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And so we wait
for the barbarians,
our hearts palpitating
like bleating sheep,
our mouths dry as stone,
our thirst unslaked
by the morning dew.

Beyond the ramparts,
the sun rises blood red
above the hill
where we hunted
for secrets of
the hordes to come.

We scattered high
and low, far past
the statue of Poseidon
that towers
at the edge of
the wine-dark sea,
which unfurls like
a murderous storm
that would drown our crops,
batter out battlements,
power the siege to come.

And so we wait
at the gates
for the barbarians
and the tsunami
that drives them.
Oct 2020 · 26
No Way Out
There is nothing left
when the snows swirl,
the wizened apple falls,
the hills turn tawny
and dry, our love lost
in the undulant
folds of the earth.
We turn together
in search of the
blessing of the cirrus-
shredded sky. Hawks
soar, return to land,
then swoop away again,
carrying our hearts
in their hypodermic
talons, now heavy
with wounded prey.
Shall we step backward
or forward? Shall we
glide silently away,
or run moaning
to the hills? All directions
collapse into one.
All directions point
elsewhere, never here,
never there, never
where we stand,
never where we stare,
yearning for the steely
hawk's return, yearning
for more than this
chilly impasse, for more
than the frisson of
this no way out.
Oct 2020 · 28
The Capacious Sky
(After Louis Glück, winner of
the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature
)

I rise into the faithful, virtuous
night, misty and mysterious,
illumined by the spying moon.
White shadows point the way.

I am the light beneath the
expansive canopy of stars,
tiny and malleable, trekking
through my limn-like work.

A peak, a pinnacle, a red
plateau. These haunt me,
captivate me. I am the lost
pilgrim, perched on the edge

of expectation, serenaded
by the dark music of loss.
I am open, shapeless, ever
wondering at the capacious

sky. What shall I gain or lose,
bound for permanent separation,
all so my soul may not be
distracted as I limn the light?
Oct 2020 · 23
Illumination
Cavernous shadows and clouds encase
the uneven edges of my dream, a dark,
disparate dungeon of beclouded jewels.

No splendor gleams through the pinpoint
gaps. No radiance revels in the penetrating
rays that steadily stalk my internal darkness.

In the deepest center of my dream, I swoon,
wounded by love, which is the light, which
is the Living Flame of Love that sears away

all signs of soot and smudge and stain, all
distorting ripples in the window of the soul,
all disruptive detritus of the dream, its dreaded

diffidence at the prospect of illumination,
of receiving all that it is capable of receiving,
of riding the photons and waves of light

into vast fields of grandeur and affirmation,
of transformation, spilling over with power,
being and virtue, lost in labyrinthine rays

that curve and whirl and roll and plummet and bend
round the center that centers itself outside the circle
of my dream, now flooded with light, an elliptical path

that turns back on itself, leaking through crevices,
slicing up clouds, brimming with the brightest
white, a radiant white aglow with beams of white,

engulfing the bejeweled white that penetrates the center
of the soul, lanced by legions of white, lanced by flaming love,
now penetrated and pinned to the light, until I become the light.
Oct 2020 · 28
The Living Flame of Love
1.
St. John of the Cross throws
twenty spiritual poems into
the Living Flame of Love,
watching them burn into
black, shredded shards
of nada and todo. Nothing
for the finite, human spirit,
everything for the divine-
driven soul, longing for
sweet, eternal union with
The Source of All That Is.
How John can savor
the delicate aroma of
the incense of praise
that emanates from the fire,
love translated as living
grace infused into the soul,
dead to itself, but alive
in the grasp of God. How does
the poet usurp the saint?
How does the penitent
claim his forgiveness,
his peace, his inward
teachings of the labyrinthine
love in which his soul
wanders, waiting on a sacred guide
to lead him into the arbor
of righteousness, of purity,
of ecstatic communion
with the Living Flame,
which sears away all
traces of the arrogant,
self-driven soul, the ratio-
empirical self that lusts
for certainty from finite
possibilities, that sees no God
in the niches of nature?
How the wretched ones retreat
from glory, how the minions
of myopic seekers miss the mark:
hamartia of the heart.

2.
John bears the cross as his
reward and burden, as the perfect
ending to his story of yearning
for union, of longing for love that
diminishes nada, that teases out
todo: The totality of Being that
succors the senses, mends the mind,
washes clean every obstacle
that stands in its way, elevates
every submission of will
above the calamity and
cacophony of the polluted world,
of tireless treks into temples
of doom to assert the supremacy
of the making mind, the force
of ratiocination that reigns over
every investigation and claim
into the nature of the self,
over every hypothesis,
experiment, spread sheet of data
and library of laws. Whose law
does the thirsting soul obey?
Is it not its own until the soul
is purified in the Living Flame
of Love, the eternal fire
that lights up the world in its
hubris and high comedy,
in its tragic truculence,
resisting grace that beckons
like shimmering sheets
of waterfalls as they splash
into deep, green pools, as they
plummet into like becomes
like, into the dancing dawn
of union, of embrace,
of the self singed of all sin,
raised up into the boundless
beauty of beatific visions,
of the wholeness of the will
and mind and soul and spirit,
of the renewed mortal body and
the traces of creation that cling
still to their impermanent places,
yearning also for perfect union,
for an end to their nothingness,
to their persistent contingency,
crying out for the beginning of
everlasting love, for the denouement
of existence's tragedy of errors:
the anti-Shakespearean play
of opposites, of ghosts and
beings of doubt, death and
decline trapped in the infinite
depths of self-obsession,
gazing into Narcissus’ mirror,
the focus receding to the blurred
horizon of perception,
to the inscrutable, shattered
realm of Imago Dei.

John invokes the power for
his soul to rise above every
mountain, to mount every
cairn that points forward
toward divinity, eternity,
ecstasy, authenticity
of the self made todo out of nada,
made to rest in the green
pools of destiny, droplets
splashing his face, falls
slaking his thirst, as he no longer
swims against the tides
that roil in his spirit like
pieces of a poem engulfed
in The Living Flame of Love,
scorched clean of error,
turned toward the wind
that scatters ashes abroad,
that blows where it will,
toward the telos that never
disappoints, that never dies:
Where every metaphor turns into
an axiom of beauty: the endless
struggle of like becomes like.

-- For the Rev. Tom Schaefer
Oct 2020 · 39
Giants
Giant cottonwoods rake
the sky, slake their thirst
below dried-out creek beds.
The sunbaked soil fractures
into pieces of a shattered ***.

Octopus roots root out secret
channels underground, unclogged
by fish, debris or mythological
creatures rising from the rocks.
Trunks molt flattened flagstones

of bark, ragged chunks more gray
than brown, more a coat of armor
for battered torsos, more a pillar of steel
for massive, chipped legs. O Time! Age too
long, and bushy tops topple into the creek.

Leaves rustle like muted cymbals.
Still, there is much to celebrate in such
fearless longevity: Do not Heracles-sized
branches veer off in heroic Y’s that
claw their way higher and higher until

they burst through the clouds, free from
the world, frowning down upon it in
verdant condescension? I cannot answer.
Trees soar in silence. I scoot along the creek
bed, scrambling for arrowheads, for some sign

of human presence that shows I, too, belong among
the giants, shooting my roots underground,
rising up as an arbor above the dried-out
shadows, grasping for the sweet sap of longevity.
I shall bite off a bit of bark and bid the world adieu.
Oct 2020 · 30
Exodus
Apples fall from the tree
behind the Swiss chalet.
They fall through me as
shadows climb and crest
Wetterhorn Mountain,
crowned by rocky horns
borne from Michelangelo's
"Moses." Horns of brilliance
and power, horns of shining
light that passes through me
into the shadows of the sun-stained
mountain, whose horns turn,
twist and fall through me
into the scattered piles
of apples plopping
onto the neon green grass.
Apples tumble through me
as I pass into the silence
within the silence that beckons
from the mountaintops. I am
the fruit of darkness and light,
fruit of the horn of the divine,
a son of Moses seeking exodus
beneath this rocky band of ragged peaks.
Oct 2020 · 29
The Killers

He came dancing across the waters
with his galleons and guns
.
Cortez, Cortez. What a killer....

Neil Young's high-register symphony
of electric guitars carries
over the sound waves, the lonely,
mournful, ever-mutating melodic
line a message of death and waste
and loss. In it I hear an elegiac call
to the coyotes in the fields,
howling for companionship
and comfort from their
missing, flea-bitten pack.

A shaky, high-pitched, grief-laden
voice tells of Montezuma and his
Aztec nation, alive in an idyll of many
colors and nature's pristine harmony --
a utopia only the modern, romantic
mind could conjure out of the ruins
of its own civilization.

Rubble rots, strewn through
the ages. The Aztecs die,
victims of viruses and steel,
while we, too, gasp for air
on makeshift ventilators,
going under the charged,
electric waves of consciousness,
dancing breathlessly to
the beepless grave. What a killer....

History breeds only conquest,
only the tragic conflict of cultures,
equally innocent of the unknown,
equally guilty of lusting for the blood
of the Other -- whether gold-drunken
Spain or a mutant cell slipped
beyond the bounds of some
fly-infested Chinese wet market.
Progress ends only in destruction,
while we dream of utopia and idylls
and call it good. Cortez, Cortez....

