Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, January 28, 2005

Third Current, Strange Shore

But what headland of a strange shore, O my soul, art thou steering the course of my ship?

-- Pindar

The song-quest

To base my song letter,
I go on a quest and lead back,
as by a bridle, fine words,
well-loaded words, full of
a strange and natural sense
not everyone knows how to unveil.

-- Gui de Limoges (1138-99)
transl. Jack Lindasy


A scribe dealing with the work of Limoges in the next century wrote: "A man could indeed have a subtle spirit who could understand it from one end to the other."

St. Paul's "Third Heaven"

St. Paul's statement about the third heaven was widely known in the Middle Ages, partly because it headed one of the most influential visionary texts, the Visio Pauli. This Greek apocraphal work was probably written in Egypt in the third century.

The Visio Pauli was to have a profound effectd on Western European representations of the next world. It was initially disseminated in a Latin translation, made between the fourth and sixth centuries, later also in vernacular translations.

The Visio Pauli begins with the quotation from 2 Corinthians 12. Next Paul relates that, while still in body, he is caught up into the third heaven. There he sees the righteous. Guided by an angel, he is taken within the gates of paradise and the punitive places in hell. In spite of the reference to the third heave, St. Paul sees only one heaven.

The equation of the third heaven with heaven as such was not unusual in the Middle Ages.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint

Columba's 3 days and nights

After three days and nights Columba became curious to know how his follower had fared and ordered him dug up. The monks excavate the spot where Oran had been sacrificed, finally uncovering his face. Oran's eyes pop open, and staring right at Columba he declares, "There is no wonder in death, and hell is not as it is reported. In fact, the way you think it is is not the way it is at all." Horrified, the saint had Oran buried again at all haste, crying "Uir! Uir! air beul Odhrain" or "Earth, earth on Oran's mouth!" (The saying "chaidh uir air suil Odhrain" or "Earth went over Oran's eye" is still widely heard in the Highlands and Hebrides.

Oran's 3 days and nights

Their Kingdom is in the North, under the Fir-Chlisneach, the Dancing Men, as the Hebrideans call the polar aurora. They are always young there. Their bodies are white as the wild swan, their hair yellow as honey, their eyes blue as ice. Their feet leave no mark on the snow. The women are white as milk, with eyes like sloes, and lips like red rowans. They fight with shadows, and are glad; but the shadows are not shadows to them. The Shee slay great numbers at the full moon, but never hunt on moonless nights, or at the rising of the moon, or when the dew is falling. Their lances are made of reeds that glitter like shafts of ice, and it is ill for a mortal to find one of these lances, for it is tipped with the salt of a wave that no living thing has touched, neither the wailing mew nor the finned sgAdan nor his tribe, nor the narwhal. There are no men of the human clans there, and no shores, and the tides are forbidden.

Long ago one of the monks of Columba sailed there. He sailed for thrice seven days till he lost the rocks of the north; and for thrice thirty days, till Iceland in the south was like a small bluebell in a great grey plain; and for thrice three years among bergs. For the first three years the finned things of the sea brought him food; for the second three years he knew the kindness of the creatures of the air; in the last three years angels fed him. He lived among the Sidhe for three hundred years. When he came back to Iona, he was asked where he had been all that long night since evensong to matins. The monks had sought him everywhere, and at dawn had found him lying in the hollow of the long wave that washes Iona on the north. He laughed at that, and said he had been on the tops of the billows for nine years and three months and twenty-one days, and for three hundred years had lived among a deathless people. He had drunk sweet ale every day, and every day had known love among flowers and green bushes, and at dusk had sung old beautiful forgotten songs, and with star-flame had lit strange fires, and at the full of the moon had gone forth laughing to slay. It was heaven, there, under the Lights of the North. When he was asked how that people might be known, he said that away from there they had a cold, cold hand, a cold, still voice, and cold ice-blue eyes. They had four cities at the four ends of the green diamond that is the world. That in the north was made of earth; that in the east, of air; that in the south, of fire; that in the west, of water. In the middle of the green diamond that is the world is the Glen of Precious Stones. It is in the shape of a heart, and glows like a ruby, though all stones and gems are there. It is there the S9dhe go to refresh their deathless life.

The holy monks said that this kingdom was certainly Ifurin, the Gaelic Hell. So they put their comrade alive in a grave in the sand, and stamped the sand down upon his head, and sang hymns so that mayhap even yet his soul might be saved, or, at least, that when he went back to that place he might remember other songs than those sung by the milk-white women with eyes like sloes and lips red as rowans. "Tell that honey-mouthed cruel people they are in Hell," said the abbot, and give them my ban and my curse unless they will cease laughing and loving sinfully and slaying with bright lances, and will come out of their secret places and be baptized."

They have not yet come.

This adventurer of the dreaming mind is another Oran, that fabulous Oran of whom the later Columban legends tell. I think that other Orans go out, even yet, to the Country of the Sidhe. But few come again. It must be hard to find that glen at the heart of the green diamond that is the world; but, when found, harder to return by the way one came.

- Fiona Macleod, Iona

Three Cups of Song (2004)

The old singers down my father's
Tree held three cups of brimming song-
Laugher, weeping, sleep: Dante strolled
Through three states of soul in travail
Between world and God: Three motions
I name here enact that blued waltz-
To recall bad nights, embrace today
And mint the dark ores lifted here:
Three writings row the "complicate
amassing harmony" Stevens
Poured I here harbor: Three boats now
Line this brightening shore.
And God? A third to every shore:

Song Cycle (2001)

There was once
a poetry sustained
between two wills,
the one in love
with the given life,
the other in lust
for another.

A music rose from
those stretching plates,
taut, viral,
pure as all waylaid,
imagined things can be.

But then came
the break with
its grim hooves.
An unharbored music
poured forth
from the wound,
bitter and droll.
A drone.

Next the nocturnes,
a descant metal
falling blue to black,
a drowned woman
bumping against
a reef of pews.

What sings now?
Open the doors and
let it go. Outside the
blossoms are pealing
bells of sweet fire.

The next poetry
is uncertain
of anything else
but plays on,
harping toward
the light of what will be.

Three Quests (Nov. 2002)

It doesn't matter if you're
looking for God or true wilderness
or the insides of your love:
you've got to search
at least three ways.
Query the same engine
and the same pages result.
First you rowed forth seeking
island to island the
descending rooms of a vault,
finding Orpheus astride
gray fishes and a sea god's
house ribbed with whalebones.
Then you entered the forest
of your desire where it
was darkest, with only
your red hunger to
light the way. Now it's
time to take the guided path
back from annihilation,
returning to the world
a simple boon. That chalice
that you found out there
heals itself returning
to the lips of those who
need it most. Actually,
the third way isn't a
search at all: rather we translate
what we found in letting go,
filling the page with
loaves and fishes
from heaven's deep.

Three Great Cups (2003)

When I read back
through my massed
stone colloquies,
I can see three
motions which
stay pure:
A voyaging mind,
my body's gallop,
this ache for you.

those three wells
from which I daily
draw, hungry for
more & aching for
what must rise--
writing the poems
working the bones,
stroking your feet.

What sustains
me in each encounter
I cannot say, but
the bread I find
there is always
enough for today
but never more.
This tells me
that all are of
the same humger
and thus ordained
(or wardened)
by God.

It is also clear
that I always
fail by wanting
more: For grander
fish hauled
from the deep, for
muscles bigger
than my frame,
for right here & now
all day and night.

Blessing and bane,
cool water with
astounding bite,
my altars have
all exceeded
their temples,
grown long
like vines and
red of tooth. How
I've howled in
the old woods
of the vacant word.
Worked this
poor body past stiff
and sore. And
oh my greed for
you, enough said!

God has given me
these preter-thirsts
but its mine to
give them back
to God's world:
No shore final,
this body old,
letting you go.

Three cups today
I fill and drain:
Balls for thought,
heart in the heat.
feet for naught!

