Voca Me, A Poem in 72 Voices

They cried with one voice as they ran 
        toward me.
"Wait, oh, wait, for by your dress 
                       you seem
a voyager from our own tainted country."

Ah! what wounds, some new, some old,
branded upon their bodies!  Even now
the pain of it in memory turns me cold.

                                                                                                                                      The Inferno

“Membranes in countless layers, gathered
  like phyllo dough, thick and thin
layers touching—separate, together—
  the men in death—the deaths in men.”

  *  *  *

“Prepared to swoon into the It
  on the operating table, I laugh,
having been out for a minute
  they say was an hour and a half.”

“A young man, I dreamed of You—
  your mirror-ball lidless eyes,
your smile a gash of scar tissue.
  I saw Nothing in Its disguises.”

“You say you believe in He Who forgets
  you said you don’t believe in God?
Is that it, then, your big secret?
  Faith is not faith, if not flawed?”

“Whose pale beast charges the air,
  amazing birds, churning ashes,
driving the roar of motherless despair,
  urged by a whip made of eyelashes?”

“I’m like an old hissing swan,
  with half its upper beak torn,
flapping up and down the lawn,
  lunging in vain at scattered corn.”

“He asked of me complete surrender.
  I was not to reveal or suppress
myself.  I was only to wonder
  what other men would not express.”

  * * *

“For return of the boy, we danced
  in the mask with only one eye;
through its mouth, I glimpsed
  bloody hands and pale blue sky.”

“Seated, screened, I absolve sins
  with whispered sentences of penance.
I kneel like them and He begins
  with unseen mumbling, then silence.”

“They’ve dispensed with the crucifix!
  Now we’ve a risen Christ and cross!
Instead of the Trinity, let’s have six,
  and God the Pope, already the boss!”

“We sit cross-legged on a flower—
  ankles rubbing up and down my back.
We measure our ecstasies by the hour,
  her white flesh slowly turning black.”

“I sit by the bed, comfort the dying,
  or their survivors, know what to say
to those who profess, find myself lying
  to the bitter one gone astray.”

“A coin on my unconfessed tongue,
  the host wouldn’t melt, tasted
of nails, blood coughed from the lung.
  So, sacraments can be wasted.”

“When the person in my eye turns
  away, the breaths gather round—
exhaled fumes from light that burns
  the air clean of sight and sound.”

  * * *

“Preacher tells me, ‘Believe in Hell,
  where devils chew on dead men!’
Why doesn’t he bother to tell
  me what angels do with men in Heaven?”

“Off the battlements, the bodies tossed
  into the river Styx.  Some float,
some sink, but all are lost.
  None find Charon before they bloat.”

“In Dante, silly demons, afraid
  of the living who pass Hell’s gate,
believe they see Death unmade
  when He has only decided, ‘later.’”

“If I must drink this cup of Lethe,
  remember what I’ve asked Your Son,
Lord—to have His death ensure me
  life, to live in recollection.”

“Wouldn’t we, forsaken, die in Hell?”
  Even spirit couldn’t brook such horror.
So, the truth will be the final evil;
  after, we’ll know nothing more.”

“The house, they said, burned quickly.
  His family of five did not awaken.
Now there’s a new house, I see,
  which their spirits have forsaken.”

“Given the promise ever since birth
  of a personal God with white beard,
outside time, I’ll walk the earth
  by roads old Dante nicely tiered.”

  * * *

“The devil, I think, might have sinned,
  thinking, ‘I’m better than my brothers,’
but not when he fought what was ordained—
  one son to be the equal of the Father.”

“As angels, meant to be, not think,
  we don’t go where not told to go.
No wonder some prefer Hell’s stink.
  No smell at all to Old So-And-So-And-So.”

“Parvati, hand poised, the flection
  of her hip sweet, if not demure,
arouses her Lord Siva’s erection,
  proving gods divine, if not pure.”

“I dream the Angel of Death’s love,
  the warm embrace of her plush arms,
her wing’s beat lifting me above
  the cold brain’s vaporous charms.”

“Two of her hands hold weapons of war,
  a third a skull of blood to her lips.
What does she hold in number four?
  Her hidden hand is what we worship.”

“’That which is spirit becomes real
  when body and heart reflect the inner
conflict of the soul,’ says Gabriel.
  ‘Think!’ shouts the Original Sinner.”

“Angels saw the essential elements
  in pattern, connections objectified
in simplicity, but not what it meant
  when I smiled every time I lied.”

  * * *

“Adroitly, starling’s reedy piping
  interprets the dazzle its splashing
in rainwater gives wing—wing,
  spray, flash, wind clashing.”

“The surf churns.  Pocked with fossils
  once life, now petrified, mineral,
gray limestone looses its cells
  upon the sand—final, sempiternal.”

