Fragments of a Continuity

The Room
Summer soot falls.
Winter, he sings to the gray snow
that settles on the sill.
Some days the child above
bounces time upon a ball.
Spring the wall presents the creek
of a bed till someone cries, “Enough!”
Below, a line of little ones, pale kids
clothed in the dust of a powdery gray
hardened yard on which they play
follow-the-leader as in a silent film until
the oldest, seriously dissatisfied
with the performance of her train
turns with the sum of her displeasure,
“She-it,” as the Angelus next door
summons nuns to pray.
Every now and then,
the tell-tail sounds, mixed with relief,
explode through the small, high window
years of paint closed off
above what he now realized
had clearly been the bathroom sink
even as an inch worm takes
the measure of a leaf
at the end of a branch reaching in
the window where he sits
upon his bed where once a bathtub sat
watching autumn season trees.
A Nickel’s Worth of News
What if he should then expand
upon the confidence on which we stand
like children building castles in the sand
or set it down as true
traffic alternates between
the envy of incentive green
and redness through which love is seen?
There must be something better to do.
One Sunny Halloween
Scrawny trees where the brick-bright light
fell at autumn’s ease. No one in sight.
Narrow shares of sidewalk make their way
passed loading docks, bare stages for a play
set in space where no one would appear
till out of place, a mask of fear,
an odd nod grinning sightlessly
like a mannequin in ivory
large enough to house a man within,
unspecified stuff from out of a bin,
dry goods refused, sunshine defined
to haunt the disused warehouse of the mind
with infernal chiming hard to ignore
miming there at the warehouse door.
Someone grown up, equal to the task,
might have shown up under the mask
as mischievous eyes cheerfully chance
with elfin surprise in silk purple pants.
Looking up at the rim
of her khaki cap pulled down,
she leans around the iron wall
so no one will see
her muttering most privately
to no one at all.
Then up, she rushes out –
turns about. Wrong stop.
The door slides, pausing
as if for her, before its rubber lip is shut.
“Go right on,
pay me no mind.
I’ll get along jus’ fine.”
The train pulls out just as she said.
Faithfully placed, they take their stand,
brass, bonnets and heaven’s countermand.
Close by, a solitary beggar squats,
a string of thoughts rolled up in knots,
shaggy, ragged, nothing clear,
few cents short of a beer,
a child of love repealed
or shattered on a battlefield
of dreams that nightly detonate
to shake him in a sweat awake.
Keeping to their beat, the band is free
at the very verge of harmony
with all the traffic horning in
out of time, a sentimental sin
to which impatient drivers will attest,
their destiny’s as manifest
as winds in gutters whip
cyclones taking papers up
spinning news in gusts of dust
to freeze the very heart of trust,
chilling lips at instruments that sear
those ears cold trumpets fail to cheer.
Put a nickel in the pot,
save another drunken sot.
God is love, your shelter in a nuclear age.
Grimy hands, palm to palm
breathed upon, held up as if in prayer
for all that outside angels cannot calm
facing life barely there.
Put a nickel in the pot
and you’ll be saved.
Oatmeal cookies compliment
a cup of coffee well enough
for thoughts of time as yet unspent
when a hobbled soul and gruff
jerked his way from stool to stool.
“B-b-buy m-mm-my pen-encils.”
Nerves that played him for a fool,
fingered for a cup of spills,
arms and legs in spastic dance,
grasping pencils as he came
to the dreamer with a glance
that made the sale as he was lame
enough to whisper in the buyer’s ear
as he might later order grub,
confiding, roughly still sincere,
“Thanks bub.”
A Consignment of Pan’s Pipes
Eyes that war themselves on any skit
undo the joy with which they flirt
where pipes infatuate the fair
with figures dancing on the air.
Calculated measures cheat
the innocent of their conceit.
He merely sells the bamboo shoot.
Holes alone only make the flute.
Vision’s Widow
Short, fat, disheveled woman
shuffling back and forth
with empty eyes askew
and little tin cup,
would you have my beans?
Your sight filled up
my own poor belly’s elf.
From A Village Coffee Shop
A cross-eyed peddler at the corner,
one eye for the cops
and one for the customers,
wound up his little metal men
who wound up in a coffee shop.
Pronouncements followed.
THINGS ARE BAD ENOUGH proclaimed the first
YOU WANT TO MAKE THEM WORSE affirmed the second
GO GET YOURSELF A POLAR BEAR exclaimed a third
I CAN PROVE YOU DON’T EXIST decided a fourth, delightedly
whereupon they came full stop
and had to be wound up again.