A God's God's God (2002)

How to be a god's god's
god? To beacon that moon
which enthralls the ocean
the way a prodigal weeps
at the shore?
It all happened here.
My wife asleep upstairs
embroidering dreams
through houses filled with
family living and dead. She
accepting our day's first kiss
& sighing I love you as
I stroke her arm slowly
in the yet wakened dark.
It's revering something
deeper than mere
dark reverence.
The essence of our hearts
long distilled, spilled and
reabsorbed through
the worst hours of labor
and worry and pain.
James stroking Buster in
his lap in a bright corner
of the room, the grey cloak
which hides both now in
death a silvery wool
balled at their feet.
Our grandparents having coffee
on the back porch. Rilke and
Roethke playing croquet through
their rhymes. Four 757s lost
on Sept. 11 crossing over,
nearing home.
And everywhere the ocean
I heard long ago
on brilliant mornings when
there was only sand to sea
and my mother's voice in the air,
laughing, singing, calling my name
inside my name inside my name.
Waves to the third power
kissing the innermost shore.
Cat laying in the window
still sensing God in the screen,
alert in an infinitely sprawled calm,
one paw extended,
getting more than enough.

A Lover's Lover's Lover (2002)

What’s it like to be a lover’s lover’s
lover? The alembic heart washed
three times in this still-scalding
summer light. You painting
furniture, me mowing,
the both of us sweating hard,
hair matted, red and ripe in
this humid heat and happy.
The love we replanted a season ago
appears throughout the day now,
sure in the faithfulness of time,
hard work and more than
a little grace. We may kiss again,
my love, tomorrow or
tomorrow or tomorrow,
in wing with the
next unfolding season.
How do we love deeper?
Note how late summer light
scans the afternoon like a far
regnant, serenely and sure,
bursting sheaves of thick
honey stronger than wine.
This happiness seemed lost forever:
Now we’re threading it daily
in an embroidery of meals,
makings and music.
Our cat in the window of this,
her blue eyes round, singing
to her prey. Delve still deeper.
Saddle the tenth wave. Ride
farther into the country of love
on what this poem proves
with honey and hooves and you.

Three Great Cups (Dec. 2003)

Three great cups of
song I found down
Oran’s boneyard well --
today I call ‘em History,
Mystery and You.
One drink passes
from one to other;
poured thrice it
draughts the sea-sufficient,
shore-embedding song
Saint Oran freighted
back from pagan Hell.
Three doors open
to one descending
stair which always
leaves me dripping here.
One’s boat-shaped,
the next has strange
hooey for a handle,
the third is painted
the wildest blue.
Which cup today?
I check the view.
It’s dark and cold
and windy outside
as winter settles down
so hard and aged,
a bitter rasp of
scythe and sorrow
which makes homeowners
across town
burn their Christmas
lights all night, as
if to fend ice-wolves
and worse away.
Boozing here was
always most desperate,
chilling my heart
deeper than it could
go with a thirst for
a heat outside
in the night which
proved its own,
a dark cold drank
through rawest bone.
I nearly died once
on that pole of lost-soul
ice, on nights like
this blowing down
from Canada. Winds
like these once sailed
me from darkest rooms
to dreariest ends,
desperate for some
other, any breasty
yeasty embrace, to
harbor a dead man’s
cold bones. Then I
swooned and slept,
and fell into a dream
of white beaches framed
in folding blue. A
woman rose from
that magic tide,
wet and naked and
smiling in an invitation
which hauled me
back or in or round
some vernalling Cape,
exacting real blood
from my once so-frozen
heart. Yet She was
never there when
I made good, turning
to stand to face love’s
most mortal muse.
Instead the strangest
music wove the
empty air, sweet as
a chaste kiss on
her divinely vanished
rear: A song inside
the sonic boomage
of no surf I had
yet engaged but
knew right then
I would, or somehow
had below the
life I thought I led
from day to day to day.
Three cups of Oran
intern me here,
skulls, if you will,
to draught the
deepest waters of
that bone-chilling well:
One accounts for
all I lost in passage
at the oar; the next
sieves shouting gods
in the surf’s incessant
roar; and the third
I save for You on
this final mantle
which some day
You’ll stand next
to, having sauntered
through the door
inside my wife’s
bitching, banality
and cries -- And
You’ll be nude at
last of all your rooks
and ruses, dissolved
of all Your dissoluting
selves, Your
eyes all vim and
blue ocean fuses,
Your hand which
may then hold mine
reaching for the fate
no sea requites
nor ever quite refuses.

Third Sign of the Cross

At the right turning
And he rode through England, Sir Gawain, on God's
Behalf, though the ride was hardly a happy one.
He was often alone, at night, in places
Where the path ahead of him could please no one.
Only his horse rode with him, through woods
And hills, and the only voice he heard
Was God's, until he reached the north
Of Wales. The Anlesey Islands were always
To his left; he forded rivers near the highlands,
Crossing at Holy Head and landing
In the wilderness of Wirral Forest, where few men
Lived whom God or a good man could love.
and Gawain asked, as he rode, if anyone
He met had heard of a green man, or a green
Chapel, anywhere nearby, and everyone
Said no, never in their lives, neither seen
Nor heard of a man whom heaven had colored

Gawain's path
Wound through dreary scenes,
And his head leaned
First this way, then that, as
he hunted that chapel.

He climbed over cliffs in many strange lands,
Nowhere near home, friendless now.
And at every ford over every stream
He found himself facing enemies so foul
And wild that they forced him to fight for his life.
He met so many marvels in those hills
It is difficult to tell a tenth of it -- dragons
Attacked him, and sometimes wolves, and satyrs,
And forest trolls, running out of rocks,
And bulls, and bears, and ivory-tusked boars,
And giant ogres leaping from crags.
His strength saved him, and his courage, and his faith
In God: he could have died a dozen times
Over. And the fighting was hard, but the foul
Winter was worse, so cold that rain froze before it could fall to earth;
Sleeping in his armor, sleet came close
To killing him, lying on open rock
Where icy rivers charged from mountains
And over his head icicles hung,
Sharp and hard. In danger and hardship
Gawain stayed alone, riding until Christmas
When he prayed to Mary
to end his grief,
To guide his weary
Steps to relief.

Next morning, more cheerful, he rode down a hill
To a deep forest, incredibly wild,
Set into mountains and surrounded by hundreds
Of huge grew oaks. Hazel and hawthorn
Were snarled and tangled together, and shaggy
Moss hung everywhere in ragged clumps;
And sad birds sat on the bare
Branches, piping pitifully in the cold.
Gawain hurried his horse, crossed swamps
And mires and bogs, acres of mud,
Afraid, now, that he'd lost all chance
Of hearing Christmas mass and honoring
Mary's son, born to end
Our sorrow; and sighing, he said: "Oh Lord,
Oh Mary, gentlest Mother and dear,
I beg you to send me some lodging, to let me
Hear mass before morning; I ask meekly,
And in proof pray swiftly my pater, my ave,
My creed."

He prayed as he rode,
And wept for misdeeds,
And shaped the sign of the cross
And called Christ in his need.

Three times he shaped that sign, and suddenly,
On a hill above a field, set deep
Among massive trees, he saw a moat And a castle- the loveliest ever owned,
In the middle of a meadow, with woods and lawns
And a thick palisade fence, and grass
And grounds running more than two miles...

from Gawain and The Green Knight,
transl. Burton Raffel
(691 - 769)

Third Engine (April 2004)

As dreams are poems of day,
so poems are not this boat
but gas the engines of blue seem,
add sound to trawlers trudging in
as I at this hour head on out.
With me here the ache of toils
which spread through yesterday
like the mushroom compost
we worked into the front yard
with three sets of rounds with
that mule-stubborn rototiller,
raking up the clods of bahia
grass and weeds, working in
the smelly offal of hothouse growth
with is sure to grow what
we plant there next.
With me too is last night’s dream
of going back to a job
I’d not seen in six or more years.
The place had changed fantastically,
old enterprises tilled over and gutted
and a new look for all, faux-mall-ish,
glass walls sliding like huge arms
of wealth and monied industry,
great cogs knitting new gears of day
inside, behind, and below
the actual and more solid day.
Here is the third great labor
which has its own dimension
between hot and hotter days
and thicker liquid pour of night,
like dawn somehow composed of both
but devoted to a separate master, tooled
in a crannog just offshore every
other labor where the sound of seem
composes, page by stone by log,
the shape of an in-betweeing man
half in half out of lake-like water,
dreaming of the insiding day
and composting every act of dream.
Here the making is fraught and
necessary abode, though never
it will find harbor except on the page,
and everything on it is forged
in a sweet and futile, blue-robed rage.

Third Well (2003)

If you too long and too
hard into the forest,
eventually you’ll see
deer everywhere.