The coyotes howl for comfort
and the lasting scent of prey.
In the morning, they will hunt,
rustling through high grasses,
while we will rise to Neil Young's
symphonic, electric refrain:
What a killer....
Oct 2020 · 34
Stallions
Twin stallions gallop beside the sea,
their flanks sweating, curved backs
foaming, long, dark manes flying
through the brine, braided into whips.

Riderless, they splay the sand beneath
the tide, charge ahead as if in battle, flash
large white eyes of fiery purpose. Or is it
merely pleasure in taking stock of the sea?

I could sing of Pegasus, the perfect portrait
of their power, perfect myth of their reality,
perfect essence of their being, perfect eternal
Idea, as the hallowed Plato would have put it.

But I know only the Pegasus of my childhood
imagination, channeled through the huge, spotted
horses on my grandfather's ranch, larger than my
little life, all muscle and nerves and jittery to bolt.

I know only the lush leather saddles, hand-tooled,
badged with Baroque designs, smooth to the touch,
gear of Olympians, smelling of alfalfa, the hay stacked
high in barns for the uncertain days of winter.

I have sung the secrets of the sea, like Homer,
with his wine-dark waters that carried the long,
black Greek ships toward Troy. My twin stallions
surge to trample the ancient city's ruins. Ilium no more.

How I yearn to run with them, to speed over
the sands as if they were nothing but solid air,
as if they raised no resistance to racing, as if my
hooves could heave into them like a golden paddock.

O the line between dreaming and waking
is so fluid and frail. I breathe deeply and feel
the stallions fly over the ranch, up the canyon,
climbing, ever climbing into the atmosphere,

which constrains no thought, no memory,
no deep feeling for flight itself, for rising
over the ocean and its endless tracts of water,
its boundless kingdom of life and death.

How do I go on, here in my loneliness, ornate
saddle at my side, a shoot of hay between
my teeth, champing at the bit to tie myself
to the stallions' tails, to quiver my way

into the shadowed arroyos of dreams, where I
could walk without limping, where I could fly
without falling, where I could shake the brine
from my hair and laugh in the face of Zeus?

The stallions perform pristine pirations,
stealing time from the future, soaring past
days of ice and shivering woes, hay carrying
the bitter taste of sand and seaweed and brine.

I place my saddle on the ground, sit beside it,
and trace the swirls of its swift designs, spinning
me into dreams, into the weak waves that creep
upon the beach, that breach the line of death, only

to return again. Is time a straight arrow fast in flight
or an ever-spiraling circle like the Earth? How can we run
so far only to reach nowhere, only to teach ourselves
to heartlessly crack the whip, as cold as winter’s grip?
Sep 2020 · 18
The Radiance of Love
Diffused rays of lengthening light
scoot across the hardwood floor
and pool on the space where we last lay together.

A long yellow-pine slat of wood
gleams in the afternoon sun.
A bump of lacquer breaks the surface.

For eons, we have coaxed each other
into the light, bearing down upon us
in ever-whitening stripes of purification.

Our love is the light, seeping through
the dark crevices of our hearts,
scouring the deep recesses of shadow and doubt.

The floor creaks as we glide across it,
hardy survivor of this hundred-year-old house.
Our love creaks as the past thrusts itself into the present.

We cannot grasp it, but we feel its warmth
wash over us again and again. We know
the radiance of love overcomes all oblivion.
Sep 2020 · 36
Energy
1.
We all die daily,
our breath shuddering
from the body,
the body shriveling
into matter, which
languishes, empty
and inert,
envying the
labyrinth of the soul.

What bright spirit
lures us back
into the light, stirs
us to awaken out
of our dark night?
What burden can
we still bear as
ghosts of ourselves,
erstwhile egos
chanting nada,
nada, nada
as we
furtively avoid
the mirror of
Narcissus?

2.
We all die open-
eyed, gaping
at the void,
or a vast
field of stars
swirling and
sparkling above
the blackened
upper
atmosphere,
illuminating
the full breadth
of Being:
The Great
I Am of
everything that is.

Beside us, the cosmic
jester and curator
of the world
adds another
plastic frame to
a crudely rendered
self-portrait. Which
self paints the self?
Which self becomes
object and subject
simultaneously,
having its cake
and eating it, too,
but failing to notice
the crumbs
on the floor
and the icing
on its lips?

3.
So many questions
that challenge
the mastery of our
language, that
stretch the boundaries
of our mind like
an inky rubber band
dangerously
near to breaking
from overuse.
No answers
can verify
themselves
to us.
They demand
judgment, an
accounting that
only the dead
can deliver from
the far side of
the grave, beyond
the end of history,
beyond the erasure
of time.

4.
Daily we all die
only to rise again,
our lumpish
flesh electroshocked
into animation,
our soul newly
dependent on poetry
to dial in its
upper frequencies
before they
fade away
into static.
The tuner picks up
an AM station
out of Juarez.
The Mariachi
music reminds
us that this
energy may sputter
and flag like
a somnambulist,
but it never dies.
Sep 2020 · 68
Heracles
1.
I cling to the rigging
of the sleek, black ship
as it speeds toward
Crete, seeding the waves
of the wine-dark sea
with my hopes of heroism,
with my desire to refine
my strength in battle,
my cunning in pursuit
of prey, my courage
in the face of inexorable death.

Immortality awaits
the victor, or so
I profess. It is my Greek
code of honor to turn
glory into deathlessness,
to sow the whirlwind
and reap calm breezes
of brotherhood with
the gods, to revel
in repose at their table,
to feed on the sweet
satisfaction of becoming
who I am.

I am favored
in this relentless
struggle to prove
my prowess and
resolve, my power
to subdue my foes,
to dominate --
in this, my seventh
labor -- the sire
of the Minotaur.
I arrived on Crete
because King Eurystheus
of Tiryns has imposed
this labor to try to
assuage Olympus’
Queen Hera's
irrational hatred of me.
I must continue to atone
for the sins she caused me
to commit. With my entire
family slain, she owes
me everything.

2.
As the muscular
offspring of Zeus --
Hera's wily, randy
husband -- and an
ordinary mortal, I stride
through the world
half-man and half-god,
a living mockery of
the Olympian purity
that Hera so hysterically
cherishes: a mirror
that reflects nothing but
delusion, nothing but
a buzzing hive of grandiose,
self-comforting lies.

The gods don their
pearl-white tunics
to convince themselves
they are made
of nothing short
of pure glory, pure
eminence, despite their
blatant self-indulgence
and moral laxness,
despite their privileged
violation of cosmic laws,
despite persisting
in their perverse ploys
without the slightest
twinge of conscience --  
drunk on the ambrosia
of boundless power,
the ironic gift of my
unheralded birth.

3.
I know I possess
the cunning to have
prevented
the Minotaur
from ever pawing
the plowed-over earth,
from ever charging
some unwitting
victim frozen in fear.

I could have
kept this monster
from being born,
from embracing  
the rosy-fingered
dawn of existence.
I could have
saved Theseus, my
fellow Greek hero,
from his backbreaking
battle with the bull-
headed mutant.

Indeed, I could have
stopped altogether
his labyrinthine
struggle to **** the mighty
Minotaur, to curb its
cannibalistic tastes
for maidens and
young boys, to undo
its enormous
lusts and tame them
into docility,
dissonance and death.

If only I had arrived
in Crete sooner,
before this, my latest
labor, stuck in the stream
of imperious judgments
against my fatal fit of madness
that ended my innocent
family’s all too precious lives.

4.
I proudly claim my
birthright as a son
of Zeus and a worldly
woman. Call it the outcome
of Olympian adultery,
an act that ignited
Hera's intractable
jealousy and rage
until she inflicted
insanity on me
and perverted my
innate powers
and strength,
turning them  
against my wife
and daughters,
as I attacked them
as if they were
the Nemian lion.

Torn by grief,
I quietly returned
to my right mind,
mourning my foul
deeds and crying
out against the divine
injustice of Hera’s petty
interference. And all this
because of Zeus’ calculating
dalliance. All this to satisfy
a moment’s passion
that swiftly spawned
eternal consequences.

5.
Now I am bound
to capture the
Cretan Bull, sire
of the Minotaur
and source of
endless chaos
on the fertile
island of Crete.
In its own species
of madness, the bull
has uprooted crops,
and torn down
walls. All semblance
of order has
vanished in its  
destructive wake.
King Minos of Crete
demands that it
be immediately
removed and
banished
from his sight.

So my strategy
is simple: use
my secret stealth
to wrangle the bull
from behind
and strangle it
to the brink of
death. Unconscious,
it proves such an easy
package to dislodge
and ship back
to Tiryns, where
King Euryhtheus
plans to sacrifice
it to Hera. But she
refuses such piety.
She seems sworn
to deny any
trace of my glory,
to devour any shred
of my pride.

If only I could cut
her out of my name.
I would wander
the world incognito.
I would gladly deny my
identity, happily
forsake my fate,
and in the depths
of dark anonymity
unbecome who I am.
Sep 2020 · 29
Museum
Abandoned, she waits
for her lover's return
across the empty room.
Banks of fear bunch up
behind her furrowed brow.

Loneliness does not dole out such
punishments. Solitude re-creates
reparations for the self, fashions
an unyielding glue that will fuse
together all her shattered pieces.