Upon their return
they issued a joint communiqué:
whereupon it did
and they were out again.
All that remained was this terse note,
cut in the tabletop –
I told you so –
cut, no doubt, with all the zeal
little metal men can feel
clearly in a bind
with no one left to wind.
In No Sense Innocent
From out of the dark
through crimson mist
and the iron design
of the silhouetted banister
comes the derelict
in apocalyptic cockney:
Now I ‘aven’t been ta no
wot ya mite call university
but I maybe noouw a thing a tow
an’ wot I size is this;
an’ ignorance is bliss
an’ ‘ere’s a bloke wot’s ‘appy
oo’d ask wot none ‘ud miss,
a dime ta kipe ‘im as ‘e is.
Dylan Thomas Remembered
I have to the paneled seaman’s bar
where seamen never come no more
to reckon where it is they are
coming about with pints on shore,
where once a voice reigned in the raging room
down the crowded hour’s throat
with such a belling out of sail, of boom
swung round to shake the bone-bound note
till bells in tepid towers tolled
willing waves to catch the prize,
wind-worn work they handless hold,
the tear-topped bird wild skies
where now lowered lights curl
neon like a moon gone blue
upon the gathering about a girl
when a ruddy gent brave as brew
at twenty passed finally filled in
up to the silence next to her and said,
“I’d introduce you to Dylan
but he’s dead.”
So Much for That
Upon hearing that great gray lady,
to whose stories they would stray,
life lifted lightly as a draft
to which the three would toasting laugh,
had had her first love turned out daft,
before she met her better half.
“Drowned altogether, in my cups
when, saints be praised, Johnny turns up.
Now he’s gone too, God rest his soul.”
His companion, expecting something droll,
youthfully world-wearied, sighs,
“The usual thing,” and rubs her eyes.
Mutually Alone
Intervals of streetlight chafe
the sidewalk where he walks
bent in thought about just why
flecks of mica sparkle there
beneath his feet like stars
that rise about him into space
as the dark wet space recedes
where snowflakes hurry down
to disappear into the pavement
of the night on which he floats
tightrope-like upon the cracks
when into the silence rowdy crowds
flow down stairways to disperse
like phantoms in a void
with nothing else to contemplate.
Pillowed by the curb, a man,
red in slashes down his chest.
A handcart, unattended,
pile with carefully selected refuse,
sporting sprigs
of gladiolas, red,
what, from a distance,
looked like blood.
Close overhead stalactite dust
feeds upon the atmosphere
in a plaster catacomb.
Memories associate
with the issue of beer-soaked floors,
the not quite disinfected air
stale as a sleeper’s breath.
The dull cave shines in the glass
of the bottle-bright wall,
the gleaming liquids all distilled
to melt the climate of the mind
or brace ironically convivial
postures at the bar,
faces bruised by pink and lingering smoke.
Against the wooden pillars,
figures, leaning, spill
as if hung there by their coats
nursing a beer in hopes
someone will appear.
to shape their emptiness.
Tunes too smooth bring times to mind,
imperfect pleasures passing
into yet to be remembered
elbows on a checkered cloth,
futures pictured in
arrangements, blue
like a kind of happiness.
The Kettle of Fish
The mist floats by
a solitary light.
Inside fish-eyed figures
wanting wine for want
of what.
They rise in pride,
on feet/ resolved/ then
end of the reel,
the self
caught in a wince
upon the silver-surfaced wall.
Something always
tangles us
in quiet violence
upon the looked-for hook.
To One Who Traffics in Sorrow
Moondog, howling in the graveyard,
had he such a sorrow
he would be more proud
before the murderous moon.
In the thousandth car
a girl peeps out
to smile
from behind her clown doll.
Just A Thought
What if beauty were a bird
fleeing his possessive hand
to leave him at a loss transformed
as if he were the bird
and beauty then the hand?
The Scream
The city sounded silent.
The window imposed his room upon the night,
smoke slowly curling through the cone of light
to tangle space in swirling blue-gray shapes
like the interior of marble when
somewhere silence twisted
as with a piece of steel.
They’d hear it all before
but they would send a car.
Somewhere – it seemed from there.
Perspectives down the stair –
the hall’s dull green incandescent emptiness
and down the bleached, abstracted street.
Nothing but the color killing light.
Quiet again. Screaming only in his mind.
