HSR Home HSR Archives Submissions Contributors This Issue
Past Editors Contact Us Commentary on HSR Hamilton Stone Editions Home Our Books
Hamilton Stone Review #35 Fall 2016
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
Dear Suki: Number Seventeen
Dear Suki: Akita, Japan, 2010,
to know the years had collected
snow caterwauled on shingled
roof, I wept red on cherry trees
and turned winged shortly after
loving you. How to speak it right
without floating up the aches of
your copper-eyes, I lifted you out
over the perfume of cedar chips,
bearing ancient rhythms of past
seasons laden with pale tunneled
mist and rich dark wind. In this
perfect aerial bloom, we touched
fingers to Lake Towada's cool pane
of glass, reached back to porters-
stained purlieus of Kosaka Mine.
Eventually, our dendritic breaths
were a soft, conglomerate cable of
supine motes, unshaped yet for rain.
Darwin in Java
ate turtle soup
as the servants
walked his dogs
they came back
he did not seem
The white coat has just a smudge
of red below the third button. It shines
in contrast to the walls, sixties-
vintage aquamarine tile. Attendants
scrub and scrub without effect.
Dirt never seems to go away in this place.
Night. The moon obscured. He feels rain
deep in his shoulders. Most
are asleep, save the few whose eyes
never close, the helmeted who rock,
endless, their heads little more
than mauls against the ceramic
though not as effective.
He smiles, reaches for the button
that will set all the alarms
off at once.
The streets are peeled
Of life. Leaving a tarmac
Skin to fade under the sky.
We wait for our bus
Voices twang in the station.
At night the world grows
In size, like it is a deep
Filled lung taking a gasp
Of the skylight.
Then they appear. Rounding
Up for the night the sounds
Of the day. Smog coloured
Polluted by the dark.
Squawking syllables echo
Above us as they settle like dust.
Shining a flashlight on the past,
none of that nonsense this evening. Raccoons
scratch around the back.
The moon, a menacing shift of blue,
illumines the vicinity,
highlighting sinister peaks and ridges.
As for the past,
shaking it off after plunging back and forth
for years feels dishonest.
How forget unforgettable moments,
the fast unfolding melodramas?
Wear the mask
into night, without beaming a flashlight,
and find what’s truly there.
Maybe you’ll decide the task is too much
to ask of a man
with no hair and cold air in his thorax.
Outside, there could be
powder blue snow touching everywhere,
the street lamps misting.
Or you could be missing the keys to the house
and be honest with yourself
about who loves you and who does not.
The anger is speedy
and complete—surrounded by warehouses
and donut shops, the cop cars
cycling through bitter moon phases.
I’d been there a long time.
The priest was a giant strawberry,
ominous wheels forgave the gulls
for being gulls, white droppings out of the sky.
We approached the trays of food
and ladled it onto our plates, the person in charge
spoke as if she wasn’t in charge.
I dreamt of taking a boat up the Mississippi,
awaking to the voice of the Audible reader
reciting Huckleberry Finn.
We spoke to each other, managing it.
Some flare up
was tamped down. We knew it was coming.
The fight was for all of us.
There’s a bus, but we’d rather drive ourselves north.
Industry gives us back our money.
Today it’s hot and sunny.
There are angels flying in the night.
A cross section of dense fog, a vein of shimmering quartz.
Some will stop when you call
and give an inquisitive, anxious look
as if to say, why would you stop this important work?
Others will glance over beneath the hardened moon,
grimace and continue, their robes like the tails of comets,
One may halt, and hinge like a butterfly upon a large tree,
afraid to come too close, as they are all very sensitive creatures,
and float there, tentative until you speak.
It is the angel’s duty to hear you speak,
to watch your hands
and to slowly descend and kiss you on your head,
as you pray for the souls trampled, the hundreds of crypts rising,
gunshot, hemorrhaging, the blood like ghostly rain,
the wings of these busy beings stained,
like wartime nurses, others bowed like workhorses
hitched to endless carriages.
One tree-lined Hollywood street, quiet, suburban.
One window lit, someone on a leather couch.
I walk to my car, more conservative than ever.
I want to tell the youth: you’ll hate better tomorrow,
today you think you must protect your neighbor.
An ambulance does away with the red lights.
In. I hate the word “in.” Supper was very light.
My shadow is a superpower. I wait for him.
Women are more woman than ever. A horse burns.
Several horses actually. No, pardon me, the horses
were saved. In America, horses don’t know danger.
I was hunted. The youth need to know that:
you are hunted, and the consequences come late.
I smoked in my rented room, drank a bottle of wine.
The window faced a far-away-from-home landscape,
the ocean close by, beyond a few blocks of shops,
a promenade. You could walk there, but I never did.
The setting sun, and a phone call to a local girl
I met in Europe. She answered and talked. I said
the exact wrong thing. Ten minutes later another
young man called her and said the rude thing,
and she went out with him. Wrong is wrong,
but rude is right, so I drifted further to the right.
Angry faces come in egg cartons. Most of them
are not cracked. You only find out later if they are.
The heavy door goes slack. Walking among
the hurried, you seek friendship. There is trash
between the rocks of the jetty. Mexican fisherman.
A yacht cruises by with a silent family onboard,
or maybe it’s a male boss with his kid, coworkers,
one never knows. Ripples toward the shore.
comment typo on stream
of Democratic sit-in on gun control
It would be awesome to witness
the grains pounding someone in the head
covering them, turning them
into Lot’s wife without anyone
even needing to have turned around,
neglecting Yahweh’s command.
And I picture the rifle white as salt
and the victims of salt rifles
also holding salt rifles
so that they appear like crusty white figures
spread over Judaean Desert dunes
calcified in their last position.
Women gather. Men hunt.
In every society, the same.
I gather sheets and dirty clothes
for the wash. You go crazy
hunting for lost socks. We open
the fridge. I gather vegetables
for stirfry, you rummage, hunting
for the last piece of cheesecake
which of course you can't find
being a man. Charles Darwin
said nothing about that. Nor did
Margaret Mead who studied Samoa,
peeking under bushes and finding
to her amazement, a profusion
of diddling going on. So busy
bushwhacking with its attendant
giggles, there was little time
for any hunt-and-gather business.