Inwardly she knows he is not
coming back. The static portrait
a mournful reminder that love
is as fleeting as the wind; it
blows where it will; it razes

what stands in its way. Her heart
is not ready for such defeat. So she
grabs hold of a hope rising behind the
painted walls. He will not return, no.
Still she stares through space, alone
Sep 2020 · 19
Glory
Here, atop a rocky crag,
walking stick in hand,
I survey the swirling
mountains of fog,
a vast gray-white panoply
of vanishing peaks,
blanketed in clouds
doomed to dissipate
in the returning sun.

But no heat ever comes,
leaving me wrapped
in my moody solitude,
eyeing the outcroppings
of ragged stone, reveling
at summiting the top of Europe,
scaling the sluggish
slopes of transcendence.

This is what Nietzsche
hailed as self-overcoming,
rising to the grand height
of perfect power and control:
my will alone uber alles.
Aswirl, I order the horizon
to fulfill my desire, to shift
into view all that is missing
from my finite vista -- the glory
of nature -- only to have it
swallowed up instantly
in the menacing shadows
and mists of immovable stone.
Sep 2020 · 27
Canopy
In the dark womb
of the forest, sun-
light filters through
the canopy like
a mountain
shower. Its progress
is microscopic. A
photon bounces
from branch to
branch. A wave
wraps itself
around an
unsuspecting
leaf.

On the forest
floor, shadows
rule the kingdom,
painting over
the middle distance,
pointing to organic
geometries of color,
where long trunks
of timber lie shorn,
where streams
shimmer past
boulders stained
with orange lichen,
where tawny deer
flinch at the first flick
of danger and
flee on their delicate,
toothpick legs.

This is not Eden.
Decay creeps
across the leafy
floor. No living
creature can escape
its grasp.
Decrepit trees
fall without
aim, buried above-
ground, their
roots like gray,
broken
skeletons,
their bark like
naturalistic
wafers. This
is my body.

We wander
through
the forest
amid pungent smells
of water, earth
and wood. Decid-
uous limbs convert
the moss into soft,
buoyant beds that
nurture us, shelter
us, inspire us as
we arise into
shards of light
and fight our way
along the path
of survival.

The struggle won,
we follow myriad
paths, packed with
a labyrinth of
choices, and so
we mark the paths,
make them
temporarily
our own, only
to discover that
they have
already
permanently
marked us,
imprinting through
our coarse skin
the primeval
genome of the
soul.

We stride
toward the misshapen
mountain that
halts all progress
of the paths.
A glacial lake
reflects the crest.
Forest birds perform
Beethoven's third
symphony, Eroica,
to hail our epic
journey homeward.

Soon we will be
cast out
of the inner
darkness
of the forest
and into the
teeming world
of pollution,
viruses and
the machinery
of hate.

Wounded,
we will keep
our focus
forward,
having gambled
on the path
not taken.
With a sweet,
green shoot
between our
teeth, we shadow
the light, bouncing
from branch
to branch. Abstract
patterns in the sky
write our way
into intricate
vistas of color
and delight.

As sap
seeps from
the wounded oak
we left behind,
our progress
is microscopic,
our canopy
dense.
Sep 2020 · 29
The Wounds of Time
1.
Shivering, I stand alone
inside a sleepy railway station,
looking for a train that never comes,
watching as my spirit comes undone

from the ceaseless clicking of the clock,
the senseless ticking of the watch
that weighs my body down.

Behold how the human earns his fate.
There is always time to wait.

2.
No sooner does time expire,
than it rises up to sire
another progeny.

Shamelessly self-seeking,
it wrecks our days reeking of mortality.

Gaze into its plate of polished glass
and watch your phantoms pass.

They punched their tickets late.
There is always time to wait.
3.
The Flame of Life arrives on a second-class coach.
He eyes me, careful not to reproach my sensibilities.

He comes to cauterize my wounds of time,
but worries I might swoon or mind
the excessive heat.

Perhaps he’s right; I’ll change the date.
There is always time to wait.
Sep 2020 · 176
Overflowing
We came to the valley to absorb the glory
of the Alps. Wordsworth succumbed
to the sublime here. Now we all romanticize
nature. But the sublime overwhelms;
it is too grand, too large, too dark, too menacing.
The mountains soar,
overflowing the bounds of what
the scrawny human spirit
can take in.
Sep 2020 · 20
Blue Guitar
The blue man with the blue guitar
no longer plays things as they are.

Things as they are are not so quick.
Blue men of substance aim, then kick

against the ****** of six-beat bars.
The bass line rumbles near and far.

Half-notes turn whole. Another hue
spews discord, then chords of blue

sprint beyond us as we are. And we
ourselves compose the tune in three-

quarter time. Harmony orbits a billion stars,
slingshots through our world of blue guitars.
Sep 2020 · 34
Eclogue V
We crawl on
our bellies
under the squat
sandstone bridge
to emerge into
the mouth of
the canyon that
boxes in
the light. Walls
slick with
darkened
rock plunge
to the sand-
soaked floor.
Iron-stained
boulders line
our way. Only
silence speaks.

Ahead, we climb
a makeshift ladder
of timber tied
with fraying rope.
Up, then down again,
crawling farther
atop the sand,
captive to
the dark until
we emerge again
into the day's
last light.

Behind us,
giant eyes
peer out
of gray-white
plumage. On
the rock shelf,
two infant
Great-Horned
Owls spy on
us with
curiosity,
wonder
and fear.
No adult
in sight,
trustingly
airborne at
twilight
to swoop
down on the
day's prey,
plenty
for all.

Uncanny,
the infants’ eyes
never blink,
absorbing
us in their
piercing
depth
of field:
strange
mammals,
too large
to slash
and carry.

In the distance,
heavy wings
cleave the
darkened air.
150 words
An eclogue is a traditional short poem on a pastoral subject. I have been writing a series of modern eclogues that are longer poems. I began with the pasture, then the Highlands of Scotland, on to the forest and nature itself, and now to the desert canyon.
Sep 2020 · 33
The Getting of Wisdom
Poetry hunkers down behind
the freshly finished facade
of language; each link to the lexicon
lovingly chiseled into the smooth,
grey stone. Here, precision reigns over all.

Vainly held in place for the length
of a reading, the facade glides
toward a shimmering white dot
on the horizon. The perfect poem, perhaps?
Here, perspective precipitates all.

Like quicksand, a marshy morass
of words ***** at the poet's feet
as he strains to match
the facade's pace, stride for muddy stride.
If he succeeds, pride will power all.

Poetry is breath, inadequately lodged
in the poet's ever-shrinking body.
Reading wrests the silent syntax,
inhales form through its viscera, exhales
metaphor and rhyme. Like becomes like, becomes all.

Scientists aside, the poem thrives as a living organism;
it breathes itself far beyond the face of the facade;
it swirls into the stratosphere, flying
straight toward the cosmos' breathless edge.
Here, the getting of wisdom is all.
Sep 2020 · 32
Mists Before Dawn
Dull orange bracken clings to the peat-like soil that seeps
into muddy moors past Devon. A shadowy fog makes
a royal landing on the low-slung ridge, spewing
fists of mist fit for scalers of Lakeland mountains,
balancing on the knife edge of Helvellyn before dawn.

I follow the droppings-dappled sheep trails, veering away
from the road. A ***** white flock nuzzles the close-cropped
scrubland for shoots of greenery, but masticates only humid air.
In the dim light of evening, a dark presence looms on the uneven
horizon: a distinct world fitfully revealed and obscured, liberated from,
then confined to the clinging veil of illusion that clutches the Earth.

This is no pilgrimage into the noirish heart of nature, yet
I detect through the flattened corona of the monarch moon
outlines of a troupe of Shakespearean ghosts tottering my way.
Revealed and obscured, like questions in Hamlet's tragedy,
they would gladly chant as a Greek chorus, if only they had
material voices to be heard. Together, they mime the news

of Elizabethan England: betrayal and intrigue, executions
and ***. The lust for power pours the foundation of the
City of Man -- sin and ambition, deception and pride. I hear
nothing but the constant scuff of my boots against wet stone.
Silence wraps round me like a cloak of quicksand. I must try
to scrape it clean. But with each new blade stroke, no novel
message emerges, no sign points homeward. Emptiness reigns
like a ruthless queen, ****** and shorn, an otherworldly white.

Looking back, I search for Coleridge strolling atop the Quantock Hills.
He has coaxed the Wordsworths there, convincing them to barter
isolation for inspiration. Poetry speaks to William, demanding
a new voice, a new style that joins the bright heart of nature to the brooding spirit of man, that lifts the lowly moments of the mundane
into the celestial heights of the Poet's magisterial meditations on Being.

