Hamilton Stone Review #30
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
What God's Good For
I do love God but it's not easy--He'll
send me to Hell if I sin too much, says
Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher, so
I've got to get saved is what she says or
I'll die in my sins and then wake up dead
in Hell and if not in Hell directly
then standing before God's throne to be judged
and His judgement will go against me but
Miss Hooker says that's fair, I had my chance
to repent and now it's too late, too late
in the future that is, after I'm dead
and don't really have one, not much of one
down there in the center of the earth, in
Hell where Satan's in charge and where I'll burn
with all the other sinful souls, if souls
can burn. I guess they can. I guess I'll find
out unless I change my wicked ways, which
aren't that wicked to me. I just want some
fun and if there's anything good about
sin then I guess that's it, it keeps me from
being bored and making some real mischief
like robbing banks or assassinating
Presidents or reading those magazines
with naked people in them and I mean
women, women without any clothes on
which is what marriage is for, Miss Hooker
claims, even though she never said so but
I know the way she thinks so I can't be
all bad and in fact I'm in love with her
and if God is good for something then it's
for praying to, which I do, I do my
damndest every night and pray that He'll keep
Miss Hooker single until I'm 16,
I'm 10 now to her 25, and then
I'll pop the question. It just has to be
so--who says I don't have any faith? If
she turns me down I'll have faith enough to
wait for a few days and ask her again or
maybe even when I'm 18 to her
33--the patience of Job, that's what
I have, without the boils all over me.
Miss Hooker's big on Job and told us dope
about him. In Little League I just ride
the bench so I can understand what he
went through. Coach put me in for the last out
in our last game and I popped up but got
to first base anyway because the kid
lost the ball in the sun. I could've had
second but I'm not in the game enough
to recall what the Hell to do. Coach was
sore and said that's why he never played me.
So I'm proud of that. Next year I'm quitting.
Miss Hooker's my Sunday School teacher and
she's going to die one day and so will
I but at a different time unless God
wants us to go out together, not date
I mean, or don't mean, but expire. That's good
if we're married and even die together
so that the one of us left living won't
miss the other. Miss Hooker's 25
and I'm 10 so chances are that she'll go
first, she fifteen years older, but at least
she'll go to Heaven so I'll have to sin
less than ever if I want to join her
when I'm dead, too, or else I'll go to Hell
and burn forever and gnash my teeth and
I don't brush enough as it is and in
our family nobody flosses, that's
for rich folks and people in commercials
as seen on TV. And I'm practicing
asking Miss Hooker to marry me when
I'm old enough, 16--18 tops--when
she'll be 31 or 33, not
young but I think that when you're in love you
don't really give a damn, you just go with
it, like a lot of the rest of living.
Then, Miss Hooker says, God sends His angel
of death to take you out of life, at least
the one you're living here on earth, and puts
you in Heaven or Hell depending on
how much you haven't sinned, or have and if
you got your soul saved or you didn't. So
far I didn't--I mean I haven't--but
I'd best or I'll be without Miss Hooker
in the next life, too, the life to come. I
sometimes wonder why I was ever born
--I guess so that I'll die but really won't.
I wonder what I stand to gain from that
--wouldn't it be easier just to live
forever? Easier on God I mean,
Who wouldn't have to spend His precious time
judging all those dead souls. He must get tired
and He's God. Me, I get tired just thinking
about it. Maybe I can help Him out
when I'm dead. I've got some experience
judging others, though Miss Hooker says that's
sin and God's job only. Oh, poor baby.
From Another Day
I play a Tony Bennett CD
I bought for her birthday,
ninety-years-old this May.
She is reading the paper
beneath the arched glass atrium,
stained with pollen and inch worms.
It’s a sunny morning, a slight breeze
from the beach a few hundred
yards away, and I look at her,
her foot tapping slightly,
her gaze far away
as if she has already crossed over.
She blinks and her eyes fill.
Are you okay? I ask
and make a joke about choosing
different music next time.
I give her some water and a tissue.
So many memories, she says
and I put my arm around her
thin shoulder, We all meet up again
someday I tell her and instantly I
feel a heavy lump of shame
in my throat, like I’ve given
her directions I’m not sure of,
a second hand story disguised as the truth.
