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4d · 38
Infinity
The lighthouse looms
far off-shore,
its blinding Cyclops eye
circling like a hawk
closing in on weary prey.

The beam blips to
infinity, signaling
wayward ships to slow
their progress through
the choppy sea.

From here, on land,
the house rears up like
a medieval tower, a defense
against dragons menacing
murky depths unknown.

I blink back, trying my best
to reach infinity on my own.
The sea is no substitute. Its
vastness sweeps to a pinnacled
caesura on the Western islands.

Ask Melville whether the spiny
reefs held infinity at bay.
Only for a fleeting moment.
Only until a colossal crash on
the firmament sounded. Paradise lost.

We have no paradise here, save
the spectacular Oregon coast
after sunset, when flat sand lights
up like a neon walkway and
purple streaks paint the sky.

Star fish, in puerile pink, cling
to black boulders. Waves
dive deep. The lighthouse
keeps signaling to no one.
No shred of infinity to be found.
Two Tennessee yahoos
trekked the train tracks
outside of town. They
were always at it --
half habit, half quest
for something new.
Anything.

The older man -- perhaps
the father or brother
of the younger -- had
hit on a plan of his own:
Today he would make
something new happen.

It was an act straight out
of a John Berryman
"Dream Song," even though
he had never heard
of the poet or his
magnum opus.
Little did it matter.

Down the tracks, you
could pick up the shrill horn
of a locomotive, barreling
blindly toward its stop
in town -- a Siren solo
that nobody paid
attention to anymore.

But the old man heard.
He stepped more evenly between
the rails, tightly shut his eyes,
and lifted his arms wide,
as if meeting an old friend,
The train sped on, clacking
clinically over the creosote ties.

The Cyclops eye on the face
of the locomotive shone
like a laser into the autumn twilight.
The older man braced himself,
deafened by the lonesome horn.
Like that, the train whooshed past
on the second rail.

He had picked the wrong track
to die on. He fell to his knees,
the horn of the train still rattling
his brain. Years later, he would
tell this tale -- half habit, half quest.
And we could still smell the scent
of something real coming close.
Jul 23 · 32
Palms
As I lay dying, I will write poems
on my palm, using a calligrapher's brush.
The ink will dry overnight.
In the morning I shall start again.

Li Po sits beside me, reciting
haiku and clasping his palms.
When I am gone, he will burn the ink and brush
and streak his palms in rich charcoal.

Diaphanous dragons disgorge a deluge of diamonds
into the shadowed crevices of cumulus clouds.

Ruby-red sapphires overpopulate the glistening sky
like carbon-hardened locust: gorgeous messengers of the gods.

The Earth wears a crimson helmet, shielded from
the odious absence of ozone above the North and South poles.

Near Minneapolis, John Berryman's wizened body shatters
on the frozen riverbed below the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Angels weep to see him jump, as he waves a vaudevillian goodbye.
The sapphires blanch, then turn an angry, violent violet. Black holes ahead.

2.
Shakespeare and Mr. Bones **** on mortality's skimpy
skeleton of life. Will this broken body be resurrected?

Does it deserve such distinction? Better yet, does its daring,
drunken destroyer? Four hundred Dream Songs nod yes.

Berryman toddled ticklishly toward the last traces of transcendence.
Love & Fame broadcast how terribly his faith failed to trade

daily delirium tremens for the mysterium tremendum.
The God he prayed to demanded a syntax pure, plain.and perfect.

With jolts of jest, He jimmied paradoxes into koans. Berryman
howls for the sound of one diamond scratching the outline of his body on ice.

3.
He left a legacy broader than liquor, lechery and the love-struck ladies.
Lust seeded his fallow lacunae and lazily broke his wife's heart.

Scholarship scooted him to the squeamish, secluded top
of his Shakespearean class: Signal student turns trusted teacher.

Poetry cloned the Oklahoma clown in him. No successors,
no schools, no savvy peers, save Lowell. his fellow manic-depressive.

He dreamed songs of hilarity, humility, history, dehumanization.
Poetry proved serious business until it learned to laugh at itself.

Sapphires crackle under the weight of the creaking sun. They spin a kaleidoscopic rainbow of colors onto Berryman's obituary. Somehow, he has won:

An irreplaceable jewel of the sky.
Jul 12 · 35
A Stranger Still
I sit weary is the grey, shadowed corner of a monk's cell.
My ragamuffin clothes fit me well.
When I read, the neurons in my brain fire out of control.
They erupt through my conical hair: helmet for space patrol.

My body language belies my intellectual yearnings.
Literature invigorates me: I blast off without earnings.
Ideas, images prove their own reward;
rockets, like Quixote's windmills, form a vast horde

Of cosmic challengers, who meet me face to face.
There is no lonelier place to land than outer space.
All this, of course, comes from a tattered book.
Stop reading, and I can take a long look

At my isolated setting, scattered but safe.
I feel the innocence of Earth's first waif,
who leads me on through page after page.
I am a stranger still to the atomic age.
Jul 12 · 86
Blessing
Poetry wrestles with pain,
holds on tight for art's blessing.
Jul 12 · 31
No Money
He slumps against the charity's steps.
Torn, oversized Army jacket, a ragged
stocking cap, unwashed face and hands.

