Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Fire Chapel

As they were speaking of these things, a flaming arrow shot through the window before their eyes and lit all the lamps that were positioned before the altar. Then it shot back out the way it had come. But the precious light remained in the lamps. “Who puts out the lamps in the morning?” asked blessed Brendan, to which the holy father replied, “Come and see the mystery of the thing yourself. Do you see the candles burning in the middle of the lampstands? They never burn down, nor do they have any ash, for their light is spiritual.” St. Brendan said, “How can an immaterial light burn physically in a material object?” “Have you not read of the burning bush of Mt. Sinai?” the old man replied. “The bush itself was not touched by fire.”

-- from “The Voyage of St. Brendan”

The Great Fires (by Jack Gilbert)

Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its special odor
so we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

Juice (2002)

I turned 13 during my first summer
in Florida, hard-ripped from my
Chicago home when my parents split.
We moved into a new subdivision near
Winter Haven that had been torn from
an orange grove. Just beyond our house
the streets unpaved themselves into thickets
where bulldozers jawed whole trees, eager
to uproot slow makings for a fast buck.

My wounds and the grove’s grafted into
each other through a season of fire,
my parents crossed like swords over
my puberty, old Florida parceled in
fruit bags of Eden. Loss and desire mingled,
sugared, swelled: then burst from every
pore in sweetly mutinous grog.

There were six orange trees in our
yard to plunder; I must have picked
and squeezed two quarts of fresh juice
every day, greedy for its slicksweet pour.
The first gulp always surprised me
with its sharp ardor, thick and loose,
springing a thirst inside mere parch.

That first summer was archangel-
ically hot, a humid blear which called
all earthborn things to high heaven.
I sent my dreams that way as I
hurled baseballs at a pitchback
screen, my wild pitches thonking
like heads on the wood fence.
To dive later into the pool was like
a belt of that juice: delirium plunged in
joy, the pool’s bottom a glade of bright
glitters shushed in blue. I swam lengths
underwater then perched at the edge,
head and shoulders resting on hot concrete
with my legs drifting below. Lulled by
Carole King on the radio and high soaring
crickets, I drowsed in an undulate weave
of ripening girls peeled from their swimsuits,
their nipples pealing a red roar.

Every afternoon it rained hard,
big boomers in from Tampa sweeping
through in great wet sheets which left
me the rest of the day feeling somehow
unslaked. At twilight, the remaining grove
on the other side of the fence grew fierce
with frogs and whatever else pulsed out there,
mounds of a sugar silk-saturate and dark.

On a small radio I listened to hard rock bands
in the black-lit eeriness of my room; eyewhites
and lint burned like hot moons while the
thickening night heaved on my windows in
a rich, purring growl. Oh the sharp tooth I
felt in those songs by Mountain and Cream,
trillingly pure, loud as thirst, raw as plunder.

Thirty years later, that first summer in Florida
chirrs loud in my veins. I sit here in this house
with the windows wide to the humid heat of 5 a.m.
Outside in this small town never far from a fast
Florida buck, sprinkler heads and crickets saw over
that old beast who sleeps only in the linear sense.
Some untamed thirst prowls here as ever, ripened
deep within. My hands ache for the heft of those
oranges warm from ghost orchards; to cleave their
nude fire; to squeeze them down hard on a mount
of ridged whirl, filling this glass past the brim with
remembered gold, spilling juice over all.

The Virign and The Dynamo (1988)

I've been fucking the Madonna
in a frenzy of beds and sweat,
mounted to a crucifix of immortal desire,
unharbored, unholy, messiah and nail --

I met her when I was thirteen.
Back then her name was Sue.
We swam in the pool
in my back yard.
Her body flashed wet
and dazzling in a neon
bikini as she giggled out
of my reach. How my cock
leapt after her, month after
masturbating month, hurling
a joyous fury of sperm into the water.

It is years later and very late at night.
A woman holds my cock in her hand,
pistoning its floral head in her mouth.
I fuck her later on my mother's bed,
her heavy breasts heaving as I thrust.
Salmon leap over us, trailing gin-tasting
waters. There is a half-empty bottle
on a nightstand; inside, a full moon rises.

I hunt on the moon.
Behind me vultures peck at bloody,
glistening eggs. They croak and caw,
sounding like high school buddies trying to
scrabble out of their lockers.
I reach for a magnificent staff in the dust.
Neon signs blink in craters.
I am crying, for I have been
re-united with my foreskin.

Winds pick up and maul the father desert.
Tumbleweeds bound past trailing
shreds of red satin and panty hose.
I approach a bleached shack.
The door is open but women guard the entrance.
I can't remember the words to say and the women
curse me, pitching dead rats at me.
I flee.

The moon is the screen
of a nine inch b&w TV
several feet from this bed.
It is 3 a.m.; a 70's comedy
babbles canned laughter.
I lay on hair, long, long hair
that flows like water
from my head, my face, my
chest, my crotch, my legs.

It has tangled some struggling thing
that makes muffled feminine protests:
what if the kids hear, I'm on my period,
I don't have any protection,
don't you think we should wait
to get to know each other better?

The woman's ass protrudes from all
this hair, framed in scant black panties.
Darling fig leaf, what a beacon her shame!
I run my fingers under the cool material,
over pliant, soft skin, dipping my finger
into swimming lava. The bed hardens,
plunging me into the red cavern.
Here the air is hot and smells of the distant sea.

Tears fill me: home!
I watch the woman's face as I shudder then spasm.
Her smile melts and becomes a snake that
tightens round my throat, becomes an
umbilical cord knotting me in the ground.

A stone man crashes out of the forest
swinging an axe and severing the snake's head.
The head rolls along down a hill and into a boat.
I chase after it but the boat slips free
and floats out into Chinese waters.
Tall cliffs hump above dense mist.
I swim after the boat, calling out my own name.

More years pass. Spring arrives.
I walk with a woman I call my love.
She holds my hand and smiles
although it's a cold day, dark and damp.
We walk out on a bridge
that spans a pounding river.
Its roar encloses us as we kiss.
I lean her back:.
Her eyes widen into moons when she falls.
We will meet again, I call . . .
The mist is alcoholic, turning
to hard squall which batters down the bridge.
I wash away in tears.

I swim in an Olympic pool.
The water is blue.
I stroke slowly, counting off laps.
Sunlight wrinkles on the pool floor
in a mosaic of delight.

Sweet with exhausting,
I climb out and lay on a deck chair.
My towel is blue. The sky is blue.
Blue water coils through my blood.

A smiling blonde in a black string bikini
straddles my chest. Her eyes are ocean.
She smells of cocoa butter and is very, very tanned.
She rocks on my hips, moaning her name.
Bossa nova fills the air.
I sip dark rum mixed with her vaginal fluids.

There is diving board a hundred feet
above a glass of water.
Everyone from the bar is on the ladder,
joking and pitching cherries at each other.
Couples giggle and hold hands mock-solemn,
then bounce off me and fall
smashing like melons on the concrete below..

I am in a drunk blackout at Daytona Beach.
It is late at night. Motley Crue
blasts from the windows
of passing Firebirds and 'Vettes.
Around my neck I wear a necklace
of withered, bloody nipples.
The crotch of my shorts has been cut out.

Bartenders work in the surf, dipping up shots.
I have no more money so I offer my car,
rolling it into the water. Everyone cheers.
Topless dancers fandango for me,
their fangs brilliant in the moonlight.
I thrash and moan and hump the air.
Bouncers snort like bulls and race toward me.

At some dead a.m. I wake, rolling onto
the concrete in some parking lot.
My face is bloody my hands are bruised.
I am in a graveyard of lost sons
howling from patrol cars sleek as barracuda.

I'm in bed with a woman I take
from time to time, usually after all the bars
have closed and every other woman I can think of
has refused me. My last-ditch fuck.

She lives in an old house.
A corrupt smell rises from the basement.
Candles burn in every window.
The woman is plain, ass and belly flaccid,
her face too homely for the lava I seek.
She falls far to welcome me.

I drink a beer, smoke a joint. She waits.
I push her down onto her couch.
Fantasy women sashay on MTV.
I fuck her snatch; too bored to come,
I try fucking her tits.
There is no warmth, no wet,
but the motion is cruel enough
to keep me hard. Finally I jam
my cock in her mouth and force her
o swallow my come.
There is nothing in the moment,
no delight, no crooning melt.

She runs to the john to retch
and smoke fills the room, thick and black.
I fall asleep, finished at last,
mounted by flames.

