Category Archives: Voyagers

Allegiance

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The longer I read, the deeper
is my allegiance to the dead,
to their wild country beyond these
walls. The more I write, the higher
death’s shrine rises in the boneyard
urb where gods and muses tomb
reliquaries of blue song. There’s
an ancient fountain in the square
where skulls choir what mortal tongues
expire; how its water gleams in
moonlight, inexpressibly clear
and colder than well-silver. The more
I work these pages, the less I dream:
That fish has slipped from town
to fin blue suburbs further down.

A song of Oran for his week
2004, first posted 2011, reposted for the Octoberals of 2015

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The Box

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No one thought to look under the bureau
by the little window to the falling air.
That the maelstrom wasn’t Kanas to Oz
the way dreams course from sleep to depths.
Not even Dorothy, but then she was just us,
a dumbass kid jacked on Cokes & wanderlust.
Who didn’t think the tale was invitation
to a talking book’s Tomorrowland? That the
gold path reeling round and on to Emerald
Gotham was not simply white concussion, a
drowse that ended with God’s errant balloon?
Seventy five years after the movie’s premiere
and still no one thinks to look stage left
where perspective doubles and enfolds.
Over there, while Dorothy beholds in terror
the enwitched bike, beneath the dancing furniture:
The little box the midget in a flying monkey’s suit
set there before hanging himself with a note
to nothing in his hand. Placed there in defiance
of the bull careens and wallops of the backlot set
the stage hands were directed for the flying shot.
All black velvet, as if for an engagement ring,
dancing like a dice or freed eye or toe talisman
offered up to us from history’s rotting well.
Open it. Regard the gleam’s reversing swirl.
Our rainbow twists upon a hangman’s spell.

 

October 2015

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oz

An Octoberal for Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Note

One of the myths about the filming of The Wizard of Oz (1939) was that a Munchkin actor hanged himself over a failed suit of a female member of the Lollipop guild. As Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow amble up the Yellow Brick Road, a shadowy figure is seen swinging in the trees. More than 400 exotic birds were brought in for the filming, and a number escaped their cages and ended up on the set. Some say that it’s an emu or crane flexing its wings.

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Falling

falling blue-sky

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Bones were found
in a field by
Orlando International
Airport, believed to be
those of a stowaway
who must have fallen
from the wheel-well
of a descending plane.

Heaven freed
these frozen hands.
Falling like a
plectrum of bone,
I harped air
with song.

What a chord
I cleffed into
this field
one mile from
paradise!

How many years
before these bones
are found,
beyond the
last shatter
of rainbows?

No matter.
Angels were
startled from
their harps
to hear me
singing past.

God himself
was roused from
to hear that chord
shoot up the clouds.

Late at night
you’ll see my
constellation
just beyond the
tiny pulsing light
of a jet crossing
the full altitudes
of night:

The starry cry
that crowns
all slips from angel
wings, pouring
heaven’s purest blue
in one long
lonely fall,

fatally striking,
choiring through.

 

1994, posted 2011, revised for the Octoberals of 2015
and befitting of the Real Toads Falling Challenge

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The Undersea World of MacOdrum of Uist

diving-man

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It is given to ((the seal-
tribe of MacOdrum)) that their
sea-longing shall be land-longing
and their land-longing shall
be sea-longing.

— South Uist farmer
in Fiona McLeod’s Iona

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Rich and deep are the fields I till
in the bluest lands of Manann
far beneath the wave.

Lucent and strange the gems
I glean from abyssal harvest
that I silo in these poems,
still dripping with cold water,
my eyes peering like faucets.

Incessant and wild
are the horses I ride
between the wind and the wave,
their terrible manes
flecked with seafoam,
their hooves pounding
in the thunder of the surf-mill.

Soft and low the merry
banter of whale flukes,
thickly fanning currents
of dark and darker flow,
each beast a blue god’s mount
travailing deep and deeper
between salt Alps, into the trench
that split the worlds apart.

Down there where
angels fear to tread
you’ll find the oldest
abbey of them all in full
defiant raucous matins,
every lost and tossed god
singing plainsongs of the sea.

