Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, February 18, 2005

Jammin' With the Heathen Giant

Walk a dun blink roundward this albutisle and you skull see how old ye plaine of my elters, hunfree and aurs, where wone to wail whimbrel to peewee o’er the saltings, where wilby citie by law of isthmon, where by a droit of signory, iceflow was from his inn by Byggnning to Whose Finishtere Punct. Lete erehim ruhmuhrmuhr. Mearmerge two races, swete and brack. Morthering rue. Hither, crashing eastuards, they are in surgence hence, cool at ebb, they requiesce. Countlessness of livestories have netherfallen by this flage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a awaast wizzard all of whirlworlds. Now are all tombed to the mound, isges to isges, erde from erde.

-- Joyce, Finnegans Wake, from the dialogue of Jute and Mutt


(In episode 4 of The Voyage of St. Brendan) Brendan, having had a ship built for him, finds the exceptionally large head of a dead man on the beach. Its forehead measures five feet across. When Brendan asks what kind of life he has led, the man’s head answers that he was a hundred feet tall and very strong. He was a heathen who waded through the sea to rob ships. This he did for a living. In a heavy storm which whipped up the waves to extreme heights he was drowned. Brendan offers to pray for the giant, and to beg God to revive him so that he may be baptized. Once that is done, the giant may even, if he lives to praise God, find forgiveness for his sins, and eventually ascend to paradise. The giant refuses; his is afraid that in his new life he might not be able to withstand the temptation of sin. What if he started robbing again? He would be a lot worse off then as, according to the giant, Christians are punished much more severely in hell than pagans. Moreover, the prospect of having to suffer the pain of death as second time frightens him. He wants to go back to his torments / poor companions in the place of darkness. He departs with Brendan’s best wishes. Brendan then proceeds on his way.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint


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

"Once when Colum Cille was walking beside the river Boyne a human skull was brought to him. The size of the skull was much bigger than the skulls of the people of that time. Then his followers said to Colum Cille, "It is a pity we don't know whose skull this is, or the whereabouts of the soul that was in the body on which it was." Colum Cille answered, "I'm not leaving this place until I find this out from God for you."
"Then Colum Cille prayed earnestly to God for that to be revealed to him, and God heard that prayer so that the skull itself spoke to him. It said that it was the skull of Cormac mac Airt, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, king of Ireland, and an ancester to himself, for Colum Cille was tenth generation after Cormac. And the skull said that although his faith wasn't perfect, he had a certain amount of faith and, because of his keeping the truth and that as God knew that from his descendents would come Colum Cille who would pray for his soul, He had not damned him permanently, although it was in severe pain that he awaited these prayers.

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

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


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.

Despite the frightful encounter, Columba dedicated the monestary’s graveyard to Oran (Reilig Odhrain) and honored Oran’s sacrifice by saying that no man may access the angels of Iona but through Oran.


THE HEATHEN GIANT (Feb. 18, 2005)

The old nights lay like massive bones
scattered on the beach, the skull
like a split moon buried in the sand.
Sea-sounds through its occiput
are the voices of memory, faint
and ghastly as the depths I once
fell to find you in the darkest
beds of sweet abyss. He remembers
the feral heart of old, icy and
on fire for plunder, parting thighs
with blue gusto & launching his
dragon ship there with the pith
and pitch of awfulness,
rowing voices crowing one pent
dragon seethe. Eye-sockets big
as church-doors retain the marrow
of those nights, their dark abcessa
still lucent, even lewd, harrows which
invite the next arriving saint to
find a heaven wide enough to
revive and save a soul so massive,
old and hungry. But he will not
rise again, not for all the pearly
virginettes bent in heaven’s
puffy marge. Wholly dark now, he
strides between this beach and
those dark nights, sporting
in a sea of finned and ghostly
salt delights, unrepentant
as my backwards glance which
call his life and ways both holy.
I appoint that house of bleached
ribs apt chapel of the wilder
half of my heart and God’s and
yours, you who would embrace
the seven seas to slake
your womb’s blue belling need.


THE TOLLUND MAN (Seamus Heaney)

Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,
Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,
She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,
Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate
The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,
Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names
Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.
Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.



From “A Breviary of Guitars”

The energies call
and caul and cowl
and cull us
beyond our every
pale imagining:
Just when we
think we know
how to master
‘em, a different
flame rises up
to scorch us
in the ass,
hissing that
heaven is not
as commonly
supposed nor
hell as imagined:
Poison physic
returns to scotch
its maker: Hooch
unmade me for
sure, it drank
my rock ambitions
down to the
dregs: Sure it
kept me loose,
the eyes must
be lidded to
perceive the
thrall of dark
desires, equiporpoise
in winnowing
waves & parting
willing thighs:
You had to
be half-looped
to fly rather
than fall:
But a drink
never made me
a better guitar
player: And
neither did a
guitar make me
any better lover:
The energies
are savage
cunning and
patient: When
my every ambition
wrecked out
on the alcoholic
reef there was
nothing to do
but put the
plug in the jug
& chuck my
guitar down into
the pit where
all my loves
were buried too:
Eight years of
AA rebuilding the
ruin of a life
or maybe starting
the first one
for the first time:
Jung’s formula
for beating the
bottle is simple:
spiritus contra
“it takes spirit
to counter spirits:”
The living you
see cannot endure
the full gale of
energies which
call us beyond:
Our survival
requires us to
harness ‘em with
oblique forces,
Rein in the
hot horses of
spiritus with the
cool slake
of spiritus:
Addition is
false veneration,
worship of
whatever we
wish our gods
promise: Cure
consists then
in surrendering
to the terrible
truth that our
gods are not
the way we think
they are at all:
Not that eternal
glow between
the second and third
Scotch: Not
a prolonged orgasm
water & wild
between her
perfect parted
thighs caressed
by venereal
ululations of
my name: Not
more passionate
singing over
some irredeemable
suburban abyss:
Try to drink
your fill of
these things believing
this time
it will all come
true: The energies
will batten
on these dreams
like maggots:
No: The only
hope in
surviving immortal
desire is to
sacrifice that
passionate singing
to another song,
another spirit:
change the
lucre, invert
the worlds: It
was almost a girl /
who, stepping away
from / the single
harmony of song
and lyre, / appeared
to me through
her / diaphanous
form / and made
herself a bed
inside my ear

sings Rilke in
Sonnets to
Almost a girl:
Almost rock
and roll: Almost
a bottle:
bears imp and
angel faces which
both lead us down
the primrose path
to hell: The song
wants me to
believe with all
my might that it’s
a girl, almost:
And it’s all
too human
to build
cathedrals round
the first part
of the phrase
& bury
the second:
Wallace Stevens
transcends the
old-time religion
when he writes,
the poem must
resist the
intelligence /
almost successfully:

“Almost” is the
vault where in
lie the dead’s
final, forever
saved up, forever
hidden, unknown
to us, eternal
valid coins of
again, this time
his Fifth Elegy):
Almost is the
dragon of
metaphor loosed
from the foundations
of certainty:
A threshold
which restrains
us from our
godlike addictive
falls: Allen
Greenspan criticized
the market’s
exuberance” 2
years ago
which just
seemed to goad
the new market
mavens on: Stock
money is the
coke of the Oh
Ohs, promising
fantastic boundless
unstoppable returns:
Even last week
when there was
a whopping selloff
the investors
returned with
a vengeance
gaining it all back:
in nature is
a tyranny

(“Macbeth”) Ask
any addict:
is bull territory:
Alas! How hard
we’ll fall before
we accept that
money is almost
but never never
never ever enough:
Some day we’ll
hurl into the
pit our stock
options & margin
calls & Rolexes
& brokers: Clean
& sober & broke,
perhaps for the
rest of our lives
our generation:
Though at the
window we’ll
always see her
dancing so
beautiful & pure,
weaving gold round
her every curve
and curl:


VOYAGER (Feb. 2004)

we voyage.
The second singer
lifts wings to sail
to blue horizons
rid of this hooved
anchor that holds
me here. Rain and more
rain this morning,
cold and riveting the
hard talk between my
wife and I last night
in drear punctuation.
O how far yet we must
go before any real billows
spread for me in
her real arms. So I
get back to work here
reminded infernally
that all work is suspect.
But this Oran the
second archon obeys
the master builder
and goes down anyway
beneath the stone
floor of all abbeys,
singing his way down
through the cracks
in the ocean’s basalt
text. He falls so this flies.
Ornate capitals writhe
in Kells to the samba
of that finalizing sigh.
And seeks the words
behind the words
which dot the marges.
He sails toward the sea
god who can never
be shared or shored.
This home I live in
is the best I will ever have
and I intend to stay
on long with her
finding the actual
difficult and always
imperfect garden the
mortals call love. And
perhaps only because
my heart remains
does he find harbor
loose enough to
launch these boats
of longing with their
wordy sails. Send the news,
O traveller, on and down.
Harrow this life on
dry land with the salty
wave-smash of the voyage.
I may never set foot
on the Iona you dream;
love bid me duration
here instead. Be my
long back inward
down-imploring glance
where I’ll never quite
find her, nor should.



Each poem is a skull
hauled up from a well
of words and their
ripe fury, eye-holes
dazzling dark, teeth
like castanets.

The voices I hear
in them is
an orchestral
in disarray,
oboes of woe,
fluting fair days,
gravid soul-cellos
What to do with
all these skulls?
Set ‘em in the arches
of some viaduct
gone dry? Or arrange
them like a
ghoul’s xylophone?

Far kinder to
to loose each one
back into the well’s
back maw having
spoken it’s peice.

Here’s another skull
up from cold hell,
fished from the waters
of an ancient tongue:

Oracle and bless
that moment we shore
where night and this
waking cusp and
break, and roar.



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

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

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

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

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


The Weird of the Gods (2003)

Poets are in the beginning
hypotheses, in the middle
facts, and in the end values.

-- Randall Jarrell

Each of us
completes our history
and History’s.

Or tries to.

There was a time
when the river
in springtime
was such a wild flow,
bursting over
the falls the way
I wanted to collapse
inside a woman’s
embrace. I played
guitar that way too,
trying to loose
all the horses inside
a loud song. Instead
it was I who was
trampled, a suburban
door ripped from
the floor.

Then I learned
to forget such passionate
music -- learned.
I turned into that
votive who buries his
old self in the
foundations of its tale,
reading about songs
& entering the hard
world of pedigrees
& senex greed
& slow publication.

Or tried to. But by
the time I got there
the learned music
had blown through
and was gone,
leaving stone viaducts
in the words
to arch emptiness
and gall and
endless sand.

Truly there was
nothing left for me
to do but retrace
my steps through a
back door and down
cold rotting steps
until I found the stone
which covered this well
and pried it loose.

First my old head
floated up (I stacked it
here), then his totem,
a naked man riding
a feral fish (I loosed
them here). Soon
the others rose
in a raw torrent,
giants and dwarves,
the dog Garma
the wolf Fenris, even
the Midgard Serpent
(he stretched the
length of a 5000
page poem).

O how the sea
rose up through that
hole, a sea of seas,
up to devour every
trace of the scholar
I once was: Every
trace of that bone
was soon lost inside
a raging and
ripening foam.

And now this
third song, risen
from that river
and the cathedrals
that it mortared
and then fled.
My mouth now is
flung wide like some
Leviathan’s maw,
spilling the oldest
treasures inside
a raw but sacred brine.

Now I must forget
all that I learned,
or make of it some
onward, inward thing
-- A dashed heaven
far beneath the sea
where my blue
familiars sing.

Watch my hand
now cross the page
-- A Ouiji boat which
shores on runes
in Neolithic caves
and writes of a rage:
Counting the fangs,
ferrying the staves
of the darkest tunes.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Blue Rhymes, Salt Riddles

How different are the marriages of mythology! Just as the hero’s birth has an outward resemblance to the most disgraceful births in human society, so does his marriage have more in common with abductions and elopements than with the socially approved forms of marriage.

... In parts of Wales, the bridegroom’s representatives were at first refused admission at the bride’s home and a contest in verse between the two parties ensued. Such contests “in the doorway” also featured in certain seasonal rituals and riddles were sometimes embodied in the verses. Riddle contests took place in the marriage rituals of parts of Russia and central Asia until modern times, and in some cases the riddles consist of requests for impossible things. Thus, in one of the villages of the Government of Yaroslav, the “bride-seller,” sitting by the bride, invited the best man to “bid for the bride,” offering him the choice of trading either in riddles or in gold. The choice always fell upon the riddles, and half a dozen or more tasks were then set by the “bride-seller.” For example: “Give me the sea, full to the brim, and with a bottom of silver.” The best man gave him a bowl full of beer with a coin at the bottom. “Tell me the thing, naked in itself, which has a shift over its bosom.” He gave him a candle. “Give me something which the master of this house lacks.” The bet man then brought in the bridegroom -- presumably to remedy the lack of a son-in-law.