-- Hunter’s saying

A well is not a whale.
Nor is every poem
ripened from that gut.
Look: The last day
of verse to fit into
this 100 page composition
book, and what powers
are left to evoke from
a narrow throat of cold?
Eventually the whale
vomits the hero onto
the shore & swims off.
We walk back home
and get to work.
Have I rung well enough
the diving bell in this
bale of bluey matins?
Long and deep enough
in the Oran-marrowed
trough? In the Mabinogion
Manannan and Pryderi
travel through 3 towns
perfecting 3 crafts --
saddles in one, shields
in another, gold shoes
in a third -- once
they’ve mastered the
craft & raise the ire
of their fellow craftsmen.
Exhausting all the
possibilities of one
name of God, they
move on. Is a creative
life one well, or the
sum of many? The
singing fills a metaphor
til it’s soaked --
home, sea-roads, well --
and moves on. For
years I played guitar,
for more years I’ve
written poems. Perhaps
there is a third cup
yet to fill & spill --
an art for old age,
explorations distilled
from the first two.
It’s up to the God
of Oran’s talky sod,
to that tiller of the
loam of singsong
erectile bone. Me?
I just move the pen,
praying for the wisdom
and willingness to know
when one door closes
and its time to make
the next door open
and when the work
has simply dreamed
into the third room
further down.

Third Well 2 (2003)

There is a third well
here, inside that inward
room which tolls
inside a tomb: It takes
three matins to descend
here, three songs of
plunging bone, to name
sweet heaven’s lowest
clime, where backwards
angels rise..Someone
throw me a trope,
a wile, a fin to swim
my way home. It’s
5:30 a.m., cat in one
window, black cat
at the rear door, sweet
wife asleep upstairs:
The air blowing in
through the window
rich and sexual full
of rain darkly here
from this sea and that:
Cat in the third well
purring, demurring
to this work which
is a gelid rich pleasure,
born of out and down
motions. This poem’s
a bucket of what I
found there, cold and
sweet, infinitely true
and impossible to name
or reach or harrow
though it tries, furrowing
and barrowing into
this land before dawn,
filling the third sigh
before the stir which
wakens all the day.

Three Drops (1992)

He lived on by stealing the three drops from the vat. Boy-thief Gwydion, archon of Merlin, dipped his forefinger in the black bubbling blood. All changed. Knowing his inheritance stolen, the hag’s crow-son Adfaddu howls mamma mamma mamma. See, the putrid distillation was meant for him. One year down Gwydion’s gullet. Wakened from her corpse copse, Cerridwen lifts snout from offal-farrow, bares swinish razortusk shrieking and dashes to the scene of the crime to gash a vulva into the perpetrator. Yikes! Get the fuck outta here! Gwydion hauls ass with her in tusky pursuit. His flight, changeling, become hare she become fox; he salmon she hawk; he grain of seed in a pile she swoop down and gobble seed up. Night journey, blood organs, bones of dead children, shitgut. Born on Hallowe’en as the poet Taleissin and thrown on the waters. Fished from the lake I poet, born of audacity, with my three syllables of power. Forgotten.

Sit at the keyboard — computer, piano? — to softly rill melodies, open stops for plaintive air, syllablic oboes and flutes sighing soft voweled love silverslick over chambered bones, a moon moan bone loom. Hushed clouds hug wet trees, spring polyphonically nibbles in the rushes. Virginal green, meet roaring river. Here bodies sing to each other, desire a froth. All foam. Champagne sins. Goes to my heads. If I compose these songs, whose mouth will open to sing? Dark lady with the veil, egyptian eyes, wide sea lips, narrow hips. Widens long slow languid to let the honey coo and roar. Minor sevenths, elevenths, picking up strings swell at the bridge and the chorded union.

Artist’s exile. For crimes committed against. Stole psalter and copied it in secret. Words stolen from my father. Way back when, tore off a bloody chunk and ran. Far away. Wanted by the authority. Authority wanting. One year at the sea stake. Imagine what pains sea-worms inflicted on me. Coracle of dreams. Black is my horse, black is my cloak, black is my face. Giddy is my cloud-covered mind. Black is my blood, black is my thirst, black are her sheets. Dubhtach. Wasting sickness of Cobtach for the crown. Eat and eat, wolf’s starveling growl. Paralysis. Welfare mothers with lice. Too drunk to say his words. Only rage and rage. Die, motherfucker. Head rears from black blood of her cauldron my teeth stained blickerblue o mouth o moon o tomb o womb o place I stole place I died is where the words began is where I ran is where I die.

Sea realm. Orpheus the Fisherman, Christ the Fisher of Men, the Fisher King British Nudens - “Fisher” - Curoi Mac Daire, genius of the sea. Manannan Mac Lir, trader, Green Harper, carrying all the world’s treasures in his crane skin bag.

-- from Local Soul, 1992

Bright Shadows (2002)

...Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe’s weed and Herme’s feather,
come today and come tomorrow,
I do love you both together!

— Keats, "Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow"

It’s that human bite
in the immortal wine,
the lintel found in the woods.
Bright shadows
mewl for seed
in dewy fields of bone:
a little wild blood,
a pinch of old rot,
three giggles to wind
the charm tight.
I can’t say what is brewing
in this pot of song,
each day ladles
up stranger cups.
I am just a door
between this This
and That, a minstrel
of dark oceans
with my motley cap,
weaving maudlin
shades into the back
of every room.
Here’s to dancing
in that glittery curl
before the next wave
heaves and goes boom.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Third Heaven (Jan 27, 2005)

Sweet friend, I heard your singing clear.
I’m grieved that you disturb me here,
drawn back from paradise depths am I,
where on a lily-bed I lie.

-- 12th century song

I know a man in Christ above
fourteen years ago (whether in
the body, I know not, or out
of the body, I know not: God knoweth),
such a one caught up to
the third heaven. And I know such
a man (....) that he was caught
up into paradise, and heard
secret words, which is not
granted man to utter.

—2 Corinthians 12:2-4

My first heaven was green and
verdurous, grown from my
mother’s voice next to the sea’s,
an embowering uteral which
claimed me young and since
has hinged the worlds between
what embraces yet goes without.
My second heaven came from
whiter realms, descended
in a discerning wave of wind
which blasted my teen years
in some feral pentecost,
tongues of fire which burnt
my supplicating hands to
chalky bone and wedged an
infinite white sea between
the world I know and bliss.
The third heaven was
pure salt blue and washed
the other two away in
one woman’s ecstatic
Yes! -- a sound from which
I woke no longer solitary
or sane, my ears sweetened
and enthralled with
that crashing heaven far
below and behind the
other two. Down in
that drowned abbey
of love’s wildest ache
I was pickled, night
after night down many
years, into the brine-
stained rogue who
only speaks in blue-
angelic brogue, a silky
selkie song full nippled
with the cream of
joy, the narhwhals
nibbed like pens
or penises proud with
all the nouns to pile,
like bones, in the
rumpled bed of abyss
beneath this writing chair.
These words pour freely
from my blue heaven,
words no man may say
in the dry world of days
without washing pale
shores blue. My third
heaven vaults every
verb to harbor you
if only for one night
or the transit of a page.
Perhaps such heaven is
a poor height for gods
and poems to rage, but
then the deeps to me
have always seemed the
greater half of heaven,
like dreams inside the
pillows where we sleep.
My third heaven
borders the first two
everywhere the seem
of us is sweet.

Chalice of the Third Communion

One day, on which three Masses had been said, they saw a column in the sea, which seemed not far off, yet they could not reach it for three days. When they drew near it St Brendan looked towards its summit, but could not see it, because of its great height. which seemed to pierce the skies. It was covered over with rarecanopy, the material of which they knew not; but it had the colour of silver and was hard as marble, while the column itself was of the clearest crystal.

St Brendan ordered the brethren to take in their oars, and to lower the sails and mast, and directed some of them to hold onto the fringes of the canopy, which extended about a mile from the column, and about the same depth into the sea. When this had been done, St Brendan said, ‘Run in the boat now through an opening, that we may get a closer view of the wonderful works of God.'. And when they had passed through the opening, and looked around them, the sea seemed to transparent like glass, so that they could plainly see everything beneath them, even the base of the column, and the skirts of the canopy lying on the ground, for the sun shone as brightly within as without.

