Hamilton Stone Review #29
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
What they did with each other
was never our business. The barn dance ended,
flannel shirt, sundress draped over rock. Flustered
she bared her shoulder. I know why we didn’t stop her
make strangers her lovers along the riverbank.
In a different season, snow blurred the field
behind her house. Behind each of us
is what we will never admit
except in the safety of a firestorm in the privacy
of a dream, forgotten immediately.
The furnace clicks and thumps in their mud floor basement
like an old green Chevy shifting gears. At the top of the hill,
a driver squints, truck stalls, somehow starts again. Their house,
deep, chipping red, sits stubbornly, backdrop of snow and forest.
The place has seen hurt, so much that its gutters filled with leaves
and water and froze that way. She dreams of other couples
in her room long ago, biting against the cold of pain between them,
running fingers through a girl’s hair, lighting fires. And here they are,
naked beneath beams, the black night beyond
and the stars. He has taken her into his arms, back to their house,
brown rice, warm bread. He is the one who fixes the furnace if it leaks,
the gutter if it splits. Now, with tape and scissors and glue,
she is running uphill alongside the truck. Wait.
I need your help. I’m trying to fix this. Let’s sit by the road for a minute.
Oil on canvas stretched across a field
of Vermont snow outside my friend’s
studio. Four-foot by four-foot –
it hangs on my living room wall.
A wedding gift, its surface only pure white
from a distance the way my dress
must have looked to anyone outside
the little church looking in the open doors.
At the fitting, after handing over
my sketches – exactly how I’d like the straps
to widen gently at the shoulder – I saw
the cream color of the fabric,
the way the sky washes
white over pale yellow over white
and the snow becomes all shades
of faraway blue, undercoat of magenta.
Ten or more fence posts, buried. A backdrop
of brightness glows. The painting. My marriage.
Layers reveal themselves every time I sit in this room.
The bright field shimmers through the stonewall
as I center my body over yours, brush a black fly off your hip.
Your hand on my back steadies us. In the shade
by the fence you built, cicadas persist, announcing
the fall. Sheep meander away out of respect, as if they can hear
our healing. We have made love out here before,
but not like this, never like this, where each gesture
forgives, each branch above us aching
to be blown against another.
He never talked about his shrapnel wounds,
never bragged his battalion took that Pacific island.
Long after the autumn day I cut school
for the national moratorium, I learned
my father served on Guadalcanal.
I belted Country Joe and the Fish, hitchhiked to anti-war rallies.
My sister too stoned to protest even her curfew.
Brother, hair below his shoulders, didn’t register
for the draft. Silent, Dad raised the flag
in our front yard every Veteran’s Day.
Each August he dragged us to Houston,
Philadelphia, Las Vegas, 1st Marines
reunions. Legs encased in nylon, Mum
attended wives’ teas. We smoked dope
in the bushes, ordered room service by the pool.
After he died I sorted his things, found a cigar box
full of ribbons, medals, threadbare campaign patches.
My thumb rubbed ridges of the blood–red
embroidered “1” the way I once traced
translucent scar tissue on his left hand.
They head to California like lemmings
called by the Sirens. Not to the sea,
to Laurel Canyon, seduced
by the terroir of the music.
They leave dairy farms in Wisconsin,
dream of something more exciting
than mucking stalls and birthing calves.
Sneak out of urban bedrooms,
notes written in purple ink positioned
on the kitchen table like a centerpiece.
Hitch rides in a VW bus
plastered with day-glo daisies.
Flash the peace sign, climb in back,
sing along with the radio. Arrive in L.A.
wearing tiered skirts, hems ragged
where they dragged on the ground.
Find their way to the Canyon Country Store,
sit for hours on the wooden steps, wait
for the Lizard King. Write love letters,
place them by his front door.
Four decades later an arsonist torches a Mazda,
flames crackle, leap to the three-story
wooden structure on Rothdell Trail.
Smoke swirls like tendrils of hair.
Charred scraps dance in the brush,
a lone baritone soars above the roar
of the Santa Anas.
A Partial Accounting of the Lost Years of Susan Bentley
Accompanied by the Lefty Frizell Song “If You’ve Got Money, Honey”
We’d see my grandmother Bentley on her furloughs
from Eastern State Hospital if she was allowed to call
to be picked up in Lexington. She’d been committed
from the time she chased a man up a telephone pole,
emptying an heirloom .45 Colt in his general direction
at the Junction in Neon, and her brother D.V. Bentley
had arranged for her not to be jailed. When we’d drive
south from Dayton across the Ohio River into Kentucky,
my father would always ask my mother to instruct me
as to what would be all right to ask my grandmother
and what might add fuel and ignite her famous rage.
If we pulled over for lunch at the Frisch’s Big Boy
on the Cincinnati side of the Ohio, I’d get to order
by pressing the button on a call box above the silver
swivel tray and answering the anonymous Someone.
My father played the Cadillac’s radio all the way there
and back, leaving it off the few hours my grandmother
was in the car. Why? It had been left on once, the radio,
because who knew, and a Lefty Frizell song set her off.
She swore, piercingly, saying, “What’s that horseshit?”
