Category Archives: Voyagers

Seizure of Night

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563 A.D.

By day the monks worked setting the abbey’s footers,
girding the new faith’s white claim on ancient ground.
Each night wind and water howled back from the sea,
a black hurricane ripping tackle and block away
from the tenons of new mind, tearing Heaven
with a drowning shriek that crashed the abbey down.
Come morning the monks found Christ in wreckage,
swooning, as it were, in Time. Again the monks began
rebuilding, getting as far as beginning every night: Again
come midnight the banshees of spout and bolt would roar,
cracking the brain of future and spiraling the host again.
For weeks the same diabolic of founding, man caught
between the polemic of mind and insane: Finally Columba
their leader, future abbot and finally saint decided to
harrow the night himself on a knoll above the site,
to witness for himself both art and author of its ripe
destruction. And there, in the black seeling of midnight,
the thing again arose, delved by the angry god
of the sea: Black Kate, the gill-witch of the Hebrides.
Appearing in the torment of whirling black flame
Kate shouted to the saint that blood price was due:
A man buried alive standing up in the belly of the pit,
human footer to the god of the night’s unholy fit.
And so lots were cast (some say Oran volunteered)
and the hallowed man went into the harrow’s well,
drowning in dirt until he sang the Psalms no more.
Maybe my entire life’s arc compresses down to
this old physic for a god’s blue swamp of vertigo.
These words my well, my suffocation divine,
the blood of confusion become sacrament wine.
When meter catches pace and rhyming gets tight
and the placebo angel takes over in saintly flight,
smothering my angst with bosomy blue wavelets,
sand packed hard over my face, one cheek against
the cross that once topped Iona’s abbey spire.
Sea and earth both murmuring against the tide,
grinding down these bones into still finer grain,
lining the marrow of the buried god, this awful
remedy for ancient rounds, this hollow singing stain.

September 2016

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lascaux-birdman-bison

A swooning shaman dreams of bison in the paleolithic cavern of Lascaux, ca 15,000 BCE.

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Notes

A folk cure for epilepsy in Scotland was to bury alive a black cock on the spot of the first fit. This seems a remnant of the pagan practice of foundation sacrifice as evidenced by the legend of Saint Oran, patron saint of my Well. As in the story retold above, Oran was sacrificed to appease an angry hurricane of old deity and so the Iona Abbey walls could stand.

Angus MacOdrum of Uist was a black-haired Celt of Fomorian origin and one of the seal-tribe; Saint Columba encountered the great black seal on a shore of Iona one day. Angus asked the saint “in fine Gaelic” if he had seen his wife Kathleen, a good Christian woman who had been lured into wave by Angus a thousand years before to become his bride and sea-witch. She could invoke the cataract of storm with her song, the bane of fishermen and sailors of the Hebrides. Columba replied that he hadn’t seen the witch; Angus then cursed the saint in salty old Gaelic and leapt back in the crashing bath, taking with him the haunting resonance of song.

My father began his Order of Saint Oran in 1982, the year of my first grand-mal seizure. (It was also the year of the dedication of the St. Columba Chapel there, which sits in the woods not far from the St. Oran Bell tower.) I wonder if my three-decades long fascination with the Oran-Columba myth, most recently through Oran’s Well, roots in all the seizures & migraines that have crawled up from my brainstem over the years, demanding a physic beyond Carbamazepine and Maxalt and Imitrex, calling for another descent into the Well—standing up and singing all the way.

Such verbal gambits in the land of the dead may ground the future; let’s hope so. The spiraling ruin of the Twin Towers are fifteen years in the grave, and history still seems mired there. What song do we bury in that broken, unspeakable place?

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St. Oran Bell Tower at Columcille (Pennsylvania)

St. Oran Bell Tower at Columcille (Pennsylvania). The Columba chapel is in the woods just beyond.

 

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The God of the Sea and The Ghost of the Saint

 

iona storm cloud

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A chalice used by the Iona abbey is broken. It is taken by one of the monks to the sea-god Manannan, who magically restores the chalice by blowing on it. He sends it back to Columba with a question: would he achieve Christian immortality? “Alas,” says the ungrateful saint, “there is no forgiveness for a man who does such works as this!” The message is returned to Manannan, who breaks out into an indignant lament. “Woe is me, Mannan-mac Lir! For years I’ve helped the Catholics of Ireland, but I’ll do it no more, till they’re weak as water. I’ll go to the gray waves in the Highlands of Scotland.” — Fiona MacLeod, Iona

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How many moonyear-tides have I waited to return?
The Christians never did get tired of whiting themselves,
the eternal toy hugged forever in their corner of the room.
I was growing in danger of my own doom, no wave
close or high or booming enough to prevent lapsing,
my temple dimming deeper on this mount of silt.