Somewhere, if not here, the blade strikes home.
Smoke still curled in the friendly light
where a face gazed in
to find himself pale upon the pane.
We, out of the tunnel,
climb as silently
as we stand on platforms,
silently as we ride the night
past seemingly permissive stars.
Nothing but the sound of shoes
shuffling on the stair
into the blaze of day,
into the scented air
from a novelty shop
at the top of the stair.
So many, in the same direction,
climb perpetually,
climb blind to the towers
sheathed in orange dawn,
blind to the oil in rainbows
down the drain, so many blind
as I have been to them.
The Terminal
No crystal palace
but a place
so large
a man
could stand
and not feel small.
I couldn’t help
taking it in –
it’s coming down.
I caught sunlight
muffled in dust,
billowing up
the ribs picked clean
to sky. Birds
never flew
from afternoon illumined
rusty rafters,
not till after
the shutter closed.
I wasn’t there
when they took
the eagle down
but I remember it
from photographs.
Stones are not as shy.
The lens looked up
an entrance as elaborate
and high
as a temple, in silver scaffolding;
an arch through which to see
a garden
of geometry.
Ragged canvas
in the wings
of the recent
ruin. I caught
the workmen
on a beam
undoing it.
sparks struck
the set in sprays
of white-hot rain
daylight erased.
Coming up the stair
I caught the very top of it,
the iron pattern
shattered by light
bursting through
the sweep of steel.
a darkened segment
of the coming roof,
signed, Bethlehem.
The eye can’t fix
what it takes in.
I caught the clock,
stopping outside,
but failed in the interior.
Picture it:
that circumscribed infinity
above the rush
of a multitude, seemingly
of this departure.
in a certain light,
gray and powdery,
set off two men
down at the center,
a little to the right,
their helmets gleaming
less in the richer
insufficiency – two men,
the value of Caravaggio,
with the column to their right,
a heavy L
the composure of paint.
Two figures
at a transit, sighting?
A tableau…
But it didn’t print.
Nothing there
but the gloss black
negative. The easy
could not take place
without more light.
The scene
so nicely placed
upon the scene
is lost and the loss
is placed upon the scene
for my development.
Contrast makes for art
as we find our way
in the basement
of the onetime day.
The Garden
is under construction,
A hatbox large enough
to hold a circus in.
There’s nothing like
the architecture
of despair
to fill
The Lionkeeper’s Pretense
They come to see the mighty in a cage,
to gape and point and then move on
through corridors of terror, safe
but for the stench.
My lion,
sad, fantastic cat, no room to rage,
more often moans to cheer the crowd.
They are satisfied that he is proud.
I cannot name the thing that made him roar —
it wasn’t spite that broke from his great throat,
nor was it anger, nothing heard before
in this hollow house where echoes float.
Emptiness captures eloquence
but cannot tame it to a use,
not this resonance the stones still quote
beyond the nerveless ribs of circumstance.
Silence. The crowd resumes in noisy relief.
Nothing left to fear or to be feared by.
A shaggy endorsement of public belief
will flesh a tooth painlessly
till meet to leave his little room and die.
We inflict our care upon his will,
not that brutal glory belongs to grief,
but to sustain our own still savage eye.
The Highclimber
wheresbruce wheresbruce wheresbruce
chanted the parakeet from the dresser
atop a dime store jewel box.
Then hopped he down
to the dusting powdered plain,
past bobbiepins and whatnot,
into the forest of bottled beauty aids.
By the window, a woman, sizably round
upon legs thin as a pair of stilts,
wiped another plate.
At the kitchen table another woman,
significantly proportioned,
filled the room
with sounds of scooping
till spoon clicked bowl
like a broken bell.
“It won’t be long now, deary,
he’ll be home before ya’ know it.”
“Imagine a man in his condition,
walking, mind you, as if as good as new.”
wheresbruce wheresbruce
“He’ll be home as whole as ever he was.”
The plate was long since dry.
Pigeons clapped the air
where thick sky reduced the sun
to a disk of red,
cloud quenched below its diameter.
“Ya’ know, Molly, ya’ never told me
how come it was he lost his leg.”
“Great one for walking he was.
Think nothing of it from Central Park to the Battery.
And dance?.”
“Must a been a crackerjack.”
“And skate ?. Graceful as ever a bird
turning in the sky.”
“Don’t mean to pry,
but how’d he lose the leg?”
“Highclimber, that’s the job he loved,
painting signs, Times Square and all.”