-- Rees & Rees, Celtic Heritage, 267, 268-9

WOOING RIDDLE (Feb. 17, 2005)

These songs limn a narrow
shore, like a skin which
borders two worlds,
a place where wave and
land are hostile yet arouse,
where out and inner words
face each other and
the impossible love they must,
somehow, in lust of souls,
requite. In every kiss two
worlds collide,
uprooting solitudes
& washing griefs away
so suppler, abler
hurts may salt a
greater tenderness with
tears. Oh the gentle way
you walked to the
bathroom from our sated
bed of wooing, many
years now gone -- what
frightening registers rippled
out from there, beneath
the gauzy undulations
which had entranced
then drowned my
heart ... raging horsemen
with bright blades of
moon and more
awakened also in
that womb, ogres with
clubs the sizes of narwhal
horns, blackened dicks
swinging further down
like tiger sharks. How
could such downy
billows rouse the
rippingest regions of
black tides? How could that
spume-exultant YES
invoke the mess of years
in which I proved
so much less than
all you dreamed?
The songs harrow
that blue interface
where nothing quite will
do but your thighs
up round my hips and
all there is of you is
boneless ocean, salty
motions devoid of
face or loin, as if
one single desire had
at its core an
emptiness as deep
as the soulless sea?
And how but in verse
can I name these dry
days as the closest I
will get to you, my lonely
strolls in predawn wastes
cathedrally intoned,
adding cleffs and modals
and quartertidaltones
to the drone inside the
conch shells you lift
on some faraway beach
to hear high news of me.
What wild music rises
from this chair
where I write your
kisses down, those
puckers of sweet abyss
a heart may till
and perhaps distill,
but never fully ride, not in
a life so shored by
two worlds that
there’s no purity not
assed in all the
rudest ways, no devil
not gossamered come
dawn upon that beach.
In the end only the
song remains, you gone
back into your self,
ditto beach, the years
since conspiring
to smooth and bleach
our dance on down
to faintest glimmers
on dark waves, a babble
of silver tongues long
freed from human throats.
Those two worlds once
bordered by our lips
have poured fully through
the other, leaving only
the sound of the tide
far down the shore,
a washing, reaching,
ebbing verse for
all we once conspired
to greet and riddle
and forever since
are source.

(Edmund Spenser)

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide and made my pains his prey.

Vain man (said she) that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalise;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.

Not so (quod I); let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;
My verse your virtues rare shall eternise,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:

Where, when as Death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

THE BURIED HARBOR (Giuseppe Ungaretti)

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

- Mariano, June 29, 1916

(transl. Andrew Frisardi)


My song is a merman
bereaved of his scales
sitting on a rock
between his sea and
this world we call our own.
He’s crying low
in a sweet-salted voice
for Swinburne’s tides
on a Joycean beach.
For him this pale page
so raw at first light
is hardly a vantage,
for he can dive
three miles down
on the back of a whale
and when Leviathan
falls no further, bid adieu,
and leap all the the way
down beneath abyss
to a merry world
where coral bungalows
are the teeth of
Tiamat’s split jaw.
-- Lost to him now,
my ancient brine captive,
who now lives in this hand
walking a pale white sand,
singing of low mansions
to the ear’s desperate strand.


Nomina sunt consequentia rerum
(Names are the consequences of things)
— Dante, La Vita Nuova

Ipso facto the poem,
an arrival which
forces wide the mouth
& go ooh la wee
or yee-haw. Panged
by the world’s is-ness
we ply the business
of saying
roller or height,
crescent oranges

sweet sour bright.
I see with angel eyes
the white of her
thighs, & wow
mountain heights
with the crest
of my sighs;
coo to the cat with
a cow-ululant moo,
& low sable swoon
between soror and moon;
the ink I’ve hurled
in one florid line
burl dead space
—an articulate spine
through white billows
where she once came
crying my name.
I’ll curve all my meters
til they curl that lost flame!


Poetry’s for words that never
Quite see heaven, or her naked,
Or the shore of an exiled home.
Kind David stroked his harp singing
to the God of distant rooms, as
If a psalm was a boat for seas
He never meant to cross. The verse I
Hammer down here forms a cup shaped
For pouring past as brims, for blue
Draught I’ll never quite slake, much less
Ever sip: Yet there’s physic in bright
Wings which cannot fly toward any
Heaven this heart knows, a God’s grace --
Synecdoche of a stolen kiss
Which tides and hurls sufficient bliss.


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

CONGRESS (Feb. 2004)

My head’s a congress of high selves
At this hour; their voices loosed in
Water mount the sea stallion of
The next poem -- light cavalry with
Swords for carving waves. Jung has
Less value as a shrink than psycho-
Pomp, a witch doc only for words;
Dante’s travail in Love’s bright name
Sings a bride of whitest metres;
Joyce.s noises in the chamber
Toot low angels across the shore,
A cochineal arrest which wakes.
Each sings in my head at this hour
Long after their towers fell to sea.
Dawn finds me clacking their bones
Not for rough magic but gruff tones.


(Wendell Berry)

... No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world
of the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead --
as intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but
to those who have it more dear than life.


Many mornings now I
wake at 3:15 or 3:45
gripped by an urgency
to get up & get on with
this work which I hardly
fathom, much less name.
Today Violet woke us
both from her chair
talking in her dream.
In mine she was trying
to name her kittens
or the ones we now
feed along with a badly
chewed momma: Around
Violet’s neck were
place cards on which
names were written,
names I couldn’t read.
Her dead-of-night fit
of naming stuck with
me, oiling the gears of
my own cause. Am I
trying to find God’s
name for things -- the one
inside the names we
use --, or is it that I’m
seeking God’s own name
in this ritual naming
game? In my dream
I drove an old car through
an old familiar course
which was like so
many things: the long
roads I travel each day
to work and back; the
course my first wife and
I used to walk in
downtown Orlando
(through quiet neighborhoods
& by a middle school
to a lake & back);
the way I drove
my bike to my own
middle school in
Evanston Illinois
35 years ago; and it
was the way my father
went when he travelled
between his secret
gay urban life in downtown
Chicago and our crazed
suburban home. I could
wind all those routes
with my eyes closed;
they may all be carved
in granite. In the dream
the way had grown
cluttered, packed close
with garbage and other
leavings of time, like
archaeological walls,
grown out into the streets
like fatty tubes of blood.
It made for tight
passage. In the car
with me was some
black woman from AA
& we talked about the
God we try to serve,
whose heart we try
to daily bathe our
rebel wills. -- I woke
from the dream at
4:15 a.m., my verbal
engines roaring on
octanes drawn from
(or to) this inky well.
I know I must be
careful, because deep
things love to drown
makers foolish enough
to believe they can
possess any of this.
Me? I’m just a bucket
of safe enough passage.
I only hold so much
which I must spill here
before there’s any more
blue gold. Besides, it’s
only writing poems too
early in the day. It’s
5:45 a.m. now, time to
shift to the study, fire
up the iMac, pour another
cuppa joe, & sit down
to type these lines in,
maybe revise a poem or
two, pack the next boat
to send down Oran’s
Well. Then -- the day:
A shower, some chow,
then up I go to lay next
to my wife’s indigo
cool-cotton sleep. Hopefully
we’ll wake together there,
and assemble at that
shore from which we
must both embark,
me out into the labors
of the day in corporate
trenches, paying the bills,
scansions further out
where my parents age
and God turns the page.
A name for this visit,
this travel and rappel
to a holy dark and back?
Another poem, another
splash on morning stones
which soon will gleam
in hot summer’s first light,
and catch the distant
croon of some wave’s
recessional foam.