Until the last priest
in Ireland drops Manannan’s
chalice from his dead hands,
I commend the silver
bowl stolen from Gundestrup
back to the Celtic marge.

Pile that chalice here
in the sea’s treasure room,
a hoard daunting
and rich beyond measure,
its rubies and emeralds
on fire under all, the
heaps of gold coins
and pearl booty enough
to brim a dragon’s eyes
with blood and brine tears—

three drops of that
perilous wine fell
into the chalice
and wait for your lips,
delivering in one kiss
a flood for every beach
and harbor, reclaiming
kin and kine for the
fields of the Lord
beneath the wild wave.

Lift your ear from
the keel-boards
lest your hear me all too well.
If you catch my drift
your boat will vanish,
replaced by a blue
diving saddle
that will pilot you
straight down to the
abysm of your own
flooded heart now
lost to history.

My fins and gills
seem all the dearer
staring back in the mirror
of your face hanging
over the still waters
at the end of this poem.

Look too deep and roam
forever with I, MacOdrum,
totem father, alternate
ending to your dry days.

Peer and dream this dive
to grab the bluest crown.
Exult with me in all
that remains to be found
in falling so far down.

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A 2012, reposted for the Octoberals of 2015

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My House in Hades

 

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The waking share one common world (cosmos),
where the sleeping turn aside
each man
into a world of his own. —
Heraclitus, fragment 89

I’m building my own house in Hades, dream by blackbrick
dream. The halls ache back into an interior that’s invisible.
Its roof supports my sleep, its windows indivisibles.
I say it’s mine because who else would care to live here,
much less read my dreams? But the house truly belongs
to Hades, his vast black-blickering weal. I raise these walls
like all books of the dead are writ, linked to my daily dearths
and by deep earth the whole night read. Virgil tells us
that no one may cross in Charon’s boat whose bones
have not first been buried: the doomed are the restless
ones, wailing on the shore for centuries while
while dark-house dreamers boat their visions on.
If I want to get there I must build down this house
upside arked underworlds. I’m learning to rap my knuckles
on each next coffin, singing what there springs forth.
Each dream reframes my death, a wilder bone to spade
blue depth. The day belongs to History; the night I grave
is mine, a lode of starry gems to pay the boatman’s due.
I dream of cellos strung with dead fellows and a brute
intoneless sea; each image slaps me more awake to
the timeless world this house engirds. My work is his work,
our task divine, to dive and ride the next sea lark.
Hear those iron hammers on no wood?
Dreams are carpenter to the great dark’s good.
Home is where the heart’s ark sails down,
a sweet Hades south of what black waves resound.

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March 2015, re-posted for the Octoberals of 2015

 

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Learning To Write

night storm on beach

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Those summer afternoons that rose up, like storms,
into perfection with hard-drinking nights: they stripped
me clean of what and why I thought I’d moved to Florida.
Rendering me naked of known wheels but not the drive.
My Music Man electric I traded for a turntable stereo,
the little jazz practice amp went back to the music store.
I stopped checking the board there for needy bands.
Practice just got in the way of this or that next cataract
as I ran on fire through the sinking soulbarge of my heart.
As if falling in love would quench the old ache, shouting
Ahh in desire’s highest door at last. The songs still mattered—
New Wave anthems by the Clash and the Pretenders,
latticed by those heavy metal riffs too searing-high to play—
and maybe that was the point. In rock I was ever inadequate
but I sure thought I had the chops to love, right now and how.

I got my chance one August—all the sear and downpour,
a kiss in one midnight pool lingering to dawn two days later
with her wanting my baby. Straight up straight down
in just six weeks, the full merge of communion in three gasps
that ended with her saying not a word before she
got out of my car and walked off not looking back.
I drove away in grief into the baying throat of wolves.
Love’s hierophant, I soon became its sybarite, picking
off the tartlets in loud disco bars that played “Beat It”
as if It was really that incorrigible, the bedded body
something to ride and master to the ends of blue disaster.
The bars so cold with air conditioning and awhirl with
the fleeting spectra of a disco ball that our brains were leeched
then poured black out from the last door of night,
become evaporate in the tocking weave of sprinklers.