Nor did Samoans seem to suffer,
being the exception to the rule,
abiding as they did on the inner
thigh of Eden where fish leapt
straight into their cooking pots,
and coconuts and ripe papayas
fell like manna from the skies.
Husband, do you think—despite
your gray hair and my droop—
we could follow suit, if only
for an hour? We'll need a blanket,
sun screen and a good bug spray.
A radio for mood music, Brie,
chocolate, and a little Courvoisier.
Sound good? I'll do the gathering.
You hunt up your spear, your little
blue pill, and I'll meet you outside.
Poets die adolescents
which was Lowell's way
of saying how poets live:
forever changing, running hot
cold, raw and flighty.
Fourteen. That was the year
the mirror floated me a new face—
elongated, the baby fat
stretched taut, a glow of promise
and juice blooming the skin.
Late one night and I'm running
down the hall calling to Mother,
Look, look at my face, see how
I am different, changed.
What does the mirror signal
to me now, after sixty-six years
of being fourteen, now
with no mother to run to?
Poets die adolescents, he said,
the beat embalms them.
Oh poet of skunks and manic
phases, mentor of the silver tongue,
never mind this business of beat
and rhythm. I was born with that.
Instead, speak to me of rhyme.
If I am perpetually fourteen,
when did rhyme's doppelgänger
sneak into my mirror? Rhyme's
homonym that waits for winter
to ice its name on every living thing.
For Jack realizes Jill concretely,
And we do not.
Perhaps we would all like to realize
Each other concretely
Or maybe realizing Jill concretely
Absorbs all of Jack’s time and energy.
Nor do we realize Jack concretely
Even as at this moment
He stubs his toes against a plaster wall
And howls in pain.
It’s not our pain after all;
We have enough of our own.
And Jill . . . she is in the kitchen
Thus we meet them as abstractions,
Old photos in an album
Of ancestors with our blood,
Yes, but ghosts nevertheless.
The missed opportunities,
The still-born embryonic love,
The one who disappears
Around a corner,
The one you had your eye on.
The Best Part
The gulls spiraling above the dilapidated buildings and potholed parking lot of an abandoned shopping mall call out to each other, Yo, where’s that ocean at? but that’s nothing compared to the worried queries people stick on lampposts, or the loose dogs that roam in ad hoc packs. So, yeah, the best part of the day was early in the morning, very early, when I had just woken up, and drifting in the dismal gray between dawn and the remnants of a loony dream, I clearly heard arpeggios of rain, Bach composing with a violin in his hands.
What is important isn’t
what is going to happen,
but how it will happen,
for instance, without you
even once crying out.
Afterwards, we lie in the dark
on the vomitrocious couch
you bought off Craigslist,
not speaking, just waiting
for our hearts to slow down.
The fly is another character.
Everyone hates flies. They bite,
they drone, they overbreed.
So there is a tragic aspect,
all those detailed little dots.
Great Island Common, New Castle, NH
The sky Irish grey, the water refuses
to lie still, rustles, turns away
among the rocks, shellacked
and black in the shadows.
A black box
of a car, all sealed
up with blackened windows,
slides past with bagpipes trailing
half grief, half joy, almost
lifting me off the ground.
Arms spread wide,
running across the spine
of a red book, Artemis
in a shower of arrows?
Ten years old,
my principal desire
to be good in a
noble, boyish way.
Now, I cannot think
of anything significant
to say, everyone
I have met before; only
the homeless look interesting.
How to read–
left to right or right to left?
Sunwise or moonwise?
After David Hockney
This shape mirrors
the bowl it is in.
A generative restraint?
This spoon in this bowl
is like every spoon
in every bowl and the first
such spoon ever. It inhabits
the bowl. Luxuriates
like a loose tongue, shines.
Haloes and enshrines itself.
Caves in. Joins up to follow
like a horse in a herd.
Pressing hard, line after
line, gutter by
Martin is raking long
rows of sand into
loosening the beauty
of extra white.
roiling in the selvage.
Cloud Form #372
Slits cutting through stitched veil, sun’s cellulite patchwork:
pewter-edged, markings brightened by dusk. Swollen, rippled
like a worn flag—reaching & the whole sky is light; all light is
blood; all blood rivered under skin to bruise. No birds this time.
She is inclined to see the water as an image,
a specimen—like her, an obscure, unwinged
butterfly—a dream of barest sutures: water
silvers simulations of a last supper, or a god
kneeling to write on the ground. One night
she sees The Madonna choking a serpent by
feeding him with a bloated breast. Iconoclasm is
more than a rejection of images but the reimagining
of the bodies contained in the images themselves,
both as social & political creatures. But she grows
wings in the dark, patterns as nuanced as faces
in the act of articulating pain or pleasure. There is
a murmur in sea pines, brusk air headlong over
the edge. Above her, strange constellations,
behind her an expansive woods full of bustling
wildflowers: eyespots, nostalgia. Gaze at slight flecks
of grey powder on her fingers, ornaments sprouting
Little one: I pour salt to keep
us safe from the ice storm.
Last this happened you couldn't
question; at two, you confused
sounds naturally: grapes was gapes,
sick was thick. Charity is how
we grow up. Now you’re older,
enough to occupy yourself with
needle & thread. If you spend your life
making things into other things
you can dress down even the snow
as rain & rain as river. You'll lose
everything that way, by dressing
up the world with unrequired
sentiment. You'll learn as you grow
that storms receive names, names
come through & fill up. Gaps are shadows
bent across a storm whose name you couldn't say
years ago, white animal falling asleep
on top of us. Little one: I'm making
promises to stay alive I can't keep. But
I know this much: the salt will work.
I believe it when I fail to see it, when I think the best and when I think the worst. There's poetry in stasis. Mother Nature also loves a vacuum plus someone dispensable to taste the food. And I see people pray then faint at altitude. A miracle occurs in my vicinity and I'm a saint and see right through you and a clock that gains two minutes every day is right approximately once a month and in my flightless bird's-eye view maybe if I hold my breath you will love me before I turn blue.
