Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, January 07, 2005

Writing the Moon-whale (Jan. 6, 2005)

The tide in which you welcomed me
and spilt my heavens with a sigh
was greater still when it ebbed out,
leaving me upon a beach more wounded
than I knew wounds could go.
The hurt was like that Pacific breech
which delved the moon ages ago
to cross our nights in sky tidals
as love’s cold luminary, singing
whale-like in its coracle of basaltic,
borrowed bone. That wild wounding
woke every pulse of God and verse
that swims so hard in me today
as I sit in my great white writing chair
astride the darkling, well-spouting
whale of that old wound. Loss is
the bittersweetmost fruit
to ripen in love’s orchard, it’s fall
and split of raw red heart revealing
fruit I never dreamed to feel so
sea-widely, so deeply beneath
the merry blue. In those months
after you left me once again
I walked and drove so slowly,
taking in ripe autumn days
& amazed at their perfections,
my grief gilding the hours
with a melancholy booze,
each oak and dog and child
God’s supernumerary coin,
spilled from a purse which
swelled great and greater
every day you walked yet
further away. It was not your
kiss but the abyss it left behind
that hauled this boat from shore
to sail a thousand moony nights
in search of ampler calyx, for
that nippled swoon which could
milked the dregs of that cathedral
room I found beneath the marges
of desire. Its sea-deep ache burns
yet today, incessant as the moon.
A wild chatter of angelic teeth
inside the falling, tidal croon.

The Island of The Women

Here they found the rampart of a mighty dùn, enclosing a mansion. They landed to look on it, and sat on a hillock near by. Within the dùn they saw seventeen maidens busy at preparing a great bath. In a little while a rider, richly clad, came up swiftly on a racehorse, and lighted down and went inside, one of the girls taking the horse. The rider then went into the bath, when they saw that it was a woman. Shortly after that one of the maidens came out and invited them to enter, saying: "The Queen invites you".

They went into the fort and bathed, and then sat down to meat, each man with a maiden over against him, and Maeldun opposite to the queen. And Maeldun was wedded to the queen, and each of the maidens to one of his men, and at nightfall canopied chambers were allotted to each of them. On the morrow morn they made ready to depart, but the queen would not have them go, and said: "Stay here, and old age will never fall on you, but ye shall remain as ye are now for ever and ever, and what ye had last night ye shall have always. And be no longer a-wandering from island to island on the ocean".

She then told Maeldun that she was the mother of the seventeen girls they had seen, and her husband had been king of the island. He was now dead, and she reigned in his place. Each day she went into the great plain in the interior of the island to judge the folk, and returned to the dùn at night.

So they remained there for three months of winter; but at the end of that time it seemed they had been there three years, and the men wearied of it, and longed to set forth for their own country.

"What shall we find there", said Maeldun, "that is better than this?"

But still the people murmured and complained, and at last they said: "Great is the love which Maeldun has for this woman. Let him stay with her alone if he will, but we will go to our own country". But Maeldun would not be left after them, and at last one day, when the queen was away judging the folk, they went on board their bark and put out to sea. Before they had gone far, however, the queen came riding up with a clew of twine in her hand and flung it after them. Maeldun caught it in his hand, and it clung to his hand so that he could not free himself, and the queen, holding the other end, drew them back to land. And they stayed on the island another three months.

Twice again the same thing happened, and at last the people averred that Maeldun held the clew on purpose, so great was his love for the woman. So the next time another man caught the clew, but it clung to his hand as before; so Diuran smote off his hand and it fell with the clew into the sea. "When she saw that she at once began to wail and shriek, so that all the land was one cry, wailing and shrieking." And thus they escaped from the Island of the Women.

-- "The Voyage of Maeldun," found in the manuscript entitled the "Book of the Dun Cow" (about 1100) and other early sources, and edited, with a translation by Dr Whitley Stokes in the "Revue Celtique" for 1888 and 1889.

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:

Journal, Sept. 1981

It is birth;
meeting at a party on any Saturday night
so very late, gin and crosstops balancing each other
the stench of sweat and spoiling oysters ...
some hour fading as you speak ...
Your stories pour out and splash upon eath other.
It is warm. You draw closer.
What was once a party is now a hum.
There is singularity. The words are all forgotten
now; they go and go like a river with
a steady sound. Minutes, or hours, pass.
They feel like ages. You have come so far.
Vaguely you think of drinking more, or
fucking, but there is no need. Some hand
has drawn a circle around both of you.
You want to get that circle closer, tighter,
draw the two of you so close that you must
merge. The sun rises. You leave to find
a place to join.

Invoking the circle: You look deep within
each others’ eyes. All your smiles and
kisses, hugs and comings enter there. They
happen without action. They exist.
You are born. You live. You make love
and feel there is no way to stop.

You wonder:
How can this last? And you fear.
Fear for what the other would do.
Fear for what lurks outside, that
it will creep after you like a shark
incensed by blood. Your hugs grow frantic.
You won’t hang up the phone, and
you say: Without you I will die.
To think of losing the other is death.

And you fear more:
Your are urgent. You feel you must
empty yourself, pour out all that you have,
show that you are an entity worth keeping.
You try an dtry. Trying replaces loving.
Its marks are slow to appear, but they
are indelible.

Something happens: -- you feel a draft
of cold air coming on. A look that turned
away. A pain you see in the other, but
cannot reach. Some bills arrive, or your
home life destabilizes. There is more
turning away. The circle seems tight.
One will seek to keep it tight, fearing
such loss that it maddens. For the other,
the constriction will make you think:
Is this really what I thought it was?
And you doubt. The circle feels too tight.

Only a word, a gesture:
Too much fear,
too much doubt. On a moment it collapses.
The circle breaks open at some bloody point.
It is not wide enought to pass out of.
But there is energy in doubt, in fear,
and the fissure widens, cracks likke bone,
and the air rushes in.

It is death:

It is grief:

You must decide how to handle that grief.

Doggerel (1981)

the fish go upstream
to give, and die:
the roses burst in bloom
beneath autumnal skies:
no blame to flame within
and blow away upon the wind
no blame

Losing (1981)

In losing there is the coming of night.
Waves recede, revealing
The heart’s flapping fish.
In losing slow jazz plays on and on,
Spinning around a spike on a record.
The cut is clean and deep.
In losing the peg is yanked out,
And the wound gets raw,
Washed with a spillage of sewage and brine.