Started in pounding my father’s neck and shoulders
from the back seat. When money ran out for her care,
the Department of Mental Health Eastern State Hospital
sent a letter signed Very truly yours, Logan Gragg, M.D.
It began Dear Sir, was on embossed letterhead stationary
stamped with the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
It said she was ready to be picked up. Like all those years
hadn’t happened or were the stuff of memory, unworthy
of any elaboration in a letter that was signed and dated.
No mention of reasons Bob Beach had fled for his life.
No paragraph as to D.V. having to sell the homeplace
to keep a sister out of jail or prison and in a sanitarium.
Nothing of the nostalgia she might feel for a girlhood
before she learned to shoot and was given the pistol.
1. Self-portrait with Father, Lampstand, Lamp, and Sofa
I’m told the word bastard stung, if you were one,
in the 1950s. My father used to flinch to hear it.
I have a black-and-white photograph, a Kodak.
I’m in his lap, 18 months old or so,
and turned to the camera. You see the flash
in the window above the sofa we’re sitting on.
The snapshot reads May, 1955 in black
on its white border. My small hand grasps
the front of his T-shirt. I’ve got him in a death grip
and look back as if to say, This bastard’s mine.
He bought a lampstand, lamp, and sofa; confessed
to picking them out. I don’t know about 1955,
but that look of his says it isn’t easy. I’m told he worked
at Frigidaire and was a special-duty cop
at a restaurant called the Hasty Tasty, in Dayton,
where they called him Fred the Bear—
he’s a big man, and handsome, but no bear.
Just a guy with a wife and kid, and two jobs.
I’ve got two jobs in this poem. The first, to say
that I love my father; the other, to show him
so that when he passes from this life,
maybe he’ll be seen as someone alive
and breathing, who loved and was loved in return,
what any of us wants.
2. Putting Water on My Mother’s Lips
It is memory and memory’s dim precincts,
remorse at loss’s imprimatur, compelling me
to retrace the trajectory of a sponge-on-a-stick
which I had soaked in tap water until its pinkish
blossom reddened and dripped and allowed me
to do what I could for her, for me, the once.
I painted monochrome droplets onto lips
that kissed my sisters and me and my father.
Lips that loosed song in a church she tolerated.
A mouth and lips that rarely talked of love except
after I refused to rescue her from the nursing home
and they fashioned the phrase I’ll love you forever.
There was the inevitable vanishing of the drops.
Then her eyes closed as if light had been relegated
to some imagined arboretum’s red pine-needled path
where the walkers kick needles into clouds, the clouds
and the walking one way to step away from regret.
It was clear that she was beyond needing water.
The parentheses of a mouth stopped moving.
Of course I kept offering her more. After.
My sister Suzanne hands me the piece of paper.
A pen-and-ink list in my dead father’s handwriting.
Phrases like 1950 Chev 2 Dr Belaire say that he
kept track, adding them up, and now it’s our turn.
The scrap of paper has been folded once and again,
its creases earned in more than one Penney’s wallet.
Why me? Maybe because she’s heard Pops scold me,
more than once saying I was forever “getting it wrong,”
mixing up the automotive details in my poems—
there’s the ’57 Ford Ranchero truck he had painted
to read Roy’s Shell and AX8-9381 in the early sixties,
the ’47 Mercury “Conv Bld” he and my uncle Billy
lean against in the cover photo from a book of mine,
and there he’s scrawled ’63 Ford T Bird like that tells
how he wrecked it in a hard rain on Independence Day
on the way to Dayton, and how we walked away whole.
This was the man who kept calendars for the chemicals
he added to his swimming pool in Brandon, Florida—
who squeegeed the walls of the shower each morning,
part of a world of those with full-time jobs with benefits
whose desires are met mostly as a consequence of work;
a man who wrote down the make and model of every car
and pick-up truck and motorcycle he’d ever held title to,
and then inked in the tally in the left-hand margin. Time
plus longing plus having equals something like happy.
Letter to David Lehman
I’ve been rereading The Evening Sun & wanted to say
I love how each poem belts itself in behind the steering wheel
of a family sedan with nicks in its four beige doors
gets the tires rolling & immediately takes left turns
so I in the passenger’s seat get to see your metropolis
from angles unexpected despite my having been this way before
next thing I know we’ve arrived at the butcher’s shop
when we intended only a trip to the wax museum
a journey stranger still with dates for titles so each verse
exists somewhere between a passage from your dream journal &
a Jungian horoscope filled with shadows & blood
oh & that line about rescuing the fire from the fire
I’d like to extract it & place it in a frame on my desk
or maybe a flame on my desk so friends
might read it before it’s smudged sooty still aglow
like thumbprints on a wall made of paper
whenever a man learns about himself
this is no waste of time
I learned I can’t sell nothing to folks with everything
even if they don’t know what they have
I believe I could sell sun to moon
despite that moon must disappear in the embrace
but that’s romance & this is business
a poetry of numbers where only the best monkey
comes close to typing a single line from Hamlet
yes to be or… something else
besides three days seems enough for any man
to close the door on the man who came before
the coming man a man of honeyed lips
selling fire to straw men in a field
is not enough to make my mother curse
the ground the sky the hazards of the road
to prevent her going where she goes
when work enforces its rite
to conjure her from the thinly shadowed
wasteland of a Saturday
how that sheer cotton raiment
bares grasses exposes fingers
from young spring flowers reaching
for the door too soon
this will not prevent her leaving
for exercise or groceries
it is not enough to coerce her
into weeping at perfection
she has seen many snows
never have I seen her weep for one
Circling the Margins
I have dreamed of the green night with dazzled snows
A kiss slowly rising to the eyes of the sea
Rimbaud, The Drunken Boat
We met in the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
Winter. The history of shadow.
