Perpetuum mobile, we
could know nothing of movement
except that it was movement.
Could we know nothing of men?
The rose was more fully a rose
as we were so unroselike,
stripped of leaf and petal.
Hiroshima, the Battle of Tokyo,
the nightmare and the night,
lesser infinities burgeoning
under one two many suns;
the splay and meld of violence
dealt by stiff-fingered science.
The bomb boomed ego, ordering
order poorly understood and
the universe trembled in a drop
of black water imprisoning god.
Perhaps I shall know god
if I am not a god myself.
Perhaps all gods are god
moving toward or away;
I won’t know him to be god
if I move only as he moves,
so we see him everywhere.
Our eyes in the mirror never
see themselves move, close, blink,
see nothing but a stare, or wink.
That was then.
Now we can know
nothing that we have not changed
by attempting to know it and
put ourselves again at center
of the goddamned universe.
The eye touches the world silver.
Where we can’t see we exult
to find we can’t know place and
velocity simultaneously; we
watch light act now like hate
and now like love, and calmly
declare our kingdom is a horse.
We pluck up the rose but think
the thought the only rose real,
confusing indeterminacy of god
with thinking thinking thinking.
What we know is index
for what we can only imagine:
number is dimension;
numbers variably interact;
dimensions variably interact
depending on the whore’s orgasm,
the equatorially marooned Nootkan
reading my mind like thinking.
So without all this, the mind’s
construction of this poem, this
poem has nothing to say and nor,
we extrapolate, would rose or mirror;
so number, because it accounts
for nothing but itself and
therefore can’t be questioned,
is nature second to second nature.
In the subatomic realm pontiffs
witness paradox and say
it cannot be unless I think it
and so I think it so.
I think the chair; thank god
for me, thinks the chair.
I think god; he has better
things to do. He thinks me:
the ear of a lion of gold,
the light at heart of an icicle,
seed of what I’m not and might be,
a rose in the mirror.
On a Dreamed Report of Death
We are ready for those who die in wires,
tolled at midnight with little bells.
A dead face is an injected wax
or unbelieved victim of murder.
What does she look like after twenty years,
asleep beneath those moonscape blankets?
Yes, I knew her. Long ago. She is dead?
Only dead again? And only now?
A remarked absence. Emotion vacancy.
Oh, a vague perhaps, perhaps. Regret
for the loss of intelligent laughter.
But the color of our first kiss is faded.
I know the color of my blood is blue.
See it through the crepe of my wrist.
I can’t imagine hers now gone red,
a blue jay turned to cardinal overnight,
then to crow, scribbled with white words,
living on again in description.
Death, an appendage of memory,
a wireworm on the body of a fish
within our grasp, releases its host
for us, to test our flesh with constriction.
We wrench ourselves to be free of it,
and when we are, think only of our pain.
All recollection is a form of lie.
Here, in this city block of wild sand,
the mounds in the front yard are old friends;
only the man I am may tend them.
They sleep beneath the scratching of my rake,
dance into gardens only in my sleep.
Perhaps she thinks of me now and then.
“What stops the rain
if not desire,”
jokes the rippled windowpane.
laves each desiccated blade.
the unenlightened shade
shakes its head.
Let he who hasn’t sinned
be the first
to stop the stones of wind
and murder thirst.
Another brief thundershower
washes the soil,
leaves it dry as flour,
water over oil,
flash-floods down the street,
desultory ending to the heat.
A man lures
a twelve-year-old into his car
She is found, not far
from home, in tears.
Lightning is the veins of his
the limb from the tree. Thunder is
Falling out of purple sky
like fists, hail
answers every answer “why?”
Farmer sends his milk cow
for want of hay. Now
he drinks water.
They dredge the river and tow
until the water will not flow
and nothing floats.
Picture a defeat repeated as often
as each of us is lacking in faith.
Faith in what? If we project futures
on the model of, say, the seasons,
that spring will follow winter, no
flower would smell sweet enough,
no orgasm produce more than
regret. We know no alternative
to hope and no hope knows what
a single starling knows of loneliness.
What is this sense of thwartedness
the flowers know as early frost
and the bells of Easter know as
sacrifice. Everything is sacrifice.
Tomorrow will ignore my being
there or not. The birds call, not
for me, nor to, nor even in spite
of me, though that at least would
be something. They call only to each
other with unintelligible voices.
Scarlet unopened, the buds of flowering crab
bleach out in sunlight, go pale pink and drab.
After the third day, the wind loosens the petals,
and one flutters to the grass and settles.
It works its way through grass down to the soil—
air and water rub it thin as foil.
Then, between each cell, oxygen convenes,
until the petal of itself is rendered clean.
It dissolves into pattern everywhere;
if grown again to petal it won’t know or care.
Is it only dullness,
the courage the eye
requires to watch itself,
white circling hue
circling black? Perhaps
a life of seeing
greens infinitely shaded
teaches us to take
the shock of the red
or as a joke. Morning
headache, the renewed
blur of sense, release
of energy, all that
awakening can make
of itself, explains,
“You’ve come this far.”
To take responsibility
for the rainbow beneath
the water glass, not
the dogs we’ve run with
all night long, we
must make a choice:
watch the light blister,
or close our eyes tight.
When I look at the water
at the height of the horizon,
the wave becomes the measure
of distraction—one from one.
