Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Rowing Out, Comng Home (today)

All the while I’m rowing here
I’m really shoring home,
finding the beloved that I seek
fast asleep upstairs,
my ache housed in a
real-time reliquary love
well-fashioned as it yearned.
Marriage is the most
difficult voyage of all:
its early nights of storm
and foam reined down
from that high fire,
that heat translated,
ploughed and distilled
down the years to able
harborage, garden bed
and living room the
bounds of a margeless
abbey where we work and
talk and take our
medicines groaning
over headaches and other
pains split by the nails
of the life we’ve chosen
and love the deepest.
If this pad rows a
sourceless flow of
wild and utter blue,
never to quite find
or kiss the lost
bedazzlements of you,
the lap it rests upon
is an aging strand I
can no longer leave, each
grain of its sand so
familiar I have almost
named them all, and count
them daily in high
gratitude for having fallen
through the glass of
years to this stable,
settled time. I dreamed
last night of playing
in a band again with
older wiser folks (not
angry young romantic
boys but lovers of
the life). I showed them
the hooves and technics
of that anthem “Change”
which fired my longing
most of all -- “relentless”
was my word for that
hardest-pounding surf,
and as I played the
song again on a guitar
I’ve haven’t held for years,
again I felt my sails
sails fill up again with
the wildest winds I’ve known.
And yet the song was
sere and burnished
by the years, no longer
a blade to hold the
other, so wrong way,
but one to hang above
the mantle of a hearth
where homeward fires
warm the bones of one
who sailed too far and
turned back harrowed
and haunted, his hold
empty but for the bursting
ache which never found
you ever again, an ache
which could do no more
than marry and settle
down. Old salt I sprinkle
here so I can go up there
and love my wife & life
& its endless strife with
all the ocean in my heart.
I suspect if I paddle hard
to the end of every poem
with every urgency
to derrick from that old song,
something of it warms
this hand enough to
ferry a few grains of
sea-gold from
one life to another.
Come first light I
will stroke the soles
of my wife’s feet,
one then the other,
the covers warm
as summer sands
& the cat at our feet
purring on the clear
blue mordents of
that long-drowned
surf-pounding band.

Hollows of SR-46 (2002)

Driving home tonight
I trespass my darker state.
I’m weary and migrained,
drained close to empty from
a hard day of job and school.
I just want to be home and next
to you, but first I must cross
this low and lonely night.
The road beyond my headlights
is crowded by dark dominions,
a starry sky leeching down
on blacker scrub. Out there on
some chewed rise a cow’s skull
serves as moon, coldly glazed
in sour star milk, sockets hauling
down the night in its black gaze.
Drive on, drive through.
Simply Red’s “Holding Back
The Years” on the radio,
ticking off the miles. I’m coming
home, my love, almost there;
a few more turns through
this black bear of a night.
Thank God for the rude
throttle of this homebound car.
And thank a greater God that you’re
waiting up for me in the alternate
ending to this night, waiting in a
bright house far enough from here
to make dark crossings dreadful
and all homecomings dear.

Woman By the Sea (1)


Sea-maid with your
red-feathered cap,
standing off the
wildest western shores
I know (or can’t):
Sing to me of the
daze and doze
of that collapsing wave
which beds your
quiet smile to mine:
What draws you to
this beach only my pen
can reach is what
tides me, too -- a glimpse
of worlds cauled in
the outermost curls
of a sea-coiffured dream:
You move the margins
of this day out and
back and in,
grazing the strangest
bed of fair and foul
in wild sweet torpor:
To hold you there
in view, standing
distant in the surf,
your red cap burning at
first (or last) light
almost as bright as
your grayblue eyes,
your aching blue
nipples: What now?
Who crosses over those
drear white sands
to assume the other
life above and below
the smashing flow,
gamboled out or
wandered in, married
to an element our
lungs will never hold:
Are we frozen in this
stance some wave
has crashed us into,
then fled?: Look: I’m
wearing your red cap:
You’re wrapped in
my blue song:
The shore is ours
to walk: The roar
of wind and wave
is our bed and cenotaph,
a conch-sigh of
collapsing lovers
droning in the barrow
of this well, sea-songs
which ring bell-buoys
late at night where
we might have met
had I not tried
to write on such
gossamer wave tips:
had you not held
a webbed finger
to your lips:
Had we not stayed
forever at that shore
which keeps us
forever worlds apart.

Woman By the Sea (2)

In James Joyce's "Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man," the young hero has an encounter on the beach which transforms him from a gloomy depressive of the long-strangled Irish Catholic tradition into a free creator, singer, celebrant and voyager:


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

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

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

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

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

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her.
Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Salt Similitude

O nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! Not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.

-- Ahab, Moby Dick

The fish-woman

Across the water a frightening monster approaches them, intent on destroying the ship. It is a half-fish, half-woman, and has bristly hair all over its body. For a long time it circles the ship. Brendan tells his monks that God will protect them. Finally the monster disappears into the depths of the sea.

-- “The Voyage of St. Brendan”

The Treud Nan Ron (Fiona Macleod)

"What have I heard but the murmur of sand:
What have I seen but foam . . ."
(Refrain of a Gaelic Song.)

Last August, sailing one day on the Lynn of Morven in a black-green calm, though from Cruachan to Nevis a storm darkened the Appin hills with cloud and wind, I heard from a man of Lorne a seal-story that was not so much a tale as a fragment of old legend. There is a low sandy isle among the isles of Lorne, lying in Morven waters between the Corrie of the Stags and the island of Lismore. It is called, I think, Faileag-mhara, which is to say, little lawn or meadow of the sea: a good name, for its pretty beaches and bent-held sands enclose grassy spaces, where the tern descends to her rude nest and the scart and guillemot sometimes breed. My Lorne friend spoke of it as the isle of the piocach, because that fish, the saithe, is often to be caught in plenty, in quiet twilights, off its north sbore. It might be called, also, the isle of shells, for many beautiful shells lie in its little bays and pools. And a poet might call it the isle of voices, for it is always either in some low tranced song, or shaken with a wild music; and, besides, it is like a listening ear of the sea, held to a mysterious sighing from the dark mountains of Morven, or from the continual whispering of the tides of Appin running by the head of Lismore. In storm it is like a harp hung among the branches of tormented trees: men have heard terrifying cries and an intolerable wailing when passing it in the mist and the blindness of tempest.

On the still noon of which I write I had seen a dark head rise from the purple-shadowed blueness of the sea about fifty fathoms away, and had remarked to my companion that the seal yonder was "an old man," as the saying is, and of great size.

"Ay, he is well known here. It's the biggegt bull I've seen this side the west o' Jura. They say he's fêy. Howsoever, he'll bide no seal near him--neither man-seal nor woman-seal. He had a mate once. She swam too near a geòla, a yawl as we might be saying in the English, where a woman leaned in the moonshine an' played a foreign thing like what we call the cruit-spannteach. A man took a gun an' put a ball into her side. She came up three times, crying like a child or bleating like a lamb-lost ewe maybe: it was between the one and the other, and ill to hearken. The bull yonder dashed at the stern o' the yawl an' broke the steering-gear. The failm was torn away, ay an' I tell you the crann sgòidc swung this way an' that--the boom swung this way an' that, for all the calmness of the calm. The man with a gun tried to shoot the man-seal, but couldn't. The singing woman with the foreign music went below crying: and I am not wondering at that if she had seen the eyes of the woman-seal. I've seen the pain in them, I have. I've seen tears in their eyes. I saw one once away out by Heiskir, that was made mateless and childless one red sunset, an' leaned on a rock staring motionless acrost the black an' white. She did not move when a ball struck the rock, an' sent splinters flyin'. She did not turn her head, no not by this or that. She stared out acrost the black an' white. It wasn't where the bull died, or where her young sank. It was out acrost the black and white o' the tost sea. The red of the set was in her eyes. They were redder: ay, I saw that. The black was green about the rock, an' the splash had the whiteness of snow, an' the mussels and dog-whelks on the rock glistered in the shine. A scart flew by her screamin', and the terns wailed. She just stared. Her head was up, an' she stared an' stared an' stared an' stared. The shooters left her alone. It was dark when I sailed east o' that."

