Hamilton Stone Review #26
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
On Movement and Stationary Ideas
(After sculptures by Calder,
Bourgeois, and Schnabel)
Something knobbed and white
rushing out of a rectangular frame,
bobbing on the end of a trajectory
coming toward us, this thing breaking loose,
a stray habit that is physics,
the dissolution of marriage,
the coarse feeling
that leaves sculptors' hands
when form slips through their blood
and out, beyond skin,
floating and transparent as the daytime moon.
All these planes, shapes, sides
rotating in the breeze of a passerby,
a form desperate
to break apart, compelled to its random
a hat peaking black woolly interferences
like an ideology.
My hand touches yours
in the already past
position of its
arc described as my turning
where men walk in a circle,
bumping into each other,
ruddy-faced from degrees below freezing,
shoes moist from the steaming
manholes of Madison Avenue.
My hatched footprints
are the circumference
where you stand still,
where a red disc whirls,
where you study accident,
though I move on
into the fixed intentions
of the next sculptor's name
shared with lovers of tidy homes
and small children,
homely detail stiffened
into a bundle of upright sticks,
bleached as from the sea,
a hardened sheaf
of fallopian tubes,
hollows filled with wooden ovoids.
Here's something not quite glaucous.
"Helen of Troy."
Bronze worn into itself,
a petrified trunk
tapered to a narrow waist
whittled by an axe
now buried in scree outside a cave,
its threatening mass
greater than a lost time,
tipping as if to crack to the floor,
I ask you to step away,
thinking of sculptors' slabs
that have fallen on workers,
taking you to me
from its roughened side,
this monument to a beauty
that brought back
the black rat and plague,
this worry of war
as our bodies touch
beneath layers of clothing.
If they pause from nothingness
they awaken yawning, filling themselves
with a long roundness, what they were,
fetlocks white as bared teeth, coldness
in their bones the apples from November trees,
a wind blowing into bright spaces
that will be shaped around as ears.
They snort unseen where I wait
at red lights, my cut fingers healing
from tin lids I tried to wash and save.
Legs shivering that have just formed,
their entire bodies rear up,
lifting darkness that has lidded
my eyes. I hear them coming
down the long halls of white colonial
homes, thudding, their heaving sides
scraping wallpaper scenes of garden gates
and corn-blue meadows, the sticky strings of saliva
trailing parquet floors, the lamps trembling.
In another dream I walk the floating
islands of Okefenokee, the peat floor folds
over my stepping, the eyes of alligators
blink above the tea-colored water,
the jaws of evening closing on tupelo, bald
cypress, extended arms draped with moss,
the mothering air that opens like a gasp
pounding the wrong side of hearing,
where my heart shakes. I take a torn path
through burdock and stripped mullein,
frost-darkened hollyhock leaves
an ancient woman's skin, detached,
waiting for interior, for syllables
risen from swamps and curved shadow
of thorns and green stem of eye-
paint rose. This taste urgent in my mouth.
His pulse picks up. Digital dials advance.
Spurts of color, something stricken, a thin
scribble on a graph: that thing snaking through
his groin, slithering toward constantly drumming
hollows, fading into oblivious
shades of green, pronouncing heartache
to be declining reds of -inmost-, -wretched-,
would take a middle-aged painter from Belgium,
in black bowler and coat, to imagine
a river coursing through flat, moonlit land;
seven balusters of a simple bridge
where one could lean to study trees' milky
tips and chartreuse pommes, to be the sleeper
staring through brick walls, to hear his wavering
breath as the sibling song to muted gongs
of the nurses' station: and think,
tram to the village. Boulangerie. A light
Where it leaves the periphery of vision, a slithering thread,
where it hides in the prostate, bulging, sealing the urethra,
where it invades lymph, parallels the blood, swollen,
hungry for iron, seeping like dye into hair, eating at the breast,
darkness like soot clinging to the voltage of nerves,
where it drifts from reactors, breaks loose from boron,
stealing the memory like lead, rising in morning mist
as from a shriveled swamp, the powdery lichen, where it roils
behind diesel rigs, particulate, settling into the pores of cheeks,
burning down from the sun, frothing in the colon, the scum
of cooking oil, where it bakes into round sweets, where it hums
in the furnace, twists free from polyethylene, burning the lips
like speech, its coiled syntax, its larvae in the flowers of cells,
mindless, iridescent as copper sulfate, acrid as dung.
