over the Wet Mountain valley, Colorado,
in the driest summer known
Crescent growing also falls in slow arc
into darkness rising behind pines:
dish of pearl dips
into marine blue black
Half a lemon ripens at tree height,
its juicy gold geometry above
a rouged sunset:
a wishful grace of drink
Gibbous hefts itself swings icy high,
effaces stars on the stilled
black curtain. Straw dry meadow
looks midnight snowy
Bronze copper, huge, round dwarfs the far hills.
Soft gong throbs silent light. Cloud
lowers metal shutters,
jagged edge of knife and omen
Now just this: the earth not in the sun's way.
A perfect ivory mirror reflects the eye
opening. Simply full moon,
pine trees, dusk on the road-curve down.
Letter-poem for Reunion at a Quaker College
Classmates, we are a Society of Friends,
the true internet, non-electronic, kept together
by reunions, e-mailings, phoning and photos.
The past links to the present in a worldwide web.
These words are part of it. One thought-thread lightly
flung out catches another's and lightly connects.
A door opens. You look into a garden, seeing
butterfly-bush that bloomed in your own backyard,
although, as in Vermeer, the doorway with its slant
of sun is the point of most interest. This internet
of women's lives began for us many years ago
through mere proximity, by accident.
Making friends is not agenda-driven, like
marriage or love that insists something should happen.
Your friends at a distance watch the work going on
in you, mute. Unknowing they sense it. The thread holds.
Rilke said poets living together should pledge
to "respect each other's solitude," for the form
of a poem—or of the ultimate artwork,
a life—will only come out of formlessness when
given space. A canvas, for instance, depicting
windowed half-light that shines on a pregnant woman
holding a balance scale in her right hand. Not much
overtly is known about what's growing within,
but death and life hang in a balance unspoken—
not unsayable but too much—and thus the net's
gaps mean as much as its knots. The seventeenth-
century Quakers sat in meeting, silent,
enjoined from speaking till the great urge not to speak
had risen, not to break silence frivolously.
But when the light within came to a woman,
she spoke, and no one forbade her. A world-change.
We are her heirs, heiresses, wealthy in speaking,
distributing the wealth. The network expands that raised
stone archways and let light through library windows,
that made our minds libraries, studios, gardens.
It is Indra's net of stars, always moving outward.
It's ourselves dead or alive who keep coming back
to re-compose the college's green grounds. A new
shape takes form, a new union when we meet
our friends' new faces, sit and enjoy their kind society.
Part of a corn muffin in its original baker's paper cup.
Crumbs from the missing piece clinging to the waxy edge.
The unfinished peach laid cut-side up
on the pale-blue platter in the refrigerator.
Leftovers of a tuna sandwich bagged in the shop.
The repast is never over. Even a poem can do no more
than consume half a word as its letters lie in the line
cut-side up, scar left by a lover, blade-track of one's times,
inimitable passing of the dead whose names still nourish.
Jokingly, his "deathward trope,"
he called it when I phoned
to let him know my thoughts
were with him in his pain.
And then the repetitions
of who'd be there to tend him,
where he'd be and when and if to call.
Now the fifth or sixth such time
they'd been discussed, no longer
mundane actualities but ways
to stretch a bind. Thus, most often,
talk turned centrifugal, wild nodes
of embroideries, a galaxy's spiraled arms
that led one out forgetful of a center,
all pleasure in minute unfoldings flung
so far a word skewed off in naïve laughter
and for a moment no longer curled
around its silent brother, sister, death.
A Chinese poet walking, about as fast as you walk, strode among cloudy peaks
looking for the Temple of Accumulated Fragrance. Somewhere, he took an odd
turn and found himself in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Before him was a
pond. He gazed down at a goldfish, swimming lazily, its scales gleaming in the sun
and wondered, "if I meditate, I'm afraid I'll I find that that Temple of Accumulated
Fragrance which I have been searching for all my life is really in Secaucus, New
Jersey, no?" Immediately, he pulled himself up straight, breaking the trance, and
looked ahead, only to find he was facing a bit of Americana, a monk who resembled
Allen Ginsberg davening and reciting in a Yiddish accent, "Vee are loo-n-ely,
loo-n-elier than Villiam Carlos Villiams before a mirror." "Oh boy," he exclaimed,
inner mysterioso, "the company is interesting, but is wisdom always this crazy? The
only fragrance I want now is of paprika, the hot kind stirred into my goulash. I know
just the diner to get it at." As he started to move off, his gaze lowered to the pond,
and at that moment, the goldfish leapt into the air and fell back into the water right on
top of its own reflection, dispersing the image among the ripples. "Ah so!" or
"A-Okay!" (depending on the translation) said the poet to himself. "I am enlightened,
I was enlightened," and he is, he always was.