"How long has that old man been here?" I asked.

"I am not knowing that. No one knows that. There's a man over yonder, John Stuart up Ballachulish way, who told me it was nine hundred years old. Is that foam? Maybe, maybe. Did ye ever hear tell of the story of the Seal of the Shiant Isles? No? It was like this; though for sure, its no story, but only a saying.

"He was an old bull-seal, and there's no man knows or ever knew the years he had. He was grey with the sea and time. Padruig Dhomnullach, the Heiskir bard, made a song on him. He said he had the years back to the days when Oisin was beautiful as the west wind on the yellow banks o' May. Ay, that he swam the Moyle, when the swans o' Lir were on it, with their singing beyond all singing for sweetness and pain. An' that he was older than them: older than the sgeul or the shennachie, than the tale or the teller. His name was Ròn, an' he was the first o' the clan. He was the son of the King of Ireland, and a brother of a son of that King. His mother was a beautiful woman of the sea in the north isles. She was called Sea-Sand. Perhaps it was because her hair was yellow as the sands of the sea. Perhaps it was because she was like the sand that is now here an' now there, and is sometimes so light that a mew's foot does not stir it and sometimes so smilin' and treacherous that a man sinks in it to his death. An' one day his brother came over to him with a message. They played a game on the shore. It was with great curved shells, an' they were thrown against the wind they were, an' a skilful and crafty throwing is needed for that, they with the holes in them an' the shape like partans of the sea. But that day the wind caught one of the shells in the midway of the hurl, an' it swung sideway an' struck Ròn on the whiteness of the brow. He cried a cry, an' was down. And when the King's son saw that, he had fear. Men would say he had put death on his brother. So he ran from that place. He looked back, and he saw sand blowing upon the body, an' falling upon it, and heard a moaning an' a crying. Then he knew it was Sea-Sand keening the son of her love. And he saw the wave running up the shore, an' she meeting it. And then she lifted Ròn an' threw him in the wave, and he rose like a man an' fell down like a seal, for tall he was, an' handsome he was, but he had no arms now an' no legs, but only a slimness and long body. 'The sea for your home,' she cried, an' that crying was on the wind. And that's how Ròn took to the sea, but remembers the shore for ever an' ever. He an' his. Ay, air chuan, air mhuir, air chorsa, in the deep ocean, in the narrow sea, by the shores."

And after that he told me how Ròn took a woman of the land and kept her in a pool of the rocks. And the young they had were as good in the sea as on the land: and they had brown eyes that the salt did not sting, and long brown hair like seaweed, and their songs were wild ...

from The Winged Destiny: Studies in the Spiritual History of the Gael

The Singer as resident of salt Nantucket

Merchant ships are but extension bridges; aremed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea as highwaymen on the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he goes alone and rests on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in sihps; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. There is his home, there lies his business, which a Noah’s flood would not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it msells like another world, more strnagely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.

- Moby Dick

Surfside Solutions (2002)

Long ago my mother set me
like a shell upon the strand.
Her voice tides in my ear—
warm milk for worried brow,
pink rooms which soft resound
the drench of drain and draw.
I love to mound my words
inside that nautilus of surf
—a useless carpentry,
you say, to castle heart
in walls of hammered grain—
No matter. Sonorous physic,
wave-songs I curl my mornings
to, you are a cat’s solution,
the sweeter nous. Like the
town that solved its water
shortage by showering in twos.
That’s what you’ll find here,
a vault of curved additions
which fall too fast to count,
shapes which fail in every way
except to greet those great rooms
she carved with her salt voice,
bright mansions left on wet sand
for her blue hands to hoist.

Heart O' Beauty (Fiona Macleod)

... O lift again thy white hands, Heart o’ Beauty,
Heart o’ Beauty!

Harp to the white waves on the yellow sands,
Heart o’ Beauty!

They will hearken now to these waving wans,
To the magin wands of thy white hands,
Heart o’ Beauty!

From the white dawn till the grey dusk,
Heart o’ Beauty!

I hear the unseen waves of unseen strands,
Heart o’ Beauty!

I see the sun rise and set over shadowy lands,
But never, never thy white hands, thy white hands,

Heart o’ Beauty!

-- from “Heart o’ Beauty,” Fiona Macleod, From the Hills of Dream

From "Soul of My Soul" (2000)

(taken from A Breviary of Guitars, a sort of autobiography of the song. The timeframe of this poem is the year 2000 as I look back on the summer of 1981)