The cups of evening.
Your eyes made of little stars.
Somewhere the sea rises about
the necklace of ankle.
Tidal murmurs. Clatter of days
from the unsayable.
Bring the snow in your
Detach the urn from its
Causerie in a snow storm.
The symbols telling their
The books spill their pages
in a syrup of deconstruction.
Jacques Derrida has stolen
the stones from the seminar.
And you Joanna.
How far have you traveled
to add flame to the poems.
How far to the primal swarm
of the Freudian underground.
Didn't you say absence is
always already mostly here.
Even before the godburst
drenched us in light
in shadow in space-time
the evening news.
Your lips I say your lips.
They are a thousand miles wide.
Swallow me moment by moment
leaving the geometry behind.
O pale Ophelia! Beautiful as snow!
Your great visions strangled your words
I have read you many times,
orphan of the Hamlet delusion,
castaway of a demon script
laying on the flames.
Everyday I see you on the streets
especially on 88th at noon
lunch breaks, smoke breaks.
You walk so slowly lost in a
thousand texts you never
I see you drifting from corner
to corner consuming your last
cigarette, your pale hands
fashioned of porcelain
I watch you die over and over,
your gown green like a sail
weighted in brine and
I always wanted to be a
a Neptune among the whales
and seals, the tiny burnished
fish in the deeper dark
of salted ocean.
I wanted to step out of a comic book
with the most beautiful girl
in the world safe in my
her extraordinary smile saying:
you, you are it.
World turns out to be a
satisfactory yarn after all
whatever the playwright
I Feel Fine
Several cute Vietnamese twinks
walk by at Pho Nguyen Hoang in San Gabriel
showing not a molecule of interest.
But this is OK after hook-up with Thai Maddox.
I started calling names in my cell
I couldn't remember and when I got to his apartment in Thai Town—
damn this boy is hot
but I don't remember him at all
fortunately he remembers me.
I remember his last roommate PJ,
and I thought he was MJ as I walked-up.
But it worked out fine.
Like I haven't seen a '69 Monte Carlo, gold w/ black vinyl top
on the streets in decades.
waiting for a Hammer discussion
with Leonard Nimoy and Beverely Zabriskie
about Carl Jung’s Red Book.
Having a slice at D'Amore's Pizza.
Thin crust, cheese w/ lots of garlic.
A hot guy—19, 5-7, 125—
He works here & doesn't like pizza.
A cute gay couple, 35, white and Asian,
have pizza and beer.
"You have this expectation about staying
in my apartment without even asking…"
Yoko would say, "Beatles should do this,
Beatles should do that…" Paul would say—
"Love, it's The Beatles, the name of the band is
"Do something!" the cute salad boy says
to his co-worker, "I've been working my ass off."
A painter lifts his right arm with a brush
to work on a window frame.
Flat white stomach and black trail.
Bob Marley sings
Three of the last 2 days I've arrived home
my front door is unlocked.
After the second time I told myself
I’ll change the lock if it happens again.
On the third day, again nothing taken,
I consider government as I watch the
beautiful man stretch with his brush.
with lines of muscle that move
He hasn't shaved in 3 days.
He trims his young black beard
like a movie star.
I hear people on TV say
sex with their partner is better
after 30 years.
I'm usually ready to move on
after 3 times.
Or with the KJ, Aaron, Alex types
I think they're lying.
The word SLICE in orange neon
in reverse reflects on his flat stomach.
An electrical inspector
comes in to check the pizza oven vents
and he's hot.
Missing yoga tonight for Star Trek.
--for William Heyen
The Fall II
Out back is crammed with dead leaves--
clues to their last bout with a troubling cold,
and a sound not unlike Auden clearing his throat.
Where I walked earlier there are claw-marks
and the indentations left from my staff.
O Lord, I’ve grown fat on the wrong words
and come noon, I’ll have been sent more articles
letting me know how the talks have stalled,
that the crates of water will arrive late again,
as well as the doves, who’ll look cooler-headed
than I do, when saved to the side of a vase.
Only light has tried to straighten itself out—
taking even less time with the lake’s surface, tile.
We ask so little of creation. Outside all of it.
A Black River, a Dark Fall
A black river flows over ledge.
Rooted beside this dark fall,
old trees look too comatose
to retain their grip on the world.
This isn’t the Styx, but my shadow
falls heavily here, a damp tissue.
I’m trying to forget the flux
of syntax that entangled me
when I deponed in your favor
at the hearing held to determine
which spouse should pair with whom.
After hearing our testimony
the judge neutered himself with scissors.