Smith Songs (1999)

from “A Breviary
of Gutars”

The Present, looking
back on 1983

Eliade finds
linguistic ties
between the
art of the smith
& those hammers
of song: Greek
poietes “creator,”
“maker,” Sanskrit
taksh “to create,”
Old Scan. iotha-
song,” Rhemish
Song is a trial
of fire by fire,
the furor
which cunning
blades, consonants,
guitars, loves
are wrought: But
how profane to
play rock n
roll, perched high
& far upon
our extended
thumbing the
father and fingering
our girls at
arms length: Clearly
the songs burned
hot in our care,
surprising us
with a raw real
numen hammered
down with power
chords and which
no amount of
partying could
dissolve: O
but we were supid
stupid: We left
those practices
looking to slake
our thirst in all
the cups we knew
to be empty:
Habit & laziness
conspiring to
blunt our blades
in inchoate
sheathes: too
many shots of
Old Bushmills &
bad metal bands
& far a.m.s where
it was just too
tempting to take
speed & coke &
keep going, our
fires now doused with
gasoline scorching
us so bad we
had to call
off practice the
next day: O
stupid stupid:
We had no
instruction: Rock’s
tutors are the
bloody balls
of the father
dripping beneath
the scythe: Rebels
when we should
hearken: I had
to learn my chops
on my own far
from the
community of axmen
because I wanted
to steal the
mother in their
bed: A lone wolf
with his original
songs: Like they
say in AA, there’s
nothing like an
egomaniac with
low self control:
Surely all the
artists are one-
eyed dwarves
whose silky sweet
voices belie the
seam of castration:
And where Norman
and I in practice
could gallop miles
over the forest
steppes of a
killerdiller like
“Waiting for the
Axe To Fall,” we
were blind suckers
for old loves
who walked away
because we weren’t
their type: Think
of all the midgets
who are rock’s
lions onstage:
Angus Young of
ACDC & Eddie
Van Halen & John
Cougar Mellencamp
& John Waite &
Robert Plant &
Brian Eno &
David Bowie &
Graham Parker:
Odin who was
master of forges
casting bolts down
below was
a true master of
song — old and
oneyed & a runt
too: Little blind
white penis, big
bellows: There’s
an oblique ledge
that tempers the
dross angers into
a fine silver
filigree of rage:
Wounds which find
a whetstone down
the neck of a
guitar: Out there
he comes forth
as a bold
stallion thundering
cross the sky
but inside it’s
just overbite &
ejaculation: Norman
and I were a
couple of partying
dudes who made
music of it
for a while and
while we stayed
sheathed from
excess we could sing
well of it: Dipped
eventually back
into the bogs
of booze & pussy
& dope we
lost all trace
of song: What
a dope of a deal
but that’s the
way the master
forges us: Got
up today at
5:30 a.m. after
bedding at
1:30 a.m. following
a long night with
Jeff & Lisa
& my wife
in Orlando:
Exhausted as I
rose because I
must get up even
though I was too
tired to make
any sense here:
Fire up the
bellows, throw on
some kindling,
see what’s brewing
in the pot: Cat
Buster on my
lap & read some
old journal pages
& wonder why
the fuck I keep
doing this &
then start to
write: A man
starts a work,
the work starts a
work, the work
ends a man: Songs
in the summer
of ‘83 the
entire meaning
of thunderclouds
& annealing bolts
which flickered
out like adders’
tongues: Riding
the Uffington
Horse of Uther
Pendragon blind
and fooled into
thinking I held
a guitar:

Burning (1994)

she sits at the computer
he stands behind her
afraid to touch her hair
unable to resist the fire

his fingers are matches
stroking her smooth cheek
she accepts the touch
eyes closed to all
but the music of the fire
opening unfocused
fluttering on wings of a bliss
she must cage

he breathes her in
like a man underwater
for too long
like it is his first
and last breath
(it is, you know)
he smells cocoa butter
and spice in her hair
he smells something
deeper than smell
and his cock leaps
up into his heart
on a dolphin spouting flame

They have worked so hard
to resist this moment
she willed to another
he willed to himself
but their kiss burns
with a third will
violating everything
affirming only
that they
passionately care

A kiss is a word
only here; when lips
part slightly and soften
all language dissolves
in the wet hot touch
of the unspeakable other
their breath is
the space of a vowel
a room a moon a sigh
a wave of unbearable sweet
sweeping away
every reason they
have to resist

I'm writing this poem
desperate and drowning
in a desire which
never reaches shore
never exhausts in foam
between your thighs

I knew full well the price
I wrote this poem
in that kiss
knew where
this slick slide
of letting go would lead:
to everywhere and
nowhere; to this
page with its leaky
singing bloody words;
to yet another
morning's long walk
back to silence.
I knew, I knew
you couldn't stay,
couldn't let go.
So fucking what.
How could I resist.

I asked for this
chalice of flame
when my hand
reached down
your jeans to
cup your ass
I knew I'd burn
into cinders and soot
this is my sulfur road race
pumping hellbent again
from surrender to sorrow
what a way to burn
what a way to learn

she sits on the shores of the world
her red hair the wild sunset
I sail toward without hope
the sea a foam of writhing fury
the sky so blue
like her eyes
I'm trying so hard to see
in the dark of this morning

when I touch you
I am a poem
of burning poppy
exhaling your sweet fuck musk
down every dark corridor
singing through the lonely night
that stole into this room

when you pulled back
when you walked out
I'm burning baby
a pyre of pure beginning

Minerva (2003)

Romano-Celtic solid bronze
votive in the form of the helmeted head
of Minerva from 1st century CE was
found at former temple of Sulis
in Great Britain. Intensely stylized,
she wears a high crested
helmet decorated on either side with
dolphins. Her hair falls in locks at the
perimeter of her helmet. Her facial detail,
including her wide eyes, broad nose and
tightly closed lips, is strongly preserved.

Something deep in me
stares hard into blue
waters; something deeper
stares back. Wider eyes
than mine focus me
down salt orizons. All I know
she sang to me
up the dolphin panniers
of Your well. She rules the
longing of my hand
the way the surf
caresses down
a moon-wracked shore,
wave by darkling wave.
Every poem peers
down a depth of
brine, seeking that
bedded isle on
which she waits for
me. Every tree there
is bent with her
nippling fruit; the
very ground at
her feet leaks
a savage, milky sound.
Her eyes are everywhere
my view’s engaged:
like pyres they
freight the day with
glittering lakes and blazing
chrome. She swims
in the slitted eyes of our
cats as I slowly
pet them into a syrupy purr.
She stares back
hardest in every woman
of my day, their eyes
averted but their
breasts below
so round and loud,
burning me alive.
Her eyes flame
high in all dim
places, igniting words
I don’t or can’t fully
name. Yet for all the
heated ire of her
eyes, her mouth
is utterly silent,
the lips taut as stone,
gathering me here
only to tell no news.
In her silence she
is most terrible,
voracious for
the echo of my
naked voice,
sliding up
and down its salt
blue registers,
unslakable, beyond
every word I hurl.
Of course, it
is I who irrupts
her: I pulled her votive
dripping from
the well, & held it here
in this next poem’s
light, writing down
each gorgeous sound.
Minerva I don’t know
what to make of you
quite yet, the
song today is
too perplex, inchoate
and diffuse. All I
can do is lay
this poem across
your dolphin thighs
and bid your flame
goof day before the
real sun rise --
A mortal man
with goddess fins,
her wildest blue
the iris of my view.

Sulis (2003)

Ah, but she is deeper
and older than mere
bronze, she was
forged in water’s fire,
that wash that burnishes
a brilliant shore.
She and I mated
long ago in some
different life, she
the priestess of the
spring, I some
horse-man up from
Gaul, my love of
plunder the fire
she took up and under
when she bid me
rise and go go go.
The spring at Bath
is hot as orgasm,
spreading from a
crack in the the
stony pelvis of
she-Titans fallen
long ago. For
ten thousand years
men have washed their
limbs in her warm
flow, marvelling that
the sun in depths
could heal the body so.
On the main temple
pediment there
is a stone face of
a male Medusa, his
beard-locks like waves,
snakes in his hair,
wings sprouting from
the ears, the eyes wide
in that stare which
knows too much about
what’s further down.
Mothers in labor
and lovers in love’s
rigor have that same
fixed, like the face
of a beheaded with
a full-eyed look of
surprise and terror
and full knowledge
at last: He wards
the door into
this temple bath,
both angel of her
arousing and devil
of descending stair.
I suspect that my
friend Oran had that
look when Columba
unearthed him from
3 days in the grave.
Those eyes popped
open in full wonder
of the sights he’d
taken in swimming
to Manannan’s isle,
in search of sea gods
and you. So much
to see in three
nights -- though I
suspect three thousand
lives were backed
into his boat. His
eyes were too full of
all those souls he
encountered whom
we can no longer know,
not from any bourne
we travel. Something
else though in his
eyes -- a look which
contradicted everything
Columba was constructing
up from Oran’s grave --
Like the blare of
approaching headlights
in thick morning mist,
or an sailor’s thousand-
league stare. That’s
the terror we impose
upon the eyes that
see all we can’t -- a
pregnant coming
rictus transfixed
with her hot startle,
her bluest swoon.
Read the faces of
drown sailors who
man their broken
decks: All are groom
of her salt visage,
their bloating eyes
full hers at last,
fat embers of blue
fire I cannot shake
or write my way
past. My morbid
thrall is of his
who wards the door,
of fin and fang
composed, between
sea and sun where
she really waits
and washes and
and grows goggle
eyed giving birth to this.

