Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, November 05, 2004

antithesis (1978)

you wake me with a smile
I wake up from a smile
a dream dissolving
into sheets and your hair
the sad-eyed woman
standing smiling in the river
in the rivers of your smile
white wet rapids spraying in my ear
calling back my blood
my words drowning in your eyes

washed ashore drunk and empty
I dream sunrise sunset at the ocean
I Ching changes no blame
the light born and dying
your Fiat backing over gravel
backing out into silence
I walk the garden run my fingers
through a grass tuft feel your hair
the sky an ocean rain and tears
the day turning dark and cold
no blame

call it passion call it love
when you smiled
it was all the same
springtime autumn
bedspring tantra
dream within a dream
Great Wheel spinning
a game for fools
water bearing light

I speak of love
all day long your ocean held me
sparkling on a smile
dissolving the page
no blame

Harvest (2002)


During that summer
in Pennsylvania-a
bridge between first
love and long winter-
I scythed a field
behind my father's house.

The field was ringed
by oak and beech
and maple, puritans
all of wild nature.
Over us the sun
wrote hyperboles
of desire, lathering
us in its swoon.

I loved the motions
of faux harvest,
lifting high that
long blade, carving
off a shank of sun
before sweeping down
in a muscular arc
through shin-high
tapers of weed.

Each return of
the blade seemed
to reach for the
woman I'd lost,
sweeping into the
void she'd driven
off into: But the
blade returned naked
into the bright air
with a long, lonely swish.

Working down the field
I recalled how she smiled
as we stood over the Spokane
River, the spring runoff
pounding chords into mist.
How all that rose to
a hammering release
and then floated
for miles in a drowse.

All lost. I could have made
of that scythe a tillage,
clearing away love's ruin
to plant something good,
at least useful; maybe
learn something, too.
I was for that hour good
and simple, poised to begin:

But I wasn't ready to let go
what I'd had lost. I was
too young and stewed
in the sun's bullish ire.
I mowed that field down
to summer's end,
set scythe in the barn,
then boarded a train headed
West to find her again.


On a cold autumn night
hedged by the striate
foliage of pot and speed
and booze, I picked up
a guitar and plugged
into a riverish roar.
I loved the weight
of that Fender Strat,
a heftier blade, equine
and amped, cranked to
the berserkeries of love.

What did I know? I was
far afield in foolish ends,
caught in a big night music
which screamed to the
nadir of her. Each swing
of that guitar at song's
end hauled a sickle moon
down through loud falls
as hard as I could,
arcing back fever-bright
with the ghost of her smile.

Gone, but not lost.
It took me the worst years
to get back to those weeds.
To welcome emptiness
as a field you could scythe.
To celebrate the motions
which complete every kiss,
harvesting what falls
in that long, lonely,
brilliant swish.

Longing (2002)

I sometimes wonder whether longing
can't radiate out from someone so
powerfully, like a storm, that nothing
can come to him from the opposite
direction. Perhaps William Blake
has somewhere drawn that?

- Rilke, letter, 1912

There is a longing in us which
grows from sigh to starry shriek.
Perhaps comets are charred furies
of that pain, a whirl of frozen fire
which ghostlike tears to God's porch
and back, insatiable and unanswered.
Perhaps. All I know is that
it's infinitely perilous to think
that longing has a human end.
In my cups I once believed
a woman mooned for me,
her longing a white welcome
over my million nights alone.
I met and passed her many times
those hard years, blinded by the aura
of her unvowled name.
Surely when two longings touch
it's like when great waves collide,
the wild sea witched flat.
Our deeper thirst can never sate:
as each draught of booze
was never enough, so each
embrace tides a milkier door.
I recall a young man
walking home drunk on a
frozen night long ago,
his beloved nowhere
to be found in the chalice
he had named. Winds hurled
steel axes through the
Western sky, failing to clear
the cruel foliage of fate.
In his defeat he was greater
than any angel beckoned
by that night: his heart so
hollowed by longing
as to chance in pure cathedral,
her absence the clabber of a bell
shattering the frozen air,
trebling the moon
without troubling a sound.

river (1979)

down to river full full river
strong river light-laughing river
pounding home home home and
through to other side o river
river we make we make we make
we wake and still wash on through
to other side where she left
o river river first birthday
and standing close only to you
wondering why why why she left
but you just keep on roaring
pounding gushing each moment
ever on and on and on
and the ocean still hides
it hides it hides and yet
I hear its music whispering
winter into roaring spring
o spring o spring o spring
buds burst into song
here today on water's wombday
I'm here in mist and foam
pounding me home o God
I'm breaking loose filling up
spilling over draining out
and lonely lonely so lonely
mad yet full of birdsong
kid cries sun burst
o God I'm coming coming
come to light
and on
to ocean beach and a smile
get up get out know forget know
smile for the kingdom
love the queendom
in ravage of foam
and birth in mist
o lady lady lady lady
lady you are gone but I remain
to sing this river's song

River Psalm (2004)

o lady lady lady lady
lady you are gone
but I remain
to sing this river's song

I wrote that in spring
1979, rivering words
on paper the awesome
gout I had felt earlier
in the day when I retraced
my steps back to
that bridge on which,
one year earlier,
I kissed my first
passionate love
while the Spokane
river pounded hard
below. Now wounded,
harrowed, and barely thawed
from a bad winter
in which her absence
froze me in ways
as deep and majestical
as the depths she
first opened in me
with a kiss -- One year's
bad harrow from that
birthing bliss, I
had walked downtown
on sidewalks finally
bare of snow and ice
and walked out, alone,
over that frightening
foment -- of the river,
at least, ferrying
the melted icepack
from the mountains
west toward the sea.
Today I'm not sure
what gripped me more,
the river scene
I had returned to,
expecting to find
her on that bridge,
or the way in which
the words cascaded
from pen to paper
in full memory
of what passion's
crashing billowing
cruelly descending
knife fully felt like.
I stood on that bridge
that day -- in flesh
and on paper --
enveloped in the
roar and the mist,
the steel track
shaking and trembling
from the naked pound
of that huge water's
roll and pour and
smash to falls below.
That sound -- in
the river and in
my ear -- nailed
something angelic
to the hands spread
in my heart, hands
which once had
squeezed her breasts,
hand which on
that anniversary
and now I spread
wide in bittersweet
full welcome.
The scene was both
pregnant and bereft
of her when I got
home and wrote that
poem, my very
verbal sense trying
to cup her in that
bridge-span's vigil.
As if words for a river
on a mighty day in
spring long after
she had left me
returned that shapely
ass to my hands,
the poem's motion
her own rocking
on my hips,
my words distilled
from all the
ones she once
(and only once)
mouthed in the
psalms of high pleasure,
naming every fish
and glade in all
the seas below.
Ah, to recall that
sweet madness
in a river's spasm
of a poem! To have
the fullness of her
absent that real
woman who gripped
down as I spasmed
and railed jots
of motlen sperm in
her: To hold high
that flood of light
in the collapse which
all falls and lovers
share as they
merge and so
dreamily drowse
on down to the sea:
Such was my feeling
then on paper
that even today
I know like my
own hands the
gauge and length
of every steel nail
the moment hammered
through my palms,
shrieking words
which pierced through
skin and tendon
and splintering bone
in an ecstasy of
pain and blood,
fastening me forever
to the soul-wood
of that day. How
could she be there in
every way that
dishevelled, half-lunatic,
badly hungover
March afternoon,
fully resonant in
the river's rapture
and pouring bliss
-And yet be gone,
never to be held again?
That poem "River" was
the cry upon my lips
that day when one
faith dies and
another sprang to life,
freed from God and
godly women to build
a chapel by that scree,
a tide of lines which
keep old flames alive
in waters dark and fresh
and wild. The river's
song is where her
single kiss, that raging
water, and your
strange dominion
in my history
all merge and sigh
in mint-fresh malt
and salt confusion.
See: words
are pouring from
my mouth as hot
as those molt
angels I unfurled
deep into my first
love one hungover
morning half a lifetime
ago, giving her
the wings to go.
Each word here's
a stallion of that
stampede; this poem
is a mash of
those blue hooves
galloping wild over
the falls. And you
are there beyond
where all water
flows on, down and
in and deep, astride the
torrent of one
man's river ache
to bed in your
deepest womb
& stare in your
eyes at last
your every body
clenched fast to mine.