A 40-inch waist! Suppose I pulled these chinos on,
fingered the frayed pocket where keys almost poked
through: the one to his SUV with Ohio plates,
the one with a blue tag labeled by the realtor,
the one to his elderly sister’s house, even though
she is visiting right now and he forgot to leave
her key in his pajama drawer back home, his own
extra house key there, wrapped in a rubber band
with an empty pill bottle, one refill to go. This
is a capacious man who pushes the fries away from
his fish entrée, saving room for carrot cake and Irish
coffee. His sister sleeps on the pull-out sofa in the
one-BR vacation rental unit. Divorced, almost his
twin--the same crinkle around the eyes, an upward
curving mouth, left-handed, impatient with politics--
she makes the cole slaw. She’s brought his favorite
Pinot Noir, which is the stain down on the edge of his
left cuff, her hand trembling and sloshing wine in a
glass a bit too full. The outline of his stuffed wallet
shows through the left rear pocket, where a button
hangs by a thread (no attached card by the Dry Cleaner’s
saying they’ve replaced the button free of charge). You
can trace the bulge of his wallet’s life, almost see his
smudged social security card; pages torn off a small
pad with cell phone numbers written down; his old
union membership ID; his wife’s last photo; the extra
key to the Honda she used to drive that he must put
up for sale once he returns home, before he sorts her
clothes and shoes, before he writes so many thanks
for all those flowers in Chapel C where she'd looked so
Meditation #14 Beyond the Dead
The high ones die, die/and I am on the wire/with blackouts and delirium tremens/shake
yourself out of it/we have to die/we may as well be up there one foot unsteadily in front
of the other/maintaining our balance/This is not some kind of fit/an idiot in a Swiss
sanatorium/abandoned in a drying-out ward/You heard me, we have to die/the brief pulse
of the electrodes on either side of the head/the IV drip convulsing beside the bed/
the black worms crawling up the walls/the palpitations and sweats/insects burrowing
beneath the skin/the appalling nerves/the panic attacks/Relax/we have to die/a lifetime
of deception/standard royalty terms and advance/I do not want to go beyond the dead/
what of mental unrest/perhaps that’s better left unsaid/but up there on the wire in the dark/
a pole to amplify my sway/a night-time of proprioception/without the lure of safety nets/
the bounced cheques/We have to die/Entranced by the saccadic movements of my eyes/
I lift one foot in front of the next/a wayward step/
Polished, and smooth as a seal,
a young Thai woman eddies
into the uprising tide,
bobs into it, her hair,
face, silk shirt, skin
aglint like split coconut.
She dazzles, sun blowing down,
pink, orange, grabs the offbeat
rhythm of the waves,
dashes into the lens’s light,
strings out her long black hair,
as sinuous as an octopus’
one arm, reaches for the dark.
The shutter blinks.
The photographer shuffles,
akimbo, loses his time, beat,
cuts his photograph,
snaps the model shut,
damns his dimming sight.
She lags in the sand-dashed
space, counts out three
and a quarter, grabs the tempo,
raises the moon, beaming,
with the lift of her hand,
a tentacle of seaweed,
framed by starstruck night.
When Impossible to Select Among Rivers
Here, as well, as there, it’s impossible to select among rivers,
To learn botany along with blessings, or memorize entire herbals, especially
If crossing mountains, whose glacial underpasses glisten moist most mornings.
Modified picture-writing, i.e. nearly unapproachably sophisticated scripts, fail to store
Such ursine moment.
Consider, as well, that certain beetles, all katabalistic winds, likewise spousal love notes,
Wild sarabandes to a one, serve as prodromes of lugubrious wailing, evidence
Our desperate swagger as we change direction, when trying to count gratitudes.
As always, the bottom of hills, the remaining wine, plus molted raven feathers preserve
Nature’s best amusements.
Besides, intimate songs, as hummed through ivory kokles, or as strummed on traditional zithers,
Their olive wood skin flecked with goodwives’ sweat, possess joints that become more perfect
Whenever feminine sagacity gets espoused or when blood, beneath poodle skirts, is drawn.