Summer Song (2004)

What now unsheathes
is summer, long and fierce,
the season which plunges us
into the daily embroilment
of heaven and earth,
calamitous, fulsome, sexual,
spent. I came south on a
dream of surfside women
with arms and breasts to
soothe my over-wintered
shape. Of them I found
far fewer than I prayed for,
and so I became their
inmost singer, alone at this
post far from their savage-
sweet day, each foray here
finding them all on islands
the surf combs like hair.
My song has harrowed me in
a South far more martial
than I once believed, the sun
ripping bloody from the sea
and sprouting wings of
hot angel ire, burning the
near-naked bodies which
sprawl on the beach, drawing
every bead of sweat and juice
in one evaporate sigh. I
heard that music a
continent away, pinned in
a room still glazed with
winter. “We are of the sun,”’
wrote at that hour,
nous sommes du soliel,
words I chanted in box
of frostbitten charms,
singing to every empty
space I knew she filled.
Brown child of summer
in my dreams, I swilled
my rhythms south till I
came to sit in this chair;
and sing now of this dark
so soaked from last night’s
rains & ripe with all the
sun will soon enough bid rise,
syllables of moisture
in a lush verduring sea,
poems I hurl skyward
til thunder sings back.
Up and down May’s
heavens rouse and heave,
too bright and feral for
us to try on our own.
Dermatologists and jailers
reap their fill of all
who bare to much come
summer. I’ve paid my
dues -- plunged errant
and wild long enough in
far pools, held a pillow
fast over my head
in terror of the light
shrieking from the
perimeter of a window-shade.
Believed too much, and
not at all, joining every
Icarus falling from shine
to abysm. In the blasted
suburbs of my South
sprinkler systems pump
an emptying aquifer
to keep St. Augustine lawns
a pristine, holy green.
But I am far away from
such backwarding tropes.
My green’s the algae bloom
of lake jammed at its source,
the sinkhole dammed
with an old Datsun 710
which careened of a hot
road and plunged all
the way down, my mouth
filling up with lake and
murk, bossa nova on
the radio shorting out.
Every day now come summer
the sun hauls me up
and out, still dripping
from that strange dream
which drowned my embrace
and washed my verses clean.

Sun Ghetto (2004)

In the ghetto of the sun
we age into rough skins,
for a lifetime of arousals
weds to a ring of fire.
In the Daytona TJ Maxx
princes and paupers searched
for threads of that ire,
seeking to ferry it far
into the dream waters
of infinite night. Phat boyz
with tattooes in faux
hip hop hats weave
trails of hot jive
everywhere but home,
exactly where the Venus
of summer yearning
bids them come.
On the other side of
the store the gals
try to fit into brilliance
despite child after child
the sun hid inside them
while they dazzled
the sands. Inside the store
it’s cool and soft-lit,
a bower of new
clothes over which the
sun at full throttle
levels all with its scythe.
There is no aging here
in the sun’s archipelago,
only heat which fans
to a lesser or greater roar
something we’ll never
hold in our hands.
We’re no different here,
my wife looking for
pants to fit a frame
thinned by worry, me
for shorts and shirts
more generous to my girth
We too are regents of
a summer that we are
old enough sailors in,
sealing our house tight
with a/c, slathering thick
the SPF40 before
heading out to pull
weeds in the garden.
Over us the sun makes
its high thrall while
we try to make it matter
less if at all -- to love
the endearing enduring
which cares to make a bed
big enough to catch the
wheeled ball and hold
it in our arms as we sleep
less it drag us under
where all sunburners
blight the ur-burbs of death:
A glittering trailer parked
on the shores of a thong,
a blazing isthmus
cramming mouths with
a music that can never end,
cannot quench, cannot arise
since the ghetto of summer
never favors or falls.

The Sun At Sea (2004)

Easter Sunday, 2004

There is a God (some say),
A deep,but dazzling darkness.
— Henry Vaughan

All night the great sun
walks beneath the wave,
his heat and brilliance
a riptide in the dark
we dream as the sea.
My crannog is his shape
below, one page of
his transit; as ink on
paper his step in abyss.
The poem reflects his
form of light in obverse,
a shade the great depth
shadows. Such mind
by nature is the music
of salt menses, the three
steps inside which precedes
every waking rouse.
My vigil is defined
by the last of each night,
still and hushed, the
dark not so much about
as pressing heavily down
with every oppression
of Time. I write on his
crannog as he passes
below, my hand his stride
as he moves full circle
to the same brightening
hour. Singing as such is
in the service of paired
numens, sun and sea in
bed nose to tide, heat
of the heart coiled in
the dark of the mind,
an angelus of sky arch
making love to dark soak.
Last night I drowsed
deep from the day’s
exhausting work cutting
back the azaleas and a
long trunk of the camphor
tree which swarms our
back yard. My skin hot
with the sun which blared
bright all day in cloudless
skies. My sleep was some
hiss of that sun under
sea, the elements confirming
both love and poetry
through each other in
plunging obliquity. My
wife next to me arcing
on the moon over the
earth in that sea shared
with stars and a Gulf
Stream of high winds.
We’ll meet at first light
to wake our shared day,
our bodies lifting and
dipping the source, spinning
in ways we will never
fully surmise, at work
again, our hearts nailed
together in the next
Easter sunrise.

Cupid (2000)

Well, you asked for this
or thought you did.
Staring out at the combers
of a moon-fraught night
with the hard salt breeze
so fresh & the wide sea
singing of beds and drowse.
You just stood there
like a door with the
waves runneling sweetly
over your naked feet.
So I shot you clear through,
barbed you balls to brain.
I knew I’d hit my mark
when the ocean leapt
into your eyes.
All of the nouns which
anchored you in one harbor
now scuttling loose on the
seabed and your boat
far far away
with no oar you trust,
no sail you understand
how to unfurl. No way to
stop the night now
streaming through
your protests and denials.
Well, you asked for it,
you belong to me now.
Not that I have the least
interest in what happens
next. I’m off: Tell the wind
if you must how your
poems blow like loosened sails.
Explain your sorrow
and guilt to the
million shattered
whelks you call sand.
Me, I’ve sighted some
other sucker twenty
yards down the shore
standing like you did,
staring at the swells
agape like a boy
who doesn’t know
he’s all trussed up
for a turkey shoot.
See the arrow
I’ve pulled from my quiver?
So long and elegant
and barbed so sharp
he won’t know
what began in him
til he’s finished.
Just like you,
lover boy.

Burning Arrow (2004)

My parents’ love was great
at my conception, or simply
love demanded a marker
of what came together: I
was born with a birthmark
over my heart of a red
inverted heart with an arrow
through it. Amazing,
perhaps, but I was only its
flesh, its red scar, an
amusing anecdote for the
years. My parents were
supposed to name me
Jonathan but looking at
my squally mug in post-op
swaddling said, no, he’s
a ((Brendan)), which in Hebrew
means “Son of Love.” You
can see the logic, heartfelt
as it was from two parents
who found love no easy
thing: Perhaps the birthmark
was inverted because they
were doomed to be together
for years in sump of repeated
slings and hurts. The birthmark
faded when I was 3 or so,
which was also when I
fell in love for the first time
with Paula across the street
who played topless took
me to the park to hunt for
worms. (Sitting in a cop
car I watched my father
hollering at me in pantomime
as we pulled into the
driveway. Anyway, like
a reversed Tarot Card
my years can be read as
Love’s burning saw down
a heart, a beloved son
unloved by the world,
split by its cruelties,
spilt for all the wrong
causes & reasons. I won’t
try to psychoanalyze here
-- wrong altar today -- nor
will I ask for your sympathy
(I don’t deserve any, my
life has actually been
gifted & rich for all the
outer wrongs & my personal,
poisonal silliness.). Instead
today I simply wonder if
there was since early on
a second person or agency
growing withing me, a
shadow twin, an alternate
or, perhaps, an antecedent
history, my heart reversed
in that mirror & burning
down into the gravity of
a dark other. Amor’s wings
folded round a smoky torch
& falling into the sea.
We are told that his is a
devilish ire, rebellious of
God, rioting in dark places
with drunkards and fleshpots
in love in the worst ways.
Certainly that has been my
woe, my own cruelty in
this world, and my sins in
it have been great. Yet
I woke up here today in
a sweet house of marriage, an
inconsequential man whose
first hours are loyal yet to
this second, quicksilver world,
my ears cocked to a surf’s
poundage while yet paying
attention for sounds of my
wife waking upstairs. I burned
through all the crap of a life,
both illed and willed, to reach
this vantage where there is
so much work to do now that
the personal gain’s been lost.
The first thing I do each
morning is get on my knees
& ask my God for sobriety
of mind and froth of soul,
and to be given the tools to
be a worthy instrument of
His will. Question is, whose
will is that? Heaven’s? Love’s?
The poem between them?
I cannot know, but I can hone
this usefulness, keeping my
motions wet and my words
half-dark, loving the woman
I have been graced with
and this life which was cast
long ago in a spray of seed,
when two difficult people
came together for the only
reason Love, or God, requires.
There is little to do with this
poem now but end it with
a dream of a well filled
with bone- and heart-cinders
and brine, cold where I
can’t know yet say in some
useful, loving way, making of
this motion a scythe the way
a burning arrow
transfixed a whole life.