...My boy
toys all hearkened
me toward the
sweet dark of
a woman’s body:
Playing doctor
or Ringmaster
Ned or the
Patient in
the Woods:
Alone I playacted
Bond to whup
the archvirile
shadow of
the world &
get the girl
in the final
credits: Sketch
pad, journal,
guitar, fretboard,
all received
my aches and
arches like
wadded Kleenex
of soul
but safely:
Eventually I
always find my
way out
beyond the
thorns to
a woman’s
naked vale
& I have always
taken what
I though I
could: Was
shocked wide
open by a
scant week of
Becky’s pillow
sighs & for
3 years wandered
through some
purgatory of
the low tide
she washed
away on:
Down in
Florida I
exhausted every
avenue I thought
she’d disappeared
down & had
grown utterly
cynical of the
search: Just
when I said
I bump into
Kay and this
royal wave
rose up outta
nothing and
washed every
notion I had
of love away:
A couple of
nights after
that first long
night I drove
into south
Orlando to
see Kay where
she lived
with her parents,
she rebounding
from a 4 year
stint with some
soccer star and
working nights
as a programmer
for ABC Liquors:
When she
opened the door
for me I
nearly collapsed,
seeing her just
as I’d left
her -- wide
open to me
in her smile
inviting me
in: I greeted
the folks like
I usually do,
wooing them
with sweet
charm (the
parents always
love me, to
the girls’
dismay): Kay
and I drive
off into the
last gold light
of the day,
lawn sprinklers
hissing and heat
rising into night
in expectation
and slow
Over untouched
drinks at some
fern bar I
try to play
it cool as
we exchange
data which hardly
has anything
to do with this--
how I write
(maybe a novel
someday) and
would like to
get a band
going again --
Kay tells me
about working
nights and hoping
to move in with
her sister --
but all of
this is just
a drone in
front of what’s
shouting in
her green eyes
& smiles:
The riptide
is inexorable:
& so soon
I’m out there
blurting how
I’m falling so
deeply in love
with her & can’t
stand to be
a second away
from her &
she closes her eyes
& sighs yes
o yes
& we’re outta
there & driving
in my car
anywhere her
fingers tugging
at my zipper
& pulling out
& kneading my
rockhard cock
& I can hardly
see the road
& then we’re
behind some
bank in a parking
lot & Kay
astraddle me
pumping for
all she’s worth
mashing her
breasts in
my face &
crying I
want to have
your baby
& it’s minutes
before we
hear the
security guard
knocking at
the window:
Lord it’s been
almost 20
years since those
nights when
the knot of fire
raged between
us & still my
pen gallops ahead
heedless of
the strain urgently
trying to write
the words down
as they fly:
Nothing approximates
those few moments
of arrival and
erasure in the
hot alembic of
chemistry: Kay
surely was one
of the most
seamless unions
I have ever
known: At
least for one
two maybe
three nights:
But I know
now it wasn’t
Kay who
transfixed me
on my cross
of desire:
her green
eyes shouting
yes o yes
in the dark
of that parking
lot were just
the nails:
The ancient
Greek lyric
poet Meleager
said it right
when he wrote
“In my heart
Eros himself
created sweet
voiced Melissa,
the soul of
my soul”: For
a time Kay
was the soul
of my soul,
sent by Eros
as a doublebarbed
arrow of sweet
and bitter and
grace and curse
and ocean
and eternal pit:
That music
deafened my
rock rages
with roses
and nipples:
“I swear, I
swear it
by Eros,” I /
Would rather
hear her whisper
in / my ear
than listen
to Apollo
playing his lyre,”
quoth Meleager
again, a
startling statement
for a poet
of the ages
but infernally
true: Do you
think you
prefer to sit
here writing of
lost loves and
rock n roll
when I
could instead
be yet riding
that wave, the
shape of pure
dolphin abandon?
Ah but who
ever gets to
choose such
things: Cupid is
whimsical and
Adult Eros
marries Psyche
& trades his
wings for the
daily labors of
love: Yet he
never stops
being a lover:
And that old
magic music
entrances me
still: It winds
and down this
stair of
memory which
I call Breviary:
I chase old
loves in the
Otherworld of
crafted dream
& return with
a ring of
fire within
my gold wedding
ring: A sulphurous
lion mates the
vernal queen:
At week’s end
Kay and I
drove out
to New Smyrna
Beach where
we registered
at some surfside
hotel as a
married couple
and climbed at
last into
the cool sheets
of a bed:
Labial folds
of naked
softly plashing
surf in
a darkened
room and the
two of us
clenched in
our coil
of immortal
fire, panting
rising spasming
& littering sleeve
after sleeve
of Fourex on
the floor: The
next morning
we walked on
the beach --
me in shorts
and Kay in a
bikini which
fit her loosely
(relics of
a past season,
of an old
passion) --
The sun just
up from an
eastern marl
of cloud, soft
80º breezes, the
sea a quilt
of coral
and cerulean
folds with
crest of spermlike
foam, sandpipers
flittering by
our feet:
Kay had stopped
to pick up
a shell and
when she rose
up again to
look at me
with her back to
the sea &
the sun flooding
her every
hair and soft
full curve
with the
richest ripest
most pernicious
gold & in
that instant
she was Thetis
or Circe
or Aphrodite
herself just
off the
foam of the
old father’s
balls: Freeze
that moment
and fire it
from the
bow of bios
right through my
birthmark &
deep into my
soul to
pierce the soul
of my soul,
harrowing me
with an
utter presence-
I will
forever sing:

How to house the sea in a heart

What heart would be equal to sustaining the weight if beauty did not give the spirit the strength and the life. The very ones that are his victims give thanks to him and sing his praises.

-- Ibn Quzman (c 1130 AD), transl. Jack Lindsay

Forget the Ocean (1995)

The ocean is no door. I once thought
it was, travelling north to south
as through the welcome of a woman
I once dreamed of standing on a wave.

But her literal perfections all washed away.
Daytona Beach is hammered flat by cars
and the brunt of addict frenzies; upon
such drear sand, women in bikinis
flicker and lift like pale flame.

Further south, Melbourne Beach is
always troubled and thundrous,
bellowing at the cut in God’s balls
and Venus smiling into foam.

No beach ever kissed my flesh with flesh.
Between dune and sea there’s a promise,
but not to us. Ask the rotting crabs
and manowars. Witness the hang of
battered, bittern scrub. For me, I’ve
always fared far better shut in my tub.

The Tidesman (Dec. 29, 2004)

My longing for you
is a man inside this hand
who walks forever by that sea
we once walked together on,
praying to and cursing
all the waves.
He is the altar-boy of
salt wonders which washed
his brow so long ago
inside the crashing thunder
that washes all to blue.
I remember driving
over to Atlantic beaches
20 years ago -- to Cocoa,
and New Smyrna and,
most wild, Playalinda too --
where I’d walk the summer
dazzle of sea-breeze and
hungry blue skies, the
sun pealing this
testicular fire over all,
tejas as brilliant as
the sea’s dark spires
plunging cathedrally
down to doom out
on the hurtfullest
margins of a life.
How I’d walk there
humming a bossa-nova
tune, scolding and
entreating the day’s tide
for calling me so forcefully
to that surf but delving
no woman up from the blue,
no love to match my
belling ache for you.
What wounded, salt abysms
tolled in me, love’s faithfullest
anchorite, stranded there
so mercilessly alone! What
betrayal I felt, or foolishness,
to have you so utterly yet
never there upon the literal
strand which called me
from my dreams! One day
I kicked a wave and turned
the other way for good,
driving long miles home
through Florida’s waste
of scrub and pine. Up
in the sky storm after storm
launched cannonades of
thunder and brandished brands
of blueballed fire. I drove home
to my sordid life in the
ghetto of the 1980s,
back to corporate days
and wilding nights. Yet
a man remained back at
that beach and forever
walks that tide, his song
the same as the sea’s, his
thirst immense and unslakable
though he’s sloshed forever
to the knees. I’ve housed
my longing all these years
a chapel by blue seas,
it’s single simple room
whiter than the sands which
fade down all the ways
I’ve walked in search of you.
Three cups sit on the altar
amid a pale blue stone
smoothed by all the tides
that man has stood in
up to his knees, search
and beseeching the naked
wash. And though I gave up
long ago on ever finding you,
that man forever walks the
strand, no more able to
turn away as dive to drown
in blue ennui. Each word
I set down here is like
the footfalls of that man
across a damp and
dazzling sand, a ruthless
faith in crashing water
which slakes undrinkably
in those woeful drowning depths
which yield at long and fateful
last your swooning emptiness.

Beauty (June 2004)

Let’s say that beauty is an analogue
for the the organs of rebirth. That desire
and its consummations are a homewarding
boat which can -- and will -- cross water.
Like soft piano jazz on a summer afternoon.
Or my wife’s shape turned away from me in sleep.
Our cat staring out at late rain and then
back on me with such blue so naked eyes.
Each encounter with beauty masks the source
with some other, earlier swoon -- my
mother’s voice become the sea’s, the
wash of night storms empurpling in this poem.
You walk the beach at first light, alone in stilled
immensity, and see ahead a washed-up gleaming shell.
Pick it up and hold it in your hand, reading its
curved sweetness like a map to a distant, strangely
aching land where your first love still stands
ankle-deep in a warm tide. To know beauty is to valve
a heart that beats below its name. Ten
thousand beauties harbor in the day, each a chapel
of salt and flame, waiting for you to begin.

Here's to all your coasts to come

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignorin what is good, I am quick to percieve a horror, and could still be social with it -- would they let me -- since it is but well to be on freindly terms with all the inmates of the place one voyages in.

