Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fate of the Forefathers

It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perphaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished.

We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our psyches pretend.

-- Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

The Saint (2003)

Then there is the man up there who
Bid me swim deep here, that walls on
Wells may hold. He rose high to spread
God’s wings by burying me here,
My bones the organum of waves
Booming wild on Hy’s hard shores.
I know he dreams of news of me,
Account of other isles I’ve seen.
Futurity has a backwards glance
Fatal to indulge or to curse.
I hear him pacing on the ground
Above, his query like a drum.
He cannot ask, though know he must,
As every story stirs the dust
Of faces that we miss the most.

Hymn to Thoth (2004)

Praise the monkey in the middle
Of my days, mute yet aroused, his
Penis straining up every curve,
His pen writing everything down.
He’s at it all the ding dong day,
Down in a wet scriptorium
Of pelt and poop and prayer, his salt
Gibberish an angel’s brogue, white
As saints in song, blue as the imp’s
Cold refrain. What I write here is
Just poor calligraphy of him
Who says it all with tightened lips.
Inside this hour a beast scrawls poems
On the shores of this darkling heart:
What you read here is his brute art.

The Stone Man (2004)

Dante took his great reading
and threw it into a great peramble,
milking every pap in hell
before walking on up the
spiral stair through world to
greatest God: He wound his
learning round gnosis with
exquisite trope & meter
to harrow his story & the mind
of every man who dare passes
its first black lintel:
I’m tossing my morning’s reading
of Dante into this Well, canto
by molt canto, down into that
raging maw which devours
every words & then sings
this next poem on the
vomited-upon shore:
Dante sourced the rivers
of Hell in the Old Man of Crete,
an enormous statue composed
from the poet’s reading of
the Book of Daniel in the Old
Testament: The figure was
composed from man’s descending
ages -- gold head, shoulders
and arms of silver, bronze torso
“down to the fork” and then from
there on down iron hard as stone,
except for a right foot wrapped
in terra cotta: The whole figure
except for the head was split
by a course of tears running
down the man: He stood between
Egypt and Rome in that breech
which turns from the past
to greet the new: The tears
which split the man spilt down
and round hell, forming
Acheron, Phlegethon, Styx
and Lethe, descending
at last to the frozen lake
called Coeytus: For me
(or we) that man is
better wholly stone:
I dreamed of him long ago
when he jumped from
my expeditionary balloon
over Mystic China, dooming
me to lost aerials: And
in the turnings of my (our)
way he’s reversed his stance,
inversed on my (our) page:
What’s gold is newest
hence most fallen, the
descent of metals like
a rising pulse, renewing
down to purest iron,
the edens of stone and bone:
His face now turns back
toward oldest things,
and water springs not
from the wells of his
eyes but from that
eternally deep chasm
in his loins, & fills
my pen with titan ire:
Every age must greet
this Great Man
and make of him what
we must -- though I suspect
that we are his dream
not vice versa: Ancient
Man whose skull roots my
totem pole, father of
my fathers, source of every
cock-spring verb-thrust
horse-gallop galley-row
once and future spire
up to the feet of the lowest
God: Daniel, Dante,
David, camped on
Goliath’s furry brow
where the winds are
from the Big Bang
and the stars wait
for our song;
I’m all dizzy in my
archons’ plural wings:
Make Your long gaze
the method of my motion.
Be Lord of coming days.
Water this next way.

Between (2004)

Only what is actually loved
and known can be seen
sub specie aeternitati.
-- David Jones

My giant straddles ages
firmaments & dolors.
Between is his one stance,
of well and shore
composed. Compress
in the poem
this Friday morning
and his uncertain
seward gaze.
Both the migraine-
weary stale-coffee-
taste of 5 a.m.
and a tidal angelus
of a vast enacting sleep.
Both the cat in the
window shaped
like a bell or floret
against the cold
dark morning
and the ache in his
balls to hurl
hammers and hooves
on the highest rollers
of salt verse.
Both the missals
no one has seen
for a thousand
years breaking
open in my mind
like fresh bread
and the drawl of
our President telling us
what we want to
hear in that spit-shine
that walks right over
just about everyone.
Both my wife asleep
upstairs beneath
a heavy duvet with
those warm naked
legs I desperately
need to wrap round
these glottals
and the pale wanton
throned under, who
milks my longing
with verbs & verities
& the dark blue velvet
lining of whatever.
It takes a big man
to make tillage of
between, to shire
that shore half-seen,
half-dreamed. To know
I’ll never know more
than this gait instructs.
He seeds these
shorelike ambles
with a welling bliss.
His old steps echo
my next near-miss.
Between my rages,
master, in your blue fork.

The Son in the Sea

As the grain of fire lies concealed in the hyle, so the King’s Son lies in the dark depths of the sea as though dead, but yet lives and calls from the deep: “Whosoever will free me from the waters and lead me to dry land, him I will prosper with everlasting riches.”

The connection with the Rex marinus of the “Visio Arislei” is obvious. Arisleus tells of his adventure with the Rex marinus , in whose kingdom nothing prospers and nothing is begotten. Moreover, there are no philosophers there. Only like mates with like, consequently there is no procreation. The king must seek the counsel of the philosophers and mate Thabritus with Beya, his two children whom he has hatched in his brain.

When we are told that the King is exanimis, inanimate, or that his land is unfruitful, it is equivalent to saying that the hidden state is one of latency and potentiality. The darkness and depths of the sea symbolize the unconscious state of an invisible content that is projected. Inasmuch as such a content belongs to the total personality and is only apparently severed from its context by projection, there is always an attraction between conscious mind and projected content. Generally it takes the form of a fascination. This, in the alchemical allegory, is expressed by the King’s cry for help from the depths of his unconsious, dissociated state. The conscious mind should respond to this call: one should operari regi, render service to the King, for this would be not only wisdom but salvation as well. Yet this brings with it the necessity of a descent into the dark world of the unconscious ... the perilous adventure of the night sea journey... whose end and aim is the restoration of life, resurrection, and the triumph over death.

CG Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, par. 435-6

Rex Marinus (Dec. 3, 2004)

I ran from my old man
and took to a dark sea
of strange women and
malt whiskey, becoming
in that nekyia the little
man in the boat, an
old man tossed on
Your sea. Years of
spiralling round that
singular tide, seeking
rebirth, or at least
a dolphin enough
name for my purpose
which could ride
me to shore at last.
But as such waters
devour as they embrace,
my tutelage was
infernal, wraith-like,
and finny, all my arts
foundering between
huge waves. That night
lasted for 300 years,
it seemed, until at
last, until I found
a way to build a chapel
of voyaging stone,
a house which gave
my errancy an oar.
Daily now I row those
dark brine haunts
which I once thought
dove between my
love’s sweet breasts:
fructive poems whose
mortar is ferried
from the sea inside
that ancient sea,
jotted in squid ink.
A different dad might
have made a different
son -- bank president
or father of eight,
a builder or foundryman:
But, sired himself
in Oran’s perplex cry
and milked in
Onan’s shade, that
old wild man loved me
only as he knew how.
Which meant while he
was raising stones
I was skipping town, in
love with the feel of water
on my feet below, the night
sea huge and potent
and a riven swart blue,
sweet and dangerous
as every woman I found
out there who nursed
me to the same steely
glare my father
basks upon the space
his absent son
cries for old stone.

St. Brendan and the Big Skull

Brendan and his monks find the head of a dead man by the seashore. The head is very large, its forehead measuring five feet across. At Brendan’s request, the giant tells him that he was a heathen, who for his own profit waded through the sea. He was big and strong, and stood a hundred feet tall. He waylaid sailors and took their goods. For all his outsize proportions he was drowned in a flood. Brendan offers to resucitate and baptize him, so as to give him the possibility of obtaining remission for his sins and afterwards going to paradise. The giant refuses because he is afraid he will not be able to resist the temptation of sin. This would be worse, for, as he says, baptized souls are tormented much worse in hell than heathens are. Besides, he has a terrible fear of dying once again. He wants to go back to his torments in the darkness. He takes his leave, with Brendan’s good wishes. Brendan departs in his ship.