St Brendan measured an opening between four pavilions, which he found to be four cubits on every side. When they had sailed along for all day by one side of the column, they could always feel the shade as well as the heat of the sun, beyond the ninth hour; and after thus sailing about the column for four days, they found the measurement of each side to be four hundred (?) cubits. On the fourth day, they discovered on the south side, a chalice of the same material as the canopy and a patella like that of the column, which St Brendan at once took up, saying: the Lord Jesus Christ has displayed to us this great marvel, and has given to us two gifts therefrom, in testimony of the fact to others the holy father then directed the brethren to perform the divine office, and afterwards. to take refreshment.; for they had taken none since they came in sight of the column. Next day they rowed towards the north, and having passed out through an opening, they set up the mast, and unfurled the sails again, while some of them held on by the fringes, or skirts of the canopy, until all was right in the boat. When they had set sail, a favourable wind came on in the rear, so that they had on occasion to use the oars, out only to hold the ropes and the tiller. And thus for eight days were they borne along towards the north.

-- The Voyage of St. Brendan, transl. Denis O’Donoghue (1893)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


... Loved I a dream?
My doubts, born of obvious darkness, seem
A subtle tracery of branches grown
The tree’s true self -- proving that I have known,
Thinking it love, the blushing of a rose.
But think. These nymphs, their loveliness ... suppose
They bodied forth your senses fabulous thirst?
Illusion! Which the blue eyes of the first,
As cold and cha 0ste as the weeping srping,
Beget: the other, sighing, passioning,
Is she the wind, warm in your fleece at noon?

--- from Stephen Mallarme’s
“The Afternoon of a Faun,”
transl. Aldous Huxley

Giantess (Feb. 2004)

I am Cupid’s WMD, a
Catapult of blue breasts. The skulls
Of my scooped-out lovers line the
Mazes of my cave, far beneath
The rolling sea. By day I dream
Of your cock and balls in this mouth
Of stone; by night I feed, tapping
O so gently my suckered limbs
Against your window panes, calling
You out to drown my way. My rule
Has lasted here some four hundred
Million years, yet every dusk which
Darkens abyss I wake afresh,
Starved wet in uncoiling desire,
Beak snapping for your milk of fire.

Oran And The Sea-Witch (Feb. 2004)

You found her sleeping in that cave
Which fonts the western sea, below
All depths I dream. Kissed her gently
As a shade and watched her stir and
Sigh and slowly open her deep
Eyes. She whispered your name as you
Climbed in next to her, singing
All the while. What happened next you
Would not say, except to smile that
Dolphins and sea horses pranced round
The bed while sea-blooms widened to
Hurl wavelike a wild blue perfume.
You drank in draughts the distillate
Of her salt souterrain, till dawn
Awoke me startled here, blank page
Beneath, and pen like her in hand.
My joy’s your shore, this crashing land.

Blue Bone Bridge (July 2002)

The strong, inwardly quivering bridge
of the mediator has meaning
only where the abyss between God
and us is admitted—:but this very
abyss is full of the darkness of God,
and where someone experiences it,
let him climb down and howl away
inside it (that is more necessary
than crossing it.)

— Rilke, letter to Ilse Jahr, 2/22/23
transl. Stephen Mitchell

When I was 5 my mother took me
to a matinee of “Puss And Boots.”
Two images forever twined in my mind:
in the first, a terrible night thunderstorm
caused a tree to fall on the hero in
an overloud, horrific crash.
In the second a boy jumped
bare-assed into a smiling summer pond.
Terror from the first scene leapt up
in a strange howl, made huge and
loud by the weight of that savage trunk;
a warm delight of the second scene
to lathe my fear in a rich white goo.
On many nights thereafter I’d wake
from nightmares of crashing thunder,
only to press my face to the pillow
and watch myself jump into
warm waters to save a girl.
For all the simple carefree days
which composed my early years—
nurtured and loved by my parents,
safe in suburban neighborhoods—
that dark sweet imagining
kept seizing me like a claw up
from the floor which flicked
me in a pool.
My friend and I built monster
models—Creature From The
Black Lagoon, Dracula, The
Forgotten Prisoner—the two of
us in thrall with the dripping
caverns and rotted cells of
revenants and skeletons.
I found in actual woods
near home and school
a dark sexual joy of
peeking and revealing,
play-acting Mommy and
Daddy not as I knew
but thrilled to guess.
As a child I only guessed at
that blue bone-latticed
land, walking as I did in
relative safety, knowing I
was but a hand away from
some parent’s hand.
Far different was the night
which called me from home into
the tropic lush of my 14th year:
bolder and colder that moon,
wild and intoxicate,
sexual with swollen glands
and aching fingers.
Growing up meant straying
far into that insatiable wood;
a self’s composed from paths
far from home and God.
The musk of crushed oranges
seared up from the rot of ruin
which came on a stormy night
much longer ago, when my God
decreed I craft these craven
images from what I bleed
and perilously need.
How I bandage myself up
from that horrid land
and link back—to the living again
and to a loving hand—is
a complicate return
to a forest night
where a thunder merges
with all the joys down under.

Trade Show Ecologue (Jan. 20, 2005)

32 floors up and the view
is still just of the Dallas-
Ft. Worth Airport, too brilliant
to look at with this migraine
and all concrete miasma
anyway, miles of runways
and highways blotted
with these leviathans
of hotel accommodation --
I can see another Hyatt
a mile from here -- Not
much of you as far as
the eye can see but this
is business, right? And
business is good, for my
company and for my real
love back at home who just
wants me to get done soon
and return safe. So I shower
soon & dress my biz best
& head down to the trade
show with the rest of
the prospectors panning
for the brightest measure
of you. Up here in the rooms
there are x-rated flicks
on the movie channel
where the view of you
is all a burning dark
blue, lucent with the mystery
of how a woman’s body
is like the whale below
the wake of everything,
charging between the
shores I walk. Stuck here
for this while I write,
of neither world composed,
suffering like everyone else
where sands are ripped
by tidal roar. I want to be
home too, but first I must
do my daily job. How did
this migraine manage
to roar into such loud flight?
Why now? Why does
it all have to be so hard?
Yet how could I ever
have come to believe
in you so if the beds
were still easy? Ah well--
time to get my show
on the road. May my
mouth net mammon
the way its gills you.

The Sea, Defined

I have never heard any definition of the sea more impressive than that of a fisherman of the isle of Ulva, whom I knew. “She is like a woman of the old tales whose beauty is dreadful,” he said, “and who breaks your heart at last whether she smiles or frowns. But she doesn’t care about that, or whether you are hurt or not. It’s because she has no heart, being all a wild water.”

-- Fiona Macleod, “Cuildih Mhore”

Rowing Through The Antipodes

(From episode 27 of the Voyage of St. Brendan) It is hot and there is not a breath of wind. The ship has been becalmed for weeks, when a gust of wind blows it to a place of shallows. There the company hears all kinds of sounds: church bells ringing, the singing of priests, the sound of horns, horses, and cows, singing, dancing and the frolicking of men and women. The monks are surprised that the sounds are so close and yet they cannot see anything. Brendan does not know whether to make the ship go forward or backward. They decide to swing the lead; it hits bottom very quickly. Next they drop anchor. At once it is caught by someone or something under the surface. The sailors find it impossible to pull it back into the boat. The first mate is not sure what the best procedure is; if they cut the anchor rope, they will be without an anchor for the rest of the voyage. The monks pray to God and lower the sail.


This description of an invisible people which is located under the surface of the water was linked by Maartje Draak with a number of lines in the introduction to the Voyage. There is is said that, in the book which he will consign to flames, Brendan reads, “How there was a world/Here under the earth/And when it becomes day/It is night there.”


The main reason ... why theologians considered the existence of antipodes unacceptable was not the possible existence of an anitipodean continent, but the supposition that this continent was inhabited by human beings. It was inconceivable ((in the 12th century)) that the precetps of Christianity might not encompass all mankind.

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

Antipode (Jan. 26 2005)

How there was a world
Here under the earth
And when it becomes day
It is night there.
-- in the book of wonders Brendan reads and then burns, thinking all of them untrue. (God then sets Brendan to sail, where he discoveres all of things he had read and refuted)

Another world conjoins
with this sphere of flesh
an fire, antipodal if you will,
to the dry demesne we
call a life. I suspect I live
there more than half
my hours though I’d
never know it, sitting here
so tired and migrained,
the day’s long work ahead
sprung wide and waiting,
tensed, the bait of lucre
set far inside. Or at
least some greater
half of soul’s in love
beneath that blue
which margins this
pale hour, lucent and
curved and bottomless,
sexual only as the
pole which loves its
other, plunger deeper
than any sane and
married man would go.
Beneath the keel of
this white riding chair
I hear a hundred voices
partying, the corks
from champagne bottles
popping free like
depth charges from
lost days, their effervescence
nearly toppling my wake
with an insupressible
and downwarding ache.
And yet the hour
is becalmed, almost
bewitched, my boat
still on the water
as a slice of white
toast on a blue plate,
nothing much to
rouse the gods,
much less than a poem
should. So I row on,
weary already from
the day ahead, every
distaff frenzy fading
below and behind, water
lapping at the buoys
and the past spread
fresh with lime.