Which are almost always tingling
His belongs to brows, chest, eyes, face, and gaze, which are almost always arching, rock solid, knowing, lean, and dark, and hers belongs to hips, elbow, eyes, lips, mouth, spine, and throat, which are almost always slim, guided, hungry, swollen, throbbing, melting, and tingling. There are also earlobes for nibbling, eyes for narrowing, lean fingers for tapping, strong hands for gripping, resolute jaws, jaws clenching, the twisted corners of a mouth determined, hungry love, and a smile so bright, so complacent, so stiff there is only almost tingling, only and almost.
Gertrude Stein Has Been Cursed Properly
Her hair moved
before she spoke.
Everything was under water, except her feet.
State street, Northside Chicago,
was a flood of neon
(this was a picture she held
in her right hand).
I read her lips:
she was cursing Gertrude Stein’s corpse,
cursing Gertrude’s spirit,
cursing Gertrude’s sense of priorities
for not feeding Henry Miller
when Henry was starving in Paris,
when Gertrude was living there high on the hog
on her family’s money;
she was cursing Gertrude Stein’s
bull dyke ways.
The picture of Chicago in her hand
became a sheet of fog.
She stopped talking and
flung her hair around like tall grass in a tornado.
All the water drained away, and she stood on her feet
and disappeared like the sun at dusk
into the fog of her hand,
satisfied Gertrude Stein had been cursed properly.
for Beth Partlow-Draime
I never thought I’d look back on
her in memory. She seemed so
fastened to her being and her
of the world! I watched her joy when she
read Joyce and Kafka,
Chandler and Hammet , or James Cain ...
and even William Morris
and Lovecraft. And the times she appeared
to be mesmerized by
Erik Satie and Brahms, Van Morrison,
and Leonard Cohen,
playing on our
as she tended
and squash in
the garden behind our house in Echo Park.
And the many passionate and lazy afternoons,
her red hair entwined
through my fingers as I
held up each strand to
steaming through our
There were her cryptic
post cards from
across the U.S.
on the way home to see her folks
in Kokomo. The one from
a bus station somewhere
in Texas said simply,
“I’m just listening.”
There is no getting away
from her courageous and
to get the oppressed
Soviet Jews out
of Russia; and there
is a tree planted
She made the big time
when her friend
Si, published an article
about her in
the L.A. Times
Boris Penson and Mikhail Baryshnikov are in her debt.
But mostly I remember the way she held a
drinking glass full of Jameson’s whiskey
like it was a China tea cup.
Every moment of those
are somewhere in
like soft gray rain
Advice from Miss Nancy
Never speak in that sick voice
monotonous as a rocking chair.
Keys corrode atop the bureau.
You are not in thrall to Bluebeard
go outside every day Give up
biting your nails Never let anyone
see you slip the hypodermic
into your thirsty vein.
Your pant of relief and skill
with the needle—its aim sure
as William Tell—make it obvious
the syringe is a lover
than a sonnet’s turn.
Note: Nancy Boyd was the alter ego of Edna St. Vincent Millay and a pseudonym she used for prose pieces.
Before Her Round-the-World Flight Amelia Visits with a Psychic
I’m licensed in the aerodynamics
of death, have fought its drag and thrust
when the double face of up and down
clouded the horizon. Now do I taunt death?
The sharp tang of whiskey
slurs the vision of the man mapping
your way around the world’s waist.
People imagine fear as a parachute
to keep one safe. They are wrong.
When I was seven I took my new sled
to the top of the hill, belly-slammed down,
slid under a horse and wagon, then waved
to my sister, frozen at the crest of the hill.
Luck is a mirage on a hot runway,
a ripple-splash of water
which never quenches thirst.
If this flight is my time to pop off, luck aside,
I could crash—wings crumple—
in some pasture fragrant with spearmint
and fuel oil where a black-and-white cow
will wash my abandoned calf face
preparing me for what comes next.
You’ve mothered a mother, Amelia.
Would you accept the tenderness
of a rough tongue?
Perhaps I’ll descend onto a field
where ghosts greet me with a handshake,
no medals hung around my neck,
I’ll wear only a string of pearls.