His arm extended, he asks for a few dollars.
I resist his obsequiousness and answer
that I carry no cash, which is a lie.

I ponder why I am so afraid to associate
with him; his presence a finger of shame
pointing directly at my recalcitrance.

I drive home in my air-conditioned car,
thinking that I had helped him stay off
the *****. No money was for his own good.

Then my conscience strikes me hard: I am a liar,
a coward. That could have been my brother,
living alone on the cheap streets of Costa Rica.

I quickly turn the car around, race back
to the charity, whose doors remain closed.
I search among the grimy faces. He is gone.
Jun 19 · 43
Mind
Like becomes like.
Mind fashions experience into spirit.
Experience absorbs mind, shapes its ethereal body.
We know more than we see, taste or feel.
The invisible encircles the straining atoms
of thought, expands until there is space
to fill with my mind as your mind.
Jun 17 · 37
American Beauty
O America!
I wander through your golden-red fields.
Vines with still-green grapes snake toward the sun.
Just how fecund you are!

Kick-started beauty lays me low.
Prairies burn with the fire of desire.
Judge me fickle in my allegiance to you.
How little I sense of your natural glory.

Great basalt stones border the ocean.
Vapors of cirrus clouds streak the sky.
Down the beach-packed path I stroll.
Every starfish clings to life at low tide.

Untold riches remain stubbornly unseen.
Great waves of brine bathe the shore.
Xanadu basks underwater.
Atlantis skims the floor of the sea.

Beyond every seagull, a screeching cry fades.
Mountains suddenly beckon inland: a sea of stone.
Setting my sights eastward, I take the plunge.
The slopes and peaks call to me; meadows blossom.

Here, on my way, I exult in your massive splendor.
Who can ever be sated by your majesty?
Nature mesmerizes. I renew my pledge to you.
Alphabet poem, 23 discrete lines.
Jun 17 · 42
Nightingale
A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

The nightingale sings to itself.
But its melodious message flies
far from the bird's tiny tongue.
The song soars beyond her beak;
catches fire in another's nest.
Like listens to like; that is the mystic
chord of the forest, in which singer
and listener unite, trading nuance
and beauty for nuance and beauty.

The nightingale sings to itself.
But only one self grasps her poetry:
the Oversoul of nature; the universal
spirit of art. There is no bird
ululating in isolation; its voice
penetrates the darkness, the thickness
of the forest; it echoes in the twigs
of empty nests. Music always flees to
another's ears, forever reverberating within.
Jun 5 · 30
Ember
A burning candle could light our way,
as we make a foray between a stream
to our left and black woods to our right.
The night is starless, nameless, harmless
to the nocturnal creatures who guard the way.

Our path lies indistinct, boulders rising up
like barriers: no room ahead, no place to bed.
We peer at the murmuring stream, searching
for a stripe of reflected light. None can be found.
In our pockets, we carry two candles, but we have

no matches, no way to ignite the light that we seek.
Only the Source will provide, not these flickering,
flimsy facsimiles. We seek the light everlasting,
overcoming the night, overcoming our fright.
We will find it only in our Buddha nature, which

radiates like a burning ember through our monkey minds,
which illumines without burning, which needs no fuel
or breath. We will sacrifice our candles to the eternal light.
It crawls out of the woods onto the back of the stream.
Water will carry it; we will follow and never look back.
Jun 5 · 30
Love's Assassin
Love dies like an assassin's victim: caught
completely unaware, the thud of a bullet to the head,
mouth gaping to pronounce its own name. The heart
pumps its leaking reservoir of warm blue blood; the final
breath gurgles in the chest like a baby nursing.

Love dies because we create it in our own image:
two become one become two again. We see ourselves
darkly in its bright, believing face. We wrap our bodies
around it, lusting for ecstasy, with no room left for
the self, for the other. Like St. George and the dragon, we

unsheath a righteous broadsword to make a surgical
separation of locked *****. We dread what we wish for.
We lose our world in passion, empty-handed when
the end inevitably comes. We crave an eternal love,
but are fit merely for a temporal one. Time is love's assassin.
May 30 · 97
Finale
(for Jim Harrison)

poetry is no great solace
alone in my montana cabin
with my faithful hunting dogs
who still don't know me by name
a bottle of 1976 Chateau Mouton Bordeaux
at my left elbow
a meal fit for a gourmand prince set before me
my back blisters in mutant patterns
of unease
there is no sun to burn them away
outside a three-day blow rattles
the hinges
a razor sharp mountain trembles
the wind yearns for my undoing
i have unraveled my medicine bag
beads of healing scatter across the floor
one more manuscript blossoms
is the desiccated orchard
my heart gives way
slumped over my ancient typewriter
i fail to complete the final phrase
May 28 · 115
Perfume
Breathing
in her perfume
like a bee nuzzling pink roses.
    