(On the occasion of Carl Rakosi's 100th birthday, November 6, 2003)
A product of pulsating boundaries,
he is as fragrant as Chinese nanmu
and draped in murva, he phones
the ones that owe him more
than they know.
It is an electronic
full nelson—the delicate frame
of anonymous breath
choking the air.
He is riddled with himself,
the night twists on
hissing small cellular threats.
At a distance the photographs covering
the wall look like large black and white stamps
of presidents, the studio's lighting
brilliantly surreal with hanging lamps
like silver bats. There are no frames
around these people. They seem to bleed
into each other. Close up, nude bodies like grains
of sand, arranged with heads at odd angles, the need
to appeal with legs open, hands resting
on parts of themselves, eyes almost closed.
They look like the Chilean dead—as warning
to the living: this can happen to you, disposed
of, the photograph and you decomposing
under the guise of the sexually morose.
my gelded town sucks
Waiting for me in the arms of a guilty
city, you grow cold and vague
with snow. At a certain point
in dialogue with the sycophant
I require no more input, and no input
requires me. You'll be able to
swim now, head just above the un-
comfortable line that dragged your mother
past your dad, himself glazed and frosted,
buffed like a mirror but rippled to
distort. He avoids the city; nothing
grows there, or flies, or swims.
But your mother's just fine, with
her house a conversation piece at
last. When I talk now clauses buckle
over each other, pile up in subcutaneous
knots, and no one can respond to that.
My gelded town sucks its own
reflection from the nightly news:
this "hardened steel town" is reeling.
A teacher drunk in a hotel room drunk
with a student. The lessons come
On a stretch of landscape on the north end of Harris, a cluster of hills and
rock, cast in one of the grays the sea makes on a cloudy day. It has not seen
the sea since that day millions of years ago, which was millions of years
before anything remotely human could be, when the island came up out of the
water. Even today only a few stunted bushes and pinched clusters of moss and
grass cram into the creases of the rock where a few grains of dirt managed
somehow not to be blown or washed away. Somewhere near the beginning of time,
thrown back onto a planet as yet incapable of us, here is life that was
possible before our own. Sunlight and rain. Rock packed in grasses. Wind
shaking the seeds out of clusters of tiny flowers. Seeds suddenly in flight,
ignorant and delirious, grabbing at the air.
It is not clear whether that is sea
in the background, but I am sure
that in the foreground a group of small stones
gathers around a large upstanding one.
They look like a hungry audience,
anxious to know what the tunillarvik,
for that is the name of the upstanding stone,
has to say. They lean forward,
waiting patiently for word.
The tunillarvik has the markings
of deepest veneration (tunillarvik means
"object of veneration") streaked downward
over its smooth pate. Long strings
of lime-white bird droppings.
For untold eons, gulls have sought this place
as brief refuge from the daily squabble over food
or as perch from which to view
the incremental movement of the hours.
The least and most migratory
of arctic forms brought together.
Around about, and as far as we can see,
forever, an inhospitable beauty.
"In the old days we lived on the land.
We carefully followed in the footsteps
of our ancestors. Ever traveling,
we killed every living thing we and our dogs could eat.
Such was our necessity,
living the only life we knew."
The little congregation of the stones
with its white-haired leader ponders its next move,
perhaps along the utitsialangavik
("the pathway one must follow"),
Maybe it's the half that's there,
the mask itself,
left face or right.
Or, since the wearer,
the carver and wearer,
the painter, is now gone,
it is he or she
who, in being gone,
plays the part. The dead
can be anything, death,
themselves, being dead already.
You can die of death
forever. Your death,
which you played once,
might be the death, again,
of all death, the half
you carved in an afternoon,
danced to that night,
and put aside saying, kindly,
be dead now, death.
On Duckworth Street, stuffed,
the last Newfoundland Wolf
in a glass case, its fur a mottled gray
like much of the rock here, nudging
the lush, stunted spruce and fir,
grasses thickened with moss.
Long rangy legs for traveling,
eyes that, if they had little warmth
and no sentimentality,
had neither complaint nor venom.
A few miles to the east, Cape Spear,
the tip, the actual point itself,
thrust out like a tongue
at the raw Atlantic.
A blow-up of an old photograph
of the St. John's harbor, backdrop
to a small arrangement of things
I now can't recall. Utterly other,
the three-masted whaler leans
at the slip in centuries of grime,
the dock hidden under stacks of lumber,
barrels of fish and whale oil,
men with thick hands, leathery,
and no sense at all that anyone watches,
that a century later someone
would see them and, knowing
nothing about them, think
this was the world he came from.
Not a world made for the viewer
or one to be strolled through,
nothing was done to it
to show what the past was like.