All this once would have sufficed for me, but the stale, soaked smell
of sheep reminds me that I remain alone. Night falls and the moors
glisten from the constant damp. No one comes to England for its weather or cuisine. No one comes for solace or comfort or love. History,
      literature,
haute couture, base passions: Such is the recipe for a signal
      significance,
for a British extravagance of soul. It abides in the blackened bowels of Exmoor, launched from fallow footpaths and sodden goat trails,
skillfully trammeled by ghosts who juggle in silence the lavish jewels
of Elizabeth's crown, sparkling in the saturating mists before dawn.
Sep 2020 · 33
chanson
Come hither
O Thou,is life not a song?
-- E. E. Cummings, "Orientale I," Tulips & Chimneys

1.
i lay the book down
bookmark in place
still shivering with
possibilities still
vibrant in the after-
glow of literature's
vitality words bloom
like daffodils the
white space around
them the clay to
reshape a living
persona of the dead
poet he populates
the page like rain
on fertile soil like
pennies on the
dollar hear him
holler i am here
his heart broad-
casts his feelings
his feelings broad-
cast his voice

2.
i sense e. e. cummings
singing each
chanson innocente
each birth of spring
each burden
of love
joyfully borne
he is there in
the sounds
that echo
in my skull
that slither
down my
spine an
anatomy of
meaning
that even the
harshest critic
cannot dissect
muscle and
bone united
to lift the weight
of puddles
meant for jump-
ing stretching
to tie jump ropes
into knots of
playfulness
still taut
today

3.
it is always
spring in the
dewy meadow
it is always
meadows that
cushion the
poet's fall
o father how
i've failed
you
how i set
free the
body that
hypnotized
the greeks
that still
shifts its
weight
in marble
of oh so
innocent
white

4.
the poem
passes
judgment
on the
pompous
on
repression's
hosts not guilty
are the children
laughing
and skipping
past the
latex
meadows of
the goat-footed
balloonman
who paws
the mud
like well a
tied-up
goat
e. e. whistles
a chanson
from far
and wee
i lay the
book down
and whistle
back
the reader’s
chanson
de merci
Sep 2020 · 42
Stone: a History
Osip Mandelstam writes his final poem
on stone. Other prisoners in the Soviet
gulag swing leaden sledgehammers
to crush rock. Every hundred pieces
equals one crust of bread. Pulverize
till you drop earns a damp pinch of salt
thrown over your shoulder.

Mandelstam's stomach rumbles. His empty
crime: mocking the great Stalin in verse,
manufacturing metaphors of cockroaches
lengthening the tyrant's mustache:
now a thick, furry barrier to free speech,
now a bristly edge of the black hole that
devours all hope, that ruins all rules of art.

Osip entertains Pasternak with his militant work.
Boris cries, "What you read... is not poetry,
it is suicide." Freezing in thin clothes in a
Siberian camp, Osip vows he will never bow
to the soulless rule of the Bolsheviks. His pen
will penetrate stone, he proclaims, sculpting
anti-symbolist verses as a monument to freedom.

On the icy steppes of Siberia, a political prisoner
named Dostoevsky begins The House of the Dead.
In it we can read the tea leaves of Osip’s destiny.
Shivering, emaciated, he volunteers to carry stones
to a construction site. His thin muscles aching, he
says, “My first book was called The Stone, and the stone will
be my last.” He pitches a pinch of salt over his shoulder.

Others laugh as he gathers his poems in a rock pile
of remembrance. He succumbs to heart failure,
exhaustion. History faintly records that Stalin *****
stones as he lies in state. The dust on his mustache
spells, “Find, praise Osip.” But as soon as he swallows,
the letters vanish into the void, and the endless
parade of lock-step pomp and circumstance begins.
Sep 2020 · 23
Rimbaud's Muse
pin oaks tower
above the sunbaked
sky    clouds snag on
branches tear apart
into shadow-streaked
clumps of white    they
split into patterns
of significance
like newly bought
sheets
of satin

on an L-shaped limb
i see the face of my
muse shredded into
strips of suffering
her eyes are gone
her mouth firmly shut
as always      the font
of inspiration dappled
with dry green moss
plugged as long as
the shreds survive
on the sahara-searing
wind      elongated
tattered rising with
the currents bounding
straight toward
poetry's embrace
straight toward
the infinite
void

rimbaud sits
at the base
of his oak      the giant
gnarled roots shape
an uneasy divot
a place
to rest
he has gagged
his muse
so no sounds escape
her lips
silent
comme habitude  
    to prompt
true poetry first derange
the senses    poetry
sets its own
standards raw elegant
faithful demonic
buried at the base
of the titanic oaks

just as for wittgenstein
words are not enough  
for rimbaud
they scale the moat
of meaning    at the top
only emptiness a missing
moon      whereof
we cannot speak thereof
we must remain silent

rimbaud enfant terrible
of paris'
literary
scene
takes aim at his muse
fires      she falls
to the ground
permanently mute
and he is finished
writing forever    
he abandons
her like a faithless
lover      words taste like
sand      they are symbols
of nothing      difficult
to chew      inadvisable
to swallow
no nutrition
    so the poet
jilts his vocation
traipses
off to ethiopia
to sell guns to any
lowlife buyer
who carries cash      with
poetry exhausted
guns make a life
of danger adventure
worth later losing
a leg to bone
cancer worth later
dying penniless
in marseille
eager to return
to africa to reclaim
his primal homeland

at the base
of the oaks swaying
in the sub-saharan breeze
we dig for the muse's
buried speech
to rimbaud her
reprimand and
prophesy that
words are only
symbols of breath
no one can define
them      they stand
for everything else
they inhale experience
exhale the semblance
of art      senses
do not remain deranged
but come to them-
selves with
desire      what is a leg
a life a legacy of
modernism      what a gun
holstered in the
french-african sun
shining
into the open
wound of the
future which no
poet can wrestle
to the ground
shaded by titanic
oaks towering
above the sky
powerful
yet quiet
as a muse
Sep 2020 · 29
Orestes
But now I am weary and my mind is dark; I can no longer distinguish right from wrong. I need a guide to point my way.... And yet -- and yet you have forbidden the shedding of blood.... What have I said? Who spoke of bloodshed?
-- Orestes, "The Flies" by Jean-Paul Sartre


1.
Ever the wisecracking bully,
Zeus trips atop Mt. Olympus
and tumbles into the Greek
borough of Argos -- a bumbling
deus ex machina sans any
working machina.

At last upright, he shouts,
"Look, Hera, no hands!"
then turns to mock Orestes
for his lifelong exile from
this, the city of his birth. Orestes
picks his teeth with his broadsword

and yawns. He has returned to Argos
to avenge the killing of his father,
Agamemnon, mighty general
and king, who led the long, dark
charge in the endless war against Troy.
Vengeance for Helen was his alone.

Now humiliation mounts on the back of ******.
Queen Clytemnestra gleefully joins in
the fatal mischief of her lover, Aegistheus.
His ambition: to be king. What else?
Hers: to replace the man she once loved, but who
left her bed empty for more than a decade.

War does that, you know. It requires sacrifice,
commands it, calls it duty. Nobody wants
to play that game, nobody wants to pay
the price for raging injustice, for the dangerous
rescue of the divinely beautiful Helen,
snatched away from Menelaus, brother

to Agamemnon, now Mycenae's scapegoat
of shame. Shame, guilt, rage, cunning, lust
for power, lust for queens and kingdoms,
hubris, maniacal ambition, evil run rampant
like an unwatched child, wooden sword
in hand, babbling for glory -- such

are the spoils of war on the domestic
front. Such the sorry state of kingdoms
whose king fights from afar in absentia.
Argos suffers. Each year, the ritual of bringing the
dead up from hell conjures a plague of over-sized
flies, befouling the people, who wallow in repentance,

perhaps even for their silent collusion in glorifying the king's
killing. And so Orestes returns for yet another reason: to liberate
the carrion city from the sickly, yearly confessions of wrongdoing
that attract the flies; a sickly, yearly punishment for those
long past sickness, long past even the remotest possibility of
condoning Aegistheus' dispatch of Orestes' noble, unarmed father.

2.
Orestes vows to avenge that death, only to be harried
by the flies. He will save Argos from its plague of
Clytemnestra's crime, collaboration with evil, all for
the sake of pleasure, not only in her royal bed, but
in seeing her subjects futilely try to atone for sins
she and Aegistheus have imputed to them. Such is
the queenly power that only an equally royal son

can shatter with his shining broadsword,
destined for use in eviscerating the farcical
couple defiling Agamemnon's crown, defrauding
Argos of its rightful rule of power, majesty,
and dignity. So long in the dark, the people
recite their own defilement, covered in flies
and false feelings of failure. No one dares

speak against it, for that, too, is sin. Zeus
presses his stammering stamp upon the ritual.
Electra, Orestes' wavering sister, willing to sacrifice
her own sanctity to the swarming flies, does not trust
her brother’s might or plan until he swings the sword
at Aegistheus' blackened brain, plunges it
into his mother's blackened heart, which pours

anemic blue blood onto the palace floor,
bubbling with sapphires of retribution,
with the beauty of righteous indignation,
now claimed by Orestes in his father's name.
The son shall inherit the throne, yet he chooses –
relying on nothing but his own free will -- to adorn
himself with the flies, liberating the people of Argos

from their misery, and pursuing a path of
infinite freedom away from the city. Little
does he know that les mouches will buzz
their way behind him in the form of Furies, Greece's
classic haranguers of the guilty, of the criminal
on the run from justice, on the road to ruin.
The Furies: favorite trope of Greek choruses,

singing the doom of the unjust, the impure,
the sullied hero, no longer powerful but pathetic.
Rotten to the core. Yet Orestes again freely accepts this
burden and its stain of rightful revenge. He admits
he is no Oedipus. Yes, he has slain his mother
and slept with the lionhearted darkness
of his iron will, steadied with purified

resolution, the signature of freedom,
the sign of heroism that violates all
laws but redeems the reputation of
those who stormed the invincible walls
of Troy, site of Greece's grandest victory,
driven by a giant horse and Odysseus'
wily wit and wisdom. To take part

is an honor, leading the fight an apotheosis
that a sword-swinging son can inherit,
carrying it on his shoulders as protection
from the Furies’ terrifying talons, their blood lust
for human courage -- not to possess its fearlessness,
but to **** it dry like the receding sea on the shores
of Ilium (ancient Troy), like the fading memory

of Clytemnestra's crime, now shrouded in gowns
of legend, of myth, of Aeschylus' Oresteia, of Sartre's
"The Flies", ancient and modern renditions of tales
that shower the human race with virtues even poor Zeus
cannot fathom, with his tired, lightning-addled brain, hounded
forever by Hera's imperious, Olympian disdain, free of every
working machina save the immortal pulleys of pride.
Sep 2020 · 25
Holy Blood
1.
Pink carnations bloom
in stenciled flower boxes,
looking down on Bruges'
grand canal. Locals say they
live in the Venice of the north.