“A human fly, that’s what he was.”
“Most of all he liked the jobs
others wouldn’t take. The first,
I think, an eagle gold it was.
Talked all night about that day,
how like a toy the city seemed,
with people no bigger than ants,
how far away the traffic sounded,
where paint spilled on a bird
before it hit?.”
wheresbruce wheresbruce
“That where he lost his leg?”
“Another time, a few feet from the street,
when his boss jumped the scaffold without warning.
Bruce fell backwards standing up –
fractured his heel on the curb.
Infection set in.
been spreading ever since.
Twelve operations,
each time taking a little more.”
“Luckless man. Who would have thought?
Never so much as a word.
And what you must have gone through.
Twelve, you say. My heart goes out to him.
People are so careless
with other people’s lives.
Isn’t that always the way?
Why, just the other day I read
where a tank of butane gas blew up
right near a picnic ground.
You must a seen the photograph?
bodies all aflame.
Some torn limb from limb,
arms, legs and what have you.
O Lord, spare me the infant’s cry.
If life isn’t tragic, what is?”
Her neighbor’s voice trailed off
into other people’s nightmares.
The iridescent disk of sun,
antiquated by smoke,
sat like a molten plate
end up on a table of tenements.
“He must a sued ‘em good.”
“Never took a penny. That proud he is.”
“Tch, tch.”
“Doctors told him not to overdo.”
“No telling what gets into a man.”
“But there he goes, looking for a job.”
“Men are a strange lot. Must have hurt,
what with the artificial limb and all.”
“Tries to act like nothing’s wrong,
keeps it to himself and leave me out.
But he can’t keep it out of his dreams.
Mostly, he makes a soundless whistle.”
“Like a kettle when the whistle’s broke.
When he does this I know he hurts
and the knowing burns through me.”
“Seemed like such a happy man.
You never know.”
“I’m so fearful?”
“Don’t you worry Molly, he’ll be back.
Well, got to be running along.
Old man ‘ll be wanting supper.
Thanks for the eats.”
Wheresbruce wheresbruce wheresburce
Molly surveyed herself.
It seemed almost easier
for a man to lose his leg
than for a woman to lose her looks.
wheresbruce wheresbruce
How playfully she had taught the bird.
Gulls wheeled in the darkening sky.
Something in the air her mind could not secure.
She turned to the door.
“Molly, Molly, it’s Bruce.
I found him down there
leaning in the hall.”
They helped him to the bed.
Bruce turned to his wife.
“Wasn’t that some sunset though?”
whereupon he died.
The bird hopped down upon his chest and cried
wheresbruce wheresbruce wheresbruce
From the window
a solitary gull
flashed with light,
then climbing,
swerved from sight
I Should Live So Long
If I could live
to write my own obituary
I would fix the Fates.
Why let them cut me out?
There’s always an alternative
mythical hags can’t calculate.
Let them diagnose my home
or trace it to my chromosomes,
I’ll stumble on
a way to free myself
from their archaic symmetry.
Should I succeed,
they’ll call themselves
and come up with a remedy
to find me at the new design,
the place they meant my effort to define.
And so at last
I am part of their embroidery,
the struggle of the unicorn
in ancient tapestry,
dancing to the ritual of the past.
Bip and the Butterflies
after Marcel Marceau
There and there and here
upon my nose and here
fluttering in my hand
as if my hand were fluttering
like a tiny fan.
Then flip so fitfully
as if,
out of a paper house,
you knew the way to die
all of a sudden
like a leaf
settled there.
There’s another one.
Don’t worry, little friend,
I’ll set you on a breeze
and watch you sail
way out in sunlight
like a flower without a stem.
Footlights were the sun
when Harlequin portrayed
that hapless happy one
who strayed
after what his eye
brought to mind,
a butterfly
his hand
at first
would hold
till death dispersed
the joy his art controlled.
Nodding described the flight.
Twice the puppet,
strung by his delight,
wings he would not cup, yet
on the way to lips
with such a breathless care
the sun could not eclipse
and leave, less hurt, the air.
with a wave of his hand
he set the fragile free,
the loss with which he planned
to leave the company.