By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great floodgates of the wonder-world swing open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two were there floated into my inmost soul, enless processions of the whale, and, endmost of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

-- Ishamel, Moby Dick

The Poem As A Beach At Dawn (July 2004)

The ancient image of Our Lady in
the Lady Chapel in the Church of
Notre Dame at Granville in Normandy
was found on the shore of Cap Lihoo.
It was set up in its own chapel, and is
still the focus of a pardon on the last
Sunday in July called “Grand Pardon
des Corporations et de la Mer.”

-- Nigel Pennick, Celtic Sacred Landscapes

My job as I see it is to vigil the matins
of this waking summer shore and receive
what the sea deigns to return to me:
To sing each day’s arrival with the tide,
building a white chapel in which a
freight grows sacred and is altared,
incensed, believed, hosanna’d. I never
know just what I’ll find here -- a dream
perhaps, or some memory loosed
from the well, or a resonant bit of story.
I let the sea decide. I just walk here
on the moony sound while the surf
crashes silver milk at my feet, nursing
my inner ears and eyes. And even that’s
imagined as I sit in this chair in my
house squat in town, the dark outside
a cat’s attentive drowse. My job is to
make of that a beach I walk, and believe
I’ll find down its sandy lane the very
shape the next song needs. See: there
ahead a clump winnowing a receding
wave: the beached masthead of
a long-split ship, trailing in her hair,
a bit of barnacle kissing her faded lip.
She was carved two centuries ago
from the likeness of Our Lady in
which was washed ashore two centuries
before, a rebirth of the mother of the
Celtic gods, herself found in a tide-pool
three thousand years before, delved
from goddesses whose names drowned
many thousand years further back.
But their tidings all remain, as well
the shore which here washes down
the lengths of journal-paper. My job
is to hear that surf inside and give it
here a beach where devotees like me still
walk in the nuptials of the coming day,
my pen across the page the wet part
of the sea, what she bids shore in me.

Bodies of Blue (Nov. 2003)

Body of my woman, I will live on
through your marvelousness.
My thirst, my desire without end,
my wavering road!

-- Neruda, “Body of A Woman”
transl. Robert Bly

Body of a guitar, body
of wave, body of a dream,
body of my work: This
daily braille on her
white sands resounds
the cuneiform which
swells beneath blue silk,
breakers I thought
were hers and are,
yet sigh from a far
more inward shore
where she writes me
every day. Once I knew
the body of a a guitar
well: Could play on
it so many songs:
Each day I spent hours
touching strings and
frets just so, minting
a music I felt deep
in the resonance of
the guitar I held
fast to my chest --
ditties and airs and
figures too delicate, too
temporary to ever
house in formal song.
My fishes ran free
and wild every night
I rowed that road-
weary guitar. I was
once so intimate
with that shape,
with its long dark
beach of frets,
its six tongues of
steel and gut, its
soundhole dark as
what’s between a
woman’s sighs, so
deep and wavelike
for the transit
of a song. --- I recall
when I changed my
strings (sometimes
twice a month) I’d roll
the old ones one by
one, keeping them
in case hard playing
caused a break (common).
Then I’d clean and polish
the rosewood veneer,
rubbing free old sweat
and pick-marks. What
a marvelous bed was
in that guitar when
I strummed fresh
new strings, as if
clean white linens
had been tucked into
my ear, so ready for
the next salt tossing,
the next hot chord.
I played guitar for
years, from puberty
through the long-
forestalled end of
my adolescence --
played with all intent
of someday Making It,
dreaming with one
hand in my pants of
bands and stages
in so many different
towns, of the ravening
attention of so many
women, all too willing
to take me home
to nurse all the stuff
in that soundhole
I couldn’t quite embrace.
For years a guitar was
my wood coracle as
I wove a tide of
excess, the body of
my song lost in the dark
body of wrong and
wronging expectations.
I did not so much
as cross that sea
of guitar music as
eventually drown in
it, or drown the
guitar which was
one ocean’s sail
and breeze. Some great
love died and dove
below after the last
band and I didn’t much
care to play guitar
any more. Oh, I still
have one and break
it out maybe twice
a year, but my fingers
are so stiff, no callouses
to play for long,
my memory of old
songs every shrinking,
their rages paling in
the mist. Yet what
amazes me is how
much I yet recall;
I can play an hour
through a repertoire
of riffs and noodles,
their sounds still
rich with heft
and hue. My hands still
command a music
that my heart
no longer hears,
and like beached fishes
the ditties flap and
flail upon the strings
until at last they still
and dry stiffly on
that beach she once
had walked on but
has sometime since
disappeared. I find
her near whenever
I now pick up my
pen and curve it
so on paper, the
scratch of nib blent
into the bluer and
more quiet ardor
of some music which
rises from the words,
mounting and descending
line by scrawly line.
None of that guitar's
distaff charms were
lost inside this
different boat; the
curve and cleft
of treble and bass
remain for all this
beach to praise,
and offers more salt,
more lotion and
more bottled draughts
from her wild blue well.
This morning is
windy and cold --
some front arrives at last --
I’m bundled with
a blanket in this easy
chair, running the
heat on low to
keep the kittens warmed.
This poem has rounded
the inward motions of
that woman standing
in the surf a thousand
lives ago -- my personal
Aprhodite, a woman
I hardly knew and
for three nights loved
as my heaven’s own.
She stood there in
the soft tide which
broke gray and warm
at first light, smiling
gently after hours of
impassioned love,
dreamy as I surely
stood in wonder on
that beach, my eyes
and inner ear now
so trained by that
wavelike curve I
recall in her breasts
and smile and rear,
her blue eyes of
such ocean merriment
and something further
down, an inwards
mere She sees me
from. Let’s call the
poem her altar booty
call, my hands long-
thrusting down the
page into that
soundhole to stroke
her welcoming rage.
This length is mine
as I lay with her here,
my heart’s dark
vowels sounding
in her every disappear,
and I am kissed nose
to twining toes
and all between
by an ocean of blue
body in which She
forever waits for me
to sing to her,
to hear the sound
of my pounding and
resounding and drowning,
in all I cannot say
to her just yet
though I surely try.
Someday this body
too will pass, thrown
like a book to the wave,
and I’ll sit on some
beach watching all
with my hands like
fishes flapping in
my lap, their motions
useless any more,
some other music
dreaming me
toward some further shore.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Behind all things is the ocean.

-- Seneca

Shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

A poem by the bishop-king of Cashel, Corma mac Cuilennain, who died in 908, as he contemplates a journey of penance on the sea:

Shall I go, O king of the Mysteries, after my fill of cushions and music, to turn
my face on the shore and my back on my native land?
Shall I cut my hand with every sort of wound on the breast of the wave
which wrecks boats?
Shall I leave the track of my tow knees on the strand by the shore?
Shall I take my little black curragh over the broad-breasted, glorious ocean?
O king of the bright kingdom, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
Whether I be strong or poor, or mettlesome so as to be recounted
in tales, O Christ, will you help me when it comes to going upon the wild sea?

- from Thomas Ownen Clancy,
n "Subversion at Sea: Structure, Style and Intent in the Immrama"

Writing the Big One

It is one thing to get the information, and quite another to become conscious of it, to know that we have got it. In our brains there are many mansions, and most of the doors are locked, with the keys inside. Usually, from our first meeting with a person, we get some single main impression, or like or dislike, confidence or disturst, reality or artificiality, or some single, vivid something that we cannot pin down in more than a tentative, vague phrase. That little phrase is like the visible mvoing fin of a great fish in a dark pool: we can see only the fin: we cannot see the fish, let alone catch or lift it out.