Thought without language,
apparition of ecstasy,
the dappled expanse of gray
is a pure solution of age.
A glint in glinting tangles,
perturbation of the lens.
Light, facets, and the angles
form a lid, a cloud of sense.
The shadows of clouds roam
dousing the frenetic foam,
like jealous ghosts of ideas
haunting insistent memories.
The wind dies. The waves turn
into breakers, cresting, lurch
beyond themselves and churn
the trough line of their search
to the end of their sameness
on the slanted, abrupt shore,
or in further, final cresses
of the afterthoughtful shore.
Or I dive into their crests,
heaving breast upon breast,
then stand and see them dead
beneath receding waves ahead
Only the sun is witness, red
as an old apple on a bed,
as an old eyes as it slides
beneath its trembling eyelid.
The gulls scream, adding song
to the air, fish, water, refuse,
light—the things that they use—
sing the meaning in their songs.
Rest In Time
At church, before they redesigned
the altar, tearing down carved
pilasters and gilded dentil bands
around the tabernacle, replaced
with a white slab of Italian marble
on a plinth, the priest looked
into the eyes of the crucifixion,
not the eyes of the congregation.
One day, pressed hard, he said,
No such thing exists as Mortal Sin.
Behind him, a sunburst of stained glass
held at its center a cerulean fish
encrusted with faceted beads for scales.
It looked to me frozen in a river,
a swimmer caught by fingers of cold
and held until it died, its eye
a perfectly cut diamond of shock.
We walk a straight circle
down the horizon from a dying sun
the street to an old couple’s house
in a cluttered yard we trip
entering. We think it a sty.
No lawn. No paint. No power line.
Shame on such a street as this!
Clustered lilac and black walnut
darken where we walk, shadow toy
trucks and car parts, mufflers,
fishpole, golfclub, washing machine,
other fragments of family life
we don’t yet count as memories.
Rumors of a brother’s young death,
of brother and sister living man
and wife—Dad’s Sin taking
his pay. The uncaulked windows
snigger in tree-broken wind.
No sign of the old man today.
Why are we standing on his land?
The woman, witch to us, opens,
wrapped in satin, pink and crimson,
flesh a dim flower crushed
in a fist of iron hair. She
winks as we laugh—at her socks,
one red, one yellow—steadies
against the rotted porch rail,
points at the dirt. See? See?
They come up every October
like green fingers, the shoots!
From the roof outside my bedroom—
light of the waning moon burst
past moisture of cloud and mist
onto night, like foam on water.
Shadow filled absence of shape.
Garage pierced by lightning rod.
Cherry orchard. New mown lawn.
Slow motion of the oily river.
Iron crossbeam trestle, gaunt
as a ribcage, laid across a grave.
Each thing composed, breathing,
one released from great exertion,
beating me back from the vanishing
point just to the right of the moon.
A crude oil maelstrom, the disc
spun on the turntable all night—repetition itself meaningful.
Gold medallions on green wallpaper
factored out the inward longing
equal to the number of the universe,
or it melted. The lidded eye
composed its own version of time,
dragging space in behind the mind,
commanding its own attention, prying
into the intentions of the scene,
finding them the secrets of the eye.
Before the bathroom mirror, I,
frightened, thinking time might
not move on, leaving me
to consider myself alone. What
if Mom came in and saw all this!
The moment of lucidity at sunrise:
We wouldn’t get much done like this
all day. But, I know I’m here.
What about you? I can’t be sure.
That winter the river froze clear
as windows; before the snow fell,
the fish ran beneath our skates.
Each of us chose one to follow.
Exhausted by chasing, regrouped
into our little school of boys,
each in turn told of the fish
he’d followed to the last, how
it disappeared into a hollow log,
or among rotted pilings; I said
I’d followed mine the farthest,
watched it glide to a stillness . . .
pectoral fins scarcely flimmering
gold and green, scales like flames
guttering beyond prisms of ice,
color by color sinking into spectral
deep water. No one believed me.
Notice with what swift skill
the wave dives on its side
to escape the rolling mill
of the incoming tide.
Sloped beaches elide
the surf’s distended plight
to the sandpiper’s delight.
When the oceans deepen
and our shores sink from sight,
when powerful tides bend
toward dry land and kill
what no man could defend,
we’ll call that an evil
and pray, “Moon, make an end.”
Spontaneously or under medication,
their rude and unconditioned forms
wished to understand the hidden
lasciviousness of the higher order,
the internal effective object.
They knew its color and charge.
They condemned the stronger craving
produced by waiting for silence
and found the escape from the sermon
in listening to those who have come
uninvented and endlessly variable.
They knew that expecting an answer
was like asking a color to guarantee
there will be no inhibitor of visions.
as love consoled
by a dead lover,
possessed the counting
mourners who stood
by the white coffin.
A sermon was said,
all wind and piss
and pomp of death.
The corpse shouted No!
Stood straight up.
They buried him, so.
stoppered by memory,
birdsong turns to siren
beneath tires in the street,
human speech a contrivance,
the television, screeches.
What was an act half-acted
when the caress of her breast
was my hand laid there by hers,
wills itself to abstraction.
My heart opens its red mouth
to mouth its retraction.
Lightning is the God of Again.
He strikes no place twice from above
as long as the clouds don’t bear rain
and heat remains frictionless love.