More Like
Alone upon a stage
bare as this page
was, a man stands
more like a statue
than the statues
pigeons verify, more like
the articulated stillness
than a stone,
yet with an eye alive
to the vendor
tied to a sky
of blue balloons,
more like the vendor
bending to a boy,
his sun up on a string
to run with, red and round:
the foot, weightless, walks
into another, young
at twenty, kicking leaves
and looking at his wrist
as if his dreams passed there,
more like the arrived surprise,
the chatter past
an attendant
sweeping after trees,
the wrinkled reach
of leaves blown past
two old ladies knitting
on a bench, tongues
busier than hands
and hands than minds:
an act abstract as words
peopling the page,
more like a fountain
tossing broken water back
in fragments to the sun.
they fall into the pool again
beneath a man upon a stage,
The Calliope and the Siren
We, beneath a willow,
in the shade of melancholy,
listen to the turning of a tune
upon an old calliope
to make the horses rise and fall
according to the carousel.
children whip enamel stallions,
sure they set their plaster horse to prance
round orange blazing foggy suns
with nostrils fierce and foamless bit –
their laughter is what masters it.
Like atoms dancing
out of place to break up nature,
tuneless spheres cut in where sirens sting
with scenes into which all worlds blur.
Carnivals of neon fire clouds
above the banshee in the crowd.
Little ones dismount,
climbing up in time to pleasure
giddily in varied chariots.
Behind our power we’re secure,
invested in amusement’s tent
long after childhood’s gift is spent.
The Destruction of the Lilies
The great round leaf
on the water
is paint.
That zinc white flowering’s
a water lily
where clouds in copies
Water distorts the stem
to its disappearance
in actual fact.
The now we know
holds the above beyond
and the dream below
our knowing.
The surface of an eye
is eyed
in the excitement of paint
and hazardous technique
lovely in itself
and the mind’s content.
Alone and closed
fumes of oil ignite
atoms of the water
lilies’ burst.
The air distribute ashes
Fire’s merely
the flowering
of death.
These words also
are combustible,
but not their saying,
the sifted sense
in molecular spread
light years to stars
unhindered by ears
from an eliminated
Out to visit a friend in a loft,
lost in thought
or maybe you coughed
taking your eyes from the street
only to find
what had slipped your mind,
the print of something soft.
Then, turning up defeat
on one foot,
looking at the sole
to examine what was put
there out of our control –
the humble product of a mutt –
deposit great, of a Dane;
a case that’s open and shut,
the sense of which is plane.
No matter where you invest,
no matter how well you’ve dined,
a destiny manifest,
however liberally inclined,
makes graffiti as we meet
the spontaneity of the feat.
With No Part
For Elizabeth Culbert
in the tower we say of ourselves
from which so many view
fellows on their shelves,
something she saw through
confined in her career,
the fiercely quiet privacy
of her accommodation here
where all that she could see
were the leaves that grounded her,
the window’s sweet ambivalence
of words to carefully prefer,
making perfect sense,
close to the argument within
the fascination that she found
more than anything that she might win
for some astounding sound,
comfortable in her wonderment,
yet never resting so secure
in the confidence she spent
as to find herself for sure
in an attitude of stone
clothed in those deposits
pigeons come to briefly own
to which celebrity submits.
Not for all the world
of time’s rapacious theft
would she begrudge the joy that’s curled
in the memories she left,
obstinate as paradise
she’d willingly forfeit
without the room to be precise,
completed now as she is there to question it.
Ode to an Odor
Ah, romantic aroma
of a corona corona:
you ought
to be bottled and bought
so much per fume;
instead you loom
in front of insensitive noses
like those unfortunate roses of success
hanging limply from a mess
of wire twisted into
a horseshoe.
You float up from glowing
tobacco, never knowing the truth
of that flame
from which you came,
for in a flick of time’s lashes
you’re almost all ashes
and, in the end,
if you ask my friend,
that matchless old chap, King Tut,
you will be but a butt.
The Going Thing
I’ve never
been able
to figure
it out
and I
to sing.
But that’s
the way
it goes,
one foot
the other.
They’re wearing
but that’s
the thing
and this
the end
of it.
My foot.
Vengeance Comes About
Melville’s Great White Whale
was something of a sport,
out upon a spree,
bringing up the sea
in a fountain-like spout.
And yet did Ahab sail,
one leg a trifle short,
timbers, crew and harpoon,
hot after his high noon
to face that monstrous snout.
Nor would a pint of ale
mellow him in port.
He’d break those wicked teeth
from fathoms underneath
that brought his own blood out.
For this blatant betrayal,
as of the cosmic sort,
he’d kill the evil prey
he’d lost a leg to slay
with never so much as a doubt.
