Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Ships Solidly Built

—Poems by Tom Goff, Carmichael, CA
—Anonymous Photos and Paintings of Tall Ships


How weary dark the closing days of May.
Ceaseless rain, or gloom announcing it.
What poisoned apple from a jilted, stray
Bad fairy left in day’s craw the tainted bit?
No sun arrives to kiss and to dislodge
The cloud stuck like a solid thing inside
Her throat. Warm day will soon dismount, disgorge
That chunk from her gullet, free it to outslide

On spittle. But speaking of sleep, I nod at sleep
In the cafeteria, counting student heads.
One tosses her foot, one more girl dangles legs,
Both metronomes. I may well slump to heap
My head on this grimy crumb-sticky table. Leads
Like sinkers on ankles. Dream subsides to dregs.


Today is for old body—and young soul,
the mending spirit first Christians labeled girl—
to leave aside creation for the whirl
of tutoring. Help with school folderol,
the drill-to-kill that threatens psyche, soma
in every student:  stiffen their defense
against the academic rigors, against trauma
that hides in stout pomposity, the dense

in opposition to the free and clear.
If I can directly help, let it be so.
If others aid, let me still linger near.
Tutors, it’s thought, possess an aura, glow
to counter defeat in any woman student,
to oust from warped young men the hidden serpent…


You stood where a window bathed you in light.
The powder-blue late-day sun backlit
you, nineteenth-century-silhouette-night.
Soft blur against glass, dark flicker and flit,
You stood where a window bathed you in light.

Poised at a far distance, I still felt your skin.
Your silent voice reached into my throat.
Nerves tingled wherever your hands hadn’t been.
You sang without sound. I lost my one note.
Poised at a far distance, I still felt your skin.

Expectance, remembrance, blended in time.
Eyes probed for you close. Heart cast you out far.
The tension. The scent of the sundown, lime.
Aiming at shadow, my gaze came up star.
Expectance, remembrance, blended in time.

What ecstasy outlives its place and its date?
Our dream-tributaries must mingle in flow.
Commencement so urgent must consummate.
What long-ago dreams must I no longer know?
What ecstasy outlives its place and its date?


I am reading William Yeats.
Within his salley garden gates,
So peaceful is the quietude,
I indulge my brooding mood.
In prose, Yeats recollects an old uncle.
Once expert, fast as a barnacle
Latched to quays and commerce ships,
His mind now twilights down to the slips.
Nuncle clings to a crazed late dream,
Cracked in stem and stern and beam.
His newest vessel will not sink,
This uncle in his derangement thinks:
The hull’s one solid mass of wood.
Could seaworms not make this a snood
Crawling all with worms for hair?
Strange, when the mad feel scant despair.
Can he not sense so stolid a thing
Down waterlogged and softening?
No ship’s all-filled-in, solid stuff,
Unless pure balsawood, flimsy enough.
Such cranks and conceits in a mother’s brother;
Such are my reveries of my loved Other.
I’d launch, hull and bridge, my big solid ship
From off the flimsiest of ship-
Ways, given Her safe aboard and soft.
And on that mahogany bridge aloft,
Myself. Less pilot than fragile nail,
In densest wood driven, of nil avail.
When, oh when did I last not dream
Of this same rootless enthymeme?
Clasping the loved Girl mine, on an island?
Pipedream archipelago, lie-land.
Braindrift, the sweeter for being unreal.
Odd to taste such a drug slipped in my meal.
To sail with sweet She, my big solid ship
Bellying over the world’s long lip
Toward islands that narrow forever their taper.
Sands lost in the finding; I knew them for vapor.

(first pub. in WTF! from Rattlesnake Press)


I read the Reader’s Digest Dorian Gray
Years ago. It’s rather a rough sketch
Of Unabridged Dorian’s quest to love, betray,
Self-satisfy, at cost of lines that etch
His brow, once that of Youth in Bloom, now Wretch
Of Utter Degeneracy, downfall so fey
And sly, his skin’s not touched, though Sin will fray
The portrait: scabbed, like petals loosed from vetch.

My faults, carved clearly in my skin. So Good
Must be my inner Shape, Gray-Logic claims?
So Dorian-Me might dare to declare; but would
That be my Self? Wilde-Logic shames, no, lames
Me in truth’s mirror. I wander hobbling forth,
Like limping Shakespeare seeking Love’s True North.

(originally a Third Sonata)

Transformed from Liszt-inspired piano piece
to fiercely experimental symphony,
this typhoon-fisted work beats out release,
frees age-old demons infesting the Irish Sea.
For all that our Composer may disclaim
precise locale or incident beneath
this tempest whose broad keyboard span must aim
to mimic the Russian steppes or King Lear’s heath,
we strongly suspect those Great-War whirlwinds:
sheer Bacchic frenzy shrieks through (almost) each
last bar of the first movement. While storm spins
its drill bit, lyricism resists the screech:
it’s Dublin being fought through, yet flute song,
fit for a James Galway, sings and softens wrong.