“The bee, fly, gnat, katydid,
  populating the weeds among
The fences, feed the toad, who rids
  us of pests with stuck-out tongue.”

“The lamb spit blood and died,
  yet untouched by the lion’s claw.
I knelt between them and cried
  for strength—found it in his jaw.”

“Fish at the bottom of the sea, bleak
  with their emission of pale light,
each ignorant of his shadow, seek
  darkness the way we seek insight.”

“Answer.  On both sides of a lightning
  bolt, blue beneath a red cloud,
lips smile, poised to sing.
  The sound?  Answer!  Sweet or loud?”

“Snow falls upon the living side
  of death, the dead stays dry
and temperate.  God called.  I died
  cold and wet, not knowing why.”

  * * *

“If anything has the capacity to exist,
  although it doesn’t, there must be
something.  Thus, what is, mist
  or dust, is mere alternativity.”

“Light transmits the tree to the eyes,
  is seen unseen, God’s mind,
but is not the tree.  The mind lies.
  Light comes between, God’s blind.”

“Vaguely certain kites are flown
  between the wind’s unseen wings,
I fly across my father’s lawn,
  thinking,  wind . . . kite . . . not string.”

“Our euphemism for death is change—
  what was is no more because
of tendencies in things to rearrange.
  Thus we interpret immutable laws.”

“The circle’s path turns progressive,
  but ends where it began.  Illusion,
too, the triangle’s third successive
  span.  The spiral unbinds confusion.”

 “If forces seek a lower level,
  perhaps we are collapsed remains
of a universe devoid of evil,
  waiting to collapse again.”

“The speed of an object’s flight
  times its time’s velocity
is always equal to the speed of light:
  space, time, light and gravity

“are products of Creation no greater
  than consciousness, the fifth dimension.
Time may stop, but sooner or later,
  I’ll see the sequel to oblivion.”
“What did he see, the man who looked
  and understood seeing was to act,
not simply a reacting to?  Crooked
  in a placid pool, God became a fact.”

  * * *

“Nothing is far to God, unless
  you count the vacuum of my faith,
which is uncertain and can’t guess,
  won’t move closer fearing death.”

“When, once again, all became clear,
  and I knew myself, my increase
and diminishment, something nearer
  said:  ‘Do not look for peace.’”

“I nod, head grown heavy in my palm.
  The lion yawns.  The Word has covered
my eyelids with its black balm.
  ‘What,’ says lion, ‘have you discovered?”

  * * *

“On my belly sits some kind
  Of man, scratching his chin, uncertain,
I seem to think, about the blind
  horse nosing my bed-curtain.”

“If God be for us, who against
  His will, man or nation,
dares to threaten our defense—
  our church, our congregation?”

“I stood at the top of the stairs,
  looking down for the longest time,
then I fell.  I felt—it scares
  me still—like the victim of a crime.”

“Some thought me innocent of reality,
  touting a god who wouldn’t turn
his people’s thirst for brutality
  against his enemy—but they learned.”

“‘I don’t believe in Mortal Sin,’
  I said.  The priest:  ‘Of course,
no act is unpreconditioned,
  but you are evil at its source.’”

“I’ve lived here for thirty years.
  I eat and pray, knit and sleep.
At night, I blink back the tears.
  Everything I have I bought cheap.”

“Newly confirmed, fervent, awake,
  I clutched the missal in my hands.
I said a prayer for my soul’s sake
  and cursed the devil in my glans.”

“The nuns taught me to say Hail Mary’s
  as a child, to ensure a good marriage.
I hope that quaint guarantee carries
  some indulgence for my miscarriage.”

“I’m a lonely woman, sick and weak.
  The paper boy is only thirteen,
but he responds to the little peek
  I give him.  He says I’m ‘keen’.”

“I took the crozier from the Bishop’s hand,
  swinging Saint Michael and the Dragon
to set a miter on his Eminence’s head and
  martyred him.  ‘Again,’ he said, ‘Again!’”

“A god my cock.  Big as a hose.
  Almost all hole.  Harder than rock.
Go where the twitchy butt goes.
  Snuff what it wants.  Give a fuck.”

“A nice boy, couldn’t make decisions—
  he wanted peace in the house.  He said,
‘God loves all men, and all religions.’
  He left the Church.  My son is dead.”

“I know He is only a god of what seems,
  never of what is.  I lead my flock
in rising, self-abasing screams.
  At least it keeps them off the crack.”

“Perfectly sober, I drove with my thumb,
  holding a Manhattan in my lap,
felt the road crumble, the car jump,
  thinking, I’ll draw my own road map.”

“Armageddon was in Nineteen Seventy-five.
  The flag and evolution are Satan’s tools.
Because it’s ‘Eighty-nine and we’re alive,
  the humanist politicians think us fools.”