The most ancient witness to
grammatical teaching in Ireland
is to be found in the little manual
called Ars Asporii (or Apseri)
... ((this book)), in stark contrast
to the wholly secular tone of its
model ((the Ars Minor of Donatus)),
derives from the ascetic world
of sixth-century Irish monasticism.

- Daibhi O Croinin,
Early Irish Monasticism

While I sat in classrooms
pickling in the drone
of American grammar
-- the official Latin of
verb-subject agreements
and modifiers rescued
from their dangling
precipices -- She was
writing it down in my
ear some other way,
a brogue inside my
writing’s new arches and
tenons, turning nouns
into nipples jazzing motions
I couldn’t master, only
ride. Before me all the
fixtures of learning
were composed and steady --
my book opened wide,
a #2 pencil in my hand
copying down the forms
on lined paper in a rough
miniscule, the late-
morning hush striated
with boredom and
hunger and a free-floating
toothed angst. On one
level it was all a
cultural Latin the way
it must be learned,
line after line, correct
and succinct, either
to be admired or strafed
with red ink: Yet further
down I wrote in Vulgate
about the places I
dreamed or sought
or would but dare not go:
My hands round the back
of the girl sitting in front
of me cupping new breasts,
fighting the evil one in
his lab far at sea,
swaggering nude
in the locker room
with a cock twice as
big as my own, three
times, no, four, shaming
all they boys with my
hammerlike stylus.
She was re-writing
the story the world
bid me learn
in a grammar which
shattered those schoolhouse
walls. There, in the midst
of such strict schooling
(if strict it ever was)
an infernal ars was
copied from the ass
of true love -- forms I’ll
never quite learn,
swimming away on
every sweet wave, a
language always just
out of reach, laughing,
cajoling, calling me home.
Of it I here write
in rooms far below
the cathedral which
pays for everything else.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Shore (Feb. 16, 2005)

A shore is as narrow
as the reach from
heart to God or my
lips to yours. It’s
strict as margins
go: a ligament of
incessant pulse
I keep returning to,
bound by an ache
I can resist no
abler than requite,
no matter how many
times here I’ve tried.
So my Theme is
like a corset of
rhyme foaming at
my feet, constraining
wild-bosomed and
salt-bottomed life
to the rigors of
one walk between
the crash and ebb
of unforgettable
nights and dry days
whose ears are harrowed,
like conch-shells,
with that distant,
unrelenting sound.
Perhaps you, fair
reader -- could such
a thing exist in this
world of long-drowned
books -- perhaps you
would rather I
just let these puppies
breathe and loose
my verbals wild and
free to roam the nooks
of the free world --
to write not one but
ten thousand Themes.
Sorry -- I have
ravened on the world
that way, my taste
for bluelettes only
whetted with each
bouree, scarcely tasting
the sea-depths welling there.
No, I have settled
down and married here
to walk my daily course,
penning in wet verse
a narrow peramble
down a page’s whiter shore
singing between dead
silence and the next
wave’s wild-maned course.
Its rise and fold and
long rolling boom tasks
the next poem with
providing enough room
for grapes and hooves,
erotics and rhetorics,
a splash of lactate wash
and fins of first fire
spilling in your womb,
siring sirens and
madmen maddened
by the sound of gloamings
stretched on a surf’s
hot loom and you
astraddle my singular
device crooning
Dylan, Dylan -- my
older, saltier, wave
wandering name.
Well, that’s
the endless labor
of my shore’s benighting,
my predawn perambling
Theme. And if I am
bound too tightly to
these sands, swaddled for
much darker beds
than those tiny creakers
you woke then left
me on, then may my
doom prove resonant
for the eternals gathered
here. The sound of
tides is so riven
in my tribe’s ears
that no one ever
walked here that
didn’t wash away,
trying for the rest
of their blue years
(where one love
pours the sands of time)
to find a way to
sing inside a
savage toil and
bind back all
loosened hearts
into one kiss.

Every walk here is a rebirth

The shore is an ancient world, for as long as there has been an earth and sea there has been this place of the meeting of land and water. Yet it is a world that keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and the relentless drive of life. each time that I enter it, I gain some new awareness of its beauty and its deeper meaning, sensing that intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and each with its surroundings.

-- Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea

Beauty (2003)

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

The Shore

... tonight we make a soft
Parenthesis upon the sand’s black bed.
In that dream we share, there is
One shore, what we look out upon nothing
And the earth our whole lives.
Where what is left between shore and sky
Is traced in the vague wake of
(The stars, the sandpipers whistling)
What we forgive. If you wake soon, wake me.

-- David St. John, “The Shore”

Sea-weeding, -wedding

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”

The small waves (Pamela Milweed)

… Just as the small waves came where no waves came,
unending as the peaceful turn of fish,
breaking the still level of morning
until by noon we half forgot the sea
had ever been a taut and hazy skin,
so resting on the shore we kept the motion.
At calm we found we rocked on air
the long day's waves, were not surprised
come evening we played whale, spewed softened brine,
rolled effortless and mammoth through the night
- Pamela Millweed, "Just As The Small Waves Came Where No Waves Came"

Closing the Castaway Bar (1988)

Oh fuck it all, he sighs, and so cuts his sleek black
car through the night. It's cool inside. Nothing intrudes.
Instruments on the dash glow green their phosphor
ghosting his hands. The radio plays old songs.
Miles of road thread back into the corrupt interior.