-- from Clara Strijbosch, “The Heathen Giant in The Voyage of St. Brendan”

Columba and the Big Skull

The Life of Colum Cille (Columba), written in Irish by Manus O'Donnell and written in 1532, contains the following episode:

"Once when Colum Cille was walking beside the river Boyne a human skull was brought to him. The size of the skull was much bigger than the skulls of the people of that time. Then his followers said to Colum Cille, "It is a pity we don't know whose skull this is, or the whereabouts of the soul that was in the body on which it was." Colum Cille answered, "I'm not leaving this place until I find this out from God for you."

"Then Colum Cille prayed earnestly to God for that to be revealed to him, and God heard that prayer so that the skull itself spoke to him. It said that it was the skull of Cormac mac Airt, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, king of Ireland, and an ancester to himself, for Colum Cille was tenth generation after Cormac. And the skull said that although his faith wasn't perfect, he had a certain amount of faith and, because of his keeping the truth and that as God knew that from his descendents would come Colum Cille who would pray for his soul, He had not damned him permanently, although it was in severe pain that he awaited these prayers.

"Then Colum Cillle picked up the skull and washed it honorably, and baptized and blessed it; then he buried it. And Colum Cille did not leave that place until he had said 30 masses for the soul of Cormac. And at the last of the masses, the angels of God appeared to Colum Cille, taking Cormac's soul with them to enjoy eternal glory through the prayers of Colum Cille."

- O'Donnell, The Life of Colum Cillle, transl. B. Lacey, Dublin 1998

Big Skull (2002)

There’s a big skull
in our back yard
satirizing the half
we vaunt as day.

I hear it droning
low old chants
& alms, sad &
deep within its

chapel bone, cold
as time and all
that drained away
while we built and

taught and moved
and won. Our way
is powerful and
ripe, it’s true—a red

engine of high
rhythms, fleet
furious and blind.
It arcs a future

which has no need
of you and me;
it has cured itself
of the ache to love.

La la la, sings the skull
out back, not exactly
mocking, nor ironic,
but deeply disturbing

as all engraved
jesters are. He’s
exactly what we
cannot stand to hear:

correction from
down under,
God’s thunder
bringing up the rear

The Big Old Man of the Sea

The Manx word for giant is foawr, in which a vowel-flanked “m” has been spirited away, as shown by the mordern Irish spelling, fomhar ... I have been in the habit of explaining the word as submarini but no more are they invariably connected with the sea. So another etymoloygy recommmends itself, one which comes from Dr. Whitley Stokes, and makes the mor in fomori to be of the same origin as the mare in the English nightmare ...

-- John Rhys, “Celtic Folklore”

(So II wonder if the dolphin-rider emblem on the my father’s family crest to that of a naked giant riding on the back of a whale, or Manannan astride his grey horse “Wave Sweeper” )

Ishmael and the Whale's head

(A whale caught by the crew of the Pequod is tethered to the ship, and the first task is to dig up from the whale’s head its most precious cargo, the spermacetti oil. Tashtego, one of the harpoonist/"savages" whose ferocity is crucial to the enterprise’s success, jumps onto the head and starts to ladle up the oil with a long-handled bucket. He falls in, and nearly suffocates/drowns inside, but is retrieved in the nick of time. Ishmael comments,)

Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, it would have been a very precious perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest of fragrant spermacetti: coffined, hearsed, and tombed in the secret innermost chamber and sanctum sanctorum of the whale. Only one sweeter end can readily be recalled -- the delicious death of an Ohio honey-hunter, who seeking honey in the crotch of a hollow tree, found such exceeding store of it, that leaning too far over, it sucked him in, so that he died embalmed. How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato’s honey head, and sweetly perished there? (377)

Ahab and the Whale Head

Later, Ahab comes upon on the deck and looks on the head of (the sperm whale which had been severed and chained alongside; and looks upon it, reflecting, much as as Hamlet does holding Yorick's skull:)

It was a black and hooded head, and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the sphynx's in the desert. "Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet hear and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is within thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. The head upon which now the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid the world's foundations, where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot, where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned. There, in the awful water land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went, hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insensate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed -- while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to make an infidel of Abraham, and no syllable is thine!

-- Melville, Moby Dick, 339-340

He Stood At the Door (2004)

A big man of the church brought my
Father into that priestly fold--
A man’s man, robust, earnest, of
High intellect and wit, captain
Of a flagship church in downtown
New York, friend of AA, tougher
Than any sin or crime or bum
creed, pal of industries -- That man
Took my young father in, and there
In some stained glass and old wood nook
Of that good church, sat him down,
Unzipped his fly, and commenced the
Secret hot communion of gay sex.
My father at nineteen, chaffed from
From the boys, rose flushed, now God’s man.

Confession (2004)

We were drinking Scotch in the back
Yard one night (so, he said, I would
Not have to drink out on the street)
When he sighed hard and said at last,
Your mother and I are going
To separate again, for good.
A pause. Because I’m gay.
We drank
Our hootch in quiet a while as
The news, like liquor, billowed on
Down. The first part was no surprise --
Our house had been stiff and dark for
Months -- But the second -- well, what
Could I say, but Be Yourself? I
Was sixteen and in love with him.
I downed his booze then fled from him.

Paternals 1 (2003)

What wakes me at 3:30 a.m.
after only 5 hours of sleep?
Yeah -- I sure had to piss --
and I felt buried under
too many covers, & the cat
was irritate with my turns,
my wife too, probably,
why bother them with
my restlessness: So I
trudged downstairs to
horsepiss & get on my
knees to pray Thy Will
Father Not Mine:
I am about my Father’s
business then, but
which one? My own
father at my age was
clearing the land &
building a chapel
and raising 20 ton
dicks in deference
to some ferally
cold instinct inside
a memory of Iona:
This morning I read
from Fiona McLeod
about a man of Iona
with a passion for
a sea-seal which
he seemed borne
with or cursed by
or fathered in:
That tone is my
tune, the sea-songs
I mean, salty rollers
I ride jolly roger
butt naked on: The
silliest bouree of all
which I have sacrificed
years of sleep for:
That same beckoning
wave I was baptized
in 30 years ago,
replete with the high
and low blessing of
God: The work I
carry on here is my
father’s and his demi-
fathers, well-work,
gleaming buckets
of seal-cold waters
“sweepin’ white an’
ghostly through
the moonlit nights”:
A predawn vigil
punctuated by
sexual fevers & channel
flipping (the ground
war outside Baghdad
growing bloody
& real): I’m laboring
in my salt mines
too early because
there is so much
to bring up: I mean
so much has been
thrown down there
over the years that
I’m soul-constipated,
rammed to the gills
with memories
dreams & reflections,
myth & mysteries,
lions & tigers & bears
Oh My: Bra-cups
& guitar picks,
wads of Kleenex,
Bibles & bottles,
spent pens &
poems & spleen
of the ages & ages
& ages: Chartres
and Corco Duibne,
Hell Castle and
Club Meds: My
crazy father slow-
dancing with Thor
of the North Wind,
a cloistered gay
embrace embowering
the caresses I soon
lavish on my wife:
What’s a son to do
but explicate the sea
bucket by curragh
by skull by testicle,
my thousand sons
floating off to you
in these rickety
paper boats:

Paternals 2 (2004)

I forgave my father much when
I took up his dread work. That’s how
Paternals go: A dad’s best kick-
Ass is his son’s own foot. I came
To my peerage when at last I
Suited up to parent my first
Wife’s daughter, nine then sixteen. One
Day she smirked at me across the
Dining table and said, Dad, you
Don’t know nuthin’ bout rock n roll.

Me--rock’s phaeton photon, now in
Haggar slacks, tie, and shined black shoes,
The weight of real life in the yoke.
That day no son filled the mirror:
A stone’s face -- mine, his -- grew clearer.

Fathering (2004)

Surely this exercise, my friend,
Schools an errant son inside this
Hand: Only eight beats to a line
And only fifteen lines to get
Say it right -- heavens, I’ve wasted
Half my chance! What a chore to haul
Down eagles here, to leash the tide,
To wrap a diaper round the rant!
How can so little said say all?
Can’t be done!the wild son fumes.
My brogue is meant for bigger seas.
But then a deeper voice assures
Me that this work is good, even
When the conceit of trying fails.
Son, he says, each cross needs its nails.

