Future Tense

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The future never arrives like some lost uncle at the door
burdened with twenty years of neglected gifts.
It’s just a tomorrow tensioned with the fact of today,
airy dazzle hammered iron, ace of wands mace of steel.
Warm in early December without hope of rain,
our stray cat, the neighborhood’s, a possum and
a raccoon all taking turns at the chrome water bowl.
They’ll be long dead when the state burns then drowns.
So will we. But never yet in the rack of hours
laid at this front door. The future is never as bad as
we fear nor as good as we pray: Rather it’s the sad
accountant trudging off to work work work again,
living to wrestle the next angel of bad sums.
The worst one—today? tomorrow? next year
or century?—looks exactly the way you always
wished poured fate would preen, half bombshell half muse,
mothering your moulder with a bosomy pink fuse:
Blithely flicking her last nickel with a future sigh,
landing at your last door as she opens her black eye.

November 2016

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Future/Tense challenge

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Steel Hammer, White Sands

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Jack Gilbert carried the steel factories of
Pittsburgh with him all his life. Enormous
blocks of girders skulling over concrete floors
hundreds of feet thick and the sky glowing red
all night from inferno. Winter lasting forever
and wide rivers chunked with ice and slag.
Pittsburgh was the slow heavy note that
tendoned his singing mind, the brutal hammer
lifting and falling inside words for rapture.

Occasionally he’d mention the mills, but his
poems’ strength was poured far back of their
smelting fury. Transmuting that siege into
the grander magnitude of dancing all night
with a fading Countess whose beauty was
beyond the one waltzing in the mirrors.
The roar of manufacture become thunder
troubling nights of ardor, sweat and excess
tensioning soft poems of the purest steel.

Women he loved sung as small birds crossing
over Greek islands soaked in light so milky
it’s easy to miss the tide’s iron metronome.
To forget its consequence within his prodigal
drift from bed to ruined garden into poems.
His accomplishment can only be understood
inside the red shadows of his birth city at night,
the way he wrote by the wounded light of it,
grinding that huge anvil into white sands.

The mills were dying, massively so, emptying
out to foreign competition, leaving behind a
rusted purpose beyond salvage: And yet—
or was it because so?—his spirit remained
undaunted, bidding him to manufacture
the fallen heaven that only failed love unbinds.
Clout of Roman meter became his patient
soldered métier, an silver grandeur drifting
under aqueducts lamped by ancient moonlight.

No song of his without that old cruel city’s
hammers at full strength, even if their clang
became just a memory that faded to far bells
no longer quite harsh. A sound he eventually
forgot, his mind becoming the silence of the
blank page he never turned again. When I
read his last poems I watch his thought wander
through that perished magnitude like a boy
playing in its ruins, happy for him and us
that such words can still exist on paper.
Even if it’s just a making that subsumes in time.
Like a pair of footprints on white sand that
fades into the brilliant sear of sun and sea—
the palest girders of our dying ecstasy.

Originally posted May 2014, re-posted November 2016

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chair by sea

Posted to D’Verse Poets’ Covers challenge.

Notes

Jack Gilbert’s last volume of poetry, The Dance Most of All, published in 2009. He died of Alzheimer’s in November 2012. His didactic style was enormously influential on me, so much so that my composing metronome is as much Jack Gilbert’s as what I  love in Rilke. Perhaps the manufacture of poetry is more akin to craft guild than the confabulations of the individual inventor, and vocation more a matter of finding the strongest shoulders to stand upon to sing.

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Aging, Alchemies, Art and Heart, Beauty Heals, Creativity, Culture, Death, Devotions, Immrama, Love, poetics, Poetry

Approaching Solstice

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Days walking ruined fields with nights approaching
each with the ardor and iron sweep of plague.
The light not so much diminishing like a tide
creeping in to swipe the afternoon with blackout,
every living color suddenly desaturate as bone.
Neither his grief nor rage could not prevent the sun
from sinking low and lower toward the South,
turning this hemisphere toward that dreadful pole
where eternal night winds rivet without mercy
nights blacker than the sea’s bottommost vale.
His thoughts becoming wolves attacking prey,
desperate to drink from any comfort-seeming throat.
Ahead the silver fir next to the baleful yew,
gathering the birth-star in their uplifted limbs,
preparing to heave it into the next year’s fate:
But he won’t make it that far—nor you or I—
when approaching solstice only means time to die.
Surrender to winter the cold ring of its bell noir.
Be the silver in the new moon’s blackest tide,
the scribe who inks the carols for the frozen choir.