Tourists speed by on guided
boat trips, rigid, peering straight
ahead. The carnations sigh:
They could die from such
indifference. The boat leaves

a white, frothy wake, which
whisks away all the passengers'
woes until the next hour of
ennui sets in, restless for
distraction. I see no need

for speed as I wander the cobbled
lanes laid from the 13th century
to the present age, signs of Bruges'
vast prosperity and pride as the
exquisite lace capital of the world.

Luxurious wares for a luxurious price,
more valuable than the goods
the city once traded as the bustling,
commercial hub of northwestern Europe.
Sundries bought and sold at bargain rates.

I have not come here for
commerce, but for Bruges' late
medieval beauty, for its religious
miracles, for the marvelous making
magic of Belgian lace. All legendary,

all fine, all the subject of tall
tales, of tattling to history about
what can be found and what
can be lost. All draped in gold leaf,
expertly pressed into regal crowns.

2.
After a hurried and forced
lunch break, I scamper to the
Basilica of the Holy Blood
in search of a glimpse of the vial
of, well, said blood with its cloth

that Joseph of Arimathea used to wipe the
blood from the body of Christ. Preserved
for centuries, the vial and cloth made their way
to Bruges from the Holy Land during one
of the unholy wars of the cruel Crusaders.

I have to push my way through throngs
of the faithful to reach the room with the
relic that has mesmerized travelers for
centuries after centuries since the Crucifixion.
Like so many vessels of the supernatural,

the vial disappoints. How can one verify
the holy, the sacred, the miraculous?
The divine element eludes us, remains
hidden, designed to try our faith, to test it,
to measure it against the rule of genuine

devotion. Satisfied that my presuppositions
have proven sound, I squeeze back onto
the streets of the main square and head past
the edge of town toward the windmills and ****,
holding back the sea and its myriad mysteries.

3.
The windmills whisper, "Holland," while the
****, stoic and stolid, remains mute. Sails
whoosh above me, ready to fly from the
Earth, ready to slice the wind into pieces
before it swoops past the city tower and onto

the square. The breeze bears a message that
I can barely decipher. Written in code, it declares
something about the efficacy of the Holy
Blood as a salvific force to bring peace
to the true believer, as open as the windmills

to the wooing of the Spirit. My antennae rise up,
although nothing more seems said. That is
not possible. So I hike the **** of the ****
toward the gray, billowing clouds that herald
their own message of rain, of storm, of baptism.

Such struggles sting more severely than
ennui: Conflicts lack resolution. Resolve leans
on the arms of faith. Arms carry the weight
of the world. The world whimpers in a
whirlwind stirred up by muscular clouds

of doom. These dark thoughts hound me
as I make my way back to the cobbled
streets and the security of the familiar city.
Soon I stumble onto a paint-peeling
open door boldly illuminated by a long

rectangle of light that washes over a group
of older women, their bobbins and
thread and rapid-fire fingers flashing
in a blur across their velvet pillows,
creating magic with skill and aplomb:

the confidence of hard-earned experience.
There are no presuppositions against such art.
Lace making resounds with the spirit of
blessed endurance, with a sanctity of
purpose, a sanity of mind that only

the vial of Holy Blood provides for those
who believe, who see the divine in the failures
of the mundane, who worship a vulnerable deity.
"Only a suffering God can help," Bonhoeffer proclaimed.
The carnations grimly nod, hang their heads and sigh.
Sep 2020 · 40
Eclogue II
1.
Stags crest the hill
splotched with heather
and cairns. Their body-
builder-thick necks
carry a massive
headdress of outsize
antlers. Heavy is
the head that wears
the crown.

They snort with
disdain at dangers
from humans. The hunt
means nothing to
them but the thrill
of the chase. The
nearness of death
simply one of nature’s
teasing tricks.

A misty sun punches
through the yellow-
gray fog, a blurry
corona emerging as
a chick from its shell, no
match for the Red Deer's
majestic rack. Royalty
spawns violence to
protect the crown. No
challenger approaches.

Nobility, integrity, power.
Scotland finds these
virtues hidden in the
regal heart of the Red Hart.
And so killing turns
to regicide. The
bullet melts in its
casing from shame.
We yearn, yearn,
yearn for the
beauty of the stag,
only to "possess"
it by destroying it.

2.
To leave the hills
and dales, the
mist of the stag's
fierce breathing,
and to warily enter
the shadowed lair
of some hunting lodge --
all this vanquishes
our claim to
nature's bounty.

On every white wall, the
stag's crown hangs,
a dark skeleton
of taxidermy,
unsightly, lifeless,
mute witness to
our failed attempt
at unity, our empty
chase after beauty,
the lust to own it,
become it, caress
it, love it and so
woo immortality --
all this vanishes
like the moon on
a winter’s night,
as elusive
as the Red
Deer's ghost.

On the hill, cairns
point the way to
the grandest vistas
of the Highlands,
rolling in patchwork
colors toward the horizon
and sea. Our place
is left looking
and longing, the stags
prancing behind us,
elders chanting their
glory. The sun
glints off the waves,
lighting up a vast
kingdom of brilliance.
It swells and recedes,
forever lost to the
petty reach of our
lonely grasp.
Sep 2020 · 30
beyond the heat of grains
1.
emerging from
shadowed kiva
ladder rises
piercing light

sandstone heat
heat of ruins
old world heat
heat of grains

elevation
height of heights

embers
glow to
blackened
charcoal

silent scrawl
waxing
warmth

dust
clouds
swirl

boot soles
skate
along
pink
floor

smooth
as gems
secret rites

2.
spirit dwells
above
commotion
shelling beans
water's weight

unhunted trail
path untrodden

scrubland
tangled
bush
of thorns

white cloud
sky
of blue
blue sky

noonday
heat
aching light

thirst
for meaning
hand-tied
rung

steps
toward
heaven
rocky
roof

of rock
and stars

level
wall
knife-edge
corner

reaching
high
to touch
cool
stone

overhead
ghostly
hand print

time's
embrace

beyond
all time
Aug 2020 · 25
Rising Hope
Abandoned, she waits
for her lover's return
across the empty field.
Banks of clouds bunch up
behind the rising forest.

Loneliness does not dole out harsh
punishment. Solitude re-creates
reparations for the self, fashions
an unyielding glue that will fuse
together all her shattered pieces.

Inwardly she knows he is not
coming back. Her packed bag
a scornful reminder that love
is as fleeting as the wind; it
blows where it will; it razes

whatever stands in its way. Her heart
is not ready for such defeat. Her will
grabs hold of a hope rising behind the
charcoal clouds. He will not return, no.
Still she stares through the trees, alone.
Aug 2020 · 69
The Dark House of Death
Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
— Federico Garcia Lorca, “City That Does Not Sleep”


Sporting white top hats, the Sierra Nevada mountains
**** up against the new dawn's Andalusian sky, casting
craggy shadows across the quiet calles of Grenada.
Restlessly, the darkened city churns in its sleep.

Federico Garcia Lorca strums his yellow guitar,
tuning it to a cante jondos, a deep song of duende,
dark heart of flamenco and the bullfight and his own
fatalistic poems: moans of his inexorable execution

at Franco's hellish hands. Fascism fears the poet,
the ferocious oracle of duende, who rips out the
roots of authority, the dark clods of captivity, who
vows to dive underground, digesting bitter earth

like bullets from the firing squad. They shout, Victoria!
as Garcia Lorca's listless body slides along the bloodied wall.
Duende, he once told a lecture hall, haunts death's house.
It will not appear until it spies that fiercely angled roof.

                                        * * *

In the branches of the laurel tree
I saw two dark doves
— Federico Garcia Lorca, “Of the Dark Doves”


His mother bellows on the spirit's wind, over the hobbled
heads of the dead, in search of an inexpressible "new,"
the endless baptism of freshly created things, as Garcia Lorca
loved to lecture. Ending and refrain burn blood like glass.

Few mourners cast a spell over the public patrons gnawing
on his books, seeking some taste of destiny, identity, some
word of the eternal voice of Spain. I am no Spaniard, yet
I claim to be a poet. Garcia Lorca gifts me with his song.