According to my inner ear's accelerometer, I'm sidling, there's time dilation and it's twelve A.M., so I know where my limbic system and my limbic system's children are and I don't need to see them. I'm abundantly supplied with gravity and subtlety and vibrate sympathetically with spiders at all angles, the excited plasma in the cursive tube of glass. The writing in the window says, If you would have me, stay. If you would have me stay then signal visibly and audibly and at the school bus and train crossing have your red and yellow fiberglass reflective arm descend.
When neither frying pan nor fire suffices, neither beds of glowing coals nor nails, the lilies of the field spin in and spin in needing neither your liturgical consideration nor your statutory spatial frame. How beautiful, beneath the vapor trails and vees of geese, the lessons learned, how visible the picked-up sticks and stitches and how radial the pedals there for metric feet to step on, singing, living, status quo. This offer ends at midnight: love me, love my latitude and longitude and altitude, agree with me, and I'll throw in a fourth dimension absolutely free.
The Real Missing Mass
They say that most of you is missing
Perhaps from your most private places
Something more than just an arm or leg
And even deeper than your darkest spaces
Researchers conclude as much as ninety percent
Lost deduced from a long line of X’s and O’s
But it takes no greater science to tell me
That your muted mysteries no one knows
I too have peered down your opaque passages
Have felt your fractal pulse dimensionless
Have seen your eyes hidden in a veil of stars
And knew that you are quite featureless
Like staring at the stars you cannot be seen directly
And all your skies are blue from a distance only.
Trapped behind broken glass
In a window pane
A butterfly fluttered his paper
Wings in vain
Trying to reach the roses beyond
The garden lane
But if those tiny wings can
Cause some great effect
To move the wind or mountain
That no science can detect
Then perhaps I too might fly from
The gardens of my own neglect.
A contract is a worthless agreement enforceable by law¹
My friend sat on a curb crying about the failure of Capitalism to secure World Peace
while a colored man offered to shine his shoes and shave his head
so the gardia wouldn't be suspicious.
He planned to have coffee with Tony Hoagland in Burger King®
where he could buy smack before taking his son to dinner—otherwise he was stylish
with patrician nostrils and a chin shaped like a double helix
exposed to the parallel bars in Prospect Park
across from the French bistro that serves the best wine in Brooklyn
unless you count the rioja in Leon's cantina.
He ordered lobster bisque
reminding him of brunch by the pool in Palm Beach
drinking bloodies in sunlight
like sitting on the beach in Quépos
trying to finish the book he had promised to Routledge nine years ago
before the romance of nihilism taught him that doing things well is futile
since perceptions fracture almost as quickly as they are formed
and the pursuit of excellence disappoints
whenever he ventures into the jungle beyond Tegucigalpa
finding army ants carrying their prey home
to larvae destined for lives of hard labor.
¹Architectural Digest, September 2005
A random numbers table chose ten eight-year-olds from
Appalachia for tango classes and a trip to Argentina where
they heard a priest's litany about Evita Peròn the most
powerful woman who ever lived though she was afraid
of horses so the priest told the girls to stay away from
hoofed mammals and to become nuns but there weren't
any convents in Madison County only Mars Hill College
for Baptists. The priest's advice was clear to Amber whose
stepfather taught her Spanish so he'd have a
warm body to talk to. The priest told Amber she was
beautiful, inviting her to lunch with his seminarian
so she asked Ashley to come along, but the priest said
“Forget about it.” as if his feelings were hurt. Amber told
Ashley her stepfather said priests are creepy but he likes
arroz con pollo better than chicken and dumplings so what
does he know? The priest blessed the girls before they left
the cathedral promising to remember las blancas manos.
He spoke to Amber in a hushed voice:
“You talk like a campesina. Anybody can tell where you
It’s not much of an airfield,
as quiet as a country cemetery,
just two grass landing strips that crisscross a field.
But when I go there and wait for my deceased father,
before long he lands his plane,
a little white Cessna, a two-seater he calls “Bird.”
He checks the controls while I put on my headset—
we’ve done this many times so I know the routine—
and when the tower says we’re cleared for take off
he gives it the throttle and we speed down a runway
lined with blue grass and clover.
Just seeing the clover rushing by makes a difference,
and when the wheels lift and Bird starts to climb,
I feel a sudden willingness to let everything go,
the terrible need to talk or the compulsion to carry
all these stones in my heart. From high in the air,
the world below looks small, which it is,
and people are so tiny they disappear.
Flying with my departed father,
it is very difficult to hold on to troubles
and suddenly it is right to love everyone
as we burst free from clouds
and fly into the light.
Wearing a captain’s hat and uniform
my infirm father sails a brigantine
across winter seas to frozen Russia.
In the mansions of St. Petersburg
his wife debates sanity’s reward
versus delirium’s buoyant virtues.
In the palace, half-dreaming on the tsar’s settee,
coat unbuttoned, I recite my life’s story
in French, the language of angels.
Back in America, Jones Very was weeping
because his loved ones doubted the vision
of his divinely inspired poetry.
I have thought to tell you
that dimes spill out my pockets,
ring to the ground like wind chime
petals downed in a storm.
Rats tongue them into their jaws
and run off with shining aspirations.
They will drop them in the sewer,
water carry them all away.
My eye follows the fur,
the change down, the tails
down, the prickled, linked toes
down. Everything goes Somewhere.
My eye goes
down, through lightless
tunnels, breaks out
into fleas, into nickels
and pennies, into meantimes,
I feel the something go out of my spine.
Not sure how to take this limpness—
am I comfortable, or what? Cornflowers
burst out my eyes when I look.
Not meant to twist that way. Ask
someone else to look for me—
how we doin’ back there? Someone Else
snarls in my ear. Good. I like ‘em lupine.
I finger my teeth—flecks of yesterday there.
Green sensation on my skin. This
is how it feels to navigate love without attachment.