Lament for the Players (1999)

They came and went so fast,
I think, now that it’s been 30 years
since I began to idolize those
guitar studs jamming onstage
shaking and sweeping and strutting.
I’d be lying if I said
they were all great at guitar --
oh they were, but not purely,
as if poise were more piquant
than playing the notes.
I mean Mark Farner of Grand Funk
and Tommy Iommi from Black
Sabbath, they were as much
music in a teen’s longing
as the gods Hendrix
Clapton or Page.

For all of us there is
a brief set of years at puberty
that defines the boundaries
of our musical estate:
For me, the years are 1970-74,
“Layla” and “Paranoid”
and “Are You Ready”
and “Halo of Flies”
and “Mississippi Queen”
and “Stairway to Heaven”
all part of that mesh.
Forged in those years,
my guitar heart has
always erred on this
side of the B’s --
Bombast, Bravado, Balls,
Bitchen. Big 70s,
BigHair 80s. I never
could figure out
those small guitar
New Wave bands or
what followed to eventually
make all mine such a bad cliche.
That laughable Mark Farner
still struts inside me, saxon
savage, hairy, loud, a rooster
in the henhouse of PreUnsafeSex.
I cannot make him understand
computers. He bangs on
this keyboard like tympani.
He doesn’t grok mortage
or marriage. So I keep
him at some far arms’ reach,
opening the cage doors
now and then to give
him a drink of that ole
dirty moon in some
pretty thing at the gym.
Let him growl when
I’m on the treadmill,
shake his wet hair
when I’m lifting weights.
Feel his balls swing
as she passes by.
Caught in limbo
between my growing up
and this ennui for
what has been lost,
he’s like a ‘62 Les Paul
that can never die,
silver as the moon
and forever leaping
at the final chord,
fooling nobody but me.

Blues for Archie (2001)

Holy shit: Archie’s dead:
A.R. Ammons I mean:
Sitting on the crapper this a.m.
with the new New Yorker,
open it up, read about
this week’s contributors
and there’s A.R., only
he died last week: Wha?
The old bastard finally
gave in: Completed his
last motions: His verses
have always been such
a durable enjoyment for
me, I thought they’d never end:
I’m just finishing “Sumerian
Vistas” and starting in
“Lake Effect Country”:
Pleased like a child or
a small animal at that
simple water music:
I’m in need of motions
which abandon old selves
and engender new ones:
His lines telegraph
my own: I mean the style
of intermittancy woven
round colons: No real
resting point, just the
next embarkation: Oh Archie
I will miss you, you gnarled
arrogant plaintalking
bastard: You loved your wife
& the dailiness of life (at
least in your verses): Sought
eternals in the local and
shimmered up the profane
(again, here): Now you’re
singing with the other singing dead:
I never knew you personally
but was a fellow traveller
with a mind that moved
in poems: Can’t really say I’m
stricken, none of that black
shock & tears: Still I thought
you’d really keep on keepin on
and in so keeping help
keep my motions moist,
maybe also true: Well as
you can tell that was
a misguided faith, as wrong
as marrying a titty dancer:
Let that one flap and
flash back into the river
which was never his to
begin with — it wasn’t
Frost’s nor Stevens’s nor
Emerson’s nor Montaigne’s
nor Blake’s nor Heraclitus’s
either: It isn’t even a
river but simply the flux and
flow between mind and word
and word and world
and world and whirled leaves
and now you’re leaving me:
Farewell irascible joy:
Keep on keepin on:
In “Retiring” you wrote
“I’ll probably get the sun
up and down, turn
the stars through the round
sprinkling sheets, become essential
at all the wind’s swerves,
keeping it going right”

You go boy: I’m right behind you:

The Making (2005)

Here in the days of seed
words turn back to soil
in a darkening gold forest.
On these late afternoons
the sky is so hard and blue
you can almost reach out
and cup the far indigoes.

The last leaves of the oaks
are whispers of that
approaching dark as they
unhook and fall,
each spiral so slow
and inexpressibly sure.

My father's stones
fling their long shadows
toward the pooling dusk.
They are sturdy enough
to survive the growing
winter stillness of his face.

So walk with him gratefully today,
son of all his making:
For that white season
that soon enough arrives
is like a page turned to cold moon,
more empty and frozen
and still than any night.

All trails grown over,
the stones muted back
to fertile mystery,
his smile among them
never to be seen again,
his making will become
all yours at last.

And then
what will you say
of those cold stones
that gleamed and danced
for him tonight
beneath the brilliant
harvest moon?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Mistress of my mind

... Oh, sweet Fancy! let her loose;
Every thing is spoilt by use:
Where's the cheek that doth not fade,
Too much gaz'd at? Where's the maid
Whose lip mature is ever new?
Where's the eye, however blue,
Doth not weary? Where's the face
One would meet in every place?
Where's the voice, however soft,
One would hear so very oft?
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth.
Let, then, winged Fancy find
Thee a mistress to thy mind:
Dulcet-ey'd as Ceres' daughter,
Ere the God of Torment taught her
How to frown and how to chide;
With a waist and with a side
White as Hebe's, when her zone
Slipt its golden clasp, and down
Fell her kirtle to her feet,
While she held the goblet sweet
And Jove grew languid.--Break the mesh
Of the Fancy's silken leash;
Quickly break her prison-string
And such joys as these she'll bring.--
Let the winged Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home.

-- from Keats, “Fancy”

Ocean harvest

“You are growing wiser than I am,” ((Emily Dickinson wrote to Abiah Root in late 1850)), “and nipping in the bud fancies I let blossom.” Leaving Abiah to hug the shore, Emily chose “to buffet the sea—I can count the bitter wrecks in these pleasant waters, anda hear the murmuring of the winds, but Oh I love the danger!”

-- Alfred Habegger, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson, 250

Bermanus (2004)

Bermanus, or Borvo, was a deity
who presided over seething,
turbulent waters, especially hot
springs. A ceramic image from
Vichy shows him attended by a
horned serpent and a dolphin.
His indwelling well-goddess was
Damona (or Burmana). As in the
case of Diano Abnoba, Bumanus
was identified with a larger
sacred forest area, the Lucus
Burmani, around Cervo in Liguria.

— Nigel Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes

Addiction took me deep into
a forest of night naughtiness.
Days were fired by the energy
of those spent secrets, and had
the zeal and mania of a boy-man
with too much to hide, night music
welling and bleeding from every
purposeful seam. Lousy way to live
but I had to, for reasons known
to God: In every arc of drink to mouth
was the complicit desire which
turned every itch to a rabid south,
attempting egress of a magic shire
known in the parley of the season
as Good Times. Years I tossed
down that black well now resurface
here, gleaming silvery and blue,
distilled into an older man’s abandonment
to the verbal way the dark sings.
That wild wood I once ravened
was too alien to be called my heart
-- I the eternally early riser plying
the dead a.m.s between midnight
and three -- yet that wild is
tethered here, reconnoitered,
compassed in every bad way
the errant knight of booze
in his quest descends. That
harrowed hell lies close to this
hour like a lost or buried shrine
to the god of hot bubbly springs
who lorded over the forest
with every well-surge released.
He’s in this one pale hand
which rides across the page
beneath the only lamp stirred
to this hour--too early for most,
too late in all the bottle clubs
when most wallets bottles
and last-gasp enterprise are spent.
At this loneliest and most savage
hour of my past I write, each
page torn from the heart of a
sacred dark wilderness, fresh,
still beating, still bare as a
jackal’s greedy tooth. I recall
a night in the winter of ‘86
when I steered a too-drunk
wealthy Winter Park girl
from the Crocodile Club
into the jaws of my torn
and stained bed, working down
her bright white pants
while she snored face-down.
Some of that white calcination
of pant and panty and flabby
asscheeks which I spread
and furrowed is here in this
white crannog just above
a black and cold and ancient
tide -- in the towel I drape
over one arm to ward off
coffee-spills, in the writing desk
in my lap, in this spread
of pages with its dark blue
seam which calls me still
to all between desire and
its dark-hooved mordents,
the marauding futile jaunt.
This crannog was mortgaged
by all those horrid years
of one bad long carouse,
each night a black tree
felled and sawed and hammered
into this shrine atop so
much below. All that passed
so I can sit here and
observe the night without
the empty glasses. I paid
for this residence with
a greedy coin, vaulted in
a hundred pale white loins:
And the motion which kept
all concealed now hauls
me from shore to shore,
down wells and on to
crannogs -- at least upon
this page. In the alchemy
of nights this one still lolls
the tongue of the fire-lizard
who crawled through all
that darkness to make
an apt home here. O Lord,
keep my glottals smoking,
and fill my pen with
blackwash of gin
and blue-finned aqua,
wild shorage for that satyr
You still see to ferry in.