Eventually, riderless horses appear
With wild manes coursing in the wind,
Their cold eyes asking,
Shall we take you home?

You must decide how much there is
In losing.

Dream (Sept. 1981)

I meet her again at a club -- an ultradecadent place, like the Park Avenue club but set in the future (1990?). We have made some sort of reoncilisation, but it is sad. For the place we share is decadent, the world stinks. This is apparently supposed to be a celebration for me, but all I can do is cry. She’s waitressing there wearing a short dress with a back cut so low it shows her bare ass. “Nice ass,” sez a burly customer, drdooling. I feel washed with water, tear-water, shame-water. It is night. The place is warm inside, but so hostile. The other waitresses say it’s a great job, they make so much money in a week that the club owners or the government has to put in controls -- a lid on their earnings. Everyone’s celebrating, but all I can do is cry. She is there, but a version of her that I know the least, the one most distant from me, though she says she has reconciled with me.

Then I get lost driving out to the beach, ending up on a very isolated shore, no human life in sight. To get to the beach I have to go over a waterfull -- not a huge one, really tiny and manufactured-looking, but still I’m scared. A sea turtle comes up and befriends me. He goes over the waterfall. I follow, amazed at how easy it is. Beyond is a forest. There are many tidepools of water about, hedged by blue-green stalks of sea-grass. The turtle disappepars -- I think I saw it burying itself in the sand. I wondered if it was dead. Then I walke dout to a beach -- a swamp of grass and water, the sea not deepening much for several hundred yards. Somehow I thought I was close to Melbourne Beach -- a roughness to the terrain, maybe feeling a pounding surf. Body-sufed in shallow water for a while. Began to get afraid -- no people around, who knows what is out there in the woods? so, against, my better feelings, I make my way back to humankind.

Journal 9/15/1983

... faced with the vacuousness of the self, all un-moments of her stretched out for an eternity, a doomed equation where only she will equal relief & closure but she will not return, ever. Parabolas of a foolish dogged unrelenting hope threading the despair ever deeper & tighter. Something happened back then, an essential failure, an ineluctible restructuring of the heart that pumps ever down through this night & beyond. Not knowing why or what but I exist for whatever that is. And tonight, celebrate.

Journal 9/15/1985

She-as womb, maternal returns, pastoral Astarte destroying my heart’s Christianity with one part of the thighs ... Seeing a difference between biological and spiritual horniness. That the real kick has less to do with what happens than with an aesthetic acceptance, my ideals asking for me in the most fundamental way, for me to bury my cock as deep as it will go into them as they beg for me, calling my name. ‘Tis acceptance, folks, life’s umbilicus, and I will nurse again.

-- journal 9/15/85

Labor Day by the Sea (Sept. 2000)

Into the amniotic wash of Labor Day by the sea,
Ponce Inlet, SUVs and vans perched feet from high tide,
a sweet dreamy breeze caressing waves softly toward the shore,
sun straight up the dome and still fierce,
my body yielding to the kiss and suck of summer and sea
and curved eternities:
I sit in my folding chaise reading Walt Whitman to the salt breeze,
singing lines which pulsed rhythmic between my body and the sea,
trailing off the page to watch passerby, kids with boogie boards,
young couples proud in what still is unripened,
mothers given over to the suck of their babies,
leathery old men and women resolute to their end,
all emptying out like a tide, leaving just the sea before me,
softly folding and breaking in warm plashing waves,
sibilant in all the ejaculate praises of Walt, the song never ending,
finding in each new age new hearts to break into what now
passes for praise, nursing my aches and spawning my fevers:
I thought I heard the sea sigh oh come nestle in me
as it broke gently into foam and so I walked out into the surf
not believing a syllable but wishing it ever more,
praying for baptism to the rhythm and pulse of each wave,
finally diving beneath a tall one and going still trying to feel
God’s dazzle and drowse wash over and through me
cleansing and lifting me up from selfish gambols,
but it was just a wave going over and I rose up into brilliant clean air
no fresher with rebirth than a moment before but such truths
themselves are nourishing, forever alone yet one inside the womb
I wake and walk from merged at least between arrow and bow
riding metaphorically a dolphin which takes me beyond all I know:
The sun and sea are just ciphers, a mystery which refuses solution
though I stand here naked as law and love permit, my pilgrimage unending:
“You must derange your life” I once wrote by these waters five years ago,
but now I think there isn’t really a choice, life makes you crazy anyway;
Today I hear the sea sing to me
love well your wounds for in thy blooding thou art free;
salt smart hugs I have for you on this bed which rises and falls

And I close my eyes standing in the shallows of the rest of this life
hoping to praise what little I have, praying to love with all of my heart,
turning back toward shore at last without any benediction to share
with you but blue green waters and a brilliant sun
and a breeze which sighs Eurydice O woman of waters
I am forever here on this shore between I and Thou
singing ocean songs to the sea, braiding your name in the day.

Anniversary (Sept. 15, 2002)

Today it’s been twenty years
since I lost the second woman
I hardly knew yet I loved
in full, stupid, jealous & greedy.
In losing her I became
so desperately and infernally
alive as to beg silence: her shade.
All I remember of her today
is that morning we walked
on Cocoa Beach after fucking
most of the night. We were
making small talk in our
dreamy exhaustion—laughing
at the way sandpipers scurry
like tiny execs— when she
paused and smiling at me
in front of dawning sea.
The whole package I recall—
that smile, the blue eyes streaming,
the curly blond hair in a halo
of sun, her breasts full
and straining against
a year-old bikini top, the
sea crashing light foam
at her ankles like cream,
that evanescent breeze—
all of that was greater than
any morning, a finally found key.
Yet that was only true
in reverse, when she told
me at last to go to hell.
but in reverse. I recall
how I hurt bad enough
in the proceeding months
to see beyond the heat
into caring at last about
how I lived love.
How the days slowed
in the viscosity of grief,
a sludge both anguished
and gorgeous, slowing
the day to a wave-crawl,
the sunlight lengthening
across the lakes.
That image spoiled my drinking
for the next 4 years
though I tried, reaching
for her on every tree.
to care last about how
Eventually I came to
marry that shape,
sacrificing the wild
night of making love
for long hard days
of patient making.
Love doesn’t teach us
how much there is to
gain in love, only
how much there is to lose
by not loving, or failing
to love well enough.
Today I recall those long
burnished days in September
when grief was a tide
tolling a sea
I’d been born to in losing.
Stupid, jealous, greedy,
it’s true, but also the wound
which eventually bled me real.
I sit in the house I prayed
that day to inhabit,
the sum of every surrender
I made to love’s brine,
it’s awfullest, most
incompetent son,
each smile a wine
so much more difficult now
so much more
what she only kissed.

