Wednesday, May 22, 2019

We Two, We Turkeys

—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
—Anonymous Photos



Middle-sized dull-gray songbird,
perched for the morning on a branch,
as if infused with the Lord’s own Word,
your speech no shy reserve can stanch
pours out into the air. Your song,
we call it, thinking it coloratura,
one trill short, one mordant long.
We humanize your appoggiatura.
What do we know of it, or you?
We listen to it, if we are keen;
apply it as we do feverfew:
the healing substance rubs in clean.
What frame of being—appetite?—
impels your sounding out? Despair?
Elation: having survived the night?
We emulate your notes, we share
instincts as musical as obscure.
Moments from now, I leave you for
a sphere of discord, sour, impure,
drowned in the sins I most abhor,
our greeds, corruptions, lies, deep hurts.
Whatever innocence or lack
of innocence in birdsong-spurts,
keep up your lyric till I come back.  


Mohammed pops up in a letter of John Keats.*
The Prophet, asleep on a bedroll, next to a jug,
upsets the vessel. Unhindered by bedsheets,
he startles, and springs up from that threadbare rug.
Brim-full, the jug must dash the tent-floor with wet,
perhaps dash into edged clay shards as well.
In haste to catch the jug, the wakened Prophet
instead finds himself whisked elsewhere by a spell,
as if by angelwing to his God, up, up.
This might be a moment for poets like Robert Frost,
whose birch-swing aloft feels like a brimming cup,
save that a flexible Arabian juniper’s tossed
Mohammed as high above the edge of space
as fills an urn of clear water above its lip.
The ecstasy fills Mohammed; then without trace
of travel, he snaps back, catching that jug untipped.
Keats, like Mohammed, beleaguered by fugues, by dreams.
But what, besides a stock Oriental tale,
delivers the burgeoning poet unconscious streams
of imagery far beyond his shady vale?    
We cannot know all that fills his lyric cup.
We only know life pounds him down, yet he springs back up.
Though brave enough to face death-shadowed truth,
as one still illusioned in a last dream of youth,
will he divert urgent thoughts from a dying brother?
Refuge, personified in an exotic Other?

*Letter to Mrs. Wylie of Thursday, 6 August 1818 [Mohammed: referred to as Mahomet by Keats]

Inscribed, “Date: (conjectured) circa 1788. Composer unknown.”

You ascribe to Mozart an intensity of emotion he cannot support.
                    —Arnold Bax, in a letter to Harriet Cohen

So how to explain your Neoclassic turn?
Why Mozart in your own late-period works?
At first, a well-wrought Grecian urn
of sea-dark wine. Archaic, with quirks;
arpeggios hands-down, where Mozart ups.
Your mordents run oddly ahead of your main notes;
so backwards, drinks are served trapped
                               in turned-down cups.
Strange passing tones flit in and out of float.
Eclipses of your Muse’s warming sun?
Yet here’s dark-side-of-the-moon-illumined fun.
The jest would slightly misfire, turn malign,
if these glib notes were dated 1789…? 


At Folsom Lake, four turkeys act their grand
spring ballroom dance, that slow slow sarabande,
that Louis the Fourteenth ritual of ballet
and mating. So deliberate, the sashay,
it’s as if the tom, his tail plumes fanned full out,
must chase the receding three-female wave about
the oceanside sand which the enameled green
lawn-strip must metaphor. That long serene
turfbelt renders eerie the already stylized rite.
Forever wilt thou be young and they ignite
your poll of red, your snood to swell and blush.
We shall not see consummation, how he’ll flush
the chosen female out from her compeers
and tread the light fantastic claw that veers
somewhere between raw sex and amorousness.
As to their turkey minds, I goosely guess
how well the lady turkeys like their man.
And do they approve his pronouncement of the banns?
As to ourselves, I think the odd turkey thought.
By ancient custom, brides exist to be bought.
In somewhat similar vein, these turkey three
are winnowed to one bound partner: tom’s decree.
Yet their flirts, their retreats, their hard-to-gets
beg disquisition on who is in whose nets.
In our case, not one rival to me or you
stood to compete for either one’s pavo-de-deux.
Yet, for all that, I shook my plumes, I fanned
my tail. Beak to beak, each one the other scanned.
My turkey strut, slow-walked, which I thought neat,
pressed you to charge in reverse; not-quite-retreat.
But talking such turkey presumes too-soon conclusion
to a years-long procession, seen by occlusion.
Still photos evoke, not enact, our poultry quadrille;
fowls, ever departing straw theatres of the real.
Fact is, I know not how to describe our dance,
lost happily in the on-whirl of our bird-romance…   


Today, I applaud a piece by Sudip Bose*
defending the music of George Whitefield Chadwick.
Derivative, his disparagers will suppose:
Too contrapuntal; too Continental; Germanic.
I run into the same problem defending Bax:
chromatic static in his work (what then, Stravinsky?);
too far behind the times, un-Modern, lax,
complacent. (Or, fiery à la Mussorgsky, Rimsky…?)

Granted, each rising Jupiter beats dad Saturn;
that’s Jupiter’s unique psychic war to win.
Let’s fight hard for our creative identity.
As listeners, we can be active lovers, not slatterns
rudely dismissing our unheard elders’ sins.
Song’s Essence houses how many an Entity?

*In The American Scholar, April 4, 2019


Today’s LittleNip:

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more…

—Lord Byron,
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage


Thanks to Tom Goff for this morning’s wake-up music (including his smoothie-smooth sonnet) for those of us around the Kitchen table! I always appreciate an opportunity to post turkey photos; these are for Tom’s poem in celebration of courtship. And congratulations to Tom for working the word, "appoggiatura", into a poem… ! (I also like "slattern".)

In addition to MarieWriters Generative Writing Workshop tonight at Sac. Poetry Center, 6pm, Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman will read there at 7:30pm, presenting their collaborative book,
NOS [Disorder Otherwise Not Specified], about their autistic daughter. 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.

Unfortunately, Friday’s visit to the American Haiku Archives in the Cal. History Room of the Library and Courts II Building, 900 N St. in Sacramento has been cancelled. See for more about that.

—Medusa, celebrating poetry and music along with that “middle-sized dull-gray songbird”!

 Who YOU lookin’ at???
—Anonymous Turkey in Anonymous Photo

Photos in this column can be enlarged by
clicking on them once, then clicking on the x
in the top right corner to come back to Medusa.