Monday, May 14, 2012
You had seen the empty bed,
The handless coffee cup,
The rod drawing round its black curtain.
You knew they would be waiting,
Quietly smiled and waiting.
You were aware of the buried codes,
The uselessness of innocence,
The heart leaking blood into the vast swallowing emptiness,
The shimmering of beautiful iridescent lies,
The tyranny of suchness.
So in the end you were bone, immersed at the edge of a barren garden,
Sails collapsed like gossamer kites and blowing along vast, deserted lanes.
Among the colors in early shadows you discerned him.
In the clear pool you spied him,
Charming Death with his boutonniere, lifting you up through the perfumed flowers,
To the dead, the dear, longed for dead.
And there you are now,
Sustained in the power of their affection.
Is this not so, mother?
Can this hard man not imagine for you this final kindness?
This very day, after seeing in his hands your movement,
In his mind the light which once shone from your bright blue eyes?
Famous is embalmed;
Famous is ringed round by a sunami of malignant mirrors;
Famous is insane but every one pretends you’re not;
Famous is main lining false epiphanies;
Famous is gargling a tall glass of your own piss.
Famous is fitted for a suit of historically acceptable megalomanias;
Famous is Vladimir
A Barbie doll for the Russian Chamber of Commerce;
Famous is when they pin medals on your naked chest
But you don’t bleed cause you are dead;
Famous is the nose hook pushed up
And the brains pulled out on the mortician’s tray;
Famous is a dance of corpses where every one claps
But secretly they are horrified.
This is why I want to be famous;
Hungry ghost, stapled stomach,
Rolled out thin on a thousand pound press;
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
On Reading A Translation Of Li Po’s Exile
I find it comfortable here. The arrangements,
Light dying at five each evening; Witchy branches of the poplar trees.
Ground unsnowed and already it’s late November.
Jigsaw puzzle of sticks in the stove.
Pissing outside in the cool air; Smell of woodsmoke.
Long nights floating on a sea of velvet black.
Coyotes singing badly arranged songs,
Burning stars as sharp to the eyes as cold water to the scrotum.
Since we are not continuous beings,
Why pine for the loss of some imaginary state?
What other world, no matter how grand,
Can replace the one right here before our very eyes.
I know a few true poets, greet them with great joy
When we meet on the streets of the old city.
But as for the literati, what can I say?
Whiners, egotistical neurotics.
Nothing is more comical
Than to see them slavering after the latest fashion,
Tongues hanging out like winded dogs.
Twenty years of arse kissing
To publish a volume of boring, moronic poems
And you would think the Prime Minister
Had appointed them ambassador to the Cayman Islands!
Unlike dear Catullus I refuse to end
By slipping on a cloak of pious Roman humility.
I have this to say to sheep huddling together in the corner of the paddock –
Bah as pitifully as you may.
Bat your long lashes ever so fetchingly.
Death will snap you like a dry twig
And cast you off into oblivion anyway.
As for that book of poems –
That can be put to use in the outhouses of the new millennium.
My boss is a pear shaped manikin,
Fiery martian face,
Metal wheels spitting sparks, bits of concrete,
Racing corridors searching out miscreants with her X ray vision.
My boss is a victim of brain fever,
Inflammation of the pancreas;
Evenings she receives messages from distant planets,
Wears chain mail underwear, dresses cut from sheets of aluminum.
Her desk drawers are stuffed with death warrants, charred writs of Habeas Corpus.
Listen up she says,
Swinging a steel hip,
Reconstructed from the pistons of an amputated locomotive;
‘Now hear this!’ she says, chrome fingers flailing titanium armpits.
‘Didn’t I say?’
But she’s in a good mood this morning,
Smile a phalanx of filed incisors.
‘Listen!’ she says,
Milk of human kindness filling her wild red eyes;
‘Listen!’ she says. ‘Let’s be reasonable.’
South all day. Evening north.
Flapping the greenhouse plastic,
Rattling the stovepipe chimney.
Whining. Howling. Scouring the ditches.
Braiding grass into sea witch hair.
Whipping trees, snapping green bones.
I sit by the fire, drinking tea, reading Ovid.
Gruesome murders, sexual betrayal, bloody vengeance.
Almost as bad as the news.
A gust seizes the cabin’s shoulders, shakes it with a savage fury;
Death moans behind the woodshed.
Ghosts clank bones beneath the window.
Bang. Clatter. Creak. Lurch.
Things about to come apart at the seams.
Ovid takes no notice.
Other than a slight grimace at the sweep of Augustus’s shadow,
He is imperturbable.
Polished, succinct, elegant, he sails fluidly on.
On The Birth of My Grandson
Vacuums noodling the spiral arms;
Small hole in the egg;
Sweeping movement of the inaccessible,
Its pendulum tock.