-- Ted Hughes, "Poetry in the Making"

The surf mill

Few people have heard the sounds of the surf mill practically from within the sea, as described by Henwood after his visit it a British mine extendinng out under the ocean:

"'When standing beneath the base of the cliff, and in that part of the mine where but nine feet of rock stood between us and the ocean, the heavy roll of the larger boulders, the ceaseless grinding of the pebbles, the fierce thundering of the billows, with the cracking and boiling as they rebounded, placed in tempest in its most appalling form too vividly before me ever to be forgotten.'"

-- "Transactions", Geological Society of Cornwall, vol. 5, 1843,
quoted in Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us

Big Bad Wave

December 28, 2004

Tidal Wave Began Beneath Indian Ocean

LONDON (AP) -- The chain reaction that sent enormous, deadly tidal waves crashing into the coasts of Asia and Africa on Sunday started more than six miles beneath the ocean floor off the tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Geologic plates pressing against each other slipped violently, creating a bulge on the sea bottom that could be as high as 10 yards and hundreds of miles long, one scientist said.

``It's just like moving an enormous paddle at the bottom of the sea,'' said David Booth, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey. ``A big column of water has moved, we're talking about billions of tons. This is an enormous disturbance.''

Moving at about 500 mph, the waves took more than two hours to reach Sri Lanka, where the human toll has been horrific, and longer to spread to India and the east coast of Africa.


The underwater quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey put at magnitude 9.0, was the biggest since 1964, when a 9.2-magnitude temblor struck Alaska, also touching off tsunami waves. There were at least a half-dozen powerful aftershocks, one of magnitude 7.3.

Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy's National Geophysics Institute, likened the quake's power to detonating a million atomic bombs the size of those dropped on Japan during World War II, and said the shaking was so powerful it even disturbed the Earth's rotation.

``All the planet is vibrating'' from the quake, he told Italian state radio. Other scientists said it was early too say whether the rotation was affected by the quake. ...

... The force of Sunday's earthquake shook unusually far afield, causing buildings to sway hundreds of miles from the epicenter, from Singapore to the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and in Bangladesh.

The quake probably occurred about 6.2 miles beneath the ocean floor, causing the huge, step-like protrusion on the sea bed and the resulting tidal waves.

As the waves moved across deep areas of the ocean in the early morning, they may have been almost undetectable on the surface, with swells of about a yard or less. But when they approached land the huge volumes of water were forced to the surface and the waves grew higher, swamping coastal communities and causing massive casualties.

Big bad surf

Almost every coast of the world is visited periodically by violent surf, but there are some that have never known the sea in its milder moods. "There is not in the world a coast more terrible than this!" exclaimed Lord Bryce of Tierra del Fuego, where the breakers roar in upon the coast with a voice that, according to the report, can be heard 20 miles inland on a still night. "the sight of such a coast," Darwin had written in his diary, "is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about death, peril, and shipwreck."

-- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us, 123

Calamities: Another Eden (Linda Gregg)

Out beyond what we imagine.
Out beyond the familiar, leaving home
And being homeless. Breaching the seas,
foundering on a coast in the West,
searching for coastlines in the Far East.
The heart is left and leaves,
stands in each part of the farness
away from the other. Living in each
particular moment of the day,
of present claims and the careless claims
of always. The ocean pushes out,
pushes the heart into the unknown,
toward the middle of a self that yearns
and remembers. The spirit is rejected
and walks slowly out of another Eden.
An Eden that is not the heart,
is homelessness, is isolate. The heart
is gathered into the familiar nothingness
and held. Is held and sent forth.
In the way a seal drops into the water,
sliding like oil in its element.
Turns and rolls. What we call happiness.
The seasons change and change,
west and east, tropical and far
roll them. What we call love.
Heaven is deep and deeper. We leave
And leave into the questing.

Returning on the Wave's circulation

…When thou dost return
On the wave's circulation,
Beholding the shimmer,
The wild dissipation,
And out of endeavor,
To change and to flow,
The gas become solid,
And phantoms and nothings
Return to be things,
And endless imbroglio
Is law and the world,
Then first shall thou know
That in the wild turmoil,
Horsed onto Proteus
Thou ridest to power
and to endurance.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson,
intro to “Inspiration”


... The mood of the Hypnerotomachia seems to imbue the studioli, those exquisite private chambers that enshrined collections of precious objects and significant imagery ...

... Colonna’s ((the author of the Hypnerotomachia)) connoisseurship, together with his encyclopedic scope, anticipates the 16th century fashion of the Kunstkammer, which contained a microcosm of the most precious and extraordinary examples of nature and art. Collections like those of Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol in Schloss Ambras, Emperor Rudolph II in Prague, or the Green Vaults in Dresden would have plunged Poliphilo into an ecstasy of admiration. In a sense, the Hypnerotomachia is itself a Kundstkammer, enclosing within its covers a miniature but self-consistent world of visual and verbal beauties and rarities.

-- Jocelyn Godwin, introduction to her translation of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilia: The Strife of Love in a Dream

Studioli (Dec. 25, 2004)

My study’s housed upon
the back of Brendon’s
whale, mid-sea of
all you turned salt blue
when you smiled and
disappeared from view.
Here are vaulted all
the beds and boats a
and books I found
the ghost of a warm
bleam of you in
these cold and rainy nights
when the world seemed
doomed to drown.
Your proffered breasts
upturns the bottom
of the sea and milks
its old lactissima,
a white smile so
sweet and warm
and frothy as to
smash every coast
and cape in ecstasy.
Guitar and pen
are my harpoons,
polished to a gleam
and displayed in thick
blue plush, fabled nibs
for hauling in those
finny angels whose
names I sing in
these matins of all seas.
Here are the three
rude cups you bid me
drink, poured to dregs
the swelter tonnage
of abyss; and here’s
the ravaged saddle of
the wave-maned horse
which is your
palanquin and my
writing chair.
Here is the spout-hole
of the whale which is
my darkling reach
to all the books cast
to the wave, a well
which spumes the exalt
psalms of every poet
since Taleissin to look
at you and sing. Here
is the heart of my fancy,
my outre madman’s
gaming room; ,my half
acre of black blubber
bathed by darkupswellings
of deep gloom; my chapel
of Iseult of the White
Hands who weaves my tears
each night upon her
dream-pale loom. Here
is the chambered
study study where
each artefact your
womb produced is
vaulted and revered,
the sum of every ache
and swoon I ever
felt for you, every
wave that ever found
a shore, every kiss
that turned the world
the wildest windy blue.

Legende (Hart Crane)

The tossing lonliness of many nights
Rounds off my memory of her.
Like a shell surrendered to evening sands,
Yet called adrift again at every dawn,
She has become a pathos, --
Waif of the tides.
The sand and sea have had their way,
And moons of spring and autumn, --
All, save I.
And even my vision will be erased
As a cameo the waves claim again.

Glub glub

Lord, lord! methought what pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of water in mine ears!
What sights of ugly death within mine eyes!
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wracks;
A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon;
Inestimable stores, unvalu'd jewels,
All scatter'd on the bottom of the sea.
Some lay in dead men's skulls; and in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crepts,
As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
That woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep ...
... Often I did strive
To yeild the ghost; but still the envious flood
Stept in my soul, and would not let it forth
To find the empty, vast, and wandering air;
But smother'd it within my panting bulk,
Which almost burst to belch it in the sea.

