Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Cloisters, or, hocus-pocus

Look at the pretty kings and the precious saint
of the dark ages, my how lovely their curls
their delicate skins are so good and quaint
I adore their heavenly fashion and here are the pearls
they wore and the reliquaries they kept the left-
over lives of martyrs in, the relics of dead
men gone to Heaven like Luther who loved the bereft
but puked on the gangrened serf who was so ill-bred.
And here are the tapestries showing the murder of Christ
and the butchered unicorn myths St. George and the Dragon
Mordecai begging Charles deliver the Jews
and Arthur among bishops. And here is Jesus enticed
by the devil, refusing kingdoms and bread and pagan
rituals leaving behind his blood and his clothes.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

To Write and Kill for Spain (1936-1939)

“Under your foot I hear the smoke of the wolf,”
or such exhortation of a man from Estremadura
by Vallejo to fight on for Spain, and they did,
although I remain incredulous to some extent of 
the passion. It was a war of all rectitude,
or so I’ve read—I failed to live through it,
but I’m always astonished when I see one who did. 
Has it become more than it was? What do I know?
—the workers, the people, the masses against
the fascists, the Nazis working out war games, 
practice sessions like Vietnam, a time for testing 
new weaponry—never thought of the Spanish 
as little yellow hordes, but I guess ultimately
we’re all little yellow hordes. Such poetry 
for such destruction, I’m breathless 
when I read it, I’m breathless when I think 
of the slaughter. “Long live death!” shouted 
a Falangist general. And Unamuno was outraged.
I recall the Mickey-Mouse-hatted Guardia Civil 
eying us hostilely with their automatic weapons 
when we stopped in front of a church, 
but this was years after, the edge of a dream, 
a cloud too thick to pass through, a smog, 
it burned the hell out of my eyes. 
“Málaga defenseless, where my death
was born walking and my birth died of passion!”
I probably would have demonstrated—I’m good 
at shouting—but not volunteered. It was 
in Spain, and I’m not so easily convinced. 
I suspect good, I’m more familiar with hype.
But I am a romantic, a skinny, brutalized kid 
who has grown older without having avenged 
himself. I fight devilishly in my imagination against 
all oppression, over and over, so that the bad guys 
are not merely vanquished but vanquished repeatedly. 
Do I think I would have sacrificed my luxurious games 
for lead cartridges? A realist or a coward—what am I? 
The safest ideology is disorder, multiples of self-interest, 
so the Christian can damn me to hell but not crucify me. 
Many enlisted and fought, and I suppose there’s a time
when it’s necessary to put your belly in front of your
toys. I’m quick-tempered and furious, instigator of 
brawls I’m not ready to follow through on. Merely 
release, I suppose. And could I survive through
an evening without my cookies and milk?
Murdering for a nationality or religion—easy stuff, 
you can get swarms of morons for that—but for an idea? 
Vallejo can burst into song about the volunteers 
for the Republic, but I doubt I could write anything
persuasive about dying. “Long live death!” which is 
not to say I couldn’t be enticed into murdering.
Not being personally attacked and yet expected 
to fight for others—who might not fight for me. 
I worry about being made a fool of—a dead one. 
Or limbless, a paraplegic, watching it all come apart. 
Lay yourself down for what? But I guess it’s the 
moment that counts—must be dialectical
—there are times, and conditions. But, really, you’re
a sap to do anything—ask out a twenty-three-year-old,
write poetry, be Vallejo, fight for the Republic.

Monday, June 15, 2015


It can’t be there’s anything new 
here—the green field is a meadow, but only 
if you squint, and if the gravestones
are missing, it is because they’ve been
replaced by plaques. You can stroll down 
the gravel, you can picture a lake, you can squat 
under the oak and hum . . .  
the birds are senseless, and even 
the berries are minding their tongue.
The grounds lacks definition because 
you are used to congestion, and if there is room 
to breathe, it is because you have stayed put. 
The grass is unnatural, and if you stumble 
over a name or your foot is suddenly countersunk
on a bronze, you are startled but not mystified.
The canopies that are rolled over 
the entombments are like yurts on a Mongolian 
grassland, as is the one you are under—a green 
canvas on a movable scaffold that could be either 
a proscenium or a cage, depending on your 
ability to adjust. The light drizzle is without content, 
as are the ritual prayers, which are neither song 
nor desire—not even language—but 
artifacts no one has seen fit to discard.
Depersonalized, with a pickup cleric 
who has taken cursory notes, 
the obsequies are to the point 
and predictable. They lack physical 
substance because they rely upon usage. 
Neither poetic nor soaring, 
neither substantive nor specific, 
they conclude what has already been concluded.
The vague inclinations you might normally 
follow to their summations seem here 
not thought nor feeling but distant 
disturbances, like meteors 
or the stars out of whack. You finger 
them, but they are without dimension. 
They stay and they go—make no demands.
The four edges of the grounds have shrunk—
they lean indulgently toward you, as if to test 
your expansiveness. It is dangerous here 
because there is no glory or defiance, only 
an innocence that is partially mitigating 
and partially incomprehensible. It is not 
an end, it is not a beginning, and it is 
nowhere in the middle—an abstraction, perhaps, 
but there are real people involved.
The highway, which was a path before, 
is now an intruder, and what was formidable 
upon entering is now lacking in endurance.
You have learned nothing, you have 
experienced nothing, but you were not 
meant to. Its purpose fulfilled, you are 
released. You have held back your emotions 
because they seemed temperate or out of place, 
but now, on the bus, you notice in the pale 
anatomy of the half-strange relation talking 
beside you traces of another, and for 
an instant you are overwhelmed. But 
the moment passes, and the discontinuity
of apparently connected events is like a drawn
out drama in which the episodes are years apart 
and it is for you to fill up the gaps.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Below the clouds, 
where thick rain and individuals meet . . .
what combination of dos and don’ts in my final years,
when there is little time to calculate and 
less to conceive—to outlive one’s life—
a life once unconsidered, without end, a beginning,
not even a process, but as obvious as an apple.

