Calaveras Big Trees State Park, near Arnold, California
Sequoias, on our first visit, everything.
All manner of specimens gigantic, red
of trunk, while brilliant green tops each crowned head.
More precious, years since, when life here equals spring
in this gloom-shaded park, while summer flares
through valleys. Shadow velvet steeps the moss
in sleek bird-nurturing moisture. Dogwood blossoms
flex Tiffany lampshade petals, white, white. Pairs,
trios, bright clusters of sapling redwoods prove
bristlecones’ force and fecundity no mere show.
A perfect robin, tailcoat charcoal gray,
reveals how coal, in this air, takes on glow
surpassing flame and rust conjoined, a stove
ignited in his chesty breast display.
* * *
Empire Mine State Park, near Grass Valley, California
The power of privilege at its most subtle
and its most blatant, here seen cheek by jowl:
This Sherwood forest green drawn like a cowl
to conceal the scarred rock-warren and coal-scuttle
ugly barrens of the gold mine park.
And yet how easy to lose oneself in dark
soft nature so much like love itself, prevailing,
in those days, for the owner’s family,
which compensated them for the screech and scree
so omnipresent in the mine’s bald half.
This loveliness, just barely countervailing
noise then, the prime attraction of us riff-raff.
The most greensick patterns Nature can contrive
transcend all this tame jumble of box hedge
that complements fountain-tumbles, ledge to ledge.
Yet whose reserve won’t falter, seeing thrive
magnolias, shady maples, cypresses?
Fastidiousness must waver before these breeds
of roses: Sombreuil’s jasmine-star excesses
of scent; Fantin-Latour, whose calyx bleeds
a lemon-edged flâneur-delighting smell
from inside goffered, whorled, spiraled hives
of petals, direct from the artist’s famed still lifes.
The Gruss an Coburg rose accords far too well
with famed Prince Albert prudence and hauteur,
via Crystal Palace greenhouse-bred allure.
At last, how does this park, all pampered shrubs,
ambush our wise disdain with weapons of empathy,
even while clear around are strewn the grubs
of beauty caressed into artifice, into neuropathy?
CONCERTINO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA (1939)
What would Arnold Bax have thought
had he foreseen his late “lost” Concertino
rebirthed from a hitherto unsought
short score? First, restore rippling piano,
from clearness to clangor infused with dynamics,
next, entice mist-shrouded orchestral strings
through superbly revivified histrionics.
Now, turn lyric regret to demonic on-clinging:
mind-fiends wish to erase the long moody-gorgeous
slow fall that arpeggiates back up the lip
of the opening gorge, thus retrieves its own slip:
the Baxian signature, Nordic-dark stamp.
Yet Bax surely would cherish renewed life, amorphous
half-masterwork willed whole from lampblack or damp…
So, orchestra-voice, now trumpet undying Swan:
give rise to this rhapsody’s too-long-delayed dawn.
(for musicologist Graham Parlett, pianist Mark Bebbington, conductor David Curtis, and The Orchestra of the Swan)
The important work, poet Kenneth Rexroth said,
of log-rolling for one’s friends. This vital
feel for networking even, perhaps, more vital
in music-biz than in poetry-biz. When dead,
Sir Arnold Bax, deserted, unpromoted:
was this tragic kismet due in part to lack
of zeal in flogging friends’ work, perchance lack
of heart, some self-indulgent vein inbred?
Havergal Brian writes an insightful review
of Bax’s First, then asks in return that Bax
in turn appraise Brian’s Gothic Symphony,
once published: Bax agrees. That symphony,
years thence, comes forth in print, but where is Bax?
Bax writes Brian, Not having heard it, I dare not review…
(Would Bax refuse to reciprocate a favor
from some woman composer whose comeliness he could savor?)
BAX: NORTHERN BALLAD NUMBER ONE
A complication of wind and heather and claymore
upthrust against the in-your-face insolent dawn
sun. Gathering clan, not here to wargame who’ll slay more
in battle, yet battle-kilted, in full braw brawn.
A folkloric stomp-tune swaggers houghmagandie,
while the amorous countertune protests sincerity.
The racy primal melody must discandy,
dwindle in an accumulating fog:
strong men’s eyes now will mist away asperity
while wistful romance—with a Scottish snap—assumes
full sway; all sentiment strews eyes’ thistle-blooms.
Proud spirits even whiskey cannot bog,
suffused with reminiscence-woozy fumes.
Proud Highlanders, snap to. Respect Sir Walter Scott,
remember the lassies ye fight for. Do as ye ought.
* * *
Ridiculous, Bax, I might declare you look
through your sweet mistress Mary’s clear photo lens,
glaring, head stoutly declined, twin elbow crooks
accentuated by the black overcoat.
Winter in Morar, veritable sand-fens,
dune-swamps over which packed snow just seems to gloat.
That overcoat parts below to frankly show
where your crossed ankles model Scotch plaid socks,
knee socks in keeping with your coat-hidden kilt.
It takes a good double-Scotch-take to discern the mocks
and jests implied in your warlike head-tilt.
If I dared such a display, like Malvolio
cross-gartered canary yellow, my face would glow,
instantly knowing myself mere steward, no Stuart.
Yet, back of this absurdity, a true heart?
This latest date at which Sir Walter Scott
can be read with fresh excitement for a story
that undercuts, with true history, fake glory,
with feeling your Ballad comes underscored: serene
in rapture for her you envision your own Jeanie Dean…
The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.
Many thanks to Tom Goff for today’s poetry and its boost to our mid-week! For more poetry today, drive up to Placerville, 5pm, for the Poetry Off-the-Shelves poetry 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.
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