IN THE ETHER
For born losers or forlorn boozers, either
genetic traits or lifelearned quirks can shut
self in a cocoon of effervescent ether.
So clouded I am in fumes from my own gut,
that misery, that lizard-freezing chill
can crevice me down deep in a rocksplit rut.
There, blood, water, or both, spring in one rill
from deep-down lymph nodes (dragonfly-nymph lodes?).
Enough to resign me to my life with swill.
These nether lodes are inspiration, goads,
great falls of bile that tumble into burns
or bumble into turns—flash flood explodes
through swerves. Through spume, dissolving guile discerns
a sky like calm lake, peppered with white scars.
Difficult at times to discern which one
of these two brothers was the wiser elder.
Clifford, young brother to Arnold, valued Donne,
Marlowe, Shakespeare, and proved quite a melder
of all these influences with love for cricket.
Ah, Baxes, bowling and batting endlessly
on spring and summer days! Long sticky, wicked
indolences of young love and free
experiments in art at Ivy Bank,
all green green stretches under chestnut trees
and beeches. And it’s you we’ve largely to thank,
Clifford, for the respect and love and ease
with which two siblings led unrivalrous
lives of philosophy, of poetry;
knew music, world religions, chivalrous
survivals of odd rites and masonries:
You called yourself Bax Minor, meaning that,
of course, composer Arnold was Bax Major.
But you wore more than one distinguished hat:
dramatist, poet, memoirist, and, at leisure,
you, chiefly, squared that assembly, Four Just Men:
Arnold, yes, Maitland Radford, and yourself,
Carl Jung’s assistant Godwin Baynes; and when
dinner was to be served, that subtlest elf,
your butler Smiles, laid silver and tablecloth.
Samuel Johnson wouldn’t have been ashamed
to enter into such nights of talk. A moth
might have felt proud to risk a singed, inflamed
life’s exit on such night-tides lit by candle.
You also published your brother’s, and numerous others’,
poems, tales, articles, braved some small scandal
promoting J.T. Looney’s theory of Shakespeare
as the Earl of Oxford. Ultimately you passed,
sheer elegance in cape and walking stick,
all triumphs and failures, gravely ill at last.
However many transitions, circle and clique,
however many visions, states of belief,
resignedly you processed that eerie grief,
outliving a brother who shared with you one heart.
Enviable brotherhood. Lives metamorphosed, art.
EPILOGUE AND PLAUDITS
I was very delighted that the Symphony was so much
appreciated and somewhat taken aback at its strangely
—Arnold Bax, letter of March 21, 1930 to Clifford Bax
Third Symphony: a near-appalling (to you) success;
yet absolute quietude, serenity
in your mystical Epilogue, not one excess
committed in all this chant of ecstasy;
not once the barbaric bid for the crowd’s applause.
You knew, and said, that despite rhapsodic slow
elements in the elemental first
movement—otherwise demonic flow,
galvanic threatenings in its marchlike bursts—
everything written here obeys classic form,
everything dances to Mozart’s, Beethoven’s laws,
regardless what force or duration of the storm.
Was it from your marmoreal structure, or
the crushing impact, once only, on the anvil
that all these approving moans must come? Outpour:
today, you’d be mosh-pit-shouldered at their will,
the will of the mob whose credo is kiss-or-kill.
ACCUSATION AND RIPOSTE
I know what kind of accusation stands
against my writing: it “smells of the lamp.”
I write “from books, not life,” as bands and bands
claim, wagoning circles around my literal swamp.
Don’t they beg the question, “Where to look for life?”
assuming that life’s nowhere to seek in pages.
I’d have them know—try cutting through their shrill fife—
Shakespeare wrote first his plays for future ages.
Then, slowly, by stealth, our lives began to behave
as the Bard said they did; fools, harlots, kings,
knaves wriggled out of rank; they could unslave
themselves from rigid, consciousness-less things,
inherited toils. Old books, by the way, say lamps
burn oil, take flame, cure mildew, dry the damps.
Soon, Shakespeare, we’ll soon see your coming out
in your true name. Your debut, if you want.
Right now, I feel like any debutante:
this backless gown, will it make me look stout?
At other times, I pine like John of Gaunt,
dying with peevish words for Richard. Doubt
crazes me, on the breakthrough verge. I shout
inaudibly at others. Can I flaunt
for once what’s flowed in secrecy through me?
You managed a secret life in verse, inverse
of every behavior Court spies must rehearse.
But you, vast ages past your death, are free.
Like ruthless kings of yours, I’ll reap my harvest,
quick as we say to a jack with knives, “Thou carvest.”
My writing process, such as it is, consists of a lot of noodling, procrastinating, dawdling, and avoiding.
—Medusa, with thanks to Tom Goff for shining the lamp of today’s fine poetry!
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