One reaches a stasis, then repeats—like wringing suds
out of an old washcloth. 
By the time you have perfected a style, wrote Orwell,
you have always outgrown it.

Living requires
a style, no, not a fashion, which is negation,
ineptitude, despair, misdirection, but an assignment,
inner, outward.

The blue sky seems clear now, but
if one focuses, at tall buildings,
for instance, one notices hovering at their pinnacle a thin 
and perpetual haze, a mist, pollution?  . . . Rain is soothing, 
is apparent, offers no expectation. I’ve passed through 
it (an indefinite “it”) before, and a second time . . . . now.

“It” is neither hateful nor despairing, just insensate.
Not a burning out but a burning in. A kind of 
wound one has closeted
for decades but has gradually lost control of.

The thin line between loneness and loneliness,
soaked by the same,

interpretations, desires, assumptions, lies— 
as if they could be used over and over. Clouds or not.
To accept that, all this time, realizing you 
have been one of those lies.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Now and Then You Are the One

No comprehension how the lone survivor 
can be ignorance, how the ten-second commercial
can sell coconuts, how a fish-bone rapscallion
can curdle the milk and make the honey lament—
it would seem the sought-after rune, the one
cognitive gem that links letter to letter,
would be doggèd and lovely, have the precision of a grape, 
the mainspring of an opal, the breechblock of a spoon.

The chasm is filled with a large whiskey eruption,
a Jack Daniel's device that dribbles swill on the booths,
the lone scarab, the resurrection of water,
fossilized in amber—a shibboleth of concordance
that marks twain on the floors of the once living,
the boy-blood on the news that is eulogized and lost.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Death in the Family

Two shades of stubble here under my chin—
gray and brown— this local morning in the deep snow.

All around me are broken wires the squirrels roasted
themselves on in the overnight storm when everything’s
down and you realize how fragile the light is,
if you realize anything at all.

It’s impossible to draw a lesson from 
every meager event—so little has happened this morning—
a sparrow passing, a car in the wrong lane—nothing 
exceptional, just the movement of everyday traffic.

Even dressing lacks ritual.
You’re carrying out something unordinary 
you know you have done before, you’re so well-behaved. 
But this is different time, inborn, perhaps, 

yet not instinctual like a sparrow pecking 
a seed . . . but something you pass on to others and they 
to you when you say good morning before coffee.

Friday, February 27, 2015



A short hose draining an appendage, a continuous
water flow so that the clots, an autonomous healing,
are flushed out and nothing is dammed, the body
damming itself as it is supposed to, but turned 
enemy by its own repair as if in this 
case it doesn't know better, and it doesn't. 
Restoration must be halted and held back 
until it is time, and then it is released and does
what evolution has determined. No simple matter in that
we reverse what we observe, its natural course
rendered degenerative, it goes about its own
way mindless: nature is meant to consume, 
not heal. A river redirected, a mountain
moved, we retool an organ until it is salvaged.


Corpus Carborundum, the softest tissue vs. 
the hardest abrasive, a sharp tool sharpened,
a scalpel that slices open an abdomen like a papaya,
juices and all, mere flesh against 
metal, a kitchen utensil, a knife perhaps,
a bullet, a shard, all penetrating, the body
a melon, the air subtle with fluids, that men
operate in theaters, in theaters perform, save
lives under a surgical sun, where an epidural 
oblivion leaves one malleable, reparable.
Or in a war, a theater where mortars rip flesh, 
where insanity becomes strategic, maneuvers assigned.
All science, the saving, the recycling, the same
hand, the human, ordering life, ordering death.