Looking Out
In the scarf and purple swirl
of the banished sun, a frail.
despair’s quizzical charms fail
watching water pool and rush
cargos of assorted trash
fragile as a globe of dreams
suspended over cosmic streams
hopes that still will not relent
though the light within’s been spent,
shattered like an ornament
of ice from some once polar height
melting there, a lost delight
at windows of an empty sight,
where in the street the slant of rain
needles flowing neon stains –
inundation once again.
God said, “Offer it unto Me.”
But they kept it.
It was their belief.
After Reading Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground”
He, proud that he has the guts to endure
the hard music of his own despair
must have the nerve to dance no less
to the wildest fiddle of happiness
What’s with this talk of death?
No one’s seen him if he has a face
nor been there if a place.
Like a waste of breath.
Yet it can hold the eyes awake.
In time what we most trust
may be measured against our dust.
These words are what the silence breaks.
Free Thought
At the margin of the mind
shells of anything
we’ve come to understand
slip beneath the sea
from an expanse of sand,
waves curl
spontaneously planned.
Egyptian Eyes
They lose the day in expectation of the night,
and night n fear of the dawn.
Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life”
So little time
to build a worthy tomb.
Days drop light
like onion skins,
translucent scales
the wind will spin.
A dancer’s veil conceals
the stuff a leper peals.
I populate the sand
with all the souls I can command.
I have been told
complaints of old,
meaningless things.
Disconsolate priests.
of sacred beasts.
Ministers digress, grow dry,
neglect my enterprise.
upsets their feast.
They grow, with the dropped sun, cold,
wrinkled with a concern
for the flow of gold.
They troop in twos and threes
come to me on bended knees –
the mentioning of treasuries.
Warriors scratch dispatches
brandishing the past,
drift uneasily in the East,
fearing too much peace.
Always northern hordes at last,
the dwindling
of our estate.
Wife wearied
sweet tangles
fall, worried away
to the blue air,
of my release.
Let them go to the gods for help.
I dwell upon the door of hope
painted just below the eyes,
threshold of the soul’s surprise,
through which I am to pass at will –
such is my physician’s skill.
After public lamentation,
after the dancing,
feasts and chants,
I will be borne in state
down the silver-tithed Nile
in a golden boat
with a linen sail
and when at last my bark is set
forever in my monument,
after the requisite obsequy,
when as I am I am no more,
pillowed in my fragrant room,
in the secrecy of air
surrounded by no sound,
I shall restore
all that I have known
from the turquoise of my chair.
Squinting intellect may solve
the puzzle of my tomb,
scattering bits of bone
like so many stars?
Yet the sun survives
the fractured fact of night.
Certainly some future noon
will hold these stones
in a perpetual amplitude of light.
The material of the mind
comes, at last, through the eyes.
It is of little consequence.
But if my heart
coming forth by day,
should testify against me,
dropping opposite that feather,
the clerk of the scale
watching it slip
to the crouched mouth,
there to be cracked
like a beetle
between those teeth,
this voice
choking with it
in the throat?
Am I not son of the sun,
lord o the twofold crown,
giver of laws, the mighty one,
beloved of the people
and a breaker of skulls?
They are free
to curse the stones
they haul for me
till they drop the ropes
and hurry down the ramps,
over the pockmarked, bone-stuffed hills
an eternal wind rolls.
The sun, for them,, comes up again,
with a simple fingering.
It is more difficult,
in this jarred heart,
to carry up the dream.
Death is easy as the need
for sleep, blanket and bowl
in those accustomed to the hum
of flies about their ears
and not this pestilence of time
eating up the years.
Mine is the windowless house of light.
Let cities settle in their dust.
I will be prosperous.
The Call to Colors
Stand, clear
eyes, right
step, light
in review.
It must be grand
to march in time
with other men
who march in time
to heart, high,
in sympathy
with other men
who march in time
to God-gratified
authority –
and grand to feel
yourself so much
at liberty.
Finger touch
fire falls
Grand to walk
with a fate so free
and so pronounced.
Sinews taut,
the glittering sword
a sliver of sun,
comes down
to split the opposing
Ancient combatants,
untroubled by blood,
settled their difference
with a simple skill.
Possibly honor
found an arm
when no benign cosmology
inhibited the hero
sweating out
what we assume
to have been a sport.
Games change.
The atom multiplies
the horse. The trick
is easily turned.
narrow down
to the suicide
of the mind.
Fear sights fear
in the camouflage
and fingers trigger fear
like so many atoms
at the critical mass
confused in their release.