I thought the saint might yet be served—yes, saved—
beckoned from the purgatory of a thousand votive lights.
So I handed the chalice to the fish-girl and told her
to give it to him. Up she sashayed from the sea past midnight
like a whisper of the gale: But Iona by then was just
a tourist trap, with glow-in-the-dark crucifixes for sale
next to Ye Olde walking maps. The Catholic disease,
apostolic now of the pound. There wasn’t anyone
for her even query at that hour, the rebuilt abbey
stout and proud and silent on its ruins, the
graveyard filled with broken headstones. When
she failed to see the moonlight in the chalice
she folded her fish eyes and sighed back into the wave.

This was going to be harder than I imagined;
what had really transpired while I was gone?
Even the deepsea Highlands was a ghost town,
scoured clean by steel-meshed nets, big fish
killed off for lack of prey, the narwhals impaling
each other maddened by the sonic booms of Naval ships.
Where the roar of Odin in a propeller’s silver whine?

And so I sent my underboss Oran, his infernal yap
brimming with sea-trash and missals, the keep
of tales long lost below. To him he’d only been gone
three nights—a short row to the Land Beneath the Wave
and back—but to see him walk up from the water
there at noon among gaggles of fat Germans and
menopausal concubines of the New Age
was like costuming a curse in the casing of a wurst
plopped into a steaming bun with mustard squirt.

With only the ban of Columba—mud! mud back over
Oran’s mouth lest he blab no more
!—still
familiar somewhere in the crowd, but only to the
fisherman’s great-grandson, sent a-wailing
from the dock. To everyone else he was just a fly
in the tourist ointment everyone came lathered in.
What’s the use of periscopes when surfaces have
all turned to milk? Oran too turned back,
revealing the budding dragon wings and wrack
of harpoons hurled his way excoriating ghouls.
The delicate Scots head and then water everywhere.

Finally I myself had to go, disguising myself
in a sealcoat over which I masked my face in morrows.
Parting the ocean like a woman’s thighs,
gently as a leaping porpoise clears the wave.
No one took notice my salt divinity, much less
enquired about the chalice in my webbed grip.

I walked the island all day dripping the old Hebrides
gestalt, with nary a saint in sight—as if holiness
had become the sand they had mixed in asphalt,
paving over the Road of Souls too long ago.
Finally I ended up on Dun Mannanan where three
kids were dowsing with cellphones playing Pokemon Go,
angry at the lack of any local urbs to appease
their gaming’s gods. None of them saw the hillfort
or my standing stones the later monks had pushed
into the sea. Much less the lord of this mount of water.
Myth is just more fakery to the likes of them,
last year’s selkie in her box beneath the dream.

I left them to their drizzle and turned for home.
No surprise it too was gone, just a gray void of
parchment unfilled by the last copyist’s hand,
the sound of the bells in first abbey echoed
sadly by the mooing of the last cow on the island
boarded for the Oban ferry a hundred hearts ago.

I found the saint at last down at the northern shore,
waiting as he had for the past thousand years
for my return. We stood there together by the water
listening to the cries of gulls against the wind,
feeling the waves pound so hard against the rock
their thunder makes you feel the end of prayer.
Columba said nothing as I handed him the chalice
and we both walked away—he back down the Road
of Souls to the abbey graveyard, me back in
the mazy sea’s marauding blank resound
taking the tale to leagues yet farther down
perhaps never again in thought to be found.

July 2016

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Iona Fingal's Cave

Submitted to Kerry’s Gods in Nature challenge, as part of Play It Again, Toads

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Filed under Celtic myth, Grails, Immrama, Iona, Mystery, Oran, Otherworlds, The Sea, Vespers, Voyagers

St. Brendan and The Shadow of The Whale

Andrew Wyeth, "Adrift"

Andrew Wyeth, “Adrift”

 

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Eventually one comes toward the end of all sailing.
Not Ultima Thule but rather final enough stale breezes
to wither paper sails. Never quite embracing death
but close enough to feel the colder breath of failure
inhaling back the world. Once it glances you no keel
matters, no direction counts and what profit’s in the hold
spoils with the grander metaphor of poetry as sailing.
As if the trope of almost finding the Land of Everliving
was lysis enough for ink’s mimesis of crossing
depths of heart. As if the physis of approach could grace
or even compensate for all that broke along the way.

