Thursday, April 21, 2016

Marathons and Moreau

Poet and Satyrs
—Paintings by Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
—Poems by B.Z. Niditch, Brookline, MA


The last snow is gone
wrapped in a cool sunlight
as an Arctic April wind
intervenes off the coast
which makes me shiver
a poet by the gazebo
near the last swan boat
the oars of a kayak
reach in the back
for new beach sunglasses
a poet questions his path
in his day's diaries
listens to an FM radio
playing Bach and jazz
now at a poetry workshop
hearing a noon theater reading
gives a neighborhood ear
to Amy Lowell, Sylvia Plath
Ben Jonson and Shakespeare
now doing a half-mile run
by the Charles River
in a ten-mile marathon
from an abandoned field
as a melee of rookie players
playing hooky
in woolen yellow jackets
after an off-school night
not caring about their grades
play boisterously at bocce
from their heads to their knees
having their own bacchanals
making a fine racket
reacting as unruly renegades
hypnotized by gritty wine
and strong Sam Adams beer
demanding a group of tourists
leave and out of sheer spite
take cover over Audubon land
full of bluebirds in harmonies,
yet this breeze is cast in respite
passing by an hourglass of fun
this poet leans on Evergreen trees
by the Public Garden swan boats
waiting for the starting gun
over the overcast sky
for the Boston Marathon
with boats along the sea
as a cruising ship floats by.

 Near the Water, 1896


Here at the docks
the snow bluffs have gone
we have not turned
the clocks back but spring
forward here at the rocks
watching the runners prepare
for the Patriot's Day marathon
awakened by scents and shadows
at T.S. Eliot's Sunday morning
here at St. Ann's
sighting a sorry wounded swan
near the Cape at Rockport
as veterinarians drape him
before he is examined
for to be all alone
is not ever easy
even with emerging sun
simmering as stars on the ocean
by the greensward pavilion
T.S. Eliot knows his memory
is not shaped but had begun
even as a high churchman
not so long ago
searching between two loyalties
of state and expatriate of country,
suddenly he starts to quietly sing
acknowledging the Almighty
enduring the silent chants
while clearly thinking
from his dark pew
of his emerging imagination
and his dying to an ego
in his poetic sublimation,
meditating on Brother Lawrence
whose washing dishes
was his worship made new
or the Little Flower
who cleaned the dirty floor
with a broom and mop
not stopping a task
in a sanctuary's hour
of constant daily supplication
for no one need ask St. Teresa
about her ordinary ease
while writing a French diary
baring future good fruit
in her love offering
bending on her knee to pray
thinking of old Joseph's coat
and cuffs on his rough suit
in many of nature's colors
she could sew and mend,
and how he was sold
into slavery then freed
when his family was in need.
Eliot wishing for peace
on this well known bench
he has visited before
overlooking the flowing sea
in a cathedral's miracle lore
of reaching Gentile and Jew,
remembering Odysseus
from fiery frightening
yet smiling Circe
and of Hermes persuading
our sailor to go to Calypso
and his own hours of journey
teaching him to be enlightened
he was once a wanderer too
in a world without end.

 Jupiter and the Sphinx, 1864


Maybe the unanimous light
on this sunny Thursday's dawn
runs as the river by him revealing
the Seine's snakeskin reflection
at daybreak hours feeling tired
as a somnambulist wades in
by the shade off-shore
his red eyes glance open
slightly weary in oblivion
with an uneven balance
wanting to be more animated
despite his early morning nausea
sketching a slender drawing
of a Delacroix under a passing sun
and admiring the tiny Renoir print
in his last lady's salon
walking in from her boudoir
he suddenly remembers
that returning hesitancy of feeling
when receiving communion
at last Sunday's kneeling
in his short white pants
yet retaining a confessing belief
of the Three in One,
when he followed a sparrow guide
outside the church
from the high cathedral window
he is still overwhelmed with grief
in his messy narrow adolescence
when days are not assured
trying to hold onto a belief
Baudelaire's young shadow
covers the ceiling floor
and cathedral stained window
as he surly confesses to the priest
in that dark room
of his adamant clenched soul
from his mistress’s scent of sorrow
in a perfumed hint of nausea
still leaving an accented memory
at the smallest slight at school
fearfully spent tearfully wailing
already in beds of tomorrow's pain
as only a worldly poet knows
at he stares at his dreary dress
dreaming of his prisoner's fetters
as the river wind stirs
his itinerant notes on his pad
he will rewrite a quatrain
of quoted lines on "fraternity"
over a park bench
feeling like a sorry cad
writing a letter in his diary
resenting his sore sexuality
as he sentimentally swears
"Merde", pouring the word
out loud in angry bitter French
as he plans his itinerary
to the Morbihan shore
on an April rainy day's leave
and confesses a respected oath
to visit the Lioness of Brittany
acting out his perfected poet's part
actually believing he will never
ever be foolishly tempted
to whore again and in retrospect
pretends to be one of Molière's
never-aging clever fools
upon a long staged corridor
imagines he is whispered about
at a lonely dressing room door
leaving on his vacation plan
as he still wears his thermals
and weeps with an alley cat
half asleep in a ditch
he picks up on the way
to the city terminal
with a cup of red wine
in hand which spills
over his mother's photo
in her woolen winter hat
on the lorry of the train.