The Kiss (2004)

...Alpha continues to begin,
Omega is refreshed at every end.

-- Wallace Stevens,
"An Ordinary Evening
in New Haven"

Orpheus didn't lose his
beloved in hell,
he failed to retrieve
his song of her.
The music which hallowed
her pale hair for all time
turned hollow inside
him, the night turning
rude and cold as
brute winds whistled
tunelessly through her
ribs. Rilke went down
there for years in
search of his Elegies,
lost in 1914: a sudden
great flapping lost just
a beat and then disappeared,
his poems turning
weary and poor, none
he carved after
cathedral enough
to recapture her sound.
How was it she smiled
one day in the full
wonderment of wheat
and unveil to a kiss
in the hymeneals of
spring and just
falter that brush,
withering and draining
to a bold blotchy
winter filled with those
bad nights no
other oblivion can
garrot enough.Insomniac,
lonely, horny, with
history whispering
up from the vents --
How could it all
end right there on
the iciest banks of Hell?
My cap and bells are lined
with red velour, scarlet
like the bright satin maw
of a vampire's black cape.
I chase every poem's
fancy to the highest
sea-cliff where she always
get lost in the wind's wail
and roar of the river too
far below. The sea mauls
and mashes the end
of every love song.
We never get her back
though we die trying.
I sail forever toward her
turn to me that spring day,
singer and song cupping
the shapes of her bliss,
our forfeit that quatrain
which ends with a kiss.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Drowning in the Sea of Love

from -- Keats Endymion,
Book III, 119-141:

... Far had he roam'd,
With nothing save the hollow vast, that foam'd
Above, around, and at his feet; save things
More dead than Morpheus' imaginings:
Old rusted anchors, helmets, breast-plates large
Of gone sea-warriors; brazen beaks and targe;
Rudders that for a hundred years had lost
The sway of human hand; gold vase emboss'd
With long-forgotten story, and wherein
No reveller had ever dipp'd a chin
But those of Saturn's vintage; mouldering scrolls,
Writ in the tongue of heaven, by those souls
Who first were on the earth; and sculptures rude
In ponderous stone, developing the mood
Of ancient Nox;--then skeletons of man,
Of beast, behemoth, and leviathan,
And elephant, and eagle, and huge jaw
Of nameless monster. A cold leaden awe
These secrets struck into him; and unless
Dian had chaced away that heaviness,
He might have died: but now, with cheered feel,
He onward kept; wooing these thoughts to steal
About the labyrinth in his soul of love.

Nothing Else Will Do


by Jack Gilbert

The fish are dreadful. They are brought up
the mountain in the dawn most days, beautiful
and alien and cold from night under the sea,
the grand rooms fading from their flat eyes.
Soft machinery of the dark, the man thinks,
washing them. “What can you know of my machinery!”
demands the Lord. Sure, the man says quietly
and cuts into them, laying back the dozen struts,
getting to the muck of something terrible.
The Lord insists: “You are the one who chooses
to live this way. I build cities where things
are human. I make Tuscany and you go to live
with rock and silence.” The man washes away
the blood and arranges the fish on a big plate.
Starts the onions in the hot olive oil and puts
in peppers. “You have lived all year without women.”
He takes out everything and puts in the fish.
“No one knows where you are. People forget you.
You are vain and stubborn.” Takes out the fish
and scrambles eggs. I am not stubborn, he thinks,
laying all of it on the table in the courtyard
full of early sun, shadows of swallows flying
on the food. Not stubborn, just greedy.


Shine a light in here and
you’ll find a formerly
gearless Hell churning now
in a labyrinth tooled to
proceed to the always
next and never final shore:
A shire of beds and deep
blue wells where she smiled
and turned away: A viaduct
or proscenium inlaid
with skulls and hooves
and the gilded gossamer
of verbal wings: A siege
machine of oak and
hide on infernal wheels
bruting forth a ram
resembling the Cerne
Giant’s 40-foot cock:
A vault stuffed with
drawn pussies and asses
warded by monster models
I built at seven: A work
table piled high with drafts
of poems, designs for transit
and a bounty of shells
-- conches and whelks
and a cunningly wrought nautilus:
A gullet of fire which
consumes all this and
belches the next eager flame:
Roads carved in basalt
totems, circuits and
cul-de-sacs, spiral staircases
and oubliettes: Labial doors
and keyed to spermatic
oars: Dragon ships by the
thousand, each with green
plundering eyes: Missals
of gold hidden behind
a blue baptismal font, their
pages scribed in the
blood of Oran buried
further down: A room
stuffed with all the guitars
I once strapped on and flew:
A bar (now under lock and key)
where I sat rooted to a
stool milking dread
infinity: Gardens of richly
manured furrows and distant
hilltops where Uffington
wilds: Cups of exquisitely
fashioned silver and inlaid
with red gems, filled with
ink, sea-waves, mare’s blood,
well-waters cold as the Pole:
The Gundestrup Cauldron
and the Book of Kells and
the Willendorf Venus, each
in a room with a scholar
and a poet enlarging their
charms: A library older
than Alexandria filled with
well-thumbed volumes filled
with shore-lined marginalia:
A bone scriptorium where
sixth-century hands
ink all the texts that were
and are or could be:
Merry beds of bobulous
boobery slickplunging
derricks of blue oh so
blue tarrying joys: A cafe
where Rilke Joyce
Melville Jack Gilbert
James Hillman and Tom
Pynchon ululate all night
about the women who
matter and the materia
they write: A ripening
kitchen where Jung
pens his alchemy, tending
a vat of imagined
soul: Dante and Shakespeare
like titans of stone
or iron standing in the
sea looking over my head:
A restroom where someone
shits mightily what can’t
be used: A tank for Moby
Dick larger than any sea
& nursing a port for
the errant moon: A green-
leaf esplumoir which
towered Merlin’s mad
molting spell: Three
beaches -- Sandymount,
raw as spring where
the bird-woman first
flew; Iona’s Beach of
the Coracles, brutal,
wild; and Cocoa, so
dazzlingly white and
south of every dreamed
love: A bog further
out where all of this
cerebration bloats
and slows: Still further
out a bald strand where
all my bad ends click their
teeth like Norns: over
every crest Manannan’s
gray-blue island where every
voyage aims: Circe’s
rock too, delicious as
peach brandy-sticky
nipples: A pale table in
a bare room on which
the head of Orpheus
dreams of Eurydice
in the wedding bed of song:
A real-time ballast
lifting these keels -- cold
again this morning, wife
now in the shower,
news on TV of a bomb
in Jerusalem ripping
open a bus like bloody fruit:
A cave behind and under
the labyrinth with its whole
story painted on the walls
thirty thousand years
before you never read these
words: All of that you’ll find
between these lines,
west of first light
and east of the the tide:
And all of it muscles
and fins this pale hand
as it moves margin to
margin like a ravening mouth,
devouring the next promise,
the next voluptuous way in
to Your blue brassiered
bower where tomorrow
I begin: Every time I
enter here I ramp that
spinning wheel which
cycles through the ages
to bring God to view:
A vantage on a motion
which repeats the ocean’s,
waves of verbal blue
which fill the well with You:


Oh the circadean spleen
of your orchidean den
where jewels and jezebels
in cockle-shells convene:

Seal-dappled swell
of now-and-ever gleam,
euclidean grammarian
in my seafaring mood’s
protean blue eustacian:

Sweet immortelle of
illyrian carouse,
you’re so andiluvian,
so anti-Joseph-Aramathean,
the empyrean chansteuse
of silurian souse:

Your beds are ooliticically
& maidenformed sirensingsongean,
so malt meltingly metamorphosean,
the salt-strollingly Sisyphean
of scrolling waves so pure frolicantically,
my aging peurile’s
arachanean bacchanealean:

You put the rev in my reverie;
drain all suburbs with subversity;
You are the awe in every awefulness,
The lime in every rascal rhyme,
The nicotine of tangerines
toppled from binkini tops & tweens:

Your truths are ignitic
and sedimentarian,
saccharine and kinnikinic,
a rhetoric both wick
and candlestick,
snicker-fickle and impolitic
as the semaphoric sharpling goose
in the sea’s amphibic bisphroic;

You couliss is coiled
in every cuckoo’s rococo,
a cooled and verdant
islet for my every voyaging,
pert as a knobby nipple
tuned to the tweaks of high sound
deep in the surf’s thundering maw,

A burst of hot seed in
the siltyweedydepths
a birdbathyspheric notion,
totemic sire to a nation
of seabaring bone odysseans,
each with hotter purpse
thatn the last, galloping
equiporpoise to you
and rogering all the oceans:

You are the occam motion of
a bed’s commotion, locomoting
my stone shuffle through a loom
of purring foam, weaving wave
upon wave of bimbo babelonia
down the dionysian echolia
of the kiss where Nyx
and Chaos glam & gleam,
a mixolodian marine
for milking Styx’s tits clean:

O veneral kite, overweaning
sight unseen my wings of
soaring blue: Disclose to
your lover in your sotto
voce dolorossa the
viridian iridium of
your circean ocean’s
Ossianic rue. Make
this rake a plinth for you.


A tip to all voyagers from William Stafford:


Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any
island. So far, I haven’t let that happen, but after
I’m gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Sibyl of Our Divides

It’s 4 a.m. the morning after
Election Day 2004 and on TV
the news still teeters high
over an electoral divide.
Right now it’s Bush 254
Kerry 225 with Ohio way
too close to call along with
Iowa Michigan Wisconsin and
New Mexico. The decision
at this hour is still split
upon a sibyl’s witch-hair.
The tension of that vote is
palpable, even in this dark,
an invisible cable thick
as steel & labile as a
Norn’s eye-nerve as the
predictors & pundits
toss our future back and forth.
It seems the Republicans
have managed to eke
out just enough of the
country’s lily Bible Belt
to keep the White House;
oh, the fight’s still on,
but inside these walls
we’re skeptical about
our dreams and
have already comfited
ourselves to four more
years of Bushit in
the aging name of God.
Heavens, how did a
country’s heart and mind
come to be so split?
Surely She has something
to do with this, and
whether that’s benign or
deadly or irrelevant, she
surely whets the tooth
that set Carl Rove &
Michael Moore loose
on us, like dogs. Can an
electorate be witched
into blessing an incumbent
harm, howling half
the way? Apparently so,
but the other way is
equally hers, a wicker
man empty of means
burning a field raw.
Maybe it was never
a choice, just her means
to splurge divides,
our one and zero
mashed like knives
of destiny no one
cares to admit,
where no thrall
thrives without
infernal spoor,
and where no wave
which makes it
almost to shore
is mightier than
at its foaming crest
and strangest
when one stride
further it folds
and crashes
in a boom.
Oh darkly she
is laughing there,
astride all
George has won.

It's Her Ocean Motion, Stupid

Each year, following the labyrinthine journey in the wilderness of the ocean, during which the voyagers are severely tested and must overcome great perils and devilish traps, they are reborn at the feast of the Resurrection of Christ, and are ready to embark once again on their voyage ...

... These are voyages of continual renewal: In the second voyage of the Vita Brendani and the Navagatio, they finally reach the "terra secreata"/"terra repromissionis" which has been promised them, but they may not remain there; the voyage of life must continue in another place. As in the "immrama" in general, reaching the stated goal of the voyage is not the essential thing, but rather the voyaging itself - the endless striving and continual regeneration."

-- Seamus Mac Mathuna, "Contributions to a Study of the Voyages of St. Brendan and St. Malo," in Wooding, The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature


A weathered, broken cross in St.
Oran’s Chapel bears your image,
Seated in a boat alone, this harp
In hand. Singing god, no one knows
If you were always there, or if
Time’s hand wrote you in, across a
Sea of vellum and worn stone. No
Matter: Whenever you played that
Harp, a boat plashed home inside fair
Isolde’s heart, a South awakened
Most urgent roots to hurl her kiss.
A song which harrowed every hell
Mortality conceives. Now distant,
Almost lost, I find you just ahead,
Your boat and muse crossed heart to head.

Warning from the Angel

“There is no going past here without
the bite of the first fire, holy souls. Enter it
without being deaf to the singing beyond it.”

- Angel in purgatory
Dante Purgatorio XXVIi, 10-12,
transl. W.S. Merwin

The Method

Rise at 4, say prayers first for
safe passage and chance to give the
Fullness back: Drink a red-eye and
Read sources -- of stone heads on hills
And senex puers, Merwin as
Dante, a half dozen poems from
Vocalities of blue: Write down
The best stuff to toss into Your
Well: Then brood a while on warm wet
Bodies, and praise their curving swell:
And settle on this page at last,
My pen and mind salted, if you will,
By the shimmer of the brew, a
Swoon in all Your sources to the
Depths where opening vaults are found:
And begin to write that coinage down.

Muse of My Descending

Anima becomes deeper and reigns in descending toward the cave of being. By descending, the ontology of the qualities of the anima is discovered.

-- Gaston Bachelard, Poetics

Well's Hell

According to one dindshenchas,
a hero, Riach, constructs a house
over a well in which he has placed
the severed heads of warriors he
has slain in battle. the presence
of the heads seems to magically
affect the water which becomes
highly dangerous. In order to prevent
it from rising up against him, Riach
constructs a building over it in
which it can be contained. It
eventually rises up and drowns him.

-- Ann Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain

—Well, that’s how growing goes.
From this chair and others like
it down the years I’ve sat and
culled tales and talismans in
notebooks like this one, & rounded
that skull-rabblement within the
well-spine of a poem, again and
again and always yet again.
Thousands of these cold fingerlings
creep the wilderness between this
world and one betwixt, of equal
parts desire and dream and waves
on uteral beaches I’ve walked
and plundered. I’ve launched a
thousand coracles, each leaving
home behind & sailing toward the
first isle that affords a backwards
glance upon no land I know. Barked
a thousand ripe articulations
of a motion of an ocean like the
lubrications of my mother’s
salt ovations, that first flooding
celebration which lead me here
to this, this backwards cerebration
yearning for ensouling washes
of pure merry blue. Such siloing
of psalms though freights a
cost, for now a thousand skulls
bump and clamor in me,
like seals, parleying news
of Gods from ichor-darkened,
frozen pews. Untold legions of virgin
pages have been penned and plowed
by this rogering pen, whose heat
and furrow comes from that
balled skull notched into
the lintel chattering I am,
I am, I am, each time I
wander through ... Timbers
creak here at midnight, ravaged
by an unseen wind whose father
is lower than all waters; he’s
enraged at the audacity of
repeated rhymes & exacts a price
in the door I’ll one day reach
then open & through which all locks
and dams are broken and pure
waters avenge the whole cathedral,
brick by page by keel by tongue,
spiralling this Pequod down
to join Chartres and New Grange
and the shrine of Willendorf,
flowers in the boneyard of Oran
far under the one we know. and
show off to summer tourists.
One day gone. On moony nights
beyond when the waters are calm
you may see my once-livid spire
of words, glowing like an elvish
ire, the hat of a pope gone down
out ut of view, a lonely bell
tolling what no shore quelled.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Heaven is Her(e)

Heaven is so far of the mind
That were the mind dissolved,
The site of it by architect
Could not again be proved.
'Tis vast as our capacity,
As fair as our idea,
To him of adaquate desire
No further 'tis than Here.