Bismarck (2002)

Lave a whale a while
in a whillbarrow ... to
have fins and flippers
that shimmy and shake.
— Joyce, Finnegans Wake

You say you egressed
here through the best
poems, but rather
you’ve sunk here
reaching for the
starlingest gleam
of stellarmost truth.

Your best descends
like a fat Bismarck
three miles down
to a cold grave.
It fails even to
fin that chill absence
at the bottom of the blue.

But what did you expect,
singing there on the
beach? Did you think
she could actually
return to you there,
stepping from some wave?

All that’s just a door
into this salt cellar
of dark savagery.
From her narrow waist
these whale roads where
the music of what falls
is what her smile calls.

She figured out how to live on the sea

For many reasons, ranging from the repressions of her religious and patriarchal culture to her own apparent constitutional frailness, the public world was closed to her, mandating a search for some alternative to open expression and publication. Inevitably, she was drawn to the life of fancy, which essayed the future through imaginative self-projection, not practical effort.

-- Habegger, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson

Miss Abyss

"Window Poems," X
by Ranier Maria Rilke
transl. A. Poulin. Jr

It’s because I saw you
leaning out the ultimate
window that I knew
and drank my whole abyss.

Showing me your arms
stretched toward night,
you made what was in
me that escaped you escape
me, since, and run . . .

Was your one gesture
proof of a goodbye so grand
that it turned me into wind
and dropped me in the river?

Beautiful Tempters (Nov. 27, 2004)

Since you left ... I have dared
to do strange things—bold things,
and have asked no advice from any—
I have heeded beautiful tempters,
yet do not think I am wrong.

-- Emily Dickinson, letter to Jane
Humphries in 1850

The legitimate Venus is mundana
{the music of the world} ...
But the shameful Venus ... we call ...
the mother of all fornication.

— Alan of Lille (12th century)
De planctu naturae

I should have reined these
waves in long ago—shut
the door your walked out
and labored on. Instead
and to great detriment
I remain here at that
shore imploring seas
in every foment of ink
and tongue to delve you
up at last in ocean equal
to that kiss. Think of all
the other poems I might
have clabbered from
the day’s milk: the mortal
fracas I might have entered,
my fortunes visible and
tenable in the fray,
my themes varied
and important, my
couplets hooved and potent.
But here the gold glints
like worn doubloons
in sands you poured through
my ears from so many
authors they’ve lost
their names. Song here
is every kiss I never got
plus all the ones I lost
and a few the tide tossed
in from far away
and the one I most hope to
receive, come first light,
when I wake my wife
back in our bed. Such
singing is just foolery
perhaps, but exactly
the way the shore
demands on this
pale-as-down assay
between the marges
of a life. There’s much
to damn this as drollery
and drool, a moat of moot—
the pathology perhaps
of a boy’s blue tongue,
a puerile dive from reality
into the polymorphous
pervese of swoon
and swagger, postpost
modernistic, a syntactic
horror rising like
a ziggaruat ababble
on the teat. Certainly
nothing your mother or
father or wife would
care to read, nor anyone
else for any matter
in the silence you
left behind. But what
gorgeous errancy!
Wrong in every
way where the ground
is too firm or known
and sweet dilirium on
the noirblue back
of the salt-tracked whale.
My tongue’s the
very cock of God,
plunged in your
every sweet vale
and swale, my every
trope and verb and
metaphor squishing
from that sound.
That music now
is like a wilder marge
that crashes all night
just outside a window
I once saw you through—
an infernal, outre and
riven tune, rumpussing
the rollicking sea
of our royal blue redundancy.
Now forsworn of the
rest, let’s get down
to its abyssal best.

Navigator (Dec. 2, 2004)

Inishglora ((an island off
the northwest coast of Ireland)
is probably the best known and
considered one of the holiest
of all the islands. Local people
claim that in th past all
ships sailing by lowered
their topsails to honor St.
Brendan the Navigator, who
founded the settlement here.

-- http://irishislandsinfo/glora.html

Small traces of your
shores remain -- islands
scattered in the Hebrides
where scant ruins of
the old faith moulders
down and down
in the big sea wind—
beehive oratories
now just brute molars,
one western wall of
the chapel where
your statue was long
revered (which,
it was said, that
when lifted three times,
gave a man’s hands
the power to relieve
a woman’s labor). There’s
always a St. Brendan’s
well nearby with a
legend in its murk;
waters in the one
on Inishglora are said
to turn to blood
and worms when
ferried in the hands
of women--but then
the well was also darkly
rumored to have been
a trysting spot for
ruddy monks and
pale nuns, so the
curse seems rooted
in a bliss. Such harm
and boon resounds on
all those shores where
human hands tried
to mortar down that
ache of yours for
which no ruin stands,
harbored as it is
between all shores,
out on that vast and
empty-seeming sea
where no compass or
sail or map will ever
truly do. You placed
your fate into the
hands of wind and wave
and called the voyage
God’s. For a heart
so willed to navigate
by ever letting go,
your truest remains
is that wild sea
between the stations
of our dry infirmity.
We last only so long
out there before
we take our compass back
and turn our boats
into bricks and books
and glistening nets.
It’s never what we name
and reverence but
what was free that
sodden while out
on the salt-glazed
savagery of the holy main.
Those spans are
the width of angels’
wings, a blue
reliquary large enough
to hold your bones
which never trusted
land enough
and grew strongest
walking on forever’s
grayblue loam.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Shells' Bells

Of all the modes of experience by which the individual might be carried away from the safety of well-trodden grounds to the danger of the unknown, the mode of feeling, the erotic, was the first to awaken Gothic man from his childhood slumber in authority ...

-- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

Very Early Love Song (1972)

I’ll look at you a million times
And never see you look back.
I’ll write a million rhymes
Which always seem to lack.

You’ll turn away a million times
And wish I’d go away.
You’ll read my million rhymes
And never be dismayed.

My hopes will build a million times
Looking for tomorrow.
They’ll all be crushed a million times
And leave me back in sorrow.

Noble Heat, Blessed Heart

Love was in the air in that century of the troubadours, shaping lives no less than tales; but the lives, specifically and only, of those of noble heart, whose courage in their knowledge of love announced the great theme that was in time to become the characteristic signal of our culture: the courage, namely, to affirm against tradition whatever knowledge stands confirmed in one’s own controlled experience. For the first of such creative knowledges in the destiny of the West was of the majesty of love, against the supernatural utilitarianism of the sacramental system of the Church. And the second was of reason. So it can be truly said that the first published manifesto of this new age of the world, the age of the self-reliant individual, appeared at the first dawn of the most creative century of the Gothic Middle Ages, in the love and the noble love letters of the lady Heloise to Abelard.

-- Campbell, ibid

Infatuation (Dec. 1, 2004)

... I gave you bright teeth,
immeasurable longing.
So it’s just that you should give
your love in the same measure.