Pure.
May 28 · 33
The Flesh

The flesh must be subdued,
for it cuckolds the mind
with its gargantuan girth.
To resist it we need
clear reason,
not dark desire; myriad ideas,
not the anarchic imagination.

The weight of finitude
bears down upon us like
a vertical vise. We spread eagle,
arms outstretched, raised in
a straining V to stop
the mechanical pressure
from crushing us.

We will not die from this ploy.
But the weightless will no longer
fight back. The struggle, eternally
repeated, exhausts both flesh
and mind. Ideas still carry
the heft of conviction; yet
they barely move the needle
on the scale.

2.
Movement springs up like
a desert miracle or mirage.
Powerful leg muscles find
nowhere to turn but endless
rock and sand. The sky
offers no help: as empty as
the listless day. Clouds
pull apart like puffs of
moistened cotton;
they cannot mend the
empty self, for they themselves
need mending.

The flesh plays a shell game
with lust and love. Divine the
winner, then slap away any
sleight of hand that might
lead you astray.

3.
I wander the arid byways
of New Mexico; one road
leads straight to the tomb of
D. H. Lawrence. He took
more than his pound
of flesh; his blood
pumps an irrigating flow
into English literature. Flesh
turned to word in his mind.
And like a phoenix, it sprouted
wings and soared breathlessly
into the stratosphere,
far above the dusty canyons
and the dry arroyo of desire.
May 24 · 37
Wings
1.
Angels with gossamer wings
flit heavenward
like bees nuzzling roses
for honeyed perfume.
I watch the angels flutter
higher and higher until
they grow smaller and smaller.
One of them looks back and says,
"You, too, will fly when the sinking
day darkens; when the moon
circles the Earth one last time."

2.
I think how I must free myself
from gravity, from finitude,
from time. The serious day
darkens. I watch it wriggle
into the sea, as infinite
as the sky, it seems, but a richer
shade of blue. The roses
eject the bees, their transparent
perfume wafts over me
like a mystical atomizer; particles
splaying my face, bathing my eyes.

3.
Beyond the sky, in ethereal Elysium,
the Immortals dwell. I gather my life
and cast it at their translucent feet.
They answer only in Greek riddles.
Oedipus wanders among them.
I am as blind as he, sinking into
a sea of shadows. Like a feathered
coral reef, wings waver over
the ocean floor. When the sated
day darkens, they will alight
on my back like petals on a rose.
May 21 · 32
Cold Water
I thirst fiercely in the desert;
I spy oases in the sky.
I've come to the edge of Mosaic Canyon.
There's nothing to drink
but the surface of stone.
I try licking the tiny pools
of rain water filling cracks
in the boulders.
But they, too, are illusions
packed tight below the sky.

If I could survive on colors, I would
be sated. Reds, browns and tans.
A subtle gray graces the front
of the stone where I sit.
I must try to **** it dry.
Foolishly, I set out hiking
without my water bottle.
Now I hallucinate streams
and gullies in the sand.
I can't go on; I must go on.

Cirrus clouds swirl around
palm trees. Camels linger
at a bubbling pool, settled
on their knees. Cold water
spills from their gnarled mouths.
They have forgotten nothing
to survive. I have forgotten
everything. Soon I hear
my name being called.
It echoes down the canyon.

I stumble backward, ankles
slanting on the stony path.
All along, I keep my eye
on the sky. The vision never
wavers, only intensifies.
The canyon walls box me in.
I cannot catch my breath.
Behind me, my wife calls
and calls me to safety.
In her hand, a cup of cold water.
May 21 · 33
Mmmmmmoon Lion Soars
Mmmmmmoon Lion roars.
The moon swerves in its orbit.
His voice reaches to the heavens,
avoiding omnivorous black holes.

He contemplates his philosophy
of life: poems written with
incorrigible vitality and verve.
He purrs the "m's" in his name.

Auden said that poetry makes
nothing happen. But Lion invokes
humor and thought, the rigor of form.
He holds deep respect for his readers.

They crave to do him justice in the
wake of an endangering diagnosis.
Poetry elevates the body, tunes in
to its hidden rhythms, sings its source.

As in Oz, the lion needs courage
to face the injustices of existence.
He silver-wraps his moments, gone
all too quickly. He instinctively roars

a new way to create poetry, one
that embraces the celestial,
disdains the body's betrayal.
He will win in the end:

His lion spirit soars.
May 21 · 213
Sated
stones rise to the sky
red canyon walls box me in
sated on colors
May 21 · 39
The Bargain
Mephistopheles moans.
His bargain won; now what
to do? What good is a human
soul as vanquished prey?

Faust exults in his superhuman
strength. He holds an unfair
advantage over all other poets.
No drug testing for magic.

He dances with the devil,
cheek to cheek. He swoons
at the crescendo, falls into
his partner's waiting arms.

There is something maniacal
in his character, like arsenic
in a tall, cold glass of water.
He gets drunk on it, gets high.

Who will judge his newest
achievement? Like for like cannot
be found. He stays isolated
in his cold grey cage. No touching.

Freedom breeds creativity,
the force of all masterworks.
Faust settles as a lap dog
for Mephistopheles.