Its maudlin melody marches up my spine, scorches
my eyes, which smolder under the noonday sun, spewing
ashes to ashes, igniting dust to dust. The dark memory
of the buried ruins of saddened Spain steadily seeps

through wilted wreaths tossed at Franco's feet. No
offering for the conqueror, they exude a sickly odor
of offal, of ordinary flesh rotting on shattered ribs.
Gunshot mixes with marrow, smoke fumigates the poem.

                                        * * *

No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.
— Federico Garcia Lorca, “City That Does Not Sleep”


No one is sleeping, yet the world will not awaken.
The slain poet merits no notice. We bow our
heads in humiliation at the philistine ways
of savage, civilized societies. All cultural wealth

but poetry suffocates in its bed. Duende sends Garcia
Lorca’s poems soaring above feeling and desire,
above the consecration of form. How many enjambments
mire in dark waters? How many stanzas lay bricks

of marble and salt? Garcia Lorca sings of hemlock and
demons, of Socrates and Descartes. But the profane
choruses of drunken sailors shatter any hope for his
new poetic style. They reject all the sweet geometry

that maps the darkened heart of southern Spain, where
Moors and Gypsies set up camp, pulling sleights of hand
on gullible gamblers, assured that Andalusia knows no
other artifice than the machine-gun-fire flights of flamenco.

                                        * * *

In the branches of the laurel tree
I saw two naked doves
One was the other
and both were none
— Federico Garcia Lorca, “Of the Dark Doves”


Garcia Lorca lies on the floor to fence with the phantoms
of his future. His black boots shine in the saddened sun.
The fattened face of Franco appears: an anxious cry for
more water, for dousing naked doves in duende’s black pool.

Writers live and die like newly created roses. Aromas
rise from vast yearnings, inured to the penance of suffering.
Above duende's golden serpent, a crooked soldier salutes
the fruit of Fascism. Dawn's lemons dangle at the edge of time.

Only 19 years embody Garcia Lorca's high-strung calling.
An awkward teen at his writing desk, he scribbles notes
about his mellifluous malaise. Modernismo flourishes in the
shadow songs of caves. Dark doves coo. Duende never lies.

His mother wails, wrapped in her mantilla of Spanish black. Head
thrown back, heels clicking hard, she swirls against the fiery flanks
of flamenco. Prancing like an epic stallion, she nudges her anguished
son: asleep, asleep. Today, duende has entered the dark house of death.
Aug 2020 · 31
so high above the earth
i have climbed the mountains of the west
massive, endless, and blue
forsaking the common trail so well-known and so well-defined by
cairns painted orange  green  like shrines
rising high and far apart:  forever forward

and i have dug my hands deep into rocky hillsides
to stay upright and have fallen
i have trekked cautiously through smoky forests and snow
always higher, gaining so much ground    steep and sloping
until both air and trees spread thin

and i would stop
to listen to the wind blowing hard through the pines below
clouds would cover me:  they could go no higher
and i would breathe, with my whole body,
the silent serenity of solitude and half-frozen lakes

time had no meaning here; there was but one day always
and in the afternoon it began to rain
silver beads of water, like tiny clouds
froze upon my beard and glasses:
i could not see nor speak

the darkness would grow cold and numb and cover me
a blanket without warmth

the night afforded no apology
i could not be distinguished from it
i do not remember becoming part of it

part of it shivering beneath the stars
shivering into dawn
alone

i could find nothing there but strength    pure and flowing
from within
it was here i built my dream in homage and wilderness
so high above the earth
Aug 2020 · 31
Nature's Art
Earth and heaven yield to each other.
Points of light reflect ancient eons.
Stars recede billions of miles beyond.

Koi pond turns to canvas sprinkled
with specks of white. Celestial
expressionism. Mind measures Art.

Infinity reigns throughout the universe.
Eternal patterns swirl in water and sky.
Clusters of starry lights create a canopy.

We live between here and above.
One star shines down mercifully upon us.
The pond pours back its dazzling glory.
Aug 2020 · 30
Hunt for the Greek
Liquid diamonds adorn the sea,
silver sunbursts of brilliance shine
through the waves, living, heaving,
violent jewels of seaweed and paste.

The sky bares its midriff of pale blue
skin, unmarred like a newborn, a marble
dome of sweetness and smoothness,
restless to immerse the nascent dawn in light.

Under the fierce Aegean sun, we saunter
toward Pireas' port, bags packed, supplies
secure, farewells sobbed, to set sail for Spain,
like Odysseus on his makeshift barque.

The journey demands a lifetime of searching
signs, of casting far and wide to escape
the Sirens' enervating songs, anchoring
the helm in darkened caves the size of yurts.

On the hunt for El Greco, the Greek painter
holed up in Toledo, his home away from home,
his haven of elongated, diaphanous figures,
who rise to the clouds, linking heaven and earth.

We owe the Greeks the fat seeds of culture:
philosophy, theater, sculpture for all, democracy
for the fortunate few, women and slaves stuck
in the kitchen pouring libations for ancient sins.

Shades haunt the past, mounting arsenals of guilt
and accusation. The Greek splashes linseed oil on
canvas, erases his debt, dabs an eerie white in the eyes
of threadbare saints, who elevate to everlasting heights.
Aug 2020 · 39
music
our shadows rise
on the winds
floating like flat
darkened clouds
ready to spill rain
ready to spew specks
of identity
dense as bone

all is hidden
on the pavement
unsteady outline
of a stretched-out
body minus feet
weightless as sight
wobbly as breath
penniless as touch

our shoes demand
new strings
a place
in the picture
wavering lumbering
like behemoth
branches rocked
by the winds

sprinkling
flecks of substance
shooing
voices to silence
sensing
the pluck of music
waiting
in the wings
Aug 2020 · 30
o n l y b l u e
1.
sunlight prisms through beveled glass
aging oak door squeaks      open      shut

only blue emerges      verging on violet
mixing three-alarm-fire red in buckets

spattered with streams of coagulated paint
safely      the room turns        sea      sky

the color of my faulty iris      too much
light pours through its torn surface

2.
reality wears no aura or crown      only
glare and double imagery      to see things

twice is to reap the whirlwind      from
my doppelganger to twin oak branches

high above my fertile lawn      two is a blue
number      prime and insinuating      duplicating

the snake in Eden      pairs of vipers slither
at my feet      vision is performative      it acts

out      toward what it beholds      a shivering
subject defenseless against the label

object        hopeless to transform
itself in front of the spying Other

3.
light refracts      refracts      spreading thin
to bathe the authentic self      the true

self      the self who will not squint away from
blue      who will not pour red into

prisms to alchemize        purple      most royal
of colors      oligarch of hybrid hues

by divine design        purple rules      the field of vision
before it        all things shiver as one

in dual dimensions      they recite their
names      twice      the authentic serf      the true serf

4.
backs break under burdens of vision      serfs
march double-file        into exile      their way

draped in regal tunics of purple      their way raked clear
of signs      of double vision      twice color blind

my eyes turn inward      away from purple
seeped forever in      shades of  b    l    u    e
Aug 2020 · 43
Decline of the Gods
Charcoal, silver, sea-blue clouds muscle up
in clumps of dark impasto, caking the arch
of the spherical nave of the northwestern sky.
Cloaked in clusters of paler blue, the gods

of Olympia push eastward. They buckle under
the weight of this mortal firmament that hems
them in with the force of towering thunderheads.
Perhaps only Titanic heroes can survive the

titillating sizzle of lightning strikes. Naked
filaments of electricity hurl holograms of color:
a tangle of negative ions, radical brush strokes,
and Nietzsche's will-to power. Eradicate and destroy.

Golden-green fields of ripened wheat ripple
in the dying sunset, the final line that fierce
Titanic warriors dare not cross. They no
longer belong to the Earth: The mortal-divine

divide that once made them flourish now opens
into an absurdly widening chasm. No landing
place, no welcome space. Redundancy redounds.
So they don their ancient armor and pointed helmets

again, swinging butcher-sharp broadswords
in the sky. Achilles drags his blood-smeared blade
through the clouds around and around Priam’s
blood-rich frame, mocking the way Hector's

ravaged corpse circled mindlessly in the sands
of Troy. Today, such hate-hewed heroics are but
buried shards, fragments battered with blatant
disregard. Now, these violent vistas lie visible

only to the Tiresiases of millennia past. Savagery
has sown the wind, reaped the whirlwind: cyclones
of blind, wild urges cutting up moral character
into bite-sized portions. Rank desolation flees,

sublimated, subjugated to the mind's many-
splendored mansions of poetry. Homer chants
hymns to Troy, to the Hades-bound heroes, experts
in evisceration, in swift evasion, in black-blood death.