The snarl, I memorize it and turn,
my heart grimly peaking.
hottest day of summer to be hometown farmers
Chad and I decide to try gardening and so he calculates and sketches as the baby plays with measuring cups on the rug near his feet. Sunday morning I ask him if he still wants to plant. By noon he's going to the store and I laugh at him for the fireworks now on this hottest day of summer to be hometown farmers.On the edges of the treeline we thinned before Cade was born--after we were both cut up like Christ from briars--we mark dusty clay for the planter. Well I may have gotten a little carried away while I was there. I got cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers and squash and zucchini. And I bought watermelon too he says as I unload the car when we finish the grid. He hates watermelon. Aralyn and I eat it almost daily. I dig the holes for posts like a patient priestess and then dump the soil when his back aches. He sweats beside me resolute and disciplined in the task--his raw wildness commanding it all to formation. How do you want to arrange them? he asks. I graph those vegetables into the box and the next day we will create a second. He waters and I pot the cilantro and curry. In a silence earned by sweat and dirt we eat a dinner of chicken tortilla soup I made that afternoon.
any other way to order
The dog's ear becomes infected and we theorize on composting and the cat drags socks from the hamper and the pork needs a finer layer of salt as I take the minutes and hours to play Go Fish with the checklist to get tasks done. The fear of mishandling it all sits across my shoulders boa-constrictor dense. I wonder if there is any other way to order this sphere to where I am not always always moving hours before I must. Pruning off the gym or making Cade's food or cooking every meal or making the bed will counteract because these are spokes in the moving wheel. Nothing realigns on the differences we cannot settle. Chad changes the subject at the hint of it and I allow him to ask instead about where to put the berry bushes or how much a chicken coop would cost.
As we etch ourselves onto the couch Chad says he likes the photos of the kids. I show him a website that sells plants as we theorize how far to shuffle money into this hobby. In the past we created cheese candles pies soaps lotions curtains woodwork. I ache with poetry on my own but he wishes for unnavigated realms to master. Wouldn't avocados be hard to grow in this climate? I observe alongside whether chickens would be too much. Eh, I don't know. We could start growing grapes and then make our own wine cellar he suggests. Americana torqued into a smooth machine. These wooden floors. These suburbs. These two children. This cat and dog. These notions of grappling a future we select into our own hands.
water the soil anyhow
So we compost to coax the vegetables. Hey make sure you chop the scraps up. And be careful of snakes since they like the warmth Chad advises. At least twice a day he meanders into reasons to spin the black tube. Cade and I watch him as he adds in egg shells and edges of peaches I trim from our fruit trees. Searching the vagrant skies of heat lightning for droplets we testify against the weather and water the soil anyhow. The strawberry roots send up viridian beads in the six pots they inhabit.
The bees nibble the rotted peaches as our trees shed the last fruits. The freezer holds 16 cups of peaches and I use the basil from the garden in dinner. So what all did you do today? Chad asks as he approves the pasta. Just went to the gym and did some writing and took care of Cade. Kind of quiet but it makes me happy to have quiet. I tell him. He chews and mentions how to adjust the peach tree for next season. You really like this stuff, don’t you? I ask. He smiles. My husband sees he needs more than one place to be gentle.
from the tree
I pick up Aralyn from camp and listen to her chatter about the time she was away: I loved rock climbing! I made it almost to the top! And our tribe got second place in the song contest! And I learned how to make apple dip! And did Cade miss me? Did Neville get in trouble? Hey I can't wait to see the squash you said grew so big! She admits she did not write her dad a letter and each time qualifies Well I wasn't sure if the address was right. That evening when I help her brush her tangled waves I ask Truth time, baby. Did you not send him a letter for a reason? She admits I just didn’t know what to write. Lavender detangler coils in the humid air as the brush muffles through her hair. Baby, accepting the parents you were given is very hard. Maybe with time you'll see your Dad with a spirit of compassion. But that may not be where you are now. She starts to cry and I make her favorite dinner and cut her peaches fresh from the tree.
for Marion Hayden
Cruising thermals over wooded hills
over a quick scurry in the ferns
over rattlers sunning on rocks
over road and thistled beach,
the beautiful hunger of hawks sails
on wings shaped for nothing else,
fitting a corner of sky as though
inked into being, then gone,
dropping to a necessary feast
of torn fur and flesh. You glide
from brief repose into a song’s
ordered moment and meet
a desolate ear, meet souls
calling on God in a town
living and dying on a beat,
each head bobbing to your struck
string (shaped for nothing else),
each granite heart split open,
each gig just one more descent
from Basin Street and Highland Park,
from Mingus and Marcus Belgrave
and all the voracious angels
to the macadam where we wait.
A friend helps me rebuild steps.
Ancient soot hangs in the air
as I demo the cracked, uneven planks.
He laughs easily as ever, scribes
cut-lines, and guides the saw.
A new scent rises in the air we breathe.
Though we totter on the verge of the strange
and clouds bear a greenish tint, though
we face each summer a thousand year flood,
my friend cuts stringers, treads, and kicks
as our sweat catches sawdust and grime.
Late afternoon light fills a doorway
and, soft as a word unspoken,
tries our stairs, level and sound.
The dog and I are bathed in starlight
as the approaching Atlantic
somehow separates our future selves,
tears our vessels apart.
We're the only Winter movement
in the open unwooded island
of Wildwood where what few trees
we have left stick out skinny and crooked.
My companion's name, Milky, shows
on his white coat, it reflects what little we can see
of our galaxy, as he relieves a yellow stream
and hot steam puffs off of living wood.
He and I are both gossamer
compared to what's ahead
but more so my friend
as his step is really a trot
as we are two different kinds of beings.
Still I feel something every time our eyes meet
in doing this we slip on ice
then catch ourselves
I with my feet
he with his paws
and so we continue
like nothing happened
waiting while walking to encounter
the inconceivable ocean.
He doesn't see this yet, but smells
the sea’s salty breath. He is content
in the sparse topography of this crest.
Soon we find the end of land.
I hold him in my hands
against the backdrop
of blended sky and water,
feel his heartbeat through fur
and wonder if Orion’s Belt
is proof of eternal life.