The Naked Truth (Sept. 15, 2004)

Marcus, a student of the gnostic
Velentinus (c. 150), relates that
a vision “descended upon him ..
in the form of a woman ... and
expounded to him alone its own
nature, and the origin of things, which
it had never revealed to anyone,
divine or human.”

-- Eileen Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

She appeared at the upper bar
out of nowhere, fanning through
the smoke and blaring rock
as if stepping from that wave
ordained to drown me with
every blue fury in the lap
and chest of Love. We talked
a while nursing beers in
the wild din, her voice and
mine forming a bower
in which some goddess awoke,
aroused, and laid hands
on us, ushering us into woods
to sacred for a name.
And left us there, in
reverence for a secret
only we could reveal
and revel when all
our clothes fell like
angels to the floor.
Much later that night --
in fact well into the
next morning’s too-
bright hot summer light --
She smiled unbuttoning
her tropic blue blouse,
and unhooked her bra with
that hidden gesture,
freeing her full, pink-
nippled breasts, startling
me more awake than
I had ever been: And with
eyes locked on mine
came close, to softly
weave her chest against
mine, whispering O
make love to me. O
indeed: And so I did,
a half dozen times or
more that too-late-night
which had crashed
so dreamily on the next
day’s shore, licking her
to sweet moans once
then twice, getting sucked
off, fucking slow and
long in rhythmus
to a secret beat
which was new even
to God. We could not
stop entering and
collapsing in each
other, leaving selves
and hours far behind;
thus we drifted
so far offshore as to
never quite return.
Ever. But as a
mortal pair we fared
quite poorly, and in
weeks she jilted
the needy, greedy,
angst-ridden boy
I had become, walking
back into the night
for good. After all
these years, I mark
this day -- Sept. 15 --
as the tolling of
her wavelike recede
from the ecstasy of
my life, my feet forever
thence half in a surf
which once proclaimed
our naked name. Fare
thee well, lost lover.
The child you said you
begged of my seed
our second night
would now be 23,
and perhaps he
or she is here,
cuculattus of that
high blue wave
which crests in every
“Yes!” God gives
me truth to shout.
Whenever I hear those
old Journey songs
from 1982, I go back
to that first unveiling
hour, in thrall
and surrender to
the whole fantasy
of love and lust,
believing it more
than Truth itself. That
fictive beach where she
and I came hard
calling each other’s name
remains here, built
up with the ground
bones of every other
love I’ve sung,
sustained now by
the long, perhaps
my life’s remaining
duration with the woman
I call my wife by
day and blue welling
deep down the
pike of night.
Our hearts are
more naked now
than our bodies
may be allowed to
go: Mere angels
can’t fly this naked reach
which is part dream,
part ocean beach,
part clear blue sky
inside you and I.

Whence the singer and her song

Some of the oral legends have it that the mother of ((the Irish Orpheus)) Oisin was a mortal, bewitched by a woman of the Sidhe: others, that she was herself Fionn's leannan-shee, or fairy-love . . . and I have heard her called Niamh, Moän, Liban, and other sweet perilous names.

But the common legend* is that Fionn, wearied of his white love, and wedded a daughter of a great lord of the Ultonians. Then "the other" put the spell of the Fathfith on her, so that she was changed to a hind of the hill.

When her hour was come, she swam the deep water of Loch-nan-'ceall that is near Arisaig in West Argyll, to the little isle in it that is called Sanndraigh.

And there her child and Fionn's child was born. When the swoon of the birthing was past, she forgot, and that of her which was a hind licked the brow of her young. Then she remembered, and licked no more; but, looking, saw that though the enchantment lay upon her still, the spell was broken for her little son. But hair like a fawn's hair grew upon the brow she had licked: and that is why the youngest and fairest of Fionn's sons was given the name of Oisin, the Fawn.

The child was taken to his father's Dûn, and the hind leapt away through the bracken, and swam the loch, and took to the hills--for the fear of Bran and Luath and Breacleit, Fionn's great hounds, was upon her.

Oisin and his mother did not meet again for years upon years. One day, when passing from boyhood to youth, he went with the hunters to the hill of the mountain-deer, but because of a mist he strayed and found himself at last alone and in a solitary place, a green glen set among leaning blue hills, with water running from a place of high piled rocks. He saw a hind pasturing there, more graceful and beautiful than any deer he had ever seen: so great was its beauty that he looked at it as a girl who had never seen an image in water might look at her mirrored face in a pool. Then the spirit of the huntsman stirred within him, and he lifted his spear. The hind looked at him, with sad wistful eyes, brown as hill-water, and slowly he lowered the spear.

"Thrust me not with thy spear, Oisin,"said the hind, "for I am thy mother that bore thee on the isle Sanndraigh in Loch-nan-'ceall. Alone I see thee, and hungry and weary. Come back with me now to my home, fawn of my heart."

They went slowly, side by side, across the green grass to a great rock that in slope was the height of nine men, and was smooth as the blade of a sword. The wife of Fionn breathed upon it, and a hollow was come, and when they had gone in there was no hollow but only a great rock with a slope that was in size the height of nine men and was as smooth as the blade of a sword.

Then, to his exceeding joy, Oisin saw that his mother was spellbound no more, but was a woman, and lovely and young. When they had kissed long with great love, shegave him food to eat and sweet heather-ale to drink, and then sang songs of a music sweeter than any he had ever heard.

For three days it was thus with them, with the sleep of peace at night, where was no night, and the waking of joy at morn, where was no morn, but where Time lay asleep, as the murmur of the unresting sea in the curved hollows of a shell.

Then Oisin remembered Fionn and the hunters, and said he would go out to see them, and set their sorrow at rest. But before he went out of that spellbound place he made a song for his mother, the first of the songs of Oisin, that would be a sian to guard her from the hounds and spears of Fionn and his hunters. Then once more the hollow opened in the smooth cliff of the great rock, and he was in the glen again among the blue hills, and saw a kestrel flying at a great height as though scorning the spread greenness of the land and the spread greyness of the wrinkled sea. And when Oisin was come again to the Dûn of Fionn, there was great wonder as well as great joy, for it was not three hours as it seemed, nor yet three days, as he thought, but three years, that he had been in the secret place of the rocks, and known the food and drink and music of enchantment.


