot tell
if he is the ruler of Hell.
At the end of roads, a hooded ghost
says, “You knew
I did not know.
It’s up to you.”
Nor square the geometries of the senses
with the smell
of a dead man.
Scales glistering and jingling
like gold coins,
fishes plunge
into mirror-black
floor tiles
to the hum hum of wind-strummed guitars
and the exhaust of cars.
consists of this
or leads into
a blank abyss.
On more than faith the rose is taken red,
the painted flat an image;
something hesitate to name
or call it fear . . . .
August night—
one hundred and five degrees on the line—
spot-welds begat in spark spray—
station wagons and sedans
grow likes sons and daughters
once a week.
A man, naked to the waist, sweat beading
off grimy skin,
arms arching back,
eyes white bulges
tilted toward
the I-beam-occluded ceiling,
bellows, bellows.
The line turns chorus of tin whistles
blowing off steam.
Beneath a grate in the concrete floor,
an earmuffed man
scoops metal
scraps and cinders
in a plastic pail with a plastic shovel.
sleeps in the stairwell,
wags no forefinger
on either hand—
each night mops the cafeterias.
He’s found a pint of Southern Comfort
in his bucket
every night,
and a dead man hidden where only he
might find him,
every other year for twenty;
doesn’t know how
that could happen,
but he talks about it all the time.
The shirtless man was a P.h.d.,
but discovered
at twenty-six
that life is dust.
Into his mutter
has slowly stolen
a constant stutter.
They all leave be
a wiry man
whose nose and lips
were fused by
His eyes hide behind his eternal smile;
no one has ever equaled his piecework;
he goes to church every Saturday night;
no one has heard a word from him in years.
Lunch at two
am on the roof—
the men ogle
the moon, kick pebbles, crack
the new tar bubbles
with their thumbs . . . .
A skeleton drawn in a horseless cart
plucks a fiddle and looses arrows;
enthroned beneath
sides of carrion,
he spreadeagles
the devils
picking through
mounds of human hair.
What is fetid in the fetid air?
First, the balloon mother brings home
brother pops
quite on purpose,
then all still life paintings seem the same.
There’s sense in the burying of fingernails.
Trees make wind blow and time sorrow.
Thus, the wings
wrap the ready
in stiff black leather and squeeze,
squeeze them dizzy.
What whispers
Nothing to fear?
The only angel
believed in
anymore. Out
of where there are not even mists,
the queen breeds soldiers and mites
from her bloated bag;
the white salesman at the doorstep
has no history,
sells thingumbobs
once and to only
one customer—
a proton winking
in and out
of existence
like nothing
At midnight, the darkness stretches,
the moon blinks . . . .
Some ideas share the ages
with the mists.
Some die out.
Others, born
pregnant, delivered
of a reason
not to be,
will never die.
Hear it think:
E=mc shivers.
True courage refrains from creation.
A blue ceramic bowl patterned with fishes
lies in sand out of the tide’s reach, is
never breaks.
Sand may come and go,
and unburying,
grain by grain blasting
the glazes away,
working the walls thin as paper;
the bowl is gone,
but not before the sand.
What is its final taking off?
Some say this thought.
Or is it the one
who first thought of Hell,
then told his son?
When the last thing
we are inclined
to be is nothing,
shouldn’t some words remain unspoken?
Each man and woman
stands still in the street,
looking at her or his own feet.
No muscles. No names.
Beyond horizons,
the sequestered
flashes into being,
splashing matrices,
and for a moment there’s no need to die . . . .
“So what? We are all gods, all angels!”
he bellows,
“A dove nesting on my nose sustains
my attention.
Consider the instruction of the times:
‘Ignore everything.
Keep the counsel
of the argument
of the council,
and press all eyes closed to the agony
of individuals.
You are the pariah lion in the dusty bush
Eat your bread.
Say yes and no.
Love nothing.
Love the nothing.
Add, but don’t
multiply. Eat,
but don’t grow.
You can be what you already are, with
Consciousness doth make us children.
Poor Grizzly
and Hellken, Deaddog
and Curlybeard—
by an idea
most overrated—
loathing the taste of human souls.