He Ran Without Stopping
He might lick his lips as he turned back to the birds nearby or to coming-on scents, loud like the upwind skunk or quiet like the corn snake curling into an autumn respite. Another second would find him in the hills he’d come from, with the bison, bear, coyote, white tail, pheasant, quail, and turkey. He knew the need to feed and of the desire for lea. Food was anything he could eat. Haven was not always available. Most times the best he could get was the cranny of a log or a low branch under the canopy.
He conceived the shape and motion of a would-be mate. She spoke to him of settling in, of a moment of shared setting. She had not thus far materialized. This longing could if it came from one direction weight him, from another lighten, for she was ether and a shape shifter and the outline into which situation would fit if and when it occurred.
Even in such a state of mind he was present too, and in this sense he barely carried this keening after mate or the impressions of brother-sisters-mother disposed to feed, teach, amuse, and train him, the memory of a mother dying, of siblings emaciating through a winter before being taken off themselves.
If he were able to possess and hold he would carry meat, water, shelter, invisibility.
They knew him as cougar, puma, panther, painter, mountain screamer, mountain lion, big cat, catamount. They called him magnificent, called him threatened, reduced, protected, thief, pest, vermin, opportunist, a carrier of disease, possibly rabid, out of his territory; called him a threat, a danger, a robber of livelihood, fierce, gorgeous.
His first verb was to move. To move meant to walk, to trot, to lope, to run, triangulate, double back, wade through, swim across, explore, seek, stumble, bound, leap, climb, hunt, pounce. To pounce meant to swat, rake, claw, bite in, shake, strangle, knock silly, break the neck of.
Tan and light green rectangles interrupted
by irregular patches of darker green.
A wandering line, a river. A deep gash
in the earth almost perpendicular to the water.
Wavering rooves of copper and enameled tin,
the sun reflecting in ripples, the cluster
of edifice hemmed on two sides by fields of corn
—some ready for harvest, some in stubble,
some still standing, stunted, stiff, dead.
The constructions are linked by landscape
unpeopled, though the automobiles amassed
in one of the westernmost parking lots
suggest a human presence.
Beats of the wings of birds flying in pairs
and threes flashing white above the brown-
green water. A sound, a whirring whine.
Dragonflies hovering over the algaed edge
of the manmade pond sinking toward
the surface without their usual flits and zooms
and desultorily rising. A robin
fluttering nearer. The buzzing, expected
on such a day and yet surprising,
coming from everywhere and nowhere,
and then again abruptly. . . .
Brown bricks, a butterfly roof, the pulls
of a pair of double doors seahorses,
their patina the blue of oxidized copper.
And that whirring coming on again—
cicadas in the trees, the foliage and grass.
This door slams easily now
This door slams easily now
though in the dark
it remembers more
reaches around and the rain
returned to you as lips
weighs almost nothing
keeps both these hinges
from drying the way a deathwatch
night after night anchors
against the splash
and makes from your hand
a mask to ward off the Earth
tightening around your cheeks
two shadows, two mouths.
It’s a meal, your elbows
crawling the way this soap
is shaped by salt
though she still believes
the water stays young
by letting you touch it
washing her shoulders
with undersea prairies
as if an arm so old
could still reach out
make room in her breasts
and already your fingers
smell from saliva
and empty riverbeds
kept wet for these wrinkles
taking away her cheeks
her legs and agony.
After Driving Through the Holland Tunnel
we’d window-shopped antiques
on MacDougal, shivering
in our pea coats. Have I
told you this already?
We pointed uptown & down,
bought a newspaper & a map
from a man bundled behind
a green plywood counter.
We climbed five steps
into a wine bar where wine
threaded one of the cheeses
they brought on a board
bearing an apple, a paring knife
& a miniature baguette, a word
among many on the menu
unknown & therefore worldly.
I’ve probably said this already.
We ordered a bottle of Lancer’s
& they brought it—my beard,
her mass of black hair,
the way we manipulated
cigarettes & our having come
to nestle in The Village—navel
of the world—on a commonplace
winter night all the verification
we’d need forever. Frosty taillights
drifted past our window booth
& people blowing out fog.
We fed each other & drank
the best wine we’d ever drunk,
so elemental I can’t believe
I haven’t told you what joy
I’ve had being here all this time.
I’ve said the arc of a life
more in the past month
than in the rest of my life
so far & with any good luck
in what days remain. A boy
in his first brogans squints
at the camera, hands
in the pockets of his best
short pants. A woman
with bright white hair heals
in Jesus’ name forty years
after she let me unbutton
her new flannel shirt.
We licked tears of joy
from one another’s cheeks
& fed each other cubes
of Gouda as a cold draft
fluttered the blue candle’s light.
An old man asks Are you
coming back? before I leave
for the last time. The strongest
man in the world gasps
each breath & wants
to be slid into the river
on a raft or given a gun
& left alone a few minutes.
When I say the arc of a life
I pantomime a parabola
with my right hand. A girl
dances in Astoria & the boy
who can’t keep up
plops onto a wooden chair
& then it’s 1927, then 1956,
then a grandson the besotted
boy never knew snaps a picture
of his gravestone, remembering
how he took extra care
when he worked there to trim
well the long grass of the plot.
With any good luck I said.
Ha. I know all my loves
& they me at a glance,
no matter time or pain
or words idiotic & profound.
I’ll vanish as I’ve been vanishing
all along in this gorgeous world.
My son commands a squadron
of Mark II tanks. I say You’re fighting
for the Kaiser now? so he gives me
That Look. The final veteran
of the Great War died a week ago.
The trapezoidal treads churn
No Man’s Land into pixelated slurry.
Someone hacked the game, so my son
can’t be killed but can slaughter willy-nilly.
He could care less about the ancient nurse
& her fragmentary memories, what the gas
did & the ludicrous tactics. He can’t bear
to hear me tell the joy carnage brought
in the vanished woods, Spear Patrol ranked
behind me, split-broomstick sword
& bamboo lance laying waste. I tell him anyway
as tiny Tommies crumple by the hundred,
then a French tidal wave, then Belleau Wood
piled full of Americans. I thrill for him.