Maybe the hope of a distant shore realizing itself
in some faint and supine shadow on the horizon
is finally bankrupted by all the checks one bounces
saying love is one thing and death surely another.
Maybe there never was anything to discover,
only fleeting mirrors that lifted to the surface
for a few waves and then dove to silted halls.
Falling out of sight then mind with their lyric life,
their salt relic of eternity. Eventually cold sighs
become the chantey in the sails of night, the
whispered chart that faded past the hundredth song.
The ship will sail on, of that I’m sure. What
I can’t surmise is if it matters who’s the sailor.
If the great grey emptiness ahead is perfected
not by shores but the shadow’s breeching measure.
If paradise is just the echo of its smashing pleasure.

June 2016

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Andrew Wyeth, "Her Room," detail

Andrew Wyeth, “Her Room,” detail

Submitted to Real Toads’ Artistic Impressions challenge

and D’Verse Poets’ Open Link Night #174

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Filed under Big Night Music, Devotions, Immrama, Lives of the Poets, Oran, the library down under, The Sea, Voyagers

The Third Paramour

woman and fish

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Not the dark lady of languor I liquored for years.
Nor her successor, the reflected paramour who
entranced me for decades in a mirroring wood,
away from the banalities of a real home’s good food.
Perhaps there is another door to this romance,
a third dancing floor further in round and down.
Look: the curtains are woven of milk but cloven,
silken as sin in starting but sere, ahead of all parting.
I don’t know. You tell me. I’m just laying down
brick by brick a seascape’s innermost town.
Beyond love of words for othering sweet worlds
is this rapture of 5 AM on a Sunday morning as
the world falls apart, cat curled and sleeping
at my feet & birds trilling go fuck daylight savings.
A dark that slow. The poem thrice torpedoed.
Her jade eyes rapt to this dance of sea snow.

March 2016

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Aging, Coding the Sidhe, Devotions, Entangled up in blue, Grails, Immrama, On the Road, Prayer, Scriptorium Down Under, The Sea, Voyagers

Run To Her

beachsilouette,beach,woman,ocean,sunset-408fecb7931a0586c23d80e0925a3259_h

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It felt like the last great love, my last chance at getting right
what always felt like mistaking Shiva in a distant court.
Fall of ’85, driving my wheezy Datsun—tanist of a thousand
drunk drives home—up from Orlando to Deland, with
a boombox on the seat next to me playing “Run to Her”
by Mr. Mister. One more shot at falling in love all the way
before my falling-in-love persona collapsed in heart-shaped dust.
There wasn’t much time left. September was still burning
the horizon at late afternoon, but the light was shifting fast
toward a windy darkness I knew would plunk me in the drink
like the worm returned to the bottom of tequila. Mirror
mirror on the wall, who has the emptiest face of them all?

Soon, but there was still this late, last, surprising chance at love.
I’d met her in the old rock club, our dance so bonily familiar—
the late hour, the flushed first kiss, the abandoned dive
into the other’s infinite Yes: Yet worlds were piled up against us,
advancing us well past 18’s perfect needle north to noon.
Age tinged each night with a fin-de-siecle turpitude, each next
fuck dancing us that much closer to an obsolete last kiss. She had
a 4-year old son and hated that I was too much like the night
that had bred and then left her alone with him; me, I didn’t care
much for the competition, that froggy tiny foghorn of a plea
begging to be let into her bedroom at 6 a.m. just when I was
still trying to furrow my own depth in her. The passion, yes,
was great, akin to oceanic; witness my haste in driving (running)
to her—: But there was far too much already lost behind me
for incautious, lucky and perfect liaisons any more, not for the likes
of me. I had by then only my shape and faux burn to give her,
and that in 1985 was already past history for her: Unforgiven pall.

