poem


poem13 Feb 2017 08:00 am
304px-Michail_Alexandrowitsch_Wrubel_001

My uncle takes the cards out
from bottom wardrobe door.
His wife in the kitchen
hair tied back like Baba Yaga
& holding root vegetables
like forgotten children.

Uncle spreads the cards like extended fingers
split from a mandrake plant
slices the deck down the middle
and holds one out to me:

“Your legacy’s in the numbers;
in seven of cups and ace of pentacles
in the wheel of fortune
& the devil (Capricorn)
like the early January blessing
of snowfall on your birth.”

My parents never came home
one night in midsummer.
A tree split down the middle
as if it was the tower
cars wheels spinning like disks
&blood like a magicians cloth
over pavement. I was an
orphan. A child of legend,
a page of suffering until
potato soup kept me warm
and more birthdays passed in winter.

My uncle builds a house of cards
one by one, bent at the edges
a jester a king a queen
upon aces and aces
then he blows like the wind
like frost giants
like Loki and the Stregas of the forest
& everything falls down again.

Everything always falls down again.

“Your future’s in black water,” he says
as he builds and bends and builds again.

“Obscured until the next night
when the star chases the moon
and the sun opens up to the world,
endlessly repeating itself
like a spell.”

My aunt gives me
more soup made from stones
until I can cast runes at the bottom
& build my way up from here.

Picture By Mikhail Vrubel – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160306
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poem30 Jan 2017 08:00 am

814px-Joseph_Stella,_1919-20,_Brooklyn_Bridge,_oil_on_canvas,_215.3_x_194.6_cm,_Yale_University_Art_Gallery

stop the car, stop the car (we’re on the bridge) I’m getting out
I’ve have got to see
do you see? a light down in the bay
under the water, it’s calling up to us
can you curb the urge? climb onto the rail and scramble over
to the other side, but one more step. and the push
it boils up from deep inside, and you know
it just feels right; this thing is what you
were born to do

as the cars and trucks rush by, lost in their exhaust
and automation
if they see you at all, they don’t care
or feel the way you do
machines, deaf to the siren song
and blind to the beacon in the deep, green water below

it’s yours, this urge; they can’t take this thing away from you
so let it play out as it may on your conscience
like fingers on the keyboard, pressed into the service
of a Bach suite
it is not death you are afraid of, it is knowing (as you do)
that you will not die, after this, but only emerge

if you’d never grow up, if you’d never change
if you’d have everything you had ever known stay the same
and be powerless when in changes, in spite of everything
you are or try to do
all that you have got to do
is cowardice; grow deaf and blind like those machines
that bearing their passengers and cargo across the bridge
oblivious to the chance, this one chance
to be ever so much more
than they are, or could otherwise be

to be really and truly alive, you must dare to leap
and, leaping, break your chrysalis against the water
and emerge, triumphantly aware of the wings you’d grown
under a shroud of flesh and bone

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poem23 Jan 2017 08:00 am

354px-sun_quan_tang

Cheong stood apart from the other mourners
on the cropped grass inside the ring of graves.
A waste of his time,
waiting for the two kings,
and Cheong too old to have much time
left to waste.

Seventy-seven sandstone slabs,
each garlanded with paper flowers,
each with a chiseled name.
The seventy-eighth slab
void of flowers,
his son’s name standing alone.

Cheong had incised the name himself,
back in the spring,
the fields ready for planting,
but Cheong practicing
on fragments of sandstone,
working with hammer and chisel
until he was certain
his hand would not slip,
that each character would be properly formed.
April when he’d chipped out the name.

Fall now,
the war over,
a demon slain,
though it hadn’t been a demon
that killed his son,
but men,
the Red King’s men, raiding,
the raid that started the war.

A waste of Cheong’s time, waiting.
No king, no gold, no paper flowers
of any use to his son.

Cheong was contemplating leaving
when the two kings arrived,
bare-headed, white-robed,
walking ahead of a company of soldiers.

King Xau, Cheong’s king,
stopped at the far edge
of the ring of graves,
bowed three times to the mourners,
said, “We are sorry we failed you.”

Not much of a speech,
but the young king’s voice
hefted with loss.

The other king, the Red King,
the one whose soldiers
slaughtered Cheong’s son,
said nothing at all.