Sea Forge (2004)

My forge is down the boughs
of an esplumoir rooted
in a sea I’ve never found --
a crannog, if you will,
where I shoe the waves
of song. From this white
chair in any suburb’s
drowse at predawn’s
pause before spring
I tong the iron bones
of time into my heart
and hold them there
this while, feeding blue
fire, unlocking drowned
spires; and hammer
here cauldron-plates
and grailing cups
which neatly fit these
black hooves two margins
wide. Then slap haunches
of what will not shut up,
and watch the next
poem ride wild toward
the next soft bosoming
isle. An old tide rocks
the upper branches of
this aerie, dreaming of
You again. Down here
where nothing remains
the trunk descends
for miles, a cathedral
where dark is the pope’s
own hat, and whales,
ship-hulks, and all lost
songs choir. Your forge
is fiercest there, inside
sweet Thetis’s underwear,
the abyssal lass whose
pale salt ass ends
every draft with her
exiting, exulting Amen
-- white wings beyond
the door under the sea
which no words have
ever cupped, much
less seen. So I toil on,
merry in my motions
even if no one ever
cares to know. Oran sang
for fifteen centuries
down a well now lost
to time. Certainly these
white mares I shoe in
this salty blue crannog
will gallop over crashing foam
to one day find You coming home
this day only,
or perhaps forever.

Dragon Tale (2003)

For arrested drunks like me, there
Are only two ways to live -- The
One astride the dragon’s tail, the
Other always rowing here. When
I’m riding red I’m far afield
Burning cities, hearts, and sense to
Char, backwarding on the blade which
Slices off my own ass grabbing
All I cannot have. Off tail I’m
Pure drollery, the sea before dawn,
Nothing in my moves to catch the
Torching eye. Drunks climb on that wild
Thirst and never wake; their nightmare
Flies for life. Let them sear in soar.
My living’s calm though words here roar.

The Burning Bush (Nov. 2004)

Men build strong roofs
& lock their doors & windows
seeking to prevent those
shafts from Cupid
but (and because) let
that puff pastry
guzzled on Venus milk
find an opening
in the phalanx
(of course he can)
& watch a man
shot by fire
exhaust and ruin
his mortal days
trying to fuck her
(or him) (or it)
but good, if only
for just once.
You’d think
that gold barb
sails straight
between the ears
to see those fools
gambit and gamble
for just one lucky
roll, pushing all
their chips to the
center of the felt.
Amazing how their
fire burns a city
down to fumes &
ennui just to
hasten the inch
of one kiss, one
clench, one sweet
soaring rail of
of unholy,
uncompromising ire.
And then it’s gone,
freighted off in
that suckling’s quiver
to zap some other fool
through the next
Achilles heel.
Nothing of that fire
remains in the chill
of first raw light
where waken empty
and stilled, bankrupt,
all former intimacies
frozen, tossed, dead.
And the men
(or women) wander
through what’s left
like lamps without
a wick or fuel,
their eyes harrowed,
hallowed maybe,
by shadows of
that brilliance
which presumed
to ride the sun
for just a second,
maybe two, long
enough to kiss that
fire & melt and
then come to
watching the world
take shape again
in a dark spot
at the tough end
of one long horrifying
fall. O that we could
be like the bush
that God enveloped
in a voice balloon
of flame and yet
stayed green when
He had said His fill.
That our wick dipped
ever in that pure fuel
welled from our
former nights.
That each
poem I launch here
could burn paper mast
and keel all the way
across to you, and
yet still unfold
in your pale hands
enough to spill
wind and wave
all over every shore
burning beyond
this I and Thou.

Sun and Sea (2004)

The sun rolled westward
in its golden car
where it met then mated
the great sea’s coilage,
their child this ire
of new and old blue fire.
The poet I know works
well at this depth,
surrounded by the sea’s
submergings at this
deep station before dawn,
light over my shoulder,
books sprawled in my lap,
eyes wide open
to the fins which rise
and winnow by.
This poem wings
best below the bower
of its parentage, singing
of that dazzling soak
which wombs the next
great day. Wheels of
that car turning slow but
inside wifely blue
sighs, furrowing the
marge which shouts
in birthing exultation
the firmament of sky
with its huge hoary sun
astride a dolphin’s back.
What more need I say?
Two cultures wooed and
won the whale roads
of this swiving heart:
one emerges here singing
astride a blue shining cart.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bones of Fire (November 2004)

... How many regions in space
that have already been
Inside me. There are winds
that seem like my
wandering son.

-- Rilke Sonnets To Orpheus, Book II, 1

... And Manannan heard the man say:
"I will give you love and home and
peace." The sea-woman listened to
that, and said: "And I will bring you
the homelessness of the sea, and
the peace of the restless wave, and
love like the wandering wind."

-- Fiona MacLeod, "The Children of the Water"

Wind and wave both stir
the lyre you house in me
with fates from distant
shores. Through this
opened window float
those voices as if rising
from some outermost
inside, washing through
the maples in the front yard
with a high soft chant.
Surely it was ferried here
on the backs of whales
as they hauled between
the iceberg and the gale,
lamped only the burning
wings of northern lights,
their booming spume
and diving drone
intoning the angelic
Hyperborean name of God.
Let me render back
that cold driven wilderness:
and ride here those foaming steppes,
a million-mile prairie
bordered only by an
infinite sky and miles
of brine below. Let Thor
blow all his hammers
and Manannan reach
from the towering wave
to hand me his silver cup
from which all oceans
and ocean loves have poured.
Let shore-strewn stones reveal
their polar hearts,
still glowing with the
lucence of that drowned
constellation where we
coiled and plunged
through all the primal
names and woke up
alone to wander
on, like wind and wave,
between the ache of night
and waking dawn,
singing all the shores
that icy lonely distant
fire were written on.

Book of Winds

I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as a lamb. It is not a piece of feminine Spitalfields silk -- but it is of the horrbile texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it.

-- -- Melville on Moby Dick in a letter to Hawthorne

The Abandoned Deep (1976)

A wet wind brushed my face:
those jagged clouds are not angels:
Mother, I long for a bleaker space,

free to roam with grey eyes
among the grim legion of dead
November trees where voices cry

For the darkening coils of a sea
Reaching for the petrel moon.
Such deaths as mine cannot be grieved

By the ticking of a clock
Or the payment of a sum.
Abandoned souls cannot dock

In garden or bay. Instead let winds
lash and hurl their furies on me:
wave-weary boulders are my closest kin.

Drunks On The Beach (1980)

They tilt and todder
over seaweed clumps
'n' broken shells.
"Mother of whores,"
snarls the tall one,
kicking back a wave;
sea birds shit on them.
The short one finds
a beached loggerhead,
long dead and half-buried
in the sand.
"My turn," he bawled,
and eloquently spat
on all the women
he had known.
They belch and caterwaul
the tide, two drunks on the beach,
two wobbly wonders
the sea has room for:
She floats their driftglass
eyes away, and off they go,
two true sons, their curses
lost on the surf,
their tiny fists beating the wind.

In Losing (1981)

In losing there is the coming of night.
Waves recede, revealing
The heart's flapping fish.

Slow jazz plays on and on,
Spinning around a deep deep cut,
Washed by sewage and brine.

Eventually, riderless horses appear
On the beach with wild manes
Coursing in the wind,
Their cold eyes asking,
Shall we take you home?

You must decide how much
There is to lose
In losing.