Again and again you’ve launched
into headwinds. You know, don’t you,
your name means work and effort?
But my plotted course may swerve
like the Lost Star of the Pleiades,
and my Electra may disappear
into a vastness beyond the earth’s grip.
For now, hold my hand.
Note: it was Amelia’s practice to write what she called“pop off” letters before any major flight.
Quince Goes On To Say
Arden is such a burden,
rather like a busman’s hol,
trees as teases begging to be nicked.
But I am more refined than that and all;
besides, it is taboo to hack an oak
in this delirious wood; it might just, godforsaken,
flap its wings, moon-bleached branches
hovery with moss and mists as green as goblin spit.
It might have eyes.
It would, therefore, be wise, to take our trouble to the verge
where lights shut out the wee folk’s tricksy gleams.
Not that I believe.
I struggle with the urge for atmosphere
and do not want to seem an ass with such
rough and rustic fears.
Yet murmurs do I hear that loop in echoes
like garlands of enchanted flowers
and whisper stage directions and undermine
my hempen shreds of dignity and power.
The words are mine
but gruffer voices make them less divine.
The flower circlet round her eager
rhapsody of teenage hair shuddered
a tiny warning and flounced a snowdrop
into the staunch sincerity of her gaze.
Nothing was more amazing than
this ancient alabaster play.
The words unknotted on her tongue
and streamed like swans of visionary light
into a pool of breathy need.
A greedy flick of accent tossed
with just the right insouciance
gave her part a beggared wantonness,
the maiden dozy and shaken, her habitual
enchantments foiled by fairy intervention
and for the first time, questioned.
She was never bested, her challengers
fuddled lines and smirked their awkward inhibitions,
clipped or snippy, overplayed, or ponderous or drippy,
all of them unradiant, all of them indifferent.
She, as through a waterfall, saw the world transfigured
into misty glades and verges, tremulant with hope
and hesitation, cliffsides of effrontery, crags of wild
convergence, moonlight spilling over irony and ire --
an Arcady of words glimmering in the drear and stuffy black box.
Through gangs of hustled call-backs she became a source
of regal sorcery or flickering impiety or,
as her voice grew sore,
a flustered and bedeviled delicacy – a slip
of a girl unhinged by manic mystery
and churlish buffets of uncertainty.
Since all the world’s a stage
with heavy, opaque, draggled curtains,
beleaguered, harried crew
and frustrate, feckless, dim directors,
she was cast as meager ruffian
to reward her trim and pretty know-how.
Her sweet wings shrivel, proudly
toughen into waspish flippancy.
Her tiara tilts sardonically,
its petals gimmicky, a nuisance.
She studies her self-pity and parses her illusions
for showy later usage
and repurposes Lysander’s moony recognition:
so quick bright things come to confusion.
The world creases sometimes
less like the brittle page of an old paperback
(one with a moon on the cover – and the soft
eyes of a girl peeking over a mess of creepers riddling
through a neat fringe of boxwood)
and more like a bed sheet busy with violets and snow drops
slept on fitfully and dragged into a stealthy dream of
a constant hand, smoothing, rumpling, smoothing.
Settling: sediment, plans, down, for less –
and sometimes a disaster comes snuffling
through the startled dawn and the troubled
trees close ranks, flimsy wings shuddering with
whatever ways the winds blow.
Times being what they always are – delicate,
ponderous, no-account, pressed – there
must be will, decrees, assertion – just
to keep the fireflies brave enough to burn.
Russian Tanker Update: 2013
From a local memoir and one
grainy picture just published,
half a tanker was all there was
to the one we war kids used
in the landscape of our play.
The Aleutians, not a Jap sub,
broke it up, 1946, the year
after the war ended, the ship
a leased Russian registry
named The Donbass,
built by Kaiser in Portland,
one of many Liberty designs
the war made cheap to build.
Bow only had been dragged
and left to rot in the low tide
muck off Kayak Point, its stern,
still all of a piece, turbine
perfect, ending up way south
at a dock in Eureka,
California, powering, it’s true,
the lights of a city.
After two years of waiting
for the salvage of its metal,
the bow tanks began to leak
what oil remained, spreading dark
rainbows into the shingle
and sand of every beach close,
killing much sea life.