Soulless, the poet wanders
through Dante's circles
of hell. With whom will he
find his place? No place

for his cheapened soul. No
punishment for his fiery
hubris. He forms artist and
audience as one substance,

and applauds himself.
His victory is self-serving,
but he has no human
self to serve. His triumph rings

hollow. He plays the xylophone
on his ribs. The music turns
toy-like and irritating. He has
gone too far. No way back.
May 21 · 15
Press the Hand
tell this soul your grief
succor those who mourn their deeds
press the hand that bleeds
May 21 · 26
The Death of Socrates
Socrates fought sophistry,
the pimping of rhetoric
to win every argument.

His reward: hemlock.
Now he cross-examines heaven.
May 21 · 25
Lucca
Lying down
at the day’s intermission,
I listen to Puccini arias,
and am transported to Lucca,
his walled hometown,
with its *****-white streets,
its darkened straits,
its massive cathedral under
eternal construction.

Life limps along in
effervescent flux here,
beauty kept dormant,
or sprouting like a tree
from the Torre Guinigi’s
grassy roof.

A one-time amphitheater
sports cloned tourist shops.
Only one
sells Puccini souvenirs.
La Boheme survives
on note cards and
lop-sided bookmarks.

The composer’s legacy turned
into trinkets made in China.
A vast, discounted reserve
of memory, kitsch and fame.
Still, they provide me
a precarious solace.

Music without words
charts my tourist mood
of endless angst.
Opera is the grandest art,
some critics claim.
The human condition rendered
thick in symbol and sound.

Happily, I carry
the philosopher’s stone
to decipher the soaring
scores.
They say, passion, foreboding,
no regrets. A fluttering
high C stirs the airwaves.

Ululating sopranos,
searing tenors sigh
heavenward.
The last act over,
the curtain rises on
the dull, restless, repetitive
routines of everyday life.

In the background,
echoes of Tosca, currents
of ruin and rust.
We must embrace our destiny
even on the off-notes.
Opera’s solo signal:
Amor Fati.
May 21 · 27
Amethyst
the amethyst jewel
lies coolly on her forehead
bright beauty of death
May 21 · 61
Flint Hills
The tawny ridge bulges above the tree line:
sleeping serpent too sly to strike.

The road swerves and curves and dips and rises.
I must stay off balance to survive it.

A chorus of desiccated trees prays for rain.
The earth laughs in repose. Stones of pain.

From a fence post, a falcon thrusts into the wind,
clutches my heart as prey, flings it past tall grasses.

A white-rock trail angles hard toward the clouds.
The slightest breeze will tatter them.

The serpent stirs, stretches, slumbers still,
as I lumber north to Council Grove.

The road straightens on its own.
Who dares call these hills his home?
May 21 · 26
Scribe
He spent one night in jail
for not paying his poll tax.
Good government, he wrote,
governs least. He kept his
integrity intact by composing
"Civil Disobedience." He did
what he proclaimed: Pay the price.
Suffer judgment for what is right.

At Walden Pond he embraced
simplicity and reflection; he
eschewed civilization's trappings.
He hammered out a budget
for supplies and survival.
He transformed the reeds and pond
into his temporary home. Vitality
exuded from his pen. He was alive!

Transcendentalism became his
religion of favor. Partial to "Hindoo"
philosophy, he sought the final
diminution of the unruly self.
His poems elevated the cosmos
above his puny human stature.
He situated the heart in a world
awash with questing and meaning.

Illusion obscured the way to life's
essence and virtue. Acute vision
of the natural world and shunning
all distractions proved the formula
for true fulfillment and strength.
He made the life of the mind matter;
his poetry gave voice to lasting wisdom.
He blossomed as a scribe of the soul.
May 21 · 48
Glory
Brittle branches claw
the blue-gray sky.
No figs wiggle in the tree.
Barren like Old Testament
women, clinging to their ancient
age, bereft of an heir to bless.

Jesus curses the tree's
emptiness: Bear fruit
of die! Who sinned?
the disciples ask: the tree
or its seedlings
? Neither,
Jesus, proclaims. I curse

to show the glory of God.
As always, his hearers stand
amazed, not understanding,
stomachs growling for figs.
None to be had, they march on,
hoping to evade God's glory.
May 21 · 23
Time
The future swirls steadily
ahead, rocky, uncertain and dim.
Our choices are pre-ordained
for freedom. We cannot
not choose. Creatures squirm
at the paradox. Black and white
no longer grace the color wheel.

Ragged caves beckon as shelter.
Birds take refuge in the tops
of empty trees. Exposed, they
chirp melodically at the moon.
There is no difference between
the road less traveled and its
counterpart. Mirror images,

they recede into the woods
at straitened perspectives.
I walk one alone, scanning
the sky for lasting signs
of the present. They are
blistered by sun spots.
The road veers inward.