She is What I Sidhe (Oct. 2004)

My longing is an abbey
scribe who’s scratching
down the old tales,
recording for great
God above the
those one thousand
nights she sashayed
off opening all
the doors inside.

My longing is that
drifting monk
on wintry seas
who trusts his God
to compass
his frail boat
to the next shore
of trials and wonders
where she is near
yet further to the
rear of the sea’s
colossal wash.

My longing is the well
which offers tribute
to her so far below
and oracles her
mythic plunge,
drinking deep
her blue derange,
carrying from
far the news I
need most to hear
on any given day.

Every poem sights
her somewhere in
the day’s tableaux
-- in my wife’s
first-waking smile or
in some fleeting
face in traffic, on
TV or the
radio where
sirens and
divas tide --
or further in,
finning the depths
of daydream
or a text. A poem
is that sudden gush
of ache and wonder
praising all she is
in bells of
towering lack.

Sometimes she
is Eve and sometimes
Helen, a pure maternal
or that poured nocturnal
too wild for any
cup I’ve drained. I’ve
come to guess that
her face and shape accords
with what my longing
bids me see, as if
she disclosed some
next or further reach
of my heart’s long
walk on a beach
of white desire.

All my loves have
one thing in common --
me -- or, more precisely,
my longing’s high
cathedral shape
within the borders
of my life, its ringing
bells smashing clabbers
hot steel against
massive walls of
singing bronze,
pealing my need to
praise her names
and within them mine.

What is every
quest and grail
but another romance
for the stacks,
one more exempla
of the ten thousand
ways her eyes shined
back the face I
was searching for, the
heat in her eyes
my own, risen sunlike
from blue seas?

I’’ll never have
enough nib and
squid-squirt and
bleached parchment
to finish all the
tales that winged
angel of the heart
has bid me write;
it defies all the
aching shorelines
of this art, whispering
MORE inside each
crashing way
that she and
I have met.
Again and again
and again that
litany of champagne
foam froths the wake
of smash and boom,
a spill of failing
bubbles ebbing to a hiss.

Listen close, I hear
that salty angel croon.

How about a kiss--

The Bra in the Tree (2003)

One altar of my
longing is that
southern oak
which spread in
the courtyard of
Dennison Junior
High. The locus
of my waking was
Winter Haven
in 1970:
thirty three years
ago and some fifty
miles from here
where southern
oaks line all the
streets, outliving
every high and low
I’ve found in
in this dazzled
drenched state
of Florida. We’d sit
on concrete benches
beneath its arms
on hot September
mornings, waiting
for that school
to mouth our bodies
for the day.
It was my first
semester of ninth
grade at a new school,
a fat Yankee kid
flung from Chicago
‘burbs into a
Southern welter
of impossible
desires. Over the
summer, sun,
citrus, storm and
pool hatched my
glands in a glittery,
gritty wave of lusts;
now desire ferried
me into that
collective maul
of public school.
I was both terrified
and enthralled to sit
on those hard
benches afar from
all, watching the
black boys race
past like windy blades
and revel in girls
all taller by half a
head, their hair
and brushed sleek in
manes of silken fire.
Oh and how their
bodies were all filling
up with fruit and
what infernal juice!
Those days of
early puberty’s shock
and thunder I thought
I had been pitched
into some mouth
of Hell, all knuckle,
tooth and boob.
How could I know
that those waters
sprung from below and
within: that the sap
of my own dark
regions sprouting
pale fur on my
lip and groin
& leaking semen
in the sheets
almost every night
was causing me to
only see sex and
more sex in every
day? Each
morning I much less
woke than surfaced
from a lake of fire,
dragging from bed
to shower
and breakfast
table in a glaze
of all I dreamed
of the night before.
As I walked to
the bus-stop some
mist of storm still
shrouded the orange
grove just beyond
our house, the light
labial and moist,
the shadows of
the other kids
forked by imps
they each had dreamed.
As the bus wended
into town past
orange groves and
cow pastures blue
green and stunned
in first light,
dirty jokes passed
around the dark green
seats like sacred pipes
glowing in our ears --
Do ya know why
Doctor Pepper comes
in a bottle? Because
his wife died! The
boys would roar
with glee, while the
girls just sighed
and stared further
out the windows,
surely looking for
those older, taller,
cooler, more mature
boys. While I sat
there, stony, not
joining in either way,
but loving all
the talk in my secret,
greedy way, the way
lust divides a boy in
two, worshipping those
divinely pretty faces
in the seats ahead,
sacrificing my mother
and sister and every
other righteous
love with a red
hardon for the
pale blue panties
which crooned
in wet darks below.
One day we pulled
up at the school and
piled out to see
a huge bra hanging
from a middle limb
of that oak tree,
bright white
amid the clumps
of ant moss, the
cups huge and
rude. My eyes
mouth and hands
all startled reflexively
at the size
of the breasts those
cups suggested,
nailing me suddenly
to an immortal
tree of my own --
just another boy
lost forever in a
boat of bone on
seas he’ll never cross,
much less beach.
I must have stared
slack-jawed at that
foolish thing ‘till the
first bell rang, as
entranced by the
startling white
fullness of it as by
the question of just
how it got up there --
my mind playing
reel after reel of
seduction at night
beneath that tree,
harvest moon
cupping above
the kiss, emboldened
reaching, the unclasp
and what all sprang
gree, a whoop of
joy sending that bra
up high to altar
the next day in my
eye. Of course the
wiser guess is that
some dweeb stole his
sister’s or mother’s
bra from where it
hung in the shower,
throwing it up the
tree on a dare; yet
in my diddler’s
cathedral someone
and someone else
is always paired,
eternally on fire,
releasing joy in
rhythm with my
every stroke, a relic
of a lost age
which never freed
for me (or her)
its rude so brilliant yoke.

Beantown Munster Mash (Jan. 2004)

All this privilege
is for the sale: To fly
toe to head of the USA
into Boston’s old wealth
and decrepitude where it.s
midwinter -- Streetside busters
bundled high against the cold
and as contemporary as
it gets. Beantown, churches
older than the country,
billboards praising the
world champ Patriots
and Kerry kicking ass
on the campaign trail.
All of it shouts not
welcome but an ebullience
which is good for the sale
I’m here to make, coffers
spilling fortuitous coin
round the ankles of
this conference of publishers
and editors. Perhaps I’m
just psyching myself up
for motions I mostly fake
so my wife and I can have a
nice house in sleepy
Mount Dora. I love her
and all that enough
(too much, perhaps)
that I go willingly down
from this twelfth-floor room
with a view of a wall
of more rooms into a
the selling pit, facing
from my overcolored &
overbright booth
a table where prim
members of the Society
of Professional Journalists
hawk a more respectable
sale to respectable
journalists. Those guys
must see my pitch
and grind their teeth
at the mercenary worst.
Seems my work has always
been subterranean, the worst
bottom-feeding enterprise:
menial stock-jobs in
the corporate bowels,
HR drone, polisher
of the pitch, the sales
guy in the editorial
operation -- selves I’ve
minted to curry favor
with a live which involves
a mortgage, cats, my wife.
And do it willingly, in this
great heart of love.
Though as I soon must
shut this book and rev
the engines of that day,
this voice goes under
as it long has known
it must, the predawn
empire of song by
first light sealed-up,
gone. In my totem
province of Munster,
everything is first
and last, peopled with
losers and loansharks
of political fee and kings
and goddesses crowned in
the under-empire Shee.
Munster is the magic South,
the resonance inside
Oran’s buried, busy mouth;
crossain of high disrepute
buzzard and crow their
satires too, low jesters endowed
with huge cudgels and
balls like New Grange’s
portal stone. Yet that
buried self is much in
the suited-up salesman
who.s begun to prep his
pitch to those who at worst
see me as an evil in
the trade, or worst, employ
me to cut off those earnest
voices who.d rather waste
newsprint covering real news.
A sweet-talking man wearing
a tie conceals a far-distant
ancient man, who neither
scowls nor cries but knows
what spectra he sings in
best -- blue, bluer than sex
or death or coin or profit --
so smiles, yawns, comes
to the end of the page,
and shelves this gorgeous smash
of waves unseen to all
in my wild Munster mash.