Air, God of Now, fills each tulip,
like a sun not subject to shade,
with love makes the child’s balloon pop
and sees the dead body decayed.
The God of And is in the dust
blown from soil, blown from flower,
clinging in the storm clouds where lust
of Now for Again breeds the hour.
There is a dancing light,
no more than a streetlamp two
hundred yards away, its fine
filament shattered by heaviness
of wet air, which jackets
seeing like a concept laid
upon the purity of fact.
I sit at the typewriter,
cigarette between my lips,
staring at smoke, then at words,
not knowing the difference.
Of course I do know if I ask,
“What do I believe?” Funny,
no one else seems to know.
I mean, we say we do,
but that is only by decision.
We jump to conclusions.
We jump as high as light
is long and fast, but without
arrival: Things simply stop.
There is nothing quite as real
as smoke. It smells and has
a taste. It comes between
us and what we know. Smoke
is very welcome. Like light,
born of fire, it stings
and makes us close our eyes.
The New Storm
The storm rumbles like a headache
in the brain of the only god a man
shivering beneath a tree believes.
He remembers a sickening green sky,
bodies hauled on hingeless doors,
a disk jockey calling the roll
of the missing and dead with a catch
in his voice, the gun slung
on a guardsman’s shoulder, aimed
at blue sky, as if the war might be
won, if it could still be fought.
But that was a tornado, this only
a heavy storm in early summer, a kite-
cleaning for the trees, and exercise
for the long-limbed loping wind.
He is not afraid of the lightning,
but wonders, have I remembered well?
I should test my stride against
that lean racer’s, run for some low
roof the bolts pass by for a higher,
where wind will bash itself into air.
He looks at the tree, chin thrust up
like a sailor’s. The leaves thrash
in the fierce currents of the wind.
Blue sky and sunlight
after the night’s long thunderstorm—
the day holds no promise of snow.
Small brooms of wind hurry
a few leaves left by the rake.
Is that an evil sign,
a wraith in the crab apple—
a kite held firm and trembling?
No, this isn’t he moment of the heart.
Recovering from three days’ illness
tossed in the sheets until the bones
crack and the ears ring, I lift my head
to listen to the birds and don’t resent
the intrusion of their grace note.
The moment belongs to the senses.
Ghosts are only of the darkness.
The lens in my eye is guarded by a lid,
which keeps out things not made of light.
Why then, this nameless dread,
vague guilt fearful of retribution
for an unacknowledged, unrepented sin?
My wife and child forgive
each moment I cannot think of them
(as a child understands in December
the grass is green without growing);
but, should I think to embrace them
still in my shuddering hatred of time,
they seem stiff and distant as the trees.
This is only me, I know, wondering
how the pinwheel leaves can be
so evenly disbursed about the yard,
too confused by the distance of others
to resent the solitary of my own body.
And tomorrow is Christmas,
the heart’s havoc with delight.
Downstairs, the unnatural tree
dressed in glass and light,
electrified, pulses with memories.
Will my daughter see the ornament?
Will she see, as I saw,
watching, perhaps for hours once,
the orb brilliant with colored lights,
darkened by green-tinseled boughs
still and silent as time itself?
Will she see the heart
that moved two hands to hand it there?
Through the curtainless window—
one light mock-latticed with lath—
an angel’s skirt twitches
to my foursquare heartbeat.
The pale night droops
upon a tang of the moon,
and a man with a knife, covered with blood,
has severed the jaw from his man.
A candle burns, a tree blooms
in this room. I love you.
The room a printed veil
locked in a tightening fist,
folds folded into fold:
a cat dangling from a chandelier,
a soldier charging on his hobbyhorse,
a half-naked whore blowing soap bubbles,
a politician kneeling
on the rockers of his rocking horse,
a clown with a mirror in his hand,
a clown standing before a mirror.
Elision of fact or color
where sense has faded, act is unremembered.
Four walls built up
in a thousand Januaries
from concatenation of a thousand rounds
eyed sideways, the room lies
perfectly flat on the world
like an envelope on a table,
covering all countries and all oceans,
leaving nothing uncontained.
Close quarters, this classroom
where children turn away from me.
I stoop beneath Caesar’s bust,
hands buried, shoulders squeezed,
gasping. My three students
stare at a stopped globe.
One raises both hands.
“All walls are pictures,”
he says, “Are we
ever going out?”
Into etchless light,
between figure and ground,
the olive orchard grows
row on row on row.
Blue haze, blue soil,
blue fruit. My sight
beads like dew on leaves,
drawn by tension to the roots.
My love’s cave and brushfire
on each trunk’s plinth
awaits your veil and bangle.
I will tan you with kisses,
trace your laughter with my lips
and braid your hair, strand by strand.
And when we come our hips
will grow branches, the wind
will sing our keening, and suns
will boil over.
There’s a difference of world
between 0 and 9 and 1 and 10;
upside down the alphabet
doubles itself and what we tell,
be it moon or moon or moon,
is patina on a bronze bell.
Birds etch the ceiling with their claws,
disturb the dandelions with their wings,
deceived by blue reflected light,
they smash the bone behind our ears.
An r hammered down on the sash handle
is the expletive erased from years.
Yes, we recognize the sun
and that is that was the sun.
If we could hear it hum,
we’d remember the sound
as tempo muffled, not fading,
like our eyes, not closed, not found.