I didn’t know she was pregnant with my child; nor that, despite
her devout Catholic mommy bent, she had just recently aborted
that child, for the good of the older one and herself. How I pined in lust
for her sweet viscous pink receipt while she was “sick with the flu”
for a week after spreading her legs for the icy vacuum pump
sacrificing our wild nights for good. I almost couldn’t wait for her
getting good and drunk on hard rock blues in a bad fucks bar
powerfully (I thought) resisting the addict greed for diving in any
pinknougat well. In early November—at last—when I called
she at last said Yes, and there I was at the wheel, hair on fire,
Running To Her. What was it waiting up the highway anyway
that made me sing along so with Mr. Mister, the fool so fueled
on pop and greed as to hear violins celestial in the crotch’s ado
of Let’s Get Drunk and Screw? As if a 27-year-old hootch-hound
wastrel git-fiddler could ever game for the starry gamos, vying
to steal it in lieu of living for anything good, substantial or real.

And knew it, like I got the changing light around the setting sun,
the collapsing halo for auroral clout on horizons almost done.
I knew that love this way would never be true the way I wished
no matter how much I lifted weights or played rock guitar.
Sorry Charlie, we don’t want tuna with good taste, as the
old commercial sang. Love is what breaks you into what you are.
Night was coming soon enough, the cold wolf winter, too,
poured in full from vodka bottles swaddled in deep freeze.
But I would get this one late last insubstantial hook of fire
into the shape of a woman walked out of rebirthing seas,
desperately in love despite the fleeing shadow of her steps,
the way she turned at the door looking so sad. Run to her.

I did, and promptly collected her last sad kiss at the door.
It took years to calibrate the magnitude of that thrice-lost shape,
discovering the turning mystery within is curved her way.
The wave-mill’s thrash is strange organum for lost lovers,
but there it is. I drank the deepest winter losing her for good.
There is no longing without dead ice clinking in wave glass.
The scatter of abandon I collect now on this page, like shells.
Whatever I once ran to crashes back in full in daily swells.
If only I could tell her how half-assed my running was.

February 2016

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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That Light

woman at beach

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I’ve always thought the light I’d filament when done
would soothe from that rising sun at New Smyrna Beach
in 1981, bright gold unhinged from a flat sepia sea
framing just so the woman standing in the shallows
smiling wearily at me after our long late night of love,
her bikini casually loose over nakedness shared in full
& her hair blonde and curly and catching all the gold
like a sea-net lifted and heavy with what was fullest
into the mystery of augment resolving into death—:

But no, toiling behind that light was something else,
pressed to time’s window but still hidden, unclear
to eyes too accustomed to waking & walking,
another type of light, older, veined where gold is found—
A pool’s gleam, say, when all above is 3 a.m.,
turning the water the cyanotic hue too intense
for two young brains drunk on everything else

and now filling past full with each other in
that first night’s dance into love’s wild ocean,
wholly unaware of the others in and around
the pool, or the Scorpions blasting from speakers
pointed out from some rich dick’s living room—he
hoping for 19-year-old pussy scooped up from club
at closing time with promises of champagne & coke—

That gelating gleam is more primary and last because
that hot Florida night gripped round me and her
like a knowing hand, clutching desire with its monster
underwater hand to squish us out in bright blue pulses,
heaving and sharp and orgasmic with birth matters
unsayable and unknowable back then and to this day:

There at 3 AM in just one more party paradise
lost in the vast black burb of mindless evocations,
that late light switched on something first and pure,
haloing the naked woman rising from the pool
looking deep into me with dark eyes deeper than the sea;
And when she looked up and pulled me close and kissed
me openly and full, I became the single ogham stone
notched into the ancient love-dance by that pool’s light,
kennable only to what sings deepest in blue hearts—:

And even though love broke us into halves soon after
all our edges vanished in the womb of first desire,
that song on the radio for months after she said Go
still promised to me love’s sanctum, singing of believing anyway,
a longing beyond lovers toward the long night roads between them,
the bittersweet and haunting filament of that first night,
the lucent scrimshaw which I’ve repeated ever since—

Signing to that late blue light that woke and broke me so
Plunge me back into that pool when this life at last says Go.

