Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Our Own Zone

—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA, with
Images of "Slender Grecian Maidens"


I once composed a simple three-voice fugue;
back then, not now, it seemed like the spiffiest splendor.
It cranked along, as on synthesizers by Moog.

I hit a home run: ah, Baltimore Oriole, Boog.
As composer I coulda been a contender;
I once composed a simple three-voice fugue.

What summed up that era for me more? Jo Ann Pflug?
The Moog’s mésalliance with (bass or piano) Fender?
My fugue cranked along, as on synthesizers by Moog.

Real answer or tonal? What key? All that’s now moot,
or mute: composer’s a title I had to surrender.
I once composed a simple three-voice fugue,

no parallel fifths, melodically good and not too-g
-ood both: too-insistent top note, on its own bender.
It might have been ginned up on synthesizers by Moog.

Would Wendy Carlos, born Walter, have pulled the ploog
(she, avant-garde pioneer, brave redefiner of gender)?
I once composed a simple three-voice fugue.
How might it have cooed on her synthesizer, the Moog?   


Right here is our free-speaking zone.
The powers that be have dignified
Our skills, tongue-wagging or iPhone.
Right here is our free-speaking zone,
As long as we restrain our moan
Just shy of fights to be untied.
The powers that be have dignified,
Right here, this. Our free-speaking zone.

—a friendly reply to “Freethought Day” by poet Marcus Bales


Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.
Hand over my mouth till I thought I would never breathe.
Assaults come back as fragments; try recalling your slaughter.

Is this the message we intend to pass our daughters?
We’re not the drunk male bodies under which we writhe.
Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,

so inerasable the cackling, I’ve stopped being a blotter;
I’m the litmus. On me, the stain, transformed since youth.
Assaults come back as fragments; try recalling your slaughter.

Ingrained like a BB pellet might enter the eye of my brother,
an accident, dropping him like one sliced by a scythe.
Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,

so deep that when I read today’s crime is manslaughter,
I read it as man’s laughter. None of it fun or blithe.
Assaults come back as fragments; try recalling your slaughter.

Sometimes I wish this world were rid of every daughter.
The randy boys could taste in only their blood their rage.
Assaults come back as fragments; try recalling your slaughter.
Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.


Your sadness bleeds dark messages.
It is as if the invisible ink were brought
to light. Just brush on death’s clear liquid.
It shows through your blouse. If you thought to
fight revealing it, you can’t, or just then you couldn’t.
Widow, you told me. You seem bereaved, and harried,
as only those who organize
around the ravine are harried
with debts, or simply numbers, figures carried.
These crawling signs crowd out
memories, life and love, as if fresh doubt
attached to what you know was muscular fact.
You manage largely without sighs.
I know how each lie lies,
“I’m fine” when you are far from knowing
what wellness is. Do smile. Do not be showing,
as if pregnant with this. You’re widow, I’m orphan.
Our secret. Let’s keep it that way.
I have nothing for our pain: the endorphin;
the mood enhancement; the meal replacement,
if food is what’s needed. We talk awkwardly.
I notice you stand straight, clutching the railing
around the cupola on a sunny day.
You wait for the sailor, but on this bridge
you are the captain. Clear to the farthest ridge
the stable landscape comes at you in waves.


Symphony Four by Bax, “that’s his weak one.”
Does everybody say it? Many believe it.
Tod Handley chose to record it twice, not shun
the challenge of this apparent love-or-grieve-it.
A blustery, happy symphony, Tod opines;
and is part right. Performance may disclose,
in brusque accents and shifting hammers of sea-
surge, points the composer would—imply? Impose?
That “rough tide in high summer,” we agree,
is what gives it Tintagel-style thought-lines.
Ocean-floor temblor; themes for Mary press
against an old theme reserved for Harriet.
What makes for the Baxian contrast is distress.
His rending, re-making, both stitch his listener-net.
Don’t let that whistling pucker, sea-chantey stuff
betray you. “Old Spice” fragrance? Call his bluff. 


(Arnold Bax, adjudicating at the Father Matthew Feis
(Feis [“Fesh”] = Festival)
                —Cork, Ireland, 1927


I come to Cork to adjudicate
for Erin’s musicians, her dance, her song;
an independent nation’s fate
cannot rest solely on soldiers long.
Even before that Easter, dark
with serpent coils of black smoke
symbolic of centuries run stark
over wreckage heaped and starving folk,
I studied the generous homespun heart,
how, humbly woven, the Celtic knot
of culture must spell freshly thought
restorative spells, salvific art.
You Gaelic-speaking Catholic lad,
you Anglo-Irish lass, twin spires
of youthful dream in green flame clad,
entwine your tunefulest desires
in artsong, sonata, symphony.
Let Irish piano, violin,
full orchestra troll out fine and free
all Danaan ecstasy and sin.
And if I must withhold quite sly
my smiles and blessings, look severe,
rate at times harshly your notes wrung wry,
the reason of my restraint is clear:
ah, long ago as Dermot O’Byrne
I sang out love on a broken harp
for a land this earth’s youth alone must earn,
build instruments finer than mine, more sharp
of echo and effect, yet sweet:
on gala occasions—Matthew Feis—
or simply as on a Dublin street,
practice how subtly to enmesh
your native Eire’s indigenous
half-pagan raptures for all of us.
Remember you this, then: would I outfling
my truest, most heartsore envisionings
in words and notes for that most wrong,
cruel admonition of the strong
—tell proud youth only what not to sing? 


The students have such power in their eyes.
Some use it to stare out, as if at you.
Some gaze out there, and yes, how grand the view
of trees and, almost, lake. If looks were wise…
and what good wise, when wisdom courts the lies
that fuel the powerful like some federal stew,
empowering them to lie the Big Untrue
whose edge cuts honesty down to vermin size.

Wake up! Use vision to devise, contrive
a way out of the willful-blind blind alley.
You can see, if you will, out of that Valley
confining as any gopher gulch or hive,
if you have words and thoughts to loft your gaze
blinking, sky-dazzled, on leaving the cavelike maze…


Today’s LittleNip(s):


I loathe jotting these tiny notes on this big paper;
but there it is: orchestral passion in form—or what? Vapor?

* * *

    (public-service video)

As Belle, the charming Emma Watson’s dutiful.
Leaving books to be found on subways? Beautiful.

—Tom Goff


Many thanks to Tom Goff for today’s fine poems! Tom will be reading at Sac. Poetry Center this coming Monday, Nov. 12, with Tom Hedt, plus open mic.

Tonight there will be a reading at University of the Pacific in Stockton from Sixteen River Press’s new anthology,
America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience by selected famous/infamous/unknown poets. That’s in the Wendell Phillips Center, 1000 W. Stadium Dr. at UOP, 7-9pm. Free. Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.

For a little bit more about Marcus Bales (“it’s okay to be funny”), go to


Celebrate poetry!

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