Medea (Oct. 2002)

Surveyor, sausage
deliveryman, retired cop,
state agent, parts store
owner, unemployed laborer:

all must have thought twice
before turning back to
pick her up: but lust is such a
common stay against the

dreary bloodings of age,
trumping all the suits
we thought to wear. Lust
is that lens which made her

so lurid for the press:
We see the bastards waiting
for her to catch up and climb
in, fingers drumming on

the wheel: feel the indecision
between forking up twenty bucks
for ten minutes of hateful sex
or peeling rubber back to

that job or wife where life belongs:
Feel the false privilege in the cab
of the truck as she climbs
up and in with heavy sigh,

country songs on K92
and a pint of Jack Daniels
now empty on the seat:
She palms the sawbucks

and then pointing back in
the woods where all the
action takes place: Feel
the goatish glee sour-mashed

with dread as they wind past
pine and palmetto to the spot
where a whore gets fucked
but good in the broad,

scadling light of a day
which unzips and rips:
The sense of enactment
is so precise that it takes a

moment to see .22’s snout
in her hands: To see beyond lust
to what’s really there, those pig
eyes meant to plead now

burning with a different
desire: To hear the gun’s
sudden yawps, two, four
times, maybe the entire clip:

Or what follows after all lust
collapses, the rapine
complete in the dripping
cab with the sharp smell

of cordite like sperm in
the air: To feel at last the
sense of justice, in turning the
whole perverse script of lust

on its hairy, indignant ass.
We loved the story which emerged
from the trial, reliving the passion
of her spree. Taking both sides.

Rooting for her one way,
in some other shadowing her
every bad step toward her end.
Everyone got what they deserved:

The rubes get rubbed out, the whore
our prick in the end. Someone
has to do the job. Mornings driving
in on 441 I pass a highway hooker

who’s worked that stretch for years.
She stands out from the dark
as if waiting for me in particular.
Our eyes lock for just one

second — I’m moving fast—
but it’s enough to feel that
ancient heat inside the
unkempt, thumbs-out gaze.

Inside every mark’s a Medea,
a cistern for paired lusts and
there for the taking, raking
hell on any hot, dreary

afternoon between here
and the next town, the next
enactment flipping its coin,
her tale, our fate.

Icy Muse (April 2004)

I sing of my pale
contralto, bourne
of everlasting ice:
Inside every poem
there’s a Nordic
shore where she
waits for me:

I return, though you
bid me speak: I am
the mortal tripod,
you are the musk
of sweet death, witching
my words with a
wild trepidation.

When I lay pen to paper
you tear the ream
with cold nails,
as long as your stare.
Mad queen, you split
the coffins of a hundred
generations to haunt
me here, but why?
The world cares
not for you as I.

Together we ride
sea waves which
shatter far coasts of ice,
yet the highest comber
passes mute beneath
the world’s sotted,
clamorous gaze.

Of course, that’s you’re
old lament: It was
Homer’s brother you
favored, the one
who never made it
into the hall,
his lyre badly out of
tune, exposed to
the truths of
the salt cold shore.

Only you cared for
his song because he
sang it only for you.
The laurel crown is
only booty; its power
curses the upstart head,
the gold which it bestows
curled like snakes.
All else from him is filler.

So today I’ll not grouse
of that irrelevance
which your blue eyes
are an altar to,
knowing that I cannot
see more than a
personal scrawl
of black amid faint
blue lines, lines which
erase the transit
of dragon boats long ago

—your song refrains
below abbey pillage
and blood eagles.
O icy muse, let
me not forget
whose prow you whet.

Silenus (July 2004)

Just which cocktail pickles
a rumpy young satyr into
horrid old goat?
Our cocksman doesn’t
know, but the nagging
suspicion that he crossed
that line too many years
ago is one he tries to
drown harder every day.
The drill is by now
is so ancient as to be almost
rusted out: drive home from
work with the radio playing
contemporary hits he can’t stand,
crack a cold beer in his trailer,
slam a Swanson’s in the microwave,
watch sitcoms on syndication
as Florida in the window
roughs up Lake Fairview
and the semis whoosh
up and down 441 like
basso deacons. Shower,
second shave of the day,
do the thinning hair but
good, slap on the old Aramis
and dress carefully in the
cracked floor-to-ceiling mirror
& trying to ignore the
wrinkles around his eyes
and the flecks of grey
like whitecaps in his hair.
What the hell -- and he’s
out again by 8 to head
to his warm-up bar, knocking
back shots & beers &
bullshitting Gloria the
barmaid who he’s known
for years; he’s never gotten
her to come home with
him, but he still thinks that
some day she’ll come to
her senses and see what’s
she’s been missing all along
--and man, will there ever
be some serious fucking
that night! Only she
better hurry up and
come to, he thinks
for the ten thousandth
time, knocking back a
shot of Old Granddad
and the refocusing on
his image in the mirror
across the bar. Surely
he’ll be outta this
drab circle of losers soon.
He pays, she pours, they
bullshit as they usually do
about nothing in particular
the way old spouses do
and then he’s off again
on his usual commute
to the standard round of
bars, thinking as he
usually does that tonight,
oh tonight will surely
be different: That the
woman he might meet
(for years now a slowly
thinning possibility, so
slowly but surely that
he cannot see the thread’s
long been cut) who might
go home with him who
upon waking might turn
out otherwise than
all the others and they
will give it that try
that works where
the couple others failed
and they’d make it
to Love, Marriage,
Family, The Works.
He sighs. Why does
he bother? He’s 46
and the bottom that he’s
been ravening on
is near impossible
to hide from anyone,
even himself. He’s
partying this night
on a credit card with
barely enough air in
it to float the evening’s
tab -- there’s maybe one
more night in it, if he
doesn’t pay for anyone
else. The ex-wife is
screaming louder for
child support,
some judgement is
in the works. He
drives a ‘93 Camaro,
no babe car anymore,
it lurches epileptically
through its gears and
is still faintly redolent
of the night he shit
his pants in a blackout.
The last women
he’s scored (two in
the past six weeks)
were real jackals,
horrible, bottle-club
closing-time crackhead
drunks, gals he’d had
to wait til they’d
done all their drugs
& passed out before
roughing down their
jeans & turning ‘em
over to fuck ‘em from
behind, almost flaccid
in their neardry cunts
& trying not to think
of that girl from the
Christmas party
who called to say
she’d tested HIV
positive. Awful.
Yet here he is again,
somehow further
on down that ladder
of diminished prinicples
and expectations,
switching the channel
to the oldies station
where they’re playing
Journey’s “Don’t Stop
(Believing)”, and it’s
just the shot of hope
he needs, and he rows
down the his drivers
side window to let
some of the summer
night air in, post-storm,
wild and humid and
rich with ions, and
he feels all of the
possibilities rising
within him just as
pure and unequivocal
as the touched him
when he was fourteen
years old at his first
high school dance,
the band onstage
playing Grand Funk
Railroad’s “Are You
Ready” and all of him
shouting Yes and the
girl in front of him smiling
Yes. Up ahead he can see the
bar is hopping, lotta babes
heading in, all ripe for
the picking, and surely
among them there is just
the one for him, sultry
and salty and ripe for
the plucking, her heart
made of feathers and
blue gin, spread to receive
his eternal thirst
for someone else’s heat
and heart and motion.