How could I not? Steel & fire, he kills
what needs killing, free for now
of everything he already knows.
in blown glass on shelves
stacked on the buffet
quilted place mats
salt and pepper shaker
horns of ivory
rhinoceros don’t you dare
touch else the host
you’ll become the child
who ran into winter
jumped the fence
to fall on concrete
where a shard
entered your palm
look at the cicatrix
like a tattoo
a little leg
pulled from flesh
Speech For the Giant’s Wife
Mostly, it's the weather
in a giant's house.
Everyday it rains.
Sometimes twice a day,
in the morning when he wakes
and at night when he retires.
He hardly ever notices me.
But several times
he nearly ate me for dessert.
I understand this.
It isn't his fault.
He frowns most of the time.
He does not enjoy his work.
He is a teacher of the deaf.
His clothes do not fit him well.
He says he never dreams
and I believe him.
He lives in different weather,
in a country of clouds.
He is still growing.
His eyes are weak.
He sees the world from the top,
the way an aviator sees,
or an angel.
He is afraid of water,
but he gazes on the ocean for days.
He loves music,
but the loudest symphony
is never loud enough
to fill up his ears.
He is still growing.
He gets taller and taller.
He has no interest in the dead.
He is difficult to live with,
but not impossible.
I live where I can.
String & Rift
You bet your pretty painted eyes
the smoke and light blended dusk
will rest it’s head on
your cream-colored shoulder
by the time this train horn
drains into white space.
The sky leaks and the wind
won't stay in its corner.
This won’t be your
This won’t be
the last time
your naked legs.
So you come here
where they invented
the kind of dark that smells
or wet skin
where we can hold
our hideous nature
in glassy sparkle,
the perfect place
Afraid our eyes together
could become hard
to touch, a tasteless mistake.
I am here and I am missing.
My kind of distance hangs
between two mirrors.
We can make our range
a two-way tether
that we grip
with our blue palms.
My left eyelid twitches
like a loose window shutter
in a stormy wind
or a sheet-winged fly
Like all shadows, I grow
in the lunatic pumpkin's
where it's mirror aspect
catches my vision
and I'm stunned
by its buttery
The moon reverberates
like a stricken gong
or the nervous look of a woman
and my spine could shatter
not from warm affection
but from its revolving
curves behind a robe
In times like this
I wish my mouth would
hang wide open but instead it
shrinks and hardens shut
and I get as full
as a one-lamp room.
And sometimes the lights
outside are nothing more
than holes chewed
into a shirt
And this time I scratch
skin from my knuckles
harbor an inflamed heart
add a chemical to my color
attempt to respectably spill
and stumble towards
the wide automatic night.
Via Cobra Rock
The first unfiltered air after the eleven-hour flight, ramping from the landing pod toward immigration and customs
Leaving the Air Pacific 747 after stooping from nearly forty thousand feet
Down through the tropical random cumulus island-splattered moonlit end of night
Turn an unlighted corner ten feet from a predawn-dim frangipani trellis of raucous high-decibel common mynas in a din of hysterical harsh chatter
Waking on their tight communal roost
Cacophony bounced off the white frangipani’s brown backing wall at flight-stunned passengers plodding past who take no notice at all
This is exotic Fiji, tropical jolts and surprises, what they came for
But they pass the myna-laden frangipani as though the assertively real myna reveille was something coming at them off a muted picture screen
Landing from LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal
With its immense high vaulted food-court balconied basilica hung with arrival and departure boards that spell the immediate futures of all who are there
Sending us off to the ends of the earth
Leading the sun across the Pacific from LAX to slant well into the Southern Hemisphere
Light finally in the east only when above Nadi
A Captain Queeg figure, Commandant Charles Wilkes, b. NYC, 1798, burned out villages and killed over fifty Fijians in 1840 on Malolo ten miles off Nadi
Now Malolo is dotted with beach resorts
At a Nadi Airport Republic of Cappuccino outside café table in the balm of early morning, sit with a few people from a village in Viti Levu’s northern mountains
There in the dozens to see off one of their own bound for a training college in London
A quorum from a Fijian village moved to the airport-circle parking lot
Mynas, omnivorous mynas, forage around the palms among the men who over there are drinking kava
Tubby, low-slung, interior-linemen, quiet look of many Melanesians who when absorbed with drinking kava no longer seem vaguely threatening
Omnivorous Viti Levuians whose ancestors ate their island enemies, and random Christian missionaries if they turned up
Here in the old Cannibal Isles
A short hike off the airport to Kings Road to hop a carrier – Fijian for jitney – south into town and spot a golden dove, one of Fiji’s unique birds
Then comes the first Southern Hemisphere disorientation of the trip, a sense that the carrier is headed north on Queens Road into Nadi
That sun-sweep opposite of the familiar
Moon phases opposite of the familiar, wax is wane, spring is fall, winter summer backward shadow lie
Upside down moons, right-side up
Glancing up to find the moon or sun or stars, or down at the shadow fall in the other hemisphere, impels a sense of foreignness
The only times the switch into the Southern Hemisphere works smoothly is when crossing the equator slowly at sea with the variation day to day undetectable
Here in Nadi staring at the mountains, that should be to the north but are to the south, from the terraces around the central shrines of the big Hindu temple at the edge of town by the cane railway along Queens Road
Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple to Lord Murugan, guardian deity of seasonal rains
Overlooking green cane-field hills lofting to Mount Koroba and Viti Levu’s highlands
Penitents rapidly circle the temple complex one hundred and eight times on foot
For the one hundred and eight names of Shiva
A hundred meters or so each time around
Women who wish to become pregnant and women who hope they are not, dressed vividly like the gods they are there to assuage
Open and airy brightly painted wood, plaster, stucco and stone vaulting skyward a like elongated stupas, symmetric painted plaster figures clustered level upon level
Gopuras on platforms above sand paths walked barefoot, shoes left at the main
Ribbed fruit motifs, doorways, ceilings and columns decorated with foliation, jeweled motifs and guardian figures