Cold Front (1988)

All day long I have desired you.
A cold front has arrived, muscular,
driving jagged clouds on a hard sea of air.
Sunlight flashes in the kitchen window
then flips to darkness, like a closing
eye. I cup a mug of coffee in
my hand. It is smooth and round and
hot to the touch.

The kitchen is still. I want you,
as an alcoholic who gives up on
his sobriety and hurries for a drink.
If I touch you, I will not stop.
A tree outside erupts in wind.

Your breast is pressed to my ear,
filling it, I'm sure I can hear your
heart, incessant. . . but you're at work.
I eat an apple in the kitchen, sitting
on a stool by the window. Each bite
is crisp cold sweetness. They say
it's going to chill into the thirties
tonight. The moon will be full.
We've talked on the phone of travelling
to the beach tonight, of walking along
the shore in the stiff wind. We
say we will share a room.

I have lost control of my desire for
you, I am afraid. Part of me has already
made love to you, during a kiss I
mounted you and looked into your eyes
and came, my temples pounding. . .

Over two rooftops I see the tops of
three palm trees bend far, their leaves
flapping furiously, lashed by the tidal
air. I strap on an electric guitar
and crank up the amplifier. I play
wild rock and roll, I sweat and lurch,
my fingers attack the frets, I make
the notes squeal, I pillage.

My room fills with stampeding horses.
They have angry eyes, they have wild
manes that flutter like the devil's cape.
My hand clutches the hard guitar neck.
I'm searching for your thighs.

It grows colder out, and colder still.
The sky turns mercilessly blue. I pack
my guitar away, bury it in the thick
red plush, lock the case and slideäit beneath my bed.
Kneeling, I finally give it to God, it's too much,
I can't wait any longer, I must have
her. . .

A moment of silence, then another.
Could this be grace? I sit at my desk.
Lamplight is warm but austere. My
face in the window hangs there, mute,
no wolf or good timer. A blast of
wind rocks the window. This pen hefts,
fills with ink, it turns its mouth
on virgin paper.

And hungers.

These Cold Winds (1991)

These cold winds who maul
the orange rows are no angels,
no caul of Jesus or sainted compass,
no brine spray of virgin tears:

These cold winds sing old Seminoles
who fell here in their long descent,
fluting their exile through thier
bones now deep in the aquifer;

These cold winds shadow my brother
as walks down the final shore,
eating his days like a sullen tide,
drowning his words its raging choir:

These cold winds blow contagion
all night through tropic dreams,
freezing the fruit on every bough,
shouting us down each bitter strand.

The Standoff (1989)

Taken from a photo in the paper:
a man in a doorway holds a gun
to his head with one hand, in the other a beer.
Two police face him from behind a shield.

I stand at the door, half-in, half-out,
the winter morning jagged and cold
like the snout of this .38 jammed in my ear.
This beerís cold too, each swig
falls slow and mean like Harlem sleet.
But my trigger fingerís colder. Frozen.

Funny, no matter which way you point
a gun, this street always stops to watch:
the two cops cowering behind their shield,
squad cars phalanxed on the sidewalk,
radios squawking, lights strobing bluered bluered,
sunglasses and shotguns glittering
like broken glass in the hard morning sun,
beyond them camera crews edging closer
with the crowd, jostling for a gape at splatter.
Only the paramedics seem bored,
smoking together by the ambulance.

The shield before me talks like a TV daddy,
trying to babble me down from here
with such shit about its not too late
and give yourself another chance. I mean really.
But that dull plate looks like my old man,
a shadow in steel that canít be shattered,
sending me off again with that cold winter stare.
Drunk father, dark father, take no prisoners, rage.

How long? An hour, two? It isn't up to me.
I just stand here like the piano man
at the Pussy Prowl on stage between the babes,
that old sorry ass blues mooning
from my fingers like a shot of bad whiskey.
Hold me up to the light and you see
the same malt nigger nothing.
You'd pull the trigger too.

It's too cold for the grace my momma
said would always come if we prayed.
This angel just wants my ass.
A wind off the lake sweeps in,
swirling up litter up in tight funnels,
and a truck backfires, startling the crowd:

Then suddenly itís happening,
everyone screaming Do It Fucker!
the cameras click and whirl like startled pigeons,
and the cops behind the shield cower holy Jesus,
and the winter sky barrels down on the city
like a molester on a shivering pale girl,
and blood erupts in the stone of my finger,
screaming nothingís getting in, man
I take no prisoners
I squeeze my eyes shut and
shut and shut
and shut

Dream (1989)

I visit the Temple of Apollo. I'm on a plain, a field in Kansas, where my brother and I tried to till our father's soil but ended up fighting and feeling betrayed by our father. The time is 1971, a "seed-time," my brother and I both unitiated. Feeling betrayed by Nixon, by our errant father.

Anguished, I seek Apollo by going into a swank hotel and ascending to the top, a stone temple. I'm a poor pilgrim, don't have much to do with the opulence below. The temple is big and spacious, very ancient, with windows or portals open to a wide sky. A temple of the wind?

Apollo enters, a man in his 40's, Christlike in a flowing robe. I feel like a child standing next to such power and grace. I have a question for him which burns in my heart: I want to know how the god speaks, to see if he truly does as Rilke wrote in his Sonnets to Orpheus, that "song is like a gust inside the god/A wind." But I feel so clumsy and inept, feeling how my every attempt to sing falls so terribly short.

Apollo's response is silence, a gesture that encompasses me, pulls me into a calm, silent center. A reasurrance, like a father's hug, that I will not be left on my own as I continue to write and plow the fields.

Thracian Wind (2000)

Now in this season for me
there is no rest from love,
out of the hard bright sky
a Thracian wind blowing
with searing rages and hurt-dark,
pitiless, sent by Aphrodite-Love
rocks and tosses my heart.

--Ibycus of Rhegiumm, transl. R. Lattimore

Soft and fair is the ocean
in its first bright days
but love also can darken,
its swells capped with
maenad foam salt-bitter
and full of tooth.
Now a hard breeze rocks
the boats in the harbor,
their tethers creaking
and unraveling to hands
stronger than our own.
A will beneath our will
hauls the swimmers far out.
The only route to safety
is oblique: Swimming
sideways from what frontally
mauls. Arriving at new names
like bright banners of warning
whipping flames on the beach.
Understand that any kiss
is peril in this wind.

Energies (2000)

from "A Breviary
of Guitars"

((the narrative
here picks up
from my history
in autumn 1983 and
weaves into the
present of its writing
in 2000

Ah squandered!
What oily
squeaky leaky
squawky rotgut
floozy flights of
frenzy I lost
on a bottle(s)
and a night(s):
What a raging
river of booze
I drank: What
sea did I ever
approach: Christ
when I read back
over the journals
of that time the
motions are like
Homeric pithies:
"After practice
we headed out"
a shorthand for
"ever more furious
excess" and the
prayerful "when will
it ever stop?": O
the energies
provided out the
gates of excess:
Wish I had
a nipple for every
night I suckled
too much booze:
I drank my
guitar into
its grave: The
partying was
always more primary
a motion than
the playing: The
lesser but more
immediate angel,
the easier flight:
O the energies
within "the fiery
drink of the black
mother" as the
Greeks called booze.
boon of slaves,
bane of empires:
But that's just
one trope on
those energies which
dissolve all names:
My father told
me round that
time of an
encounter he'd had
at Iona - in a
half mad or half
dreaming or half
otherworldly state
in which he met a
huge ugly man
at some outer
& neglected corner
of the island: Terrible
& churlish, loathsome
though my father
only felt a great
love for the
monster: The
being's name was
Thor & he was
a guardian energy
of the ancient island,
one of a council
of energies my
father invited
to come live
with him at his
Columcille: He
believes they
rooted in the
stone chapel &
stone belltower
& in the standing
stones: Surely
they inhabit the
titanic work that
went into building
Columcille: I've
never felt more
exhausted than
at the end of
a work day on
that property: Those
energies drink our
mortal blood &
enthusiasm like a
booze for angels:
The energies
demand it all:
Sleep is a sieve
which washes
blue physic
through mind
and body &
we wake ready
to harness the
plow again: Like
a Celtic
warrior killed in
battle & dropped
in Manannan's
cauldron at
the bottom of
the sea to
rise again fever-
bright & ready
for the next
fray the next
day: Today it's
Friday & I'm
beat from another
fierce week of
short sleep &
early rising &
long rows down
these pages &
then working
out furiously
in the gym
(the energies
gales & hammers
& hoofs outta
each workout)
& then fighting
the good war
for on the job
& battling the
competition & bad
billings & staff
fucking off: &
Then coming
home to maintain
the marital dance
with sans sex:
All duty
no booty: Have
I ever worked
a day harder?
The energies of
such a life
lived thusly
rage at 95
to 105 percent
of max, a static
pace which
sees no horizon,
no port: Energies
anneal their own
fire, their own
mode of life:
Through them I've
burnt up many
lives: Hard
years of long
days devoted to
Jesus sales
& years of
monastic study
alone in a room
far west & years
of chasing a
dream of music
& years of AA
& therapy
& professional
work & finishing
college & writing
through to here
Such devotions
have the teeth
of compulsion,
discipline an
iron collar I
ratchet as
far down as I
can: Horsed
and goaded
by those burn
angels Force
(Bia) and
My father looks
old for his years,
his poor body has
taken a major
shellacking from
years in the
service of stone:
Nerve damage
in his neck
where a huge
stone hit him
falling off the
belltower & feet
numb & several
toes amputated
from years
of walking on
stone rows:
I've got ear
damage from
years of loud
music & liver
damage from
booze & speed
& a bum shoulder
from too much
swimming &
lifting & aerobics
all at the same
time & dim
eyes from all
the reading &
carpal damage
from all the
& a damaged
heart from
all the fires
of love: Lack
of sleep I'm
sure ebbs some
other vital fuse:
Not by providence
but victory
the energies
scream in
my deep inner
ear & the
dolphin swims
on & down:
Like Thor's
hammer thrown
at an ever
distant mark
I have become
the work to
the utter detriment
of any other
life: Full time
husband, athlete,
worker, writer,
all in one: Yet
how much more
the energies
require: Not
more lines down
the page but
finer rages right
here: Not
more weight on
the press but
better form
& focus - nail
those muscles
in their clench:
Not more sex
but better loving:
Not more hours
on the job but
another level of
the work
hurling better
& loftier & more
hammers: Ah
but why bitch:
Think of what
the energies demanded
of my wife's
nephew on that
January day
he died, a day
which seems too
long ago: How
his blood must
have raced to
head out to
the beach on
a fine day, cop
some rays, listen
to some jams,
drink some beers,
eye the pretties,
drive hard and
fast and harder
and faster &
even harder
faster till he
was plucked like
a fruit ripened
by the energies
which demanded
that he never
stop, never buckle
up: Think on
that then wonder
if your lot is
all that bad, pal:
They let you
survive all
those failed
guitars & women
you wrongly
nailed: How
many times they
could have tore
you from the branch
you so willingly
hung from:

The Devil's Door (2003)

Saxon churches had
an infernal door facing
north: some say it was
where the pagan
population entered in
order to worship at
the old Pagan site the
churches had taken over:
Your bias was known
by which door you
entered: Some Sussex
people believed that
the Devil waited outside
the door for anyone
foolish to use it: Most
Sussex churches now
keep the north door
permanently blocked:
Recall that Oran
travelled north from
where he was buried
in the Columba
abbey footers, descending
down and north into
the infernal ice regions
of Hell: This Well
drills north, it swells
with cold-as-hell waters:
At the end of my
workouts at the gym
I ease down into a
cold splash bath and
remain there some 5
minutes applying
physic to sore knees
& back with 48-degree
water: Seal-cold waters,
North Sea waters:
Survivors of the wreck
of the Titanic died of
hypothermia in these
waters, blueing into
tiny frozen clumps
knocking like billiard
balls against the icebergs:
When I can stand
no more in the splash
I submerge, hanging in
that terrific cold for a
moment praying "by
the Rock of Saint
Columba sworn": Upon
Oran's cold-splashed
bones I build this deep
chapel: Through the
Devil's Door I egress
and transgress, ripping
my daily vowel
movement: Baptized by
the waters the north
craps its icebergs into:
Harrowed by the ice-lords
and snow-queens found
there, brute island after
island: to Callanish &
the Orkneys & beyond
where the cruel north
gale of Thor hammers
& hearkens: Hell's balls
bell a thrall of lacy icy
fire: Primal foam where
drear demiurges roam:
North door ringed with
skulls: Where the bony
apparition lies in wait
to confound & ferry us
home: I'm writing runes
today on the Devil's Door
for all who would transgress
here in the pedigree of
most ancient stone: Down
and north, sound the
buckets down to that
dark island where the
bones of the fathers pack
the loam: Marrow this
song with those cold ribs
& ghost peckers: They
are the rock upon which
all churches we know
grow:For those who would
worship here you must
use the queer door so fair
and foul which opens to
an upside down demesne
of backassed whirl:
Heaven's down here, folks
-- below -- it's where the
angels all go when pieties
fail and Leviathan's gullet
is a beehive cell: Not so,
sighs the wind outside
the Devil's Door.
Not here. And
welcome home.

Ivanescence (Summer 2004)

(Copyist's note: this poem was launched when Hurrican Ivan seemed
to be bearing down on New Orleans.)

The Minoan women's custom,
which seems so strange to us,
of totalling baring their breasts
on festive occasions, is perfectly
natural if they were playing the
role of nurses of Dionysos.

-- Carl Kerenyi, Dionysos: Archetypal
Image of Indestructible Life

For days we watched his slow
procession from the mid-Atlantic
where he was spawned,
taking shape in that counter-
clockwise spin which spanned
like some angel's wings
for hundreds of miles,
marching surely west
and north toward New
Orleans, flattening
every island in its wake.
The ladies called him
months ago at Mardi Gras,
that festival which
prepares for the sacrifice
of one god by giving
birth to this other.
In a caterwaul of booze
and hip-hop the maidens
hiked their tops,
revealing pale breasts
bouncing full and young,
the crosses dangling
between them beset
by winds which know
no assuagement or
suspiration. Oh the legion
of those nipples which
offered suck to him those
raucous boogie nights,
showering if not milk
then some milky light
down on the drunken
hordes below, our mouth
opened wide as Ivan's
girth as he marched
across the sea, the
evanescnce of that sight
his wild tumescence
too, whirling us together
in winds faster than
our roofs sustain, far
greater than our current
truths hold down.
The streets of New Orleans
are empty now as
winds and waters rise,
those high porches
bare, licked clean
by Ivan's greedy mouth.
they called him months
ago, swaying all
those breasts to a
preter-urban beat
in air as hot and
humid as a baby's breath:
Or we did, standing
in the crush below,
engulfed in that rout
and riot and shrill,
banging noise which
lifted something as
we got down, something
spiral in its spire
up through the falling
Savior of our mortal
days, into something
higher, or wilder,
something which we
cut and waved and
hurled far beyond
Easter into some
westwarding sea
where Venusian
shapes are known
to rise, and in that
shape a foam-born
Ivan with his whirling
swaddle of winds.
I wonder how they
watch the news,
those gals who
offered suck at
Mardi Gras, now
safely home with
jobs or school and
boyfriends back in
Pittstown or Council
Bluffs: When you
sleep, do you dream
of Ivan's breath
hot and greedy
so close to your
heightened, aching
nipples? Do you
hear that howl of
hungry wind in
your distant rooms
as it rips the
top off New
Orleans and battens
down and down
and down?

Harness (Nov. 2004)

When did these elements
stop hounding me, and,
like some Actaeon in reverse,
befriend and prow my course?
Perhaps a heart must
is schooled to proper ends
by their darker woods.
Surely I entered them
aching for release
and welcome, not
surrender: The fleeing
quarry so curved
and dapple, focusing
my eyes on a hot
liquidity that made my
ever burning arrow
leap like hounds
from their quiver.
Gale and storm-surge
surely master every
pale pink shore, but
such uses always
drown their makers,
I mean those who
presume to write
their own names
on wind and wild water.
For no matter how
big the pulse of sky
or sea arousing in
my loins, no night
was ever long enough
to reach what I thought
I saw ahead, what I
needed far more than
any beach or bed
could bless. And
the endless fleet
of stricken boats
I captained on nights
long ago, each collapsing
on the rocks offshore,
my cries flying up to God
as I careened on down
a blueblackening, godless ire.
Wind and wave, I've learned,
have no masters, none
at least we can mortally
presume. I am just two to
three sheets of paper folded
so to fly or float whither
their own high/deep augments
will. Each morning I
harness this white writing
chair to wet so windy hooves
with every intent of finding
you upon the next pale shore,
though I'm equally as sure
I'll not find you there
or anywhere these coursers
deem to ferry me.
Wind and wave are
harnessed not to the
man but his making,
and race not toward
his heart but its breaking.
There she is altared
and survives whatever
names I tide on in
on ever-falling sand.
See: the hourglass
is empty and another
poem's been loosed
with news of my old welcome
which you'll find on that
shore I'll never reach.
Unfold and read it
like a letter from the heart
you left behind that
night so many years ago.
These words are carried
to you on that wind and
wave in which you'll always find
the sweet and bitter traces
of my ever grateful smile.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I Heard It In Your Womb (Washing In My Wound)

Ranier Maria Rilke
Sonnets to Orpheus I.xx
transl. Stephen Mitchell

But Master, what gift shall I dedicate to you,
who taught all creatures their ears?
--My thoughts of an evening long ago,
it was springtime, in Russia--a horse...