Before the last ending of autumn,
A startled cry from inside
Seemed like a mind in its sound.
I knew only what I had heard,
A baby’s cry, at midnight or after,
Above the late November wind.
The moon was rising at two,
Once a crumpled mask above dead
leaves . . .
It could not be inside.
Not from the chiaroscuro
Of sleep’s faded paper sky . . .
The moon wasn’t coming inside.
That startled cry—it was
A tone whose song preceded tuning.
It was nothing like the old moon,
Surrounded by its echoic tone
Being right here. It was what
I’ve always known to be real.
An inch between eyes is all the perspective
we have on a bird in a tree before the sunset.
What is it? A glare burns white spots on its
dark plumage. A thousand sperm blanket the egg
but only one of them is transubstantiated--
the others simply die and are flushed away.
Magnified a thousand times, they look like hunger.
There is nothing between that and this setting
of black letters on a globe of paper. Not
even the ten or ten thousand eyes who read it
can alter the resulting embryo. I believe
that that is all there is to anything we do.
A boy, I used to argue with a priest that God
could not find blame in even that good man’s
mortal sin, because He had failed to endow us
with control. No act, I said, is unconditioned.
I would prove my point with pen and paper. No
images came to mind but his patient, fatherly
grin, and the trembling I thought I heard
in his voice. And my own secret jitters that
he might feel compelled to tell my father.
That man, now a mellow eighty-one, never heard
of his son’s apostasy, from others or his son,
and kneels for Communion each Sunday as he
always has—would not understand one word
on this piece of paper, this act of hunger.
But his eyes and mine see the same bird
on the same tree, go blind in the same sun.
Mid-January and winter has arrived at last.
The branches droop beneath the snow of two
storms. No bird has sung for us in weeks.
I have read of winters so cold, so long,
the birds fell like leaves from the trees;
always war is raging nearby or the smoke
of the crematorium has smeared the snow like
a gray, vague and indecipherable rubbing.
No bird in my backyard falls from a branch
that doesn’t catch the air beneath its wings
and swoop off into the wind with a kind of
triumph. I have never been shot at either.
And yet, not forty miles from here a man
was dismembered and his body parts used
in a ritual with no better purpose than
the resurrection of some long dead devil.
In the next county, a girl of sixteen was
hog-tied and set on fire by two brothers
who confessed she had teased them with her
body. One brother accused the other
of dancing to the rhythm of her screams.
And so, each day, I watch the birds. This
morning, a cardinal sat hunched on a limb—
as if I’d mistake him for a bloody fist.
It is hard to look at things,
harder to say what you see.
Rattle each grain of sand
in its grave of desert?
Why begin unless you intend
to see things to the end?
And do not rely on the words
you overheard in a dream,
not knowing what they mean,
how they sound, those half-shadowed
chess pieces maneuvering
in and out of thought, unthought.
Language goes hard as time
at the first understanding.
Everything goes inside it,
which is an unopened box . . .
vague outline of a blue box
against a black background.
Then your voice’s children
as they escape to the street,
as they wade into the crowd . . .
the wind sucks them through a bone.
A plume of exhalation
withers on the zero air.
We know only one thing,
as a novel knows one story,
like a closed book reading
its own discrete emotions
pressed to paper word by
word, comma by comma.
It is not only duration
allows our mouths approaching
by halves to sometimes kiss.
A word is startled by the eye,
and something is discrete,
if still unknown, no longer.
Fly-fishing, I stand thigh deep,
A fleet shadow on the water.
Up. The bird
drops on wind, lands in a birch. I’ve
one close. No thought of fish now.
For full ten
minutes I gape. He stays. I
step on land
careful to keep the tree he’s in
He hops behind the trunk as I
close on him.
A full circle and he’s gone.
Three dull taps.
Three more. He’s in another tree
He falls, drops across the river,
twice beats wing, lights on a dead beach.
I am soon waist deep ten feet
I guess he fears the threat on land,
Now I am all his and see all
of him clear:
the blood crest and zebra throat,
the black sheen
on his back, the stiff feathers
he grasps bark
with, crampon-like, dangling
Infinitely patient he is,
in threes and sevens and eights,
each beat stressed.
one man in all the world could do.
He chops from two sides just like a
Bark chips and wood dust rain down
on my head.
patch he clears of bark then drills
a thumb hole,
then seems to give up or has tongued
the gummy larvae and moved on.
that sticky membrane sheathed in iron.
All this is
repeated and repeated and
his hunger or blunts his intent.
He has mind:
curious, cruel, incisive,
he solves problems, remembers,
devious and cunning, his
a thing that has come before and
I do not hear his wild call
I take no pleasure but rightness.
Who has not been startled
by the reflection in the mirror,
that moment of non-cognition,
that not knowing even what
is staring back? The feeling fades—
is it only a feeling, after all?—
as we slump, helpless, back
into self’s oblivion.
It is much the same as standing
before a great painting,
the mystery of the artist’s mastery
hidden in the fine ordering
of familiar images, a making
strange, as strange
as anything we know.
Except the face of that stranger
is not a plan mapped
out by a mind’s prior selection
and point of view. I have seen
my own face melt, become
less coherent than the purest
urge of sex when,
preceding sleep, it has no
What is it, beneath
all constructs, this mystery
of self? Some follow
such thoughts all the way
to god, as a painting knows there
is no painting without light.