Destruction’s no mistake; rather a necessity.
No jamming the conveyor with the detritus of a fixed creation, please.
Some are born; others die.
Presidents and generals.
Even the cruelest tyrant becomes in the end
A pile of dust and leather paraphenalia.
My dear child welcome to the world.
Welcome to the beginning and welcome to the end.
Silver fish glide over the surface of the blue sea.
White birds alight in a green field.
And you, moving your liquid eye across the surprise of creation,
Have your first birthday,
Above you the happy moons of floating faces,
The hospital ceiling, painted blue.
Meeting With The Social Work Administrators
Soft gestured; Light falling on the faces just so.
All blood rinsed out and sailing off to the sea sand shore.
Words cleaned with silica,
Each turned in upon itself, a polished snail.
They chant polices.
Who made policies?
God made policies.
Their eyes are glazed in a familiar dream.
Many are the offices.
Many are the beehives humming.
Never are there enough parking spaces.
Holy are the many forms of many forms.
Blessed the flow charts. Sacred the silos.
Faces buffed. Fingers manicured.
There is enough honey to preserve the bodies forevermore.
They arrive in six separate cars
And leave in six separate cars.
Two speak. The others utter not a word.
Late Winter Letter To An Old Friend
The days are much the same now.
Deep cold. Howling wind.
Dark trees. White fields of snow.
The fire must be fed, kindling split.
What were you like when you were young?
What kind of face did you have then?
A lonely one perhaps,
Or a split face,
One side for God, another for the human beings.
The dog’s face is drawn now.
Sometimes his eyes fill with pain.
He’s deaf. His corneas shiny with cataracts.
Yesterday I shoveled snow.
Tomorrow I’ll have to shovel again.
This morning I tried to write a poem. Useless.
My tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth.
My head stuffed with straw.
I thought of you then,
And wondered how you were doing.
Perhaps you could drop me a line.
Send me a note full of your usual nonsense,
And I will be in your debt forever.
Plans for social ascension are announced now and then
By men in tailored suits,
Whisked away afterwards in limousines.
But the poor are not whisked away.
They remain, whistling through dark alleys, same as before.
Kind Hearts long to raise them to respectability.
Poor Kind Hearts!
What good’s respectability,
Naked, all by itself, without a foil?
Starving, racked with frenzy,
They can rise like a single beast, striking a blow unbelievably savage.
In bare sufficiency they build structures so elegant, so subtle,
They escape the attention of those who purport to study them.
Some fear them for their sarcasm, irreverence, sudden spikes of passion;
But these, to a lively mind, are the very reasons to love them.
I am related to the crescent moon;
Scimitar like we both end ourselves in a sharp point,
Death in my case but for the clever moon metamorphosis.
Similarly the round, bulbous moon is my second cousin,
Not that she is aware of this lumbering her enormous white belly across the sky;
More relatives I am thinking;
Soon it will be the whole human race.
Certain men in coastal China look just like me;
Missionaries maybe or traders or even a Jesuit;
If we met we would throw arms around one another
And hug like lost brothers;
But this is unlikely as we lack bus fare to the next village.
My mother claims the old Highland Scots treacherous,
Alternately indolent and violent,
Fighters, crazy, lovers of death, planters of oats and semen;
Raiders, builders of stone huts,
Women with shoulders that shine in the dark, tiger eyes.
Some of me belongs to them although I don’t know which;
Punking off the nobs, coveting my neighbour’s wife maybe.
In Malaysia there is a man and his daughter
Who share a sense of humor;
Cracking jokes together, rising in a great crescendo of snorts and guffaws
And belly bendings. They are my first and second cousin as are the coyotes
Who sing badly arranged songs when I’m trying to sleep.
They are my relatives too.
There are farmers in Chile who bend their elbows
Just like I do;
Shopkeepers in Cairo who share the line of my eyebrows exactly;
Miners in the Urals sniffing tea the way I sniff tea;
Carpenters in Poland who stretch upon getting out of bed the way I stretch;
An Isreali wine merchant scratching his lower belly in exactly the place I scratch;
And so on.
Five billion human beings; All relatives for goodness sakes; It’s ridiculous.
And then there are the animals and rocks and the vegetable world
And the great astronomical world of nuclear explosions and spun out galaxies,
The Great Immensity and somehow I am related to all that too.
I can’t remember all the names;
I don’t have enough money to send everyone a birthday card.
So I decided to write this poem. Happy birthday.
Consider yourself kissed. Blow out the candles.
Chickens eat anything;
Ten bags of winter kitchen scraps;
Peck, peck, peck,
In two days they are gone.
Meant for the compost but I didn’t mind;
Quano also provides wonderful nutrients.
They love grubs;
When I dig a ditch
Gather round like inspectors,
Shouldering, getting in the way of the shovel;
A white grub throws them into a frenzy
Till the lucky one runs off with it in her beak.