These old myth-covering tales--whether we call them Greek or Aryan or what else--are as the grass that will grow in any land: and the grass of the Vale of Tempe or on the slope of Helicon does not differ from the grass in green Aghadoe or that on the scarps of Hecla by the Hebrid seas. It was but the other day I told an eager listener a tale of one Faruane (Fear-uaine, a "green man") who lived, "in the old ancient days" in a great oak, and had so lived for generationsfor a honeycomb of ages, as the phrase runs and did nothing but watch the clouds sail above the branches and the shadows glide between the tree-boles, and live on sunlight and dew. Then one day, as he was walking lightly on the moss, he saw another world come into the old untroubled wood, and that "world" was a woman. She was young as Niamh the undying, and beautiful as Emer the fair, and bewitching as Liban of the spells; and Faruane grew weary of his calm immortal dream, and longed unwittingly for sorrow and death, for he did not know these companions of the soul, nor even that he longed, nor could he know that a soul was other than a perishable thing of the earth as he himself was. So he moved softly in the sun-warmed dusk of the branches, and came upon the girl (whose name was Moän) among the fern where she stood like a fawn with wide eyes. He was too beautiful for her to fear, and too beautiful for her not to love, and though Moän knew that to give herself in love to a wood-spirit was to live three years in a dream and then die in body and to go away in soul, she put from her all desire of the things she knew and let Faruane kiss her on the lips and take her hand and lead her into the green glades, to be forgotten, beyond the murmuring forest, save in a song that lived like a breath of remembered passion in the gloamings of a thousand years.

But for three years Faruane and Moän knew the Spring rapture and the Summer joy and the Autumn peace and the Winter sleep of the children of earth. She remembered nothing, for her soul was filled with beauty; and she desired nothing, for her mind was hushed with dreams and honied with content.

But when she died, which was as a child falling asleep in a shadowy place of moss and rustling leaves, Faruane faded from the light, and his death was as a sunbeam passing from a green branch; for he had seen her soul stoop and kiss him and go away to its own place, where he could not follow. But they had daughters, and these lived to the fulness of the green hour, which is calm and unaging through many generations of our fevered mortal day. They in turn bore children to other sons of the greenness, the semblance of Moän but in all else of the seed of Faruane; so that they are like the offspring of the clan of men, but fear them and love them not, and may not dwell with them nor near them, nor wed with them. But they love the shadows of leaves, and the sun ripens them as fruit, And they are forgotten, and have no dreams but the dream that is their life.

-- Fiona Macleod, The Works of Fiona Macleod, Vol. V, The Sunset of Old Tales

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Infernal Knowledge

No man knows what moves
in the shadow of life.

-- Gaelic Proverb

Nautical advice

Be regular and orderly in your daily life so you can be violent and original in your work.

— Flaubert

Hark! in the dusk (D. H. Lawrence)

Hark! in the dusk
voices, gurgling like water
wreathe strong weeds round the knees
as the darkness
lifts us off our feet.
As the current thrusts warm through the loins,
so the little one
wildly floats, swirls,
and the flood strikes the belly,
and we are gone.

Her Song (2003)

With these words
I carve a well
inside and down
a bare white shore
of foam, this poem
a motion of the
day which is my
tide and gift
and prayer,
tidied in short
rhythms and
spiralled out to
You whose
center is everywhere
and whose
is the next isle
or the next.
A unicorn rests
in a clean white
corral - that's
the shape and
tone, a beehive
cell with words
for post and
stone, shapes
both tower a
nd well and
chalice and
bell. In it
you'll find both
name and numen,
wife asleep
upstairs and Mary
Magdalene in
her cave, her
long perfect hair
in waves about
my feet: Cat
and dragon
in the window
looking out
on suburb
and barrow
fanning the
waking lanes
of dawn. There's
a screech-owl
in the scratch
of this pen,
an angel tolling
a blue sanctus
in this
narwhal's horn.
This pen holds
it all together,
having risen
from below
where I sit each
morning with my
ears open every
way, on this
beach between
two oceans, this
chapel the two
worlds attend.
Here's Moby with
Ahab in his
pulpit five
miles down from
life. Here's
climbing back in
bed with my wife
to pray the heavens
round. Here's my
aging father
walking in
his woods
amongst a
colloquy of stones,
and here's my
mother dozing
in the sun,
singing all
God's psalms.
Palms and oaks,
soles and sugar
jones - all of
it here, narrow
as my arms
yet round
enough to rise
descend -
a throat of
surfside praises
all ages
moat and mend.
Mary in your
cave of rue,
your hair's now
drifting in
the savage blue
I ride. I sing
of it in every
line I write.

Water Serpents (David St. John)

Beneath the lit silk of your naked body
When you move your bones move like nervous water snakes
A complicated Medusan nest of rippling eels
Currents in the dawn river
MY own body littered by broken limbs of almond sunlight
As your breath uncoils its music & anxious histories of sexual pride
Echo from the hotel room next door
As our own pasts rise through the water like sacred filaments
& 'in our dead lovers' eyes we can recall
Woman upon woman upon man swirling in a pool of memorylessness
& upon the shore the day arrives entwined in its sisterly mass of red hair
Those brash & roiling fields of ruby kelp where
The dark sailor's body is found

Proxy (2003)

For 23 years I’ve lived
in Florida, yet only
perhaps a month of it
I’ve been out on its
true beaches, walking
astride the salt chorals
of the sea, dozing in
those siestas of satiate
bliss. Hardly gotten my
toes wet in all this time:
And yet that surf
surrounds me in dream
and on page with slow
sure rhythmus which
refuses to age. Beach
music I hear in every cup
I draw these days from
this cold northern well
-- bittersweet piano notes
which rinse the rage
from me, leaving behind
bossa motions caressing
the buoy of my ear.
Right now it’s dark
in the marinas where
yachts and sailboats
rest, their white shapes
like faint shells resting
on the bay’s black sand.
Green and red lights
constellate the waters
with a faery glow,
faint voices whose
merriment is lost
upon those bronzed
millionaires who’ll
roll up after dawn
with their tackle,
rum and tarts. Beyond
the harbor lights the
sea is wholly dark,
erased, though its
mute motions rock the
whole tableau on
a uteral gyre. It’s hours
yet before the arousals
of first light: Years or
lifetimes before I’ll
wake again from
the front seat of
my car on New
Smyrna Beach as
I once did regularly
on Sunday mornings
long after all the
bars had closed,
the breeze all salt
and brine breathing
hard into the windows;
I may never again sit
again on a chaise
on some condo balcony
alone as that symphony
resume. Ah but I
am listening, blue
mother, to the
suck and draw you
ride from beneath
my history’s horizon,
in that place where
I’ve always lived,
at least in here,
tolling these bells
to you from the heart
you shipwrecked on
the beach far down,
inside, where you
kissed me, sashayed
off, and let the
heavens drown.