My syntax so embarrassed me
I wanted to follow suit, but
storming like the Caribbean
you hustled me into a taxi
with all of my organs intact.
Now the black, black river groans
as it tumbles over cataracts
with those ignorant trees glooming.
This isn’t where Dante met Virgil,
isn’t where Tristan and Isolde
drank their atonement. It’s only
a sluggish New England river
suiciding over granite ledge
to recoup in a pool below.
A hand rises from that pool. It offers
not a sword but a gnarled stick
to prop myself against the wind.
The air is still, but I accept
the stick and wave it at the sky.
You, from your infinite distance,
observe and stifle a laugh,
aware this is the only river
that never reaches the sea.
Your plumbing is such a tangle
that connecting a garden hose
requires a firefighter’s grasp
of advanced hydrology. This
tee links to that ell. This valve
leaks and that one has frozen.
Copper piping sluices into lead,
a hundred-year-old sweat weld
threatening to burst and flood.
To solve this puzzle I’ve delved
into your mysterious basement,
where I’m following Minotaur scat
into the depths of a labyrinth.
Posed on your chaise longue with pink
umbrella drink, tanning in slick
leopard-print bikini, you look
smooth and bronze as a skyscraper.
How would you water your garden
if I hadn’t arrived with a truck
full of tools? Wielding a blowtorch
to ward off the spiders, I crawl
into a crawl space near the heart
of the maze. I hear the Minotaur
panting, smell his terrible breath.
Or maybe that’s your septic tank
overflowing with good will.
No, with the light of the blowtorch
I see horns shadowed on the drab
concrete foundation, so withdraw
with the last copper connection
unconnected. I’ll hook the hose
to your rain barrel. You should hire
a licensed plumber to confront
that monster in your basement.
He’ll enjoy observing you
displayed in your sun-swept flesh.
Then when your plumbing proves fatal
that vision will comfort him
with a final orgasmic sigh.
Turkeys fuss across the road,
herding their clusters of poults.
The big August light reveals
the lie of their close-mown feathers,
the angles at which their beaks
meet their stern gray expressions.
We’ve lived around wild turkeys
so long that we expect them
to clutter the yard in winter
and display their brood in summer;
yet their aplomb still astonishes
those parts of us still open
to astonishment. Traffic
in both directions has halted.
The turkey mob saunters along
at turkey speed only. We sigh
because too close to each other
to converse in turkey-talk rank
with graven syllables. We’d say
what turkeys say to each other
in mating season, or hungry
when the snow falls two feet deep.
We’d speak from deep in the throat
where runes shape themselves and taste
like the mud from which we evolved.
But we lack the confidence
of these turkeys swaggering
across the sun-warmed pavement
to mount the rough granite wall
and fade into the cool of forest.
With the road clear, we drive on,
fussing with the radio
and dragging our humanity
like a clatter of scrap metal.
A mile down the road we laugh
to release the turkey within—
a bulk less clumsy than it looks,
and wise enough to evade us.
On a Theme by Aiken
You don’t understand me.
I’ll never know you.
You watch flowers grow.
I gaze at the sky.
I’m too old to ask why.
That’s the way things are,
the way they’ll always be.
I gaze. You drink tea.
I watch as darkness
closes like an eye.
I don’t care. I sit here
placidly, playing with
while you cut my hair.
He brushes in the sky.
He sees it as blue.
He colors the river.
He sees that as blue, too.
And those leaves will
never fall on a ground
where bones lay hidden
in black shrouds.
Where death is not,
it cannot be proud.
The truth lies in my mind,
he claims. He works
in the cold, in the rain.
At night, he sits on a balcony
to stare at the stars.
They gleam like the eyes
he knows are not there.
The night is as long
as the Amazon River.
I’m in a boat, barely afloat.
A dead leaf falls into my lap
like a dead acrobat.
Things are as they seem.
what meets the eye.
Stars stare into the abyss,
then pass by.
The moon smiles
with false teeth.
The sky looks churlish.
What I once thought I knew,
either dull or foolish.
First the snowy almond blooms
and then the Bromosa plum’s white
blossoms like close-petalled boutonnières
before the Santa Rosa’s fragile sprigs,
peach and nectarine’s large four-square
pink and scarlet petals, pungent mazy air
sweet with nectar, thick from hurried sticky
bees and musky warming loam. Two scrub
jays wrestle in the dust to mate unafraid
five steps away rheumy dogs look on
while pairs of mourning dove nest in flowers’
frail shade and coo at sunrise and softer
dusk. Blood grown heavy all winter braving
wet sunless cold from high ladders pruning
bare orchard thins where Valley fog lifts
finally from the San Joaquin and squirrels
and cottontails leave their burrows to bask
in light and rediscover a forgotten world
returned again. Bullock’s oriole, grosbeak,
Western bluebird and yellow tanager
vocalize their praise, passing through for
places farther north. A sapphire kingfisher
hovers like huge hummingbird ten-feet
above the pond brimming from snowmelt
flowing down full ditches from Mt. Whitney,
Sawtooth, whole range of High Sierras.
Yesterday seven white egrets circled, gliding
with angels’ wings and perched on separate
branches of the persimmon tree still leafless
but swelling surely with fire-green buds.