Only the rain
blocks the wind
from the window pane.
Pietas remind us of the criminals
buried by thieves.
‘Inevitability of understanding,’ says
the doctor of
the priest tapping the cheek
in Confirmation—
the poetry
of the last sound
of the last line,
the soporific of repetition,
the lonely kneeling walk down the long aisle,
the unicorn
mortal sin—
the teeth of the beast who
stops hearts with the judgment of his eyes.
The other eight are as apes and plague us,
hoist us screaming into the leafy trees,
where they bless us fondly, fondle, or let go.
if I say
I say dragon.
Say dragon,
I’ve nothing
to go on.
Here’s how one might see it: I wake.
My brow contracts
upon a wadded thought;
vigorously fanning wings on the dawn wind,
and with one thrust of immense haunches,
I’m airborne.
The clouds below
erase me
as I go. No!
No, no, no!
Fancy being the early rumor of belief,
let me be St. George
tilting his lance
into the dust,
and not see myself the pitiable beast
beneath his horse’s scissoring hooves,
in the arrogance
of martyrdom.
Not even I can say the earth is
as old as it is
because I’m here
to say it is so.
Wings folded in prayer, I genuflect,
receive the dragon
on my tongue,
draw it between my teeth,
float it beneath my roof,
feel it—dry,
until (my one good
eye closed tight as a healing wound)
it dissolves
and I swallow . . . .”
I am the visitation of mists—
the thousand cracked bowls holding
the measureless moisture of the earth,
the cat rubbing its back upon its back,
a weary conspirator to the extinction
of the universe (not without its qualms),
neither shunning the sun nor sure
it destroys me—
I am the cathedral sanctuary of dragons.
The bodhisattva
flaps up on his crane
and pierces me.
I hide Christ’s agony on Gethsemane.
Be empty yourself
and hide everything!
On Sunday I am proud to dissipate.
I am the conical cloud meandering
the brightest sky in June,
a parasol,
the lethal yellow gas descending
from the cauldron of a crater lake,
the perpetually losing player of tag,
the permanent undone by street breezes.
All clouds create
themselves, winds
I am the very meat of the mushroom,
a binary
war machine,
the thought balloons of all murderers.
I shroud the first instant of history
like the mind of Cain.
I am the very meat of the mushroom.
I am the position and the velocity.
I am mist, all mists, and all equally.
I am the dragon hidden in the mist.
I am the envelope of the letter
never sent,
the ink in the pen that never writes
what is read.
I am so
much ego.
I, the smoke that pushes the train down tracks,
the hen who lays the eggs of sun and moon,
the sugar film on the delighted tongue,
the spume on the naked thighs of ex-virgins,
the laughter of children on a winter’s day,
the prayer in the execution chamber . . . .
Vision is
a pint of mist
frozen and rolled
into a snowball:
in Sesshu’s Winter,
each stroke is the stem of an exclamation
point, each dot
the period at the end of a question mark.
Nine strokes of the pen make the man
spryly mount steep steps to his home.
Name everything:
tree, rock, cloud,
mountain, step, water, boat, man, house
and that’s all.
But the painting!
you complain.
But Sesshu!
A thick, vertical line cuts the top half
of the landscape.
To the left,
an outline of unfoliate,
craggy pinnacles;
to the right,
the mountainside teams
with unnamable forms of vegetation.
Old mountain.
New mountain.
Humble Sesshu.
Catch any one
of a thousand snowballs. Hold it up—
watch it split,
feel the inner,
wriggling newborn emerging . . . .
For the new locus is never completely hidden
inside the old one;
otherwise, relation
could not exist between them
(not that Reason could rout it out).
It is neither
nor guarded by dragons in distant
mountains, where Imagination
could brave wind and lightning
to bring it home.
The place of birth is too obvious
and near to notice—
a dim kennel a stone’s throw
from our hut
outside the castle walls—reserved
for those who peek
from the parapets,
for the eyes of faith to find;
the unattended
may have already grown too cold . . . .

Note: Several lines near the end of “Nine Dragons” are borrowed from Auden’s “Age of Anxiety.” View the entire "Nine Dragons" scroll at:

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