There was no past, nothing
but the need to outwit
the moment, to bring down again
the prey of another night in bed.
the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges
soft miry land that shakes or yields under the foot
a state of enforced isolation
something within or from which something else originates, develops, or
an intimate or close union
hard persistent work
of or relating to a governor
an act or instance of plagiarizing
a failure or interruption in use or functioning
to grow prosperous especially at the expense of another
(Source: Merriam-Webster's ten most-searched-for-definitions online during 2003)
Sometimes language gets in the way
of what needs to be said.
Which accounts for these long silences.
I was sure of what I felt for you but
putting it into words made it suspect.
That summer, lying in the grass our bodies
spoke of openness, of lover's ease
and we both listened to the sky.
Even that has lost some of its blueness
First Dream, Second Cancer
It's ID day at the senior center—not only free photos, but hairstyling as well. Even
though she's too young, they invite her. The nurse at the door whispers to come
back, the only volunteers free right now have no sense of style, but she doesn't want
to hurt their feelings. They sit her down, place the tabby cat on her head and he starts
kneading with his claws, carefully, tightly curling. As a child, she despised her curly
hair, like the rest of her body. It feels good, the cat massaging the back of her head,
but then he moves around to do the front, full belly draped across her face, warm
penis just about nose level. Still, she doesn't move. And her hair ends up in
wonderful ringlets, except on the top, where what little is left lies limpid.
This cat needs to keep others warm, you know.
Thank you for not using your cell phone, the sign at the receptionist's desk says. The
nurse moves it a bit to draw attention. This is the second call a woman's gotten—the
first from another doctor's office, the second from her daughter. The other daughter
was just sent home from school with head lice. First in her class. And, oh my God, she
was crawling all over me Sunday. Get that shampoo, quick. Change the bed sheets.
Soon the lice will be gone. Soon the breast will be gone. Bye-bye.
It's been one of the warmest years so far. She walks the neighborhood in forty degree
weather, taking photos of Christmas trees set out by garbage cans. But the tree still
stands in her living room, taking up half her living room. And the lights are still there,
catching sun in daylight, glowing every night from six to midnight, red on the bottom,
followed by a string of orange lights, then yellow, green, blue, the white star on top.
She has no use for angels. Behind all this fanfare pine needles, turning brown, emit the
familiar scent. The tree stands on its one leg in a bucket that was once full of water,
but it stands tall, almost to the ceiling. Most people wouldn't notice it was dead.
The Larger Scheme
In the morning lull
I'm sitting by this
so I can listen to the backyard dogs
have the last bark
on each other.
There must be a Far Side cartoon
in this, but I'm feeling too lethargic,
as I do often in winter,
the body heat struggling
to maintain itself,
just as in rainy weather
the eyes hope for
a sunny disposition
There's always hoping
will decide to happen.
You'd rather go
with how things are;
is almost always
And who are you, anyway,
in the larger scheme of things?
In fact, how can you know
the larger scheme—
what with the fire growing
with each chunk of firewood—
and you, sitting in the cold,
to the thing that makes you warm.
Yes, it's hot,
but it's summer,
it's the desert. What
did you expect?
Your body, like a cat's,
would like it
doesn't move one to action
does—so they tell us,
the issue being
hypothetical anyway, the afternoon
rolling up the mountainside
until it forces you
to get up from your
contemplating, take a step,
look around. There's a
that gives the illusion
incomplete, and you
could be the doer
and the maker—
the key word there being
Everyday I took a flying leap into nowhere
and where did I go? Nowhere.
Battling my brains against the chaos
talking incessantly to a stone deaf door
there was a chink opening, a bit of light
an inch of progress against the night of day
and the lit-up tired night, restless in sleep
much of the night in a cold, this winter, big bed,
alone. Where are the blessings, in some church
by some paid priest, but not here. This is
strictly amateur hour. The more I ask for help
the little bit more there seems to be, as
the power mongerers the heavy weights of our time
built up dynamics of our dominating era
cruel down their policies & lift our liberties.
Thank God I'm not one of them and in this small space
when I can accept it, I hand myself over to
the jail of freedom and bless that I can love whether
loved back or not. I can open the door which is a real one,
in this house 12 doors all of which I can open, close
and the door beyond that, so mysteriously huge,
casts a slant of light all the way across the house
light enters into, from my bedroom now.
I walk out of jail when I've gone
to meet with those guys in orange suits with their DWI's
and their angry afflictions, they bless me, not the priests.
I walk out to the magnificent mountain scape, vistas
of free air. I hope I brought what little hope I have,
in. We removed some doors in this house and openness
seems to be the door to freedom, freedom to not think
so much, stay honest to what is, willing to accept
the real and not shut non-existent doors on it.
Eliminating doors, any block, blockage, simply seeing
with my whole body, what I get done I get done.
We get done together for whatever gift to whomever.
I open my love to you, there, because this is the building I am.
Body-spirit, compassion mind. Reaching out a little.
H A M I L T O N S T O N E E D I T I O N S
p.o. box 43, Maplewood, New Jersey 07040