Alone at sunset walk the high orchard
path and descend steep bank, past carved
doors of gopher, ground squirrel, weasel
or fox, farther down, where white sand
meets black mud. See bullfrogs erupt in
murky shallows, emerald thumb-sized frogs
leap a green world’s dense stand of tulles
under scarlet dragonflies. From willow’s
limb lift frayed rope and pull, hear scrape
and fold of rushes, forest veil parting as
prow like a snout noses and appears. Step
in, use one oar for pole, push through
bending cousins of bamboo, now row to
open stillness turning bluer. Lie back, take
in sapphire sky, cloud snowy as one egret
gliding, arrow beak, neck like a bow. Drift,
feel hidden spring feed deep water, pond
and wooden boat rise toward Venus and
first stars, white eyes of waking night.
Epithalamium: The Wedding Guestbook
Both old enough to know we might never make it to Panama yet young enough
to marvel. We sit atop a picnic table to get the best free view. Your hand
reaches back to silence a chip bag fussing in the fall breeze. We want no
distraction. The downbound boat from Lake Superior has just entered the Soo.
The ceremony’s begun.
For twenty minutes we watch as gravity girdles Superior’s impatient wall of water,
can barely breathe as the ore boat is lowered a foot a minute into Huron.
The two bodies flirt, exchange flows, luxuriate in the Poe’s expansive lock.
A berth play writ large: the lockmaster directing conception from above, filling
one tub with the spumy volume of the other.
And it’s hard not to wonder what might happen after the fanfare. Once rust-rash has
settled into the canal bed. Once rivets have popped their seams. Will the
engineered union capsize? Will the waters part ways? Maintenance always
the issue; what newlyweds ignore, and hardly need, when love is new.
The eastern doors unclench, sputter open. We stand. Clap. No cause for worry. The
swap’s been successful, the boat safely launched to the seaway. You offer me
a moist towelette.
Humming to the Radio
Can’t sing, can’t play
a sax or piano.
Let my little light shine
deep in down below
where hums do light
work on weary
plodding, ease ache of tired
fighting, slice the dark of no
returning. It’s a real little
light on a slow burn
gas barely flickers
now it’s my turn
to light that humdinger
light of mine.
It is ornamentation that we decorate. Tiles. Wallpaper. Pictures and photographs of. Lamp
in its shade. Peppers
green. Peppers red. Rude incipience of the born. Unmediated, a star chart tells of anomalies
that the evening inspires.
Wildflowers never to be tamed. Music from a radio turned off. Walk to the lake having no
Directions, waves on
water. That there will be an end, unverified. Telephone call nearly expected. The busy signal:
is actually unencumbered.
Refraction, as simple as. Fly caught in the mystery of the house. Boxes of everything owned
And packed, are boxes
of what would be dire to forget. And, release. An alternative the same as it opposite. M and
N. Boundaries with sub-silence. Coinciding with miracles in the everyday are electric outlets. Escape is offered: a hint
Lime centered. Obsolete
grape is drained of its blood, a wart is left. Why gargoyles hold their heads up there,
cathedral found boring.
Pattern in the quilt, plan of a city never to be. Populace votes, the monument is: a lawn.
v is for virtuality
because the chair on the telly wasn’t real
because it was a glowing apparition
apparent not just to the out-of-towners
but to the philosopher friends on the couch
sipping whiskey and vodka and alternating
between the mixed nuts and flatbreads
talking about mutually exclusive things
as if they were similar and shared a life
together like housemates from four continents
making it work before the evening news
and spinoza did speak of ethics in relation
to joy the way we invoked whitman again
said he too knew he was untranslatable
as he sounded his barbaric yawp
that famous yawp over the shingled rooftop
and tall trees of an equally wild
and imaginary and whimsical world
because walking under the world canopy
is as liminal as this rite of passage
of the written as language as pavement
as cobbled walkway as history as
authenticity as unintended as onerous
as ominous as opulent and promising
as the new and the endless portico of marble
walter benjamin walking in his arcades
with whitman again in a cart without wheels
like a lost charioteer with a big hat
driving himself steady against what resists
like zeno and another perplexing puzzle
about life and how it’s trapped yet soaring
into the atlas and annals of time
It’s not the way you think a tooth should look,
it’s a prong with a bend, it’s a bent prong,
not a hook, a squarish L
coming out of a wheel, only
a team of them, and several wheels axled
together. I’m like my cousins the rototillers.
Some of those are big enough
to do the work of plows, teeth like mine,
bent prongs, only longer, since
I’m the one made to work on wood.
I whirl and crack, spin and fray.
Your stump bottoms out – hard
soil and secret stones underneath
get flung as my teeth burrow in,
eliminating. I snuffle out
side roots left and right, down
and around, spattering hard wood and rot
as far as you’ll let me. Lift those handles
to press my mouth down, jolts
roaring my motor, swing me back and forth
to whack along the wood’s edges, making
earthy chips, chipping rocks, mixing wood
dirt rot and rock. The stuff I eat.
Canalettos in Dresden, the British Museum,
do look alike. Frankly, I find them pretty. So
banal, smart critics complain: tricky bastard who
grew famous from Venice, not the other way;
third-rate portraitist turned to idealizing harborscapes.