Home is behind, a throttle of malls and
the ceaseless traffic of broken things.
A battered rondo of bars and bottle clubs.
He flees for the ocean like some latter-day Jonah,
scheming rebirth in the pink cerulean surf of morning.

He enters the beachside town. Streetlights approach
and fan over the windshield. Lowering the window:
the ocean night crowds in warm and briny gusts.
The street deadends at a bar called The Castaway.
Yards away surf wrestles the shore. The bar is decorated

with fishing nets and sweet curving conch shells.
He finds an empty stool next to a battered bar.
The barmaid takes a shine to him and buys him shots
of tequila. The gold fangs pierce, glow. He talks
openly with her as he does when drink and sex coil
his heart late at night. Nice ocean haul, he thinks.
Of course, any mermaid will do. Must do.

The hours dissolve darkly to closing time. He finds himself
laying on a table close to the surf. Muscular breezes work
the naked beach. A zipper of silver paves black water
to a zenith moon. He remembers the barmaid and the bruise
on his cheek. Gulls slide overhead like beggar angels.

Is this night the belly of the whale? Even in his stupor,
he’s sure it is. The poor beast lurches and rolls,
swims shitfaced, nauseated utterly by him. What did
he expect? He's the worm at the bottom of every
bottle. He sighs wearily. Same guts, different bar.

The ocean sings to him in wind and surf like
a mother's soft birthday song. Rising out of nothing's breakers.
He feels he should join in, too, sing back brokenly and
tearful, but his tongue is like whale fat. Doesn't matter, though,
because the sea isn't singing for him, any way, nor nor for the

locked door of the bar, not for the gull that’s crapped on his chin,
nor the hard breezy night. Not for the all world's dark shore.
But will our hero ever learn? What? is his last thought there on the
table, lulled by the boneless choir of the sea. Fade to black
as our hero descends the welcoming gullet.

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

Bindings (2000)

The etymology
of the word “religion”
suggests a ligament
(ligare) which binds
us back (re) to God: The
Christian binding sucks,
tut-tutting with a
threat of hell any
gambols in cherrycoke
tits & rye: But the
Church has continued
to provide community
for many, its faith
wrapping the bone
and sinew of strong
& committed good:
For me, the Church
has long died,
sacrificed perhaps at
the altar which
broke my parents’
marriage: But the
notion of religare
is still potent:
Marriage has provided
such a ligament for
me for ten of the
past 12 years: Held
in place there, I’ve been
free to roam here:
I’ve launched so
many poems
from the stability of
my study in a house
with a wife asleep
upstairs & a cat
purring at my feet:
Poems which tested
and questioned the
bindings of a marriage
though I always shut the book
and headed upstairs
to stroke my wife awake
when it was time, taking
solace & comfort in
that mutual breathing warmth:
Now I’m separated from my
wife and these lines
sound like a torn ligament:
The spaces are now
too wide and wild
to get on the page:
Free to roam, I don’t
know how or where
to start or even if
I want to: There is only
the rages of emotion
in my torn heart:
Well, these poems may
be bad and worse
until I can find the
ligament below or
inside this ruptured one:
I’ve got to find rituals
and nuptials and
ablutions devout enough
for the stronger
rivers I now flounder in:
Maker, renew
me in the binds
where truth and craft
are sworn and further:

Marriage (2002)

Time bruised us with its
white knuckles. Death loss
death loss loss loss loss,

those bone ridges
tapped on the pane like
a cruelly insistent breeze.
Days were a sewage of
grief, its tide sucking at
our ankles, hauling us out.
But we didn’t go.
Instead we chose to keep
working at this together.
Sorting it out. Opening
all the doors, building
on what we had, not what
we’d lost. That’s how
marriage survives to this
day: our accomplishment
lies in the thousand minor
moments when we chose to
open the shade and let
it all in. Because we began,
today we begin. Not much
smarter but so much more
alive. Even though it hurts
and hopes are yet small.

The Triple Marriage (2003)