The night watchman learned
to hate this ship for the slippery
and smelly passage ways and ladders
he slithered through, dangerous
especially in the dark
though the mast’s one light blinked
night after night all night
keeping our war games alive.
Only the front gun tub,
tilted high up, was safe,
its gone cannon its only defense.
The Vegetation of Wisconsin
grows right to the doors
of the Adult Superstore.
Burdock and Mullein
live among the
Ho Chunk burial mounds.
At the Aviation Museum
where they keep a shrine
to the Doolittle raids,
Loosestrife and Chicory
blaze by the parking lot.
A well-kept lawn
covers the landfill.
At its base,
and at a little distance,
they fly the flag.
We Are All Cosmonauts
the bargains available
when God held
a going out of business sale.
he startlingly announced,
are made of stardust.
He pointed to a photo of a nebula.
“If you give this cloud
another 10 billion years,”
he said, “it will go to school
and chew gum.”
NB: The quote originally appeared in The New York Times 2014/01/22
“Why the hurry?” the woman leaning out the window teases. Because of Columbus’s first steps ashore. Also what happened to me in California. I still get emails, ridiculous emails. “No,” I reply, “I don’t want to.” Women, take note: sunshine is overrated.
I call the repairman. In fact, I end up calling two, both named Mike. The tip of the first Mike’s nose is red and pitted, as if it’s been gnawed by a small but vicious animal. Skin, he explains, is just a kind of mask. The second Mike leaves with a signed check for three-hundred dollars and a promise to return soon with the right part. I scroll through my messages while waiting. “Do you love music?” “The Bible has a way of making life clearer.” “Must leave your information with Lisa in the Math Dept. office.” “Free T-shirts for participants.” I feel a promiscuous grief, as I often do. Cars kill approximately 25,000 Americans a year.
How many of you know that a pack of sharks is called a “shiver”? Probably not as many as know that Vincent would have died in obscurity if it weren’t for his brother, Theo, the art dealer. Butterflies need the warmth of the midday sun to be active and aren’t seen at dusk. Birds are often active then. The Golden Oriole, Yellow Hammer, or Goldfinch have yellow-and-black wings that can look gold and gray in the setting sun. I remember punches being thrown, children being trampled, everyone fighting for a better view.
Solemn music reaches us from an adjoining century, like blast waves spreading out in circles. Can’t breathe. The firmament all worms (this last, according to Mandelstam). Rescuers rush up the stairs without seeming to get any closer. And we’re the people who trusted in secret attics to keep us safe. Before my very eyes, the Christmas trees burn.
Forensic investigators scoop a mound of monster droppings into evidence bags. Back in the lab, they sculpt the stuff into a sort of ziggurat. Millions watching at home laugh hysterically. The force of laughing is such that it can dislocate jaws, cause asthma attacks, trigger the rare but possibly grievous Pilgaard-Dahl and Boerhaave’s syndromes, and make hernias protrude.
Can’t quite get things in focus? Some perish before they ever can. One small hint: if birds start talking Dutch, don’t interrupt. It’s the birth of the impossible, something just for the elderly tourists pointing camera phones. Why perhaps Venus remains yellowish and pockmarked, but, after dark, easy to mistake for a star.
Deconstructing Literature’s Intercultural Mythos
Academic, or otherwise “refined,” educated at Oxford, Harvard, Zürich,
Those parvenues pride, ride shrill on conversant roles in attenuated doxy;
Self-liberated moralists, such sorts complete “major” horked undertakings,
Embrace questionable quirks, accept, as peers, lots of stumblebums, onagers.
In balance, when choices matter, gauche would-be leaders seek novel brevets.
(Literary works provide limited sustenance in light of rationalizing dead end jobs).
Thereafter, postilion aided or not, power addicts suck support from jarts, vultures.
The salacious kind enjoys food while people starve; they pine just for paparazzi.
So, new media campaigns, beyond existent, churlish intelligentsia’s inventories,
Make impossible, for verbal artists done with cultivating patrons: omitting corteges,
Skipping perpetually scantily clothed states, sitting on cow patties, shooting flechettes;
No amount of dolmades, despite pedigree, bothers writers with twine, tape, or glue.