King Xau went to the nearest grave,
read aloud the chiseled name,
bowed three times, very deeply,
said the name once more,
looked to the Red King,
who echoed the name.

King Xau moved to the next grave,
read aloud the chiseled name.

Men said that Xau slew the demon,
that when the Red King saw him do so,
then the Red King knelt to Xau
and pledged peace.
Cheong old enough to remember eight wars.
Words as worthless as paper flowers.

Xau came to Cheong’s son’s grave,
said the name aloud,
put his hand to the bare stone,
touched each chiseled character.

The king a white-robed blur.
Cheong’s son dead.

 

Painting by Yen Li-Pen, from the Thirteen Emperors scroll in the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston
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poem16 Jan 2017 08:43 am

kusakabe_kimbei_-_20_funeral_service_in_a_temple

Day 1

So much noise,
so much hurry.
Tires screech and I land
like a discarded feather,
face up,
eyes toward the stars.

Motor sounds swirl,
dragging red streamers.
The air is warm,
the pavement warmer.
The night grows sharp
as the body snatchers arrive.

Faces hover.
I feel pressure,
here and there.
Their hurry dissipates.
In their eyes
I’m already dead.

I don’t blame them.
How are they to know?
They are merely
collecting karma
for their next incarnation.
I’m grateful to oblige.

They wrap me in cloth,
gentle as an infant.
They offer prayers,
then lift me into a minivan.
Fingers brush across my eyes,
the night becomes permanent.

Day 2

The morgue,
as silent as a library,
as dark as a dreamless sleep.
It allows me
the necessary time
to find order in my life.

I wasn’t the best husband,
the best father,
the best person
I could have been,
but in my heart
I tried.

It is said there is shame
in inaction,
to take what is given
and carelessly throw it away.
For this
I am guilty.

But I did not love any less,
I did not desire any less,
my failing
was in not knowing.
For this
I am guilty.

And though I had abandoned
everything I’d known,
and had become homeless
in every sense of the word,
I hope I leave in my absence
more than I have taken.

I hear the attendants come and go.
Bodies are removed,
bodies delivered.
It begins to smell like flowers,
flowers more fragrant than memory.
I am hopeful.

Day 3

I can no longer hear.
I merely sense the ebb and flow
of energies,
the monks from the monasteries
chanting prayers
for the lost and the damned.

It is said
when the body and brain
cease to function,
the mind is the last to depart,
the mind lingers
to ensure safe passage.

All my life
I was in a race with time.
If I didn’t succeed,
or meet a certain expectation,
I thought I had failed.
I was wrong.

Time is insubstantial.
What matters is happiness.
In happiness lies all truth,
all understanding.
In happiness lies the gift of love,
to give and to receive.

The chanting enters my consciousness
in waves so perfect
it is as if I have become part
of a great chorus,
one that only the voice of death
can sing.

My eyelids become translucent.
I can see each helpful soul,
their heart beating
like a miniature furnace,
each holding a candle
to light the way home.

Most of all
I smell flowers,
beautiful potent
undying flowers,
of a scent beyond description,
beyond ethereal.

The moment approaches,
like a gentle wind.
The fragrance multiplies.
I let the wind take me.
I am at peace at last.
I fill with joy.

By Kusakabe Kimbei – http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/meiji/05071624_20-1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10477501
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poem02 Jan 2017 08:14 am
File Name : DSC_0340.TIF  File Size : 17.0MB (17774746 bytes)  Date Taken : Wed, Feb 4, 2004 3:46:25 pm  Image Size : 3008 x 1960 pixels  Resolution : 300 x 300 dpi  Bit Depth : 8 bits/channel  Protection Attribute : Off  Camera ID : N/A  Camera : NIKON D1X  Quality Mode : HI (RGB Uncompressed)  Metering Mode : Matrix  Exposure Mode : Manual  Speed Light : No  Focal Length : 32.0 mm  Shutter Speed : 1/4 seconds  Aperture : F5.6  Exposure Compensation : 0.0 EV  White Balance : Incandescent  Lens : 28-105 mm F3.5-F4.5  Flash Sync Mode : N/A  Exposure Difference : +0.5 EV  Flexible Program : No  Sensitivity : ISO250  Sharpening : Normal  Image Type : Color  Color Mode : Mode I (sRGB)  Hue Adjustment : 3  Saturation Control : N/A  Tone Compensation : Normal  Latitude(GPS) : N/A  Longitude(GPS) : N/A  Altitude(GPS) : N/A