Those instruments, whose assignations, akin to reindeers’ mentations, mystic trysts, operate
The special ordering of bringing wayward sorts home.
Note, no other orrery or alternate means of containing actions’ consequences ever worked
Until we willingly folded up ourselves, creasing carefully along the dotted lines.
Those rather painful exudations which cause many short trips to important jungles.
Straightforwardly, severing our affairs in European and North American initiated
Choice plundering of vital plants in the Middle East.
That spoliating, mixed with latent reports of hatred, debauchery, together with actual ills,
Under different circumstances, summoned visits from gelatinous monsters, two-headed fish,
Puppies born to camels that refused to ignore banking turns, in company with blanched sea greens.
After all, micrograms of galactic immobility make it their business to stymie
Regulars otherwise pleased with modernization.
Perhaps, exposing ourselves, in huffs and peeks, renders supplemental techniques,
Ethics, higher education, social media, kindred souls, helpless to protect
Against further institutional acceptance, random flinging of philosophical morsels, peace.
Accordingly, lives filled with hermetically-sealed patterns of careers, farfetched dreams, mitigate
Except when we sanction magic or additional nonsensical turns.
Go up to where the street begins
and you will hear the strains of music from Carrier Row
notes lengthening down to you and pulling your body upward
themselves thin and strong as a girl’s white arms
and whether you are yanked or made to follow
a yearning your mind does not condone,
but which puts its lips against your bones
and whispers of sweet, fat things—
so walk up, girl.
You will find the old track, the one you forgot
the one the gristmill owner built a hundred years ago
for his birdboned daughter
so that she could be hauled up the steep-pitched not-yet-road of Sparrowrise
The car is gone, ties rotted
but if you kick the water-black leaves and matting fur remains away
you may rest your feet against a sure thing
and stay for a moment, toes pointed straight down
wedged in the nonspace between wood and dirt
a space fast becoming space
blister wanting wide enough for you to slip into
down where the black dirt rises to meet you
as music reaches down
covering this town
a rotting warmth
the released heat of thin lives
air trapped between flesh and bones.
Stand there a while, if you like.
Look down at the pink lights, the white lights
the street as it widens, and the highway below.
The cars go east, the cars go west.
An old song moves through your head, replacing, for a moment
the one you hear—
strain of wedding march, souring
violin—and then is gone, the present present
the air cooling itself further before it reaches your face
just a little, but different from the air felt by
you are sure.
We cannot decide
If the English teacher
is a stupid man
or almost as clever as he thinks.
He stays in his motel room
and thinks we cannot see him.
We know the scent that gilds his hair
How much of it comes off on his hands
And comes to rest on a coffee cup
And sugars it so slightly
With the ways of outside.
We do not know what he wants with our daughters,
But we see the way he looks at them—
There is a word for this, and perhaps he has it
In those books of his.
It is half lust,
It is the look of a city boy
Raised on westerns
Seeing a horse for the first time
Touching with one hand its flank—
Sun-warmed, rough, the scars a shock
But golder still than imagined—
And raising the other to its nostrils
Waiting to be breathed into
Another kind of life.
Once again, I am there: the late summer night
ladling its warmed-over air into my lungs,
the pump’s interminable compressor
ticking out its time on the roof next door,
the immutable drummer’s riff of it,
the occasional wheeze at its rattle-end
and the hard steel of its poorly greased
heart knocking like a broken clock.
Later, I listened through thin walls as drunken
lovers unfastened their solitudes, letting the robes
of their lives slide from their shoulders.
I hear them pledge their breasts, each to each,
compressing the salty rhythms of their bodies
through that slick membrane we cannot rupture.
In the great poems of the world
tragedy befalls the hero
because the pimple on his soul
has grown too large for his face,
monsters must be conquered
in their metaphoric dens,
rebel angels cast out of heaven
and the maddening song listened to
while the crew plug their ears and oar on.
The heroic action never happens
in a random afternoon,
when a low slung car sharks by
emitting one staccato pop
above the boom box melody in its belly,
and a child, scooping up his jacks on a stoop,
slumps away from the glittering spikes.