The whole, cluster by cluster, painted in garish shades of vivid colors
Flaring colors that vibrate challenges to nature, colors that make our kibble-colored matching tastefulness seem barren and symptomatic of our chronic occidental loneliness
Nadi itself that day uncrowded and somewhat forlorn
Jump another carrier back to the airport and then off again for the other big island, Vanua Levu, riding up near the old patched-up Twin-Otter’s cockpit bulkhead across the Ba River high country at eleven thousand feet
Peaks to thirteen hundred meters, cane field slopes, single roads in toward isolated farms are the only roads out
Cross Viti Levu’s encircling barrier reef and then overfly Bligh Water
After the mutiny, the Bounty skipper and eighteen of his crew came through here in 1789 in their open boat on the way to Indonesia’s Timor
Bligh was chased through Bligh Water by Fijian, Cannibal Isles, war canoes
Tip down over Vanua Levu’s reefs and islet coral heads through scattered rain clouds and slant a tight turn to the strip at Savusavu, a narrow belt in the clouded-in rainforest green
Savusavu, exotic, provincial, is one street along the water, stores and offices up against the slope, the market and open greens on the inlet side
The boat tied up stern-to in the old copra shed marina, water clean enough for swimming
Mountains very much like Tahiti or Morea rise high across the water
Frigatebirds above the bay
Pacific swallows and a spectrum of small tropical doves
The road to Labasa in the morning with a rented Suzuki
The sugar side of Vanua Levu and the locale of the short-lived sandalwood trade
Joss sticks burn on shelves beside cane knives and gauntleted cane cutters’ gloves in the only duka open in downtown Labasa on Sunday morning
A narrow, dark and deep emporium whose inventory comes from the ends of the earth, clerked by wary young Indo-Fijian women, skinny and sullen in their pistachio and raspberry saris
In the Labasa region, four out of five cane-worker families are Hindu
There are mosques in the Muslim cane-field villages
Ragged, even nearly derelict, sugar villages with cane sugar a glut on the world market
Fiji is half Fijian, half Indo-Fijian, nearly three out of four around Labasa are Indo-Fijian
UN statistics have spousal abuse and female suicides in and around Labasa at seven times the world average, an extremely rural place, a twenty-first century My Antonia locale with Islam, bride price and purdah piled on
From Labasa eastward via Cobra Rock, toward the far end of Vanua Levu
Fiji is cobraless except in the bright imaginations of Indo-Fijians
But all over Vanua Levu, kinetic Pacific swallows, spotted doves, shy ground-doves, Layard’s white-eyes, silvereyes
The white-eyes and silvereyes are like sunny motes
Out on the empty Nubu-Vitina Road past the point of no return of being able to get back to Savusavu before dark on partial pavement
Sense of the complex immensity of the world vivid as the afternoon itself
Deep into the unpopulated backcountry of one South Pacific island, one of thousands
Manifestation of the immensity’s abiding stability in a serene and motionless sacred kingfisher, Halcyon sancta, vivid blue and gold on a ragged lightning-struck stub of a big Fijian kauri tree just off the treacherous road
Eternity might be following out bad roads in far corners of the world like this one, not a bad eternity at all
Down along the long bay, the road back around to Savusavu past downslope coastal villages, a Christian revival meeting in one, talk with the ministers there, each wearing a sulu and sandals, with jackets, shirts and ties
Curious, polite, intelligent and sane
Religion in extremely isolated places like backcountry Fiji has always been a path to any offshore universals
The missionaries always were the first to arrive, and then with progression to zenophobic nationalism, Christianity is the last to succumb
Off to Taveuni next morning, a light half day’s sail
Trolling at five or six knots, landed without gaffing a big ocean whitefish, brilliant blues and yellows, it threw the hook on deck before anybody got on top of it
Anchor off Niuasawa in Somosomo Strait absorbed already with Fiji’s alliterative vowel-rich syllables, its kava-stoned men sitting cross-legged in their sulus as in probably every settlement along every Fijian coast
Lovely barefoot kids running pell-mell through the land-crab holed sand grass, cornering each village bure, rounding the tubby rusted copra burners, and then off up the strand
The splendor of tropical island countries, disparities that unify, their isolate peace, fruit for the asking, vegetables all year, fish, strong sun that purifies, lives along water
Hiking in toward Taveuni’s waterfalls pass a young couple headed for town carrying two magnificent jungle cocks
See chickens everywhere in Fiji, foraging in the forest under-story, chasing across the copra plantations, brood hens clucking along village paths, mostly feral or quasi-domesticated, some truly wild
Climb off the Lavena coastal trail to strike up Wainibau Stream toward the lower falls
Beyond a banana patch on the trail’s first switchback up the mountain, hear it first, the strange tock, tock, a very undovelike sound
And there it is feeding on a limb twenty feet away in direct bright sun, the famous orange dove, Ptilinopus victor
Vivid, fiery orange
It flies off upslope in bright sunlight and the brilliance of its plumage like laser light, an orange patch burning against the sky
Half an hour later swim in the long pool beneath the falls, the direct roaring weight heavy on shoulders and head
In behind the cascade, shoulders, skull and back slammed, bubble froth foam within its thunderousness
Like Gauguinesque intuition into the manner of color
Water force, a South Pacific awareness
A suspension footbridge built by New Zealand ecologists over the Wainisairi River, and back through the swidden plots of taro, cassava, papaya and kava
On the trail back toward Matei and the boat pass reef pedestals out beyond the swash, lava eroded by seawater from the bottom, shaped like huge, lumpish, round piano stools
Stop in at a little dive shop run by a Dane on the road to Somosomo to ask about sharks and she says the stories of sharks attacks around Taveuni are exaggerated, then proceeds to dismissively detail half a dozen in the last decade, most of them fatal
Unsuccessful anchorage attempt between Yanuca and Yavu Islands inside Budd Reef in twenty meters, dragged and failed to hold with eighty meters of chain out
Wanted to land, had heard that only nine people live in the whole atoll, see no one, only a nanny searching for her kid on a ridgeline, could hear both calling to each other