Love and its lust
have always rounded
me to You, whether
rising the glass staircase
of sweet devotion
or swirling down
the whirlpool of
the worst desires.
Both are Your tides,
like high and low Mass,
the one intoned
in the Latin of sweet
verse, the other
a vulgate hissed
through a bitch’s
teeth, mid-swoon,
full cursed. I have
lived and loved at
both ends, the
brown child of
high summer
and winter’s alley
cat. Today I believe
You wound me both
ways in your
perplex bed, like
alternating paps
of honey and gall
where the sweetness
always jissomed
bitter days, and the
dark could prove
infernal and so
endlessly wild. --
You hummed in
my heart three
melodies (or maladies):
With, without, and
some murky shore
between or beyond,
rife in the bittersweet
blues of lifelong
exile in the heart’s Paree,
always one surer step
shy of Your permanent
thighs. The worse time
was when I wanted
both high and low
real fruit at once,
and sought to limn
a life with two
real loves. I mean
that season when
I tried to maintain
a marriage gone chaste
and dry while
whetting my whistle
downtown with an
other woman who
hungered dark as I.
I wove those days
in a terrified funk,
incensed and guilty,
secretive, desperate
to keep the order
and sense of high
love’s happy home
while growing ever
more addicted to
a sugar malt that
was bubbling up
from a distaff well
I would not, then
could not close.
The awfulness of
infidelity full whored
me as I lathered
the air around my
wife with lies; when
I came home at
night she sometimes
sensed the rages
behind my husbandly
soft smile, and would
ask, Is everything OK?
And the words would
gush like violins--
-- fine my love,
this life with you
everything, all I
ever dreamed of one
day living in. The
words were true
in one half of
heart and thus
perilous, and the
bulk of what I did
not say right then
grew muskier
and more fatal
every day I zipped
my lips tight. O God
I’d pray in the darkness
of our bed those
nights, teach me
how to love right.
And then the next day,
back at work downtown,
I’d type cock amd
balls on the keyboard
and send them to
that other who
took every word
and swallowed them
with a dreamy smile.
More, she’d always
reply. All ways more.
How could I resist
such assy ear?
My wife could hardly
bear to read a
word I’d put to paper.
(So sad, she’d say.)
And so, after months
I could dam the sea
no more and let
the wave-shapes roar
across a foreign,
damned bed, and so
began the fall in which
I lost wife and home
and every shred of
sense -- nearly lost
it all. You received
me in that cold dark
season of reckless,
costly thrills, in
an even colder bed --
further down than my
mortal wrong headedness
could go. I recall a
January day awaking
in that wrong woman’s
bed after drinking
most of the night
and fucking for just
about the rest -- How
cold and gray and
windswept the day
as it blew clear through
my ravaged heart,
the life I had chosen
so destitute of
choice, so emptied
of every good emotion
as to drown me there --
Yet still the dark
in me cried More!,
some worser part of
my heart in
love with the awfulness
of it all, the booze
without all measure,
the hard menacity
of the sex (fanglike
in its plunge, all
greed, insatiate,
plundering the full
receipt of need).
I remember coming
to the rest of my
life in the paupery
of that day, thinking
of my ex-wife in our
ex-house with our
ex-cat staring out
the window toward
where I’d disappeared,
all of that so many
miles away on
some island I’d fully
lost, my every high
wish for love and
every hard labor
I’d engaged for it
lost in my leap
into this infernal
bed with the woman
you crowned there
just like any other,
only wounded
more in every sexual
way which gifted
ear and pen to
plead with otherness
the same way somehow
I yet bled. -- I was
her demon lover
and she mine, and every
day and night we
stole together was
some theft of every
good grace a soul
might one day work
under -- Well, that
affair lasted long
enough to help
me tasted enough the
booze that losing
always brews. It sank
of its own accord
and, some months
later, up at my old
house to help my wife
with chores while
we figured out how to
go about divorce, my
wife and I realized
that we didn’t want
to lose what we had
worked for, no matter
how much it was
that we had already
forever lost. And so
my travels back
to home began. Two
and a half years later,
we’ve come a long
ways. This morning
as cold winds blow
outside, the house
inside is warm in
so many anchoring
ways -- The Christmas
tree we slowly decorate
adding new ornaments
with the year: The cat
upstairs and the kits
in the guest room
and the mama cat
outside all circling
round our feeding
loving hands: The
bed upstairs where
my wife sleeps
and soon where
I will go, to stroke
her feet slowly
as she wakes for
the next work day.
We’re not yet
fully home; sometimes
I wonder if we can
ever get there. Last
night again my wife
asked me what
was wrong; and though
I knew with all
my heart that nothing
was, not now, I also
knew her worry
came from older
wrongs from nights
when was supposed
to be fine but surely
most awfully was not.
The shadows cast
from then to here
are mine, but You
are surely the bright
source, a lucid depth
which burns no
matter how I live.
My mortal loves have
all contended that
strange disorienting
voice inside my own
which surely is Yours;
it makes me sound
half-hearted, out of
sync with the day,
my loyalty a leaky,
riven thing where
wilder music on
some other shore
will always sing.
Well, this home is
one I pray to grow
oldest in, and so
these highs and lows
must live further
inside than the
mere and rawer angels
of embodied lust --
Your loins are a
beach where windswept
waves contend but
have no teeth, no
real woman to rend.
Perhaps that’s the
triune marriage you
have always been
sighing and singing
and signing for --
My one hand stroking
my wife’s real feet,
the other with
this pen stroking
up the choir
line after line
til you are also fine,
the shore between
high and low loves
like a ring I wear
around this heart.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Love and Poetry

To pile like Thunder to its close
Then crumble grand away,
While everything created hid--
This would be Poetry:

Or Love--the two coeval came--
We both and neither prove,
Experience either, and consume-
For none see God and live.

-- Emily Dickinson

Third Shore (Feb. 15, 2005)

Daily I walk this shore
of what cannot be yet is
amazed at all the blue
it takes to name the
silent depths of you. Some
days I recall the way I
walked that shore alone
and utterly washed by
your wet lips; other times
I think of how you stood
just so before the sea
in singular ecstasy
of my heart’s bigger,
albeit wetter half,
the half I graze and
altar yet dare not
fully breathe.
No two walks are
alike, though the
peramble is the same:
my butt here motionless
upon this writing chair
as the iambs trod down
and back, line by line
on down a page
not wide but oh
so deep, dowsing
til your salt rhetoric
has soused the daily
ache, a singing
man doused in brine
til every bone, every
writhe bereft of fin
is blue and wild
and fine, whatever
ends I started with
now bottomless, like
a descending magnum
of old wine. I walk on
down to where that
distant reach where
staid fixities greet
& mortar dripping walls,
ambiguities of wing
and wind, sea and land,
my hips to yours
exchanging fruit
we’ll never fully ripen
nor squeeze to
dregs of rind. And
there -- at that locus
of my walk which
has now grown
fully here -- there
yet here we meet again,
me a motion
of wavelike words
and you uncorsetted
of all but verbs, our
wash more pure
than ink or ichoring
balls -- a spiral
springlike spume
of spermacetti fire.
Between the worlds
we greet and kiss,
two-thirds strange
and one salt bliss,
irreconciled and
inconsolable and
worth each spilling
acre of these pages
in wild and worse abyss.
There and here in
this third world
which is both shore
and poem abed,
we sing in salutation
of the diurnally
sweet dead, those
lovers who didn’t
know they’d found
each other til the
tide had fully ebbed,
leaving tide pools
and tropes of love
to fade and bleach
and lathe this third
world’s loam of
blue-in-white sands.

Permeable Aesthetic

Because of the dual existence of the lady as both perfection and an imperfect human being who shares the quest, the stress in Troubadour experience is on the phase leading up to union, in which uncertainty, jealousy, distance, cannot but rule. Love seems to have its own inner unpredictable law. “Love can descend,” says Robert de Ventadour, “wherever it may please her.” The lover declares his love without any claim on the beloved. “In love man has no dominion; who seeks it there serves woman basely. Love does not want what is unfitting.”

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

Elusive Boundary

For no two successive days is the shoreline precisely the same. Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms, but the level of the sea itself is never at rest. It rises or falls as the glaciers melt or grow, as the floor of the deep ocean basin shifts under its increasing load of sediments, or as the earth’s crust along the continental margins warps up or down in adjustment to strain and tension. Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary.

-- Rachel Carson, The Edge of The Sea

Bridging the Worlds

Kulhwch first meets Olwen in the house where his mother’s sister and the giant Custennin live in matrimony, a house where two worlds join, and CuChulainn makes contact with Emer through a dialogue composed of riddles whereby two worlds are spoken of at once. In the Welsh story of Llyn y Fan, the lady from the lake refuses the hero’s offer of bread when she first appears before him, and again his offer of dough on her second appearance. When she appears the third time, he offers her half-baked bread -- bread which is at once baked and unbaked -- and with that the gulf between their two worlds are bridged.

-- Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage

The Kelpie of Corryvreckan

Many years ago, Beltane Eve rejoicings were going on at Moy, not far from Loch Buie in Mull. When the bonfires were blazing and the dancing and revelry were at a height, there appeared a young and handsome stranger, mounted on a white steed, who seized the loveliest of the village maidens, swung her ont the saddle before him, and galloped with her over mountain and moor to the dark sea-shore.

He then dismounted and asked the maiden if she would be his, "a so a chaoidh" (for evermore). Bewildered by this tempestuous wooing and weary after travelling the rocky road on horseback, the girl asked if he was taking her to some dwelling across the sea or if he had a ship waiting for her, as she would fain rest. To this he replied:

I have no dwelling beyond the sea,
I have no good ship waiting for thee.

Thou shalt sleep with me on a couch of foam
And the depths of the sea shall be thy home.

Only then did she realize she had been carried off by none other than the dreaded Kelpie of Corryvreckan, who could assume man's form at will. She turned his eyes on the horse and saw that its saddle was of seaweed, its bridle of pearl, and its bit of coral. Its man was like the froth of the waves, and as she gazed, it plunged into the billows and became one with the foam of the sea. Its erstwhile rider then seized her in his arms and bore her with him into the green depths. The maiden's shrieks were heard above the loud roaring of the blast as they sank.

Down to the rocks where the serpents creep,
Twice five hundred fathoms deep.

Next morning, a fisherman saw her corpse floating near the shore and recognized her by her lily-white skin and golden hair. She was buried under a rock on the shore with the dirge of the waves as her requiem. Every year, on Beltane eve, it is said that the Kelpie gallops across the green on his sea-horse swift as the wind, with the mournful ghost of a maiden held fast on the saddle before him.

-- from Murray, Scottish Sea Stories

Monday, February 14, 2005

Feather (Feb. 14, 2005)

Spare me the violins,
the labia of surf
at first summer’s light:
That was all about
beginning a work
which must drive
inland where the
feathered house
is built. Even what
beauty which adorns
these words is just
an isle of beautiful
facets and compelling
cleavage, signalling
that difficulty is
the more worthy
embrace, the thorns
no more savage
than that first kiss.
I’m weary of beaches,
Lord, the incessant
lucent trombones
that fold and crash
at the door & the
long tweezing recedes
signifying nothing.
The Beloved is long
gone from all this,
leaving only her
blue feathered gown
strewn at my feet
like tide at a shore
or plumage of
a seal-queen whose
fins are just
the wetter feathers
of a soul from an
island at the center
of the greater half
of a heart. Can one
ever grow old in
this incessant
sawing in two
the margins of
unsayable bliss?
Certainly I have no
better proof or
knowledge of salt
dreams than these
white shores which
turn, like pages,
into islands of
foam and ebb,
depleted, full-said,
spumed and harrowed
once again, for better
or just for verse.
Do tidals resent
their employ, or
whales their
lonely song?
My audience is
between my ears,
some amening
choir of dead
lovers and drowned
singers, filling up
the rear of Love’s
cathedral at the
bottom of the sea.
Mine is just to
lend one tenor
like a feather
to their winging song --
one sharp ululate
of a deep-diving
& perplex joy,
gathered from
the absence of you,
like a bite of the
most forbidding
ripened fruit by
an unrepentant
dazed & dazzled boy.

Boundless Love

If we view the audacity and the excess of the hero from this standpoint, he seems to personify not only the initiate but also the inner meaning of initiation. He is the victory, the embodiment of a spirit which no boundaries can contain.

-- Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage,

Wooing the Worlds

(((When CuChulainn woos Emer he must work his way through her hostile father Forgall Monach, nephew of Tethra, the king of the primordial Formaire))

Though Fergall’s fortress was in Ireland, the journey there was a metaphorical adventure into a mysterious world. Conversing in riddles with Emer, CuChulainn says that he passed the night in “the house of a man who calls the cattle of the plain of Tethra” ((from the sea)), and he has come “between the Two Props of the Woodland, from the Darkness of the Sea, over the Great secret of the Men of the Gods, over the Foam of the Two Steeds of Emain, over the valley of the Great Ox, between the God and his Prophet, over the marrow of the Woman Fedelm, between the Bear and his Dam, over the washing-place of the Horses of the Gods, between the King of Ana and his serpent, to the food storehouse of the Four Corners of the World, over the Great Ruin and the Remnants of the Great Feast, between the Vat and the Little Vat, to the Daughters of the Champion of Tethra, king of the Fomoire, to the Gardens of Lug.”

When the hero goes a-wooing, the drive from Ulster to Brega becomes a ceremonial progress into the world beyond.

-- Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage

Fish-Tale (Feb. 11, 2005)

I have made of that old
adventure wooing
you a fish-tale,
the bedded bliss
become an isle that
walked or swam but
most certainly got
full away. The story has
grown fins then flukes
in its retellings,
found a wavelike
slap-and-sloshing resonance,
the sound of crashing
shores I only dreamed
back then, tidally
awakened in your arms
at last. All that remains
is that sound -- a semblance
of wild love which is both
spring river and trembling
bridge, both love and
lover pouring forth in
one gout of song the
three hearts which no
actual kiss may staunch,
much less damn, the
way sea-walls may jetty
sand chapels for a time
but the sea swells
tide the ends of every
ocean to full blue.
Of that short time
that broke all my clocks
I now endlessly return,
and walk, like a shore,
up and down its ghostly
reaches, performing
stations of devotion
on the way. Here fresh
on the beach I drove
off into the night
an emptied, riven man --
Here by this stump of
broken mast I stood
at the bar, pounding
down three shots of
blue lactissima -- Here
by the moonlit mash
of waves I met you,
your face averted to
the band, your breasts
rising from a lacy blouse
to imprison me between
the ocean and its heavings,
the high heart’s saltiest
retrievings. And here
on a stretch of
shattered whelks and
scattered, sprawled weeds
is where we thrashed
together in one wilding
spume, a shout which
rang the bells of heaven
and returned, forever
seared and scarred by
your lips, or mine, or
some wakened pair,
delivered by the sea
and ghosting every each
and croon inside every
tidal day long since.
My fish-tale has made of
me the tunny, elusive
and sea-wise, the slipperiest
half of soul no man
may mount and vaunt,
the prize more priceless
every time I reel the
telling out. The one
that got away became
the tail in every wave,
a sea-wife who sings
below, our children in
these darkling verses,
swans of riven undertow,
a dark gleam of moonlight
on massed waters, the
brilliant folded crash
we found and woke together
that one night, now
every night to wash
the shores I dream.
My myth grows deeper
every time I sing
that mythic night,
like the ocean filling
everything the moon
left in its wake.
Have I told you about
that night when
from the deepest sea
a woman roused
the depths of me?