He came bounding from the village, alone, white,
with a hobble attached to one leg,
to stay alone in the fields all night;
how the mane beat against his neck

to the rhythm of his perfect joy, in that hindered
gallop across the meadow.
What leaping went on in his stallion blood!

He felt the expanses, and oh!
He sang and he heard--your cycle of myths
was completed in him.
His image: my gift.

Horse Tattoo (2002)

By some defect of soul
I’ve got it all reversed:
my downs appeal,
forward steps appall.
For my first three years
I carried a strange birthmark,
a red heart with an arrow
through it, right over my heart.
Cute, eh? A woman who
babysat for me back then
once remarked to my mother,
he aint gonna be nuthin’
but a lover.
Only the mark
was upside down. A backwards love.
May that’s why I like tattoos.
I got my first one of
a man riding a dolphin
etched on my left upper
arm in a greeny blue
right after my first marriage.
It replicates a figure from
my father’s chosen coat
of arms (fanciful at best),
some rebel spirit who
cruises between love and
iniquity. Years later
after a split with my second
wife a second tattoo
seemed necessary. I’d
always like the Uffington
Horse, that huge figure
carved into a chalk hillside
in England. It looks like a
horse, though locals swear
it represents the dragon
Saint George slew nearby.
Somehow that was apt:
having left home in a funk
of desire and drunkenness,
I had that careening spirit
carved into my right arm
not in red—as dragons go—
but instead in black, the
negative of that white ichor
which illuminates that
hill horse’s bones.
Well, I didn’t die of that
spirit—not yet—and I’m
working my way slowly
home again to my wife.
So the tattoo, I guess, is
an irony, the road eventually
not taken which only leads
to ruin. I’m branded by
the fires which drove me here:
Are they good or ill, or
simply mine? Am I some
inwarding beast mined
from love’s reversals?
I will never know for sure.
Today, I’m proud and fearful
of those markings: They light
the way ahead for me
with their weird, otherworldly glow,
balled makings with nowhere
right now to go.

The Uffington Horse (2003)

The locals say I am the beast
St. George slew, his white sword nailing
The heart of this hill. Well, time weaves
Tales around the hearts of men, but
I am no altar to the need
To kill the winged insides of
Every kiss. Recall how kings of
Old were taken up the hill to
Mount a pure white mare, his flesh in
Hers turned sceptre beneath the white
Applause of stars. I Rhiannon
Ride this high ground like the crest of
The ninth wave. My saddle is a
High hard throne -- mount me, if you dare.
Plunge your song in salt everywhere.

Surf Saddle (Nov. 2004)

Of course I blew it. Mistook you
for the woman who was
only meant to reveal you.
Tried to fuck my way through
her to you. It’s what young fools
do. It’s how I found a purchase
on the narrow path to you.
When all the grief bit down
and through. Those bitter
departures, the mooing heart,
the endless ululations
in the petulance of booze:
As if something so poetic
must also be so literally
true as to return with
risen nipples from the grave.
All that passionate flinging
tried to sing the hallows
you absent -- nice beat,
steady wavelike rhythm, all
the horses loosed & me
growing hoarse shouting
across dark waters beyond,
transgressing every bed
for you. But desire never
changes without a moulting
god; I’m too hard wired
as a fool for that, and you,
you are no god.
Only after having nailed
myself for so many
years to that stone bone
cross did the the wounds
seek abbots, those
dactyls who surrender
by translating the
desire, hammering
a shape of seem upon
a beach of paler fire.
Forging a relation from
all those farewells. To make
a bliss of resonance after
the wave’s certain collapse.
It’s hard to put this into
words, but when has loving
you ever been easy?
In this weave I hone
an ear attuned to that
surf wilderness that swells
and washes just beyond
or under a life’s laboring
to make love real and last.
I hold that music up
an inch above the tide,
praising those foam fillies
and curved lamias I
was never meant to ride.
Each poem is a saddle
for that gallop all the way
almost to you which I’ll
never mount enough.
The music of each
one’s making is the song
that beds you here,
for just a second,
in the wash. That’s what
I figure on the island
that I walk today,
surrounded by that
ocean whispering
which shells and bells
your name.

The Water Horse

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
Transl. From the Gaelic by Eilean Ni Chuilleanain

At first it was only in her dreams
That he came and lay with her.
On the day
She was supposed to be minding the cows
In Sheep Cove (she was reading Dickens, "The
Old Curiosity Shop,"
And cows were the last thing on her mind)
She saw the porpoises flocking out in the bay.
Her heart almost stopped.
She thought they were her cows, all of them
Fallen at once from the cliff to the water.
She thought she'd get a hammering at home
And she had jumped up in her agitation
Before she saw what the bodies were.
That was the first time he appeared to her there.
And after that
He came to her again and again.
At first his clothing seemed so strange to her:
The breastplate, the fishbone greaves and the casque,
The long gloves made from the skin of eels,
His whole style recalling
The sub-human creatures from B movies:
"The Creature from Sheep Cove," or an Irish cousin of
King Kong.
But when he took the helmet from his head
And his fine horse's mane loosened on his shoulders
She saw clearly that he was a young man.
Then came the day He laid his head on her breast. The
sea-creatures were hooting below them on the
water And the porpoises in shining troops around them.
(Later in the evening
They were seen by people out after cows on the mountain.)
And in a foreign tongue she understood
Though she could not properly make out the words,
He asked her to comb his hair
And crush with her long nails
The creatures that were pestering his head.
She did what he asked.
She was humming softly under her breath
Soothing him, when she got the fright
That stopped her heart again: seaweed and rock dillisk
Were growing among the roots of his hair.
She guessed at once what was going on
And that it was bad news. Then
When she felt the tips of his ears she knew
That not only Labhraidh Loirc in the old story
Had ears like a horse's ears.
Yet although the cold sweat was running down her skin
She gave herself a pinch in the thigh
Or two or three, and said nothing.
She went on combing his hair the whole time
Humming and murmuring
Lullabies and scraps of songs
To soothe him and beguile him into sleep
And then when she heard his breathing
Changing to the sighs of a sleeper
She undid the strings of her apron
Gently and quickly
And she ran for it,
She made it up the cliffs in a flash
To the house of her people. At first,
All they could get from her was a streel of nonsense
About seaweed roots and horse's ears. At length,
When her people at home had laboured to make out
The meaning of what she was saying, they knew at once
Right on the spot that it was the water horse.
They rose up and put on their clothes,
Their battle-gear and took their weapons,
And out they went as an armed patrol
To find and kill him.
Afterwards they all said she was lucky.
She was, and it was a near thing; one slip,
One step awry and he'd have swallowed her,
Right down, live and kicking, blood and bones.
Three days after the event
They might have found her liver, a couple of lungs and
Picked up around the high-tide mark.
That was the sort of beast he was.
It was true for them, she knew it.
And yet she felt the story of that day
Lie heavy on her.
She'd sit there on the cliff edge
Day after day.
And she thought about the green gleam
In the strange eyes that had looked at her with desire,
That was as simple, clean, clear
In its own way as a hearty hunger;
The rhythmic shining of his brown limbs
And how they narrowed to slim wrists
And the shape of the hands.
More than all else she remembered the muscular
Weave of his body that was tense
And light as a tightened bow. The spring
Wound up, alert, constantly
Ready to be released again.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Crystal Cabinet

By William Blake

THE MAIDEN caught me in the wild,
Where I was dancing merrily;
She put me into her Cabinet,
And lock’d me up with a golden key.

This Cabinet is form’d of gold
And pearl and crystal shining bright,
And within it opens into a world
And a little lovely moony night.

Another England there I saw,
Another London with its Tower,
Another Thames and other hills,
And another pleasant Surrey bower,

Another Maiden like herself,
Translucent, lovely, shining clear,
Threefold each in the other clos’d—
O, what a pleasant trembling fear!

O, what a smile! a threefold smile
Fill’d me, that like a flame I burn’d;
I bent to kiss the lovely Maid,
And found a threefold kiss return’d

I strove to seize the inmost form
With ardour fierce and hands of flame,
But burst the Crystal Cabinet,
And like a weeping Babe became—

A weeping Babe upon the wild,
And weeping Woman pale reclin’d,
And in the outward air again
I fill’d with woes the passing wind.

Full Moon at Cocoa Beach (1995)

The surf was pounding
the air when we climbed
out of my car, hurling
sea mist toward
a full moon now
breaking from clouds.