Out of sight to one another, with binoculars from the deck able to see both searching in the heavy brush
Whenever sailing even a bit offshore in Fiji, the boobies, and farther out the shearwaters
Brown boobies, red-footed boobies, masked boobies
At 179º45’W it should be California, Tahiti and Hawaii’s day, but with most of Fiji farther west across the Date Line, already tomorrow
Day onto day we listen to a lot of Brahms, Sibelius and Shostakovich
Find a CD aboard from the Cape Verdes with Ana Firmino’s Chico Malandro
She’s even better than the Cape Verde’s famous Cosaria Evora
Nana Matias’s, Pays Sol too, Matias was born on São Vicente
Have overnighted in the roads of São Vicente and sailed by Fogo in the morning, an active volcano almost three thousand meters and vividly green
Green like the blue of Fiji’s blue starfish
Starfish are everywhere in Fiji in clean waters
On reefs and rocks a few meters down
Fantastic blue starfish with the vivid nearly copper-sulfate blue, a blue turquoise, cornflower, milori blue
When diving toward them swim through schools of blue-green blue devil damsels
Then the frequent green turtles and leatherbacks in Fijian waters swimming away in blue-green translucence
Longfin batfish with exactly West Point’s colors are always astern of the boat at anchor
On the reefs below them, lunar coral mounds with Christmas tree worms, vivid blue and dark yellow, like sea anemone, pulsing, retreating into the coral mass when approached
Imbricate layers of sea fans like slanted mansards along banks of barrel coral
The hue of each dependent on its depth, the angle of the light, the brightness of the sun or shading of clouds overhead
Peale’s pigeons’ woofing, Ducula latrans, as background ambience in Northern Lau to the dramatic circling flights of huge monkey-faced fruit bats
Dozens of lesser golden plovers feeding on the low-tide swash at Lomaloma and beyond along the east coast of Vana Balavu
Gray ducks dabbling in the lagoons
Pacific reef herons everywhere, that when startled go hiding in the mangroves
In the Nanuku Passage between Qamea and Vanuabalavu something big ran hard with the troll and as the reel emptied, snugged the star drag too soon, too excited at whatever it was being so big and lost it, the line had parted far out just in front of the rig
Off the village of Naiviivii on Qamea, two of us slamming back in the dinghy to the boat inside the reef, more than moderate seas and a stiff wind, the outboard’s fuel line pulled loose, forced to paddle
Unpleasant and slightly dangerous in the way many things about ocean sailing are slightly dangerous
The South Pacific is a very large place
And Fiji’s Laucala is a very small island, a sheltered little port, beaches, with copra groves rising to highlands
No village and no economy, just a few Fijian caretakers of what was an American billionaire’s, Malcolm Forbes, preserve
Fiji to the Pacific like Portugal to the rest of Europe, or like Swaziland to Africa, but no José Saramago to recount and illuminate it
Its identity has slipped from Methodist modesties to full-service pleasure resorts and PGA’s Vijay Singh
The first Christians arrived in Fiji in the 1830s from Tonga and Tahiti in their assault on Polynesian culture
Southern Lau, islands closed now to foreign boats, are the Exploring Isles
In Northern Lau anchored off The Plantation, Vanuabalavu, hung exactly at 17º10.884S and 178º59.922W, so only a few seconds off the Date Line
All of Vanuabalavu with only a half dozen small trucks, an airstrip like a moderate ski slope and in the town, Lomaloma, two trading stores, one Indian and one Fijian
Gauguin copra groves with Gauguin horses grazing on landcrab-pocked hillocks
White-tailed tropic birds below the cliffs over Vanuabalavu’s lonely Bay of Islands
A big shark inside the reef hundreds of feet below swaying lazily along in the sun
Lip-numbing kava drunk one afternoon with a paramount chief
Who was not very prepossessing but distractedly friendly in a charming way
But that could have been the kava
Difficult to go macho or play power or mind games while drinking kava
Back on the boat entranced with the reality of being there, lying to in Little Bay, Vanuabalavu, in the pilot house listening to John Adisson’s theme for A Bridge Too Far
Adisson, like Elgar, Holst, Britten, Walton, Vaughn Williams, and the snappy Anglo quasi-martial brightness of Tudor polyphony
Kayak off the boat to paddle around Little Bay into its estuary, the blue stars on the coral heads below
Alone in South Sea perfection
And then leaving to fly off for Suva, Fiji’s capital, over the Koro Sea
At Vanuabalavu’s airstrip the King of Tonga’s tomato red half-century-old Brit two-engined was the only other plane
Tonga’s Crown Prince was over on a visit
First Night – (Penelope's Journal)
The sea is back in my bed,
a crust of salt and other women
he refuses to wash off.
Twenty years gone,
and his snore still
trembles leaves, arms
flung wide in ownership.
Cup and island returned
to his counting house,
he took a husband's
up my back.
Decades of travel,
and what change?
He is the wind, big
The huff of power
What I learned in his absence:
how salt will glitter
the skin like hunger,
how time's warp
and weave lies
in my waiting hands.
The moon alone
can sing the muted sky.
To bathe the boundless air once more,
the skin a joyous parchment,
hair now sister to wind.
Free of knitted chains, the hands dance.
Winter's arrest a history,
sun offers our open future.
The world has grown wild in our absence:
thistles thick as soldiers in the field,
quackgrass a general nuisance,
entrenched roots that require
generations of upheaval to abolish,
but daffodils have rioted the hillside,
crocus, loyal their return,
wood violets chant a fragile
poetry among the undergrowth,
snowdrops dance milky dreams,
and here—the unruly lilac—
how sweet the revolution!
What we have here is
flavor envy, a seemingly
endless list of people who
believe that warriors &
nobles were favored above
the common folk because
their breath was redolent
with chili &/or vanilla pods.
Correlate hard enough, & there
might be something there that
aligns the appearance of the
bookstall for this single minute
to the season & the particular
phase of the moon. But even
if otherwise the randomness
has an enviable precision to it,
takes place always beneath
a large tree in the most public
of parks. Never more than a
single book displayed upon
a single folding chair. Just enough
time for an exchange to take
place between the buyer who
inevitably happens to be there
when the chair materializes &
the seller who always stays in the
shadows. Money changes hands.
The price is never discussed.