Years of that night and then I rented a guitar,
a simple six string acoustic, and began to write songs.
Not the covers I learned before but new things that
a blooming heart-mind yearned to understand.
Afternoons after work sitting at a desk in my apartment
with a beer and pen and legal pad before me, finding
words for chords banded together in that howl of night.
Getting it down and pure and angled so taut and right
I learned why guitars are called axes—not to halve
the great black forest beyond every self-evicting door
but to carve a clearing for something going home.

I think of that music now like a vast storm surge
rough in the brogue of cursing days—the angry
romantic—whose real voice crooned back of swells.
How I welcomed its booming crash and thrashed undertow,
the things you can find when you let losing finally go.
Carrying my piggish lout desire far from sight
and handing me a song instead, to craft and ride
and welcome for four sheer minutes. Driving me
through a proscenium where I would learn to write.
It was years before I came to trust that inward instinct.
To understand true singing is more than smashed guitars.
To lift white sails of yearning where cars to kisses sink,
authoring the swells of ghost seas inside black ink.

September 2015

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Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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The Torrentials

night storm 5

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Rumbles far inside the darkened south
as we dazed into the tides of sleep:
Storms were yet arousing at this hour.
Usually by 10 the fronts are done,
exhausted in their slog across the state,
become the evaporate of angst, like dreams,
humid, steamy, spent, unhorsed.

Not so this gathering angst of flashing sky,
plectruming fat thunders on black strings
of night, keeping a part of us awake
to witness how storms build and build,
are loudest miles away—deepest anyway—:

And approach by flittering breezes lifting
and shaking trees with firmer hands
until our tin roof then busied with rain,
hard pissing in the eves’ tin rattle
occasioned by a sharp applaud of thunder—
—a crack, a mull, the long resound
that shakes the rafters and creaks headboard.

Again and again and again white terror:
Yet somewhere in that fury I fell asleep—
it was thundering rain and then nothing
but long sweeping black-floe’d waves
on which I rode without seeing or knowing
that I was too far under the storm now,
lost from my married bed, from time, to death.

Until my cellphone began pealing marimbas
at 3:30 a.m., urging me back and upwards
here. I didn’t even recall the storm
until I went out to feed the strays at 4,
surprised at how dense and dripping-
drowsed a storm-spent world could be.

No wonder lovers savor their spent float
when exhausted worlds wordlessly merge.
Fogs croaking in the rooks —they
always speak up once they’re soaked—
and a few stars poking through swirled
wisps of cloud, placental drifts that
seemed to bless the way the crepe myrtle
branches hung their wet freight so low.

Whatever the night now says of this
is all that can squeezed from harrowed bliss:
empty, drifting, humming softly
from the bridge as the numbed ship sails on,
eye toward fresh horizons where
next bright looms will shuttle heat and cloud.
We are the torrentials now, bows
of thirsty augment cutting burning seas
to dowse in combs of storm, like bees.

August 2015

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Erebus

dock

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Not the land of death—yet—but this decline
into shadows. Not the chilling bourne (yet)
but its near vapors, cold enough on the river road
that circles the end of all dreams. Silver apples
there, palmed from the wave by ice-maids
who died in the first flush of their flower. Sleep
so deep shamans have been buried in its lull.
Time here hooded, muttering, forgetful,
tocking like the old bones of Geras,
toddering all the Fates have foretold. Not
the stilled heart but its chill swoon into
Thanatos, spiked by down-blooming love.
Not the dread destination but the ferry,
not the boat but the one who works the
oar that hauls the dead ones home. Not
his gaze toward final shores but the coins
in this pocket, lifted from greyed eyes.
Not the mint of Hades but the humbler
one of Erebus, dreadfully down from here
but still reachable, even yearnable for those
too weary of this poverty. Not the yearning
but its keel, obeying now the river’s current,
hypnotic and sure, pure blue to blurring eyes.
The weave of the willows sighing Sleep.
The oar’s rhythmic plash singing Now.
You turning away after kissing me goodnight,
become the black shores I float past.