Black Sea (Mark Strand)

One clear night while the others slept, I climbed
the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky
strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,
the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming
like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long
whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach
of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,
the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,
and the dark become desire, and desire the arriving light.
The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood
on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea
break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear ...
Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all
that the world offers would you come only because I was here?

from The New Yorker”, 4/7/03

Ocean Heart (2002)

Ah brig, good night,
to crew and you:
the ocean's heart too smooth, too blue
to break for you.
-- Emily Dickinson

After 20 years adrift in modern paradise
the heart grows burnished, like sea glass,
of its malt obliquities. I remember
my first summer down here walking Cocoa Beach
after drinking all night, my jeans rolled,
the morning a sweet diaspon of swelling joy,
my head singing that old Bob Marley tune
"is this love is this love is this love that I’m feelin"
to tiny Atlantic rollers which broke and scattered
all the sunlight just before my feet. How I hoped
for some Venus to sashay butt-naked off
those waves and fuck my emptiness
with porno-cum-motherly abandon.
Ah me. I drove as always home empty-handed,
my need for love conched inside that brilliant beach.
The years were not without their tide of vestals,
boozy and half-spread devotees of things
I way too partially represented. Our bodies
clanged like clabbers of a weary fog bell,
our hearts nacreous with bitters which would appall
any god, much more twenty-somethings
reaching for the golden ring inside the other’s thighs.
I tried, they tried, we all tried to make a go
of something which had small Michelangelo.
Then came the wives, who joined hands with me
in houses built on time, earnest sorors who sought
to reconcile their history with mine. Both wives
attacked the task with a feral openness I fell far
short of matching. We never made it together
much to any beach, what with daily tasks so far inland,
removed from those yeasty beams of ocean light,
our earnest labors wearying us from every sou
of drippy fun. No wonder I dreamed
of nipply naiads scampering red-rumped
in the surf just out of reach, their beach towels
dropping like moot fig leaves in the scree
— Nor any surprise that I plunged from
those briared ridges into sweet, descending,
horrific billows. I’ve just begun to right
those rumpy arrears. What’s next?
I’ll not go forward without reaching for
the hand I know, surf or no, toward
the best or worst years of love. Sadly
she may not reach back. We’ve new waters to face,
beached, if you will, where there are the
most difficult of surf conditions, full of riptides
and dark harbors: Yet face it together we must,
paradise or no, or never know which hands
the white heat rinsed in those white sands.

Memory's Tide

It is a true saying that memory is like the seaweed when the tide is in — but the tide ebbs. Each frond, each thick spray, each fillicaun or pulpy globe, lives lightly in the wave; the green water is full of strange rumours of sea-magic and sea-music: the hither flow and the thither surge give continuity and connection to what is fluid and dissolute. But when the ebb is far gone, and the wrack and the week lie sickly in the light, there is only one confused, intertangled mass. For most of us, memory is this tide-pool strand: though for each there are pools, or shallows where even the ebb does not lick up in it thirsty way depthward — narrow overshadowed channels to which we have the intangible clues.

— Fiona MacLeod, “Morag of the Glen”
from “Dominion of Dreams”

Whale of a Kiss (Jan. 4, 2005)

O Niamh, thy kisses were as sweet
as the blue joyous wine
of the wave of the sea-wind.

-- song of Oisin (Macleod)

Sweet sea-woman who
departed in a crashing wave,
who would have thought
your absence would sing the
whale who rides beneath
this hand, tolling love to
the trenches and ends
of all seas? Who would believe
that wounds inflicted
by the wildest kiss of all
would come to worship
far at sea not the person, nor the season,
but the brute cathedral
whose jaws frame and deepen
that door you walked out through?
Certainly not I, nor would I
wish this fate upon anyone
who would set pen to page.
St. Brendan Eastered on
the back of a whale for
seven years, that beast the
font and sacristy of all
departures seeking bliss;
Ishmael unshored from
dismal human ends
when he stepped down
into the boat in chase
of the same beast
which his captain would
at long last ride.
I’m just another scribe
upon the same scriptorium
who breeches and sounds
the salt acreage of doom.
All because of that one kiss
which woke the words
for holiness from their
Christian, modern grave.
No matter where I row
I keep shoring on the
back of this ancient whale,
my heart-rowing the
tide of his hot blood
deep in the oldest sea
of all, the one in which
I found and lost you in
three billion loves ago.
This dark swimming
has the sum power
of all waves’ crash
into deranging foam,
its ground as firm as
any shore I’ve walked.
His basso cries
from far below
stretch the tenor
of my song far beyond
the sky and moon
which listens every
morning before the
break of first light.
The beast who carries
me rides between my
thighs, between all nights
and mornings that
I sought you in.
If you ever care to
look me up, just watch
for that flash spume
out beyond the margins
of the tide where
every surf begins,
a lonely antiphon
for a long lost kiss.

The island fish

The Voyage version of the island fish goes like this:

Brendan and his monks arrive at a wooded shore growing on the back of a fish which has sustained itself for many years in a place where a river runs into the sea. They enter the wood and start cutting wood for a fire and hang up their kettle. They find a dry tree and as soon as they start cutting it down (or, as soon as the fish feels the fire), the shore disappears under water. The mariners barely manage to scramble back to their ship. Once safely there, they sing God’s praise. This was the third wonder that they saw. Brendan says: “It must have been a fish which pulled down the forest. He must have been old for all that wood to have grown on his back.” Next they are blown across the sea. They pray to God that they may soon reach land and have a rest.

-- in Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint: Sources and Analogue of the 12th Century “Voyage of St. Brendan” (50)

The story repeats in greater detail over 3 episodes in the Navagatio and is repeated in the Vita Brendani.