February 2016

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woman by pool at night

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

and D’Verse Poets’ Mockingbird challenge

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Filed under Alchemies, All the Dumb Dudes, Art and Heart, Beauty Heals, Big Night Music, Blue, Devotions, Entangled up in blue, Grails, Immrama, Love, Oran, Otherworlds, Pagan hours, Post-Christianity, Sexuality, The Dead, the library down under, The Sea, Voyagers, Writing to The Dead

The Last Polar Oilfield

arctic-drilling-1

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We can, if need be, ransack the whole globe, penetrate into the bowels of the earth, descend to the bottom of the deep, travel to the farthest regions of this world, to acquire wealth.

—William Derham, Physico-Theology, 1713

One more good old jolly roger, he thinks, scanning the grey heave
for wandering floes. There’s more of them than ever these days
as the Arctic tears herself apart. One last derrick plunged in
Mother Freeze and we’re fucking done, a billion barrels
of crude for gas autos so pricey now you have to be too rich
to drive in style, one of the hundred lords or their ladies
or their always errant platinum-plus kids. They alone
pay for this right; the rest have gone to hell, ten billion souls
like these floes, banging about in the rising tides of night.
The last polar bear up here was sighted, what, twenty years ago,
floating away upon a brick of ice into the foggy goop
of what was Greenland. It’s quite temperate here now for
most of the year; developers have begun to lift a magic city
up from the northern sea, no expense spared or tech treat
denied, expecting most of the world’s wealthy and useful
to flee the heat in twenty years or so. He remembers tales
of the captain he served under on his first drilling mission here,
a boozer salt who in his cups talked about ice as far as the eye
could scan, and cold so infinite it was like walking on the dark
side of the moon—a white bone-breaking plunge. Amazing that
a man could see glaciers in his youth, shelved for hundreds
of miles out of sight–and yet by old age see only ocean
and the winding ghosts of northern lights. The borealis
is so sad now, bannering the names of gods of ice
in a language lost when the last Eskimos sailed away.
One more decent plunge of spinning bit of steel into the mark
and that sweet cum sound of crude upgorging, splashing
into tanks, draining clean the last oilfield of human time.
Man what gorgeous music, he thinks, aching for something—
a cigarette or whiskey or a woman’s pierced cry—
and watches green light ghost the broken northern sky,
empty and eerie and winding round up over where
a vanished pole is the haunt of the last lost polar bear.

February 2016

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polar bear northern lights

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Note

Another fine quote from the “Drill, Baby, Drill” catechism, from Francis Bacon’s De Augmentis Scientairum (1623):  “For you have to but follow and as it were hound nature in her wanderings, and you will be able, when you like, to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again … Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object.”

 

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Filed under Global Warming, Infernos, Oran, Ship of Fools, Solastalgia, The Future, Voyagers, Writing to The Dead

Mix Tape ’78

long highway road

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“Werewolves of London” as we drove out from Spokane,
2,000 miles to roll to my father’s New Age farm near Philly.
Both of us 19 and wanting all of it. The first leg to Missoula
was too sublime for young men, thrilling heights and tragic drops
with “Solsbury Hill” on the cassette deck, rollicking all
we yearned in love and lust and rock n roll. Day Two driving
bald badlands, “Hot Blooded” cracking wide the granite shelf
‘til thunderstorms whipped up, cold and venal, danger
cracking its bright sexual whip across the falling sky.

Stopped in Caspar Wyoming where Dave got good and drunk
partying with the hotel band til 3 a.m. We rolled out of
town on Day Three banging in parched silos of
hangover, passing the back end of a Lincoln Continental
sticking out a drainage ditch near the hotel. Miles
and then a sunny ocean of prairie grass flat as a
woman’s sleeping stomach sticky still with cum.

“Love is the Drug,” you know, verdant and humid
in June with plush heat coming. Quiet night outside
Rochester in Minnesota with manure from dark fields
gestating something deep inside the Scotch we drank
watching reruns on TV. Cornfield dreams that night.

Day Four Dave’s Mustang broke down in Chicago so
we stayed three days in my older brother’s too-small so-
rank apartment, roaches everywhere & beer cans
piled against the wall. Guy I knew from high school
showing up party harder than we had livers for.
Who’s dead now? “Breakdown,” “Badlands.” Praying
to the metal gods to fix the goddamned clutch.
Hot Chicago steel gone black, inside a long knife’s sheath,
Lake Michigan the blue lady with nothing underneath.

Day Eight, car fixed just before our brains and livers broke,
we left that brutal gloss on history behind: Thank God for roads.
“Miss You” for the final leg, a long day to Pennsylvania
as we talked of all the bands and towns we’d rock through
though in fact we were headed nowhere like that: a field
of making made manifest by David Spangler into Findhorn,
singing to the energies of growth in one collective tone.