- Emily Dickinson (XCVII)

The Secret Tablet

St. Brendan and his companions come to a very high inaccessible island and cannot find an entrance. Having circled the island for a number of days, they see a church, and hear the voices of people singing and praising God. A waxen tablet is lowered to them, bidding them to cease trying to enter the island, that they will find the island which they seek, but that they must return home as their own people wish to see them; this is not the promised land ("non ista tibi terra promissa"). They leave the island, taking with them the tablet, which they used to read every day as if it had been sent to them by God."

- Seamus Mac Mathuna, "Contributions to a Study of the Voyages of St. Brendan and St. Malo," in Wooding, The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature

Oran Searches for Manannan (Not Here)

Saint Columba, having buried his friend Oran in the footers of the Iona abbey to appease some disturbed water-spirit, longs to look on the face of his friend again. It is also said that he wanted to know how his friend had fared in the Celtic underworld. It may also be that he knew he was burying his Celtic past, and longed for one last look at it.

Columba's curiosity about his past is weirdly echoed in a tale in which a chalice used by the Iona abbey is broken. It is taken by one of the monks to the sea-god Manannan, who magically restores the chalice by blowing on it. He sends it back to Columba with a question: would he achieve Christian immortality? "Alas," says the ungrateful saint, "there is no forgiveness for a man who does such works as this!" The message is returned to Manannan, who breaks out into an indignant lament. "Woe is me, Mannan-mac Lir! For years I’ve helped the Catholics of Ireland, but I’ll do it no more, till they’re weak as water. I’ll go to the gray waves in the Highlands of Scotland."

(surface note: who buries who in this tale?)

In one further variant of the tale, Oran travels in search of Manannan, heading down from the chapel footers into the watery Celtic hell (infrann), a cold region of ice either beneath this world or in the arctic regions of the north. He travels from island to island (questing in the style of St. Brendan), but each time he is given the message, in some form or another, "not here." Arriving at some high-cliffed island, he searches the beach, when a note is lowered down the cliff face. Not here.


Today’s arrival
at the next
cold shore
finds low coals,
seal bones,
a silver brooch
half buried
in the sand.
And as always
the same scrawled
note found
daggered to a tree.

Island to island
west and north
the search, each
new launch
on darker swells,
in Arctic gale.

Whenever I
turn a page
I scan into
those marges,
seeking out
bruised regions
where belief
and desire
are bound,

compassed by
that crashing surf
which beckons
in each recede
a deep salt croon:

not here
not here
not here

If Not Here, Where?

If not here, where?
I gasped, my hand
half down her jeans,
almost there, almost free—

But we were sitting
round folding tables
in my ninth grade
English class (I’m not
dreaming here folks
this is history)
discussing Homer’s

What time or room
had we to proceeed?
She hissed Not Here,
to which I could only
gulp the lava and
fire back Where?

Well, she never said,
& so in a day or two
my lust ravened
on toward other
nippled fonts.

That’s Poetry. Today
this entreaty, this wave,
tomorrow some other
vexing scree. But today,
this mount: why pair
verse with that 14
year old nurse of
my budding lust?

Sweating at some table
while voice above droned
round Circe’s isle and
below my hand inched
closer to a mons of fire.

The sense of desire
mounting possibility
against the certainty
of refusal, heights
grown slippery,
perilous, penultimate,

as if only the gasp
of yes could ever do,
and it worth the
entire predictable
tumble hair nose and
eyeballs to the
gorges of this page,
end of the poem,
another failed ingress.

But who cares! For
three seconds I was so
close, the air tense
and bright, my fingers
under the softest
fabric and brushing
fine hairs steaming
with white fire.

O evanescence,
my trellis rising
and falling from
a sound, the scent
of the sea.

Tomorrow I’ll be back.

Old Men Ought To Be Explorers

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

T.S. Eliot, “East Coker V,” from Four Quartets

Not Her, Not Here

That water god is
he who must reply
Not Here at every
seeking shore.
You are that
witchy island’s sand
which pours through
me for all time,
each grain pure hole,
all dream. Fragrant
absence is your ground,
your main, your
preterit derange,
that distant
apple orchard
flaunting at the
moon those
pendulous gold
apples heavy with
sweet milk. Not Here
is the vanish in
your smile, the
dappled shape still
lingering, like smoke,
in every empty door.
Why is it that my
beloved is both
most known to me
and so alien, as if
the closer I grow
to her the further
away you row?
And how is it
that these daily
meditations toward
your ghostly
island grove must
perforce row far indeed
from the woman who
sleeps upstairs, though
neither I nor she
has moved? Perhaps
you are strangest
of all the numens
in the wash, the
most beloved motion
also most fickle, finned,
and spoory; and
as starry lover
her dark opposite,
least held, most dreamed.
Never do I harbor
or harpoon some
trope of you --
wave, shore, slow-
falling dress --
that you don’t
smile & spread
pale wings, leaving
Manannan to wallow
in his beer, his
tidals singing
sweet and sad
and low, “Not her,
not here.” By
then you’re ages
gone, leaving scant
yet precious trace
of our carouse --
a fragile whelk
beneath the bed,
whiff of tide upon
the pillow, moony
ache in the surf’s
incessant pound,
echo of our two
hearts outpouring
sound. You are married
to my angst and
woe, my stupid
greedy spleen, the
horrid obtuse tooth
I have for trying
to fuck with words
all you seem and sigh.
And what sport
I must provide
for you, the fool-
penitent out
standing in
the night’s last tide,
drawers down
around his ankles,
pecker swinging
fore and aft
and round and out,
dowsing for one
dip in you, one
slide, one splash
from balls to walls
of my river’s
falls to where you
are at last, your
siren’s blue slippers
crossed tight
behind my waist.
Poor for me! I’ll
never learn to
forego such dreams.
Some will greater
than my own
has me standing
here & staring out
beyond the breakers
and the marge when
there are so many
more useful stances.
Yet the tide here
I swear is warm as your
breath, & pulls
back on my legs and
waist, my chest,
my neck. Surely
it is heaving my head
back where you
and I surely began
some 3 billion years
ago when the moon
was born out from
the sea, tearing our
kiss in two. That
moon now thrones
itself between our
trope, you in flight
and me behind,
my longing hot
upon my lips,
reaching for you
here and ever
as I sing to such
silvery so empty air,
“not her, not here”

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Truth of The Beautiful

Marcus,(a) student of Valetinus ((c. 150AD)), who went on to become a teacher himself, tells how he came to his own firsthand knowledge of the truth. He says that a vision “descended upon him ... in the form of a woman ... and expounded to him alone its own nature, and the origin of things, which it had never revealed to anyone, divine or human. The presence then said to him, ‘I wish to show you truth herself; for I have brought her down from above, so that you may see her without a veil, and understand her beauty.’”

