You are the demigod of the bitter road.
You think you owe no debt to death by crash.
Tires that should be fitted to a bus
or farm combine, slung under your full-size chassis.
The effect is of acrobat stilts, elevator shoes
to compensate—we say, we little ones—
for midlife impotence, youthful inferiority.
But you know better, studly in that truck.
You know that by his auto loan, the man is known,
as surely as by the hell’s decals you’ve slapped
on the rear windows, all death’s-heads, and flapped-
till-tattered honking big American flag.
How many times you’ve rubbernecked your vessel
around us, more elastic than we credit,
helped by your ultra-high-pocket cabin vista.
We see from below that you’re a Renaissance capo
blocking the sun from us but not from you
in your Capulet tower till some thug rides higher yet.
FROM UNDER STRESS
Don’t think of me as all adrenaline,
the fuel to my bad demeanor in crisis mode.
Let me be smooth to you as lanolin,
caressing, not some sharply pointed goad.
Stress notwithstood, make me reliable,
steady to you, alive at love’s command.
I pledge this verse as promise, pliable
by truth’s fair force, to make no countermand.
Informed by your known creativity,
I feel a different stress is relevant.
You know a composer (daily I bless his name)
who uses that term stress quite differently:
a substance out of this realm of spite or blame,
a force not meant to uproot, rather to plant.
This winter-clad month dreaming of summer heat,
let stress now render our fabric suave cashmere:
let us return to an affect more sweet,
more spontaneity and less of fear.
Whether ecstatic or sorrowful, this stress,
anointing oil or galling bitterness,
this energy, this mood means impetus:
“swept by a passionate stress,” Bax writes. For us…?
For N. on 2/14/17
[He to her:]
Arrived at your fourth decade, what do you think?
Could it be thoughts of aging? You’re nineteen
to my dim eyes. But then, eighty’s my brink,
that rink’s edge where my sight deems I careen
in Charlie Chaplin roller skates. Too young,
to have that in your culture-reference list.
Yet you flirt still with risk, you’re the one hung
still clinging to life’s great hang glider, kissed
as I would love to kiss you by the wind,
and you are the glide, aloft by single wing,
dragonfly eyes and thorax in the dangle
of sweet yourself from all Time’s everything.
If not the Trinity, you’re my glide-triangle.
But this is a sinner’s voice the years have thinned.
[She to him:]
I thank you for your thoughts of me mid-glide.
But you do not know what it costs to go
brave and alone mid-air. Your easy ride
no matter what age I reach, I’ll never know.
Yes, love of life’s included in my slide
of lift and buoyant breeze above the glow
where sunrise convection winds govern my stride
over the valley, painting maps below
with gold. But risk suspends me in its sling:
I sway and pitch and yaw like everything.
Buffeted by harm and turbulence,
I find it too much to take in with each sense
already, then you come at me mid-sail.
It’s all I can do so this big wing won’t fail.
MÉLISANDE AT THE WELL
She spent a life recovering her father,
long after he had risen into blue
No good for her to search in that blank place
She started over, straightened the already straight
digging wherever driven down to find
With her tormenter gone, the more the need
to scrape the well of growths, her thirst a need
to strain the water pure The toxic father
was drowned, a decomposing dog you’d find
in well water whose first glance rippled blue
Refracted image of the dead seen straight
only when calm impacted that liquid place
Why is it, she wondered, we seek long for place
when place is not the absence we most need
filled with the living human who stood straight?
I aim for forest and river; they’re no father,
though they can both caress away the blue
And is it the real dark father I want to find?
If evil dad won’t come back, let me find
a kinder partner, partnering with place
to fill my lungs with those transparent blue
breaths that breathe on trees and birds who need
a mate Add to my ever-losing father
someone that evens most sad somethings straight
I look into the well where nothing straight,
everything bent, still hides for me to find
Down at the bottom of that well the father
Down at the bottom of that well my place,
somewhere I can both drown and drink my need
where all transparency is really blue
and all things are transparent that seemed blue
If I bend down and see with my most straight
look to where the water depth must stop, no need
of any one more person or thing to find
The well was my first home, is now my place
where I can stir confusedly with father
liquefy with that bad liquid father
ready to drown and after rise to find
the one home without echoes of a place
(Cento after Gwendolyn Brooks’ "hunchback girl:
she thinks of heaven")
Composer-poet, he lies buried in Cork,
the Irish city and county of that name,
yet all his life and magisterial work
invite, while fancy or pun may be to blame,
to think, here lies a great one buried in cork,
permeable to nature, ecstasy;
matters of sensual body and spirit lurk
somewhere within cork, delicate and free.