Late November 2016

Note

According to Robert Graves, the Celtic tree calendar ended and began the year at the Winter Solstice: “Ailm the Silver-fir of Birth and Idho the Yew of Death are sisters: they stand next to each other in the circle of the year and their foliage is almost identical. Fir is to yew as silver is to lead…” (The White Goddess, 194). He added his own magical proscription:

Fir, womb of silver pain,
Yew, tomb of  leaden grief—
Viragoes of one vein,
akin in leaf—
With arms up-flung
Taunt us in the same tongue:
‘Here Jove’s own coffin-cradle swung.’

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform
a
nd D’Verse Poets’ Open Link Night

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Filed under Alchemies, Coding the Sidhe, Immrama, Infernos, Neolithics, Oran, Praising Is What Matters, The Dark, The Dead, The Future

Thanksgiving Canticle

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Be still. Be still and know that I am God.
His evisceration at least, into this
pooling mud of dank quiescence,
shimmering like jelly in the cold night wind.
Still as Passchendaele a hundred years becalmed,
almost all the shell holes filled and grown over,
smooth and green all summer now dead and brown,
the shadow of every tolling churchyard bell.
Still as the thrown note’s slow ebb,
receding back to starlight on bald snow
but failing whale ribs churched below.
Still as the dead, yes, but short of Their
tommorowless triumph. Here again as
the roads of merriment and duty merge
into the next canticle of grace enough.
My ghost self sleeping off a futile drunk
while his only son prepares Thanksgiving
in an aging, shoddy poise of stillness.
Still as the empty pews of the abandoned church
smashed and dumpstered to the landfill
but troubled by the first wife in the dream,
leading me through the old ruined heart
which undergirds this broken heaven.
Be the peace of all discarded things,
liberated at last from distempered use.
Be free to love and grieve their much more,
still in the grace of bespoken things
beyond remembering their only dust.
There’s no stillness without its other.
Be still and just its more. This unquiet coast.

Thanksgiving 2016 

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The Song Heals the Singer

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December 1973: I’m 16 and walking
home from school and job through
New Town on a late afternoon that’s
frozen in the old Chicago way—-by
a ferocity more certain in its
hard blue caboosing than death.

The cold seems freighted directly
from the North Pole as I hug my peacoat
tight, hands jammed into its pockets,
a cigarette in my lips with its tiny bead
of fire like a single orange life-vest
lost amid the towered waves of Arctic sea.

When I turn right at Fullerton
the wind slaps at me hard like a wolf-
pack sprung with fury; it mauls and
tears to free the last of heat from me
which I try to shield like a throat.

The light to the west is minted from
those canines, an angry red leaping high
at blue then blacker truths. I could die
out here and no one would care nor even
notice amid the city’s grey decrepitude,
a ghetto of the heart that devours whole
whatever morsels its weary citizens
provide by failing and falling hard.

Not that much awaits me at home
a few blocks further on, my parents
imploding into an unspoken doom, the
eyes of my siblings too bright with
rage and fear, even the dogs yapping
hysterically at every next wrong sound
coming off the street ten feet from our
front door, sounds we hear and pray
only the safest registers of.

I’m walking there anyway, because
where else does a boy-man go when
he hasn’t flown the nest? It’s all ending
in the brutal precis of a winter’s
afternoon very close to the dead end
of my lousy sixteenth year:

So why am I just then hearing Billy Paul’s
“Me And Mrs. Jones” in my head?
That sappy Philly soul tune played on
so sweet and tender despite ghetto
arrears which freezes every bud to
stillness on the stem, dooming me
in the end. Stolen love and fragile dreams
which cannot survive another day—-

that’s the hottest and most eternal
shaman-virile flame, and it kept me
walking happily bittersweet on that day
& in fixed in my memory every since,
above the miseries of being 16
in the maul of a Chicago winter, with
neither Jesus nor any bottle of sufficient
proof to poof the black dog away.

Like a choirboy I sang along with that
divine song in my head, somehow getting
its sweet blue taste on my heart’s dry tongue.
My ears were burning ice but I still
I heard the song; my hands were numb
yet ached to hold my guitar once again;
my heartwas empty of any lover’s smile but
was alight on Mrs. Jones smile in that
sad cafe, holding her hand, making up plans. 

I burned to write and sing what warmed
that frozen city playing from every
radio and juke in town, creating a music
of my own that boated me spoon-fashion
to that song away from that hard afternoon
down some moony river to this pre-dawn
sub-tropic trope on middle-aging blues.

I’m still singing Philly soul love back
in the face of hard-fought days: Florida
and marriage and a switch from pick
to pen have changed perhaps the singer
but not at all the song. It’s still the
soundtrack of all walks through arctic
fields, delighted to see her once again
albeit in the northern lights of my
conceit splashed upon the page.