-- Eileen Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 20

The Dream of Maxen Wledig

MAXEN WLEDIG was emperor of Rome, and he was a comelier man, and a better and a wiser than any emperor that had been before him. And one day he held a council of kings, and he said to his friends, "I desire to go to-morrow to hunt." And the next day in the morning he set forth with his retinue, and came to the valley of the river that flowed towards Rome. And he hunted through the valley until mid-day. And with him also were two-and-thirty crowned kings, that were his vassals; not for the delight of hunting went the emperor with them, but to put himself on equal terms with those kings.•

And the sun was high in the sky over their heads, and the heat was great. And sleep came upon Maxen Wledig. And his attendants stood and set up their shields around him upon the shafts of their spears to protect him from the sun, and they placed a gold enamelled shield under his head; and so Maxen slept.•

And he saw a dream. And this is the dream that he saw. He was journeying along the valley of the river towards its source; and he came to the highest mountain in the world. And he thought that the mountain was as high as the sky; and when he came over the mountain, it seemed to him that he went through the fairest and most level regions that man ever yet beheld, on the other side of the mountain. And he saw large and mighty rivers descending from the mountain to the sea, and towards the mouths of the rivers he proceeded. And as he journeyed thus, he came to the mouth of the largest river ever seen. And he beheld a great city at the entrance of the river, and a vast castle in the city, and he saw many high towers of various colours in the castle. And he saw a fleet at the mouth of the river, the largest ever seen. And he saw one ship among the fleet; larger was it by far, and fairer than all the others. Of such part of the ship as he could see above the water, one plank was gilded and the other silvered over. He saw a bridge of the bone of the whale from the ship to the land, and. he thought that he went along the bridge, and came into the ship. And a sail was hoisted on the ship, and along the sea and the ocean was it borne. Then it seemed that he came to the fairest island in the whole world, and he traversed the island from sea to sea, even to the furthest shore of the island. Valleys he saw, and steeps and rocks of wondrous height, and rugged precipices. Never yet saw he the like. And thence he beheld an island in the sea, facing this rugged land. And between him and this island was a country of which the plain was as large as the sea, the mountain as vast as the wood. And from the mountain he saw a river that flowed through the land and fell into the sea. And at the mouth of the river he beheld a castle, the fairest that man ever saw, and the gate of the castle was open, and he went into the castle. And in the castle he saw a fair hall, of which the roof seemed to be all gold, the walls of the hall seemed to be entirely of glittering precious gems, the doors all seemed to be of gold. Golden seats he saw in the hall, and silver tables. And on a seat opposite to him, he beheld two auburn-haired youths playing at chess. He saw a silver board for the chess, and golden pieces thereon. The garments of the youths were of jet black satin, and chaplets of ruddy gold bound their hair, whereon were sparkling jewels of great price, rubies, and gems, alternately with imperial stones. Buskins of new cordovan leather on their feet, fastened by slides of red gold.•

And beside a pillar in the hall, he saw a hoary-headed man, in a chair of ivory, with the figures of two eagles of ruddy gold thereon. Bracelets of gold were upon his arms, and many rings were on his hands, and a golden torque about his neck; and his hair was bound with a golden diadem. He was of powerful aspect. A chess-board of gold was before him, and a rod of gold, and a steel file in his hand. And he was carving out chess-men.•

And he saw a maiden sitting before him in a chair of ruddy gold. Not more easy than to gaze upon the sun when brightest, was it to look upon her by reason of her beauty. A vest of white silk was upon the maiden, with clasps of red gold at the breast; and a surcoat of gold tissue upon her, and a frontlet of red gold upon her head, and rubies and gems were in the frontlet, alternating with pearls and imperial stones. And a girdle of ruddy gold was around her. She was the fairest sight that man ever beheld.

The maiden arose from her chair before him, and he threw his arms about the neck of the maiden, and they two sat down together in the chair of gold: and the chair was not less roomy for them both, than for the maiden alone. And as he had his arms about the maiden's neck, and his cheek by her cheek, behold, through the chafing of the dogs at their leashing, and the clashing of the shields as they struck against each other, and the beating together of the shafts of the spears, and the neighing of the horses and their prancing, the emperor awoke.•

And when he awoke, nor spirit nor existence was left him, because of the maiden whom he had seen in his sleep, for the love of the maiden pervaded his whole frame. Then his household spake unto him. "Lord," said they, "is it not past the time for thee to take thy food?" Thereupon the emperor mounted his palfrey, the saddest man that mortal ever saw, and went forth towards Rome.•

And thus he was during the space of a week. When they of the household went to drink wine and mead out of golden vessels, he went not with any of them. When they went to listen to songs and tales, he went not with them there; neither could he be persuaded to do any thing but sleep. And as often as he slept, he beheld in his dreams the maiden he loved best; but except when he slept he saw nothing of her, for he knew not where in the world she was.• ...

from The Mabinogion
(Translation by Lady Charlotte Guest)

The Fish Woman

There is an encounter with something over the shoulder of the Beloved; we can't see it very well because we so desperately want someone we can hold.

When St. Columba was building his abbey on Iona in 567 A.D., he couldn't get the footers to stay put. Each night a terrible storm would rise up and blow apart the day's work and killing whoever was on the watch. Columba decided to set up watch himself one night. You must imagine that howling dark, with the winds of the North Sea blowing in a terrible gale, the sea thrashing and crashing amid huge boulders at the shore. And what does Columba encounter? A fish-woman, who comes to Columba and tells him that the abbey construction is disturbing an ancient energy who must be appeased. (There are numerous folktales from Celtic lore where the act of digging into the ground disturbs a water-spirit, often causing a rupture in the ground from which waters rise to drown the population). Oran is sent down into the abbey footers to appease this spirit; his body becomes a text of encounter between upper and lower worlds.

Young Man Sprouts Wings

In James Joyce's "Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man," the young hero has an encounter on the beach which molts the artist from the gloomy, Irish Catholic depressive:


... He looked northward towards Howth. The sea had fallen below the line of seawrack on the shallow side of the breakwater and already the tide was running out fast along the foreshore. Already one long oval bank of sand lay warm and dry amid the wavelets. Here and there warm isles of sand gleamed above the shallow tide and about the isles and around the long bank and amid the shallow currents of the beach were lightclad figures, wading and delving.

In few moments he was barefoot, his stockings folded in his pockets and his canvas shoes dangling by their knotted laces over his shoulders and, picking a pointed salt-eaten stick out of the jetsam among the rocks, he clambered down the slope of the breakwater.

There was a long rivulet in the strand and, as he waded slowly up its course, he wondered at the endless drift of seaweed. Emerald and black and russet and olive, it moved beneath the current, swaying and turning. The water of the rivulet was dark with endless drift and mirrored the high-drifting clouds. The clouds were drifting above him silently and silently the seatangle was drifting below him and the grey warm air was still and a new wild life was singing in his veins.

Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her.

Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

-- Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.

Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?

There was no human figure near him nor any sound borne to him over the air. But the tide was near the turn and already the day was on the wane. He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.

He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other.

-- James Joyce
A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Chapter 4


Give me insight into to-day,
and you may have the
antique and future worlds.