Some were angry
at the Greeks.
In time they started Rome
and lasted longer.
Is power absolute?
Not an unhappy man
but one who could not stand
in the silence of his mind
the cathedral
emptied of its ritual
and sounding about his ears
like a whirlwind.
He cradled the child awhile
then set her down nearby
and spoke in a tongue of flame
near the Pentagon
where they had no doubt.
Other people’s pain
can turn so easily
into a kind of play.
There’s beauty
in the accurate
trajectory. Death
conscripts the mind
with its mysterious
And we come upon people
exchanging whatever
people exchange
in a village street,
we fall from the blue
ahead of sound
in a silver fuselage
upon children pointing out
metallic birds
that stripe the sky with clouds.
The mother smiles, perhaps,
at their little wonder why
and takes their hands
in confidence, perhaps.
Fingers touch
fire falls
The pilot wondered why
they didn’t run.
And a well-placed voice explains
the resilience of the orient:
Human attrition means nothing
to such people looking forward
to their pick of all
the golden little dancing girls
in Paradise. Bomb them back
to the stone age.
Who belongs to the wrong god?
Every power possesses one such
Neanderthal of oil and steel.
But nations sink
when they see their interest
through a narrow glass.
Drain the sea to save the ship.
The word is dissociated
from the act, delivering
a necessarily dissonant,
if regrettable
Power sophisticates.
Since The Prince
this distance
passes for intelligence
or something comparable
to common sense
or at the worst, reality.
Prop the inclining domino
with prevention’s
ever heavier ounce;
contain the regimented
alien economy.
We are no longer a simple people.
Out of the woods at night they came
talking of land and school and rice
I died tied to my gun.
The future, wearily dressed
in every fashionable
may retaliate.
We arrive
at interests
by way of wanting
what? We have no business here
but death.
Who said, Forgive them
for they know not what they do,
also commanded
the secular authority
be obeyed.
No one comes up
with an order larger
than the one that went before
who doesn’t trade
in antiquated rivalry,
the passion pasted on a wall.
The object of loyalty remains
unrevised, including nothing
like the world.
Words wear out
I am free
to say
or not
which is more
than some
forgiving much
not all.
is approximate
the untheatrical offering
while stones
in motion
have priority
and these
few thousand years
for precedence.
The bull
at the dancing cape.
manipulate the force.
Who are we
to intervene
with placards pushing peace?
if left alone
will grind out
the equivalent ideal.
Yet what is history
if not the pushing
of men by men?
Wars have always been
You mean you trust Athenians?
Murder is routine
It is trying
The Senator assumes
to kill
our boys die
a man you don’t know
if not happily
well enough
at least proud.
to hate.
The question is
We have nothing to fear
who will raise
but the narrow glass.
The net worth of
our position, as of
the world.
And so we’ll try
The dialectic
a reasonable
that saves you
may not be your own.
What would I do
if I were called
only the meaning
upon to kill?
. remains.
Where would we be
Without armies
and where would
armies be
if every Tom
Dick and …
America, America
but what
God shed his grace
about the world?
to crown
Where’s the majesty?
Thy good
the power
with brotherhood
and the glory?
From sea to shining
For I would
according to Thy will
be proud
world without end
Double Negative
Ostensibly against the war,
the bald and bearded,
tidy and unkempt
prophets file before the mind:
reflecting on
the presidential genitals;
or diseases, unperceived,
listed for the syllables;
or images, obscurely relevant,
the way we feel
before the explicit kills;
or beard and gay beret
duet to organ and bells,
effete Dionysians
wiggle to the East;
queer muses spew
profound obscenities
without release, their punch lines cheer
inverted Puritans,
fingers snapping to the beat,
the big beat;
and one among them wonders
if anyone’s at the wheel;
a said-to-be-poet
hip with hate,
tough at the microphone,
choked up, shouts out
a two-bit curse,
the dull purpose of a bullet breaks
as if the bombs all fell on him,
the world, his weight;
some dragged Whitman in,
pieces of free form,
sprawled out harangues,
ironical blasphemies
recited like a creed;
one among them wonders
if anyone’s at the wheel;
and a crew cut, bespectacled elder,
at the lecture, always asking,
“Any water?” and the chorus,
“Water, but no cups,”
this dry senior, called for,
late, confides
adultery’s mechanical,
nerveless as the grass
spilled cocktails kill.
Many went down with a joke.
Laughs pass for truth.