All day they wander about pecking, pecking,
Investigating the vast world of possible eating;
They peck at my pants and boots,
To them a tall column of reluctant birdseed;
They even peck at the dog who snaps his teeth
To show them who’s boss.
Cement mixer stomachs filled with sulphuric acid.
Worms, bugs, grass seed, small mice,
Safeway birthday cake, mouldy bread, rotten potatoes,
Anything small enough or reducable by fierce pecking.
They walk in a weird, water wading style,
Rocking from side to side on powerful thighs,
Rhythmically nodding their heads,
Always ready, searching with bug eyes.
They have no God or Art or Ethics;
Their creative act is laying eggs.
They cluster in a corner of the hen house all night,
Softly book booking;
Then each lays an egg early morning.
When I open the door it’s
“Boook, boook, where’s the feed?”
“Boook, boook, poor chickens are starving!
They pour out, a river of combs and feathers,
Scrambling over one another,
Pecking mercilessly to get first places at the tray.
How strong their desire to live!
How they long to fill the world with bustling, eating and perfect brown eggs!
Barry claims nobody loves him
Which is probably true for he is a most unlovable man,
Whose drunken behavior, foolishness and acting out,
Hardly endear him to anyone.
Yet he does his best in his own way,
Working like a Trojan six days a week bulldozing basements.
Jet black hair, wide forehead,
A wild, deranged cast to his eye
Terrifying anyone passing him by on a city street.
Was that Raskalnikov? They might say,
Or some other terrible St. Petersberg murderer?
“I saw smoke coming from the chimney,” he says,
“So I thought I would drive up and find out what the hell is going on!”
Nothing much, Barry, just the old bookworm
Nose between the pages
Or giving himself paranoid lectures on Literature.
Six times he repeats the reason for his visit,
A disjointed one for Barry is six sheets to the wind,
Soon to be nine for he snorts from his mickey
As often as a bird pecks seed from a feeder.
He has woman problems.
He gives me the details which are very graphic.
He always picks the wrong woman.
They drink too much or they steal his money and run off.
Ungrateful they are and they have no love in them.
What do I think?
“Look around for a good one, Barry.”
“Easier said than done,” he says.
“Yes, by God, easier said than done.”
The Parisians hated the watery rice,
Lack of wine, civilized amenities;
The marshes were stinking sinkholes;
The muddy fields in need of paving.
They have friends, they said,
Who would gladly replace them with statues and fountains.
‘And you, my good man,’ They said to me,
‘Are a depraved rustic, a semi literate bumpkin.’
Which is true. Then they smoked opium and entered a trance.
I dug a new drainage ditch and composed six poems.
Upon awaking they snorted cocaine
And fondled one another’s genitals.
Afterwards they left in a railway car
Painted with scenes of ancient cathedrals.
I still love Marcel Proust and Charles Baudelaire,
But can find no solace in semiotics or hyper intellection.
They left behind four thousand books, which,
In an inquisitorial mood, I tossed into the fire.
Now the cabin is warm as toast
And in the mists above the dugout my visitor’s ghosts
Are suspended in a passion of disbelief and weeping.
The next day I leapt through my left earlobe
And came out the other side processed in stainless steel.
I lay upon a bed of nitrogen
Covering myself with plutonium rods.
Of course my earrings were of human flesh but no matter.
And yet when I looked through my enhanced eyeballs
I saw the world exactly as I saw it before!
All that and still rolling in the human bubble! All this and my nose still exactly eighty-seven degrees from my left eye socket!
The weasel came while I was gone,
Sliver moon in the crepuscular sky,
Black nose alive with the scent of chicken.
Came through a hole torn in the plywood
Among the roosting birds –
O unfortunate and terrified birds –
Came ripping and slashing until they were all dead but one,
White feathers splashed with blood and gore,
Red combs lifeless on the mud floor.
I buried them deep in the hard clay.
Said the Su Jo Mu Hen,
Shoveling the marled soil over their ruined glory.
That was yesterday.
Today the one survivor, the saddest of all chickens,
Stands in the yard, sunning herself,
Gazing first this way, then that,
Puzzled by the loss of her dead companions.
Are drinkers of mulled wine
Mints to disguise the alcohol breath
In the backs of roman churches you will find them
Lighting votive candles
Die and yet they don’t die
Nests ludicrously untidy
All humans who worked in vaudeville
Are related to crows
But they won’t admit it
Claiming originality is the original sin
Crows have a gigantic body,
Composed of thousands,
Moving like an inky cloud of pumping crow’s hearts,
Like a text balloon moving forth from the lips of god,
Here and then gone,
Like all miraculous revelations,
Chopped into tiny pieces by the scientists,
Who never smile in public for if they do,
Between there teeth,
The remnants of crow feathers,
Fingers stained with the orange of beaks.