Duration drags time out
to the breaking point.
What will be gestates
in what is. Seasons give
birth to a multicolored
brood. Paint them a
monotone grey. Walk on.
May 21 · 33
Stars
(After Emily Dickinson)

The earth has many colors
Where canvases are not
Near the unbounded horizon
Beauty is nature's faith

But dip a fresh brush for the sky
Dip a fresh brush for the sea
The stars are distant arbiters
Of painting's fate for me
May 6 · 38
Pegasus
Pegasus soars with a golden bridle:
imagination unharnessed.
He performs aerial feats
with composure and grace
high above the buckled clouds.

Pure white scion of Poseidon,
he ascends to the heavens.
Lightning and fire flash
in his wake. His flight
lights the world in silence.

Untamed by mortals,
he metamorphoses into
the constellation that bears his name.
Stars spread across the sky
as his pasture; ambrosia
overflows his jeweled feed bag.

The great winged stallion of
Greek mythology, he struck
the earth with his unshod
hooves and purified
water sprang forth.

He irrigated the cosmic mind,
soaked the bone-dry soul.
Those without wings must
continue to search for his
inspired springs of grace.

Rapture of the imagination,
disciplined by the gods,
he paces Zeus' stable,
free of the weight of
humanity; ridden only
by Olympians.

As he prances among
the coiling clouds,
a solitary feather falls
to the earth.
Look for him in the dark.
May 3 · 21
Cold Water
I thirst fiercely in the desert;
I spy oases in the sky.
I've come to the edge of Mosaic Canyon.
There's nothing to drink
but the surface of stone.
I try licking the tiny pools
of rain water filling cracks
in the boulders.
But they, too, are illusions
packed tight below the sky.

If I could survive on colors, I would
be sated. Reds, browns and tans.
A subtle gray graces the front
of the stone where I sit.
I must try to **** it dry.
Foolishly, I set out hiking
without my water bottle.
Now I hallucinate streams
and gullies in the sand.
I can't go on; I must go on.

Cirrus clouds swirl around
palm trees. Camels linger
at a bubbling pool, settled
on their knees. Cold water
spills from their gnarled mouths.
They have forgotten nothing
to survive. I have forgotten
everything. Soon I hear
my name being called.
It echoes down the canyon.

I stumble backward, ankles
slanting on the stony path.
All along, I keep my eye
on the sky. The vision never
wavers, only intensifies.
The canyon walls box me in.
I cannot catch my breath.
Behind me, my wife calls
and calls me to safety.
In her hand, a cup of cold water.
May 3 · 18
The Bargain
Mephistopheles moans.
His bargain won; now what
to do? What good is a human
soul as vanquished prey?

Faust exults in his superhuman
strength. He holds an unfair
advantage over all other poets.
No drug testing for magic.

He dances with the devil,
cheek to cheek. He swoons
at the crescendo, falls into
his partner's waiting arms.

There is something maniacal
in his character, like arsenic
in a tall, cold glass of water.
He gets drunk on it, gets high.

Who will judge his newest
achievement? Like for like cannot
be found. He stays isolated
in his cold grey cage. No touching.

Freedom breeds creativity,
the force of all masterworks.
Faust settles as a lap dog
for Mephistopheles.

Soulless, the poet wanders
through Dante's circles
of hell. With whom will he
find his place? No place

for his cheapened soul. No
punishment for his fiery
hubris. He forms artist and
audience as one substance,

and applauds himself.
His victory is self-serving,
but he has no human
self to serve. His triumph rings

hollow. He plays the xylophone
on his ribs. The music turns
toy-like and irritating. He has
gone too far. No way back.
May 3 · 23
Mmmmmmoon Lion
Mmmmmmoon Lion roars.
The moon swerves in its orbit.
His voice reaches to the heavens,
avoiding omnivorous black holes.

He contemplates his philosophy
of life: poems written with
incorrigible vitality and verve.
He purrs the "m's" in his name.

Auden said that poetry makes
nothing happen. But Lion invokes
humor and thought, the rigor of form.
He holds deep respect for his readers.

They crave to do him justice in the
wake of an endangering diagnosis.
Poetry elevates the body, tunes in
to its hidden rhythms, sings its source.

As in Oz, the lion needs courage
to face the injustices of existence.
He silver-wraps his moments, gone
all too quickly. He instinctively roars

a new way to create poetry, one
that embraces the celestial,
disdains the body's betrayal.
He will win in the end:

His lion spirit soars.
Get well soon, Mmmmmmlion. Mmmmmmoon Lion is the pen name of a poet who recently was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The outlook for him is not good.
Apr 28 · 31
Rite of Passage
His hounds bay and croon in the distance.
The Arkansas woods weigh down upon us
like a black hole ******* every particle
of light from the cluster of brittle limbs
and branches above our heads.

I ***** in trepidation behind my uncle,
wearing a ball cap and dungarees;
his carbide lantern leads the way.
I watch his right hand bob, half a thumb
lost to a chain and a mule in a logging accident.

He is at home here, stalking wildlife
night after night. He has found his haven from
the world, the quest for sport and game.
My father joins us. There is no need for talk.
We proceed in silence, listening to the forest floor

and the yelping of the hounds far ahead. I feel fear
as we advance in the darkness. This will be my first
and only hunt. I am 12 years old, innocent as the prey
we’re tracking. Out of breath, I catch up with the dogs,
a whirlpool of tongues and teeth and fur circling a tree.