By night, under cover of rain,
She steals sixteenth notes
From Romantic piano sonatas.
They were scattered around
Like loose change
And won’t be missed.
Pianists will thank her.
She’s weaving a five strand necklace
For her beloved’s throat.
Small crystal sounds,
Plucked from only the best composers.
They will decorate him
Like rain under moonlight.
For your pleasure
I would devise a language
That never existed, lightly inflected.
I would deduce it from your eyes
And know it could never hold an idiom
For the beauty I meet when they meet mine.
For your worship
I’d compose a song in that dialect
Whose meaning would always
Remain just out of reach.
Still, it would lightly brush memories
Of the adventure of your skin meeting mine.
For your desire
I would inscribe the melody,
Note by trembling note,
With the small flame of my tongue
Along the stations of your body
So that you’ll always remember that you’re mine.
As if they once had teeth, your hands
nibble on apples half mud, half worms
—you eat only what falls to the ground
rotted, serene, made dark
by the welcoming slope into evening
—you pick the way every stone
points where to rest, has this urge
to be useful, calms your arms
still attached to the same mouth
and milky breath, holding on
—you share these twins with the sun
stretching out on your forehead
shining in its darkness from the start
and in your arms the word
for offering, for stillness, pieces.
Praxis, how I loved you. You appear seven times,
at least, per page in the volumes of Western Marxism
and Socialist Humanism I’m selling twenty, no,
thirty years late, so that even the vast
Book Graveyard in Rockville won’t take them, if in fact
it survives. My wife’s Uncle Mike,
the shrink, who also has to
retrench, must have the same problem
with his shelves full of moldy visionary
attempts to analyze schizophrenia.
There’s no market for the Talking Cure
or for you, praxis, now.
Ideas like rusting factories producing
mice, like apartment buildings terminally
urined by banks and tenants, like untraceable
pensions and mortgages, like wasted educations,
like space shuttles. So that Mike at a party
might quote Laing’s Three Rules
for the Creation of Schizophrenics (Rule One:
You absolutely must not;
Rule Two: Rule One does not exist;
Rule Three: There shall be no discussion whatever
of the existence or nonexistence
of Rules One, Two, or Three) and diffidently mumble,
They may not create schizophrenics
but they produce something; and be looked at
with the horror and wish to be elsewhere
religious types claim
they encounter (as indeed they should). But you, dear praxis,
don’t even receive that degree
of recognition, i.e.,
contempt. And even I
must admit I’ve found you wanting. Under Nixon,
for an hour a week I planned
to abandon my bourgeois self
and the vanity of art, move to Oakland, organize
workers and welfare recipients, learn to
sweat and talk football and cars while subtly
injecting class-consciousness. Under Reagan,
an hour a month. Under Bush
Two I signed e-petitions,
donated money, and never left
the house. By then people once
on welfare were working four jobs and had eaten
their young, while workers
in distant jungles awaited some heavenly imam ...
Oh praxis, it’s snowing. On Fox,
they’ll joke about global warming
and sixty million viewers
will laugh. I could no more
explain to them that the deepening white
outside is a pledge of the desert to come
than I could clear it; but on the sand in my mind,
I croak with thirst and triumph as we burn.
Praxis, the self is a hovel,
but that doesn’t mean we want
to move. It’s a musty gruel
that becomes the sweetest persimmon
when someone, ourselves included, asks us to share.
Near Shelley’s grave, the ashes of Gramsci
sift from his tomb beneath a corrupt
and epicene moon. Victor Serge,
dying in a taxi, couldn’t afford
the fare and must tour Mexico City
until the traffic stops. Rexroth wrote
his friend Jacobson that, despite Stalin, despite
McCarthy, they had been
the happiest men alive in our day;
and perhaps they were, but his book won’t fetch
fifty cents at the Book Graveyard. And don’t talk to me, praxis,
about art as praxis;
I know what that amounts to. Marcel Marceau’s
old film about a park:
the little girl, the rude little boy,
the bashful somewhat larger girl
and youth, the wistful or preoccupied
feeders of pigeons;
and he – do you see – must be all of them,
until the gates close and the last,
the old man, hobbles off with his terrible stare.
