Friday, December 9, 2011



in memoriam: Steve Forster

Death has nothing to do with skulls or bones

seeping into the earth like widows

horded behind windows and doors,

nothing to do with the crumbling aqueducts of arches and vertebrae

that used to carry serpent fire and a thread of water,

and the gentler lightning of the little god

who was rooted in our flesh like an apprentice in a studio

learning to paint the world through our eyes, not

the gaping sockets, the oracular shrines of calcium

the blind worms probe like calendars and soft pencils

for signs of our former lucidity, the charred wizards

etched on our cave-womb walls, not

the rotten jaws and teeth we primed like leg-hold traps

and baited with roses of meat and fragrant blood

to tear and grind our daily bread

from the inquisitions of raffled animals we demonically possessed

until, unmuscled by time, unstrung like an old guitar

they lie forever open in amazement,

unhinged in the earth like ghastly lockets fallen from the foodchain.

Nor in the crumbling molars and brave patinas of our gravestones,

or the dozen words cut like valleys

through granite and marble by the unrequited eons of our tears

to say in the native ink of a waterproof language

we were here awhile among the flowers

for reasons only the rain can guess, not in the braille and signage

of these sad tokens can you refine the facets

of the black jewel turning in the light

like the lens of an indelible eclipse. There is no abacus

of days and nights, no boundary stone or compass

with the eye of a needle, no astrolabe

or ocean with coasts, no delinquency of clockable stars

to surmise the expanse of a journey narrowed to a point

like the contracting pupil of an undiscovered eye

breaching the watchfires of stranded immigrants

burning their coffins like books and lifeboats.

The human body is a bag of water with nine holes in it

and we’re all leaking out, bankrupt clepshydrae,

trying to make installments on a sea

that soon forecloses on our petty accounts, but death

is not a debt we owe to anything, not a fee for the ferryman

or a pig for the ogre at the mouth of a passage

that would otherwise gulp us down, nor

as the dark priests habitually aver

is it the craze of some ancestral miscreance

fathered on our cradles by a fall. As every executioner knows

better than those who employ the killing frost,

or the prisoner bound and hooded like a shrub

against the coming cold, death is not a punishment,

nor for the citizen of the new country

unfurling like a flag of blood in the bathtub, an escape.

The vagrant heart no more

we miss the flowering, the fire-paths, the urgent fathoms of the rose,

the maladjusted poppy of the famous apron, the introverted socks

that cried all night in their finishing school, the common sacristies

of chaste luggage, the occult cupboards of bookish bread

tutoring the plates in the Latin roots of things, the ruined eyelashes

of evangelizing nails spurning the cold bouquets

of broken-hearted hammers, we miss the aging sugar-sack

that charmed the lemons and the onions with spoon-shaped valentines,

and the moon, the streetlamp, the white peony in the watering-can,

the long hand-shakes of disinherited saws

lamenting the strict custards of their arboreal grandfathers

cunning as flies and fishing tackle. But who, among thorns,

afflicted by albino scorpions, the fetal keys of random miscarriages

that shocked the dirty sheets one night with red carnations

and fed a hundred unused baby-names

like leftovers to a famished drawer,

or the treacherous rashs of amorous adjacencies,

or the bitter histories of neglected vinegars that couldn’t sing

assassinating the voices of the mysterious wines who could, who

purposeless and bored among the abandoned ropes and ladders

of the pharoahnic garage, the thick skins of mummified paints,

or wedged like an ax with a broken handle in the poached stumps

of endangered chopping blocks, misses these, misses

the long, slow catastrophes that weep like years of glass?

The sunglass general is not sanctioned by his victory,

nor the cataract of the fool deferred by his defect.