The lantern shines high into a deep V in the trunk.
Filling it, a weak-eyed opossum peers back.
My uncle hands me a .22 rifle and says nothing,
keeping the light steady on my target.
I shakily take aim, **** the trigger, tremble.

The pale torso erupts in red. Congratulations
ring out all around. I sicken at the sight.
My fear has turned to hatred of the blood lust
and violence that has made me a man. We wait
on the hounds to return. The carbide light goes out.
Apr 25 · 39
Getting There
1.

Dust devils swirl on the desert floor.
Saguaro cacti raise their arms
in praise or an invisible stick-up.
No gunman looms on the horizon.

My father drives us home
from California to Kansas
in a brown '61 Chevy station wagon.
His goal: to get there as soon as possible.

My brother and I bake in the back seat.
The air-conditioning freezes over.
We roll down the windows to a stifling
wall of heat. Soon, we will cross

Death Valley, already 111 degrees
at mid-morning. I squirm and worry
that we do not have enough
gas to make it. We are the only car

on the road. Emptiness breeds around us.
My imagination peoples the void
with phantoms, characters from comic books
and drugstore Westerns. Ghosts hover over

my memory now; they hold the key
to my travels. I must invoke them again.
I hear the rumble of the American Southwest:
canyons and buttes, mountains and hoodoos.

2.

On the outskirts of the Grand Canyon,
my father searches in vain for a place to stay.
All motels teem with the smell of curry --
for him, the stench of war in Calcutta,
anathema to a young Army Seabee
stationed leagues and leagues from home.

The neon light flashing VACANCY over
the whitewashed, A-frame office
might as well say NO. We do not stop.
We sleep in the car, the four of us
restive and uncomfortable, awakened
at last by sunrise over the North Rim.

A sage-scented day has begun
under a yellow-lavender sky.
There are still miles and miles to go,
as Frost put it. But something changed
in the night. Barreling down the barren blacktop
we have already gotten there, absence our new home.
Apr 24 · 20
La Dolce Vita
Beauty affords no comfort
when you lie miles
away from the nearest castello,
where the owner serves
50-course dinners
for 50 euros apiece.
He hums Puccini
as he dishes the ravioli,
recommends strong red wine
from an earthy clay pitcher.

The white tablecloth drapes
my lap. I dare not stain it.
He is missing a button,
hits a high note, leaves
and returns.

Filled to unconsciousness,
we down the fiery limoncello.
Good for the digestion.
Good for scouring the esophagus.
Beside us a former
Olympic swimmer stabs
her potatoes.
Her children stare down
with distorted faces, inured
to the feast,
imagining a beast
to torment.
Their potatoes grow cold.

A Puccini aria plays in my head.
Lucca, his hometown, looms
on the star-spewed horizon.
Even beauty is no match
for la dolce vita.
Apr 24 · 85
Memorials
The dead cannot pray.
They molder in their graves
awaiting resurrection,
the force that creates
the soul’s yearning for
transcendence.

We yearn for happiness,
satisfaction, comfort, rest.
We yearn for meaning,
purpose, a cosmic path.
We yearn for self-consciousness,
preciousness, an open heart.
Death cannot extinguish them.

Our days are strung together
like letters in the sand.
We see the message only
as it disappears.
Night divides the light
into fractal pieces.
The firmament flattened by
the weight of stars.

We rise and recline like
mechanical banks.
Shoot a penny in
the lion’s mouth.
Hear the hunter roar.
Death stalks the living,
sticks its finger in our
ribs: a holdup,
but we carry no cash.

Remember Ozymandias.
Memory sculpts
memorials that crumble
in the sea.
Waves lap the pieces.
Epitaphs erode.

Death be not proud,
John Donne proclaimed.
But how can the fallen
take pride in their downfall?
Extinction awaits around
every corner.
there is no defense.

Death is a theater with
its curtain half-drawn.
Below it, you track
the actors’ shuffling feet.
Above it, only oblivion
and empty stage lights.
Apr 20 · 33
Pilgrimage


I take my paradise
where I can find it.
Sacred or secular,
stationary or ecstatic.

Penitent pilgrims pack
the width of Las Ramblas,
marching headlong
down the pedestrian boulevard
toward the burgeoning square
of Cataluyna, scurrying
to find fountains and buses
to whisk them away
from themselves.
The burden of identity weighs
heavily in each backpack and bag.
I share their plight:
the onus of being.

2.

The sun brilliantly burnishes
the crowd, beaming with
its childlike hunger for toys.
Nothing changes
except the country
beneath their feet.
Tourism is purgatory
to the undirected.
No map, no plan, no
rescue from impulse.
Lacking travel's baptism
of fire and freedom,
they learn that
all roads lead home
whence they came.

3.

Before the closed
doors of the cavernous cathedral,
Catalans circle, lift arms,
hop, twirl and dance.
Raised hands
signal liberation, unbrokenness.