Fifty miles, twenty miles, three. God how I hated getting there,
my only decent still-young road trip in linear time now done.
Sometimes when driving home from work I pass a field
where the scent of manure wafts in through the window.
I hear those road songs on a distant radio, rolling on in bone.
And tap my fingers on the wheel because I’m driving home.

February 2016

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cornfield road

Submitted to Real Toads Road Trip challenge

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Island of the Beloving

Swan Island dahlia. Photo taken my brother in 2007, the year before he died

Swan Island dahlia. Photo taken my brother in 2007, the year before he died

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You’re still on that island, I know, your t-shirt still
sweaty from your last bright springtime run, your
eyes still blue as the sky which no longer oceaned you.
You are that sunny rock because Salem by the time
my flight landed had turned so rainy dark and raw.
When your girlfriend let me in your apartment I saw
shadowy Things—your photos and journals,
the coroner’s report, your guitar, your shoes—
all that I could only ask where you had been and gone.
By then you were a bright place, fading behind dark days.
Eight years later I thought your island was gone,
no longer a dot on any worldly map, and a faded
almost lost one on my own. Sure, I spent years
trying to weave the archipelago of your scattered
lonely little slowly only somewhat heartloved life,
burying you though there was only ash, and that doled
out only to each of my parents for them to watch
drift in the ground or recede with a wave’s backsigh:
They say that’s how grief’s long winter course is run.
There’s only so much of lost life you yourself can lose.
But ironing shirts for work last night, watching some
cop show on TV, I suddenly felt you standing behind me
as if you’d just come in from that final two-mile jog,
sweaty, breathing heavily, whispering my name.
I remembered you so viscerally, so substantially, so true
I knew that the island of the everliving never fades
fully from view once you’ve grieved it completely there,
once enough of your dead have given its head hair.
Then that island becomes the book never fully writ
until we add our own name to its final sighing page
and cast it silent to the all-bright crashing wave.
That island is where all beloving goes—friends
and family, lovers, lands and cats—: They’re all there,
lost or dead, tossed for good upon the stoving tides of time.
And they’re all waiting now for me to join them, in
reverie or dream or vision, in love again or forever
thence alone—waiting for me to remit the buoyant poem
of this boat and take that final faltering step ashore.
To come home to where you and I walk that one fine
bright so distant afternoon in Portland forever again,
two brothers tall and gawky both now dead men,
toothpicks in our mouths and talking of life and how
we thrilled to the arduous creative working beloving day
while the river now beyond us flows so brightly black away.

January 2015

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Filed under Additions and Subtractions, Art and Heart, Bromancing the Stone, Devotions, Elegy, Grief, History, Immrama, Mystery, Otherworlds, The Dead, The Sea, Voyagers

Island of the Earth-Shaker

stormy isle

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A time came when our sails whipped into black.
Some pall splashed from sky like pitch; night
was noon and winds ripped the rigs without cease
or mercy. We cowered in the careening bow,
praying to the sea-lord for deliverance. The waves
became a stallion surf that rode our boat wild,
galloping smash after smash into the lee of an island
that seemed rise like a forehead from the sea.

Our boat stove in and gone, we crawled ashore
to a haunted and wild land misty deep-blue
as if dusk’s hour had frozen before death.
Whipped by winds and rocked by surf
the very ground thundered from deep below.
No food or shelter could be found: just bald acres
of rock from which some pale lichens grew except
at the far end where a leafless tree kept watch.

No humans had been there: no huts or bones
or charred firepits: No scraps to lash up a raft.
Except for sea-birds careening overhead
there was no food to be found. We slaked
our thirst from crevices in the old stone
and picked the bones of a fallen kestrel .

Collapsed and dreaming of homes far away
we woke to the sound of horses in the night,
invisible to us but ever near and furious and dire,
their hooves’ thunder up from the drowning sea.
Come morning we found that one us had vanished,
the shallow impress where he slept littered
with a few horsehairs glistened with blood.

All day we searched the isle shouting his name
but only winds and hard surf bellowed back
with a twisted echo, as if from deep below.
That day we caught a pelican at the far end’s shore,
smashed it dead with rocks and feasted on its gore.