Death eats the curse as well as the blessing, the climax

in the used condom beside the bed, the star in the well, the twilight

of the kiss, as well as the lightning strike that ashed

the wayward witching wand of the groping ant

like the spider-harp in a lightbulb, it eats oblivion, disaster, disease,

it drinks to the lees the faithless acids that green the copper trees,

it eats the ancient embryos of the souvenir dreams

pressed between the lean pages of florid shale, it eats the useless gesture

and the prowling submarines of sin piked under the polar caps

of aging oxygen, decrepitude, debility,

and the brooding marrows of the dusk. Fatter than a weekend newspaper

death eats but does not grow, a surfeit of deprivation, a feast

of the crucial blue salts it sits below like the sea

dethroned by the waste of its corpulent table with nothing to add of its own,

in the lowest place of all, receiving all, facelessly, eye to eye,

the colossal horses groaning like captive temples

in the ruins of their bones, and the dim star of the little red money-spider

cannibalized on its wedding night by its bridal companion,

and the unstopped flutes of the children, some no bigger

than their arms, who died before the rain could tune their fingers

to the sadder clefs of the candle-snuffing columbine,

and the wise in their tents on the moon, nomads

of a borrowed light, deceiving oceans, and the shy ones, the tender ones

afraid of heights, lost ear-rings in lachrymose places sworn to silence,

who curled into themselves like prophylactic fiddleheads, nuns

of the night that sighed in their wombs, and the proud, self-made ladders

who transcended themselves rung by rung to climb

all the way up to the sky like boys in the show-off trees

ashamed of their roots, and the deserted and the lonely in the last acts

of bad apartments with broken intercoms, wardens

of their own solitude, gnawing on the heads

of the plaster cherubs and plastic grapes that garnish the shoddy restaurants.

Without taste, without discrimination, without appetite,

because death is always full, as the eye

that takes in a million stars is always full,

as life that is its own food is always full, not

leaner by a butterfly for all that it consumes, nor ever

sated by the butcheries that tuck and tailor their meats to its waistline,

death does not malign the living or cover the dead with calumny,

no more than indivisible space, neither vast nor miniscule

mars the lifelines of the brilliant rivers that traverse it, or a billion galaxies

that fly off in all directions like fireflies from the cradle of its palm

are obstructed in their courses. Where does my fist go

when I unlock my fingers, or my lap when I stand

or the dawn when the day is far along? And by noon

when the sun is at zenith, and the clock is a widow walk

on a lonely tower encompassing the sea, are the shadows unmanned

by the synchronicity? And where does the wind go

or the wave or the flame or the person

when the fountain-mouths are still, or the silence when I say your name?

Death is not a collusion of time to undo our sandy fame

in the divine ignorance of an unspeakable wasteland.

Like a tree that isn’t elated when the birds and leaves return in the spring

and isn’t downcast when they part again in the fall;

as it was before we swam in the shining

and as it is now that we’ve come ashore,

death is a gesture that any child could understand.

Death is an open hand.




Trying to settle down into the simplicity of my wildness

inside a clearing in a grove of Long Bay birch,

one pine reflected perfectly on the sunset calm

of the intervening water. Just sit here,

not meditating, not painting, not trying to pose

the environment to suit the mood of the poet

or indulging in the anti-pathetic fallacy

that I’m somehow exempt from all of this.

I see. But I’m not looking.

I hear. But I’m not listening.

The beavers give me the benefit of the doubt

and decide I’m not there after all

and go on working around me

like another troublesome, harmless obstacle.

Nothing lonelier than the call of a crow in autumn

as it hones its beak like a sword that’s gone rusty

on the branch it’s perched on

and tries again and again

to figure out what’s wrong

by waiting for an answer that never comes.

It’s a black blob on the ink-blotter of the moon

rising almost full to the west

of a Pearl Harbour spiked with the masts

of a sunken fleet of trees in port,

a quarter-note, a misplaced comma,

an apostrophe that doesn’t belong to anyone.

I surround it with the similitudes

it engenders in me associatively

and enter crow mind

like a diamond travelling back in time

to when it was anthracite.

And don’t think of the diamond

as solid adamantine translucency

because it flows, it ripens, it falls, it weeps

like a supple absolute in play with everything

the way water is

when you pour it out of the grail,

out of the elaborate lattice-work

of a thematic atomic principle

that binds the whole to every particulate

like flypaper coiled the opposite way,

an hourglass turned upside down

like an empty hemisphere at last call

just as the Sahara returns

to nimble Capsians, antelope and grasslands

due to a change in the climate of time.

I enter the immensity of the crow

like a wingspan wavelengths wider than mine

and I’m horrified by the depths of its solitude

and how, like coal, like diamond, like me

before the diamonds thawed

its most dangerous wish was

to be consumed in the fire of what it longed for,

to break into flames and disappear.

And for the very first time

my third eye cried a tear

like an insight into the sadness

that makes light of the world

like a sacred clown that’s scared to death.