Separation plays a different melody,
sends an inferno of deconstruction
spiraling downward, singeing factions
of language and race.
Yet a divided Spain paints
its face as united,
coyly cooing behind
a splayed, perfumed fan.
The perfect picture
for the uninitiated cruise
ship crowds: No trouble
in paradise
.

4.

I cool my heels at
the statue of Columbus,
anchored harbor-side;
the navigator
still ready to sail
under mistaken,
prevailing winds.
The crew
still ready to plant Spain's
contagion-carrying flag
in the shallows of faux India's
purifying pool.

O America!
How far you have drifted
from these tapas bars
and tainted streets.
How far from the graffiti-
filled neighborhoods.
No space uncovered:
The gritty lust for color, figure
and form conquers all.
Tourists queue to grab
their fair share.
Paradise need not please,
they discover.
Kick your bucket list to the sea.

5.

All is exotic in
Mediterranean Barcelona:
the languid light,
the briny breeze, the sun
radiating like a silver
grapefruit in the azure sky,
the orange shards of tile
piecing together the face
of heaven.

Gaudi still erects his towers
in wavering waves of
nature and faith.
Inside Basilica La Sagrada Familia,
construction workers
hammer his corner
of paradise slowly into place.
Christ hangs naked
on the cross.
A blue light filters
through modernista stained glass,
falls on the floor,
bathes my feet.
Apr 19 · 31
The Empty Tomb
Death dies in the assiduously sealed tomb,
smothered by tidy, useless grave clothes.

It takes the strength of Samson to roll away
the stone, inhumanly heavy, except for the Chosen One.

By the time the women arrive to perform their funereal rites,
the tomb is empty. They run away, frightened, not hearing

the angel's good news: "He is risen." No, they think,
he is simply not there. Where, how could he be gone?

The gospel will come later, after all will see the tomb's
great void, after all will cling to what is no longer there.

Only a transformed body -- eating fish, breaking bread,
passing through walls -- convinces them of the truth:

We do not believe in an empty tomb, for in itself,
it is not salvific. We believe instead in the risen Christ.

Death dies forever in an impotent tomb, outwitted by
the love of the Creator. In Him, life triumphs over all.
Apr 17 · 40
Notre Dame Burns
Quasimodo frantically sounds the alarm,
swinging on bells like a medieval orangutan.
No sanctuary lingers in the smoldering nave.
Gargoyles roar like fire-breathing dragons,
then cower in corners, confused.

Notre Dame crumples in the wind, baptized
by the Holy Ghost and fire. Passion Week
transvalues every value: the great reversal comes.
Centuries of history agonize on the cross; dreams
of resurrection snag on collapsing rooftops.

Once a lighthouse to French pilgrims,
the spire tumbles, puncturing the pews
and all signs of hope. Prayers smother in the billowing smoke.
Non-believers gasp in hellish horror; while
the devil laughs, looting their scorched patrimony.

The ghost of Victor Hugo strolls amid barricades of crime tape.
Fire has done what the revolution could not:
Our Lady has lost her head, flames so much
messier that the swoosh of the guillotine,
strewing collateral damage in their wake.
Apr 16 · 111
Notre Dame de Paris
Ile de la Cite weeps
like a fire hose dousing
dancing, infernal
flames to no effect.

Our Lady dies in her sleep,
dreaming of resurrection.
Gothic buttresses hold up
charred timbers and gloom.

The spire crashes into
nothingness; miracles
asphyxiate on fumes.
Still, the Rose Window

blooms. Memory resists
the flux of time.
Eight centuries snuffed out
like a wooden match.

Wait for it: the coming light.
Paris will reclaim its own.
Apr 7 · 23
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.
Apr 7 · 39
Too Late
The ocean accepts every sacrilege,
every pollutant,
every lasting piece of plastic
that amalgamates into an
artificial coral reef bobbing
toward the top.

The ocean is no longer our home;
we treat it like a compost heap --
infertile, ****, smelling of death.
Fish cannot compete with artifice,
cannot feed on trash.
It is too late to save them.
Apr 7 · 155
Eager
The collective unconscious sustains
our humanity, creates life-giving
archetypes and myths.
It floats free of the brain, eager
to be probed by the thirsting ego.
Homeland

Morning clouds tear apart.
White-blue helmet of heaven.
On the river, goslings glide.
Ripples of desire.

A darkened figure climbs the hill,
silent, snaking homeward.
Death marches, stride for stride,
and drops the red baton.

2. Berghof

Who has cried for sunken Dachstein?
Its crumpled crown.
Beauty is stone.
Carry me through glacial waters,
green and trembling,
fear alone.

Lichen blooms
on blackened tree bark.
Ice blocks clog
paths unknown.
Half-hewn timbers
line the walkway.
Heed the warning:
Hide your soul.

3. Atelier

Shadows shatter:
light’s division.
Present passes.
Breathing comes.

Silver circles:
no corrosion.
Water siphons.
Spirit song.
Apr 7 · 34
Mind
knowledge aims at pride
wisdom seeks humility
mind awakes in light
Apr 3 · 35
Labyrinth
I walk a labyrinth alone,
shuffling my steps
to follow the intricate inwardness
of the path, skeleton of the divine circle,
maze of the praying soul.