Shakespeare, Richard III I.iv, Clarence

News from the whalesman's pulpit

(Father Mapple) paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit’s bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.


The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God’s sunlit waves rolled by,
And left me deepeing down to doom.

I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell --
Oh, I was plunging to despair.

In black distress, I called my God
When I could scarce believe him mine.
He bowed his ear to my complaints --
No more the whale did me confine.

With speed he flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.

My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
HIs all the mercy and the power.

-- hymn in the whalesman’s church, Moby Dick, 46-7


And from Father Mapple's sermon:

And now behold Jonah taking up as an anchor and droppepd into the sea; when instantly an oily calmness floats out form the east, and the sea is still, as Jonah carries down the gale with him, leaving smooth water behind. He goes down in the whirling heart of such a masterless commotion that he scarce heeds the moment when he drops seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale upshoots-to all his ivory teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison.

Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish’s belly. But observe his prayer, and learn his weighty lesson. For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that spit of all his pains and pangs, he will still look toward His holy temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repenctence, not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for pujnishment.

-- Father Mapple’s sermon, Moby Dick

Woe to him who disobeys the whale

This, shippmates, is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him that goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation!

-- Father Mapple, Moby Dick

Who wills this erring hand?

"What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that agains all natural lovings and longing, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my proper, natural heart, I durst no so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how, then, can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea!"

-- Ahab, Moby Dick

Book Two (Dec. 26, 2004)

For years I filled my journals
with news from a bad life, prose
tales of merriment at demon
feasts across the dead suburban
night: of drinking escapades
through all the bars of my
imprisonment in salt where
the jailer in his cups, the jailed
drinking full up. I wrote down
the thousand and one nights
of my carouse through the
hundred and one beds, each
night like a letter to Eros
of a burn which arrowed far
never deep enough. I also
wrote of the aftermaths, the
hangovers in ruinous light,
the near-bankruptcies, my
car spluttering its worst,
the shriek of knowns I always
returned to with a sense of
ebbing life, my chances and beliefs
both spooling out, snarled round
the flukes of a too-great whale.
My desire too was too huge
for my cock & wallet & liver,
a span of arc and ache too great
to cross from night’s blue neon
to dawn’s dissembling blue shore
where you and I were once one,
where I begin at least and last.
I filled those journals up
til I ran out of hope and money
and narrative; standing on that
perilous ledge which swords
one life into the next, I paused
to chuck the whole pile
down a well to drown in
drouth, a paper marge
to be read by cold brine eyes.
All those nights on pages
washed away, all those words
licked clean by massive
undersea waves of
your othering fire.
That book completed, I
turned the other way
and began this book of
matins, this spiral chapel
under the wave which
always rounds home
to you. Here I collect
the thousand and one
marvels beyond and
under those older nights,
a vault of sounds and
sights not meant for
men to hear or see,
though they tide through
our bones incessantly.
One book lost to water,
those waters write the
next one, in hope of
those white shores
I never could quite reach,
no matter who I found
on any shipwrecked night.
My book of wonders
is housed upon that
darkling fish that rules
the darkest seas -- a
jeweled box of cunning
gold that gables words
of praise and plunder,
each page inked with
that old surf’s foaming
thunder, the words a
a salt quintessence
diabolically preter-tumescent,
steering that finned
seraph everywhere I couldn’t
get when I thought that
nights drunk deep enough
could wet the whale
only wells of blue can fill.

Bottomless (August 2002)

Now would all the waves were women,
then I’d go drown, and chassee with them evermore!
— Maltese sailor in Moby Dick

The hard hurt lies in
believing what we only dream—
some confabulator’s will
to render heaving wave into
white breasts, spilling
a billion billowings
across my wand’ring days.
O Faust, with your
apalling spell! An
addict is a man in love
with his cups, the
vision in them
bottomless, no holds barred,
no desire unfulfilled.
Every unslakable thirst
drowns here in possibility,
down the siren bore
between tide and tempest,
her undulate breasts like
Scylla and Charybdis
my whole history
leaps into begging
for her white squeeze.
I heard once a lottery
winner was found 8 months
later floating in a Miami
canal, wearing only
a pair of shorts & an
empty pint jammed in
his pocket. School the mind,
drear friend, to
turn from salt infinitude.
That isn’t her you look for
but a world’s turn and smile
which your longing requires,
something you never found
because the earth is big and round
and turns her curves
always away, beyond any mound
you'll reach or name or sound.

Old Irish love poem

O God, that I and my love
of the smooth white breast were together.
And none awake in the land of Ireland,
Men and women deep in sleep
While my love and I make play!
O fair-hued and loveliest of women,
O guiding star of my destiny,
I shall never believe from priest or brother
That there is sin in making love …

… Never will death come near us,
In the middle of the fragrant wood.

-- O Tuama, an Irish love poet,
from "An Gra in Amhrain,"
transl. Prosinias Mac Cana

Periods of seas / Unvisited by shores ...

As if the sea should part
And show a further sea --
And that a further, and the tree
But a presumption be
Of periods of seas
Unvisited by shores --
Themselves the verge of seas to be --
Eternity is these!

-- Emily Dickinson LLXXIV

She comes not (now)

She comes not when Noon is on the roses --
... Too bright is the day.
She comes not to the Soul til it reposes
... From work and play.
But when Night is on the hills, and the great Voices
... Roll in from Sea,
By starlight and by candlelight and dreamlight
... She comes to me.

-- Herbert Trench, "She Comes Not When Noon is On The Roses"

Every Depth is Terrible

Do not dare to name them! Half-gods
hardly are allowed in our dark mouths ...
And, even full of insistence, the soul
knows only this amorphous Angel
who, bit by bit, erects himself on the edge
of our sufferings: bright, fatal and forceful,
never flinching, never afraid of heights,
but for all that, himself the vassal-being
of an unknown and sovereign contract.

Him, Captial, vertical letter
of the word that, slowly, we demolish;
brass boundary of our native life,
anonymous measure of those mountains
forming a chain in our heart,
in its abrupt and savage part ...
Harbor statue, landing beacon,
and yet, contemptuous shipwrecks!

... But inside you, a the very depths of you,
what a cemetery! So many Gods acquitted,
dismissed, forgotten, out of use,
so many prophets, so many wise men,
abandoned by your mad desire!

-- from Rilke’s “But It Is Purer To Die,” transl. A. Poulin Jr.

Beauty Blues

I bewailed long and bitterly this miserable state of mine; my unsettled spirits were already weary of futile thought, and I of being nourished by a false and feigned pleasure, albeit one with Polia as object. She, without a doubt, was not mortal but rather divine -- she whose holy image was deeply impressed within me, and dwelt carved into my innermost parts.

... O high bright thundering Jupiter, shall I call it happy, miraculous, or terrible, this unheard-of vision whose memory makes every atom of my being burn and tremble?

-- Hypnerotomachia Poliphila, transl. Godwin

Who Wrote The Book of Love? (Dec. 28, 2004)

“Here, here,” she whispered low, “here on my mouth
The swallow, Love, hath found his haunted South.”

