(a poem of the '70s)
—Claire J. Baker, Pinole
She sweetens like a cherry
waiting for a tender tongue,
sours like a bowl of milk
pushed over on the moon;
finds love too late
or too soon; takes a fling
between star two billion
three & four on orbit 22,
chucks passion when she can't
see herself in you or you.
Mary wears holey jeans,
wanders thru malls & dreams.
She christens her womb a rose—
no maybe. Yet no immaculate
—Claire J. Baker
Sometimes we create
a Tower of Babel—you
babbling I don't answer
your crucial questions,
I babbling back, "I answer
but you don't listen!"
on the one word "love"
we are bound in clarity
at the top of the tower—
a nifty, swifty
All through the storm the heedless blackbird trills;
While thunder rocks and tears the coppery sky
And lightning splinters fleck the curtained hills
Persists his melody.
So when your body pitches in the trough
Of bitter tides of longing may you know
Some solace of the careless lilt of love
I sang you long ago.
(for the poets of Tough Old Broads: Viola Weinberg Spencer,
Ann Menebroker, Victoria Dalkey, and Kathryn Hohlwein)
Arnold Bax, neglected musical master
caught amid extramarital mistressy bigamy,
could summon up twin arts, entwined creativities
plucked from the Bishopy (write it!) kind of disaster.
English composer, English poet too,
he indites—when wrenched almost in halves by love
or the suctioning dread of disappearing soon;
he jots, when nearly drained of his marvelous trove
of chromatic tempest, Magellanic surge
of orchestral song—this wistful little thing:
Bax notes a small blackbird whose heart’s-brimful flings
faraway tinwhistle flutings all through a storm,
past sharp electric talons, spurred by an urge
that, till he finds his listener, takes no form.
Who is the Baxian blackbird? Who’s the she-listener?
For Arnold, she could be “Tania,” Harriet Cohen
the concert pianist. Tania isn’t alone,
though. Could he mean Mary Gleaves? Is even he sure?
Bax may not get to decide. Blackbird and longing:
are they not one? Symbolic, the fluted tune
piercing the absent lovewoman on the dune
of wet and salt that lashes and lifts and strongwings
the desirer, the rider of that discordant roll.
Yet for how many eons have the throats of birds,
the women, the wantings, mingled and sunk in the din?
Ah, promise-breaker, sing to the girl in your soul,
your silent stray gamine core, all feminine.
Tempt her to come back, this time with honest words.
Women at the podium, Annie, Viola,
Kathryn, and Victoria, let me never live alien
from my woman soul. Life’s dull lived
in a man-cave of bluff, beer, and bullshit. In the choir,
Schubert and Bach and I first were sopranos,
we were all Vienna-boy sailor suits before
our arias broke on testosterone waves,
puberty reefs. In how many Bach cantatas
is the big-voiced deep-voiced man
the cavern & tavern sinner in body; the graceful
boy figuration the floating female soul? She’s down there
inside us guys: Ellen DeGeneres, can you maybe find
Her inside me, though I forget Her as often as
Nemo’s Dory outswims the memory that flickered
just five gallons ago? Remember what we once knew,
buried in the unread runes at our forebears’
graves: girl is Anglo-Saxon for child female
or male, if either’s prepubescent. I want
to live again girl as I did, while dreading girls as I
dreaded myself in the grasp of the sexual dream,
fortissimos from the pipe organ in the soft bed.
Poetry from Victoria on the jagged impact
of cancer, the mastectomy scars, the bitterness
lingering through and long after the pain
—and what she speaks of is heroism.
I have no cancer scars to finger when alone,
probingly, resentfully, ruefully, oddly cherishingly.
Spared the ordeal of the cancer amputation
or visible outgrowth or wasting disfiguration,
too often a bitterly female ordeal (but see
Tony Gwynn, Ulysses S. Grant, et al.), I have
only known the indignity of prostate cancer,
the insertion into that nutlike organ, while knocked out,
of those grains, All-Bran slivers, filaments, tiny
incised and sealed control rods seething
inside with roentgens like little rodent tridents.
Forgive the hyperbole. Thank you, Madame
Skłodowska-Curie, without whom, no dosage,
ergo no me, in some short or long order.
What don’t we owe to the brilliant woman in us,
testing the masculine limits of science, thrusting
aside the self’s skin-boundaries towards interiority?
So, with Kathryn Hohlwein, I could wish myself
a stone, cool to the stranger’s, friend’s, even
family member’s touch, but far down within
the silence, what? Oceanic feelings, whole
Parthenons, Pantheons of spirit and amplitude.
How to know, perplexed as William Yeats
with Maud Gonne, how to know the dancer
from the dance? What matter? cries
the man freshly liberated from cancer…
Three months radioactive, I attend the school
poetry reading, listening, listening, where a young
woman student, fluorescent with sweet potential,
cradles her English professor’s new baby. Seeing
the student so absorbed in her five minutes’ adoption,
nestling the new pink creation in pink velour,
I mull whether Gamma-Man moi may or may not
properly take up the infant weight once she’s
proffered. To hell with it: the soft infant, high
up in my arm-boughs, surely isn’t overexposed.
And so, making ourselves infant in our
prattlings and flirtings over the newborn,
my student and I dance a slow Yeatsian céilí,
dandling or handing back and forth our
armful of tiny maiden till we might be
Torvill and Dean, bearing aloft before
strangers the live soft-glowing orb
over the darkened white floor
to the tune of Holst’s Venus,
in all the naked femininity
of our ice-glide…