Seated before one, I remember St. Mark’s, long ago.
Wordsmiths, who can trust them? They’ll brag they’re
“beating bushes for signs of life,” ignoring sticky spider-
webs, nasty flies. Or they conjure up an “old English
beechen green” – filled with unicorns. We want words to
liberate, but words don’t paint; if his Venice is wrong, no
speech proves or replaces it. A new vision’s needed.
Woven or rather hooked and looped along, any art’s story’s
proven in the modes and things it borrows and retools.
I get paid to play
and enjoy non-linear shopping.
Yet, due to hyper-scheduling,
option-paralysis has set in.
For a good many the wheels
have come off their wagon
re: voodoo economics.
A bitch-fest of blame-storming
and there’s blood on the walls,
the stairs, the floor, in the elevator . . .
I have to admit –
sometimes you’ve got to suck it up
and swallow your own smoke.
I dare anyone to maintain
a holistic work-life balance
in this e-poch of digital aesthetics,
outsourcing and over-spec.
These are data-rich times.
There’s plenty of dead money about.
is tomorrow’s cyber-futurist.
Even the lowliest pump-jockey
can become a master of his universe
Even if a neo-pagan presently,
you too could be a nanocelebrity.
Find your niche. Get monetized.
Death Comes to the Famous Red Canvas Camp Chair
My two poetry safari gizmos witness the demise
of the famous red canvas camp chair—
snap goes the plastic-aluminum from
materials fatigue, it gives up joint and leg.
The tent tilts but I do not topple. From table top,
Blue (the MP3) and his Blue Buddy (mini speaker)
play their electronic elegy, Track 5, a Cohen final
farewell to the famous red canvas camp chair.
Joining us is my latest smartphone, Bart the Samsung
wonder boy, one all-black handful of an upgrade.
He deploys 8 megapixels to record a poet’s derriere
angling northerly in the listing famous red canvas camp chair.
At my command, Bart summons Gallery Edit
to crop the memorial photo; I give Blue and Blue Buddy
the signal to repeat Leonard’s ballad apropos
to the famous red canvas camp chair.
Adieu goes old gizmo girl with her two so-cool
technopals, the black and the blue and connected,
as I fold for final retirement as ignominious garbáge,
the famous red canvas camp chair. Amain.
"Poetry is written not with ideas but words."
Practicing my Debussy
on a borrowed violin
and turning to my sax,
as the sunshine consumes
my one room of desire;
exchanging lots of notes,
turning my two red eyes,
with pangs of improvisation,
on the impatient windowsill;
intent on a blood orange
resembling my Cezanne print,
this poem now warmed by
the horizon of Central Park
in a denouement of the night,
having dreams of Mallarme
drenched by a somnambulist
in a muted blue bathrobe
against a wall of Cezanne
the wind is good from outside,
erupting in a once-beaten
memory of loss,
amazed at the earth's caresses
in daylight's expression,
awakening to an astonished bird
on the alcove, whose wings
from living trees
absorb the sky traffic;
new phrases come closer,
black and visa-less
from my expired passport
in the hollow of my chilled
hands of intertwined words.
I can remember the first time I heard
someone say heinous. I giggled because
it sounded like anus, which was a word
I did know (and knew from other kids was
awfully funny). But I would hear heinous
used many more times, always by a grim
voice that stated with measured graveness
that “In the criminal justice system
sexually-based offences are considered
especially heinous.” Later, I understood
what this meant, and the word heinous stirred
(and still stirs) up in me outrage at what could
be done to people, not just on SVU,
but out here in the real world, too.
In seventh grade, my class put on Macbeth,
“The Scottish Play,” in which a scheming thane
and his wife kill the king, order the deaths
of their best friends, and wind up dead, insane,
or both by the end of the play. Not your
typical middle school fare, but we loved
it. I was the stage manager, and other
preteens were cast as Macbeth, his beloved
Lady Macbeth, Banquo, (and Banquo’s ghost),
but Macduff was the one the crowd adored:
After the king is murdered by his host,
Macduff cries out, “Horror, horror, horror!”
But our Macduff could never get “horror” to last
two syllables – it came out “whore,” he spoke so fast.
Every time I hear someone use the word,
my thinking goes like this: impregnable
means fortified, strong enough to deter
or withstand attacks, impenetrable.
But it also sounds like impregnate,
and it could just as easily mean
able to be impregnated, penetrated,
assailed by foreign seeds, alien genes
that bombard the egg until one bursts through
that walled stronghold. At this point, I reflect
on two distinct problems: first, that our view
of sex is shaped by language too connected
to war and conquest, and second, that we’ve
got a lexicon too dumb to believe.
A dead man kissed me. He wasn’t dead then,
we were arguing, married or engaged
to others, cars boomed, blowing hair against
our jackets, I was angry about a movie in
which half-nude women hunted each other,
his face grew like an expanding balloon,
the kiss bursting, a shock but no, not
unwanted at an age I supposed my puppet
mouth beyond fancy, numb to flirtation—
and he, dropped by a heart attack, perceived
that angry as I was I’d take a willing risk—
anyone on the street could see I liked it.