Mind is Hollow
When I look at it,
ask it to speak,
say, tell me what
only I don’t know:
music plays and
maggots turn in
the wool of sound.
Song evinces thought
in a nightingale;
the heavy book
is more eloquent
unread than mind
at work; even wind
Words we pry into
love to steal—
a golden tree,
the cat’s palaver,
are foiled with
And the jade tree
is a jade tree
not like one plus
one is one plus
one, not two, but
Three years after the disappearance of the leaves,
the streets succumb to transporting the dead
to such places along the memory as have room.
To be true to the falling out of ideas with each other,
the screams accumulate toward the vast transfiguration
where night has stopped on its edge. It is obvious,
the place and the power being released by the machines,
tailoring each coffin board by board.
Who’d sooner drill for screws than nail?
Out there, the blending of two hearts with one finger,
the similar “stones” wrested from between the ears,
children forced to squander the last remaining hope
on the shining teeth held in hysterical laughter.
We purchased alloys from the counters on the street corners,
valuable for their color and flavor, but without weight,
molded specimens of blood and semen preserved for the sake
of the soul of eyes we never looked into quite long enough.
Non-verbal is our message for those who come after us,
those native to our tongue, those happily never known.
the fact of experience
penetrated by our bodies,
the nearest tree,
the dirt-filmed windowpane,
the ideal in words.
the expressive way
with carpentry and dressmaking,
incandescence as right,
paradise as general theory.
“Loved One,” we say,
“the perfume, please,
from the climbing rose tree,”
and savage the one
purified inch of space
we fail to perceive.
Color might give place
its own new universe
but our thirst grows deeper,
tracklessas the red crags of Mars.
The manner erotic, the content savage:
death as functional as hard, black blood;
ideas, the tines of sharpened teeth
ridged along the dry broken jaw,
wielded with the broken rhythm of warning,
rhyming with human emotions never expressed,
turned mechanism as they encounter flesh.
No murder, she thinks, in self defense,
no sanctity in dying for what you have,
conceived as if in some forgotten life,
the rushed act vicious and reciprocal
as the father once his trembling kill embraced.
Her stone heels crush the wolf’s skull.
She clutches the bitch’s cub on her hip;
the organs in its belly churn and moan.
Her double sleeps nude in a hayfield,
dreams only echoes of spoken images.
The noonday sun has bleached her body.
New blood clashes with the white flower
she clutches like a palpable madness—
paranoia reconciled with satisfaction.
Men cross the reaped fields like clouds.
Sly grin a facial scar, eye
a mask, the fox, with delicate paw prods
her breastbone to further impersonal hunger.
His tapeworm nestles in her rigid belly.
The innocent shivers, pointed to pluck—
act as fruit; sibilant utterances
convolve a desire for color like a gravity,
a dream of odor, a lust for god. Words.
The medium is flesh, her flesh, and his
desire. She does not desire his flesh.
Hidden eyes spy upon them, winking,
blue-hearted, otiose flowers whose own
languid adulteries are with the brief bee.
Her keening awakens her clockwork cock,
who’s all but forgotten to exist since she
left his island of sand to wander the mist.
His senses agitated by her loud exit
into absolute intensity left for him
as a maelstrom between her parted lips,
he speaks to her, cramming knuckles
in his dry mouth, about the end of silence:
Your aching . . . your violent . . . your body.
Red lines pressed upon the large glass—
a clear field where small acts take place.
Her gaze lost in three tissues of cloud,
her waist in stays closing off the air,
she’s mad and will not greet her suitors.
Beyond the street—dust collecting in homes’
new windows, grit loosening from shingles.
She watches children teach birds to kneel.
Her priest instructs: In prayer you whistle
because god grows old and only birds
can make a sound to pierce his tired ear.
Oaken wainscoting, parquet floors, the house
beneath a coat of white paint; white curtains
adorn the flat shoulders of the window seat,
where she sat as a child, her back to the street,
and memorized the rattle’s conversation.
The pad of flesh between her lips dances:
Tell us, Old Town, the color of your buildings,
like sawdust of the ancient windbreak blighted,
shown no pity by the time, taken at the fullness
of its usefulness, and what will bring it back?
Show us trees descending staircases.
Explain the wind. Don’t show us what it blows.
One man will know the whiteness of her body.
It will cost money to fill her with his fluid.
Shirking his vigil duty, a drunk male
slips from his tin coat and runs away—
his scream knocks a cloud out of the sky.
The other eight, glazed by window sweat,
spin in place, fool with spoons, sip
from hot cups the taste of her nipples.
Beneath the floor hard earth holds back
the odor that aspires to ghosthood and hopesone day to mount the basement steps.
Revenged in sleep, yes, a good omen:
volcano, eggplant, hawk feather
conditioning a moment of pure certainty,
instead of remorse. Birdsong dissolves
the hard black shell of their dream.
She breathes deeply, counts the number
of all those living and gives thanks.
Her skin moves over bone like sad music,
a lamentation of slow recognition.
She thinks, The next is tree across a gorge,
a trick of the eye, a drunk’s progress,
the balanced walk soon elbows and knees,
the hopeful ephemerality of creeping
going lower, the rigid belly at rest
on the gnarled limb tapering to a twig—
pointing finger arrested in emphasis.