-- anonymous Irish love poem,
15th century (transl. Thomas Kinsella)

I wrote my first secular words
in longing for she who
ferried you from antiquity
into my tongue, my taste,
my impossible irrepressible
undeniable savor for
this song to you.
We were both juniors at
the makeshift high school
at my father’s church in
Chicago & it was 1972.
I fell for her at first sight,
but she always had eyes
for others, mostly those
darkling dapper Puerto
Ricans whom city life
had sharpened to a bladelike
gleam. Alas, my edge
was soft and buttery,
nursed by overheated
orange-groves down south
into a pulpy twang.
I was just some lanky
dorky dirtyblonde kid
who said the words of
God and heaven and
their promised eternities
too often: all spirit and
no wave-dipped cock,
virgin that I was. Oh
how I burned and yearned
for her in her swank flesh
-- soft blonde hair
and icy blue eyes, full lips
and fuller breasts which
always seemed in insurrection
against blouse and sweater
in the manifesto which
was slowly building in
my desire. Sitting next
to me in History or on
the bench outside
smoking cigarettes in
the cold, she was my
pal of sorts, confidante
to every agony save the
one that burnt me
worst; she confided
to me in every
detail her ache for
Eddie who had one
night danced her
into a lather,
swept her off then
nailed her in some dark,
only to flick her off
soon after, like the
butt of a Winston.
Months, a year of desire
built in me as I watched her
watching everywhere
else but toward me.
Nightly I prayed on my
knees to my
pentecostal God
for deliverance from
that cross which burned
so much hotter and
powerfully than Him;
and later, underneath
the sheets, I’d dial her
up, wrapping my length
around her curves and
milking the hot honey
of her smile in one kiss,
our bliss, at my loneliest
and furthest and too
abstract last. Such
reveries only made days
worse, a jailhouse of
blueballsy ache where
I was ever walking a
dark cold shore alone
calling, calling out her
name amid the emptiness.
One day I sat by Lake
Michigan in the heightening
cold of late autumn, and
sang to that minor key
of waves and the high angels
of northern wind--singing
much as I once sang
at three years old
to Big Toe my toad
in her yellow pail;
emptying the ache and
burn in a lyric turn
about sailing across
great waters to her,
of finding and embracing
her at last. I wrote
a lot of lyrics that
way those days,
and in those first
raw moments of
singing pen on paper
the old music arose
again in your salt vassal,
your next endlessly
requited knight of
riven blue. It was such
dorky iambic drivel
filled with loves and doves
descending from above
into another freezing
day: Songs I wrote
down in my first journal
more than 30 years
and 300,000 pages
of paeans ago. Eventually
she and I did kiss,
out on a group date
where everyone dropped
angel dust and she
got way too high,
finding her desire for
me at last and least
up on those high
aeries where I searched
for her. A reach of her
hand to mine at the
back of a darkened
movie theater and
then her face turned
my way -- I could
not see it as I had
so dreamed, but I felt
some shift of strange
honey toward me --
and then that one
long kiss, sixteen months
after I first yearned
for it, 380 nightly
railings at God to
deliver me or her to me.
How shocked I was to
feel so little in the
actuarials of delight,
as if the angels who
brought us together
had suddenly dived
beneath the main--
her lips against mine
in one swift connect
and then that susurration
of entwining tongues
& a wash of heat
nougating huge darkness.
Then I opened my
eyes to watch that
stranger’s closed face,
not my beloved,
which never for
the duration of that
kiss acknowledged
me there, not the
way I thought that
long-waylaid kiss
at long last would
welcome me home.
No, she kept her eyes
closed the whole time:
And then, like someone
who’d just gassed up
their car, she pulled
away and focused on the
movie, giving my hand
a squeeze, another,
and one last before
letting me go for good.
And that was it.
We remained friends
through that last
senior year, but in lieu
of finding more in
that final kiss, I felt released
to go after other girls
with the darker intent
of getting laid at long
last. The high bells
would not ring again
for years. Delivered thus,
I also left that faith
which had scourged me so
those nights of deeper
ache. Requital, hell:
I was all about ponying
up to that darkling mare
with the wild curlyhairs
& yankable underwear.
Jongleur now of a
harder lyric, I preened
myself for communions
out-of-doors, in glades
the old gods sported
sprawled and spurted
in hot praise. My voice
here is still lost in that
wilderness of song,
desperate to cross the
waters and shore you
here at last, on the page
at least, having long
learned not bedded
sheets will ever yield
that kiss inside requital.
Still today, I’m infatuated
with the sound of
every pretty girl’s laugh
as she walks by --
a merry tinsel sort of sea
I mimic with this minstrelsy.
That’s as close as we
will ever get, my lady
of cathedral song:
A verse in thrall
with your sashay
down every naked shore,
desperate to light
one look in your blue eyes,
perhaps the faintest
of all smiles, the opening
of all doors & all the
bells between God’s heaven
and your sweeter hell
ringing, ringing, ringing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Song (12th Century)

My heart's so filled with deep delight
it changes all I see.
The frost appears a blossom of white,
golden or green, to me.
When the wind blows up the rain, it's right:
my fortune sprouts with the tree.
So thrives my worth with freshening might
and my song gains loftier glee.
Such is my love and such the power
of joy and sweetness in its dower,
each icicle seems to me a flower
and the snow the greenery.

-- Bernart de Ventadour (12th cent.)
transl. Jack Lindsay

The bigger the front, the wilder the rear

According to statistics, in the single century between 1170 and 1270, the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred churches of the cathedral class, which would have cost, according to an estimate made in 1840, more than five thousand millions to replace. Five thousand million francs is a thousand million dollars ((in 1904, when Henry Adams wrote this)), and this covered only the great churches of a single century. The same scale of expenditure had been going on since the year 1000, and almost every parish in France had rebuilt its church in stone; to this day France is strewn with the ruins of this architecture, and yet the still preserved churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, among the churches that belong to the Romanesque and Transition period, are numbered by hundreds until they reach well into the thousands.

The share of this capital which was -- if one may use a commercial figure -- invested in the Virgin cannot be fixed, any more than the total sum given to religious objects between 1000 and 1300; but in a spiritual and artistic sense, it was almost the whole, and expressed an intensity of conviction never again reached by any passion, whether of religion, of loyalty, of patriotism, or of wealth; perhaps never even paralleled by any way of single economic effort, except in war.

-- Henry Adams, Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres, 1904

Courtly Love

What is specific to ((Courtly Love)) is the conception of love as a cult which is addressed to an excellent object and is founded, like Christian lvoe, on an infinite disproportion between deserts and desire: as a necessary school of honour, which gives worth to the lover and transforms vilain into the courteois: as a voluntary bondage which conceals an ennobling power and makes the dignity and beauty of passion consist in suffering.

J. Bedier, quoted by Lindsay in The Troubadours And Their World


Their words cooled from flame to stone
But ours could not: A merry song
Was pure booze, and parted thighs which
Poured a saltier ooze. We kept
Attending mass but out behind
The town we burrowed down, to build
Apt sanctuary for Your lust,
Missal pages wide enough to
Praise You in the hottest tongue You
Bid us sing. For centuries we
Harrowed here the womb of black
Desires, confessing none of them
In town. It made apt Christians of us,
Holy high and low: And though they tried
To seal the door, You songs survived.

Naughty Churchly Song

Comrades, I'll make a song -- refined, no less.
The only sense it owns is foolishness.
Love, Joy and Youth are all mixed in, I must confess.
Who fails to understand it, a peasant is he:
who in his heart won't learn it deep. We see,
if a man finds the things he wants, he holds it steadfastly ...
Listen, and my dislikes I'll here unlatch:
a guarded cunt; a pond -- no fish to catch;
the brags of worthless men, with which no deeds they match.
Lord God, King, Ruler of the Universe,
why not on the first cunt-guard set your curse?
No servant or protector ever served a lady worse.
Well, here's the law of cunt and how it goes.
I speak who suffer through it many woes.
Other things, taken from, grow less. Not so with cunt. It grows.

-- Ribald song of Gilhem of Poitou, transl. Jack Lindsay. He notes:
"We can feel how Guilhem would have enjoyed using a conductus form,
with a vernacular text, with such a cry to God. No doubt he used church-music
for his tune."