The glory of war today rots into nothingness,
sputtering under charcoal clouds pouring rain.
Once Leda waddled behind Zeus like an imprinted
cygnet. No longer. Below the sunset, humans hover

free above their handiwork, suffering from the humid
heat, striving to attain a semblance of household pride.
Their gods-slain ghosts adorn the family crest, as they enlarge
the world's unbelieving chasm with each new shock of wheat.
Aug 2020 · 44
dawn
the seventh angel
carries the book
of days even-
numbered and blue

feral cats lead
donkeys to the
crow's-nest crest of
window-box bougainvillea

an angry priest swings
a golden censer
at pagan worshipers
up early he tends a tiny

garden in the sacristy
stained-glass laurel
trees spring up
over bejeweled pews

i count the orange
fishing nets caked
in cork larger pieces
breathe like fish

gills in neon purples
and greens piscine
hearts anchor
the poet's heart

possessions prove
useless on nudist beaches
flesh presses sand
presses flesh

i chant the cloning
of yellow dawns
the bearded archangel
guards the beads of dna

harbor-front havens
open wide their gates
tourists rush in
laptops aglow

all is even-numbered
and blue on this
endless dawn of angels
and ouzo and open hearts
Aug 2020 · 51
Splendor
1.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge digests his grayish-green anodyne
and dreams of the kaleidoscopic exotica of Kublai Khan.

Orson Welles puffs his cigar between takes, edits and directs
the poet's smoke-thin visions into everlasting, silver celluloid.

Xanadu, palatial complex of Khan's magnificent Mongolian empire,
metamorphoses into the fantasy kingdom of Charles Foster Kane

and his flame-filled childhood. Fumes of sizzling rosebuds streak
traces of gray across his bejeweled grasping after operatic grandeur.

2.
Coleridge pens imagery of high-minded passion, tragic loss,
despair at sea -- an epic Delacroix -- while William Wordsworth

lets loose a clear-eyed revolution in the high flowery stanzas
of England's prettified poetry. Plain diction and the depths

of the self, suckled by the mystic wonders of Lakeland's fells, attune
to the melody of the poet's maturation, nature's marvel of The Prelude.

Chubby, cherubic Coleridge chases after the lean, elegant Wordsworth
to connive an unpatched rupture in poetry's flow: birth of Romanticism.

3.
Kublai Khan's courtly poets conjure impossible imperial feats
to further the wise warrior mystique of China's first conqueror.

Grandson of Genghis Khan, he weaves the calligraphy of his
bravery into the broad shield he uses to rebuff temptation

of all but the serpentine lure of luxury and opulence, his rightful
reward, his cherished spoils, interest compounded daily at Xanadu.

A knock at the door, and Coleridge's dream tears asunder on film,
dissipating with the vapors rising up from Welles’ golden cigar.

4.
Wordsworth wanders lonely as a cloud, watchful of nature's glory
expressed in woodlands, mountains, and the steady wash of the sea.

This all can be praised without ornament, witnessed without
embellishment, an earthy channel for the radiance of the world

to bless us, even though the world is too much with us. How much
splendor can one soul gather into the barns of abundance? Coleridge,

dejected among his odes, seeks ever more film time. Khan, free of worldly weariness, tallies his treasures. Wordsworth waves a daffodil and weeps.
Aug 2020 · 32
difficulty
"ad astra per aspera"
how many times
have we heard it
repeated ad nauseam
how many times
has it been floated
like a balloon
above our leaden dreams

"to the stars through
difficulty" yes and so
why the stars
we aspire to them because
      they are there
maybe if mallory
had been an astronomer
maybe if he had been
a star climber

at least everest
welcomes
you to the top
of the world
at least mountains
may try to **** you
with great height
at least elevation
mimics transcendence
and who doesn't like
a good mime now and then

stars offer nothing
but distance
their light has long
gone out by the time
we reach them
and for good measure
if their light were still on
we would be toast
burnt not buttered
not jammed not jellied
crisp cinders of toast

stars are so many suns
they burn like black
furnaces they scorch
the synapses
of the soul
a consuming
inferno wild
and explosive
and dead
to us

we grasp for them why
they are not planets free
from ourselves
and all our space
detritus they are not
life not light
that illumines
more than more
stars then goes out
for good
and all this
after difficulty

never has inspiration
smelled so sweet
like smoke from
a raging wildfire
leaping over
mountains
to try to **** us
under the
canopy of
dying stars


(that's not writing, son,
that's typing!)
Aug 2020 · 34
The Getting of Wisdom
Poetry hunkers down behind
the freshly finished facade
of language; each link to the lexicon
lovingly chiseled into the smooth,
grey stone. Here, precision reigns over all.

Vainly held in place for the length
of a reading, the facade glides
toward a shimmering white dot
on the horizon. The perfect poem, perhaps?
Here, perspective precipitates all.

Like quicksand, a marshy morass
of words ***** at the poet's feet
as he strains to match
the facade's pace, stride for muddy stride.
If he succeeds, pride will power all.

Poetry is breath, inadequately lodged
in the poet's ever-shrinking body.
Reading wrests the silent syntax,
inhales form through its viscera, exhales
metaphor and rhyme. Like becomes like, becomes all.
Aug 2020 · 38
Beauty's Light
My Beloved glides through the room in light.
A flick of her hand, shadows dispense.
Her form beams shapely, vibrant and bright.
One sharp look wilts my world, weak and dense.

She is as fragrant as hyacinth at night.
She turns 'round; my willpower’s spent.
I reach for her arm; she’s fast in flight.
No coquettish flirting to make me wince.

Her inward freedom exposes my plight.
I am lovelorn, hard stricken. No defense.
Rising skyward, she claims heaven, her right.
Living earthbound, I maintain my poor sense.

Still, I yearn for her beauty: heart's light.
My pursuit is authentic. No pretense.

-- For Laura
Aug 2020 · 29
chanson
Come hither
O Thou,is life not a song?
-- E. E. Cummings, "Orientale I," Tulips & Chimneys

1.
i lay the book down
bookmark in place
still shivering with
possibilities still
vibrant in the after-
glow of literature's
vitality words bloom
like daffodils the
white space around
them the clay to
reshape a living
persona of the dead
poet he populates
the page like rain
on fertile soil like
pennies on the
dollar hear him
holler i am here
his heart broad-
casts his feelings
his feelings broad-
cast his voice

2.
i sense e. e. ***-
mings
singing each
chanson innocente
each birth of spring
each burden
of love
joyfully borne
he is there in
the sounds
that echo
in my skull
that slither
down my
spine an
anatomy of
meaning
that even the
harshest critic
cannot dissect
muscle and
bone united
to lift the weight
of puddles
meant for jump-
ing stretching
to tie jump ropes
into knots of
playfulness
still taut
today

3.
it is always
spring in the
dewy meadow
it is always
meadows that
cushion the
poet's fall
o father how
i've failed
you
how i set
free the
body that
hypnotized
the greeks
that still
shifts its
weight
in marble
of oh so
innocent
white

4.
the poem
passes
judgment
on the
pompous
on
repression's
hosts not guilty
are the children
laughing
and skipping
past the
latex
meadows of
the goat-footed
balloonman
who paws
the mud
like well a
tied-up
goat
e. e. whistles
a chanson
from far
and wee
i lay the
book down
and whistle
back
the reader’s
*chanson
de merci
FYI: "Chanson" is the French word for "song."
Aug 2020 · 29
Las Meninas
I hurriedly push past myself,
watching my body from above,
feinting with consciousness,
fainting into the Spanish black.

Velazquez's Las Meninas
jack-hammers a tunnel
of ek-stasis, pulling me into
the painter's dark studio,

weighed down by overwhelming
curtains, curtailing the senses'
sense of majesty and control.
This is not trompe l'oeil. This is

tricking the soul into the artifice
of the palette, of paint on board,
of black that illumines perfect
placement: the spectator on the floor.

Stendhal's sensitivity is no virtue
or vice. It suckles the sublime,
sated on illusion, art for art's sake,
delivering a blow to the solar plexus.

I gasp as my body trembles at tremors
of terror, annunciations of angels
bearing paintbrushes as paltry wings.
Their back feathers stained a Spanish black.

Painting owns no one, owes no one
comfort or joy or pedantic instruction.
The cherubs in the foreground radiate
innocence, wonder, humanity's blank heart.

At my feet, my body wriggles skyward,
wrenches for a transplant. Paint on it
Velazquez's black moustache, then part
the velvet curtains. I will rise to new life.
About Stendhal Syndrome

Imagine that you’re in Florence, looking at awe-inspiring, breathtaking works of art. If you suddenly start to feel that you literally cannot breathe, you may be experiencing Stendhal Syndrome.

A psychosomatic disorder, Stendhal Syndrome causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, fainting, and confusion when someone is looking at artwork with which he or she deeply emotionally connects.

Source:]www.mentalfloss.com
Aug 2020 · 32
The Face of the Moon
Darkness devours the gibbous moon.
Its final sliver shivers in the freezing void.
Pockets of pock-marked light spill out of dusty craters.
Prints from space-age boots deface iconic astronaut signatures.

Colonies of phantoms have settled on the surface.
They sacrifice stars in elaborate rituals of absolution,
then aimlessly amble in circles around the circumference.
They squeeze water from recalcitrant rocks.

In darkness they decline to speak to one another.
Mutely, they await the daily rebirth of solar flares.
The moon generates nothing on its own. Cosmic
passivity mimics social order. A fiery Logos descends.
Aug 2020 · 37
Ghosts
I follow the droppings-dappled sheep trails of Exmoor, veering right
toward the hills. A ***** white flock nuzzles the close-cropped
ground, but gnaws only humid air. In the dim light of evening,
a presence looms on the uneven horizon: the world of my
future and former selves, fitfully revealed and obscured,
first liberated from, then confined to the clinging veil of illusion
that clutches the dark English countryside, legacy of my birth.