Wire a pressure-sensing mechanism between two metal plates,
Pad with bull hide,
Poke into an alligator’s mouth—
Bam! Like nails sprung from a gun
Its teeth close and won’t let go for 20 minutes.
Mammals afraid to hurt their choppers don’t,
But crocs and sharks, growing theirs perpetually,
Bite down with max force
As does a machine that measures beef
For tenderness with pressure from a flat, blunt blade
Like one we handle instead of a steak knife
When the waiter, flirting with table 8,
Forgets us. I, too, measure tenderness
By pressure—i.e., if you’re hungry
And I gotta dance, where do we go?
Viva El Café Flamenco y Carne,
Sorrow and meat, whatever
Lips may lunge for in rising water:
I can hold your hand if it’s too deep.
Babe, Now Make Me A Sandwich,
snarks a T-shirt hanging in the mall kiosk
below Cool Story, Bro, Tell It Again.
Imagine Babe nodding, “Poof,
you’re a sandwich”—knife dividing
heels of wheat, the meat between—
or the story: there was this lady
who shared her apple with a guy,
then they were homeless—
they had two kids and one killed
the other. Or, I saw a sparrow
bounce off a car windshield and another
prod its mashed breast on the asphalt
for 10 minutes, traffic sliding
around them, until a truck came.
Up and back it flew, a brown streak
looking, listening, not for something
to eat. Something else, bro.
IU Cinema, Bloomington, IN
The camera lingers,
not for seconds but
seconds slide thick
and slow, over and
around the red-
faced snow monkeys
in the hot springs
eyes closed in a
halo of rimed fur,
heads tilted back
in the rapture of it,
and I can’t believe
the moment when
one opens his eyes
and chooses me,
stares and chooses
me out of all that
darkness as the
camera pans away,
leaving me, chosen.
On the bedside table the chocolates my wife and I
have brought shine gold-wrapped through their plastic bag.
My ninety-year-old mother, used to living alone,
is sitting in a wheelchair, consigned for the time being
to rehab in a nursing home after falling one night
in the bathroom, “saved” by her emergency alarm button,
though not from three broken ribs and a spinal compression,
her upper torso bound with a two-piece brace
adorned with butterflies, their wings spread in a pale
blue sky, Velcro straps to keep it tight that she might
heal according to the doctor’s plan. She likes it that
her brace invites compliments, enough that she’s
decided to take it home and hang the front half
like a piece of art. But first, her therapists say,
she must learn to take it off for showers and bedtime,
then put it on again, a worrisome goal that dims
her eyes with doubt as she fingers the straps. She pulls
my dad’s sweater tight around her shoulders, blushing
as she says it keeps her warm the way he used to,
and then she says after dinner she’d like one of those
chocolate-covered almonds with a cup of tea,
maybe a game of hearts, if we can stay.
Four severed heads sit in my grandmother’s guest bedroom.
Aged orange wallpaper flakes the edges of lace
curtains and Andrew Wyeth’s Christina hangs above
the bed. When I was small, I wondered over this painting.
Who was waiting in the clapboard farmhouse over Christina’s pale shoulder?
Across from the painting, to the right sit the heads, clean, vacant
with shiny white synthetic hair. She never wore the wigs,
not one, and not long after she went underground, I ran
my fingers through plastic hair, but I could not feel, only hear
whispers of strands against my palms.
This is the room I slept in every year for summers
on end, and I woke from my nightmares damp-eyed but alive.
There were no wigs, just orange paper, lace curtains,
and a lonely, dark-haired girl hanging above my bed.
World War II
Yes, it’s as ancient as it sounds,
And most of those who had anything
To do with it are no longer with us,
Including my father who went out
Dreaming of allotments and reveille.
Despite no proof whatever I sense
A whole generation congregating
By the river, never-ending, populated
By swans and the occasional oven bird.
Bars neatly spaced along the banks,
And a faint version of “When the Lights
Go On All Over The World” traveling
Through the air—and there’s my father
Tying a bootlace, then lifting his duffel bag
Onto his shoulder, young and imperishable
Again, ready as ever to follow eternity’s orders.
The Soldier in Me
Tosses the rifle—ridiculous
to even think he would use it to kill someone with.
He leaves the battle zone, walks
to the city he’s sure is there.
To every woman in a red dress he introduces himself,
thanking them for their sublimity.
He sits on a bench by the lake, pulls out a pencil and pad,
finally wasting his life the way he always wanted to.
Sometimes I’ll be reading
and come to a description
or a way of looking
I’d thought was mine alone
written by someone I’ve never met,
perhaps someone long dead,
and the connection forms a bridge
out of myself to guide me back.
What Shakespeare was to Larry,
the grasslands were to his father,
a great, subtle text rewarding endless study.
His father had a countryman’s eye
for small varieties of landscape.
Larry looked at many places quickly.
His father looked at one place deeply.
Each year the short drive on the dirt road
to the ranch became less of a simple thing.
I watch a yellow half moon
suspended above the horizon
before it slips behind the sea
fading light in the starry black sky.
When we look at the heavens,
we see into the past
through time light takes to reach us.