-- Emerson

I met her on that beach
from birth I had dreamed
her on -- years, lives,
ages later, it seemed.
My eyes were almost
too salted from the
mist to see her standing
there at last, half ashore,
half yet in wave,
her hair bright red,
her eyes sapphiric blue,
her lips parted in
an invitation to that
very place I yearned
so for yet never found
on any beach I walked
on, or sang about,
or wrote down. There at
last the warring aons
merged, past and future,
sea and sky, outside heat
and inner heart -- all
clasped to that point
where her immortal hips
pressed against mine
and stilled for the
duration of one kiss.
Was it only that?
It seemed I fell then
into a drowse and
faded for a while,
bowered in a curving
wave which so slowly
folded over me in
a soft cerulean wash
and hiss ... I came to
here at first light
dazed upon the sand,
something withdrawing
in a strange ebb
of red-gold foam,
the waking day
arousing from a
red-gold sun separating
from the eastern marge.
-- Where had I been?
And where to return?
I was like so much
afterbirth of a sacred
thrall, no longer solitary
or solid again. As I
drove back inland toward
the suburb I call home,
nothing was the same,
the K-Marts and Applebees
crumbling mortar like
so much dust, their
shattered marquees
half-marooned with vines,
shouting garbled offers
to a mute riot of
wild green. Then the
road gave out and I
had to walk on through
mile after mile of
corrupt and split
and grown-over Paradise,
a million houses humped
like headstones, a
million swimming pools
filled with bones and
vulture doody, like
cauldrons of pagan
rot. Finally I could
go no further -- the
tangle of it all too
dense and dark and
breathing with
sharp tooth and claw.
-- Naw, I didn’t really
see any of that
as I wound the
asphalt miles home.
All was as it always
had been: tidy rows
of houses spread between
thick lanes of commerce,
the traffic heavier
than usual as commuters
try to cram their
Christmas shopping
in. (You should have
heard my wife go on
last night about the
madness she endured
travelling to the Florida
Mall and back.) Nothing
had really changed
at all except within
where I saw with eyes
a few degrees to right
or left of center,
a vantage which brought
past and future faces
into sharper focus.
Of course you know
I never kissed that
nereid on the shore,
not as I so lyrically
enscribe in these
psalteries of desire:
I never found her
anywhere I though she
had bid me walk,
though sometimes
on an empty beach
day she seemed
everywhere behind
where she was not,
her blue eyes inside
the ocean’s spread,
the breeze her
breath as she parted
lips to kiss. None of it
every happened: In
fact I write all this
from an easy chair
in a land-locked suburb
I haven’t left for years,
miles and miles
from any beach, years
from all the gambols
when I even believed
she waited for me
at the next shore. It’s
all just lines across
and down the page,
a dry bouree I repeat
every day where she
and I are truly home
at last, standing at
a dazzling dawn shore
that isn’t anywhere
and she is most
beautiful exactly how
I will never see her
again - nor ever did,
right here across the
threshold of my skin,
the ocean fully within,
her length mine -- almost --
a salt sway against my
bones, fast heart hooving
inside my own, blue
eyes my hazel view,
her lips pressed up
against this line,
whispering, Home at
last, my son, my love,
my blue-welling spell;
I am your future
and your past, your
dazed and disappearing
footsteps over surf-
crashing sands. You
are my thundering hiss,
your life the kiss
I have waited for
since all time, your
life, began ...
in some farthest ear
I hear her whisper
those words and here
write them all down,
for time to wash them
all away -- not today,
maybe though tomorrow --
erasing every trace
of song but not the sighs
forever in the surf
resounding in my ear,
forever blue as
her wild blue eyes.

My Night With Persephone

Dear Satan, you who
delight so in a writer’s
inability to describe
or inform -- watch me
tear a few terrible leaves
from my book of the damned.

-- Rimbaud

Marge and marginalia
complete all I cannot
say here -- that blue-in-
white infirmity which
beckons the loves I
cannot voice yet must.
Their deep saturation
in that song is my salt
dementia, a horse I
must somehow ride,
perilous though his
wild haunches and
hooves. Each day the
portal shifts in changing
surf, no one entry
spread quite the same.
Of course, it may
be I whose sight
has altered, my leap
from some shore
changed by slight
degrees from all
I’ve written here before.
Today composes from
normalities, the 5 a.m.
perch in this whitechair,
Cat Violet in
the window casting her
eyes out to the dark
like nets, and all that’s
dark appearing still
and sleepy, though
something inside suggests
that’s just a ruse,
drowsing out an ocean
more wild than any
poem can saddle or
harbor or -- fait accomlit!
-- complete. Still that’s
the yoga of this hand’s
motion, repeating line
for line surf-like emulsion,
dragging up to view
some naked altar
with dark nipples
and eyes so sapphire blue.
Today though she's more
Persephone than some
Triple-X wavelette,
sex in its deepest
sublimation, gone down
under long ago
to queen the coldest
flow of my imaginings,
ever restless to come
home again to where
mortal mothers thresh
the mortal grain--the
house I call love.
I pray today for all those
sad girls who rowed with
me for just one night
inside their bed, giving
up their bodies for
some metaphor for
marriage that fed the
ache like the worst
sort of well-brand booze.
I vaguely recall a
woman from one
night whom I met
in a local fern-bar
round midnight
in the early 1980s, the
both of us quite drunk,
spilling our sad repertoire
of loss into the other’s
ear as we drank on.
I told her about the
woman whom I thought
would lead my starryband,
our love and loud
metal guitars housed
in a surfside hut
where all was hot and
cool and going places
to be sure. But (I told
this woman in a
slurry monotone)
we could not because
she could or would
not stay--my heat
not hot enough--and
my life since then
(four months behind)
had been some
a bad specie of
descending doom,
an every emptying
glass of a farewell
she cared little to hear.
The woman I spoke
to was dark-haired,
framing a tanned
face with deep blue
eyes, an even darker tan:
a scorched beauty
with wild eyes, the woman
I could only reach
through drunk stumblings
onto accidental beaches
far from anything
real or true. She
then told me of a live-
in boyfriend who booked
bands and owned a
titty bar, a guy with
killer looks and flush
with all the cash the
night could soak. Love
for him was always too
difficult, she said,
obscured by his greater
love of himself and
his appetites for coke,
strange nookie
and fast cars. He’d
dumped her a
month ago in some
maniacally drugged
episode and was far
too proud to chance
a look back. -- Since
then she’d been
on a binge, ravening
on the loss, taking men
home every night
because she couldn’t
stand her bed alone.
Booze and boys were
adding up a toll;
just the previous
night she’d been busted
for indecent exposure
at Daytona Beach,
her bare footprints
against the window
of a Camaro, the cop
hitting on her as he
drove her off to jail.
Yet even after such
sobering arrears,
there she sat again,
settling tonight on me,
the rock pauper
with the endless thirst
for rock fantasy.
I was so drunk that
night that by closing
time I could hardly
speak; and yet she took
me by the hand and
led me out the door,
driving me to her
apartment somewhere
beneath the wicked
sea, and sat me on
her bed saying there
will be no sex tonight
though we’ll share
this double bed. I
watched her undress
-- a truly holy moment,
this truly beautiful
woman slowly and
dutifully peeling off
blue silk blouse and
white brassiere, her
small breasts swimming
out fully tanned,
her nipples like darker
eyes on a darker
lower face. She unzipped
her jeans and wriggled
free, pulling down
red silk panties,
revealing only the
thinnest pure white
tan-lines, a thong-
road leading to a
dark brown bush, all
secrets hidden there
in a proud thick lush.
There was none of
that for me in that
night, but in truth
I was almost too drunk
to care, and almost
grateful just to be
held there in that
bed, beneath covers
so heavy we seemed
to tumble down a
sea into the void
of voided souls. The
next morning we groaned
up to the sound of
ZZ Top on a tinny
small radio. She kissed
me on the forehead
and got up to hit
the john, leaving me
there to come to
in another far-too-distant
room, like an island
without a name
and by day proved
for too harsh and real.
Time to go. She drove
me back to my car
and that was that.
I never saw her again.
That night was almost
20 years down the
well I call my history,
and surely she lives on
in my Persephone,
throned in my worst
sort of falling and
forever roaming there,
unquenched of the
life she couldn’t live
on her own, her
addict-greed for warmth
married to my own
that single night
for all time. Who knows,
she’s probably dead
by now, if all that
awfulness failed to
find a healing shore.
Or she could be
truly married to some
other Lord of Hell,
whatever emptiness inside
that beautiful carriage
in thrall with a bad
man’s hearse and hard
hooves. I could have
meant something far
different to her back then:
I could have said
a word or two of real
solace had I not been
too drunk to speak,
told her to get help: I
could have stuck around
a little longer with
no intent for sex
just to help ferry another
human being back
to shore: Hell, I could
have rowed on with her
toward some truly
engaged and vital life
-- Dream on, oh Kore
wheatfield of a heart.
The only reason I ended
up with her that night
was because I was so
lost in hell, my self-
inflicted wound bleeding
just the way she
needed so to drink.
She would not that
night have wanted
the man that I became,
sitting here in this
married house two
hours before dawn,
my real life chiseled
from hard work where
love is so much about
not getting what
you want, but wanting
what you got -- however
short of shored blue tidals
it forever must be.
No: she is lost down
there, as all the dead
are in their oblivions,
combing their hair
in vacant mirrors,
crying in the empty
rooms of one vast
apartment complex
at the bottom of
the sea. My reverie
of her here is now
near an end -- Violet
has jumped down to
join my wife in
bed, and the dark
outside the window
is slowly paling
toward first blue.
It’s time I joined
my day. Still, I can
light a votive for
her at the tidal end of
all this verse -- and
say a prayer for one
of the darkest saddest
and most beautiful
woman I ever met
in the long night of
my personal curse.
She was dark in
every way -- black
hair, almost black tan,
a black narrative
heading for the
darkest of all ends:
Yet her blue eyes
almost sang in the
dark of that darkest
room -- minted from
ice for sure, but
also somehow some
daughter’s pure
sea-glass, the lost
child who never
stops staring up
in all the ways I
stare back down
for news of where
she’s gone. She and
I are shore today
to this poem of
hubris and amends.
I don’t know where
you are today, sweet
lady of worst sorrow,
but I pray you’ve
found a way to
escape the hell you
chose. I wish you
better, I pray thee well.
Now send this
poem on to endless blue
upon your bitter swell.
My marriage hauls
you like bilge and
ballast; may I never
err again in finding you.

