BY OLD MILL WHEEL THE SHY KINGS LIVE
Too much water drowned the miller,
writes a student, knowing the proverb.
Since folks think “saws” work by sheer reverb,
let’s verify—axioms aren’t just filler.
Ulterior me wants “ocular proof”
folk wisdom’s Erasmus, the eons’ wisdom,
not only Grandmamma’s in Lisbon,
contrary to the noses-aloof.
Too much of water, sweet Ophelia,
Gertrude chants to the millstream-drawn
drowned body, saturated lawn
dragged deeper, deeper and wetter mill-wheelward.
All waters are silk, all millers shy kings,
and Shakespeare sticks proverbs in all his things.
DOWN IN THE WORLD
In my time I’ve worked with people
of every definition, the worldly
articulate; the worldless insofar as they may
be or seem wordless, dark moonsides, whole
quadrants of them cratered invisibly, silent.
One microdiamond set of them: the left-behind
relations of the famous. Up-in-the-world
dads or grandads or grandmammas so famed
as to stride cloud, their bones lightened
to ride thermals alongside the vultures. Only
their descendants live down in the world,
dumped off the stern, just missed by the outboard,
shoved down in the muck, abandoned asphalt-sprawled.
Poor carrion their renowned forebears
have for all intents picked and plucked from their
scarcely delineated young bone-systems.
Crushed like Salomés under the Herod-shields
of expectations, wriggling out from under
and moving sideways elsewhere.
I’ve met Edith Wharton’s great-grandniece;
a near relation of Yul Brynner; a many-greats-
later offshoot of Alexandre Dumas: this
branch cast, as Shakespeare would say,
into the heat of the sun—Caribbean sun.
Not one man jack or jill bequeathed one useful scrap of ancestral
glory, those riches of intellect and lucre to cling to.
Well, let’s just say we are all descended
in every sense, we struck-off splinters
of grandsires careless whereto their loved ones’
loved ones might go, all diaspora toiling to infinity.
All of us dropped from a golden cliff, lost to a Homeric epoch
that forever exists to the extent never attainable:
Hektor of the glittering helmet picked up
a boulder, a fieldstone such as two of our times,
well-muscled, could not strain up and into a hay wain:
lightly Priam’s son picked up that boulder
and hurled it at the great bronze gate. The broken-in
gate is us, the boulder is us. This world’s
a down-in-the-world dune, upthrust from the sands
an undeciphered black-figure potsherd, one last
Hellenic chunk of space-alien communiqué…
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me…
I miss my friend in poetry and music:
you would dart in and out of my life, ten
minutes here, ten minutes there, and when
most urgently wished soft at my side, you’d trick
me, mystically melt back into an old brass lamp.
That lamp itself was too soon whisked away.
I’m left today yearning to tell my fey
young ally of an Amy Beach trio, camp
almost in its tango posture, rhythmic gesture
(would you, sweet, find it funny, roses in teeth;
do we grin as we clench the weedy tough stem shorn
of points, or do we floss with the still-sharp thorns?)…
You’d love the Beach trio’s Astor Piazzola dips
and parlor piano—like neon bandoneón—
pincushioning cello and violin unison…
I hope soon to see you robed in seraphic vesture,
my dark-haired lady of the midnight mists.
But you are upswept into cloud…me, left on earth.
Last night you came nightmare, hair lopped Hathaway
(Les Mis), strawberry-bruised face and scuffed-up lips:
yet you held my hand hard, sweetest of all violists,
sang horsehair to string, then glided how far astray…
(symphonic poem by Arnold Bax)
What motivates the tale, not only Romance.
That vacant ache nostalgia plays a part,
yet if these trees bend, their sway’s to the chance
of wind’s disordered dithyrambic start.
Less reason here than in most of Bax’s things;
the passion aleatory as a gale
fanged with xylophone. Unsettling blings,
random as wind chimes, flung from the glockenspiel.
As is his wont, the inmost portion slows;
one dissonant sour melts into each chordal rose.
* * *
So moved is Tania by Adrian Boult’s rendition,
she cannot speak of it: what unstringing glows,
horn, cello, viola, headwind her tear-strewn fission?
Friends think this Bax’s best: he confides: Not true!
Disjointed, I agree. Characteristic rue,
expanse of vista—and vision beyond the vista.
Not flummery, for certain; through thick mist,
a vital essence to sting the warm tears wept
by Tania—but flawed somehow albeit windswept.
Still, hear what the Baxian pines tell, to a sway
dictated much less by the ear-stuffing thrum
of iced windshear: more the inaudible drum
provoking the tree-branch beat to vibrate war.
In each last-needled spar
the limbs’ give, play or dismay,
crescendoing to the fray
clear from Bax’s Nordic forest floor
to the pine bard rhapsodizing outside my door.
OUR WILD ONES
composed in a drought year
A student reminisces with me at lunch
in the glassy cafeteria around which loom
the Folsom hills: growing up, she would see,
on grasses just south of Highway 50, a small
herd, not of cattle, but horses, the purest
of wild horses. Few enough to count;
she counted them. Five; then three; one,
then gone. Did they starve, were they sold?
What cattle now graze there, we prefer
not to mention, but murmur of the lost
ones a while. We’re looking out on these
expanses, green hills the rainless heavens
have grayed one by one, in small batches
rich with houses, not horses.
And what of our wild ones? Where do they go
dwindling, these lyric horses? Will our wildest
lutenists plant themselves on Parnassian slopes
resembling that brave new Tuscany all around us?
When whole species of feeling are gone, how
is that fair, how can we even speak of
a herd being culled? My student lives
high up in the green uplands of Lotus,
what rapid cold water there is
(previously posted on Medusa’s Kitchen)
Burnout is grist to the mill. I write every day, for most of the day, so it's just about turning into metaphor whatever's going on in my life, in the world, and in my head. Every nightmare, every moment of grief or joy or failure, is a moment I can convert into cash via words.
Actually, it’s ALL grist for the mill, yes? Anyway, thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine poetry! For more about mills and the waterwheel, go to wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-waterwheel/.
The Spring Equinox issue of Canary Magazine is available now at canarylitmag.org/contents.php/.
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