Sunday, July 7, 2013

A married couple, or, An eventually married couple, who at the present time are playing two unmarried people

I. Over dinner, he tells a story about his younger brother
and one of his younger brother's friends, named Royal:
as stories do about family, this particular story tends
towards a sort of comedy, knee-slapping, as it were,
and head-knocking in reality: but not wishing to spoil
the moment, he focused on a sound like cartoon
coconuts -- TOH -- or that sound's absence,
instead of the pitiable tears of the two little boys,
and on exactly how it is an older brother uses toys
for his amusement (for example, a Big Wheel race
in the basement, and if anyone falls off -- THUMP --
he, always a certain he, becomes a speed bump).

II. When she laughs, it is like something has preceded conscious thinking--
she laughs like a turtle loves its shell.

What he grasps too late, like a man who is sinking
through the ether: he already fell.

III. ... the secret to eggs for dinner is slow cooking,
and, while eating, not overlooking
what waits between books on computer programming
and outdated theories of human evolution
--as if the vagaries of modern flirtation
and workplace ethics have to do with cave-dwelling,
as if we ever lived in caves, or with stalking
wild game (of course there was no 'unwild game'),
over great stretches of savannah, hunters sweating
and hoping for rain, quietly handtalking
about prey in various senses ...

IV. In the video, what the man in the married couple fixes
is scooters, and she is a bookstore clerk.
Over time, although it might not seem to work,
they see, meet, dance, and sing.

(Begun 1 July 2013, perhaps still in progress even more than most poems are. The immediate inspiration was a video of two dear friends pretending to be other people falling in love with each other; bits and pieces are memories, bookshelves, and the odd creeping in of images on their own.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In a photograph, my father

I. In a photograph, my father:
skin red from the sun,

his sky-blue shirt
hangs open, his eyes

wide open and calm.
He looks at the camera

like he can see who sees him:
on and on his eyes

on an ocean of time,
the sinking and his sunburnt


II. A group of kids had found him
for their scavenger hunt:

they laughed and took his picture.
I don’t know --

he doesn’t know, either --
what item they thought him.

He looks through the lens,
like all of us, wondering

how did this happen?
And will the end be just

as surprising?

(Begun 8 June 2005 [!], revised 19 April 2006, revised again on Father's Day 2013. This little ekphrasis really is in response to a photograph, and there really was a scavenger hunt. How a scavenger list predicted or accommodated my father is anyone's guess.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

An Iowan brown

Brown like the shadowed undersides of overpasses,
they flicker: a flock of birds against clouds
of glistering, oil-barrel ashes, clouds
of poured concrete, still drying, like drops
of water from rusted metal, a post-
industrial leap of muscle and friable
bones from earth and electrical wires
to the sky.
In a seemly rush they are flying
away from the blue and deepening blush
of rain.

(And on the same stiffening wind,
a drift of distant cows: a waft
as faraway warm and soft as each mildering
roadside farm, each squat and sagging
building rotting like an unpicked fruit:
a red body sickly sinking to the ground,
its skin giving way, in the "smokeless burning
of decay" -- of time -- to a fine, compostible brown.)

(Found and finished 9 June 2013 while following I-80 from Chicago to Omaha, first via a lovely Y-shaped flock of birds flying north across the highway ahead of a tremendous cloudburst, then remembering the astonishment of a friend -- who had recently driven across the Midwest for the first time -- at the industrial remains of the 'Rust Belt'. The quotation is from Frost, "The Wood-Pile".)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Four Midwestern views

I. Every so often, an ivyless tree:
they might seem barest for wanting that scaling,
enameling green,

but the birch is fairest to me: its skin,
like yours, my dearest, a papery white
and black pepper into cream.

Or so I believe, for nights like whispering
ivy, nights like obligatory fig leaves,
kept true colors unseen.

II. A tree, trunk split
like a rod for finding water had been planted in the earth
in the shadow of a crystalline cellular tower --
a rigid and uncompromising metal structure --

its branches like languid rivers bridged
in diamonds of darkened ebony and alabaster:
a tree like the evening before, but already

there comes, obscuring
the sun, the morning after.