The Booze Talking

Blame it on the booze for
merging your face in hers.
Given the general slurry
of those pouring nights,
such confusions weren’t
surprising, though you
nor she nor I have since
forgiven me. She
stepped off one nights’s
wave of alcoholic sleaze
and then we found ourselves
in a room where dawn’s
pale mordents were
streaming through every
blue window. Yowza the heat
I felt in her when she
unzipped and wrapped
her soft legs around
my hips, her loins
as hot and moist as
my name which
tore from her lips as
she came again and
again, my full weight
and fullness plowing
and plunging & plundering
her with an empty
heart’s naked greed.
Afterward we were two
strangers deep in love
with nary a clue how to
proceed beyond that
apple-isle’s wave-tossed
bed. Not me, at least,
and of her own fall
what can I say? I loved
her too much to grant
her mortal falter, and so
was like a stag in the
headlights of approaching
doom. The same mouth
that sucked me dry
& whispered how she
wanted all my children
spoke all the later words
of bile and choler and
oh-so-blue-rue. How could
such magnificent breasts
be rounded with that
boredom she eventually
felt with me, pointing
them on toward the next
more manly man? And
so when all those hurts
invaded me, descending
wraith-like from the moon
to fever my brain, I knew
the daily barbs and ice
which was breaking us
back in two were the
fault of my own fool’s
equipage in the wiser
ways of love. What could
I really say to her when
my tongue was inked
in your pure honey?
Always in that awful clinch
where love in real
lovers is daily made
I’ve quailed, my
equipage both
insufficient and too
gossamer, tooled to you
who beamed that sickly
aura behind every
woman that I’ve loved.
How many loves have
ebbed from the women
I’ve loved because I
didn’t fight with them?
As if a marriage rode
on a husband’s willingness
to defy and even curse you
in some real love’s darker
name. Sorry Charley,
my history’s assembled
feline choir hymns,
we don’t want tuna
with good taste, we
need a fish to whup
some ass.
That feral
dolphin which the
naked man rides upon
my father’s family
crest ain’t no lap-puppy.
But when will I
ever learn to lose
you in my heart?
Back to my story --
and when those
soaring soggy spumes of
love had ebbed in a
collapse of closing doors,
how I mooned for her
and you in the you-in-her
of iced vodka’s slurry
drowse. I was like
a man tossed from the
sea and exiled on
a bitter shore where
all my fellow drowned
Jolly Rogers assembled
at the bar to drink
all night and stare
at their reflections
across the bar, repeating
the words we could or
should have said
to keep you-in-her
from sailing forever away.
But it was just the
booze talking, speaking
loud to no one the
awful secret you hold
like a finger to our lips.
Who do we love anyway,
and what is it that we
greet when all the sheets
have been torn from
that infernal book
on which we bed all dreams?
Beyond the heart’s thalassa
is this discriminating rage,
a will to fight to the
end of all poems,
making certain things
at last clear and clean.
Not by your providence
but my victory, dread queen,
will I ink that page at last.
Beyond your dread similitudes
are seas without a same
and salt in sheer infinitude
and feelings you’ll never fully name
no matter how much booze
it took to drink before
my you-in-her was weaned.

The Departing Light is More Acute

By a departing light
We see acuter, quite,
Than by a wick that stays.
There’s something in the flight
That clarifies the sight
And decks the rays.

--Emily Dickinson #1714

Soul -- It's Not About Love

If anima is defined as the eros factor, then we are always bound to assume that sexual excitation is a soul-message and cannot be denied -- who would deny the call of his soul? And we are bound to assume that active human relationships and uplifting enthusiasms are anima-inspired, whereas in truth they are less promoted by the reflective moisture of the soul than by eros captivating the soul. For here we must concede that, though anima is not eros, her first inclination is toward love. So she seduces in order to be turned on, set afire, illumined. So she makes advances in order to move pure reflection into connecting. So she commands an incredible range of voluptuous imagery in order to draw eros down upon her for what Plato calls “generation,” or soul-making. Nevertheless, though love be essential to soul, theology insists and psychotherapy affirms, and though soul be that by which we receive love, soul is not love.

James Hillman, Anima: Anatomy of a Personified Notion, p. 31, 33



How many times have I betrayed you
by the light of that full moon, my oh-
so sea-deep sweetness, exchanging
your reflective swash for that louder-
plashing fire? Such lamps were lit
to find you; and yet my torch replaced
your passage as I ravelled through
the world’s desperate, unyielding heart.
The curves and cleavage of those
beginnings became my only end, my
star-tarred greed to plunge what you
only meant as billowy invitation
to drowse toward more richly lucent
shores. Not that you didn’t conspire
in part with my betrayal, in thrall
yourself with the signage in my ever-
outward zeal, my heart’s frantic
egressing heat the zionist
who pays back every loss of you
by settling on every slickslide same
in all the ways you won’t, no,
can’t be fully entered.

That moony autumn night
when I was 14 & sat behind Sue
on a parked motorbike no one
was old enough to ride: Surely
you sighed all those honey
bells when my hands
crept under her t-shirt to
ring those hafts of startlingly-
wobbly warm flesh; surely you
were beaconing me when I
dialed those hard pubescent nipples
-- islands trilling danger in your
equinoctal seas. I squeezed those breasts
in terror and pure desire, flooding
with all the brilliance of that harvest
moon which arched so high above,
its light tolling from an unseen cathedral
where for 30 years now I’ve daily
prayed and counted out your beads
& feasted on the host.

Not that you didn’t lead me
here to fall hopelessly in love
with insides I’ve never found a way
to enter. My longing is like a wave that
never crosses all the waters
you remit and shore. You’ve
kept me forever here adrift,
searching for that naked
strand where you wait and
sigh and welcome moons in every tide.

This morning going on 5 a.m.
that big moon is lost to cloud,
the sky a drossy net of blueblack milk
which hides even the itch of my desire
in abyssal folds of paling ink.
Sweet temptress beyond
all tempting sights, I have always
sought to shape a face according
to the ache I felt, believing you
would finally appear on the horizon
when I finally found the shape
your song desired.

See? Even now I’m burning in the
prow of this descending boat down the
deepest fissures of sea cold gloom,
belling all the way down your
wavelike sound, that echo at
the end of every line which
seal-barks in the dark
the siren-warble of infinity
which my most naked love bestows.

For even love is just another
further door into the your
downward-plunging dream, a
bed conjugal to that thrall
which births a darker,
unknowable and unforgettable
gleam. There is a bell-note to this
world, a single deep resound,
the sum of all the waves which
pulse outward from this heart,
which reach, collapse, and
pound in sad returns: A drone
deep on the basalt bed which
aches for the moon we found
and lifted with our kiss.