Swamp Glass (July 2004)

The day was like every other
in Florida’s long connubial
of light and heat -- the
worker standing in the
shallows of the lake pulling
up weeds in that steady
slow rhythm that has
kept him at this long
seasonal job for so
many years, working
the shores of so
many hundreds of
lakes around Central
Florida -- the mid-
morning sun conducting
a rising choir of crickets
in the reeds, the
occasional rag-tag cloud
overhead slowly fleecing
in others of that flock
in the way of summer
days that by late
afternoon amass to
principalities of air,
cracking heaven wide
and spilling both seas.
But for now, it’s just
the hazing humid
prescience of all that
in a near-dreamy
saturate of heat, the
lake water about him
reflecting back what
life he’s always known
here -- docks leading
back to rich folks’
houses, some shadowy
man in a bass boat
drifting by a ways
out, all of the lake’s
mysteries sealed tight
against the underside
of that brilliant glass
like the hid half of
the moon. He barely
notices the gator
lolling ten feet from
him, its black bark
barely breaking
the surface of the
water -- no big deal,
gators are everywhere
in these lakes, they
approach and watch
and linger and then
drift off. The weeds
pull up soft and mushy
belling with them that
stink that makes you
first think of fish and
pussy and shit at once,
but it’s just for him
the same old redolence
of work as daydreams
down the shore, his
hands in water gripping
roots uplifting memories
of nights now long ago,
before he was this
lonely divorcee,
before he was married
and married before
that; back when it
seemed so many
women smiled at
his tanned Cracker
charm, inviting him to
swim the sweet warms waters
of their welcoming within.
He was reeling slowly in
one of those tales
spooled out along
the the shallows of
his mind of busty
Darlyn, 18, a prissy
and pious waitress at the
Chat n Chew in Eustis
whom he’d talked into
going on a date with him
to go bowling. Instead
he’d takne them
to the RiMar drive-in
to see “Brewster’s Millions.”
She’d protested on
the way there for
what seemed a sufficient
enough while, sawing on
about how she was a
good Christian & saving
herself for her husband
and he’d just agreed,
saying in his soft
twang that his intentions
were pure as silk,
he’d just like to hear
her talk. But later
after she had helped
him work through a
pint of Southern Comfort
in the darkness of his
Ford pickup (the movie
track on the gizmo
hanging from the window
mixed with the softer
stream of laughter,
belches and the high
brogue of moans and
ejaculate sighs coming
from the darkened
vehicles around
them. And suddenly
there broke from
her this other woman whom
perhaps even she didn’t know,
turning to kiss and kiss
him again, then giggle,
and reach down to massage
his crotch, kissing him
with her tongue swimming
deep in his mouth.
Then she unbottoned
her her red polka dot blouse
and tore it and that big
brassiere away, weaving
those magnificent hooters
in his face, slapping his
cheeks with each breast.
He closed his eyes then
falling into the mily soak
and drift of sex which in
this present he tries to
reattach their surficial
part -- as if the spirit
required a house, a horse,
a hearse, that whorish
sweaty stink of perfume
and passion. And then
something woke him from
that dark -- something plinking
him in the nose -- he opened
his eyes to see this glittery
silver cross hanging between
her breasts reaching out
to flick him as she swayed,
sharp and hard and
maddening as hell. He
pulled back to focus
better only to see the strange and
terrible double image of Darlyn’s
breasts superimposed on the
face of Richard Pryor on
the screen much further
behind them, the sweet
fruity fullness of breastmeat
crossed with his ten foot bulging
bug-eyes. The gator struck
right then, its jaws fast as
traps, collapsing in a
instant on his upper thigh.
Sweet Darlyn fled screaming
from those searing red holes
below and the worker was
right here, reassessing
the cruciality of his moment,
in a world of trouble
& the rest of the world
still calm and sleepy
and too hot. He did not
panic but bore back
and wailed with all
his strength, whacking
the gator once but
good with his fist
between the weak
hazy eyes, which seemed
to flutter for an instant
and then wake from
its own dream, loosing
its jaws and slowly
swimming off. The same
day buzzed and droned
everywhere, the lake
still pure as glass
except where he
was stumbling out --
exactly there all
was muddy and richly
red and smelly of
the funk which stiffens
our nose-hairs, alert
to some world in ours
we care or dare or
cannot quite see
and it holding us
exactly there for
that one singular
moment in its gaze,
whispering, pay attention.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Alter Vigorish (Jan. 20, 2005)

Cuntre tempeste chante!
E plure bel tens.

(She sings during storms
and cries when it is fine)

-- Description of the siren
in Phillipe de Thaon’s Bestiare (c. 1120)

Dreamy wave with the
undertow of scales,
you are my beloved’s
alter vigorish, blues
sung black with
endless teeth below.
What joy you croon
when tides are cruel,
the snap of masts and
sailors’ necks like
courtside lutes
inside your dragon
throat. Your mouth
saws passions
from below, splattering
ruin on the windows
of a life. Like blues
poured from a
whiskey glass,
there’s a bite of you
in every stolen
kiss, infernal wings
which spread,
like whiskey, to
rouse every extreme
end. But when
love is sweet and
nestled home at last,
you are in the trees out
back sawing harps
with blue misery,
your old waif’s voice
recalling all the nights
you crested and
red ravened
on saltier careens.
Something hauls below
the wake I prow
which sings loudest
from abyss, those wicked
depths a foolish
man will go
naming every curve
to tail in undertow.
Something made in
heaven and so freighted
with the greater half
of soul that it can
only sing from drowning
rocks a thousand lives ago.

Sorrow of the wind

((A man of the Hebrides moves inland to work on a farm, leaving behind the love of his life, whom he knows would not follow him. Years pass and he remains alone, brooding and sad over his life’s great loss. A priest tries to console him and urge him to move on as they walk a strand one day.))

Rury Macarthur made no answer, but walked on, his grey eyes staring out across the long thistled greyness of the sandy machair and upon the dull grey and wan green of the tumbling sea, that sometimes seemed like a flood coming swift across a narrow downborne ridge; and sometimes was an idle and formless mist being furtively rolled back and mysteriously gathered by obscure withdrawing hands.

“...She has the wave in her heart. Ay, that’s it. She has the wave in her heart. She hears the tides as you hear the church-bell of Our Lady of the Sea. You wouldn’t be without the good sound of the bells, Father Angus ... An’ that you call the bell would be to you, the sound of the water an’ the whispering of the waste and that’s in the sea for good and evil (peace to it, the good sea; I’d say no evil of it, or any whose place it is) -- ay, all that and more, is the sea -- call to ((my lost love)) Maev ...

They hear, the everlasting ones. They hear a whisper in the dark: the wise will keep even thought of them screened from their proud, unrelenting eyes. It was they who put a wave of the sea between him and his hopes. If Maev were a woman as other women -- perhaps, even, he thought, if he could love as other men -- But no, it was their will that some would be children of water, and no love and no hope and no supplication would avail, no, not till they whole world was drowned in the sea, or till the sea was gathered to the yearning lips of the sky, as the sun sucks the midsummer dew.

The night wind rose out of the west. In the vastness of shadowy gloom over sea and land it moved, like a lamenting voice, a creature blind and without form, homeless, seeking what is not to be found; crying sometimes, as a lance slanting on the wind, an ancient sorrow; deepening sometimes in an immense, gathering, multitudinous sound, as though the tides of night broke against the shores of the stars.

-- from “The Sorrow of the Wind,” Fiona Macleod

The Great Mundane Soul

And heaved and heaved still unrestingly heaved the black sea, as if its vast tides were a conscience; and the great mundane soul were in anguish and remorse for the long sin and suffering it had bred.

-- Melville, Moby Dick

The Siren's Tongue (Jan. 21, 2005)

(Jan 21, 2005)

She sings on a black
rock just beyond the
tide, her voice inside
each treacherously-
breaking wave to
wash all shores salt blue.
What language ferries
deep that music here,
crossing ages, seas
and lifelong loves,
untranslatable and
unfathomable, undinal
in the crash and foam
which draws and
then denies me? It names
a girl, almost, her
breasts revealed
above the wave, her
throat pure white
and necklaced with
sea-foam, her cold
blue eyes reckless
and wild and set on
me in a way that
sees and psalms
progeniture beyond
all words I have
yet sired. Gaelic in its
lilt and plush yet
older as the stars
that sing the moon
up from the sea
to tide above yet
deeper in the waters
I really mean to say
but can’t, not yet.
Her song was wakened
in me in one shoreless
kiss a thousand years
ago: Since then
I’ve been rowing hard
to every known shore
and many more not
found on any map,
the long lost music
still ringing in my
ear like waves inside
a shell, or dreams
which drift ashore
all day in tatters of
the purest silk. Ah how
could words be loving
yet so cruel, the merry
foaming wave an oubliette
to so many rooms below,
each winnowed with abyss?
Malefic? Maddened?
Welled from the
worst booze? Yes--
But the song she pours
into this breaking scree
is the from sea half of
my heart’s decree, a child
both of water and its God.
A strange chanson that’s
altared best on these narrow
shores I walk and
write, on pages white
as her pale throat
out beyond the morning’s
dross of hotel coffee
& hours of selling
soap downstairs. Psalter
me, o love, just where
your tides siren the air.
Wash me with your next blue mare.

Peril du voyage

Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise in the voyage. But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leaves us whelmed.