Their wives have left them
For their habit of inhaling raw meat,
Cawing in the basement,
Moving their arms as if they were feathered wings,
Hooking the backs of their knees over branches when the children are watching.
Humans also have a gigantic body,
Composed of thousands,
Moving like an inky cloud,
Wars for instance, rock concerts.
That’s why crows are studying us,
To find out why we watch pictures of other people copulating,
Stick bayonets into one another
Or walk about in public with things stuck in our ears.
Crow scientists have long lists of our wierd behavior
And seek to find crow reasons for them, one by one,
Until humans are fully known,
And thus unable to blow crows up with dynamite,
Or inject them with noxious substances,
Or shoot them with steel pellets,
And they store all these things in their crow brains,
Which are small, yes, but that’s because
They serve as portals to the entire universe,
Which is where crows live, connected to everything,
Intoxicated with sun and air and moon,
Especially the moon, loved extravagantly by crows,
Who murmur appreciatively when it hangs in their trees
And whose favorite legend is of a crow,
Wearing a veil of moonlight,
Breast filled with radiant sun,
Who knows all about crows and all about humans and all about god
But she won’t tell anyone
For she knows such knowledge would destroy them.
Tom’s a crane, skinny pole,
Adam’s apple by Abe Lincoln.
There he is, cropping prints, vilifying enemies.
Backlanes – he studies weeds.
Billboards – peregrine falcons.
Stropping his razor for a raid on phonies, single gold tooth,
Diamond earing. Pirate he is but a quiet one.
Botanist. Drawing plants with an exact pen.
Photographing light in the neon downtown.
Toeing in, toeing out, on the edge of a sidewalk café.
And here he sits at Ken’s,
Long face suspended over chicken balls,
The light of gastronomic meditation in his eye, gleaming.
I dislike rising from my bed at 3 AM,
Descending the ladder stair and out the door,
Stumbling the frozen ground to the outhouse.
Nothing fills me with greater foreboding
Than leaving the warmth of my blankets
For the nitrogen vice artic air,
Under the winter sky pierced with the million pinholes
Of blue and yellow and green ice diamond stars.
Nobody can convince me,
Neither my wife nor daughter,
Neither my sons or my sister,
Neither friends or brothers in law,
Neither the Dali Lama or the Prime Minister,
That having a pee can for such occasions
Is anything but civilized, respectable remedy for an aging bladder
And the unbreakable habit of drinking a gallon of tea in the evening.
None of the societal fetishes for clean porcelain and running water,
For the odours of Vim and Mr Clean,
Can dint the pleasure I take unscrewing the lid of my tobacco can,
Kneeing at the side of my bed in a sacramental manner
And filling that smelly can with warm fresh urine,
Filling the air with the pungent but not unpleasant smell
Of protein or uric acid or whatever it is that piss contains.
Nobody can tell me that climbing back into bed,
Relieved like a great athlete might be relieved
After a successful performance,
Nobody can tell me that this is not sweet and elegant and wonderful
And, on the whole, superior to the so called intellectual or spiritual epiphanies.
My hair is gray, almost white.
My left knee is shot; the right dubious.
My upper teeth went south years ago.
The six lower ones remaining need fillings and crowns;
When I eat something sweet they ache.
My ears are plugged up with wax.
I keep asking people to repeat themselves
And thus everyone assumes my mind is wandering.
My taste buds are ten percent of what they once were.
After two hours of reading my eyes mist up;
In the evenings my back aches,
Along with my calves, toes and wrists.
My tent pole still works but rather erratically,
Not to be relied upon and when it blows its bugle
The note is muted, sometimes barely registering.
My face is caving in, my neck waddling.
Even my ears are shrivelling up
Like lettuce plants left unwatered.
In short I’m a wreck, an old pumpkin
About to be thrown on the compost heap.
Yet I sit zazen as steady as a granite boulder.
I can sing fourteen love songs in a row
Without missing a single word or a note.
I can chase my grandson around almost as fast as my sons can.
I can stay up late at night talking ideas and gossiping.
I can concentrate for twelve straight hours
Painting a picture or writing poems.
So why complain?
Well, it’s traditional;
It’s what people do when they get old, isn’t it?
I took a string,
Tied it to a stake and scribed a circle,
Filled the circle with ditch rocks.
So there it was,
A circle of rocks,
Sucking up heat from the summer sun.
My grandson comes.
He has his wagon.
According to the promptings of his materials,
He carries rocks from one spot to another,
Fits them in here and there.
It takes a half an hour.
Finished he wipes the dirt off his hands,
Comes into the porch where I am reading.
He tells me some rocks were in the wrong place.
“Hmmm,” I say.
“But don’t worry,” he says.
“I fixed them for you.”