Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Mules, Sybils and Nympholepts

"Mules for Hire" Sign, Knott's Berry Farm, 1948
—Anonymous Photo

—Michael H. Brownstein, Townsville, N. Queensland, Australia

I kiss you on the forehead hard. And why?
So you can pommel me with tortoises.
So you can photograph me below the sign: “Mules for hire.”
So you can force me to dial the number ending in B0B0.
Let me eat all the way into your bathroom.
Let me smell each corner of the litter in your lust.
Let me meditate the place between your ears.
Some of the time the donkey thinks he’s a horse.
Other times he believes he’s a camel in the horizon
the dessert sand so much sticky snow.

—Michael H. Brownstein

The sparrow hawk in the tree is not who I am,
lemon seed, flicker brush, the decay of skunk grass.

I follow to where the path goes through the belly of bark
into the skinny trail of hammer thronged ants,

wheel bird beetles and a flourish of sapsucker bees.
Here the way is blocked, here the way continues,

here is how you compose a love poem from the sighting
of a bird on a tree near the cone heads and boulders,

the end of a plain and a playing field, a thin waterway,
the land of flesh eating darters and mud bottom bass.

  Delphic Sybil
—Painting by Michaelangelo

—Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA

Pope Julius was a most unruly man,
insisting Michelangelo carve his tomb,
forty statues the candles to illume
a deathday cake-frosting, multi-tiered pyramid span.

Then changing his mind as only the papal can;
big breech-birthing sculptures frozen half unwombed,
ensuring some vaster barrel of a ceiling fan
open on God and Creation. One project tombed,

one birthed. Michelangelo raised his bitter qualms,
yet now he must paint, with flesh tones, pinks and lavenders,
a seething matrix of Everything, from calms
of sodden despair at the Flood, folks’ provenders

all rinsed away, to the near-touch, God’s and Adam’s,
fingers conducting life-lightning the one thing invisible,
a crescendo of lovely nude boys, prophets, sybils,
grotesqueries in the lunettes no prelate fathoms,

all inlaid on an architecture compiled of paint
so textured with pilasters, architraves and scrolls,
who regrets the inferior Julius-tomb of holes
with only the holiest Moses to smite hearts faint?

The Pope’s real tomb, a biographer avers,
is this multi-perspectival cauldron of pressure-
squeezed painterly grandeur as loopy as ever Escher,*
so capturing time at full boil, our millennium blurs…

(*See Miles J. Unger’s Michelangelo, A Life in Six Masterpieces)

—Tom Goff

I listen to Arnold Bax’s early tone poem,
Nympholept, the tale of a last dark woods
where, dawn, noon, twilight—enigma at any hour—
a human could enter, lose all sense and self
in intricacies of leaf, vine, tree or fern,
awaken too late to realize the limbs
tightening around his are no timber, no stem
except those stem-fast clasps of the half-human
angel demons of forest love and deceit…
but just now what we have is a Baxian dawn,
 a Swinburne dawn, while sweet-breathed minor-key
over rippling plucked triplet figures brood,
with darkly sinuous bass clarinet comment:
barely the dawn yet, and this twilit young morning
must yield to the forge-hot metal of full sun
in trumpets…I have to reorient myself,
too conscious of my own sun-high midmorning,
how much of this day I’ve lost, of you I’ve lost,
only to regain a precious yesterday glimpse
(cue for stage trees to part upon a clearing),
finding you seated over a page of figures,
math summoning you surely as monthly bills
pile up with the density of thick bracken, old growth.
Your smile, my nymph, is always a forge-hot burst
of pain and joy in me, coronary event
attended with near-death pagan forest fear, splendor.
Do you remember, mysterious one, our talk
just weeks ago? You asked how I do all I do
(I might ask the same about you); I said…Obsession,
how vital it is to be obsessed in art,
in work, for permanent good to be the result.
When I said, Obsessed in art, Obsessed with you
was surely my subtext. Did you figure that out?
And is it true the clever demigoddess
laying traps intended and unintended
everywhere in our forestshadowy lives
may stumble into one laid by me? I dare
not ask, I dare not know, so we are right back
in the dense brakes, entanglements, the heaviness
of breaths drawn green and scented into lungs,
the shadowed tensions that wrap me like the soft arms
you only twice or three times have enfolded me in.
Sweet, you are no forest deceiver, I am the liar
whose lies vibrate the strings that voice the lyre.
I dream of you, who have never meant to trap me,
think you the schemer of schemes first hatched in my visions.
Yet did you not once utter sweet words? Words that recede
so far into memory that they redeem my dreams,
springing in unexpected patches of time
like small blue forget-me-nots that just last night
were nowhere, this morning here, tomorrow gone,
each vanishing with its delicate central white eye…
and I complain not of you, but worry for time,
time that shows not in circles run round a clock-face,
but time in each delicate twitch of a branch that shaded
my eyes but convulses aside to admit raw sun.
Days made up of these wood-twitches, wood-seconds,
wood-minutes as real as grubs in an oaken trunk…
But music comes over me now; the dead composer
of Nympholept surely would break off work to listen—
a Native American flute adorned with two feathers,
played and played well by a student who knows to bend
those liquid notes somewhat deliriously,
and I was never in the deep impenetrable forest
but always right here at work, outside on a break.
Unless the tenebrous forest, the sun, the trees,
the vines, the ferns, the waters and birdsongs were you,
are you. You are the only one who knows—
and I, the first ever to intrude on your dark shades.

 Giacomo Meyerbeer

—Tom Goff

My friend Frank (a.k.a. François Drouin),
an estimable poet at times absorbed
in his ancestry, the straightest drawbridge span
through the high history gates, writes of the corbels,
cornices, vast castle keeps and barbicans
designed by his forebear Robert de Bellême,
great architect of castles, and of plans

achieved—to cradle warhorses rocking framed
in a balance-correcting armature on shipboard,
to spare untold equine lives from seasickness.
Then, let gently down on shore, each under a warlord,
to charge the ranks, incurring much other distress…
Robert may have (says Frank) turned brutal: imprisoned,
embattled (with PTSD?)…and through which prism
shall we gaze upon this man-of-war, breeder of horses?
Is it he who survives by dark legend in Meyerbeer’s opera?

Watch Marie Taglioni, the essence of Sensual Sylph,
rise ghostly in lightness on one centripetal toe:
her arabesque leg fans out behind her—so—
describing that arc, that dancing, rocking lilt
that preserved those powerful graceful destriers
amidships…reviving the lore of bewitched seigneurs
the devil reincarnates in strange guises today,
never quite satisfied with his own miracle play.

(How truth’s and distortion’s offspring, risen from vapor a
fleshly phantom, still vexes our dreams, our discourses…)  


Today’s LittleNip:

—Michael H. Brownstein

Dirty grey-white scuttles of gush,
Early small piles of pollen,
Reptilians in dry cleaner suits

Yesterday fire burst free from the breasts of two robins,
A rush of red sparkled across the feathers of a lone cardinal
And a beetle took its first tentative steps across concrete.

Today a rainbow of sun reached
Above the coyote howls
And melted into a mix of mask and mist.


Thanks to today’s contributors—one who is headed into autumn, and the other who is watching Persephone emerge. Those of us who are in this area can head up to Placerville tonight, 5pm, for a Poetry Off-the-Shelves read-around at the El Dorado County Library, 345 Fair Lane. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about this and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.


 Celebrate poetry!

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