Rather, high flying malapropos social artifacts, other mummery, insist on fallacy,
Provide individuals, otherwise neutral or friendly, with purely exculpatory praise.
For scrittices striving to square perspectives on private communications with public
Language usage, no heuristic exists that promotes beyond pandering or penning pulp.
Heaping measures of hope, sanity, even vexation, remain insufficient to create legerdemain.
Word play successfully deconstructs mythos only when equally applicable to all venders.
Once regularly saddled with subaltern commitments, editors’ ripostes ripple, slush builds.
The business of authoring insights falls to censor by susurrus, liminality, adumbrative rants.
Shagreen mentors’ promises notwithstanding, finding erudite welcome gets reduced
To coping with shameful walks, elevated social entitlement, dishabille manuscripts.
Publication destinations morph into cochineal-dyed texts, extraneous thoughts, waste.
Backers carry on disporting ways, fill CVs, hire publicists, gather to celebrate “fame.”
After a few drinks, my new friend explains
that the rain can be dissected for the microscopic dust
inside it, and that sometimes we discover the remains
of lost cities there; he says we can study
this dust for the texture and flavors of lives
otherwise perfect as silence. He claims
the mind of wind can be listened to now
for the voices folded up there, languages spoken
before we were even smidgens, the sounds
of strange people’s bodies moving through rooms
and houses we’ve learned to gather from the air.
On a calm day, he tells me, heartbeats can be picked up
by our finest instruments, of extinct species
who walked right here, and their breath. And if we could listen
more deeply to stillness—which we’re learning how to do—
we might detect time itself moving back there,
the sound long-vanished animals made
as they grew old. Then he whispers: his hands
are able to touch again, caress again, hold things
gently as they did then. Do you remember
the good old days, before all this science
revised us into the merest animals
who measure our own barks against the full moon
turning in the darkness, do you remember
playing hide-and-seek in the near-dusk with a girl
we both had a crush on, hearing her breathe
as she hid from whoever was it, and the stars
were peeking out above us, and our parents called out
as fireflies rose from the damp grass. You were there
whether you remember or not. Then he turns
and walks off into the crowd and the too-loud
music seems to be coming from the mouths
of the others I’m standing with, people I don’t know
who nod toward me like flowers heavy
with the ache of their fragrance, their pollen.
I wondered then if I could weave myself
a suit that would make me look like a painting,
a group portrait by an artist who’s well-known but hardly
famous, a Flemish painter, let’s say,
whose name I won’t mention here so I can stay disguised
in there. Then maybe I could move unnoticed
through that antique city, free to explore
as I pleased. And maybe I could feel the minds
of the men and women standing with me in that portrait,
could intuit even the life of that lapdog,
that little yapper, as I tasted the ham
half-carved on the table in its shaft of light.
I’d certainly drink from that gleaming goblet,
taste those dewy grapes. The inner life goes on—
most people never learn this—behind the physiognomies
caught inside a painting, if the painting captures even
a smidgen of real life, though most of those minds
begin just to buzz, after a few centuries.
When I was a boy, I loved the Abstract
Expressionists that painted like my father’s music sang,
Franz Kline in particular, Joan Mitchell, and both
deKoonings. I thought of them as saints—I was
that innocent—and sometimes I dreamed I could ride
the subway to a part of the city I’d be lost in,
then find myself again by wandering all the way
back home without asking directions; and then
while my father sang bebop with strange chord changes
I’d enter our house like an animal transformed
into the perfect snowfall, the kind that makes silence
absolute, even in a city like that,
at least while it’s falling, and sometimes even
long after it’s covered the ground.
The mouse inside my guts is just a mouse, and an ordinary one at that. I could say I love him, despite myself, for his sleek fur and the way he sniffs at the seeds and secrets deep in there, where I don’t even realize I’ve hidden them, which will grow now into sunflowers or flowering bushes inside me, since by nudging and chewing he’s dislodged them from their dormancy. The sunflowers may even grow larger than my body, which scares me a bit, to be honest. And they’ll attract bees and small birds, and they’ll sway in the sun until, nodding, they’ll drop their seeds, or whatever is left of them after all those birds. And what kinds of birds are they, after all, that eat those seeds? How far do they migrate; what songs do they sing?