File Name : DSC_0340.TIF
File Size : 17.0MB (17774746 bytes)
Date Taken : Wed, Feb 4, 2004 3:46:25 pm
Image Size : 3008 x 1960 pixels
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Camera : NIKON D1X
Quality Mode : HI (RGB Uncompressed)
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Speed Light : No
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Shutter Speed : 1/4 seconds
Aperture : F5.6
Exposure Compensation : 0.0 EV
White Balance : Incandescent
Lens : 28-105 mm F3.5-F4.5
Flash Sync Mode : N/A
Exposure Difference : +0.5 EV
Flexible Program : No
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Sharpening : Normal
Image Type : Color
Color Mode : Mode I (sRGB)
Hue Adjustment : 3
Saturation Control : N/A
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He recanted. His mouth was full of stars, but he
took away the telescope. He pressed his hands
together, folding away his history in order to save his future.

They let him live. Another day, another month.

Inside the woman’s body, the cells stack together to form
a new constellation with double helixes; a new
rotation in between her torso. She didn’t know she was
with child until she walked outside, and realized he was right
about the sun. The earth went around it, like the child went around her.
She was not the centre of the universe anymore.

He went back to research. Another day, another month–uncaught.

Then he was. She visited him in prison. They talked all night
until the blue faded to pink faded to blue again. “Our paths are our future,”
she said. “Together, we’ve created something new.”
“Anyone can do it,” he argued. But he folded his hands & stared up
at the sun while she went away. Between bars, he didn’t pray.

They let him live another month. Then another. Until there were nine.

When his son was born, he remembered his theorems. His formulas.
His wife became a cluster, her body full of craters made
with new life. Together, they had a future. A baby had a name.
So when he didn’t recant before a judge, he did it for the future’s sake
of a shadow-boy he’d never meet again, but always understand
in the lines of DNA and when his wife looked at the sky.

illustration “Crabtree Watching the Transit of Venus” by Ford Madox Brown, By Manchester City Council. – http://www.manchester.gov.uk/townhall/venues/murals1.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1900925
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poem26 Dec 2016 07:18 am

foul_pankration_at_kylix_by_the_foundry_painter_bm_vasee78

On the first day, after the appropriate sacrifices
(hare and tortoise, several calamari, and a brace of snails)
we watched our hero Hippias in the discus race.
The rolling discus squashed the toes of half a dozen men,
and he was one. Maybe next time.

At noon, the Spartan women hosted
a magnificent display of competitive callisthenics.
Eye-gouging was not permitted;
all else was fair. Almost all survived the fray.
It will go down in legend.

After lunch, the chariot hurling! Incorruptible judges
down from Thrace ensured that every chariot was standard weight.
More than half the field was disqualified. Our hero Philippos
passed that hurdle, but any of the Spartan girls
could have thrown the chariot twice as far as him.

At sunset, in the Olympian Lake, our hero Gorgias
will compete in the octopus wrestling.
He’s several arms and legs behind his giant foe,
but we’re hoping the philosophy he’s studied will give him the edge
against a mere beast, though it counts past eight with ease.

The javelin hunt will top off a perfect day.
We’ll hunt the elusive javelin across the wooded hills
by the thin light of the crescent moon.
The shy creatures never prowl until full dark.
A jolly night for all (except perhaps the javelins).

Image of kylix in British Museum, photo by © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5
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poem19 Dec 2016 08:00 am

512px-27-alimenti_miele_taccuino_sanitatis_casanatense_4182

We were a colony of the broken,
a colony of famished sorrow,
our eyes branded with the searing tongues

that licked away the life we knew,
tongues that lapped our loved ones
into a throat that swallowed

with the immensity of an endless shadow,
and the hunger of our huntress whale
stalking her krill throughout this flaming sea.

Wherever we looked,
it was all the same:
we tried to blink away

the horrors in hopeless flutters,
but the smoke of writhing bodies
will never leave our eyes.

So we march
into the dreaded hills
like a line of melted ants

detached from the hive mind,
brains disoriented
like a jumble of squirming worms.