So central an opus demands two Movement Twos:
one, ocean-rhapsodic, strictly for ivories
and ebonies; Bax’s “default setting.” Brews,
brumes, glitters from the Otherworld seize
control of the piece away from the poet. Grand
and moving, yes; but what of the second try?
Ode to the Minor Second, this must be:
the gauntlet Discord, wristed to defy
Fate, glints by intervals, enigmatically.

Dawn fog over battlefield, lit red, first sun.
Dark harp, reined in for subsequent attack.
Basses, contrabassoon hues ashen or dun,
yet lit with embers. Trombones make to crack
the misery curtain. All crescendo from here.
Lead coffin, gilded rage, enameled fear.


The tension breaks on still more tension. Taut
yet ceremonious French horn battle calls
herald homecoming, themes we thought fought out.
This lurch from the mournful to the sardonic galls
with bravado, yet is it not the symphonic way?
Both impudent scherzo and triumphal march.
Unhampered by a piano’s note-decay,
each thrust of percussion under the victory arch
rips conquest from hands of strings, winds, even brass.
Gong, glockenspiel, crashed or suspended cymbal,
then, over the cresting roller, soused with sass,
malleted chimes intend to upend our gimbal.
So spiked, with Tchaikovsky vodka, errantry
from Shakespeare, is this not flagrant Irishry? 


In the transports of their new-born love they pour out their mutual affection in a rapturous game of chess…
         —J. Thomas Looney,
Shakespeare Identified

Aging Sir Arnold Bax must needs romance
one Christine Ryan: note the Irish name.
No Kerry or Derry blossom to entrance
with music or verses. London-bred, no fame
connected with her or her family.
Dwelling in a shabby-genteel flat,
preserving sweetness, vulnerability,
some bright small talent, not to be sneered at.

Bax terms this young Christine his own “dark flower.”
Black Irish, one might imagine, eyes deep blue.
Quite able to give love; not underage;
touched breast to breast; or displaying a native power
at chess. How many games was it they drew?
Who first played pawn, girl-woman or her mage? 


On the radio, a plummy British voice,
sounding as if he’s swallowing his mustache:
is it Julian Herbage?
Well-intentioned, yet without panache,
he introduces Sir Arnold. Thank God, brief verbiage.
Now, a reedy baritone, short-breathed,
staccato, lecture-style. Small voice-breaks
turn still reedier tenor notes.
Bax conjures up his first hearing of Edward Elgar.
Fog floats through packed Queen’s Hall.
Sir Henry Wood’s orchestra lost in a pall
of coal-dust-suffused gray vapor.
Applause like a thousand tiny rakes
tines up damp forkfuls of primal smog that’s wreathed
itself around the premiere of Pomp and Circumstance.
Amusing story; but what a difference
(shock, really), next burn by a friend on this CD,
young Bax’s true voice: Romantic Overture!
Small orchestra, rumbustious six-eight time.
View it through Romantic (stereophonic) aperture:
Woodwind flourishes. Drowsy lone trumpet stirs!
Arpeggios, keyboard correct as an astrolabe.
Pastoral Baxian blend of rough allures.
Hoof-appointed, goat-furred, uncouth, without rhyme,
Bax’s familiars, lecherous Satyrs, chase
soft-skinned, rose-milk-faced maenads through glades
and “sun-stained” passages of meadow-grass
so light to the touch, so suave not one sharp blade
would sting bare soles of feet on the merest babe.
Drunk with inducements to languor, what maiden
would not give up the run to the pursuer,
collapse in trances on pastures Arcadian,
and part her desiring legs to the life-renewer?
Subsiding almost to slumber, the lingering music
turns in on itself: discordant soft sighs like jazz,
relinquishing all touch of proportion, physics,
for indolence that steals over the one who has
enough rapture…now, the rebound of rhythm.
Veddy British (chin-chin!) with a right bouncing bass.
Reverb off rock walls over valley; pious hymn
in style, but belted with ungodly grace:
Baxian accent, punched out with smiling face.


So utterly French, this elegiac streak
Of light across a gravestone’s epitaph.
Grief so civilly rendered does not shriek:
A stifling hand, discreet across a laugh
Of rue and remembrance, less content to speak
What crumbled obit-tongues twilight can graph
Than savor what smacks of Klingon more than Greek.
We find tombeaus etched gravely across a staff. 
Ravel mourns Couperin? Oblique Forlane,
Whose compound meter, accent on the urbane,
Triplets out sweet propulsion, grace; forlorn
Yet cheerily distanced; patters of night rain
Tap out quaint soft vivacities on glass.
Poe’s Mallarmé Raven emits a chic Alas.

Today’s LittleNip:

The wind has a language, I would I could learn!

Sometimes 'tis soothing, and sometimes 'tis stern,
Sometimes it comes like a low sweet song,

And all things grow calm, as the sound floats along,

And the forest is lull'd by the dreamy strain,

And slumber sinks down on the wandering main,

And its crystal arms are folded in rest,

And the tall ship sleeps on its heaving breast.

—Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838)


Our thanks to Tom Goff for his fine poetry today! For the “13 Most Beautiful Sailing Ships of All-Time That Will Give You Travel Envy”, see And for more about Letitia Elizabeth Landon, see

—Medusa, celebrating poetry! 

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