Conductus (2004)

For centuries the church owned song's
High blue heaven -- its psalms intoned
as on the backs of angels who
Finned sea zeniths with their wings, whose
Unearthly fire was for God's heart.
To sing lower risked sulphur's ire.
Then a minstrel risked a new song
Which trothed church airs to a maid's cunt.
No one could resist that devil bray
Which rollicked street to court. Later
Songs pearled hymns to love, courtly tales
Of noblesse silk. The new cathedral
Rose stone by singing stone. These poems
Once obeyed what old angels taught.
They sing now from this funky cot.

Courtly Love (Nov. 30, 2004)

Even as the great cathedrals
rose across the face of Europe,
you were quietly and patiently
assembling the song which
tore them down, stone by
timber by relic bone,
inside our hearts. Those
huge doors opening onto
naves which ached the
height of faith, the lurid
rose window surely
the size of God's own face:
the cathedrals were
houses of the spirit's
yearning, fraught with
awe and terror. Yet a song
about a waylaid kiss filled
some greater space with
such desire that every shore
in this wet world could not
begin to frame that saltier
ache with even a name.
Those cathedrals spiralling
up from so many towns
may truly have just been
nails to hold a soul in place
that had awakened to
the wings of song. So
much of that music
seems so foolish today--
an IRA of groomed terrorists
waging war on hearth
and home--men guessing
wrongly that women
desired the same way
they do--those sweet eyes
of knights fixed not on
beloveds but Love as they
sang together the sweet
refrains, mounting horses
in raw first light to
plunge their awful lances
through each other's
skin and bone. Foolish
such devotion to an
effervescent gauze
of gardens and betrayed
beds, of scented kerchiefs
and devout so lonely tears.
Yet of such ephemera
you won the tiny votive
those monstrous cathedrals
were built to house,
rending those leviathans
of pious stone so cold
and ghostly, an ediface
of laws for damning souls
that long had washed
your way. Their bells
still toll across the towns
that old and hollow sound.
But when you smile and walk
away those churches are
all drowned to gleam down
under in such saintly rows,
their hells and heavens
shrunk in a song
to the margins of your breasts.
And me here rowing
ever towards them
in a poem that never
requites or rests.

The Rose Window (Ranier Maria Rilke)

In there: The lazy pacing of their paws
creates a stillness that's almost dizzying;
and how, then, suddenly one of the cats
takes the gaze on it, that strays now and then,
violently into its great eye --
The gaze that, as if seized by a whirlpool's
circle, for a little while swims
and then sinks and ceases to remember,
when this eye, which apparently rests,
opens and slams shut with a roaring
and tears it deep into the red blood -- :
Thus, long ago, out of the darkness
the cathedrals' great rose windows
seized a heart and tore it into God.

-- From New Poems
Transl. Edward Snow

Roses (2002) were rich enough to be yourself
a hundred times in just one flower;
that's the condition of the lover ...
But you never did think otherwise.
- Rilke, "The Roses" IV,
transl. A. Poulin Jr.

When I first read those lines
I was walking to my high-stress
newspaper job more than a decade ago:
And then I read them aloud
a second time, astonished ...
"The Roses" are these simple
8-line poems Rilke wrote in French
and seem inexhaustible
in their purity, presence,
and power; reading them aloud
world and word calyxed in the bed
of my ear, sounding so much
with so little, awakening a return,
affirming at last what
I always somehow knew.
I've read those poems
again and again over
the years, from so many
different stations of the life.
Some poems are desert island
songs, artifacts of art's
autobiography which
we could not live without
and which never cease sprouting
within. Few things now slow
our inward whirl; vacancy
spreads through the culture
like a fog, deadening
and deafening all it envelopes.
Just to speak of what is
worth praising seems noble,
when it is only doing
as we should, like breathing.
Lost in the whirl of days,
the space between gasp
and sigh narrows to one
droning vowel-Until one
of Rilke's roses open
like a mouth and a heavenly
wind hurls through me
its strange and wild perfume.
Suddenly I can't breathe
in or out enough
and the bell is
ringing, ringing, ringing.

Seven Churches (2002)

The valley of Glendaloch,
in which the seven churches
are situated ... contains
a greater treasure of
ecclesiastical antiquities
than is to be found in any
other part of Ireland.
- Grosse's Antiquities (1792)

Seven churches all in ruins,
roofed by one brute sky.
Seven arches knit with vines,
all egress bent around.

Seven rooks of remnant faith
turn sainted bones to peat;
the monks are cloistered now
across the blasted walls.

Seven yews now sadly rise
from those sanctuary floors,
chaffing the homeless wind,
bowering memories far too old

to name, and now bluntly bear
the centuries' chilled gaze
while seven lonely sheep
like parishioners still graze.

Demon In The Wall (2002)

Engraved upon a basement
wall is a devil trapped in rope.
That's how all churches, hooch-
stills, and marriages begin:
A raw, primordial age
when equal forces saw:
the good which would begin,
a dark which backwards falls.

There is a time when
principalities roar, the balance
terrible, a back-and-forth
over sweet prefecture and ruin;
the mouth which chants
the ululant vowel is also
filled with teeth, filed
to a glittering "T."

There was a time not long ago
when love and its shade were split;
and on that tortured ground
all decency was spilt, sacrificed,
perhaps, so a carnal
knowing could evolve
from rough magic on to rue,
allowing it a dark enough depth
so I could know for sure
what going home meant.

A boy-man's down there with
a snake gripped in his teeth;
I'm better off engraving him
lest sleep unloose the rope
and black wings again soar.

The Devil's Door (2002)

Saxon churches had
a Devil's Door facing
north: Some say it was
where the door
pagans would enter
that still reached
the old built-over gods:;
Your bias was thus
known by which door
you entered: Some
Sussex people believed
that the Devil lay in
wait outside that north
door to damn the soul
of any poor Christian
foolish enough to
egress that way: Today
you'll find most of
those north doors
permanently blocked:
Recall that Oran
travelled north from
where he was buried
in the Columba
abbey footers, descend-
ing north into the
icy regions of Hell:
This Well egresses
or drills north, dooring
pole-wraiths & welling
a witch's tit brine:
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 waters
like this, blueing into
hard clumps of
supplication & knocking
into each other like
billiard balls: When I
can stand the cold
no more I submerge,
& hang for a moment
in that wild cold
to pray my Devils
Door prayer -- "By
the Rock of Saint
Columba sworn" I
intone deep inside
then burst up like
a narwhal glad to
death for the sky:
Upon Oran's cold-
splashed bones I build
this low chapel: Through
his Door I egress
and transgress this
daily vowel movement:
I am baptized by
his brute underworld
swim: Harrowed by
the ice-lords and snow-
queens found there
isle to polar isle: Up
beyond Skye and
Bute and Callanish,
way north of the
Orkneys where Thor
hammers & hearkens
his infinite gale: Hell's
balls bell a thrall of pure
icy fire: Pealing that
freezing foam ghosting
wave-beards where
demiurges roam:
North Door with your
high brow of skulls:
Where the black
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 Moby's gut is
a pink beehive cell: Not so,
sighs the wind outside
the Devil's Door: Not
The ice is clear:
Blue imps flicker like
wattage in the polar
night, singing low
in the glacial undertow:
Not here, tragic son,
Not here. Welcome home.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Writing With The Fish God's Pen

There is a stone cross from Riasg Buidhe, on Oronsay in the garden of Colonsay House and near an Oran’s Well. The cross has a large human face in the top arm. Although this carving has no Scottish parallels, it belongs to a group represented in Ireland, where a symbolic representation of the Crucifixion is probably inspired by Mediterranean art, a derivation strengthened in this instance by the fish-like tail.

- Colonsay and Oransay: An Inventory of the Monuments Extracted from Argyll, Vol. 5, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1994

This is a quite unusual cross, originally from the chapel of Riasg Buidhe on Colonsay. It is probably 7th - 8th century. It is quite small, about 4’3" in total. It was moved from its original place to beside the Tobar Odhrain [Oran’s Well] in the gardens of Colonsay House in about 1870. The latin cross finishes in a sort of fish-tail at the bottom, and a human head looks over the top of the cross.


If this cross was associated with Oran’s Well -- a marker for those depths, a remembrance of Oran’s descent -- then the fish-tail is doubly significant, first as representative of the half-woman, half-fish who came up from the sea to tell Columba that his abbey construction had disturbed and ancient water-spirit, and second as the undersea-voyaging shape of Oran as he travelled down from the footers of the Iona abbey where he was buried into the Celtic hell of Infrann, the land of northern ice.