And then its partner came like a delinquent eclipse

that distracted both of us

from the intensity of the clarity

that was setting fire to the clouds all around us

in the damp, autumn sunset,

and they flew off like ashes in an updraft

and I was left sitting here alone

with one of my eyes put out

like a cold fire pit

the stars return to every night

like the highlights of the stories

I made up about them

to bridge the distance between us,

hoping I’ll add a new twist to the plot

like another branch on the fire

they first took their shining from

when we were all full of stories

that were lyrical, lonely and young.

Radiant with despair to know

what we were all doing here

trying to read each other’s minds

as if everyone of us kept a secret

so deeply within ourselves

we didn’t know about it

and weren’t in on it

because that’s how open and apparent it was.




One side of my face always turned toward the darkness.

Like the moon, like Mercury.

No more to see on the dark side,

than there is on the light.

One no more the sponsor of life

than the other is.

Not Janus-faced because

they don’t swing both ways

and even when you’re walking

hand in hand with somebody,

it’s still not a hinge.

There’s no threshold of the new year

between them

and you can’t cross it

wearing somebody else’s shoes.

There’s one light, one sun,

for the whole room

and it shines down on everybody alike

yet one side gives everything back

like water to water

eternity to time

and the other turns its face toward the wall

like a child that can’t be forced to participate.

Cold, iron thoughts my tongue sticks to

like an oyster straight out of the shell

on freezing metal.

Two chunks of black anthracite

in a white stocking.

Deimos and Phobos,

terror and fear,

Martian moons with a downgraded albedo,

black meteorites in white Antarctica,

because you’ve been a bad boy

and gouged out the snowman’s eyes.

And the lies I had to tell myself

to try and survive just being normal

without getting caught

picking it up on the fly as I went along

because no one taught me anything beyond the obvious.

And though there are well-meaning,

commonsensical taboos everywhere,

legions of cliches

against pecking at the walls of your comfort zone

with a stolen spoon for a pick-axe,

like a lifer that just won’t give up

trying to get out,

one day Jericho came crumbling down

like a scab

like a cosmic egg

some harried crow dropped on the ground

to escape the furious sparrows

when the sun stood still at noon

and I made a break for it

and I’ve been getting away with myself ever since.

Sometimes the darkness is solid and opaque

when space turns to glass

and I’m locked into my own eclipse

like a baby mammoth in a black glacier

like a message in braille in a bottle

that focused on the medium too much

and burned through what I had to say

like a lens without right-brained peripheral vision.

When space freezes on me like this

I’m usually situated among the asteroids

between Jupiter and Mars

trying to get myself together

by blending in with the other fragments

of the habitable planet we all hope

we can be again one day

though I’m not sure I really mean it

and my instincts smell a judas-goat,

I say it anyway.

And you mustn’t think

the gilded matador of noon

with his flashing white swords

and flaring cape of blood

is any less tangible

than the lunar bull of the moon on its knees

because that would be inaccurate

and upset all the mirrors in the room.

Hey, but out of that trough of a wound

the dog and the scorpion eat from

flows a dark abundance

like a Sahara of grain

into the hollow siloes of Joseph’s dream

like one of the spiral arms of a starfish galaxy

that martyred the black hole

that cut it off and buried it

like the right hand of something that offended it

to ensure the fertility of the crops.

Bright vacancy.

An apostolic imagist poet

looking at himself in the mirror

as if he were measuring the width of Flaubert’s windowsill

to see how many relics he could splinter

out of the true frame of the looking glass

to sell the ignorant masses back

their own family albums on photo-shop.

He looks at them.

But not through them.

He likes the blossoms like a hummingbird

delights in the trivia of day

but he never digs a well deep enough

to discover the dark root of the Dutch elm

that hydraulically draws all this up

from an eyeless watershed

like nine tons of water a day

and six million leaves.

If you’re a man of good conscience

your soul might have both hands

firmly fixed at eleven and one o’clock

on the steering wheel you wear like a halo

but it’s the dark engine with a will of its own

that empowers your going from beneath

and the wheels on the road

underneath your feet

not the one above your head

that bears you in the golden chariot of the sun

like a triumph through the slums of Rome.

Remember thou art mortal.

When you’re a bubble

that forgets where it comes from

don’t expect the tolerance of thorns.