I’m thrilled the way she loves me too,
dancing there inside the frozen world
slow and sweetly over all the bones
fallen to the bottom of a life. “Me
And Mrs. Jones” is still in my ear
and I’m still walking those cold streets home,

singing along with Your song’s magic
by singing back in my own songs,
getting to every healing insides of
what it means to Get the Girl,
even when love is nowhere to
be found or flung, even when life
freezes to hard ice.

Dante harrowed Hell wrapped
in the meters of his song, writing
the whole passage down the way
he found at last that heart—-his own-—
exactly where Beatrice waited for him.

Whatever I hummed as a baby
I’m still trying to sing here,
her kiss the welcome of each page
I stain in sea-wrack and foam,
still walking those cold blocks home.

2005, posted 2011, reposted Nov. 2016

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platoform

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Note

1. Letters to A Dead Shaman was written back in 2005 when I was receiving infusions for a migraine that would not let go — a sort of biochemical tenting. This poem is the sixth letter in the series. The Letters ponder whether the physical, mental and spiritual ills that beset us are how the deep body and deep mind heal itself, a sort of inoculation of bad shit in order to produce an archetypal shamanic response. Did the Billy Paul song produce both freezing day and what I found there? And why am I hearing that song today?

2. From Mercea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy:

“Like the sick man, the religious man is projected onto a vital plane that shows him the fundamental data of human existence, that is, solitude, danger, hostility of the surrounding world. But the primitive magician, the medicine man, or the shaman is not only a sick man; he is, above all, a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself. Often when the shaman’s or medicine man’s vocation is revealed through an illness of an epileptoid attack, the initiation of the candidate is equivalent to cure.

“The famous Yakut shaman Tusput (that is, ‘fallen from the sky’) had been ill at the age of twenty; he began to sing, and felt better. When Sieroszowski met him, he was sixty and displayed tireless energy. ‘If necessary he can drum, dance, jump all night. In addition, he was a man who had traveled; he had even worked in the Siberian gold mines. But he needed to shamanize; if he went for a long time without doing so, he did not feel well.’”

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Filed under Art and Heart, Consciousness, Devotions, Madness and Mania, Memoir, Music, Myth and Archetype, poetics, Poetry, Prayer, Shamanism

Crossroads

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No one saw it coming but everyone understood the fault.
Defeat was just the salt which made the wound apparent.
In America where everything is possible, sadly so is this.
On the Internet everything is possible and nothing is:
How can we not see the disruption in both results,
one and none the end of one dizzy upward spike?
If there’s anything acceleration hates, it’s doing nothing,
not even the usual delays of distracted eyes onscrolling.
That means sitting at the crossroads of this November night,
grounding grief with rapture at the dear and dead starlight.

November 20, 2016

Submitted to Real Toads’ Cross-Roads Micro Poetry Challenger

Note

In the 8th century Vita Columbae of Admonan (the ninth abbot of the Iona Abbey, located off the southwestern coast of Scotland) St. Columba vigils the final third of every night laying on a beach down by the shore reciting “the three fifties” (the Psalms) to the angels and devils at war in the sky above.

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Big Night Music, Celestial events, Coding the Sidhe, Elegy, Grief, Matins, Oran, The Future, The Sea

Bowtie Tourniquet

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One night I met a woman named November
in a dive called The Black Cat’s Dick. Party hat
akilter, shoo eyes white, yew-irised with nod.
A fellow celebrant of a sewering distemper
resurrecting Truman from godforsaken sod.
She was my retro doom, my Sputnik pussy,
bad heaven crashing harder than the devil’s rod.

November held a shot glass to her reflection
in the bar’s cracked mirror and beheld my gaze.
I offered her my own shot of misery, adding
that I had a thing for what shape disremembers
at night and that she especially would especially do.

She took my hand and gazed with cat eyes crossed,
reading futures past: Then spat in my palm
and curled my fingers, crossing death with destiny.
And so November became my cold fool muse,
my darkling dour curved with precipice,
a sheet of ice poured in a dress of anisette,
the crowning gory of this bowtie tourniquet.

November, ah November, sweet distempering
with pale thighs of frozen thunder: We
made the broken winter great again
in beds that we littered with sex ghosts,
a tangle of undead sheets we liced with frost.

She had a way of sighing just before her face was gone,
become the turned-to wall, a coven of Thanksgiving
devoured by an advent of winter-hungry wolves.
One morning I came to and beheld a still December,
the eventual insult of nine’s tenth dismember.

Election, thy result’s an empty pepper grinder
knocking on a broken high chair in the landfill
while frozen breezes rake the refuse of our town.
The desuetude of an Iseult I vaguely now remember
her cat tail curling history the wrong way round.

