—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, Ca
(UCLA, c. 1937)
In Schoenberg’s music theory class sits Mom,
my not-yet mom. She sees him, pieces of chalk
wedged between fingers, play with never a balk,
in Beethoven, Brahms, Dvořák, Mozart style,
the classroom piano. All twelve colors, each nom
de Kapellmeister, each musical wile or guile;
Bach’s well-tempered twelve keys roll down cycles of fifths.
Our radical, blessed with all the conventional gifts.
One fine day Mom takes her careful copious notes:
Herr Schoenberg expounds on his patented twelve-tone row:
the fount of Modernism’s ghostly atonal floats
and drifts, or discords that stun with vertigo,
pandemonium straight from the funny farm.
We listeners go spinning—to heaven? to self-harm?
Berg, Schoenberg’s disciple, deploys his twelve tones warm
—if we forget Lulu’s or Wozzeck’s core schrecklichkeit,
ecstatic blends, quasi-harmonic, of bittersweet light.
Schoenberg, confided my mom, thought her quite bright,
seems to have believed she could become a composer.
Ah, reticence, mute before even the Muse who best knows her.
(Her shy gene was mine too: a class with John Adams!—the chance
to have studied composing…my discarded Post-Modern romance…)
Mom’s notes, fresh from Schoenberg, fell victim as might a martyr
long before the thriving old age of Elliott Carter:
waste papers Grandma’s dementia made her throw out.
Where all the papers, all tone-rows vanish, I’ll go soon: no doubt.
The faster he puts his oppressive poverty
and illness behind him, the quicker it pops
phantom-like right back in front of him. A free,
a moral being will not submit. It stops
whenever he doggedly sets to work. Yet, sick
since youth (the King’s Evil), drowned in depressive thought,
he turns to his Bible. Thumbs at pages flick;
he’s warped the spine of the Good Book till he’s wrought
it back-bent contorted, close-peering with two bad eyes.
Procrastinator no deadline terror prevents,
he rapidly pens a fine Rambler: against delay.
The printer’s boy knows it’s imperative to stay,
collect hastily scrawled sheets, masterful words, life-wise.
Much left undone: will our Maker fault mere good intents?
The original “supermodel,” c. 190
Oh, if we the world had only
caught you for sculpture young,
for poetry young—your poetry
(unwritten), your sculpture—what legends,
powers might have sprung to your hand
(powers high above your actual adequacy).
Late though you came to clay,
you practiced early that figure-ground reversal
the supermodel carving herself into
that optical illusion: reshaping
the naked air of a pretend outdoors,
freshening the fouled-bandage atmosphere
of the art studio, the photographer’s lair,
windows latched tight on oily smells,
silver gelatin smells. Yes, you sculpted
the workday’s “ether”: luscious in
the kimono, the ersatz peasant getup,
the gauzy gossamer drawn scarcely decent
over sixteen-year-old breasts and bare shoulders
—these were rags round the essence,
the pole’s metal spine under
the propaganda flag. Late in life, you taught
sculptors, modeled how to press ooze
into form, squeezing clay to a semblance
of your sweet form warped by all the shaping
suffocating ambient slime. You, jailbait
for Stanford White, John Barrymore,
psychopathic Harry K. Thaw. Oh, you were
groomed and raped, loved and caressed
and civilized by your soon-to-be-bulletholed
“Stanny.” He gives you homework:
literature, art history, poetry. In return?
Are we in need of a bare-breasted statue to crown
a severely garish monument?
A nude caryatid to prop a faux-antique cornice?
How he poses you, makes
“frozen music” of you: your Rapunzel hair
cascades brownly down, your white left arm
replicates the witch-mother-jailer’s tower.
(Oh, he cares about you. You’ll never see
Angelina Jolie, in Girl, Interrupted, crack
wise about her “ther-rapist…”)
Let us leave you your fragment of peace,
a lifetime pilgrim-trailed away
from nude in a red velvet swing
to matron saint of all
traumatized underage sex-victims
slowly becoming yet hiding the Artist
far below skin, and that skin exquisite…
ON BRIDGEVIEW TRAIL, AUBURN
STATE RECREATION AREA
for James Lee Jobe
We’ve arrived at the top of the trail, atop the high ridge,
we’ve labored to reach the base of the column
supporting one end of the Foresthill Bridge.
Three turkey vultures are circling, low and slow.
Our calves and knees liquefying: how do the dark birds know?
At us, with eyes sharper than ours, the vultures downpeer;
I stare back up; is it apropos to fear?
Nora, braver than I, proposes: Keep Calm and Carrion.
Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Our thanks to Tom Goff today for his fine poetry on this snowy day up here in the foothills! (We got an inch or two in the night.) Tom has a new chapbook out from Tiger’s Eye Press: Tintagel 2.0: Sir Arnold Bax—A Composer-Poet Recaptured. It's the latest in the Tiger's Eye Infinities series; each small chapbook contains eight poems. Those interested in a copy ($5) can contact Tom directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Tiger's Eye (send $5 (postage included) check to:
Tiger's Eye Press
c/o Colette Jonopulos, Editor
63 South Grove Street
Denver, CO 80219
Kathleen Correia writes from the California History Room in the Calif. State Library that they have chosen to highlight historic resources related to Calif. poetry in their latest research guide, California Poetry (www.library.ca.gov/california-history/research-guides). Kathleen also notes that they can send free speakers to one of our poetry meetings, to talk about the History Room’s resources related to poetry, or they can arrange for a History room tour for up to ten people. Cool!
Why the photos today of Saturn’s rings? Tom writes about music, which is rhythms, as are the icy rings which are held together in such a perfect fashion. Nature—and poetry—are all about rhythms, yes? For more about Saturn’s rings, including the long-lived Cassini spacecraft which, together with its companion probe, Huygens, circled Saturn for 13 years, ending only this past September, go to
And don’t forget that Speak Up: The Art of Storytelling and Poetry meets tonight at Avid Reader on Broadway in Sacramento, 7pm. 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.
Photos in this column can be enlarged by clicking on them once,
then click on the X in the top right corner to come back