There are terrible wings in the distance, and in the foreground
there are quiet animals awaiting their ascension when the sky,
thatched-roof of cerulean, goes terrible. We believe in angels
in this picture. Look at our faces. We’ve got that look. Pleasure
runs down our chins and I am thin and you are barrel-chested.
Bug-eyed believers, we have each seen green and we are sure.
We have seen the bedeviled sky triggered brutally. Like imago
or lithium. Blue, fluxed, puckered, shucked as stars on a big
and universal birthday. We are going off like firecrackers. We
are on our way out and we are in love supposedly but something
about running with the Great & Powerful makes a body purse
its lips at love. Sex feels superfluous. I remember that day. I do.
I remember that day in the woods and I cannot explain what we
did after that. We went sour on each other but we did not go out
propheting. We tucked in our shirts and went straight to Home
Depot. Bought trees. Bought gardenias. Bought weed-eater, plant
food, and birdfeeders. We built a gazebo. Scattered apple seeds
all over. Days passed. Nobody noticed. We slept in the toolshed
with the bugs of the earth. They searched our bodies, sucked our
earlobes, strung their sticky strands like Christmas lights. Things
grew simple, mostly. We grew close again and pinned our hearts
down so they wouldn’t run away. Something told us just to stay
together, just to be okay and tend the garden. We obeyed. We saw
the difference. It was better. Bright things burst forth all around.
The city ground we thought was poisonous astounded. Our fragile
saplings fortified before us. They fruited for us, willingly. Almost
instantly. Midnights, apples rapped down on the toolshed roof
and we thought—angels? We thought Armageddon. Staggering,
stark naked, we’d go out into the dark and wonder. No thing was
more luminous than any other thing. No thing failed. We bloomed.
Seat of the Soul
Descartes thought the pineal gland the seat of the soul, that the cellular clock is tuned to
the world outside, more importantly light, that light enters the eye
tuning the part of the brain creating visual signs, that some of these signs get sent to a
different part at the base, Richter's patch of cells and Richter's path
to the gland, which in some animals is the third eye, namely in lizards and fish recording
light directly; this reaction from light to brain to pineal gland
to melatonin melds the body to the day and night, so what has gone wrong you ask,
what has disturbed your soul so much that night is night is night,
evening and day with little division, the hours interminable, dusk outside
heavy like basement rock, or coal or forming algae; O soul, you remain restless
for those gone before who saw death as a way out because each day/night
brought the same pattern of madness; oh they were left
with each hour implacable; so now with them deceased, you try on new drugs
for sleep, each a bitter tonic that leaves the mouth dry, the eyelids dusty from dreams,
no not dreams, nightmares, blurring into the air of day, though others say
there is reason to be joyful, to seek pleasure anew, believe and see like a bird for a bird
sees more shades of blue, and you can as well, meaning take delight in the smallest thing:
see how the Virgin nestles her cheek sweetly on the torn calf of her son
in the domed cathedral in Salzburg, remember how the violinist did the same,
by that I mean her chin cupping the little black lip of the rest
as she played Mozart andante in a town where the church bells rang out
and the glockenspiel signaled time like a basketful of bread just baked, warm bread
and tea and lychee jam; there is much to appreciate: leptons, bosons, quarks,
and their kin, things you never imagined in the wilderness of consciousness,
for in the first 3 billion years no one dwelled on earth larger than a grain
of rice, doesn't that bring you to your knees, and the small flat
mountains on the seafloor are worth exploring; imagine that and look closely
there at the tombstones, at the pioneer graves, they have ridges
that correspond to the changing tides, all is for you to discover yet,
poor human, mammal who crept into this fragile world and changed it thus forever.
Is half-human, half-celestial, a figure that can enter Paradise
only by offering a gift that Heaven finds pleasing and the peri's
first two sorties take her halfway around the world only for her
to return from the first with the blood of a young hero
and second from the second with the sighs of a virgin who sacrificed
her life for her bridegroom while Heaven only acknowledges
her tears of remorse shed by a man who, laden with sin, sets eyes
on a pure child as you did when our son was born, you who often
take the string quartet of rosebuds up to your nose to detect the well-
tempered scent, you who treat the sounds of birds as obbligato instruments.
Oh how many times have we chosen to climb castle steps
into a garden and imagine ourselves in conversation with white peacocks
and statues of maidens who stand upright like set silhouettes;
you remember the day in Sierre, village of Rilke, how we wanted to pick
the green apples from the lush trees and draw mulberries from the impressionable
hedges, how we didn't want to leave but linger among the purple and blue
hydrangeas and the whisper of lettuce that bloomed next door to
the conduction of vines; that day you said with touching elegance,
Wo bist du, wo bist as we played hide and seek near the old wooden
greenhouse that held a whole series of plantings waiting in earnest
like the imagination of someone, Schumann perhaps, who was contented
and tender for awhile as a family man until the music prompted him to whistle,
and back he strolled to his drawing room to compose his triplets,
avoiding the letters of friends and critics for he knew what invigorated his senses,
took him away from his somber moods, namely the organ, the flute and pianoforte
which he knew by heart like the woods, that held the beyond
and beyond, meaning the musical theater of his fair cabaret.