III. A cloud foregrounded in passing: a dragon,

its massive jaws open, its right nostril smoking

in anticipation of air turned to flame,

back arching and bearing its squamous way down

on a knight -- like a lightning

strike to a tree --

who is found all shaking, his mail gone to flickering 

scales, in the salivary

rain, of leafy


IV. "What you don't see is her riding the dragon."

(Found and finished 1 June 2013, in pieces on a drive from Rochester, NY, to Chicago, across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The day had a high albedo -- it was bright but clouded -- and so seemed conducive to reflection. The quotation constituting the fourth 'view' is due, with gratitude, to an astute reader of poetry, with a specialty in such metamorphoses as might take place in [stories about] the heavens and the trees.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I am told that tights aren't pants, but the girl

I am told that tights aren't pants, but the girl
at the next table over looks thoughtful to me
in style. She purses her beautiful lips
like petals: a red just this sweet side
of pink, of the sort one imagines appeals
to bees -- as if, like us, they bother
with the colors of what they drink. And skin
the proverbial cream. She is also wearing
what seems to be a new man's button-down:
a pale, morning-glory blue (or morning-after?),
shades lighter than the darker blue of her eyes
(cornflower); the sleeves, pushed up, slip down
the length of her arms, like water down off-white
stems; and the collar, folded open, shows just
enough throat to signal her defiance of the winter.
(She quickly removed her coat.) Her style
belongs to the spring. I am, meanwhile,
torn between thinking these sorts of things
and noticing that, when she eats, and I 
have seen this, now, many times, she almost
invariably manages to slime in tendrils
of her own hair, not very long -- it is naturally
salsify blonde -- in with bites of sandwich,
and then spends time extracting the hair
with pesto'd fingers and cleaning it of masticated
food and her own saliva; the ends
are now tinted green. I am counting the bites.
This is a good deal less appealing than pants that are tights.

(Composed 12 February 2012, on the first cold day of a winter that has been unusually warm and dry, such that certain things have been unseasonably in bloom.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fragments from an unknown epic poem

Presented here are the surviving thirteen fragments from an unknown epic poem in at least six books, plus four fragments of what is for metrical reasons a clearly different text and may be from a commentary that has become confused with the epic in the manuscript tradition. Although the structure and content cannot be known completely, the surviving material suggests that a model was at least the first six books of Virgil's Aeneid (c. 19 BCE). The fragments have been arranged with that model in mind, while their original ordering in the manuscript is indicated via bracketed numbers.

The title and the author of the poem are unknown. Internal references suggest a date in the late 20th- or early-21st-century, although somewhat earlier or later cannot be excluded.

attributable to Book 1 [1]

 … the edge in their quickening smells of native sage and skin
in the dark as it cools, the tap of her second-hand heels like the color
of oiling a hide, of counting down the remaining time,
the straps of her bra showing through like ink in a practiced hand,
the margins ribboning black on the flawless book of her back,
the pages the pale white curves of her shoulders and blades, her eyes
and their almost glower -- he reads -- how they crinkle and narrow with laughter
and mean, she is laughing now …

attributable to Book 2 [3]
 … a night in the long-ago South, this night
in the West, the feeling that a drive will eventually end, and with it
the feeling of her fingers curving over his shoulders from behind, he keeps
both hands on the wheel, his eyes on the rearview mirror, he tries
not to angle it down as he drives. "I think you're cute, professor."
(He is not a professor; it's what she likes to ...

attributable to Book 2 [5]

 … her lover and the man had gone back, her partner,
they had left already then circled around, they had fallen, and the women --
both blonde, they had bonded while lying improbably together on the floor
underneath the dining-room table, shielded from the light and aglow,
both at that moment like honey when the sun is first let into the comb.
Only who is the honey, with its collagen flow, its gloss and gleam
like a moan in the vulpine, cornering glean of the sun? And who
the firm and pliant chambers of the comb? …
attributable to Book 4, of some uncertainty in ordering relative to each other [8]

[8a] He walked her home, after bad but earnest blues music, middle-aged,
and flavorless beer, and even there she had gotten herself
gently stoned. They were perfectly arm in arm, just the right heights,
and to passing cars she called out "Chivalry!" It was the middle of the night.

[8b] Later, while he brushed his teeth in the kitchen, her flaxen hair
in the chrome and silvery dark: she had done it up loosely with long black
pins, and strands curved down to those curving shoulders of hers.
He traced them with his …

[8c] He watches her wash the concert blush from her face and the green,
that cometous green, from under the slate rainshower of her eyes.

attributable to Book 4, but possibly corrupted by marginalia, as the diction does not completely match that of other fragments; it is not certain whether all or part of this passage is direct speech [7]

 … it's bones, eye-sockets, it's the way it would fit,
and the delicate rhythm of ears, their shadows, as hair is brushed back
like a kiss [plucked up by the roots], only once, just once and again,
one's way, it's a loss of one's way to the tick of the clock of her second-hand
heels, those too-swift boots, her strut, he is looking -- he knows
he should not be looking -- at the curve of her <butt> in fashionable black,
he is looking at the round of her <ass>, and now not a [snatch] of any hair
but a kiss, just one, only once, her … dusky like smoke,
 … her skin … powdered

attributable to Book 6 [2]