Fear zero, the unimaginable destiny.
She twists her body like a swimmer turning
backstroke into butterfly, affirming
things still work beneath the bedclothes.
She stretches to call the nurses: sun
a push button set in pale blue sky;
water can, milk pail, red tile, hedgerow;
plowed and seeded earth pocked by rain;
rafters, stepladder, goat bleat, cockcrow;
the fox’s daily raiding of the hen house;
the baby’s naked footprints in dried mud;
snail, calendar, chain link fence;
stones everywhere, endless hard work;
how her back bent beneath wet laundry,
milk, hay, dung, branches, children;
how it arched aching when her sun-fired
husband’s body pierced her in the shade.
The holy triangle: husband, children, self,
grown geometrically into a power of itself.
She remembers the fruit silk and sap smell
of the tree that grew in the center of the yard,
its branches arms with a hundred umbrellas.
In autumn, its shapeless, colorless body
stood like Death attempting resurrection.
She never had to see it fall. It stands
there yet, perhaps; she hasn’t thought to ask.
Forget water, she thinks. Relax.
Her thumb rubs the smooth red button.
She climbs quickly and sits among green leaves,
repeating the word that holds her there, knowing
the word was always the dream’s first dream.
The Savage Mind
The room, white and square,
holds the brute silence
of the encoded hour.
But, there is the window,
light passing the eye
and nerve to the heart,
where rhythm undergoes
There, in the wind and
the tree, the leaf and
the shivering sparrow.
Here, they sing, where
there is no proper name,
you can only point.
The Undone Thing
My body’s naked decay
illuminates a room of mirrors,
themselves reflections, years
compressed into a backward look.
That was flat bone, that, my eye,
that, hard skin, sharp spine.
As number shapes itself,
a man gradually freezes
into the markless prism
of each day: One. Attention!
Two. Prayer! Three. Reach out!
Thus, the count approximates me.
The caliper and the scale
exact a shade of difference
between mole and carcinoma—
sensations bought and sold:
a faceless, Ernstian torso,
odalisque sans ottoman,
beckons like blue oblivion;
afloat in a dusty tearpool
with feathers, stone, and pigment
peeled from unsized canvas,
she is the life of reclining truth,
with plump breasts pointing up.
The seductions of flounder
stall when fins touch glass;
out of the clouds of sand
the moment our quotidian fate,
the miracle of food, descends.
The night will not give in to dreams.
The blood surges, remembering the beach,
where the wind drove the waves in teams.
What is it that the waves teach?
A vanishing point as ephemeral
as any the sky and the waters reach?
Excess of motion, rising to hurl
against the barricades of air,
falls . . . back into itself unfurls.
Inexorable—that sense in a nightmare
that is terror—the waves think
wave on wave to a deafening tintamarre.
There is no conclusion. Ideas sink
beneath the idea that follows,
visions turn to vision with a blink.
Is that all interpretation allows?
My thoughts ran to other things
as I stood lock-kneed in the shallows.
Whitecaps, feathered like seagull’s wings,
beat themselves in a luscious foam,
and etched the beach with sectioned rings.
And like the white space in a poem,
the troughs between each wave held
true, as line upon line washed home.
Would understanding forces that meld
curve to nested curve, that swell
the inhaling tide, that seamlessly weld
a form to its proportion, tell
me if the surf is a deity’s gift
and not a repeated curse from Hell?
Then the balance—a feather adrift
upon the breeze, cartwheeling down the beach;
how the fretful gusts would lift
it always just beyond the reach
of the sandy slip. I watch it seem
fearless, playful, dodging each
wavelet . . . and so begin to dream.
There’s nothing more to the sun,
say, than the sun,
when it glows
red and muted,
just bearable to the eye,
but that is more than enough.
No amount of saying so will
convey the silhouette
of two silos
in the dusk,
the sun rolling behind,
squeezed to a pencil’s width.
There’s nothing in the tower
to see but filigree
of iron, guys
taut and true,
and lights blinking,
looking nothing like eyes.
It is the dusk deepening makes
a pile of dead branches
seem a barrow,
a tractor light
the heart of a ghost,
and chimney smoke a monstrous fish.
While I prefer the leaf fire burns
flat on somebody’s lawn,
fire that’s fire,
light that’s light,
without watching the man
tending it silently with a rake.
The infinity pool is unbounded
of course and of course
expression itself in the double
description of its single point,
the fisherman’s wet net flung
to catch irregularities of the sea—
our Aegean has never been emptier!
The gold light bends the gold wave
on the tear beading on the lash
where a pencil has left its gash.
We cannot look too closely
at anything (that can’t look back),
without understanding to death
matter not worth knowing or love
or faded images resolved into
a moiré of inconsequence.
We confront the one artist,
questioning his portraiture—
all these faces deftly drawn
by an artist drawing himself.
Past is Past
Sequestered, placid as Lake Louise,
a mirror propped between cataracts
of ageless and degraded rock,
we’ve forgotten the ecstatic plunge
and caress of clouds, for the slow roil
unseen, mimicked by old rainfall.
My grandfather’s moon gazes on me
at all the wrong times, never seeing
the Aurora Borealis
or the darkness between each star,
only his own tired, smiling face,
which long since ceased to be a face.