-- Melville, Moby Dick

“Donna del miue paratge” (Jan. 23, 2005)

Messenger, leave in the morning.
The voyage won’t be long.
To my friend in his own far land
carry now this song.
Tell him I’ve very happy
with the words he said to me
after he’d given me a kiss
beneath the canopy.

-- Anonymous song of a lonely lady,
c. 1200, sung by a woman who called
herself a great lady, donna del miue
(Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours
and their world)

The greater half of my
verse faith crosses,
like the sea,
to your white shores
where you sing
forever waiting for me
to return and find
you ready and willing
to begin at last,
after all lives.
Queen of beaches
like a pale white valve
to all blue heights
and depths, I hear
your song best at
the lonely hour
I spend boarding
ache and fret
on paper dragon ships,
dispatching my love
on that courier tide
that circles globes
and hearts, my longing
shipped to you and
yours returned to me.
I doubt we’ll ever meet
but this correspondence
is an old & deep affair,
our missives long
stained black by
dolphin foam,
old passions brewing
brine and brimstone
in the ink amid the
gentler ichors of abyss,
the orchid fragrance of
one remembered kiss
in that bower we both
stumbled on and
then stumbled through
each other, yearning
for whatever younger people
mistake for fire. The
bed we’ll share again
may shore in death, or
lives like every isle yet
to be found: suffice
here now that I heard
a high and distant sound
inside the winds now
blasting hard down from
the north, a pink
tongue for all their
teeth revealed. Heard you,
great lady, in that chambered
room inside the conch
I lifted on my morning
rounds here, down from
my great white writing chair:
Heard the voice which rules
the greater half of
the wild world
beneath the leagues of blue,
song of my soul’s unvanquished
ache to sing the depths of you.

Delighting in Your storm

I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink then of what they are dancing over. I’ll dance over your grave, I will -- that’s the bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world’s one ball, as your scholars have it, and so ‘tis to make one ball-room of it. Dance on, lads, you’re young. I once once.

- Manx sailor observing merriment aboard the Pequod during a storm in Melville’s Moby Dick

It’s the waves’ -- the snowcaps’ turn to jig it now. They’ll shake their tassels soon. Now would all the waves were women, then I’d go drown, and chassee with them evermore!! There’s naught so sweet on earth -- heaven may not match it! --- as those swift glances of warm, wild bosoms in the dance, when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe, bursting grapes.

-- Maltese sailor in the same scene in Moby Dick

Corollary (Jan. 22, 2005)

Fog as thick as bear-wool
in the windows as I shuffled
downstairs at 5 a.m. for
my daily vowel-voyage,
dense as the migraine
ringing in my skull.
Ah well. Prayed
on my knees feeding
Violet her Aquari-Yums
& then poured a
Cuban coffee into my
blood, rousing enough
of me from exhaustion
& headache to set
tongue heart & mind
on the next crossing
to you. Strijbosch in
The Seafaring Saint
tells us that the encounter
with a siren both
woman and fish
by Brendan and his
crew in the Voyage
has no corollary
in the other Brendan
tales, & is a motif
not seen elsewhere
before the 12th century
when it gets a
mention in Philippe
de Thaon’s Bestiare,
thus concluding that
the tale must come
from some lost text,
a Physiologus of a wilder
world, claimed by some
previous wave. Yet I know
the tale of St. Columba’s
founding of Iona in 563 AD
where an evil agent each
night destroys the day’s
abbey construction. Columba
himself stood watch one
night in that Hebridean
howl; and out of the
water and fog came
a half woman half fish
to inform him that
a sea-deity had been
disturbed and required
propitiation through
human sacrifice -- a
man to be buried
standing up in the ground.
That’s how St. Oran
found his way down
into the grave which
rooted Iona’s glory,
at the same time
harrowing down into
the oldest regions
of heart-wilds,
his skull filling with
the ink I write here.
So the siren in Brendan’s
Voyage has a tail
in my own book,
a corollary to this
daily enterprise of
surf and old swoon.
Meanwhile in 2005
President Bush was
inaugurated, speaking in
frosty cold of our country’s
need to make liberty
ring round the globe
and we all knew he
was tolling doom for
the axis of evil. I read
his speech in the New
York Times flying back
from Dallas, the 757
packed to every gill,
some fat guy next
to me sweaty and ripe,
another guy three rows
back snoring in a basso
so loud I could feel
in my feet amid the
rumble of jet-engines.
Outside the window
the Land of Liberty
looked like a quilt of
browns flat and dead,
sprinkled with town s
like a scatter of lost
booty at the bottom of
the sea -- our President’s
no Brendan or Oran,
his words Catholic
and imperial, all hammered
bronze, defending all
the wealth you can’t keep
in your hands when you’re
pulled hard below.
I was flying home to my
wife and our cats, home
to the difficult dream our
love is employed to,
making linens and writing
words the world seems
bent on forsaking. I dozed
a while to the drone of
the plane, my ears suffused
with claustrophobia
and weariness, too oppressed
by all of that to really sleep
but half hinged enough to graze
the water and descend, oh,
four or six leagues down,
to wrap my arms around
the fish half of the woman
who’s always just beneath
my waking, a dolphin mount
for her song as she weaves
the courses of insatiable
desire -- I daydreamed on
of naked women in watery
places not found on any
map, regions still with
God’s grace through filtered
through a blue which
lost all corollary to
our President’s dreadful
tone. Fog still a wicked
soup in the windows outside,
a cold front barelling down
(thunderstorms tonight
then plunging temps),
hopefully a visit to an
antique show in Deland
with my wife, celebrating
our life before getting
back to hard work
the world has few
corollaries for, though
she and I bend to
it hard, mortal halves
as we are to what
you and I engendered
long ago in that single,
swart kiss on the
deepest bed of abyss.
Bless us, love, to
love hard and well.
Protect us from
the gleam of that
corollary between
President George
and his sirenless hell.


You’re in the hands of this long summer,
thou brown, delightless child:
Dance with your without
neatly, as if on a page,
and love the living rage.

-- journal 1981

The Old Man of the Sea

I remember asking him -- as simply as one might ask about the tides, or the weather -- what he thought of the elements. And he answered as simply. “Fire is God’s touch,” he said: “and light is God himself and water is the mother of life.”

I asked him if he thought the old gods were dead. He asked why. I said that he had just spoken of water as the mother of life and yet that he had often told me legends of Manan, the god of the sea.

“No,” he answered, “they are not all dead. They think we are. They do not change. They are very patient, the old ancient gods. Perhaps it is because they do not care at all, no, not a whistle of the wind, for what we think or what we do.”

“But,” he added, “some have died. And some are very old, and are sleeping, till they get their youth again.”

“And Manan ... does he live?”

“Ay, for sure. He was here before Christ came. he will see the end of all endings. They say he sleeps in the hollows of great oceans, and sits on mountain-bergs at the Pole, chaunting an ancient chant.”

-- Fiona Macleod, “Seumas: A Memory” (from The Winged Destiny)

Ache (Jan. 25, 2005)

Inside this ache
what immortal waves,
each curve a curragh
smashing every shore
of the unknown world,
foaming at your naked
feet. And yet, how
solitary this pulse
of depth in days
where work and more
is always not enough
and nights arrive
exhausted, ebbed, sore,
with bed just the
day’s last door before
erasure in a
drowning bliss.
This ache which is
the greater half of
all I love has no
home in landed worlds
but washes restless
as the moon around
your absence, like the
old sea god who
departed from one
country of faith
to exile in salt other,
vowelling all the names
of former fire, like
a tongueless bell,
down every black chasm.
I have held the music
of this ache so dear
and for so long that
just three notes of it
suffice on this next
pre-dawn peramble
down the cold beach
all alone: the crash
of waves, the sighing wind,
the petrel’s cry down
miles of sand. My ache
is all that remains
of that day we woke
and walked the shore
together one morning
lives ago, your smile
dissolved in a woman’s
face who frowned
in shadow and left
me there, disappearing
into a darkling tide
til only tides
recalled that bed
love woke me on.
I write these songs
on pages white as
the ice the old sea
god mounts atop
the pole of the
unknown world
when moonlight drowns
the known: My words
are borne on the
wave-back of his ache,
spawned when the world
was young. His love
was like a heart
which tore loose and
floated free above soul-
waters, its light sad
and blue as bar-stool rue.
To every tide its singer,
and I am just the
next tumult to fold
and crash and ebb,
a bucketful of moonlit
ache tossed on the page
in that woman’s shape
before she washed away.

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