Of both readings from that cross we can say that it marks a liminal space, where the veil is forever truly thin ... a way of seeing perhaps, that focuses on the blue depths within all surfaces ...

On Visiting Staffa (by John Keats)

((note: Staffa is an island next to Iona
in the Hebrides off the southeastern
coast of Scotland))

No Aladdin magian
Ever such a work began;
Not the wizard of the Dee
Ever such a dream could see;
Not St John, in Patmos’ Isle,
In the passion of his toil,
When he saw the churches seven,
Golden-aisled, built up in heaven,
Gazed at such a rugged wonder,
As I stood its roofing under.
Lo! I saw one sleeping there,
On the marble cold and bare;
While the surges wash’d his feet,
And his garments white did beat
Drench’d about the sombre rocks;
On his neck his well-grown locks,
Lifted dry above the main,
Were upon the curl again.
“What is this? and what art thou?”
Whisper’d I, and touch’d his brow;
“What art thou? and what is this?”
Whisper’d I, and strove to kiss
The spirit’s hand, to wake his eyes;
Up he started in a trice:
“I am Lycidas,” said he,
“Fam’d in funeral minstrelsy!
This was architectured thus
By the great Oceanus!—
Here his mighty waters play
Hollow organs all the day;
Here, by turns, his dolphins all,
Finny palmers, great and small,
Come to pay devotion due,—
Each a mouth of pearls must strew!
Many a mortal of these days,
Dares to pass our sacred ways;
Dares to touch, audaciously,
This cathedral of the sea!
I have been the pontiff- priest,
Where the waters never rest,
Where a fledgy sea-bird choir
Soars for ever! Holy fire
I have hid from mortal man;
Proteus is my Sacristan!
But the dulled eye of mortal
Hath pass’d beyond the rocky portal:
So for ever will I leave
Such a taint, and soon unweave
All the magic of the place.”
So saying, with a Spirit’s glance
He dived!

Letter to John Keats (by Jack Gilbert)

The Spanish Steps -- Feb. 23, 1961

What can I do with these people?
They come to the risk so dutifully,
Are delighted by anecdotes that give
Them Poetry. Are grateful to be told
Of diagonals that give them Painting.
Good people. But stubborn when warned
The beast is not domestic.
How can I persuade them
That the dark, soulful Keats
Was five feet one?
Liked fighting and bear-baiting?
I can’t explain the red hair:
Nor say how you died so full
Of lust for Fanny Browne.
I will tell them of Semele.

from Views of Jeapordy (1962)

Finngering (Dec. 2003)

When the fian are on the brink of the Suir, Culdub comes out of a sid or "elf-mound," and steals their food three times in succession as it is being cooked. On the third occasion Finn ua Baiscne gives chase and catches up with him, and lays hold of him as he goes into the sid. At this point a woman seems to meet him as she is coming out of the sid, with a dripping vessel in her hand, having just distributed drink, and she jams the door against the sid! Finn squeezes his finger (mer) between the door of the sid and the post, and then sticks it into his mouth. When he takes it out again he begins to chant (dicetal). The imbas enlightens him (fortnosmen an imbas) and he recites a series of rhetorics.

-- Nora Chadwick, "Imbas Forasnai"

The moment he is baptised Dylan (twin of Lleu or Lug) makes for the sea and receives the sea's nature, swimming well as any fish, and because of this he is called Dylan Eil Ton, "Sea Son of Wave." No wave ever broke beneath him.

-- Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage

When I was 16 I
visited for a while
a girl from my
Christian youth group
in her parents’
apartment on Lake
Shore Drive while
they were out. We’d
watch TV and eat
chips and fool around
on the couch. Hedged
by youth and faith,
it never went that far;
our motions
were a shifting
barrier island between
how much she’d give
up (an ebbing resolve
to resist) and how much
I would persist in
the next encounter
(waxing against a
fading Christian faith).
God was God, I was
sure, but she was
something more, or
ignited in me heat a
for more, its flame
consecrate to regions
I dared not go, yet
knew somehow I must.
We’d kiss a while in
a milky haze: I’d watch
her kiss me, her eyes
tightly closed, blonde
hair in soft focus, all
else fading in the
watery buzz which
was slowly drowning
us, her lips to mine
like some sea-lock
our bargelike tongues
bellied back and
forth through. With
my free hand (the
other chastely folded
into hers) I’d roam the
ramparts of her
clothes seeking
ingress, stroking
her belly through
her blouse, running
fingers down her leg
in long, surflike
strokes. Emboldened
in the warming bath
of our embrace,
I’d unbutton
her blouse to roam
hot skin below, and
tempt a tight brassiere
which psaltered just
a nipple, it seemed,
a nub which hardened
as I squeezed and
pulled until she’d
shift hard, letting me
know I’d once more
gone too far. And
so I’d withdraw
whispering I’m sorry,
la canticle of a falling,
failing faith.
We grappled on
that couch for many
nights with lame
sitcoms on TV
as our surf, those
babblings a weird
counterpoint to
the urgencies we
flailed a flustered in
the grip of young
love and the wash
of steely-willed sin.
Other times we’d
listen to Moody Blues
albums -- Seventh
and To Our
Children’s Children’s
our kisses
lubed by those arty
confections of
ennui and loss which
prophesied what
always happens in
the ebbs of love.
Laura was her name,
a sweet, blue-eyed
puppy of a kid who
played beginner’s guitar
in our youth group
and who believed
in God and love
as much as I, though
by that time I had
wandered toward the
edges where a stranger
music thrilled. What
I sought in her
was more a part of
what I by then
could no longer renege
for the God of
saintliness and
morality, with His
paradise of dead
and sexless clouds.
One night I managed
to loose the button
of her jeans, and
slowly -- oh so
slowly -- work the
zipper down, and then,
with kisses most gentle
and devout working
the higher ground,
with infinite patience
and resolve I
worked my fingers
slowly under a fabric
I would never see and
got my middle
finger down into
what turned into
a sea, a startlingly
moist ingress which
touched something
deepest in me,
turning all the world
red in a sudden
ripening rush. She
heaved and with
a start forced my
hand back -- for the
last time again. My
fury was despicable,
but what could I
do? I wheezed my
lame apologies
and got the hell
on outta there, never
to return. The hell
with her high purities!
I fumed in the elevator
heading down. I’d
find another soul
more ripe for the
plucking ... So
went my blueballed
rages as I pushed
on out the door
into Chicago at
mid-winter, the night
very cold, the winds
coming off the lake
almost an angelic
in reproof -- or was
it my own new
solitary and luciferic
sprite, invoked when
she said No? As I
hugged my peacoat
tight and walked
carefully the icy
streets back to the El,
my mind slowly
settled back to
guilt and piety. I
prayed God forgive
my sin of wanting
more than my heart
of holiness could
ever quite fit in.
I’ll never do that
to a girl again,
I prayed,
yet as I mouthed
those words I
lifted my hand to
my face and sniffed
that offending, middle
finger. -- Oh what
dizzying surprise I
found congealed there,
something deep
and fishy, all sea,
of an iniquity
which ruled at least
the better (or worse)
half of my heart.
And when I put
that middle finger
to my lips and tongued
that wild brine, my
soul departed from
one life (cruel streets,
teen angst, God’s ways)
and disappeared
beneath the wave
I had been baptized
in at age 14, far
south in Florida,
off Melbourne Beach.
I didn’t know that
then, but now I
believe at that taste
of sea sex I was
spirited with Dylan
Tor back and far
and down into a
womb which bid me
swim all nights in
search of her blue
bed, and sing then
say just what flavor
hurled me flowerlike
below, my life
turned upside down
into an ocean-going
route no matter
how far inland I
woke and worked
and raveled, no
matter how dry
the outsides all seemed.
A secret sacred knowledge
was passed to me on
the shore of my
middle finger that
night, a kiss, if you
will, which turned
my bones to salt,
my heart into
a boat, and this hand
into a wave always
urgent for that shore
across the way
from an old faith’s
eternally dry door.
I jilted Laura the
next day saying
for God’s sake we
should stay apart,
my eyes sailed
on to Dena in
Bible Study, big
breasted and damaged
and greedy for
dark love. Laura’s
hurt blue eyes
(for only a week --
she found a better
guy) stared at
me across the room
in bitterest farewell
as I sailed on
in search of her
body, kiss by
clench by eventual
bed by bed by bed.
I have aged in
that travail -- married
once then again
and hope to call
this woman home
when I am old.
Somehow I’ve found
my God inside
that moist travail:
The virgin on the
couch madonna to
this low blue
spiralling choir,
cathedral to all
I’ve never found
sufficient way into.
Each poem I
write is a cross
hung between
her breasts -- gold
nails through
my heart which
bleed such sweet
fishy milkiness.