If I’m quiet, maybe the guy
in the other bed will be quiet.
But he is quiet, after groans
and an indistinguishable sentence
that first afternoon. Black voice.
I scrupulously use headphones.
(When first turned on, the TV shows
live feed from an empty chapel.)
The curtain between us
doesn’t reach or conceal
a plastic canister beside him. But it’s important,
that curtain – like the question
of whether my position by the door
is better than his, by a window
that probably looks out on walls.
I read. A nurse tells me
the doctor is delayed.
I sleep. The doctor
tells me the specialist is delayed.
The canister begins to fill
with spattered blood. Nurses enter,
then doctors. They do something
beyond the curtain; the blood stops.
Again the next night, no sound
from him as the tube to the canister
runs amber, then red.
The room fills. They wheel in
an enormous gadget with a screen,
which they turn so all can see.
In the process the curtain retreats a foot
and I see too.
livid where the probe
prods it. Shadow beyond
each turn. They pause at anomalies,
their voices neither hushed nor strained.
Blood-trickle. “What’s that?”
A whitish, pitted wen
the light amazingly bright and prolonged
on the screen. They sound confident –
“that’s it,” whatever it was –
and quickly, comically, the probe withdraws.
(But they forget the canister,
which connects to him how? I wonder.)
One doctor, older, my age,
and not, I sense, the chief,
turns before he leaves.
“Thanks for your patience.”
Which surprises me more, for some reason,
than would an apparition
above the altar on the chapel station.
“I just hope the poor guy’s OK,”
I say (what else can I say?), and
he smiles noncommittally
(what else could he do?). That morning
I’m told my test results
are negative. When I dress,
I look behind the curtain.
Long features, drawn, the expression
intense despite coma.
Eunice a name I had not encountered,
redheaded aging beauty queen of sorts,
paid no attention to me or my kind,
a younger know it all with spoken words.
Our clash inevitable, it seemed, seed
planted deep, with internecine root.
She did her job and I did mine so that
in the end there was little to dispute.
We went our separate ways and that was that.
She gave me a striped tie I sometimes wear
with a dark suit.
Walking the Salt Marsh
When did she swallow brackish water
as these fingers of cord grass do—
beckoning, swollen green.
When smile and burp up silt
spilling in from the estuary at high tide
to submerge logs of driftwood.
There the sandpiper stood,
strangely human on its tan stand,
calling in five pure tones
to find a mate. She’s not sure
she could handle the demise
of back barriers, the wasteland.
What about the past,
its tragedies, its secret sweetmeats
in her mouth at restaurants—
leechee nuts in Montreal,
spare ribs in garlic, black crab
lining the bottom of porcelain.
And though she knows
how the graveyard of shells
came to be—delicacies dropped on purpose
by hawk, gull, and osprey
to break out creature-flesh—
she doubts her strand of 8 mm pearls,
the Parisian eye on her bow.
She remembers the part of the story
where characters circle back to point a,
find their childhood, learn again
what it was made of: storm waste,
tidal highs and lows, detritus.
The cameo appearance of a rich relative
who has come on behalf
of the gods, his capacity for kindness
far and above the indifference
of nature, which is, she’s
certain, the same as contempt.
Skin of the animal called Nauga,
upon whose back we sat in cars,
on sofas and chairs, their history
carved into yellow linoleum floors,
gored into gray hardwoods.
As we struggled to attach,
the Nauga picked no favorites.
It held nothing but time, the shark’s grin,
the webbed feet and stapled eyes
of a creature with vinyl skin.
We sat in its lap, oblivious to grown up
talk. Dust took to the air, covered
our featherweight, porcelain skins
until we, like the adult children
in Renaissance paintings,
became shamed by Mother’s pots
banging around the kitchen, within range
of Father. The Nauga oozed sanction,
unlike those stuffed others
whose insides bled white fluff.
Held in flux. Bored,
fidgety, or slipping down
into scents of grease and lemon,
we’d eat dirt until its solicitous,
grimy, repetitions became rituals
to summon sleep: a black and white TV,
ironed woman smoking cigarettes
while running her vacuum
back and forth across a blinded house
on any given snowy afternoon.