The story was widely disseminated during the Middle Ages, and may root in the early Christian Greek work Physiologus, which discusses animals, plants and stones, and is infused with Christian moral teaching. Here is the account from that work:

... A certain whale in the sea is called the aspidocelon and is exceedingly large like an island, heavier than sand, and is a figure of the devil. Ignorant sailors tie their ships to the beast as to an island and plant their anchors and stakes in it. They light their cooking fires on the whale, but when he feels the heat, he urinates and plunges into the depths, sinking all the ships. You also, O man, if you fix and bind yourself to the hope of the devil, he will plunge you along with himself into hell-fire.

-- in Strijbosch, ibid 52

What woman sings here?

It has been found that many Arabic and Hebrew strophic poems of the eleventh and twelfth centuries ended with lines in romance-dialect. The sophisticated poems, amorous or panegyrical, sung at the Andalusian courts, had this end-piece appropriate to the woman-singer. Usually these pieces were simple and direct, quite different from the poem to which they were attached.

It seems clear that the Arabic or Hebrew poet used the small romance-song as his starting point, the basis of his own invention. For instance, an Arabic poet took a romance love-song (often a well-known one) and built out of it his own more elaborated work.

Thus al-Tutili (c 1125) takes a romance-triplet in which a girl cries that her lover is sick with love and needs a doctor. He uses the same rhymes in a more sophisticated tripled about fire and water mixing, and uses a refrain in this system after each stanza (AAAA, BBBB and so on). There are five stanzas in all. In the last stanza he ends:

I’ve been abandoned, sick and wasting way,
but then she sings, half-serious, half in play:

and he cries out the originating triplet in which the girl speaks and which was called the jarcha (refrain, literally departure: compare the Troubadour’s tornada turning away).

The interesting thing is that the jarcha is always in its romance-form a folksong for a woman, a Fraulenlied,, a winileoda or cantiga de amiga.

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world (165)

JARCHA (REFRAIN) (Jan. 5, 2005)

In an old song a woman’s voice
began the tune, a phrase from
which the singer built his ark
of verse, fashioning a whale
of sorts part spleen part balls
part pure romantic blubber.
He’d end the song with
her refrain, rephrased in
what was called the jarcha,
words for her words
which were meant to
be sung by a woman,
a ,em>cantiga de amiga
to voice your love for me
upon the whale you bid
me ride -- Very wise
singer indeed! The ends
of my poems are hollow
of those words, an ebbing
surf which sounds deeply
the door you walked
forever out; a sad,
tidemongering affair
of bleeding heart and
profuse art trying to
staunch waves with
lines of maidenhair.
How shall I refrain
the words you left me
with, you who said
nothing but simply
pulled me close
into river’s ocean-
pounding pour?
“Here you go,” the
dream offered, the night
before I found you again,
years and bottles and
guitar-strings later, that
flotsom of every night
“Not Here” signaled
from every shore?
Home again at long last!
—the voyager’s dauntless
prayer. I’ve swum with that
whale, and sounded far
with him: seen every
wonder of the deep
between the ribs of hell.
Gasping and spluttering
I’ve wakened this
dazzling shore in the pure
light of high summer,
a glitter of aching blue
where you are nowhere
and everywhere to be found,
like an ancient sip of wine
that drowns every age
and kills the smoking brand,
tempering and sharpening
that ache for you
which transits all shores,
all songs, all ends
in endlessness, that tidal
crash and ebbed refrain
you whispered in the
roaring darkness we once
embraced. How did you
lift it, like a well-bucket
from my abyss? You
smiled and moved your
lips as I quaked and
erupted a spume of
whale-deep bliss: you
smiled and held me close
and whispered Yes, oh Yes ---

Monday, January 03, 2005

Love's voyager

... From hill to hill I roam, from thought to thought,
With Love my guide; the beaten path I fly,
For there in vain the tranquil life is sought;
If ‘mid the waste well forth a lovely rill,
Or deep emobosom’d a low valley lie,
In its calm shade my trembling heart is still;
And there, if Love so will,
I smile or weep, or fondly hope, or fear,
While in my varying brow, that speaks the soul,
The wild emotions roll,
Now dark, now bright, as shifting skies appear;
That whoso’er has proved the lover’s state
Would say, He feels the flame, nor knows his future state.

-- from “Distance and Solitude,”
Francisco Petrarca (c. 1304-1374),
transl. Lady Barbarina Dacre

The wonder of the plunder is way down under

To seek in the brine what is promised in heaven -- anyone with sense can plainly see the madness of it.

-- Vitae Sanctorum II, 293

Ah how lovely, how lovely,
truth, even if it is not real, how lovely!

-- Juan Ramon Jimenez, from "Diaria de Poeta y Mar," transl. James Wright

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

— Herman Melville

... Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe;
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.
Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship go.

-- Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” 373-80

I am under God in his office, God under me in mine.

-- Paracelsus

The island of the Little Man

rendan sees a little man, about an inch tall, floating on the water. He is sitting on a leaf. He ceaselessly dips a stylus into the water, then holds the stylus over a bowl in his left hand to catch the water dripping off the stylus. Once the bowl is full, he empties it again into the sea. When Brendan asks him why he is doing this, he tells Brendan that he is measuring the volume of the sea. Brendan says that this is a never-ending task, to which the little man replies: “Any more than I can measure the sea before the Day of Judgment will you be able to see all God’s wonders on earth. Return the monks to your fatherland.” Then he takes his leave. Brendan would have liked taking the little man back with him to his country, but it is said the the load would be too great for the ship.