When I was a child we owned a boa constrictor that needed to be fed only once a month. He ate rats and mice my mother collected from the cancer research institute downtown. These rodents had been shot full of toxic chemicals, cut open and sewed up like the patched jeans we wore then, and most of them could barely walk. My mom would place them gently in the terrarium and they’d stand there shaking or tottering aimlessly around—until the snake got them into his mouth. Still alive when he swallowed them, their tails moved around like bendable conductor’s batons beating time to a spastic music we couldn’t hear, until they were just a lump in that silky-rope body.
I never took much pleasure in that snake, or in watching the rats disappear there—or in any of the other exotic pets my mother collected, tortoises which moved so rarely we only knew they’d died when we smelled them rotting, piranhas which banged against their tanks when we walked by, yearning to take a nice bite of our faces. I wasn’t even that fond of dogs in those days—they seemed always to get hit by cars or to disappear into the neighborhood somewhere, and my parents would ask me to go out on my bike and search for them, in the chilly dusk. I’d ride up and down the streets calling “Tippy!” calling “Otis!” without luck. And when I returned we’d have dinner, by candlelight, while the hamsters in the kitchen ran on their wheels, which made a halfhearted creaking music, like an old door being opened and closed, over and over, to let nothing in or out, or like our lost dog somewhere out in that darkness, trying to call out our names.
Too Big To Name
We all walk fine lines
without thinking about them,
counting up what connects us
flowers opening overnight,
no records need to be kept
but here they are
touching us in the ways of delight
a brush of the wind on the cheek,
a giant blue sky,
auroras we cannot see
exploding in space,
what elates, missed only
I want to collect them,
sit with them.
It takes so little to remember.
I sit with my black dog
for a lifetime
collecting light, looking for crows,
who knows what else,
great acts of life
too small to mention, too big to name
A President's Wife
"She danced for her husband," My mother tells me, stunned.
"A president's wife. Sarah, moving in a silver dress. Like that."
She moves a little. Like Lauren Bacall, I've seen her. Arms out,
knees in tight, rippling her hem at Bogie sitting smiling.
We don't usually see that kind of thing. "The faculty all
staring. And the punch napkins pleated into swans."
Then two years later mother tells me Sarah's gone.
"To school, to be a linguist. Left him." I forget Sarah until
one Sunday I'm putting out the Wedgewood serving dish.
I'm folding napkins, also blue, under the forks.
My mother says, "You know, you could be a president's wife."
Her voice sounding like, here's your graduation gift.
I hollow out. Like I'm an empty pen. Not just thinking
mother is longing for the wild things Sarah did.
And not just wishing I would ask what parts of Sarah I could be.
It's suspicion. That it isn't Sarah's dancing or her get up,
get out of here that Mother sees in me. It's pretty. And
napkins. And even if she does mean all of Sarah (I think
Mother wants me full), there's something in "wife of" that
I can't see. Some insult frozen in her generosity.
A man came to my door
to say directly to my face that I
had chosen him alone to malign
in places he was still known, often
where he had established good will.
He wore prominently a patriarchal cross,
like a sword, apparently very weighty,
and when he worshipped, my atheism
insinuated an added burden. He shopped
as if lost among goods in the shopping center:
my new tire preference made his own car
ride noisily and roughly, even on macadam.
Certain in-laws, trusting his wife’s liberalism,
and aware of his aversion to me, questioned
his judgment and her tolerance of it.
Almost all New England was now polluted.
He could kill me at my door.
(As yet I saw no weapon.) I said “Hold on!”
That I used an exclamation point, apparently
armed with grammar was finally too much.
For discerning readers of poetry
I don’t need to say
what happened after that.
A man came to my door
saying that he, like I, had questioned
unsaintly scientists’ good faith, i.e.
bona fides. He proffered to me
science as corrugation, obfuscation,
bent imagination, curving space, “realities”
much too recondite that I might pinpoint
unquestioned azimuths of authority
for any path through human space.
“Why choose me?” “Out of the blue.”
“Why tell me of things I cannot know?”