November 2016

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APRILE

Submitted to Real Toads’ Music With Meow challenge

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White Horizon, Tideless Afternoon

mid_day

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It’s the absence of shadow blue which fails the picture,
awareness drying too fast, without the yearning to quench
and passing on bare, unsated, unaware even of its need.
When Navaho weavers starting making rugs for tourists
the distaff thread—that lone discordant note in the pattern
which allowed the spirit to escape unburdened—was lost,
vanishing into government housing and alcohol abuse,
a reservation’s angled roofs serrating the immense.

Now there’s only sun and shadow, nothing left between:
Even the petroglyphs are fading from their rock, elk and bison
bleaching themselves out, the hunters’ stick figures collapsing
into balls like dead ants, tiny waves without any sprawl left,
no longer greeting their ghost kills or even waving goodbye,
patternless stains in the overhanging whose blue shadow
cannot comfort or assuage the lingering assault of light.

It’s what becomes of presence in this vanishing age
and would be terrifying if anyone paused to notice.
It’s not that we cannot see the erasings, it’s just that ghosts
aren’t on the dropdown menus which decide where we look.
Between those links to someone’s fortune there is this:
Would you have the land of shadow so literally dead
not even an abyss distinguishes the one and zero?

Observe the island oasis of a wet nipple dimly lit,
the infant’s mouth half open as he deeply sleeps.
White curtains billow next to a half-opened window,
their soft calm breathing weaving white and shadow
from lungs we can’t see but are. And the ocean down
from the house in midafternoon is blue then green
then darkening, there at the horizon where heaven
anneals earth with stormclouds tall and steelblue
grey and darker underneath where long mists trail.

The fretful shadows of the maker’s overlit hand
were lost when we burned all yearning for the page.
Leaving us this fretful immediacy, this metastasizing
now, a immense vacant reservation bent on whiting
itself out. The myth was lost when we lost forgot the words,
the mouth’s soundhole sealing out the shadow tones.
Our voices now like surf when the window closes,
a ghostly murmur, like sleep without a dream.

Come nightfall none of this will find the minor key
and what’s walking into water won’t look back.
Leaving us tomorrows without seam or sea,
the horizon too brilliant now for what made
the nipple so perfect. Betraying every breeze.
Bluing every whiteout with invisible malaise.

Submitted to Poets’ United Invisibility Midweek Challenge

Note

In his essay “Alchemical Blue”—a writing which has colored my poetry since I first read it 20 years ago—James Hillman writes about Cezanne, first quoting Kurt Badt’s The Art of Cezanne: “When he was composing, only a visionary’s or a poet’s imaginative conception … could e of help to him. It was impossible to start out from an isolated real thing seen.”

Hillman continues: “He based his painting on ‘shadow paths and contours’ out of which ‘real things’ emerged as local high points. The imaginative conception, the visionary shadow, originates and supports the real thing seen in nature. “

Badt again: “The deepest color in Cezanne’s paintings, the one which supports the composition and is most appropriate for shadows, is blue … When (Cezanne) used blue in this way, he transcended any special connotation which had attached to its former uses. Blue was now recognized as belonging to a deeper level of existence. It expressed the essence of things and … placed them in a position of unattainable remoteness.”

Hillman: “The blue shadow is the imaginal ground that allows the eye to see imaginatively, the event as image, creating at the same time a remoteness from real things.”

Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman, Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Spring Publications, 2010.

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Blue, Oran

November

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November now the dark’s cold foaling,
tournaquetting off the summer blast.
Dark and dry and breezing if not evilly
then thronged with the year’s ghosts, that sickled tribe,
gone but still resonant in the headless trees.
Hear them moan and whisper we, too
are sons and daughters of the sea…
A song when all the roots spade into
the silent grave of history.

Behind the leafless requiem the stars
press their glassblown faces to the pane,
taking in our human fall with something
far too wry for humor, as oil burns
too thinly for the cries of mating raptors.
No: November sows the bitter seed
which grows down and dark to May-Day.

Marrying the shape of singers underground
to this fallow upland’s bone line-dance
to the fool king’s fiddle round. Cut roots
crowned with dead trees: Our dim destiny.
Resounding cold and old and tonelessly

the sea’s Novembering.

November 2016

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

 

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Filed under Aging, All the Dumb Dudes, Elegy, History, Oran, Rome Falling, Ship of Fools, Solastalgia, Subtractions and Subductions

Just So

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A turn of line—that’s all—suffices
where no cathedral can divine
the source of water in the wine.

A long wave’s curl just so,
wan with sunrise,
grey-belled with glow.

And the sound: Not the hosanna
of the wave’s white crash
but the longer glass recede.

The perfected line erasing
just like this, the night,

no psalm,
just subtle light.

The still mind meets its maker
returning the damaged world in full
with this bruised affirmative,

the held piano note of dawn,

the vanquished yes

echoing down.

November 2016

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Submitted to Real Toads Still Points challenge

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Beauty Heals, Devotions, Oran, The Sea