We build our huts in latticework,
unconventional honeycombs
as if to build away our old way of life,

but now we are just the parasites
lost in a world no longer ours.
And so here we huddle,

here we nest,
the oscillations of our cries
phasing into broadcasts

at long-range frequency,
the vibrations of our shared lament
humming static throughout the night.

illustration By unknown master (book scan) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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poem12 Dec 2016 11:20 am

474px-rubens_peter_paul_-_the_fall_of_icarus

12 stories above the drowned Cathedral grounds
on the ledge, just under the spire’s roof
my back against the wall, under the gargoyle
his front talons outstretched, darkly angelic, he’d hardly save me
spewing ice-cold rainwater, he seems indifferent to my life and death

while the choir of their passage, the Valkyrie
circle in the blood-red sky
pick out the heroes and villains from the battle still raging below
their souls aglow
whether to Valhalla or to Folkvangr (their judgment)

I remain invisible, beyond help or harm
a ghost, simply
shivering
convulsive with cold
shackled to the ledge and to the side of the wall
by sheer terror
my fear of heights, and of falling
an observer

if only I still wore those wings of canvas and bamboo
I wore in the mountains of Shangri-La!
to my own undoing, I admit

Would that I could still do battle, and be judged
would that I could fall into the fray
to change the tide
to cry my cry of ecstasy
as rage and blood filled my senses with power and might
squandered on a cause I could not know

so I am bound

and in my own selfish vanity I cried–
’tis well I cry nothing, I’ve nothing to say

illustration By Peter Paul Rubens – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5899524
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poem14 Nov 2016 08:00 am

V0042744 Heliotrope (Heliotropium sp.): entire Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 1 print : etching, with watercolour ; platemark 36.7 x 22.7 cm. Heliotrope (Heliotropium sp.): entire flowering plant. Coloured etching by M. Bouchard, 1774. {Romae (Rome) : Bouchard et Gravier, 1774} 1 print : etching, with watercolour ; platemark 36.7 x 22.7 cm. 36.9 x 22.9 cm. BOUCHARD, MAGDALENA Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Better that he came to me
     than his mother. Her soul
     threadbared by grief
     could not have carried the miracle.

The girlfriends have all
     moved away or moved on
     and that one boy (“Why not?
     A mouth’s a mouth,” and he was
     so wrong, embouchure and enthusiasm
     leagues beyond any bad girl’s)
     now he’s a star who hates to talk
     about his hick hometown.

Better that he came to me
     the girl next door
     ten years younger than he
     and unburdened by memory or
     expectation.

I inherited this house
     with the overgrown hedges.

I inherited him too
     I guess.

Hidden by towering boxwood
     he sits on my back deck
     low to the ground, legs
     sprawled and hands spread wide
     behind him as he absorbs
     the honeyed hours.

And wherever he was before
     (“With the angels now,” my mom said
     eyes teary at the tragedy
     and she was so wrong)

I know it wasn’t heaven
     not the way he lifts his face to the sun
     not the way he hungers for the light.

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poem07 Nov 2016 08:02 am

By Nils Dardel (1888-1943) (dardel.info) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

our dad could produce five thousand starlings from a folded bus ticket
once he even pulled forth a dragon made entirely of silk from his top pocket
in the summer when the grass grew long he would weave it into a coat
and we would climb into the pockets of the lawn and sleep beneath the stars
once he leant a ladder against the moon and we climbed all the way to an ice landing
from there we threw coins from our mother’s purse and ruined several cities below
he showed us how to float to the top of Mount Everest by overfilling the bath
how to collect the individual flames from eleven matchsticks to make a football team
who would then challenge the national team of the republic of click beetles
once we all climbed into the held breath of a whale and travelled through the ocean
and mum was mad at us because we missed our supper by seven weeks
but not as mad as she was at us when dad made us suits from elastic bands
and we all bounced to the moon and back down again and were late for October
and dad invented Table-Football-Chess and Elephants-and-Elevators and Terrible-Pursuit
and he showed us how to remove the shadow of a scissors from a scissors
and then we could cut loose our own shadows with the scissors and set them free
and we went to the zoo and freed the shadows of the lions and the leopards
and the hippos and the bison and the monkeys and the emus and the camels
and we took them home and had a zoo against the wall and our zoo never got hungry
and never got angry and lasted all day until the sun went down
and dad and mum grew tired and sleepy and slept and their hair went grey
and grew into the clouds and then it rained and rained and rained them away

picture by Nils Dardel (1888-1943) (dardel.info) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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