-- Fiona Macleod, from “The Love-Kiss of Dermid and Grainne”

What a library, what a boneyard,
what a daunting reliquary of
love’s fallen saints have
assembled here upon
the back of the whale
who is also my unfreighting
for this next, still-latent,
wilding blue day! Just who
wrote the Book of Love
while I careered careening
at its hinged door, desperate
to both gain the sanctum
of as well remit its lascivious
warmth which tides
a thousand leagues below
all mouths? Ah the incessant
scribe of that dread south
with his scaly, fishlike pen,
composing polyphones of
scripture upon the
backs of brutal waves!
I recall that bad winter
a generation gone
when I poured booze
like freezing rain
upon my broken heart,
breaking it worse into
a cruel shatter of
mannish shards, glints
of ice, of hot abyss
which lured a tribe of
women to my bed
to sup the dregs
from a devilish
chalice. What words,
what wild exchanges
transpired there between
the underwateriest waves
of bad love? I don’t recall,
I was drunk and bleeding
from the thousand holes
I’d harpooned in my soul,
desperate to cauterize
the mess between whatever
woman’s breasts I could
release in the furthest
wasteland of that night,
my prone shape the
howling hollow acre
between those waves
a woman prays to wed.
That awful majescule
was writ those nights
in a madman’s bellicose
tongue, unharnessed,
unequivocal, a jabber
translating passion into
spermy schools of
of blinded fish. Love, what
an infernal pen you wielded
in my groping hand, the words
like horned cudgels
pounding shores so cliffed
no man could hope
to breach, much less sound.
The songs of angels
are distilled from such abyss,
their blue arias woven
from frantic black wings.
The Book of Love is
a weighty one, and sure
to drown that ship
which tries to freight
more than a page, two fins,
three words further south
than her softest mouth
that smiled but never
said a thing, much less
my name, while leaving
me for good. Not every
chapter since has been
so dark or riven -- most
actually have been good,
even merry -- but the
weight and depth of
the manuscript was
born in the hairy wood
of my most errant nights,
the sweetness of
whatever cream I cull
poured directly from
that older scream
that lingered in the
still, Siberian night
at the bottom of all seas
where I roamed and
cried your name
inside so many women’s
bodies, my voice
a Borealis -- the
greeny choler of the
hurtful scholar writing
far below the page I
dare to write,
rider of the rogue wave
which comes from nowhere
and knows only the
sound of smashing shores,
the recede at last to you.

The Buried Harbor (Giuseppi Ungaretti)

The poet arrives there
and then resurfaces with his songs
and scatters them
All that left me
of this -- this poetry:
the merest nothing
of an inexhaustible secret

--Mariano, June 29, 1916
transl. Andrew Frisardi

Tidal Hell

In the days when the earth was young, the coming in of the tide must have been a stupendous event. If the moon was ... formed by the tearing away of a part of the outer crust of the earth, it must have remained for a time very close to its parent. It present position is the consequence of being pushed farther and farther away from the earth for some 2 billion years. When it was half its present distance from the earth, its power over the ocean tides was eight times as great as now, and the tidal range may even then have been several hundred feet on certain shores. But when the earth was only a few million years old, assuming that the deep ocean basins were then formed, the sweep of the tides must have been beyond all comprehension. Twice each day, the fury of the incoming waves would inundate the margins of the continents. The range of the surf must have been enormously extended by the reach of the tides, so that the waves would batter the crests of the high cliffs and sweep inland to erode the continents.

-- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us, 157-8

Tsunami News (2)

LONDON - The tidal waves that swept the rim of the Indian Ocean swelled up to 10 metres high, travelled as fast as a moving vehicle and carried billions of tons of water, a British geologist said yesterday.


"The tsunami has travelled all round the Indian Ocean, generating a wall of water up to 10 metres high travelling at the speed of a moving vehicle," (said David) Booth (of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh)

"And we're talking about billions of tons of water. Nothing can withstand that pressure," he said.

"It's also possible that on the same fault line another large earthquake might be generated a bit further along."

However, he added it was "impossible to predict exactly where or when that might happen".


Most people, especially tourists, would not have heeded the signs preceding the tidal wave.

"The first wave tends to move away from the shore and this is actually a well-known precursor to a tsunami," Booth said.


"The average tourist would see the tide recede, he would see rocks exposed that have never been exposed before, fish flapping on the beach.

"And (tourists) would be attracted to the beach. They would say there is something funny going on, not realising that they have only a few minutes to move to high ground," he said.

-- Daily Dispatch, South Africa (12/28/2004)

waves (1981)

carry me carry you
to this beach
so frightened
to be so close
to be so completely here with you
the mist is thick around us
I cannot say how I got here
or remember where I came from
it no longer exists
to touch you
our skin skittish as colts
in a storm
and pass through with you
to a place that has no name
that terrible place of rest
between firmaments
where we become one
and sink there
then wake walking on this grey beach,
home at last,
hearing only the crash
of things forgotten long ago:


Sea Blues

.. It seems unlikely that any coast is visited more wrathfully by the sea’s waves than the Shetlands and the Orkneys, in the path of the cyclonic storms that pass eastward between Iceland and the British Isles. All the feeling and fury of such a storm, couched almost in Conradian prose, are contained in the usually prosaic British Islands Pilot:

"In the terrific gales which usually occur four or five times in every year all distinction between air and water is lost, the nearest objects are obscured by spray, and everything seems enveloped in a thick smoke; upon the open coast the sea rises at once, and striking upon the rocky shores rises in foam for several hundred feet and spreads over the whole country.

"The sea, however, is not so heavy in the violent gales of short continuance as when an ordinary gale has been blowing for many days; the whole force of the Atlantic is then beating against the shores of the Orkneys, rocks of many tons in weight are lifted from their beds, and the roar of the surge may be heard for twenty miles; the breakers rise to the height of 60 feet, and the broken sea on the North Shoal, which lies 12 miles northwestward of Costa Head, is visible at Skail and Birsay."

-- Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us, 123-4

Cape Blue (Nov. 2003)

Passage through is
the only route to Her
softest beaches,
but Lord! only the
most graced and supple
ship has ever sailed
intact through such
dire marge. Look:
the surf here is
malefic, some loosed
inverted angel,
ravening the shoreward
rocks with smacks
and booms you can
feel in your chest
20 miles away.
Pray your captain
is as godlike as he
is God-fearing; that
his crew fleet as
devils at their
horrid drenched stations
and the carpenter
can hammer faster
than every imp
of wind or wave
Cape Blue dispatches
to send you to
its littered hell.
You will be a week
at this -- a seven days’
assault upon your every
landed grace as the
ship climbs and smashes
the perplex main,
each rise shrouded
in infernal mist,
each fall grazing
the very teeth of
doom. And the nights!
When packs of sky-
wolves roam and keen,
and all you do not
know baiting them
with your sour
sent of terror. Twice
I’ve rounded Cape
Blue; twice the
harrowing thrash
which endureth
almost beyond all
prayers on deck.
Twice now when all
seemed lost the
demon loosed his
legion claws and fled
leaving us to such
sweet calm that our
battened ravened
senses could not
believe we had
survived to praise
our God and write
the story down. And
sail on over seas
as calm as they
were once bewitched,
on to fair far
dapple-islands rich
in the sweetest of
sweetmeats -- coconut
milk spilling from
white fruit, the breasts
of native girls, beaches
of post-sex torpor
dreamy in such
harboring sighs.
And yet thrice now
I’ve woken here in
Paradise to feel
some homeward
bell tolling low and
deep within, and
found myself walking
to this gentle pagan
shore at first light
watch the sun rise
freshened from
all eastwarding seas,
the light merry and
fair, all pink and blue
over the soft cerulean
wash which sends
pale wavelets to kiss
and foam at my feet.
Why then does my
heart ache here
for that cold and
drizzly homeland
of industrial blight?
And -- worst of all --
having survived
that awful Cape
thrice before,
how could I ever
presume to return
where angels are forbid,
and once more succeed
in snaking past the
devil’s own blue galley
where all waves and winds
and sea come to feed?
Doomed, I know, but
greater than such seas
is this heart’s blue tide
which hauls me back inside
to find her once again.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Finding the words

A filmmaker being interviewed on public radio said he likes to work at night because then he is "close to the dreaming mind" and hence more creative. Yet how to speak with the language of the dreaming mind? Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" is perhaps as intelligent a grab as one could make -- so much so it's almost unitelligible. Fiona MacLeoed said Oran was the dremaing mind of Iona -- woven from light and shadow, depth and surface, well and spire, music and language, moon and harp. Brother, sister, father, muse, daughter, old slaughterer, descender, bone flute, fish totem, how would you conduct my song?