 … and gesturing now with his hands to show branchings of possible lives --
he is sketching the four dimensions in three -- he is sealing their corner
away from the raucous air quietly; the table in-laid
with jostling tiles and glazed with ice mopped only haphazardly
up from the frozen margarita she spilled, as the one tilts further
away from the other: not the two, they lean closer together like lovers:
two …

attributable to Book 6 [8d: in the manuscript, immediately after [8c], but more likely a reflection in book 6 on an episode not completely narrated in book 4]

" … how short you seemed, next to me, in your white undershirt, your white
unbooted feet. How small. And sudden the thought came to me
that here we could be as if already old: after years had passed
but not taken any four copper coins as their toll; as if we had somehow
managed to hold on to something of a life as it rose like a dream,
rose, as they say, through one or the other of the gates of ivory
and bone, looking up and seeing light. With a groan it breathed itself
away. We had never even kissed. It was as if we had managed to miss
all the usual paltry aggressions and fears, those few minutes only
alone in the noise of a few dingy bars over so many years,
a few minutes only in rented cars and a van, one night, after you had made a point
of singing off-mic, and one morning after that had stretched into early
afternoon, while we shared a catfish lunch (we had both been slightly
drunk and had no taste for … "

attributable to Book 6, evidently near to his final words to her [9]

[9a] "I repeat myself in case -- it is not a hope: in the properly futureless feeling,
a sideways motion like sharing that drink from the faucet after brushing,
when our heads had to turn so far on their sides -- I can see you remembering --
that our glasses fell in, both of us laughing and seeing what could,
had it all only been otherwise, have been such a lovely quiet
and life. You won't face me. But I can see you tracing, in your mind,
the tracks of that ancient flame. I repeat myself from far back,
from far enough back: the right moment, that might … and its backwards
motion and drive, its backwards curve, in my mind I reach back
for your fingers curving over my shoulder from behind. … "

[9b] "At [the time], I kept both hands on the wheel."

[9c] "I offer to carry your bags, I can see … you refuse"

[9d] "In my [dreams] I keep both hands on … "

Commentary [4: the reference to 'this poem' and what seems to be a quotation, albeit from a section lost to us, would seem to make this identification certain]

[4a] … this poem the momentum imparted by life,
this life as it leaves, that drive as it drops
her off at her hotel, that curve -- "No, really:
those curves" -- as it gains in speed as it always …

[4b] … turning so straightly away. Now only
in the mind ...

Commentary? [10: the level diction and clarity of syntax would seem to make this identification rather certain, despite the metaphor]

Whether or not we have had to leave
Creusa behind, we stand to run
aground on Dido's shores and leave

Commentary? [6: whether this is the poet's or the commentator's is impossible to decide, despite the difference in meter; if the poet's, it is possible that this belongs to a different poem, although it develops a related image of a similar theme]

 … and it's not the hair like bales in springtime
sun, it is not so long, this is no
fairy tale, that urges to try
to climb away from an evident life:
like a bowl its sides are thinner than air
and slower-than-lightly curving, light
as the lives we might have lived flash, gloss
in the table, lens flare, and loss of childhood
fables away …

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The wind, tonight, like the roar of the waves

The wind, tonight, like the roar of the waves, the
waves white-capped by the moon. The creak of the
pines, their sway as if in a dream of
limbering up their roots and timbering
ships: as if they dream, to a tree, of
wanting to fall, that clasp of brackish
water about their curving forms, the
viscous slip together of their own sticky
saps with blackening pitch. But the ragged
canyon below is only tricklingly
streamed, and the valley beyond has long since
watched, in the light of countless rising
suns, its steaming waters recede, in-
deed forgotten the march, as if in
search of the suns' last place of sleep, of
staunch and prizing glaciers. The rocks sink
low to the hill and ballast the creaking
trees. The wind drops brown and verdant
needles on mosses of impossibly soft sea-
green, a soft and unmoving sea-foam. These
colors, tonight, like the white just edging the
darkening craters of the moon: this windswept
life like nothing so much as the light on the
airless surface of the moon.

(Begun 18 January 2012, edited 24 January 2012, "in the kind of chill that the working brain / foolishly thinks it can evade by keeping still." I tried to evoke the sort of sense-perceptual experience of a place that, repeated over years, becomes infused with the feeling of time passing: the particular experience of the place seeming to capture both the surprise and the familiarity of 'it all'. With shades, probably, of some of the 20th- and 21st-century British fiction I read over the winter.)