It is a pilgrim's progress
toward the center, where the last line
abruptly ends, indifferent to whether
your prayers have been answered.
The journey curtails, moving around
and around, the finish found
before the beginning begins.

This decorated circle of communion
subdivides into monastic cells,
the walls permeable to the Spirit,
impervious to doubt. The circle pivots
on its axis, perfectly aligned
with itself, perfectly identical
to itself. No cycles to bring change.
No mutation of form. Only
the mystifying distance of pi.

The labyrinth looms like a celestial
formation encircling heaven and Earth.
Dante walks it, with Beatrice by his side.
A circle of new love, new life.
Every next step encircles the entire journey,
enlivening the heart. Agape outruns
Eros in a race of heavenly calm.
All prayers divinely divisible by pi.
Apr 1 · 23
My Muse
1.
If I ever write a poem again, I will forsake my Muse,
that fickle, toying sovereign of my imagination, too often
leaving me empty-handed in my hour of need.
Her well of words runs dry, sinking woefully below
the water table. She makes me drink sand and call
it champagne. I stagger past her in disbelief.

So I will let my senses suckle me, source of lasting
sustenance, my mind expanding in the grip
of clairvoyant sight. Look: Black lines on a bone-white
page stand out in low relief like monochromatic
hieroglyphs with an indecipherable story to tell.
But I seek poetry, not stories, and will discover only
dusty metaphors and sun-baked images beneath
the bone-dry surface of this forsaken temple.

2.
If I ever write a poem again, I will write it backward,
dedicating the ending to my vacant Muse, who will read
the finale as a beginning, if she deigns to read at all.
Does art replenish the hollow heart? Do poems patch
the torn muscle? She says yes, of course, like a two-penny
palm reader, rubbing out lines from my inky hand
that do not fit her preordained paradigm.

A Muse befits the myth-eating Greeks as a source
of soul-craft and finesse, attuned to Orpheus’ lyre.
We have spewed out myth to make way for fact – solid
as stone, empty as an atom, shifting with the great
quantum winds. My Muse wanders aimlessly through
the desert, in search of words, of music, of nourishment
for the penniless poet in his epoch of need. Need means
want means lack means void means loss means anything
but fact
. Let us seek succor in the seeds of the senses.
Let us cast the mutating Muse to the vortex of the quantum winds.
Mar 31 · 22
Lucretius' Vision
Lucretius envisioned the universe
as made of atoms governed by chance,
with a "swerve" reserved in the void to
salvage some semblance of free will.

Breathtakingly, he foresaw the chief
discovery of our age: atomism, which
we harnessed for energy, genomes,
and the horror of Hiroshima.

His brilliance cannot compete
with the mushroom cloud's darkness.
He foresaw the building blocks
of reality; we deconstructed them.

Insight, wisdom and true philosophy
live of one side of the millennia.
On the other, that same wisdom
crumbles into fusion, fission and death.

Good can be used for ill, unwittingly;
ill can rarely, if ever, be used for good.
Lucretius peered into the anatomy
of the universe and beheld the atom.

Science of our age followed his vision
and beheld, unwittingly, the ferocious
power of destruction, all atoms swerving
from their path. Free will would have its day.
Halfway up the stairs to the bone-white, beehive Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, I lost count of my climb. My legs remembered every trembling step, but they could no longer do the math  On the vast portico, swarming with earnest worker bees, guidebooks in hand, I turned to take in the triumphalist, panoramic view of smog-shrouded Paris -- a vision marred by the massive carbon boot print of 11 million Parisians. As my stomach snarled from my meager morning meal, I searched for a place to eat my equally meager lunch.Soon, I spied a bench wide enough for three people, but with only one occupant, an old Frenchman, blind from childhood. As I watched the tourist crowds run amok, careering into one another, I  asked if I could sit down beside him, and we struck up a conversation in French. Affable, intelligent, alert as a bird among cats, he was reading a braille biography of Marie Antoinette. I was impressed. He then told me how as a result of an untreatable eye disease, he had had his optic nerves cut as a boy. It was a drastic treatment,  to be sure, but common at the time. Now, he said, his life nearly over, he seriously contemplated suicide, plagued by the meaningless daily routine of a visit to Sacre Coeur, where he rested, a fixture unseen by the unsettling crowds. He could find no other purpose. So, thinking myself a therapist to the world, I leaned in close and remarked, "There is always hope." "Why do you say this?" "Because God exists." "Ah, God exists," he retorted in a half question, half scoff. Below, the carousel's calliope played a delightful, dancing tune. He listened intently. After that, we sat silently side by side for several minutes, he hearing the shuffling feet, I watching the mobs of visitors overrun the balcony. We never spoke again, until it was time for me to enter the basilica. We  exchanged "adieux," and I walked away. To this day, I  wonder what the blind man heard, among the noisome crowds, on his lonely bench at the base of the beehive Sacre-Coeur.
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