Who wrote the book of love?

According to this story, the Irish abbot Brendan one day threw a book into the fire, as he refused to believe that the phenomena which the text described could have a real existence. Immediately an angel appeared who ordered him to set out to sea and see with his own eyes that which he refused to believe. And so Brendan set sail with a number of his mionks, one of wohm disappears in the course of the voyage. During his wanderings on the occean, Brendan sees the things he has read about: a fish with wood growing on his back and Judas enjoying a respite from hell on Sundays. He hears noises made by invisible people belopw the water’s surface. having witnessed these and many other amazing phenomena, he returns to Ireland after nine (or seven) years with a book in which his adventures have been recorded. There he dies and goes to paradise.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint: Sources and Analogues of the 12th Century Voyage of St. Brendan

The incunabulum

The Latin word incunabulum (plural incunabula, and often anglicized as incunable) literally means cradle, and more loosely refers to the infancy, birthplace or origin of something. It is most often used in reference to early printed books, and in this sense an incunabulum is further defined even more specifically as being a book printed using moveable type prior to the year 1501 AD.

Before the invention of printing using moveable type, books were copied by hand, word for word, letter by letter, by scribes, generally onto parchment or vellum. Obviously, this was an extremely laborious and time-consuming method, and the level of production was minimal — not to mention the potential for errors during transcription. Later, the method of block printing was devised (i.e. in Europe, as this method had been used for centuries in the Orient) wherein the entire text for a page was cut into wood and thus printed, although even this method was rather labour-intensive as well. However, great care was often undertaken in the reproduction of books in both of these ways, and the pages were often subsequently "illuminated" with wonderful illustrations and ornaments. Some of the most beautiful books ever made come from the time before the invention of printing with moveable type, and the first books which were printed using this latter method endeavoured to emulate that beauty and form.


Here's a fin of the whale

Shall I send you a fin of the whale by way of a specimen mouthful? The tail is not yet cooked -- though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book’s motto (the secret one) -- Ego non babtiso te in nomine* -- but make out the rest yourself.

-- Melville, letter to Hawthorne on the writing of "Moby Dick," June 29 1851

* "Madness is indefinable"

How shall I write of you?

The poet knows that he speaks adequately then only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or “with the flower of the mind;” not with the intellect used as an organ, but with the intellect released from all service and suffered to take its direction from celestial life; or as the ancients were wont to express themselves, not with the intellect alone but with the intellect inebriated by nectar.

-- Emerson, “The Poet”

Words for the whale

One feels ... that the limits of even the English vocabulary have suddenly begun to seem too strict, too penurious, and that the difficult things Melville has to say can be adequately said only by reaching beyond those limits.

-- Newton Arvin, Herman Melville: A Critical Biography

It takes an ocean

You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the truth in.

— Herman Melville

Book written by my love

O splendor of radiant beauty, ornament of all grace, famed for your gloriuos looks, receive this small gift, which you have industrously fashioned with golden arrows in this loving heart, and painted and signed with your own angelic image; it belongs to you as its only patron. I commit this gift to your wise and intelligent judgment, abandoning the original style and having transleated it into the present one at your behest.

-- dedication of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilia from Poliphilia to Polia, transl. Godwin

To sing is to voyage

The name trobador came from a hypothetical Latin tropator (verb tropare) and meant discoverer.

-- Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

Joyce found his wave thunder (here)

In all the places I have been to I have taken ((The Book of Kells)) with me, and have poured over its workmanship for hours. It is the most purely Irish thing we have, and some of the big initial letters which swing across a page have the essential quality of a chapter from Ulysses.

-- James Joyce to Arthur Power in Ellman’s biography "James Joyce," p. 545

Here lies drowned the gold cover of Kells

In the year 1006-7, the Book of Kells (called in the Annals of Ulster "the great gospel of Columcille") wsa stolen by night from the western sacristy of the great stone church of Cevannus. It had a golden cover which has never been found since the theft. The book itself was recovered more than two months later and the Annals tell us how this treasure was then portected and watched over in good times and bad.

-- Otto Sims, Exploring the Book of Kells

Books written by angels

For their part, the Irish combined the stately letters of the Greek and Roman alphabets with the talismanic, spellbinding simplicity of Ogham to produce initial capitals and headings that rivet one's eyes to the page and hold the reader in awe. As late as the twelfth century, Geraldus Cambrensis was forced to conclude that the Book of Kells was "the work of an angel, not of a man."

-- Thomas Cahill, How The Irish Saved Civilization

The Book of Excess

... .almost everything in the Hypnerotomachia is taken to excess. The book itself was produced on such a sumptuous scale, printed in folio and adorned with an unprecedented number of illustrations that both the author and his patron suffered financially from it. The quality of the book as objet d’art has made the original edition the crown jewel of any collection of inculabula or early printing, to be leafed through admiringly by the conniousseur of typography and the graphic arts. How many bibliophiles have actually read it is another question, for its textual excesses are enough to deter most readers.

- Jocelyn Godwin, introduction to Hypnerotomachia Poliphilo

Incunabula (Dec. 27, 2004)

This book you wrote
in me long ago
in a tongue between
my mother’s and the sea’s,
a half-uteral, half-literal
gorgeousness which poured
the littoral of Ys
-- barbs of shining fire
plunging each wave’s
fold and crash till all
is a gliding, gilding blue.
Each day I write another song
amazed at how the ink
fins and oars the whiteness
of your breasts, your cleavage
binding every page,
invoking words I do not know,
much less name, though
each day’s shoring on the beast
who rides below gets closer
to that old, angelic sound.
Truly my ache for you
devoured me with this singer’s
mouth distilled from the
wintriest nights in the dankest,
most infernal south,
where beachside bossa novas
rimmed with rum a
noctilucent tide -- full ebbings
of a lunar blare which dazzled
as it emptied me of all hope
of finding you. Who would have guessed
that my surrender inked the nib
which plunged harpoonlike
to that deepest heart and
willed the wildest blue,
the saltiest, wave-wracked,
spume-high exhalant of you
to drown a man’s drying lips!
And so the wonders I swore
were false, even deadly,
are writing (or riding)
themselves down, song by song,
in this book shelved between
the flukes of an old whale
-- an inculabula of every thrill
and soak and plumage of
your infinitely wide
and ever deeper sea.
Each page was ferried from that abyss
which named the distance
of one kiss, one plunge,
one night so long ago:
I’m sure by now you’d
have it no other simple,
safe or ordinary way.
Breviary of blubber
and a five-ton fisting heart,
may my words be spermacetti-pure
as those sweet choiring tidals
who wax the ebbing art.

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