We are the April lawns returning,
divided by the mower-barked roots
of the only tree we know. Enveloped,
sheets of green between loam and air,
pierced by worm and bird, and decay,
yielding the hue of our enthusiasm,
we grow. Given the choice, we might
welcome rootlessness for the freedom
of air. Only the ground is given.
Our life, at both its root and blade,
diminishes to a hair’s breadth,
and there is transubstantiated.
All that is left of us is faces
painted on the underside of rocks
lining the walkway. We hear footfalls,
spend what little breath clings to us
trying to blow, flip on our backs.
Between the glass and the silvering,
refraction is pure and unmarried
to purpose. Images are trapped,
but free to look in either direction.
Two hands place the mirror in the grass
and then, gently, on it rest the rock.
All that is left of us is faces.
I side-stepped the thinning froth
running at my shoes
and pocketed a pebble.
Now it rests in a dish
of cloudy water,
a bit less than profound.
Like a whale at times,
it rises and blows its spout,
grim-jawed, with x-ed out eyes.
In a motionless thicket, a single leaf
twists, as if two fingers roll its stem,
then stops. It twists again and drops.
In a tree, broken branches held aloft
by stubborn bark sway on a pendulum
wider than the solid branches swing.
Most things blaze before they die.
Stars nova and sunlight is only
an incandescent exhalation.
What after? What, after my last
shiver or scream, do I choose to see?
Only leaf, branch, star, sun, and you.
It is sometimes mistaken for
the crown of thorns.
Rooted in a two gallon pot,
the mottled spurge—
false cactus, candelabra plant,
hat rack cactus,
almost thirty years ago was
one small stalk.
Now it’s man-tall, a dozen
and deeply scalloped branches
with black thorns.
It does not flower in captivity.
Its acrid milk
sap is slightly poisonous. In India
they brew up a hot jam to purge
It rots in much water, thrives
on light reflected
off pale walls.
Cut and pot a limb, in a year
it will look
exactly like the mother plant:
how we render it
The steelhead swims upriver,
to brood at the bottom of dark pools.
He seldom feeds, then only on impulse,
on a flash of remembered color,
his hunger an evaporated need.
Above the pool, on gravel,
the female falls
on her side, flashing gold and red,
shivering her tail and flanks
to polish her stony nest.
The water boils with urgency.
I toss the fly (chartreuse cotton,
like an egg
with a barbed penis) above them,
and mend the line. Sooner, later,
one will strike or,
more likely, the fish will snag.
The sound of time is the sound of light,
so the morning sun would seem to say;
but now, when it’s either soon or late,
is silent—dark, when any shade of gray.
Infancy (now in its shroud of amnesia)
saw a thing as it was there to hear
with ecstatic nerves of synaesthesia,
or like a planet without an atmosphere,
naked to the bombardment of the stars,
spun through space. That memory, stored
in our synapses, fights a prolonged war
to glimpse what our mind has barred;
a light the color and the sound of time
we know is not a product of the mind.
The sleep button on the clock radio aborts
a sentence I complete in my hypnogogic
muzz: another murdered innocence supports
the new hour’s inexplicable logic
blasé nature having its fill of trees
pulls them all up to plant tall
thin rocks become by implausible decrees
a maze’s broken impenetrable wall
jealous of memory as though my years
exhaust some primal force of variation
as I fitfully doze she disappears
another citizen from my interior nation
The voice returns. I rise. Without fear or
haste, I forget to dress before the mirror.
If in fact the apple shadows
the peach on the blue tablecloth
to make it seem riper, does
the empty goblet bend both
starched napkin white and darkness
from a draped corner of the room
to evoke residue in a chalice
or lateness in an afternoon?
The apples, green in the silver
tray, are bronzed, like a bronze pear.
The answer to light is color
and fruit illuminate the air—
but only here inside that frame,
where apple replaces its name.
The Inadequacy of Language
Black and white, foreground,
background, horizon and sky—
what is this that I descry?
No word for it has been found.
Fingers pinch bits of glass,
mouths blow rings of gas,
stone spires, numberless grass,
poise like celebrants at mass.
This is but approximation,
sounds approaching shape,
not a poem but its ape.
Inked paper, here, in your hand—
this is what you understand.
The Mocker Mocked
Upon three lines of argument
I’ll construct an actor’s mask
to say what is, not what is meant,
should a reflective audience ask.
First, “Nipples make the thumb
feel glad about its thumbing task.”
Second, “The tongue cannot outdrum
the quarrel fought between the ears.”
Last, “Our bodies eventually come
to satisfy our deepest fears.”
Now, dear friends, with your consent,
I’ll put this on. Hm, it appears
they consider my grin indecent.
I’m booed where I expected cheers!
The Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Since the ninth floor doors were locked,
did the women know the building
was on fire before they felt the heat
radiating through the floorboards?
In no time the smoke drove them all
to the windows, which opened easily.
More than a hundred women jumped
(a few preferred to endure the flames).
Imagine what they must have thought,
what mockery of hope quickly
turned bottomless terror; except, perhaps,
for those who focused, who fixed their
minds on the last chance, tensing each
muscle for all it was worth, determined.
At the point of the intersection
between the theoretical line
and point, there’s a dimension,
not of space, nor of time
(those have been imagined
more thoroughly than I’m
imagined by myself), but of sin.
Not the brand to trouble God,
this sin is words that begin
without being misunderstood
(because the speaker winks!)
and conclude that bad is good.
