—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
We were just talking, a teacher and I, about you
and how far you have come in your brief time
with us: Not college material, they’d chime,
the ones (there are always the ones) who slander the true,
the blameless, the untainted miracle
survivors of that toxicity they drain
into your hopes. The tasteless venom and stain
they’d soak into you skin-level, at every spiracle.
So family drags down, so school lifts up;
our microculture was just what you needed to flourish.
Let it be said of me (it won’t) I nourished
one leg, hip, or arm of you; supplied your cup
with an ounce of juice, your worst most despondent morning.
That one day infused me with sorrow. Blood, from your borning?
WHO SEES A GHOST SHIP?
Against the moonrise, the sundown, who sees a ghost ship?
The silhouette incoherent, inchoate blot unplotted
as is its so-called course. No matter whether the most ship
or the least ship, there’s a tatter in every masthead,
a racing that’s also a listless floating, all ballast without gravity,
both upright mainsail prow forward and alarming list,
a shudder of pirate red and black in a deep seacavity
forever evoked in fortissimo swells of Liszt.
The Ancyent Marinere confused the issue,
repairing the holed-most canvases with notes
that eat at the poem’s mysterious somber tissue
of dreams, yet aren’t all poems moth-devoured motes?
Let us indite new yardarms and keels of nothing no man
never sailed in silences of white with echoes,
gossamer-gaunt ghazals that hug like Romans
those Dalmatias, Aegeans of coastline
where everything’s inattentively seen
via eyelash, and so soft legends
come splintering strings and plectra
lyre-first headlong into no seas,
no flamehanded crew of ghosts…
THE TALE THE PINE TREE KNEW
(symphonic poem by Arnold Bax)
We Baxians reverence Bax’s biographer,
Lewis Foreman, sage and gentle source
who, kenning the man’s faults, keeps his foremost course,
tracks Arnold Bax toward greatness with a sure
and steady step. Once in a while, he’s off
the mark, as when he faults The Tale the Pine
Trees Knew, for its supposed cliché: a scoff
at its “Indians Coming Down the Hudson” line
of rhythm. Trochees all the way, he’s right,
the drum by which we (white) younglings used to clap
our lips in war-whoops. Not exactly right,
or else we’d not be having quite this flap:
for where’d Hiawatha get his studly hip-hop?
The good gray poet adapts the trochee’s Nordic,
the rhythm of Finnish, Latvian, Iceland bardic,
the meter of long-legged reindeer whose clip-clop
the moss and snowdrifts mask. Is this the stride
for Lapland ceremony, groom and bride?
“OLD RASPBERRY” JACK
(EJ Moeran, Anglo-Irish symphonist, and Arnold Bax)
Arnold, you should have known better: this was Jack
who collapsed from a jetty into Kenmare bay water.
Died still your composer friend, survivor of slaughter
who held, all the more for that, his love—his wrack—
for high-hearted song, most lissome when sung in anguish.
Yet not without lightness of heart, the folkloric strain
that dances long before leg takes signal from brain,
unlazying listeners giddy. No slacker may languish.
You scrabbled through manuscripts your fellow had left:
no Symphony Two here, but “rubbish” none could redeem,
so you pronounced, and left thus many unraked leaves.
Years pass: from the heap a low hum, then a ghostly gleam;
scrapped husks assume lyric shape. Broad as a weft,
these blossoming fragments make sail for the Isles of Greensleeves.
POEM OF WONDER AT WHITMAN’S “POEM OF WONDER”*
A period jots the page right after your name,
as with Walt, on his title page. The poet’s a sentence,
Walt the subject, Whitman the verb. Repentance:
no need of it, though such a simple grammatical frame.
You rise, my subject and verb, as does the wheat,
from purity deep in you. I come from disease,
long spears of infection, old as I am to squeeze
so tender a sprout as is good grain easy to eat.
My muck is my beginning. I embitter
just witnessing each sore, mole, scar on me
(me, chestnut in a spiked envelope, off the fall tree).
Whereas not even tattoos dark as litter
at sidewalk-edge could envenom that soft dawn we
feel lambent in your skin, your mythic face,
the one Face: I see you, swaying above this page
kissing and sexing, never to reach my age.
Beside us, the Poet, imbuing our sheet with grace
transcendent of life's rough dirt and sly infection.
If we could just Whitman each other, merely a trace.
Long since though I've roused a woman's inside convection...
*“Poem of Wonder at the Resurrection of the Wheat,” Leaves of Grass, 1860
Twin sentries, crouching gilded lions
who guard a gateway with no gate.
Are they, or not, in true alliance?
Twin sentries, crouching gilded lions,
each blind to a counterpart, out-growl defiance.
Our eyes can’t meet: we share that fate,
twin sentries, crouching gilded lions
—to guard a gateway with no gate.
(first pub. in DAD’s DESK, September 2015)