I detect through the flattened corona of the monarch moon
outlines of a troupe of Shakespearean ghosts tottering my way.
Revealed and obscured, like questions in Hamlet's tragedy, they
mime the news of my heritage and inheritance: sin and ambition,
deception and pride. Emptiness reigns within me like a ruthless
queen, ****** and shorn, painted an otherworldly white: Elizabeth.

All this once would have been enough, but the soaked smell
of sheep reminds me I am still alone. No one comes to England
for solace or comfort. Yet the recipe for lasting identity, for a
significance of self, abides in the dark hills of Exmoor, launched
from sodden sheep trails, trammeled by a gaggle of ghosts who
juggle the jewels of Elizabeth's crown, sparkling in fog before me.
Jul 2020 · 40
The Fiefdom of Minor Gods
he died. Though hard I strove, but strove in vain,
To rend and gnash my bonds in twain.
Even from the cold earth of our cave
.
  — Lord Byron, “The Prisoner of Chillon”

1.
Like an invisible maelstrom, toying
with its own survival, preying on
the Good, pure nothingness in itself,
pain plunges into the recesses
of my ragged hip, races down my thigh,
scorching one side, numbing the other.
Flesh becomes kindling, becomes petrified
wood, all excess bark singed into flaking embers
that flit through my dull, dank cellar, alone.

I push up from my intricate Victorian armchair,
vowing to escape this onslaught, this lightning
torment -- my leg pummeled by staccato left jabs
from tiny gods, which sting like hailstones in
a summer storm, clinging to the battered lawn:
piles of white rocks, of snow and ice, emblems
of the surety that lasting damage has been done.

2.
We all walk into the world with a faltering gait, unsure
of the rhythms of our wandering ways, or the wisest
guidebook to carry for gaining ground. A crooked
back wrenches my flimsy progress, flings my steps
into a crooked dance, off-balance, rude with vertigo,
flailing to regain my footing, fighting to find my
footprint cast in papier-mâché, tissue of the Earth’s
tenderness toward this wayward, mutant child.

Lord Byron carved his name into the limestone
of Chateau de Chillon as his pledge, wielding poetry,
to liberate the 16th-century Swiss prisoner who
lingered there, lost amid his habitually gnawed chains.
The metallic taste never left his mouth, bitter as bile.
Lac Leman surges beneath the isolated dungeon
window, shuttered by three iron bars, defenseless
against the winnowing light that sweeps across
the manacles hammered into a post, now void
of any aching limbs, of any useless fists, the hollow
trophy of the tiny gods’ ****** foxhunt of justice.

3.
Justice has no name but mercy now, the grace
of pardon and rest for the crooked soul. My spine,
twisted into stenosis, choked by constricting bone, pushing
ever closer to itself until it fuses into a gargoyle’s face,
spewing rainwater on the madding crowds below,
striking matches on my sense-less skin, imprinting
rough, blackened stripes with each flash of flame.

I would steal this fire like Prometheus. I would eat it
like a big-top performer with an asbestos throat. I would
digest this fire, then excrete it on the hailstones. I would
burn within like a primal fire, and let the gods burn with me.
Only then would I reclaim my rightful balance. Only then
would I rebuke the grotesque justice that rules this
fire-filled, shadowy fiefdom of my body’s minor gods.
Sunlight ricochets off the blanco bell tower
of Iglesia de la Asunción, landing as a spectral
ball lodged in the iron-barred windows across
the narrow lane. Light splays its rays onto
an outdoor café, which bustles with excitement
at the arrival of perfect weather for the perfect
pueblo blanco of Spain, a grand fiesta of white.

Priego de Cordoba revels in its inheritance
of white, the picture-perfect, pristine village
elevated above abundant olive groves and
the crackling, undulating earth. Here, you
gaze upon the arid land with the all-seeing eye
of God, never bloodshot, never blurred,
crisp as a hawk's flight to prune its prey.

Approaching the village, giant, arthritic roots
of ancient trees sprawl atop the shallow
soil like crooked claws. Farther ahead,
a 19th-century goatherd leans on his long,
weathered stick, whistling beneath his
beret, as his garrison of goats clatters
down the massive, twisting row of rocks.

Serenity seeps into your bones as you stroll
among the potted flowers, bursting with red
and white into the Barrio de la Villa. My
wanderings reach from door to tiny door,
touching nothing but the spotless white paint
that bathes the tall, stucco walls. I fly above
the strictured street, wide enough for a donkey's

passage, laden with burdens of the quiet life.
Like a condor, my broad wingspan brushes
the facades of these run-on homes, whose close
proximity propels the principle of shared
existence. Now we must live face-to-face,
mano a mano, shadow-boxing the hanging pots
as they lovingly labor to sprout laurels of victory.

I narrow to the lane's end, where lies buried the
barrio's secret map to the alleyways of Paradise.
I spy an aged senora sweeping with a stumpy
straw broom to gather up the beaming bits
of white and sprinkle them into the faded folds
of her patterned apron. She stares at me, just
another incorrigible source of refuse, bearing

the crudely unwrapped gift of a devotee of beauty,
breathing in the barrio's florid scent of security,
blanco a blanco, endless white on white. I turn,
incapable of tracing my steps, of tripping right
or left, traipsing to the fringe of the barrio,
where streaming waters wash away all colors
save the nakedness of white. Neptune towers

over the concrete pools of Fuente del Rey,
a king's ransom of swirling waves that imprint
the reflecting cradles of sky, wrapped in cotton-
thin clouds shredding the afternoon into white,
rose-tinted white. An unfinished canvas of
monochromatic color fields blends into
the blinding white. I cool my feet in bubbling

ponds, peering out at the outlying jungle of
bushes, dwarf trees and twisted vines. I need
rest, the rejuvenating powers of Neptune's trident
hanging above my head, ready to knight me as
the Quixote of Cordoba's rippling region. He
splashes me into intimidating fountains of
life, of light streaming its tranquil rays into

basins of sheer delight. Here, I lay my burden
down, dip my feet into the cool, white flow of
Epsom baths sans the salt. Renewed, I use
my flatfoot tools of travel to trigger my trek,
my pilgrimage into the white belly of Spain.
Still in the barrio, I ogle the outdoor café, then
take the first step to tread all sin underground.
May 2020 · 48
Ode to Paris, 1986
Before the Euro, you were -- swirling light, sitting pretty.
We kicked it at night along the grungy lanes of Ile de la Cité.
Notre Dame loomed large and long, a battleship on the Seine.
An exoskeleton of Gothic bones, what could it ever do but win?

Hunger hung out among us, an unwanted dog on a wayward walk.
Frenchmen directed us au centre. In those days, I could talk the talk.
Still can, still do, but who needs "J'adore vos diamants de luxe,
calme et beauté
" when you must bow down in a row sans your ducks?

Serendipity, man, that's what la Cité seeped. Evening an ermine
blanket tossed effortlessly over the spires of the medieval vermin
that Haussmann hacked into Euclidean lines of parallel charms:
more ordre, beauté et calme. Organic geometry. What's the harm?

Dusk draped us in l'amour du mystère. Cafe awnings as exotic
as Flaubert's Egyptian tours, plump with mistresses for the neurotic
novelist who poisoned Normandy with naturalistic despair. He's
no Parisian, no architect, no monk. We absorb le mot juste; a star flees.

On the sidewalk, a 50-franc note calls out beneath the weeds.
We look for an owner, see nothing, feel nothing but the need to feed
on crepes, chocolat et confiture de fraise. I imagine Camus and Sartre
at Les Deux Magots, nursing black café, pouring noir into your heart.
May 2020 · 49
How the World Ends
(After Anne Sexton's "The Starry Night")

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"
illumines a damaged heart.
Poetry remains therapy
until the patient is cured.

Pulitzer Prize, parties, men
and accolades galore.
Anne Sexton, the poets' darling,
dances to the darkening sky.
This is how you want to die.

This is how the world ends:
without swirling stars,
without a crescent moon,
stuck alone inside your garage,
door closed, car running.
Inhale the aroma of the blackened night.
Anne Sexton, 1928-1974, was among the highly personal confessional poets of the 1950s and '60s, along with Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and others. She started writing poetry at her psychotherapist's behest. But she was deeply troubled, and, like Plath, could not fight her way out of her despair. She committed suicide by asphyxiation.in her garage at her Weston, Mass. home.
May 2020 · 48
Plague Year
The genome tilts on its axis, spilling memes of shame,
mutation and death, tattooed on plasma walls.

Coronavirus latches onto a lowly cell, clamps down,
spews pellets of bubonic plague as fleas flee disaster.

1666. Eyam Village barricades its boundaries: No going in.
No going out.
The population dies like convulsing rats,

bodies stacked high in the street: cords of firewood. No one dares
light the flame. Pestilence obeys the border's blockade, contained

behind thick, golden stones. Tiny cottages mutate to infirmaries.
Judgment seeps through window panes. Mercy aligns with death.

We build no blockades, boundaries shift in the wind. Virus obeys
no one's laws, vandalizes the body, sets fire to the human touch.

Eyam beams prettiness now. Neat, manicured lawns, well-swept streets,
no trace of plague save on the village entry sign. Tourists flock like fleas,

soaking up history's survival, sobering on its showcase of blight.
Who deserves to die from nature's aberrations? *Who goes in, who out?
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