Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tropical Forest With Apes And Snake (and other stuff, too)

Bouquet of Flowers With an Ivy Branch
—Paintings by Henri Rousseau
—Poetry by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


Rousseau, your voice is penetrating, tart.
Your heart a voracious void, you learned to feel.
You give the natural man his boyhood start.

Spurning the silver dish from the gold cart,
You plan each move: who next will be Emile?
No artifice; two hands that do their part.

The stick that breaks as the water will distort:
You’re mute, you withhold the scientific spiel.
You give the natural man his boyhood start.

It’s not that you hold the savage close to heart.
You want the boy to know, do, honor what’s real.
No artifice; two hands that do their part.

We wonder only how you knew to dart
Away from wigs and salons, the rich canaille.
You give the natural man his boyhood start.

What happens next? Life mutilates the chart?
Will Sophie capsize your boy’s even keel?
No artifice, whether two hands or four take part.
You give the natural man his boyhood start.

—for Viviane Ritzi-Marouf

Carnival Evening


Your hair was only sometimes bobbed.
More often you preferred it lissome and long.
Your Jewish schoolgirl costume: that hair sang dark song.
Then, you were bold; you hadn’t hobnobbed
with Great Ones of the artistic earth.
At the Royal Academy, you won the prizes,
the medals. Your dainty hands were dismal surprises,
not pluses, to Ferruccio Busoni. Worth
could be found in composing, not just performing.
Where now is your Violin Concerto? Gone,
scrapped from the hour you judged conforming
was your lot as a woman, devoting aplomb
to voicing the works of others on the keys?
Your sensual nature—earned via creative deep freeze?

Said Bax, you give Mozart intensity unmerited.
What of your melodic voice—all yours, rich, true, unparroted?

 The Boat in the Storm


should be the god enthroned on the California
state seal. In your Selected Poetry’s cover

photo, you sit stoopshouldered,
your profile a Macedonian crag.

The small of your bent back
refuses all help from the ziggurat

step-stone pier compacted of rock
you hoisted to rest atop Hawk Tower.

But it’s your informality, plain
in the worn trouser crease,

that most becomes your godhead.
You may look majestic and tough—

lips parted, jaw hard—but the dreamier,
loftier half’s best feature is a benign

prow of nose. Ample for breathing salt.
What though your funerary cake of ash

broke long since against
the granite-rough underpinnings

of Tor House? Free from the copper urn,
something akin to your image

rills, deep black, under an oceanside
yew tree. That solemn furnace dissolved

your neural typeface along with your bones,
yet you exist. To warn: We humans

are not needed. To prophesy: Nothing
will stop our seeding development’s poison,

splattering whole oceans with bitters
of oil and chemical stain—so many rotten

broken yolks. To console:
A California will abide, empty

of sea-watching houses, insect-eating bats,
white priestly egrets. To pledge:

The rock will keep its shape uncrushed
through the last noxious clouds. In

your photo, a Pacific fogbank brushes in
faint hillstrips of coastal smoke. That blackened

band, an ocean wholly of onyx, can still
set you musing upon saline crystal realities.

Your right hand holds its wonted scepter,
an unopened pack of cigs.

Trace remembrances,
like mist, soften your sunned face.

—Published in Medusa’s Kitchen; also in Fire and Rain:
Ecopoetry of California, edited by Lucille Lang Day and
Ruth Nolan, Scarlet Tanager Press (2018)

 The Dream


No line to match “And here, face down beneath
the sun,” but yes, a swipe from that much-read
“You, Andrew Marvell”: Archibald MacLeish
found fame in these lines, most unlucky dead
fame as is all fame. But I read it now
in this poem written to Jeffers across the years.
He sits on what might be the bridge or prow
of S.S. Tor House, facing a sun that sears
away the fog for a small warm interval.
His world therefore is blue and green and gold.
My black-white view of that world, cramped and small.
Robin’s picture: by Una? No one told
the editor of The Selected Poetry.
As Jeffers floats, thus the photo: cosmic. Free.

Scarcely a slice of that picture comes clear white,
nor should it, were it Ansel Adams’s.
He leads simultaneous lives: diurnal light,
and this bleak wash of pitch black lapped by grays.
As if embalmed—death, rendering life correct—
all lines that were sweet softness of man-skin
turn rictus, rigor, stone of the architect.
In literatures like his, instinctual Sin:
is that what animates us unredeemed
to move in packs, crowds, shadows in pursuit
of shadows, negatives of ourselves, as themed
by Jeffers’ much-loved Shelley? Go the route
of all the extinction-bound,
he says. High nest,
his, wind-whipped, no less securely facing west.

How long it took for me to know the night
in that famed old poem, and mine, is Jeffers’ night.