“Whom shall I give my small fortune?
  The symphony and the art museum
provide less eternal recognition
  than carvings on one’s mausoleum.”

“All the things that men forget,
  I remember yet.  Call me Sid,
who hid in Suzie’s hairnet
  ‘cause Daddy did it with his kid.”

“I had eaten, and become immortal,
  so I ate another white tab.
My eye exploded.  Infinity’s portal
  soon closed up and formed a scab.”

“My whore held a Bible by her cunt
  as she kneeled swaying above me.
I said, ‘I have sinned!’ in front
  of millions.  Oh, how they love me.”

“Last year I harvested the hay,
  left the bound rolls in the field.
Resting here, I sense their decay.
  Why does the ground go untilled?”

“Not know what covetous meant,
  when in everything I had what
most would not even think to want,
  I showed men what not to covet.”

“That day the snow came down like moths,
  and it was May.  I watched a squirrel
nibbling its perch—a twig tossed
  by the wind—ignoring spring’s deferral.”

“He made us like him, not Him,
  teaching us to blink, not think.
One could follow Him, or them.
  I too drank the cyanide drink.”

  * * *

“We take a moment to devote
  to God, the opposite of rhyme,
a song, a single silent note,
  nothing sung in metered time.”

“My soul was like a weaned child.
  It was He, not I, who made me.
Just His laughter would reconcile
  my rage with my vanity.”

“I grew to question the pyramids—
  poured cement, not quarried rock.
Unlike Stonehenge’s cold Druids,
  I knew the sun was not a clock.”

“What they saw over Bethlehem
  was the birth or death of a star
aeons before faithless men
  could look up and say, ‘How far?’”

“My fist lay on the filthy shop
  floor.  I screamed along with
the saw, which would not stop.
  Its teeth were now my teeth.”

“A medium, not a personality,
  a receptacle of others’ feelings,
I discovered my true identity
  in premeditated stealing.”

“Sleep and Death being one,
  conscious of the sliding minute,
I dream to comprehend the reason
  unconsciousness is infinite.”

“Dancing to quaint viols, antique
  tunes, beneath the mushroom shade,
we are like forces, strong and weak:
  we spin together, then we fade.”

“I saw three men, treacherous men,
  wading a river, murderous and wild.
It swallowed them, swallowed again.
  I saw it shiver, nauseous, defiled.”

“Upon the city’s grid of lights,
  I imposed my dynamic
rhythm—yellow, reds, whites,
  and blues, opposing, unmelodic.”

“In imitation of intercourse,
  bones line up, teeth chatter.
Fading into its depthless source,
  old ecstasies seem not to matter.”

“My concern is with the minimal
  thinking life in a man, the brute
moving away from its animal
  state, awakening, and still mute.”

“The flat black I painted
  concrete, looked like seeping oil.
I called beauty art tainted,
  truth wishful thinking soil.”

“Each of us is a devil’s penis,
  thrusts the earth above the ground.
Will conscience not wean us
  from sex before the final mound?”

“One of countless sounds, my voice
  joined the crowd’s absurd violence,
unheard of course, leaving no choice,
  but proud discipline of silence.”

“As Christ’s body I lived my life;
  did He as my head have regrets?
I think, whatever comes, afterlife
  or afterdeath, I’d rather forget.”

“He’s committed haram against the Prophet.
  You will not read!  You will hunt him
 to the city of the Riddah, where for profit
  he hawks his words like a mutakallim!”

“What was paradise?  A mere acre
  or two?  Or a million?  And Adam and Eve.
‘This is boring,’ said their Maker,
‘Either you get busy or you leave.’”

“Once, my prayer reversed the negative—
  light became nothing, darkness radiated
life.  As I watched the sun give
  off night, my yearning was satiated.”

“Are dead grins, I used to ask,
  more alike than living faces?
Which is actor, which is mask?
  One endures, the other erases.”

“The little wrens screw up their cheeks,
  stifling laughter as the boy wriggles
up through her cool body.  He seeks
  her mouth.  She wakes to their giggles.”

“‘Because you can’t know when the thief
  will come, day or night,’ said Matthew,
‘keep watch!’ referring (to my disbelief!)
  to the Second Coming.  Coming for you?”

“Mine the space of those who move
  along the serpentine circle,
the house-born triangular groove.
  I took my space in place of will.”

“As I died, alone, in my bedroom,
  he held out his arms to me, cried,
‘Take the stone from the mouth of your tomb.’
  I spoke, ‘Why were you crucified?’”

“I am old.  Starlight is young.
  I was dust when its flight
began: dust the star that flung
  it forth to die into my sight.”

“What has not the shape of a dog,
  can’t lie quietly there and seem
to be or fly like a rising fog?
  Reluctantly, I change my dream.”