Cork-sheathed, he needed to be, as sure as Proust
within that room lined thin as by wallpaper.
Insulated, this introvert, yes: but open,
to love of Russian, Irish faery worlds, to broods
and schools, vapors permeating wood-vapor.
Let airs and songs, aromas pierce his den,
his earthen den, touch off that bodiless essence
within the corken casket, stir the Englishman’s
erstwhile Irish demigod within, and plan
his Easter rising, again to corklike bob
on crescendo currents…
(Sir Arnold Bax, interred in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery,
Cork, Republic of Ireland)
BAX, THIRD SYMPHONY, MOVEMENT THREE AND EPILOGUE
Demonic scales which leap, march, twitch, and mock,
quick tambourine kicks in the wake of gong,
devil-motifs learned alongside Peter Warlock,
but sheer Bax in that no mood malingers long:
crescendo to a high crag, then when most strong,
a rapid melting to glow, then gleam. Now stalk
low strings in figures we believe belong
and yes! were rising all this time, oarlock-
obstinate, yet dipping, propelling through silk,
one part Gymnopédie, Satie reverie,
part hushed, not brazen Bolero-sarabande
in cat’s-paw vibrato, then this shiver, eerie
sul ponticello, rippling as if Fand
dipped quivering pitcherfuls for us to drink
of her immortal sea-milk.
THE RETURN OF MAUD GONNE
(Irish revolutionary and suffragist, 1866-1953)
for our students in the Sacramento Women’s March, January 21, 2017
The Irish poet William Butler Yeats
fell hard, fell wildly in love with young Maud Gonne,
an Irish lass of looks and ideas the fates
had singled out to leave behind beauty and fun,
or so Yeats loudly proclaimed in many a poem,
saying, A political woman’s an atrocious thing,
and yada yada, a thousand times the same
few iterances, obsessive yammerings:
she’s crazed with rallies and riots, making speeches,
so sharpening herself into a weapon
for Irish independence that she bleaches
her Greek goddess beauty away, a woman to step on
men and be stepped upon, she wants to hurl
the little streets upon the great, revolt
has made her half insane with all its whirl…
you get my point. A genius, Yeats is a dolt
I see you wave your sign
of protest: something’s come to light your face
in ways I’ve never seen before, align
your eyes, chin, cheeks with revolution’s grace.
The way your mouth shapes your exalted cry,
the way that mouth tilts up for heaven to hear it,
the way your brows make question or defy,
your incensed face facing tyranny to spear it:
Maud Gonne has long since vanished from earth. I can’t
assess what beauty she kept for herself or Yeats.
It might be I could read her speeches, her slant,
her tragic take, but never revive the debates
of old in their then-present Irish agony.
She ruined herself with politics, so they say;
it may be. I only know that you are free,
free to assume your station in this play;
that you are noble and wondrous. To this day
and forever, so I think. But intensified,
by your lovely scary willingness to say,
shout, fight, defend the most when most defied.
Yeats declared Gonne had traded her beauty for
an old bellows full of angry wind.
It seems to me he sinned.
Let your young animal-high passion roar.
I think if the world did hear you fully bellow
the shudder would shock the sun’s white gold straw-yellow.
I magnify your name praising your politics,
that science whose outcome is honor, or disgrace, or a crucifix.
HE SIGNS THINGS WITH HIS ORANGE FACE
We did or did not want him but oh my
god he must have been sent to blot out dreams
and now he has the big eraser when my
hope was that he promised us what works
only now do we know what he must
have been like all along as we just wait
till he has signed all women’s rights away till
he has made himself king of pussy and after
and forever he puts women in hell, more hell
gets dumped over whichever weaklings his eye lights on
I worry about the suckups who hang around him and such
it makes me nauseous all the way through my legs
when I hear how with one stroke of the pen as
he signs things with his orange face we are
left only to do the miserable things we’re left
I want to rise and give all that’s inside me
but none of that spring or bounce that stretches in
those of us left even the young and such
the ones we say are supposed to be full of heart
This "Golden Shovel" poem is after two lines in Gwendolyn Brooks’
"my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell": see
in homage to Brooks; see
—Medusa, with thanks to Cynthia Linville and Tom Goff for today’s artistic adventures! Tom will be reading at Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Cafe next Thursday, Feb. 16, 8pm, celebrating the life of Iris Rinehart.
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