 Jupiter and Semele, 1889-1895


In the Widener library
in Cambridge at Harvard
a younger bard
is going over your data
seeking what knowledge
you gathered in your way
in self-revelation
assured that your wandering
words of language
shadowed your long suffering
in the breakdown lane
now forced to taking
heavy medications
at the mental ward
of suburban McLean's
reading of your pain
that drew me near
though younger
when I froze
writing my early poetry
on paper planes
inscribed in Latin
as I returned my clothes
from the laundry
after playing Chopin
and attending matins
with bread and wine
running into Lowell
on Beacon Hill
being humbled
without resentment
thrillingly telling me
to have courage
though I was trembling
in his audited class
over a sunlit window
instructing me
from space and time
electrified by his poetry
taken off the shelves
from the shadow's abyss
catching a language's fire
that will outlast
times and moments
past comprehensive ages
hungering on the shelves
in an expansive hunger
needing your compliment
in an offbeat arbitrary desire
that was not intimidating
from a fictional discovery
by my climbing ivy into sunlight
your hands open to shake mine
inside the lexicon's dictionary
suspecting to be certainly
at the library all night.

 The Apparition, 1876


His voice in highlights
is an eye in the night air
catching a saying of words
at his dark flame of height
gleams from a voice
whispered in Gaelic
fulfilling into his April birth
it was a glittering dawn
of an itinerant spirit
choosing a poet's abode
in winsome whirlwinds
overheard by Ireland's poet
by spaces outside
as the first sparrow
in the space of a window
who motions us to history
by your overcoming shadow
in the dust of your glory days.

 Salome, 1875


Animated from musical symbols
in balanced lyrical glissando
as the nave of noontime bells
chime in the rain's shadows
are heard on the church's steeple
by the sun-stained window
Moreau waits by the Paris metro
drawn with a search for color
as his model is not embarrassed
to pose along the bubbling Seine
waves to him faintly
near the lover's green meadow
as Gustave watches people
along the stream of the river
by ferns and dark willows
in the light April rain
his model in the new midst
of her ruminating position
picks a rose-in-bloom flower
at the crocus edge of shore,
Moreau paints captive images
as he covers his wooden canvas
for the next showing
of his painting, The Apparition
choosing to be understood
by a Muse of knowledge
yet will live in a scarlet abyss
voices his wonder
of a circled body
that each epiphany has an identity
that has implanted a carnation
hid in déjà vu romantic kiss
in his new-found modernity
as he seizes at his off-hand chance
in a recreation of such madness
which reaches the secret nuances
of his studio mistress
yet teaching us how glorious
is a yellow gentian inspiration
by the hummingbirds and bees
at dawn shapes him in a wellspring
in signs, mirages and myths
as Muses of Clio or Apollo
are breathing along the cracked wind
by grackles on bushes of trees
from a cave's neon butterfly
who rises with geometric wings
as spring shadows are rejoicing
from songbirds on nature's ease
along the exiled woods
an ecstatic blackbird sings
for a half hour
advancing new bones in her nest,
we understand a sibilant tone
to an art which will not rest
on any ancient laurels
here on the high museum walls
watching as Moreau thinks
he is elated from uneven dreams
on his Oedipus and the Sphinx
in a balance of purple colors
combing by a new picture inks
his last violet and azalea drawing
of strange angel dream flights
later to be stained
in his Jupiter and Semele
from scant vibrations of angels
we picture his working culture
in a chorus line for us to know
tattooed Salome in his tableau
in a vast silence of ardent mirrors
whose images of Gustave Moreau
falls on his beloved Galatea
wooed from Polyphemus
in Ovid's Metamorphoses
with celebrated presences
along long high corridors
visiting his hallways portfolios
while hearing a trio in a café
play viola, cello and violin
from a musical tempo
playing in an exposure's chin
swaying for us con brio
critics quarrel about his future
of pre-surreal cultural autonomy
as his geometric shapes
and retrospective colors to imagine
The Seascape of Brittany
from the ocean's sea
and star shells
along small figurines
cups and jars
to open our glowing eyes
motioning us back
to whom we symbolically are
as he drapes his painting
still hearing and laughing
at the piano bar's language
along the Alps
knowing hidden images
are collapsing in an eyelid's glance
of a whitened avalanche
knowing there are islands
searching for lighthouse scenes
where the wellspring leaves us
like a hidden enlightened bird
wakes us in Moreau's paradise
waiting at last
for an April birch branch.


Today’s LittleNip:

I have always thought of poems as stepping stones in one's own sense of oneself. Every now and again, you write a poem that gives you self-respect and steadies your going a little bit farther out in the stream. At the same time, you have to conjure the next stepping stone because the stream, we hope, keeps flowing.

—Seamus Heaney


—Medusa, with thanks to B.Z. Niditch for today’s fine poetry!

For more paintings by Gustave Moreau, see

April is National Poetry Month, and April 21
is Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day.
 (For info about Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, see