FIRST YELLOW LEAVES ON THE BLACK WALNUT TREES
First yellow leaves on the black walnut trees.
The original digits on the wristwatch of the sun.
Waterproof to any depth you want to drown in.
The trees are homesick.
You can tell by the way they’re giving up.
Comes the season of the dead in harvest time.
The dark abundance of the light
inspired by the muse of the earth
to write poetry
that touchs everyone
like water and wine
whether the apples are gathered or not.
The mystic grape finds enlightenment
in the mouth of a human
when it breaks like a koan
that tastes of something older than the truth.
It’s good to walk through an open field by yourself
as if home were just over the next hill
as the night comes on.
It’s good to feel fulfilled
without knowing much about why
as if some subtle stratagem of the sky
had worked out a truce with life for awhile
and everywhere the armies of the grass
were surrendering their shields like flowers.
It’s late August
and the cedars gather on the hillside
like old testament prophets
come down to the river
to baptize their roots in fire.
Chicory in the eyesocket
of a baby muskrat’s skull
half-buried in the earth like a small moon
that returned to its mother’s breast
several autumns ago.
If the medium is the message
then the message of life
is its timing
and the whole of its content is now.
The dead don’t walk among the living
squawking about things
they’re missing in paradise.
Ten commandments might be good advice
but there’s one bit of wisdom
that wasn’t written on a gravestone
that threatened to bury you
in the valley of the shadow of death
like an avalanche down the world mountain
for ever and ever and ever
should you ever wander off the beaten path
by as much as one black sheep away from the flock:
It’s not your door if you have to knock.
Your life’s the key to your own lock.
You can ask the flowers.
Beauty isn’t enslaved by its own powers.
Clarity sees through the brave
as easily as the cowards
as two sides of the same fear
and no river’s flowing the wrong way to the sea.
Autumn is a lonely voice
that sadly rejoices in what it must be
but what mad wonders
it hides under everyone’s breath
like marvels it keeps to itself.
The best place to hide
is out in the open
like being and seeing and thinking.
And if you smell the wind
at this time of year
you can tell that it’s been drinking
to drown its wanderlust in words
heading south with the birds
who carry the souls of the dead away
like fires that ascended to heaven
on a ladder of bones
and a spinal cord
threaded through the eye of a needle.
A snake sheds its skin and vertebrae at last
and turns its scales into wings
to become a dragon
that burns its bridges behind it
like waterbirds without directions
disappearing from their own reflections
before the first ice.
I reach the top of an old hill
and I can see what I look like
a long way off from here
as Venus breaks like a mirror
low on the horizon
through the black mascara
on the eyelashes of the backlit pines.
And there are spirits of the air
summoned by the darkness
with eyes that glow
like charcoal on the fires
of yesterday’s myth of origins
to look up at the stars
and make up some kind of a story
about what they’re doing there in the first place
like the afterlife of the mystery
of the night before time and space
as if the history of our prophetic skulls
could still foretell the future
of an advanced race of cannibals.
You are what you eat.
But the time is long past
when I could tear my heart out
and offer it up to the unappeasable gods
like the fruit of a human
who has wandered the earth
like a rootless tree
true to his own homelessness
like a fire that kept faith with a heretic
who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Who would be there to receive it?
If I wrapped it up like a foundling
and laid it on the stairs of the abyss
late at night when no one was watching
or sent it down the river
in a basket I wove from cattails
like a baby in an empty lifeboat
drifting down its bloodstream
on its way to something better
than a promised land it couldn’t enter
what life on what distant star
would bend down and pick it up
like a message in a bottle
from life stranded on an island galaxy
waiting to hear the likeness of its own echo
in the voice of the light that answered
help is on the way?
And that sword’s been long drawn
out of the barren stone of the moon
that gave it back to the waters
like the blade of an old perfection
it once fell upon
like the reflection of a man
with a noble calling
in the absence of volunteers.
I haven’t sacrificed my innocence
to that invincible agony in years.
And there’s more than one crown
I’ve thrown off a bridge
like a trinket of my powers
as if I knew somehow
you can’t keep
what you won’t give away.
You can run deliberately straight as a highway
or weave spontaneously like a river
but if the first
just regard the extreme chaos
of conditioned conciousness
and if the latter
you’ll shed many lives
like skies and skin you’ve grown out of
following the long journey of yourself
all the way from your tail to your head
passing like a serpent through the grass
as if you had a secret
you keep to yourself
that were better left unsaid.
But there’s a third extreme
that just as intense as the others
which is the way I stay the course.
I put wings on a horse
that’s never known a saddle
or been bruised by the stars like spurs
and we’re up up and away
as if we’d never heard of the Medusa.
The Great Square of Pegasus
going down behind the pines
like a card up my sleeve.
I don’t want to turn anyone into stone
or blind them with my shield
as if the light knew judo
and how to use my enemy’s strengths
I don’t want to decapitate anyone
who was once the priestess
who fed sweetcakes and honey
to the oracular pythons of Delphi
and long before that
along with her two Gorgonic sisters
was the virgin wife crone phase of the moon
shedding her graces like skin.
I’ve jumped into enough snakepits
for one lifetime
to know how easy it is to get in
and how nearly impossible it is to get out.
One fang of the moon kills you.
The other heals you.
But you’re never the same after that
and there are scars that hurt worse than the wound.
But you can see things before the arising of signs
and there’s a crazy wisdom that embodies you
like a candle in the darkness
talking to itself.
And I can hear what the serpent said
quietly to Eve
just before it offered her the apple
from the forbidden tree:
Don’t lie to anyone you’re trying to believe.