I think the pine trees think
in theorems, plane geometry;
their sap is magnetic ink,
and the splash of red I see
in rose, cardinal and Mars
is blood escaped from my body . . .
as if I had come from a star
to civilize this wilderness.
The beach is the registrar
of every grain of sand. Mass
is energy’s conscience
and confessor. The soul is a gas.
Yet, right angles, in defiance
of the circle’s perfection,
assume the world, and science
escapes reality’s detection.
As the cold core of a molecule
something sentient ratiocinates
in mathematical ridicule
of everything that loves or hates.
Of course, it has only one idea,
which is for the molecule to be a
functioning integer in a sum
for articulation of a vacuum.
For its part, my overheating heart
expands like star-riddled space
to contain perhaps a lovely face
or a face that has been blown apart.
I have seen molecules with faces
clustered in momentary stasis,
visible, not to some inner eye,
but through tears of an anguished cry.
And they smile. Knowing, simplistically,
but in fact, that they are in control,
they smile plainly and steadily
eye the blinking molecule of my soul.
How orderly the mower’s sound,
blades mincing, round and round,
the tender blades of grass.
I hear the boots of soldiers pass
beneath my curtained window,
and don’t wonder where they go.
The Tilled Field
in the yellow sky
stared at too long
freeze and fall.
Only when we
look away at the last
instant do they catch
air under wings,
The eye thinks itself
incapable of surprise.
All is dog and cat,
plow horse and steer.
We mistake window
for picture frame,
sunlight for knife blade—
nothing worse than that—
but lay a pane of glass
on snow and sparkling
reflected cloud idea.
We are the human
eye—not the eye
of rooster or dog,
not the all knowing eye—
only seeing the dead
tree, the field
the germinating seed.
Does everyone see
the same? I want to
know and conclude,
I think not.
Between the ants
and the summer sun,
hovered in my hand.
The peach that year
brought forth one
we ate like relishing
seemed less rare,
distance of meaning
without that patterned
of the iris in the mirror.
Even the big,
the praying mantis
we learned to see
by watching their song.
We collected maps
of all forty-eight
states and laid
them trim on the lawn.
From the box
elder, we saw
seemed to let go
of itself, each
day escaped into
the past, forgotten
two days later,
a dream never
quite returned to,
so I claimed a spot,
a shadowed eave
atop an old house
my school bus passed
every day; I
almost every day.
The bedpost never
served as well,
too near too often
to bring order.
a bird a pencil
point in the clouds,
far trees less
tree than the leaf
in my hand, two
blue horses feeding
under the eaves
of dark woods, buzz
a rain-swollen creek,
I knew exactly
what to do.
The Persistence of Loss
By the long hallways with its dim bulb
every second or so,
or, a BB shot through a paperback,
the memory of an old emotion
arrives awaiting audience—
something about the meaning
of an offer of pleasure unaccepted,
a thing of least purpose, poor recall.
This flight of ashes in projectile fact,
like an abstract on a museum wall:
What does it mean that making love
was not the proof of love I wanted,
when now it seems perhaps for her it was?
When now her eyes are neither green or blue?
Only this palliative:
We can change nothing but our minds.
I and It
Nothing nature does rests in archives
we can look up and read again unless
it is what we remember of our lives
and see within and do not have to guess
might have happened under no duress.
What is natural is not always wise.
A silver sphere,
seamless, silver inside.
Release a single photon inside.
What would happen?
Is each consciousness totally unique?
A discrete miracle?
Like each man’s heart.
Or is each consciousness part of a
continuum of proliferating consciousness
that will one day pervade the universe?
Is that the ultimate goal of creation.
To make consciousness as universal
as light is now.
The slatted light on the floor
at two thirty three in the morning
is the product of my thought.
I watch the earth’s turning move
me across the floor.
Colors are promiscuous; they get infected
by their neighbors.
They are scattered to the homes
of friends as gifts,
proliferating like consciousness.
All those names!
Why so much imagination expended
on a single thing?
Why so much nature for such as us?
No. The two are equal, if not infinite,
not both infinite.
Which is which, which is plant
and which is us?
The quantumists suggest that there
are a dozen dimensions or more.
How would they know?
Perhaps their knowing makes the fifth.
I stand, man-tall, in other homes
and hope only
to propagate endlessly, endlessly.
A child names a blue sky
blue, not sky,
because the sky is blue,
not sky. Blue.
for the traveler,
As a child, in times of transition,
moving in, away, or up a class,
I’d choose a spot of no distinction,
eaves elbow or dirty pane of glass,
seen daily, in passing, from bus or car,
and call that spot up to memory,
my own version of a wishing star,
proof not everything is temporary.
Solemnly naming the spot my own,
commanding it, above all worthier
bits of the universe, to stand alone,
I’d whisper, If I do not remember
this spot the next time I go this way,
even if I remember some other time,
all that I have seen and done today,
and this spot, will not longer be mine.
So many years later, I still attempt
to make of humble, unnoticed things
what they do not seem, to exempt
the passing car or the cardinal’s wings
from the stopwatch’s oblivious tick.
But now the simile and the metaphor
so complicate things that when I pick
a spot that should mean no more
than what it is, like a broken sidewalk
or tree stump—you see what I mean—
the thing comes alive, begins to talk,
turns to words on a computer screen.