July 2015

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st johns mist

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform

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Note

In Hesiod, Erebus and Tartarus are the upper and lower regions of Hades. They were born of Night and Earth out of the primeval Chasm. Some of Erebus’ children include Aether, the Hesperides, Hypnos, the Moirae (or Fates), Geras (god of old age), and Charon, the Ferryman of Hades. In Greek literature Erebus is the region of the Greek underworld the dead pass immediately after dying, a first darkness before Hades.

“What we take out of dreams, what we get to use from dreams, what we bring up from dreams, is all to the surface. Depth is the invisible connection; and it is in working with our hands on the invisible connections where we cannot see, deep in the body of the night, penetrating, assembling and differentiating, debriding, stirring, churning, kneading — this constitutes the work on dreams. Always we are doing precision work, but with invisibilities, with ambiguities, and with moving materials.” — James Hillman, Dream And Underworld, 140

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Dancing Alone

whirling-dervishes

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Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

— Jack Gilbert, “The Great Fires”

The dance is slower these days, less a body
than the swim. You and I tossing in bed
alone together all night, partnered without
touching hands as we turn to face the dark one
we’re dancing our way to. Twisting like two Sufis
in the dervish of our lonely dreams’ whirl.
We’ll end up together downstream of this night,
knocking the last drops of water from our shoes.
Watching the shore while we drink coffee
trying to remember what we’re fighting for another day.
The dance used to be so loud, so hurtful, as if
love was a prison to break out of by raiding
into the other’s embrace. Now we can’t spare
each other from dancing alone. Not on this
emptying earth. But then we never were meant to.
Sometimes though there’s a song we both hear
in the passing train station of our night
and one of us reaches to hold the hand of the other.
Remembering just for one shared turn of the dance
how much we’re still sorry to let go.

May 2015

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beach walkers

Submitted to Real Toads’ Best Party of One Ever challenge

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Columba To The Ninth Wave

ninth wave 1

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A long time since I’ve been down to shore
where sea and sky weave blacknight’s choir.
Ages: And as each one ended the question loomed:
Shall my exile in the book now end? Does
a principality just like copyright expire?

Oran went to the world beneath the wave
under the sward so salt could pillar my cathedral:
Yet on the third day I missed his song so much
I had his face ungraved. What he then said
was inked in crashing truth on devil sands:

The way you think it is is not the way it is at all.
And so transept was leveled with a spiral floor
so that no one can pass straight through to God
without first trespassing out the devil’s door.
My end tonight was shouted from that beginning.

Who knew a rotting oracle preached more
than buried bones? Cerements we holed plenty in
the abbey graveyard, to cenotaph the ocean’s quell:
But those few words satired the angel’s white,
miring books in the black of death’s inkhorn.

I wonder where he is now—singing matins with
the seals? sipping narwhal milk in the salt lair
of the sea-witch, weaving kelp and maidenhair?
Only an echo here in the each wave’s long boom,
An expiring Come each time I sing I am done.

The ocean will outlive us, even if we kill
every seal and fish that filled it. Observe
its incessant heave and loll and swash of foam,
eternal as the dark—heaving up an old bone
or ring here, the missal once tossed down a well.

Even now this seeping ark of bloodied Kells,
its mighty angels faded to faint salt runes
no one bothers any more to run a finger cross.
In Chartres a voice was heard—the Almighty
Book is dead—And then I strode down here.

Now to reverse the old ritual: Oran, step aside.
It’s my turn now to appease the undergod
whose face is no longer Lir’s but Christ,
the old new god become the new old god,
the sod now water of the chapel buried there.

And so I’m here at last, lying in the sand
waiting for the first blush of light to intone
the call to sacrifice’s matin. I’ve got my
first psalter in my arms—Cathach, the Battler,
the one I copied in secret all those myths ago—

and though I can recite the Three Fifties
from memory, I will read the lines from my
book out and down the sea’s black throat,
become a written sanctum for the whale
who booms the new old psalm’s wild nifties.

And thus Oran’s black harp will be unstrung
and refitted to the gospel of the whiting age
while I become the waves’ unmasted scribe,
crooning in the foam that crowns the crashing mill
the nothing that you sing is not the song at all.

May 2015

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KellsFol032vChristEnthroned

Page from the Book of Kells.

 

Submitted to Real Toads’ Tuesday Platform.

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For background on this piece, see the Notes.

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