The pier was closing early
that night, swarmed
by the high surf
of a hurricane's
turbulent pass
many miles to sea.
The guard said
an advisory was out
for a high tide come morning
with fifteen foot waves.

We leaned on a rail
halfway down the pier
and watched the night.
The horizon a wash of
foam and darkness.
Shards of moon
scattering like silver fish
in the glassy curl
of a wave before tumbling
into foam and thunder
and rocking the pier.

You leaned to watch
a wave pass under,
your dress fanning
wild in the breeze.
The wave I felt
curved that satin and
the mystery beneath
into moon and sea.

Later we walked on
the beach, found
a place to sit
and talked a long while,
telling our stories
as warming strangers do
who find the distance
between them narrowing
to less than tissue.

It was after midnight.
The beach, the sea,
the moon took us
on a silver stream.

It was a gift
that rose unhurried
from the depths of
some heart which must have
always known these things,
recalled from old loves
or the salt soundings of the womb
or perhaps the full store
of ineffable moments
a man and a woman
have ever stumbled on together,
a silver strand of DNA
pulsing and receiving
this tide.

Having forgotten joy
for so long on a road
of deaths small and large,
having gotten so lost amid
hurry and complication
and complacence,
that night slapped
me back to life.

Warmed by something
I can never name,
we opened our arms
to one embrace
and then walked away.

The Iceberg (2000)

This dark room
brushed the
faintest blue
by a full moon
long to the west,
only what’s
Like the delicate
ridges and trills
of ice floating
silent and serene
down a blackened
sea, lucent petals
of what hauls so
massively below
in a dream of
death, or you.

How To Make The Night Thrill Trill Of You

- from Keats Endymion, IV, 689-724

....Still let me speak;
Still let me dive into the joy I seek, —
For yet the past doth prison me. The rill,
Thou haply mayst delight in, will I fill
With fairy fishes from the mountain tarn,
And thou shalt feed them from the squirrel’s barn.
Its bottom will I strew with amber shells,
And pebbles blue from deep enchanted wells.
Its sides I’ll plant with dew-sweet eglantine,
And honeysuckles full of clear bee-wine.
I will entice this crystal rill to trace
Love’s silver name upon the meadow’s face.
I’ll kneel to Vesta, for a flame of fire;
And to god Phoebus, for a golden lyre;
To Empress Dian, for a hunting spear;
To Vesper, for a taper silver-clear,
That I may see thy beauty through the night;
To Flora, and a nightingale shall light
Tame on thy finger; to the River-gods,
And they shall bring thee taper fishing-rods
Of gold, and lines of Naiads’ long bright tress.
Heaven shield thee for thine utter loveliness!
Thy mossy footstool shall the altar be
‘Fore which I’ll bend, bending, dear love, to thee:
Those lips shall be my Delphos, and shall speak
Laws to my footsteps, colour to my cheek,
Trembling or stedfastness to this same voice,
And of three sweetest pleasurings the choice:
And that affectionate light, those diamond things,
Those eyes, those passions, those supreme pearl springs,
Shall be my grief, or twinkle me to pleasure.
Say, is not bliss within our perfect seisure?
O that I could not doubt!”

The mountaineer
Thus strove by fancies vain and crude to clear
His briar’d path to some tranquillity.

What Moon (2002)

Poet of surfside washes,
some moon hauls these words
in its brute train—silver
brother of the savage day, pale fire
soaked in dark—Yet this moon
is both track and tide,
its feral countenance
hanging over the wash
like a maddened bear.
For days I sit here mute
and stretched, whispering
banalities and tripe
for the mere discipline of it,
pouring the same glass of
sea-water all the way down
a numbed beach.
On those days I’m empty
and despairingly minor;
then something shifts or
aligns—mind to God,
balls to tongue, word to world,
heart to heat‚ I don’t know—
but look out!
The lines now hurl and nail
in a blanketing surge.
I mark these rhythms
weekly, some times in days:
for the past two or three years,
I’ve been in a general hard
tide of making which makes
of revision sadly incomplete;
I can’t slow down to work
and rework one poem, not
with this next salt breaker
foaming across the page.
Alignment seems the key,
though it’s also pure mystery,
since I’ll never know to what
allegiance I must swear.
There’s a feral moon
in every making,
a silver salt to tooth all
water back to brine.
I cannot know what
wakens here except
in glimmers and dark gleam;
the hour and day are no compass
for the track it scours;
my job is just to stand
faithfully on this beach
and sing how high the marges
reach. This page is my
hydrographer, a hand
ridden by the surly one
who writes the angry sea.

The Moon In The Man (2004)

Why shouldn’t the moon
ache and throb pale
turbines of desire through us,
torn as we from our source
and destined as we
to wax and wane
high and low? The moon
confirms Pascal’s adage
that there’s a God-shaped hole
in every human heart. It
sails ever homeless in
that milky desire for harbor,
yet folds its wings just where
we shore and at
last touch the sleeping
other - God, Beloved,
the next poem. This tells me
that the moon is love’s
most shadowy sprite,
& is that
echo’s duration in
every wave’s curl
toward collapse.
Mark no angels in the
moon’s westward sail:
it’s motion is my own,
voyager from love
toward love’s
apple island inside
and beyond the next
glowing kiss. And lamp
these emulsions high
with that phosphor which
as all that it reaches for,
welling pure milk from
the pap and lap of God,
sustaining our dreams
and teasing out every
tender blossom of infinte
night. Wild is the moon’s
aura, light by which I
here write, blue-black as
the ocean womb that gave
birth to it, rimmed with
paling dawn, too hot to
the touch glowing around
you as you turn away
from me in sleep
in the high majescule
of one fading sigh.

The Island of The Lucent Candles

(from “The Voygage of St. Brendan,” transl. Lady Gregory (1906)

...After that Brendan went to the church with the Abbot, and they said the evening prayers together very devoutly. And Brendan saw beautiful woven stuffs, and chalices of clear crystal, and in the quire were twenty-four seats for the twenty-four brothers and a seat for the Abbot in the middle of them all. And Brendan asked the Abbot how long it was they had kept silence so well that no one of them spoke to the others, and the Abbot said "Our Lord knows no one of us has spoken to another these fourscore years." And when Brendan heard that he cried for joy and "Dear Father" he said "for the love of God let me stop along with you here." "You know well" said the Abbot "you have no leave to do that, for has not our Lord showed you what you have to do, and that you will turn back to Ireland in the end?"

And as Brendan was kneeling in the church he saw a bright angel that came in by the window and that lighted all the candles in the church, and went out by the window again to Heaven. "There is wonder on me" said Brendan "those candles to burn the way they do and never to waste." "Did you never hear" said the Abbot "how in the old time Moses saw a bush that was burning from the top to the ground, and the more it burned the greener were the leaves? And let you not wonder" he said "the power of the Lord to be as great now as ever it was."

Crystal Shores (today)

Again and again I walk
these crystal shores
where you and I
once met and since
and ever dream.
The tide here is swift
and vast and
septiernally one to one
in its scrolling psalter
of wave after wave,
each one curved and curled
with your every latent
lucency, each one
crashing to crystal
smithereens on that
pale sand, erasing
the prints our feet
left behind. I voyage
every day day from this
white chair to that
pale shore where night
hauls back its sheets
revealing the palest of
pale blues around your
ankles, like moon-glazed
wavelets of ice or
the filaments of your eyes
which lit on me and lured
me out to drown the bottom
of all seas. All that remains
today is the music of that
motion at the wild
shore of an ocean
I’ll never see again,
much less walk hand
in hand ensouled with you.
I became the man you
dreamed you saw
that high cathedral night,
a rogue wanderer
no more, by days the
firm husbandman of love,
in early morning matins
a monk writing down
a crystal-seeming sound
on pages that go deeper
and beyonder than
I ever had real balls to go.
Your fantasy became
the phantasm who burned
through all my years
like a torch, leading me
beyond those ghostly
ghastly wastes where
you never to be found
into this shire of wet
surrender where you
are so meltingly afoot,
so fleetingly agleam.
Here the moon of our
imagined history ignites
each massive wave
I ride toward you
& the smashing tumult of
that foam keeps that
heart--or its memory-- alive.
I’m happy to leave you
here with the offshore breeze
flinging your soft hair
& my song secreted
away inside your black
silk selkie’s thunder-
underwear: To shut
the covers of this
bone-white book
and head upstairs
to join my wife in bed,
telling her how much I
love her as I slowly
stroke her feet: And let
the day slowly wash
in through our big windows
to name our married
day where I’m growing older
and have so much work
left to do. That jazzy
blue periphery that you
and I walked once
is the sweet and simple
liturgy I daily ring, like a
crystal angelus. Lauding
each wave’s kiss of
noctilucent noir, adding
it to that one, incessant,
vastly booming choir.

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