Friday, August 04, 2017

The Nearness of Algiers

The Cottage, 1892-94
—Painting by Charles Edward Conder (1868-1909)
—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA


Dear Robert Graves, you mystify
then unmystify again:
the goddess you paint white
may serve to tint as does blight,
or once again, burst bud, blossom,
or swell with old silver the triple moon
whose light, the thrice-filtered strain
of sun’s eternal May-June,
is both her own and not hers.
You strangely connect the Welsh,
the Irish and the Greek;
Adonis’ quick-grown mint, barley or bean
a link to Saint Davy’s leek.
Somewhere in all this keen
high-mythic investigation
a mighty instauration,
or yet a draining off
of all that poetic essence.
Indifferent to scholarly scoff,
you retract then re-grant mystique,
re-deed these legends their awesome
chthonic dark Ur-presence,
their power to enmesh
our nowadays in dreams
that echo archaic screams,
enigmas, hurts without cures.
Your sacrificial Adonises
stand stake-bound by ritual grain,
your white Aphroditean goddesses
ride their natal slate-colored salt wave-crash.
Your ephemeral goddess-dawns haunt us as
the god-wars trample long plains
and crush out the blood-red sky-seed-stains,
cruel as the ancient slave-lash,
blood beading forever on air-skin,
the divine interfused with our sin,
recurrent, sublime yet mundane
as the spill on the grain-floor of bran,
all the chaff and germ centuries thresh.  

Dieppe, 1895
—Painting by Charles Conder


    for friends among immigrants and in the LGBTQ community

Algiers is not near; Algiers is not powerful; Algiers is not our neighbor; Algiers is not infectious.
   —Edmund Burke, "Letter on the Regicide Directory of France" 


Convenient is the nearness of Algiers,
its “lone and level” grit, dune-distances
a sandy blank we fill in with our fears.

We think of Them burnoosed against the sears
and singes of unfiltered solstices.
Convenient is the nearness of Algiers,

ignored, or a target; like the transgendered or the queers:
a topic no one knows but each one says.
Vast sandy blanks we fill in with our fears.

The image, frantic escapes from theres to heres;
extremes—oppression, famine—mesmerize.
Convenient is the nearness of Algiers.

Our 9/11 burden: same old arrears.
Jihadi jet skis foaming to Europe’s shores!
O sandy Blank we fill in with our fears,

anoint our eyes sirocco till sight clears…!
Sahrawis in camps hear old Moroccan, Algerian lies. 
Convenient is the nearness of Algiers,
a sandy blank we fill in with our fears.

 Departure of The Orient, Circular Quay, 1888
—Painting by Charles Conder

      (young Arnold Bax in Ireland)*

Arresting, the rainbow of which Bax would write.
The lunar—darker—not the solar rainbow.
He loves the colors, most colors, yet white light
seems riotous, checks his artist’s primal brainglow.
How odd, we never heed what draws us to
a place: the legend, the history—the hue?
Yeats’ orange-fire Oisin, verse magnetic, drew
young Bax to Ireland: what then subdued
his dyer’s-hand in a softer color-medium?
He tests the sun for what it does to greens
and blues, uncanny reds; will the bright shock
shock him back to cloud grays, the surface tedium
of leaves “sun-stained,” all shadow-filtered sheen?

Glencolumcille night: aurora borealis,
a glory of reds and golds in swords and spears.
What hand could resist the proffer of that chalice,
spurn vast phantasmal orchestras of the spheres?
More typical: he fumes at imperfect work,
his hoped-for music dissolves to a bleary dazzle,
score paper to smart the eyes of a bank clerk,
where black lines interbleed, all staves one frazzle.
Note-stems, teased hairs. Unmoored odd iris-floats.
That sense of “strange warped shapes” in yellow, red.
Intended song’s unwelcome haloes, motes.
Eyes dry. Soon, pollen-networked scarlet thread?
Escape! Indoor distortions throng his eyes.
—Yet outdoor petal-pinks are his heart’s prize…

*See Bax’s Farewell, My Youth for more than one clue 
as to how various shades of color and brilliance may have 
affected him. One wonders if he suffered from some mild 
form of what is now recognized as Irlen Syndrome. This 
occurs when the brain has trouble processing certain colors 
the eyes transmit, resulting in visual-perceptual distortions.
Lines, shapes, and words on a white page may float, swirl, 

or shimmer disconcertingly, often unintelligibly.   

 Blossoms, Chantemesle, 1892-94
—Painting by Charles Conder

Today’s LittleNip:

Over the mountain
bright the full white moon now smiles
On the flower-thief

—Kobayashi Issa


Our thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine poetry! For more info on Charles Edward Conder, go to To see more of his art, go to

El Dorado County Poet Laureate Taylor Graham has put out a call for ekphrastic poems on Michael Paul’s new exhibit at Gold Country Artists Gallery, 379 Main St., Placerville. Check it out at

Speaking of Placerville, head up there tonight at 6:30pm to hear Davis Poet Danyen Powell (plus open mic) at The Good Earth Movement Poetry Night, 250 Main St., Placerville. 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.


Night in the Garden in Spain
—Painting by Charles Edward Conder,
Celebrate Poetry! 

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