“Hey, doesn’t Goldman, Sachs do the same?”
“Won’t I bump into my steel table
when I know the atomic configuration?”
“Get used to ephemeral realities, hug no box
but scientific thought outside the box:
we are the “stuff” of stars; repeat
we are the “stuff” of stars.
Since that day, probably coincidently,
notice has appeared in selective media
confirming allegations in obscure works
that we are star matter standing to order
for new purposes and unlimited progeny.
Although long-gone, the man imbues me.
Excitedly I marry all debarking visitors
(Embarrassed, I conceal involuntary erections),
I want for nothing, but hope for everything,
including progressive taxes by the legislature.
My neighbors seem troubled by star matter
as it compromises community rules and by
my space rigid in salute of scientific discovery.
They’ve left me behind.
They’ve gone on an outing.
In their long cars, with picnic baskets,
silks, tweeds, lawyers,
repressions like matted veins
of ore, will like coal
mined and exuding slag beyond the hedges.
I think I was invited.
It may have been a dream. The tone,
a sweet entreaty lacking condescension,
certainly was. But now, with the place to myself,
I must organize my own
breakfast and bath, because they took
the whole Staff with them. Amazing!
How did they all fit?
Were cars commandeered
from the constabulary, the Army, the middle classes?
And how did flour-specked and brilliantined
guilts, needless brains,
and endlessly attenuated cunning
react to the light? Did they merge
at last, just beyond
the last rackrented village
and last tugged forelock, with their masters?
The sinks are full of dishes.
I eat some English thing,
then wander, before flies settle, through the house.
Those precious linens, long immaculate,
lie crumpled. By a crib,
a teddy bear has wandered in from Waugh.
Between the uncut pages of books
on a high shelf that justify the world
lurk scrawled and folded
secrets that everyone knew anyway,
including the dark portraits
of men released by one or another war.
I curl up in a window nook, pretending
I own that infinite green
and am as innocent as its sheep.
On Wednesday, on CNN, he’s asked
for evidence to back his latest
speech about terror babies. (Their mothers
come from Moslem countries
to give birth here, then after twenty years
the kid returns, a US citizen,
“no waiting, no problem,” to blow up buildings.) The word
“evidence” means his word and
intelligence are being doubted, and he
takes off after the famous
media figure (“It’s easy to change the subject,
it’s easy to pick on me, but you’re
better than that, Anderson – ”); wonders
if he can cite the latter’s confessed
gayness but there’s no opening; talks
righteously, till the break, over
On Thursday he meets funders.
On Friday he leads visiting
constituents on a tour
of the Capitol. Recites
the history of corners, statues, plaques, some
paintings. Lingers on duels,
and places where noted
figures (they sound like the Founding Fathers) knelt
in prayer. The retirees
murmur and smile as he says goodbye:
he really talked to them.
That night he flies home,
thinking (with particular logic;
the rest is a sort of art) about
the primaries. The funders
don’t like the preacher-dentist
and former Kleagle probing
his right. Still it’s important
to make appearances
in the towns at either end
of his carefully-shaped district. In churches.
At a gun show, where he will weep.
At the Game. How he talks
depends to some degree
on where. If, for instance, a black
colleague is there
to analyze Obama’s hatred
of whites. But on the square
before the County Courthouse the Congressman
can freely, at length, with his trademark flush,
decry immorality and tyranny –
applauded by his people, round and eating,
sun-drawn, or office-pale,
employers and employees
(from the oil-supply and silicon plants,
the hospitals, prisons, and Base)
together. (If it’s cold,
he’ll mock the climate hoax.) Then go home
to spend quality time with his family,
for which he says he has a special flair.
Just possibly, a pilot
evades at the Academy
the relentless, licensed
keeps his cool, his soul,
his own spare rhetoric.
He regards himself as,
and is, a sophisticate:
on leave seeks Indian
relics and, in Vegas,
Reads. It’s a double life
that can, with care, be pursued.
No love of battle made him fight,
only the squalor
of home, and an aptitude
that had its own vector
and rewards. Full-bellied,
impeccable, he confers
with his sensor tech; is authorized,
and looses a Hellfire
on five louche figures
glowing in infrared beside
a road – they, too, perhaps innocent.