I want to end this poem right
here and go up and hold my
wife, and squeeze her
incommensurate curves
with hands as trembling as
the ones that ventured
under that young girl’s shirt
a hundred lives ago
beneath the silent belling roar
of the one exiling door.
Surely I will lose your there
again, but that’s the dance
you love most: Me hearing
wild music everywhere
and not a single coast.

A witchy side to anima

To give to eros either feeling or the anima puts too many events all upon one altar, claiming all for love. Not only is this biasedly Christian -- in the sense of limited to only one perspective of love -- but also authentic aspects of anima become judged only from the standpoint of love. Hatred, spite, suspicion, jealousy, rejection, enmity, suspicion, jealousy, rejection, enmity, deception, betrayal, cruelty, misanthropy, ridicule play their part in anima experiences. These emotions are appropriate to many of the cold-bloody, witchy creatures whom we find in legend and in poetry -- and in our dreams and lives -- even where such “negative” emotions are far from eros and the feeling function that would conform with the mediocre niceness of Christian humanism.

- Hillman, Anima, 35, 37


She is a mischievous being who crosses our path in numerous transformations and disguises, playing all kinds of tricks on us, causing happy and unhappy delusions, depressions and ecstasies, outbursts of affect, etc. ... The nixie has not laid aside her roguery. The witch has not ceased to milk her vile potions of love and death; her magic poison has been refined into increased self-deception, unseen though nonetheless dangerous for that.

-- CG Jung, CW9, I, 53-4

A Sea Witch Rides this Hand

And what of the sea-witch,
my thousand-year bride?
She was once the nun
who prayed matins
like a shore but I
lured her to the dark
waters with the music
of the tide between
these protean hips,
ensnaring her white
calves with a bony laugh
& dragging her all the
way out and down. I
had my way with her
but good, the envy
of every narwhal bull
and deep-diving
spermacetti ram.
And then I lost her in
that keep, & become
an exile of love’s spleen
on a hard-smashing shore
of basalt ruins, searching
every wave for a trace
of her seem amid the
drifting dozing
manes of low sea-grass.
I know she’s there
but I’ve lost the way
I used to see her,
or she has simply
wearied of my eyes
and now fins the
arteries of a darker,
deeper man than
I have balls to go.
The news each day
washes in the
battered corpses
of her undinal ways,
cyanotic sailors
with still-red lips
so nakedly pursed
to kiss what
you keep drawing
5 more fathoms down.
Look at all the pumpkins
we carve recalling your
raw pudenda’s ire.
And oh the darkened
forest spreading round
the heart of he
who finds you nightly,
black stumps creaking
in a cold autumn
night’s breeze, a
bonier sound knocking
from your last soiree
into the noirish
tableaux of bars
and cars you dreamed.
I should have rid my
loins of this thirst
for you so many lives
ago -- divorced the
demiurge, renounced
the sea, bled white
my salt iniquities:
Yet this muse of
darkness I call my
own, albeit for
bitter and perverse,
the moony incandescence
inside my every wave’s
dying sigh. I am here
for her declision
on shores of nascent
white pages gleaming
white as bone. Her
name is Kirsteen M’Vurich
and she is that much
further out, sprawled
on a bed of chorda filum,
staring in the silver mirror
in which she sees me
in its gleam. I can hear
a high and ghastly laughter
beyond the booming stones,
a twittering of teeth
that picks the pelvis clean
then blots my lips with foam.

Columba, Black Angus and the Sea Witch

On a day of the days, Colum was walking alone by the sea-shore. The monks were at the hoe or the spade, and some milking the kye, and some at the fishing. They say it was on the first day of the Faoilleach Geamhraidh, the day that is called Am Fhéill Brighde, and that they call Candlemas over yonder.

The holy man had wandered on to where the rocks are, opposite to Soa. He was praying and praying; and it is said that whenever he prayed aloud, the barren egg in the nest would quicken, and the blighted bud unfold, and the butterfly break its shroud.

Of a sudden he came upon a great black seal, lying silent on the rocks, with wicked eyes.
"My blessing upon you, O Ron," he said, with the good kind courteousness that was his. "Droch spadadh ort," answered the seal, "A bad end to you, Colum of the Gown."
"Sure now," said Colum angrily, "I am knowing by that curse that you are no friend of Christ, but of the evil pagan faith out of the north. For here I am known ever as Colum the White, or as Colum the Saint; and it is only the Picts and the wanton Normen who deride me because of the holy white robe I wear."

"Well, well," replied the seal, speaking the good Gaelic as though it were the tongue of the deep sea, as God knows it may be for all you, I, or the blind wind can say; "well, well, let that thing be: it's a wave-way here or a wave-way there. But now, if it is a druid you are, whether of fire or of Christ, be telling me where my woman is, and where my little daughter."
At this, Colum looked at him for a long while. Then he knew.
"It is a man you were once, O Ron?"

"Maybe ay and maybe no."

"And with that thick Gaelic that you have, it will be out of the north isles you come?"

"That is a true thing."

"Now I am for knowing at last who and what you are. You are one of the race of Odrum the Pagan?"

"Well, I am not denying it, Colum. And what is more, I am Angus MacOdrum, Aonghas mac Torcall mhic Odrum, and the name I am known by is Black Angus."

"A fitting name too," said Colum the Holy, "because of the black sin in your heart, and the black end God has in store for you."

At that Black Angus laughed.

"Why is the laughter upon you, Man-Seal?"

"Well, it is because of the good company I'll be having. But, now, give me the word: Are you for having seen or heard of a woman called Kirsteen M'Vurich?"

"Kirsteen--Kirsteen--that is the good name of a nun it is, and no sea-wanton!"

"O, a name here or a name there s soft sand. And so you cannot be for telling me where my woman is?"


"Then a stake for your belly, and nails through your hands, thirst on your tongue, and the corbies at your eyne!"

And, with that, Black Angus leaped into the green water, and the hoarse wild laugh of him sprang into the air and fell dead upon the shore like a wind-spent mew.

Colum went slowly back to the brethren, brooding deep. "God is good," he said in a low voice, again and again; and each time that he spoke there came a daisy into the grass, or a bird rose, with song to it for the first time, wonderful and sweet to hear.

As he drew near to the House of God he met Murtagh, an old monk of the ancient race of the isles.

"Who is Kirsteen M'Vurich, Murtagh?" he asked.

"She was a good servant of Christ, she was, in the south isles, O Colum, till Black Angus won her to the sea."

And when was that?"

"Nigh upon a thousand years ago."

"But can mortal sin live as long as that?"

"Ay, it endureth. Long, long ago, before Oisin sang, before Fionn, before Cuchullin, was a glorious great prince, and in the days when the Tuatha-de-Danann were sole lords in all green Banba, Black Angus made the woman Kirsteen M'Vurich leave the place of prayer and go down to the sea-shore, and there he leaped upon her and made her his prey, and she followed him into the sea."

"And is death above her now?"

"No. She is the woman that weaves the sea-spells at the wild place out yonder that is known as Earraid: she that is called the seawitch."

"Then why was Black Angus for the seeking her here and the seeking her there?"

"It is the Doom. It is Adam's first wife she is, that sea-witch over there, where the foam is ever in the sharp fangs of the rocks."

"And who will he be?"

His body is the body of Angus, the son of Torcall of the race of Odrum, for all that a seal be is to the seeming; but the soul of him is Judas."

"Black Judas, Murtagh?"

"Ay, Black Judas, Colum."

But with that, Ivor Macrae rose abruptly from before the fire, saying that he would speak no more that night. And truly enough there was a wild, lone, desolate cry in the wind, and a slapping of the waves one upon the other with an eerie laughing sound, and the screaming of a seamew that was like a human thing.

So I touched the shawl of his mother, who looked up with startled eyes and said, "God be with us"; and then I opened the door, and the salt smell of the wrack was in my nostrils, and the great drowning blackness of the night.

-- Fiona MacLeod, Iona

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