But five men tearing at one bird is hardly mood
for celebration and that night we slept more desperate,
edged closer to our bodies’ circle in that wicked dark.
Come morning another had vanished and we found
a huge horse dropping where he slept, still steaming
with the breath of the man who had laid there dreaming,
one eye staring up at us from the shit like its foal.

Each day the island wore us down, battening some
dire viscera upon our growing terror and despair
going nowhere and finding no escape from the elements
of howl and shake and thunder. Our prayers grow hoarse
and our eyes bled piling stones with trembling fingers.
We posted a watch each night but always the man swooned
as if seduced to sleep by some snakehaired wind
and come morning we found another gone, always
signed off our out with a horse’s symbolon—hoof-print,
a thread of mane or tail, once a mare-shaped shell.

By the fourth morning there was just two of us
and we were too exhausted and defeated to get up.
We lay beneath that wile barbarous sky, feeling the
stone beneath our bodies ground its teeth against
some darker deeper firmament, biting up and down.
I thought I saw our companions running
at the island’s misty edge, whinnying and clopping
and baring big white teeth. We called their
names—Antinoos,! Petrarchus! Callymicas! Soos!—
but the vision vanished with a thunder’s snap
and we swooned while heaven horse-pissed down
and the surf thundered vicious just offshore.

The next day Polydamas too was gone, more grass
to settled down the god’s maw. Of him all that
remained was the tiny wood horse he had been
carving for his son. Now it’s only me, the one
man, faced off with the Furies and the Fates,
sustained and battened on brutality’s salt fare.
Just me on this island of ghost horses and a lone
medusa tree on which at night I hear my brothers’
bones whinny the wind, swinging on nooses
woven of horsehair and a lost god’s sea myth.

For years now I have sailed this solitary rock,
the only witness to time’s long dash of divines,
my face the long-carved caul of that awfulness.
What is it when a man is harrowed so pure?
Is it like when an earth god is exiled to sea?
Perhaps that is the mystery of Leviathan,
falling forever in appalling silent majesty.

We cannot know our fate and yet it must do.
It’s time you left now—go—row on, get through.
Consider this harrow a well deep enough, done.
May your homeward journey by fortune outrun
the maleficent old hand that turns the winds’ screw.
And if those horses should stampede your dreams
call it a blessing, the waves drowning a god’s screams.

January 2015

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StormySea

For Real Toads’ Islands Challenge

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Notes

Poseidon was probably an earth-master god like Zeus brought to Greece by Indo-Europeans in the late Bronze age (ca. 2000 BCE), who brought horse-culture with them. Poseidon was a much greater god than the place he is relegated to in classical Greek mythology—brother of Zeus, given mastery of the depths, tamer of horses and rescuer of ships at sea. His rape of Demeter as a stallion (fleeing, she had changed herself into a Fury or night-mare) and fathers the first horse Arion, who becomes the greatest war-horse of all. When the hoof of Arion strikes the ground, he Horse Spring (Hippo Kreme) opens up: according to Burkert, “the horse is born where the deep opens up.” Horses were ritually drowned in sacrifice to Poseidon in the fresh water that rises from the sea at the whirlpool in Argos.

As Lord of the Sea, “Poseidon reveals himself as the sea opens, up, whether when sea monsters gambol beneath him or the storm-whipped waves tower upwards.” (Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 139). The living depths are his—further down we find Hades, the realm of the dead—and as Earth-shaker, earthquakes are expression of his rage. “Poseidon reveals himself as the sea opens up, whether when sea monsters gambol beneath him or when the storm-whipped waves tower upwards” (ibid.).

In myth, the solitary figure on this island may be Glaucus, the old man of the sea, who was once a seafarer and ate an herb that made him immortal though not immune to aging. (Now there’s a fate.) The herb only grew on one island and served as a remedy against fatigue for the sun god’s horses.

Marine mammals like whales and walruses and seals are believed to be land-mammals who returned to the sea some 50 million years ago.

Another Arion in the canon is the first singer who rides a sea-horse; that figure is tattooed on my left arm.

The hippocampus is a sea-horse-shaped area of the brain essential for spatial memory and navigation, providing a cognitive map of the perceived environment. It also provides the relational database essential for creativity. Alcohol blackouts are the result of excessive amounts of alcohol shutting down the hippocampus. A shrinking hippocampus is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

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