For My Father, in His Terror
At midlife, he began to wear maroon
bell-bottoms, long sideburns, 22 year olds.
He seemed to me suddenly a cartoon.
Moods came linked to booze breath odor.
He would point things out: “You shuffle your feet”
or “Schizophrenics are brilliant, so don’t
be ashamed.” He couldn’t hack my needing
a father that happened to be him.
Where were the little tykes he could put down
when he tired of playing piggyback?
Where was the rising sun? He made dumb shows
of worthiness. He ran from the beaten track.
I find him in the mirror now. I’ve learned
his polyester grief, his actual dread.
Did my brother really write our names on bombs in 1967?
Why was my family charmed by this?
Who did my bomb kill?
Or is it smiling, silent, a nobody in a rice paddy, still?
Was Viet Nam just an extension of the family drama?
Paul goes AWOL in Saigon.
My father two-times with a 22 year old.
Susan elopes with a fellow librarian.
U.S. soldiers massacre the village of My Lai.
Is my brother, in whatever bright pocket
of heaven he claims, laughing softly at us?
Is there a heaven for the innocent led astray,
the American farmboys and homeboys
drafted to be killers?
Does this heaven have a wait list, or an antechamber?
Will I see some version of God there?
If Emily Dickinson had been alive in 1967
would she have explored new methods of omission,
shaved her head, doffed her white dress for flame
robes, led chanting at peace rallies? Instead of stalking
hearses in envy, would she have
set herself ablaze in Times Square?
Is there a tiger-lily heaven just for her?
Highway 17 Revisited With A Hearse Full Of Grandkids
5 AM, chopper skids
front of the draft bus,
scooters smash out headlights,
my trigger finger
curses at the driver’s brain
so Marines won’t reach
Oakland’s Induction Center
Fender mind-bending Shut-It-Down
that gun didn't land me jail
Dreaming my telomeres fray
like dinosaurs fried in the Twin Towers,
finally, finally it seems clear
what's panicking me about death.
Not mine, no, no. Rather the kids’
tangle of crutches, blind, insane …then
I'm woken from deep deep sleep
sobbing – the very time since Dad passed.
Infinite diabolical opaque choices
foisted and finagled,
my once-upon-a-time’s chill wit
reverts to the macabre we observed
in Pops as he aged. Memories
of what’s-their-names lost in some cul-de-sacs,
dementia unmasking scares me
much much more than latent oncogenes.
Cancer’s a lot like terrorism –
one attack gets through, poof you’re toast.
What We Are Left With
Crumbs, for example, just after. And kaleidoscopes of specks
stuck on the skin, or floating away, looming, thinning or bloating.
Crusts and rust, dust, sand and caliginous clouds in the air,
or filaments like feathers, like a debris of stares.
On the ground a scattering of the pips of things,
forgotten fragments following here
their own harmony of the spheres.
Following or forgetting us. Or staring.
With the laziness and absent-mindedness of a king,
with all the impassive persistence of the nonchalance of being.
On my dish I see crumbs and pips and, for a moment,
I don’t remember where they come from, they look like
props after some antics in a pantomime,
then I remember that I have just finished
munching my grapes and biscuits and drinking
my precious goblets of Chardonnay, I have been
spitting the pips straight onto the dish, pellets on target,
my reign the dish, which is always right here
this great gatherer of spheres, and friend,
because what welcomes any trash at the end,
preventing you from drowning in its trends,
is always a friend.
Anyway, most of the time life leaves us
a quietly quite scattered mess,
remains we have to deal with, reminding us
of the manifold remains we shall ourselves be.
After the end a body to dispose of and what it leaves:
a tossing loss, its skies and seas,
its not being alive any more
that we can’t accept but we must,
like circles on still water
after a stone is thrown,
then the circles become larger
and slowly blur.
Or stay, like the fearful symmetry
of a heart’s vacancy,
or like a hole in the sea of your eye,
ineluctably present in the retina
and you can’t erase the transpiring light.
Like the train of this monologue running
to your ashes, which in your mind’s eye
must be bright and rise like a sky in the sky.
But what a fuss before we are back
in the blue, our native hue,
what we really are.