 Tropical Forest With Apes and Snake


Friend campus lizard, out from under stairs.
You always come out, just as rattlesnakes
come out. The sun. Sheer sun. I have no cares
or fears that you should sting, though fear breathtakes
each time the rain-stick sound in tail-beads issues
and then the open mouth, all tongue and fang
just under a bush on warm days. All one’s tissues,
blood, skin, flesh, turn to liquid. Different tang
you, little lizard, give to morning light.
One must remember your aggression works:
a student told me lizards do pushups.
It’s dominance. Territory-radar lurks
in reptile skitters, reflex-triggered stops.
Yet I prefer to like us, sharing the bright. 

 Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprised


Hydraulic mining with the monitors.

Monitor: diversely understood;
to the miner, a rock-splitting stream
meant as guidance for the gravel spill
to wetly pass through sluices, planks of wood.
To a more Latin-speaking world, the word
means someone, something, tasked to warn of ill.
From mountaintop to holding pond the swell
builds infill, human tsunami, coming scream
through lengths of canvas or through crinoline
to pound, beat, slice or sluice away hillside.
If downstream Marysville flooded from the ride
of mud, sludge, silt, that even choked faint gold
flecks left unfiltered in the huddled slime…?
Concern, swept up in the hose-and-nozzle hell…
One monitor more, the shepherd Law, made bold
to pen towns in its sheepfold,
        against the unnatural crime.


for our Folsom Lake College librarians

The pedants disliked how all that grime came off
The Sistine Chapel ceiling. Ashes of roses
Was not the lone shade against which those nude poses
Faced censure from clothed Sibyls. Yet they scoff,
Old critics, that ever Day-Glo was invented here.
Shot silk, lit up with lavender tinged sunset
In day-dying gold. Green verging on blue clear
Or beetle-shell purple. I’d be willing to bet
These ones don’t like things cleaned. Clean surfaces,
Preserved from death-by-candle-smoke, much the same
As death by a thousand snide-voiced nuances.
Now those same bright critics who thought tame
The Julius the Second monument must think
Better. When gently cleaned, not just the Moses,
But all the despised small sculptures little ink’s
Been spilled on come to grit-free lightness, doses
Of visible claw chisel by the Master. Signs
Of care everywhere to make this “compromise,”
This “Tragedy of the Tomb,” show forms and lines
And volumes worthy of the great artist’s eyes.
Recumbent Julius hoists himself by elbow
Back into brooding reality—he might snap
At the sculptor any second—yet the mellow
Hypnosis of Death inveigles him back to nap?
Rachel and Leah were always simple, pure,
Defined as are all Michelangelo’s figures by
Rock-cylinders from which their marbles writhe secure.
(It’s left to Bernini, years later, to defy
The near-nuclear-containment sense of core,
Make startling theatrics poke through the force field.)
We see now the crisp details in the strange herms,
Satyrs, grotesques and river-god serpents. Peeled
Of all the dirt and grime layered in berms
Of candled throng upon a worshipped floor,
This is the failed Façade of San Lorenzo:
That project whose abandonment by a pope
Was to the outraged sculptor a vituperio
Grandissimo: the grossest of insults.
Deprived of his lustrous-shining stones of hope,
Denied that chance to create the School of Italy,
In Sculpture, Buonarroti—does he exult?—
Brings that same façade right here, admittedly
Reduced. Not all exultance: this great work’s
Been whittled from Pyramid, nude Heroic Slaves,
To this lawsuit-endangered/engendered quirk
Of a wall-monument—and yet it braves
All the violences against decorum
That ever Rome rejected for its Forum.
Yes, Moses is still the poetic-wrathful heart
Of the whole enterprise, and yet there’s art
In the seashell-curvatured lesser figures, chalices
Offered to clinging drapery. Rose-calyxes.
Watch, though, each indecorous decorative touch.
The mischief of Michelangelo (rarely are such
Whimsical bas-reliefs treatised in treatises!)…
Winged Ichthyocentaurs with lashing tails cavort.
Small odes to Censorship, in mocking sport?

—After leafing through the magnificent Michelangelo’s
Tomb for Julius II: Genesis and Genius, by Christoph Luitpold
Frommel, with Maria Forcellino


Today’s LittleNip:

—Tom Goff

Not sense global warming?
Like fire damp deep in the earth.
Missed—then the mine blew.


Many thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine, ambitious poetry, and for an excuse to post the colorful Rousseau! Tom’s first full-length poetry collection,
Twelve-Tone Row: Music in Words, has been published by I Street Press. His wife, Nora, did the cover art. Congratulations, Tom!


The Tiger Cat 
—Painting by Henri Rousseau
Celebrate poetry!

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