Beauty and Her Plunging Breast

The Troubadour ... saw himself as moving to an ever greater freedom. The less he asserted his own will, the more he accepted that of his lady, which was seen as a rule emanating from pure Beauty. Thus his union with a higher level of life (a higher level than his own self) was assured; he leaped into a new dimension where the dichotomy of law and freedom, rule and will, was overcome.

But in fact this position, which hypostasised the lady and destroyed her individuality, was all the while contraverted by the conviction of equality in love, by the acceptance of her as a real person who was also struggling forward.

-- Jack Lindsay, The Troubadours and their world

Marriage (Feb. 12, 2005)

The man you formed
of wave and wind
awoke one day
in a woman’s arms
far from land
and a lubber’s verbs,
fanned in sparkling
blue. Baptized a
third time in
the waters of
God, I was healed
of one divine
wound and
thus maddened in
the next, questing
years to never quite
find you again,
not in any way
I dreamed. Yet here
in this married home
I have learned
to love you best
as may a mortal
man of modest means,
my love a sum
almost adequate
for my actual wife
whose life and work
rests folded in her
sleep upstairs before
the next hard
day. My questing
has subtracted
her from the blue
main though heart
for her alone is my
vow, the two
worlds kept separate
as the out- and inner
bands of a gold
ring on my betrothing
finger. Two connubials
I shore and shire
and gender forth
with every fire a
man of my years
and truth can steal
and forge and
husband. Perhaps
the wrong quest
ends each time
I shout this book
and join my wife in
our bed of daily nails,
to work and work
some more then drowse
at the long day’s end,
scant inches from
where we started,
our principal
scant paid down,
the ache requited
just enough
to keep the distance
blue. Who’s to say
the rowing here
and the loving there
are not greater halves
of heart no man
may master, much
less ascertain,
though his life
is shaped that way,
a shore of infinite
hosannas and just a
sigh to hold it all,
kiss enough to
valve the darkness
and bless the mess
on day further down
the the starry fate
you minted in me
that morning long ago,
when love was startling
and pure and wild as
sea horses and their
undertowing hearses go

House of Wings

In Echtra Mecik Cuind -- “The Adventure of Art son of Conn” -- (the surviving text is dated post-1200 AD) -- Conn, having sailed on the ocean without knowledge or guidance, reaches an island full of fragrant apple-trees, delicious nuts and wells full of wine. He sees a hall which is thatched with white, yellow and blue birds’ wings. He is given food and wine without knowing who has fetched them for him.

In the second part of the text Conn’s son Art also reaches an island after roaming the ocean. This island is again full of apples, birds, and flowers, and has a noble and hospitable house in the middle of the island. The house is thatched with white and purple birds’ wings; inside dwell a company of beautiful women.

It would seem that the presence of a house thatched with birds’ feathers in a paradise was a conventional motif in Irish travel stories which the Voyage
((of St. Brendan)) author probably picked up and incorporated in his work.

-- Clara Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint

Tuion ("Singing Robe") (2001)

There is the poet
in his feathered robe,
reciting the lays
of a flight which descend
into the deep ends
of our dim daily rounds.
Harrowing and precarious
the inside of every
common vault -- love,
quests, otherwordly
encounters written
in a secular font.
Such inwardings
would strip a verseless
person raw as beef:
His metres are like
feathers on an earnest
wing which sees all
in passing, greeting
the ogre on the road
without haste or without
stopping. Such songs
are a matter
of imbalance and
importunity -- qualities
no one else tethers
to such royal gain.
Not that he has any
better luck in the
goings of a life:
the worm gnaws every
human bone. Notice how
the brusies beneath his eyes
map a wearied encounter
with that paupering muse.
No, the poet is only
a zooted-up courier from
the high aeries of the heart,
a king’s moist mistress sighing
his praises from the gauzy
bowers of his lays.
His boat is poetry and
he ferries us across the
divide in each of us
between our language
and ecstasies. It’s a common
enough trade, no more
distinguished than
motleyed fool or
dancing sickleman.
They’re all attendants
in the house of thrall:
his specialty is simply
to beat those wild wings
over the sea in us
which too saltily and deeply sings,
and sing that music back.

Esplumoir By The Sea (2003)

I wade out each morning
into a foam of rhyme
and down a metered stair
to soak up the darkness
that tides holy there --
A presence so great
as to negate its own
shape, a redress which
fills the hollow ache
of my voice through a life.
Sea and well are both
sound and swell of its
mordents, the splash
and boom of some great
drowned room, deep
within the Jack-O-Lantern’s
raw grin. Last night
the rising moon was
postcard of old boo,
orangey and sieved
by a scum of fleet clouds,
a cantankerous night
for the soul, aggrieved
by wearies and worries
that ferried low in our sleep,
making our bed a
dreamscape of that toil,
and shaping these matins
white as a bone sail.
Dear God, I prayed on
achy knees, lower this
cup and fill to the lees.
Teach me something
of that rooty oak tree
which warrants and
wards the wild primal sea.
Molt in its leafage a
durable, clean page,
& write leaf out of root
a legible, wet rage
for wind in the rafters
and surf in bright swoon
heaved up by huge depths
& dazzled by moon.

Seeking Beauty

While Art son of Conn is playing fidchell at Tar with his stepmother Becuma (a woman from the Land of Promise), the sid-men steal his pieces and he loses the game. Becuma lays a geis on him to search for Delbchaem (“Fair-Shape”), daughter of Morgan, who dwells on an isle amid the sea. He sets out and finding a coracle on the shore he travels in it from island to island until at last he comes to a strange island full of apple-trees and lovely birds and bees, where a company of ever-beautiful women dwell, in a house thatched in bird-feathers and equipped with a crystal bower and inexhaustible vats. Among the women is Creide Firalaind (“Truly Beautiful”). She gives him a splendid mantle ((of feathers, like a tuion??)), and, seeing that it fits him, she welcomes him as Art son of Conn -- “and it is long since thy coming has been decreed.” As he takes his leave after six weeks, she warns him of the perils ahead and how to deal with them. “There is sea and land between you (and her, Delbchaem) ... there is a great dark ocean between you, and deadly and hostile is the way there; for that wood is traversed as though there were spear-points of battle under one’s feet, like leaves of the forest under the feet of men” ...

-- Alwyn & Brinsley Rees, Celtic Heritage

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