-- “The Voyage of St. Brendan”

Blue Offices (Dec. 31, 2004)

For years I searched for you
in the worst of sodden ways,
embarking night by night
with hopes deep-salted
ennui and booze. Each
night I sailed through
all the bars where you
once revealed yourself
in this or that blue flame.
For a thousand
and one nights the immrama
was the same, my eyes
expectant on the crowd
dancing to heavy metal
or disco or new wave,
the shots and beers hazing
all the edges into a
hyperborean blur. My
face then was an
open book, a prow
of sorry ass lust
mortared to that craggy
wanderer’s visage,
shaped just so for
shoring needs as bad as mine.
Those beds I woke in
with those huge hangovers
-- stumps of oak poking
up from drowned suburbia,
fortune’s next nereid
snoring fast and deep,
her hair like so much
flotsom scattered mid
the wreckage -- those beds
all whispered Not Here
in your sad voice,
each one a vesper
which had crashed
again to wildly stilled
emptiness. Eventually
like a sailor harrowed by
some final isle I gave
up that futile chase —
or perhaps you gave up on
me, my gaze too finite
and my heart a halfwit
too addicted to
the brine to ever sail
into that salt wilderness
you’ve always waited
for me in. I came home
to let the horses go
and roam those fallow
seas while I got down
on aging knees to
pray and read
and dream the ribs
of what slowly
woke an abler ship.
For a thousand and
one mornings now I’ve
matinned my love
for you in these coracles
of ink and seem,
writing down every isle
you are closest to,
the ones I walk
but never wake. For
years now I’ve voyaged
thus; I can’t say that I’ve
learned much, though I
sure have seen more
wonder than I did before
when I needed so to
believe in what I saw,
when there was no
thaw for frozen,
wandering bones
than a woman’s warmer
ones. I have a wife now
and a working life,
a garden and scriptorium,
whale flukes in
plenitude on
every passing page.
The old high rage
has settled down
to till between these
faint blue lines,
distilling that old
whiskey down
until it’s Thrill of you
is now blue.
Same boat, different
hour, old vespers
poured to matins,
with you and I as
constant as the
vulgate isles of sea Latin.

The offshore truth

Glimpses do you seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God -- so, bitter is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!

-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Midocean Devotions (Jan. 1, 2005)

I have sailed so many days now
in this leaky, singular craft
I have grown inured of any shore
too sweet or sudden or
too sodden with your waves.
Only here in salt betweens
do I trust my words to your larynx
enough to call these verses singing,
my naked will astride the
dolphin mare whose
hooves have breached all seas.
Likewise this sure rudder
has no employ on dry land
a plow for turning fallow turf,
harnessed like a beast of burden
to fallow, sering days -- No, give
me blue fundament to heaven’s knees,
brine poured to hell’s sour lees;
give me fins and flukes the size
of sex swimming further down
a white whale godly
in its ungodly smash
of craft not oared with fire.
Whatever may transpire out here,
only the sea may fully speak
in that Latin of the deep
whose gospel glows in dragon
miniscule, three miles down
from where the world sleeps.
This far out, no one can
hear me scream to you,
except for God and Moby
and the song. Such concord
I pour like cream over my
morning flakes; each day
I write this wicked book
on pages white as snow,
the ink as blameless as the hand
you or God or Moby
bid me once again to row.

The Morality of Poetry (James Wright)

to Gerald Enscoe

Would you the undulation of one wave,
its trick to me transfer....
- Whitman

I stood above the sown and generous sea
Late in the day, to muse about your words:
Your human images come to pray for hands
To wipe their vision clear, your human voice
Flinging the poem forward into sound.
Below me, roaring elegies to birds,
intricate, cold, the waters crawled the sands,
Heaving and groaning, casting up a tree,
A shell, a can to clamber over the ground:
Slow celebration, cluttering ripple on wave.
I wondered when the complicated sea
Would tear and tangle in itself and die,
Sheer outrage hammering itself to death:
Hundreds of gulls descending to the froth,
Their bodies clumped and fallen, lost to me.
Counting those images, I meant to say
A hundred gulls decline to nothingness;
But, high in cloud, a single naked gull
Shadows a depth in heaven for the eye,
And, for the ear, under the wail and snarl
Of groping foghorns and the winds grown old,
A single human word for love of air
Gathers the tangled discords up to song.
Summon the rare word for the rare desire.
It thrives on hunger, and it rises strong
To live above the blindness and the noise
Only as long as bones are clean and spare,
The spine exactly set, the muscles lean.
Before you let a single word escape,
Starve it in darkness; lash it to the shape
Of tense wing skimming on the sea alone....
So through my cold lucidity of heart
I thought to send you careful rules of song.
But gulls ensnare me here; the sun fades; thought
By thought the tide heaves, bobbing my words' damp wings;
Mind is the moon-wave roiling on ripples now.
Sun on the bone-hulled galleons of those gulls
Charms my immense irrelevance away,
And lures wings moonward. Openly she soars,
A miracle out of all gray sounds, the moon,
Deepening and rifting swell and formal sky.
Woman or bird, she plumes the ashening sound,
Flaunting to nothingness the rules I made.
Scattering cinders, widening, over the sand
Her cold epistle falls. To plumb the fall
Of silver on ripple, evening ripple on wave,
Quick celebration where she lives for light,
I let all measures die. My voice is gone,
My words to you unfinished, where they lie
Common and bare as stone in diamond veins.
Where the sea moves the word moves, where the sea
subsides, the slow word fades with lunar tides.
Now still alive, my skeletal words gone bare,
Lapsing like dead gulls' brittle wings and drowned,
In a mindless dance, beneath the darkening air,
I send you shoreward echoes of my voice:
The dithyrambic gestures of the moon,
Sun-lost, the mind plumed, Dionysian,
A blue sea-poem, joy, moon-ripple on wave.

Procedural note

... Already we are boldly launched upon the deep, but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities.

-- Melville, Moby Dick (144)

The highest good is like water

The highest good is like water.
Water give life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kin.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.
No fight: No blame.

-- Tao Te Ching #8
trans. Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English

The hidden soul below

There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about the sea, whose gently awful stirring seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters’ Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly. For here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming still, tossed like slumberers in their beds; the ever rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.

-- Melville, Moby Dick, (525)

Chorus from "Atalanta in Calydon" ( Charles Swinburne)

... For an evil blossom was born
Of sea-foam and the frothing of blood,
Blood-red and bitter of fruit,
And the seed of it laughter and tears,
And the leaves of it madness and scorn;
A bitter flower from the bud,
Sprung of the sea without root,
Spring without graft from the years.

The weft of the world was untorn
That is woven of the day on the night;
The hair of the hours was not white
Nor the raiment of time outworn,
When a wonder, a world’s delight,
A perilous goddess was born;
And the waves of the sea as she came
Clove, and the foam at her feet,
Fawning, rejoiced to bring forth
A fleshy blossom, a flame
Filling the heavens with heat
To the cold white ends of the north.