  * * *

“Nothing is far to God, I guess.
  We move closer, the closer Death
holds us out to Him, unless,
  unlike Death, we drop our faith.”

“When, once again, all became clear,
  and I knew myself, my perfection
and diminishment, something nearer
  said, ‘Prepare for resurrection.’”

“Call me, says the bare branch to gray
  skies.  Call me, says the black
smoke to the stars.  Night, says day
  To darkness, will not call you back.”

  * * *

“Because nobody loved me, I ate.
  I stuffed myself as though the food
was me, and that satisfied my hate.
  Make no mistake, I tasted good.”

“For months on end I’d barely move,
  wouldn’t do a thing more than eat
or piss or shit, or roughly smooth
  the bone from my stiffened meat.”

“I watched my son become a man,
  not me, envied his youth and vigor,
wanted what he could give a woman,
  not me, so I pulled the trigger.”

“Belief was my hunger, my need.
  A god collector, I was obsessed
with every man’s faith and creed,
  feeling nothing if not possessed.”

“Twelve and trembling behind the fender
  of my Olds, he wagged the twelve-gauge
at his father.  He cried at my tender
  scolding.  He fired at my rage.”

“I’d dance with old Death’s mother
  the dance we do on knees and chest.
I’d explain I was his brother
  and she’d clutch me to her breast.”

“Suns sit on the shoulders of the sky
  no more imperially than my head
floated above all others.  Asked why,
  I’d have told you why not instead.”

  * * *

“He-Who-is spoke and I obeyed,
  until a second voice, my own,
louder than the one to which it prayed,
  commanded, ‘Listen to me alone!’”

“I loved a bust of Beaudelaire.
  I understood its smile—awake
and lewd.  I saw it everywhere—
  idol of man for man’s sake.”

“Beside the swollen creek, we
   swore, strutting pubescent silk.
When the word was explained to me,
  I felt a kid fallen into milk.”

“I heard Daddy say Goddammit.
  I said it too.  And when
he went red swearing and hit
  me, I said Goddammit again.”

“The seventh day was God’s.  He rested.
  The eighth, less holy, made a circle.
On Sunday the power of God is arrested.
  On Monday a man can perform miracles.”

“My parents like two grim wraiths
  booing each other, trapped in a fun-
house that once was love and faith,
  bicker above the song of their grandson.”

“After my rape, before my murder,
  I saw blue eyes, a toothy grin,
and pale hatred, drained of ardor,
  that didn’t know where to begin.”

“Unfaithful?  I have never told
  another woman that I love her.
My marriage vow still holds,
  though I’ve had a hundred lovers.”

“‘Thou shalt not lie or steal?’
  I bought the oath of office,
and did both.  ‘A clever deal,’
  the papers said, ‘A man of promise.’”

“What about my neighbor’s husband?
  He considers me fair game.
Why not the other way around?
  The two, you say, are not the same?”

  * * *

“I hear a recurring note’s trace
  upon the air, but can’t for long
hold that sound as I race
  to catch up with the song.”

“It is eternal no.  The no
  is eliminated, so . . .
and we are only yes.  I know
  this this.  Is this this also?”

“Today, the swaying tree made
  the wind make birds fly, swell
hearts, and songs of rejoicing fade.
  When it stopped, the birds fell.”

“If the combining of will and decision
  is the valence of faith—the choices
of the past acting upon one’s vision
  of the future—what are these voices?”

“I stood alone in a field of snow
  and watched a tree shatter the sun.
A voice said, ‘This is all you know—
  a dream and its interpretation.’”

“Sedated on the operating table,
  I ceased to be, or to be to be.
Duration after death is a fable,
  I later reasoned.”  “But is eternity

time?  We think it with our eyes.
  You did awaken after all.
What, moveless, countless, lies
  beyond the clockworks of your soul?”

  * * *

“There is a charm in the taste of tea,
  which makes it seem an ideal form,
that in repetition reveals the
  charm of tea to be the taste of form.”

“Every day I tried to find
  one thing through which spirit
that was my heart or god or mind
  could speak and make me quiet.”

“Welcome, Blossom.  Pink petals—
  pale, pale—white, shrivel
around your spent stigma, settle
  into earth without a shovel.”

“Continuum is continuum—
  at each vanishing point exist
space thought time vacuum
  exhaled upon a single axis.”

“The sun a rock among the canyon
  faces, rapids deafening quiet;
tracklessly, I wade.  The hidden
  shadow trembles.  Swifts riot.”

“The breath left my body for the clock
  and held it stopped.  When wind and rust
dissolved the clock . . . and our deadlock,
  my breath inhaled the air and dust.”

“Sunshine floods the room and red
   birds flash across the window frame.
There is no ease in joy.  The dead
  relax.  The mind dances like flame.”

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