The Story of the Three Magic Drops

It was in the beginning of Arthur's time there lived in Penllyn a man named Tegid Voeland his wife Cerridwen. There was born to him of his wife a son named Morvran ab Tegid, a daughter named Creirwy, and they had a brother, the most ill-favored man in the world, Avagddu.

Cerridwen, his mother, thought that he was not likely to be admitted among men of noble birth by reason of his ugliness, unless he had some exalted merits or knowledge. So she resolved according to the arts of the books of the Fferyllt, to boil a cauldron of Inspiration and Science for her son, that his reception might be honorable because of his knowledge of the mysteries of the future state of the world.

Then she began to boil the cauldron, which might not cease to boil for a year and a day, until three blessed drops were obtained of the grace of Inspiration. And she put Gwion Bach the son of Gwreang of Llanfair in Caereinion, to stir the cauldron, and a blind man named Morda to kindle the fire beneath it. She charged them that they should not suffer it to cease boiling for the space of a year and a day. She, herself, according to the books of the astronomers, and in planetary hours, gathered every day of all charm-bearing herbs.

One day, towards the end of the year, as Cerridwen was culling plants and making incantations, it chanced that three drops of the charmed liquor flew out of the cauldron and fell upon the finger of Gwion Bach. By reason of their great heat he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he put those drops into his mouth, he foresaw everything that was to come, and perceived that his chief care must be to guard against the wiles of Cerridwen, for vast was her skill. In very great fear he fled towards his own land. The cauldron burst in two, because all the liquor within it except the three charm-bearing drops was poisonous. The horses of Gwyddon Garanhir were poisoned by the water of the stream into which the liquor of the cauldron ran, and the confluence of that stream was called the Poison of the Horses of Gwyddon from that time forth.

Thereupon came in Cerridwen and saw all the toil of the whole year lost. She seized a billet of wood and struck the blind Morda on the head until one of his eyes fell out upon his cheek. He said, "Wrongfully hast thou disfigured me, for I am innocent. Thy loss was not because of me." "Thou speakest truth," said Cerridwen, "it was Gwion Bach who robbed me." She went forth after him, running. He saw her and changed himself into a hare and fled. So she changed herself into a greyhound and turned him. He ran towards a river, and became a fish. She, in the form of an otter-bitch, chased him under the water, until he was fain to turn himself into a bird of the air. She, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky.

Just as she was about to stoop upon him, and he was in fear of death, he spied a heap of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn. He dropped among the wheat, and turned himself into one of the grains. Then she transformed herself into a high-crested black hen, and went to the wheat and scratched it with her feet, and found him out and swallowed him. As the story says, she bore him nine months, and when she was delivered of him, she could not find it in her heart to kill him, by reason of his beauty. So she wrapped him in a leather bag, and cast him into the sea to the mercy of God, on the twenty-ninth day of April. So, the great poet, Taliesin made an entrance into this world.

Blue Noir (Nov. 28, 2004)

Each day I mount this
pale white writing chair
and comment my verbal
self to waters wild and wide
with no oar nor paddle
or compass or sail.
This pen voyages where
you bid, or where I
fancy you remain as
I shut my eyes and
recall a trace of you.
Today I think of the night
I followed a busty
redhead home after
the bar closed down
in the year when I
had left my wife behind
and made my way
back home. Let’s color
that sinular night blue
noir, its saxophones
sexual and evil,
transgressing waht I
knew was wrong
and flinging myself anyway
in the name of revels
I could neither submit
to wihtou a wedding ring
tight around my heart,
nor resist as any
more sober man might
have. We drank burgundy
a while in that monied
professional apartment
and then she left to
go pee, leaving me alone
to stare out at the
streetlamped night
of 3 a.m., into that
maw of lost darkness
in the belly of the
whale. Everything
thick with drunkenness
and fatigue, Joe
Jackson on the stereo
& the door not far away.
So much in me still
demanding that I just
get up and go but then
she came out of
the loo wearing just a
half-buttoned shirt,
her huge breasts swaying
darkly in and down.
The embrace that soon
followed was like a boat
offshore at last on waters
profoundly deep and
wild. Oh how we went
out in the pure salt
of abandon, this way then
that, never fucking --
I didn’t have condom --
but going at it every
other way. Exhausted
spent & glistening with
all our expended oils,
we unclenched around
5:30 a.m. when she
told me I had to go
(she needed to write
a paper the next day).
And so I got zipped
and shod and kissed
her on the cheek as
she slept quenched
and sated, never to speak
to me again. I drove carefully
and raggedly back to
my mother’s house where
I was sleeping in a spare
room, aware at once
of such keen delight
amid the ruin of real love.
My wife in our house
20 miles away alone
in our queen-sized bed
with our cat curled
nearby, she believing
that I was gone for
good. A few months
later I told her I wanted
bgack, to somehow
find a way home.
A year later I moved
back home, sober,
sobered, all my errancies
named and laid at the
altar of a love
that promised nothing
but the love. It was
an evil voyage into
that blue noir night:
hurtful and expensive
& damn near ending
all thepoems that I’d
yet to write. But god
the satisfaction of just
reaching into that
gal’s unbuttoned blouse,
to clasp and hold those
huge warm breasts.
How good that evil,
how warm that demon
spray at the the shore
I pray never to return
to nor ever fully forget.
My song here is pure
in the second sense of
things, not orderly
or moral but complete
as the sea is full
of angels with big
teeth. Whatever
shore I ache and
dream here, the
sea gods intend
their own beach.
In the spectrum
of my love there’s
a blue-black isle
washed in booze.
The ink that
flows from my
pen today is
pours freely that
salt ooze--a bit
of ichor of your
cape which
spreads this
waking dawn
with words
I’d rather write
than lose.

Tincture Of The Abyss (Nov. 29 2004)

... Four-and-twenty from Munster who
went with Ailbe upon the sea to find
the land which Christians never dwell ...

... The confessor who Brendan met in
the promised land, with all the saints
who have perished in the isles of the ocean ...

from “The Litany of Oengus,” 6th century

Ferry that tincture here, muse
of equinoctal silk. Ladle black
lactissima from those heavy
breasts barely obscured by
an unbuttoned and bottomless
blouse. Pour in my ear those
three degrees between deep
night and first light. May
my pen refrain that booming
choir which sings night and
day in the Cathedral of
the Sea, a lavish organum
of wave and boulder
on shores no man has walked
nor named, much less
scant dreamed. Throat
that sea-black color
in my voice that I
may sing the wildest
isling of them all,
the one with cliffs
no one has climbed
and a well within
of such sweet silver
that one drink sates
300 years of desire.
I peer in that blueblack
mirror and the fishtailed
man stares back, his
seal-eyes pent on cod
and raven, his smile
like a bell proclaiming
every hoof and fin
that steeples holy hell.
Salt Ys, strike that blue
noir note from the
hard prong aching
in the sea’s vast legs
--that boom in every
wave’s orgasmic crash
resounding down the shore
of this life between
the massings of
consonantal stone
and the liquid plash
of what cannot in
words be known. The trick
is not to follow Lycidas
to the hollows of that
wild sound; to brew
sea trouble in a vat
or skull for ages long
enough to tincture
3 drops here: Enough to
shod each wave’s resound
with lines hooved loud enough
to reach at last your ears.

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