At last, the psychedelic,
shaggy bearded eminence
caught his crowd
with a vision of himself
disappearing in a neon wilderness.
He left in a poof,
left the turned up faces
fumbling for their coats,
while on the stage
parties parted,
names exchanged,
connections made,
careers advanced,
careers maintained.
Through the gallery
of modern art,
that clown in a gay beret,
hair halfway to his sandaled heel,
the parodied hermaphrodite,
shoulders his portable organ
like the coffin of a child.
We grow accustomed
to the photograph
of suffering, the faces.
twisted in an ache
that laughs like an ancient mask,
accustomed to the liturgy
of our mistakes,
the children crippled
in our name, accustomed
to the screech
of wheels on steel
splitting the ear.
No one sees the frantic dance
in the light of the hurtling car.
Severed bodies do not jar
commuters open to the sports
or comic page. Idle eyes
scan details of a rape.
The sergeant conscience
cannot raise his voice
above the noise of news.
Such is the weight of the wheels.
Nothing worse than images
burst upon the mind.
Where else in the jar
of this bent light,
an emptiness
as love,
can we see the world edge
except against our star,
night tilting up
like a stone
carved in the yard
of our altered world
while we
No end
to ending.
The last line
draws the next.
There’s always
one more
Only the pencil
At the End of the Day
A Question of Survival
Here, where pigeons war with wing and beak,
precariously in air, to snatch a share of ledge,
roosts in the adjacent vacant place refused,
preferring, instead, their fearful fuss, the sun sets.
What is it that we want,
of which we do not have enough,
that we, like pigeons, in a feathered fury,
aggravate the air? Worth such trust as Midas had,
who failed to feel the way his wish would work,
we, with engines harvest the whole of hills
for coal, transmuting forests into gold,
as streams – ingenious, babble, digressing
in the shade of their necessary grace,
in the dance down, flowered flowing home
of so many creatures, large and small —
shrivel in the treeless heat of greens,
roots exposed as banks erode,
closing in on trickles of liquidity,
dry as numbers, cursing thirst for the cost of it,
the drastic alchemy of sinks that spill
over roads paving our escape,
exhausted, from the gilding of a world, wounded,
as if no more than microbes on a globe, tripping
on the trap of gas whipping weather with its warmth
into expressions of a devastating energy;
even as we, in our ignorant ability,
reconfigure seeds, trying our hand at what brought us about,
sowing what our clever minds can never mend,
beyond bureaucratic powers to recall or arm of law
or bother with what weeds children down the road will hoe,
even as we, in unworried ways,
treat the fruitful and abundant soil
to toxins we concoct
in sterile closets of corporate thought.
We have become a virulence upon the land
that was once ours to love,
consuming the earth that nurtured us.
We need no enemy to ravage us,
no gift at the gate of a horse
no pall of a sky-thrown stone,
equestrians of the apocalypse,
nor stumble in the millennium,
no, nor God to strike us down
from some mysterious proximity
before the golden calf of our ingratitude,
nor other Armageddon than we bring,
day by day, upon ourselves,
pawning what we hardly can redeem
under a trinity of burnished spheres,
the spent spin within, without and beyond,
seemingly preeminent,
at the mercy only of those dreams
in which we busily materialize,
confusing abundance merely of things
with approval of a deity, lately lighting lawns,
manifest as fat, cut out for laughs, a bag on his back,
to worship what we weakly want,
wrapped up in our packages, saying,
“There, but for the wickedness of others,
we might have saved the day.”
What have we in mind
more than pigeons on a ledge,
that we, with wild wings, waste the world,
the very gift upon which we have come to thrive?
When, at the edge of night, will we be fit to survive?
The Room
A Nickel’s Worth of News
One Sunny Halloween
A Consignment of Pan’s Pipes
Vision’s Widow
From A Village Coffee Shop
In No Sense Innocent
Dylan Thomas Remembered
So Much for That
Mutually Alone
The Kettle of Fish
To One Who Traffics in Sorrow
Just A Thought
The Scream
The Terminal
The Lionkeeper’s Pretense
The Highclimber
I Should Live So Long
Bip and the Butterflies
More Like
The Calliope and the Siren
The Destruction of the Lilies
With No Part
Ode to an Odor
The Going Thing
Vengeance Comes About
Looking Out
After Reading Dostoevsky’s
Free Thought
Egyptian Eyes
The Call to Colors
Double Negative
At the End of the Day
© David Ferguson, 2013