Notes on love from Araby

Sahl said: “Whoso loves God, he is life; but whoso loves, he has no life.” By the words “he is life” he means that his live is agreeable, because the lover finds delight in whatever comes to him from the beloved, whether it be loathsome or desirable; while by “he has no life” he means that, as he is ever seeking to reach what he loves, and ever fearing that he may be prevented from attaining it, his whole life is lost. One of the great Sufis said: “Love is a pleasure, and with God there is no pleasure; for the stations of reality are astonishment, surrender and bewilderment.”

-- Al-Kalanadhi (transl. Jack Lindsay)

Desire is the capital of the lover’s kingdom. In that capital there is set a throne of the torment of parting, and there is drawn a sword of the terror of separation, and there is laid on the hand of hope a branch of the narcissus of union; and every moment a thousand heads fall by that sword. And seven thousand years have passed, and that narcissus is still fresh and blooming, and never has the hand of any hope attained thereto.

-- Bayazid of Bistam (d. 874), transl. Jack Lindsay

Here You Go (Jan 2, 2005)

I have dreamed of those
annihilate green blue waters
river-running toward deep
oceans, a brute overflow
from nursling mountain
passes flooding bridges
and towns, urgent as
salmon leaps to reach
home & hauling me
off my feet away from
my thousand and one
fruitless emulations,
baptizing me one again
in the cataclysm of Yes:
Such dreams have
preceded by a fortnight
encounters I’ve had
in the flesh which hauled
me off from shore
and left me bleeding
miles out to sea,
dazed, united and freed
to squander every ounce
of blue in two bodies’
literal translations of you
to the utter wounding
of an endless salt delight.
Oh well, I asked for it,
didn’t I? That’s why I
suspect the voice in one
dream whispered
Here you go,
come and get it

as I was caught
full force in the frenzy
of the river,
that devil’s voice
inside every answered prayer
and requited-at-long-last
desire, squeezing tongs of
fire round my heart inside
the delirium of release.
These days I simply pray
for a decent vowel movement,
sufficient enough spume
from the whale to
wash me to the next
poem’s shore, far enough
at sea to bare its truths
with every homeward sail
full trimmed. St. Brendan
and his crew once
found an isle of devilish
smiths at work in
foundaries of hellfire;
aware of the eternal
danger God had tided
them to, he bid his
men to row the other
way as fast as they
could, as deeply as
they loved their souls.
From a doorway on
the isle a shaggy man
appeared, “full at once
of fire and darkness,”
carrying an immense lump
of red-hot slag in
giant tongs, then hurled
the beast of fire like
a meteor towards their
fleeing boat. The men
escape through boiling
seas as Brendan watched
the confines of Hell
fade back to noctilucent
black. Great words for
ocean and its latent
abyssal fire is the book
You bid me write: May
God nail me fast to
this mast of days
like a sail full hearted
as polar winds blow,
my hand full tiding
the blue wilderness below.
And when I’ve shored
my last wet poem,
may my last words
be succinct as the
goddess from that dream
whose whale I
ride from isle to isle --
a line for every reader
who dare here also dream --
Here you go --

Little Whale Song (Ted Hughes)

for Charles Causley

What do they think of themselves
With their global brains -
The tide-power voltage illumination
Of those brains? Their x-ray all-dimension
Grasp of this world’s structures, their brains budded
Clone replicas of the electron world
Lit and re-imagining the world
Perfectly tuned receivers and perceivers,
Each one a whole tremulous world
Feeling through the world? What
Do they make of each other?
"We are beautiful. We stir
Our self-colour in the pot of colours
Which is the world. At each
Tail-stroke we deepen
Our being into the world’s lit substance,
And our joy into the world’s
Spinning bliss, and our peace
Into the world’s floating, plumed peace."
Their body-tons, echo-chambered,
Amplify the whisper
Of currents and airs, of sea-peoples
And planetary manoeuvres,
Of seasons, of shores, and of their own
Moon-lifted incantation, as they dance
Through the original Earth-drama
In which they perform, as from the beginning.
The Royal House.
The loftiest, spermiest
Passions, the most exquisite pleasures,
The noblest characters, the most god-like
Oceanic presence and poise --
The most terrible fall.


The poem
if it reflects the sea
reflects only
its dance
upon that profound depth
it seems to triumph

-- William Carlos Williams


Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give this joy to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim in the huge fluid freedom.

-- Rumi (transl. Coleman Banks)

Sleep song

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

-- T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Writing down "the unwritten life"

As yet, however, the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten life.

... My object here is simply to project the draught of a systemization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder.

But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post-office is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one’s hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing.

What am I that, I should essay to hook the nose of this Leviathan! The awful tauntings in Job might well appal me: “Will he (the leviathan) make a covenant with thee? Behold the hope of him is vain!” But I have swum through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had to do with whales with these visible hands; I am earnest, and I will try.

-- Melville, “Cetology,” in Moby Dick

Cetology (Jan. 3, 2005)

According to magnitude I divide
the whales into three primary BOOKS
(subdivisible into CHAPTERS) and these
shall comprehend the whale, both
small and large.

... Small erections may be furnished
by their first architects; grand ones,
true ones, ever leave the copestone to
posterity. God keep me from ever
completing anything! This whole book
is but a draught -- nay but the draught
of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength,
Cash, and Patience!

-- Melville, Moby Dick

Who’s to complain? Our work is
the whale’s, his to ordain and
mordent and spume and sire.
This book is inked in his
cathedral depths, its covers
set with pearls the size of
snowballs, harpoon barbs
and two dozen spilt doubloons.
Each page is another fin
from the catalogue which
pilots every sea and depth
God poured in me a thousand
lives ago. So what’s a poem
to Leviathan, whose groaning
organum binds surface and keep
to distant shores? Certainly
not Mon Petit Ephiphanies,
those shiny black buttons
on Ahab’s coat that tumbled
to abyss when you jawed
the captain’s ribs. Not even
the ship survives to ferry
the tale you bid me write:
It’s just me on this savage
leaky casket & a sea
sufficient for God’s heart
and the silence that you
leave behind having
thrashed and battered
and hauled ass on down
to doom. “You must have
plenty of sea-room to tell
the truth in,” your prior
scholar once wrote:
a big fish to write it, too,
between the covers of
all shores. The work goes
on in your salt scriptorium,
my song today the next
bit of scrimshaw to survive.
That’s cetology: blue study
where the texts are all
shelved on the mandible
of a diving town,
where poetry leaks from
the wounds and
fire rages where we drown.

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