Tuesday, June 26, 2012



I can still hear the reticent echoes
of my wary adolescence among intellectual radicals
demanding the nightwatchmen of insight open the gates.
One stole an Underwood for me from the student newspaper,
saying I would put it to better use than they would
and another drove me to my astronomy exam
against the will of my drunken declinations.
And I remember White Rabbit playing on the radio
first time, and the turmoil of sun and morning shadows
playing Scarlatti on the keyboards of the arbutus leaves.
Happy. Free. And sixteen enough to get away with anything.
I was bright and fearless. No one could take subjective risks
the way I could, but I still had to stand up
on the book of experience to see over the steering wheel.

Spectral figments of the past, smokey remnants
of the fires we once sat around without giving a thought
to how long they’d last. We were zodiacs. We were
hedonists of the light, trying to believe
in our own arrogance enough to roar like dragons
and write like the first green tendrils of an ancient vine.
I was apprenticed to the signs I saw in everything
like a library of eyes in flames, and the subtlety of fireflies
that came like the nuances of midnight,
and shone upon my path like lighthouses among the stars.
Famous days. Baby turtles urgent to reach the tide
among swarms of hovering seagulls, sky rats,
thinning the odds of any of us ever making it
out of the shadows of our predatory circumstances.
Everything a test of our fitness for life, and a laurel
awarded randomly to the luckiest if not the most talented.

Genius was mean and cruel and scoffed
at the slightest adage of the pretentious fool
that published on the back of sententious matchbooks
but at night, in its writing window, overlooking
the lights of the town, it took off its war face
and summoned the moon to a tender seance
like a medium in love with the ghost of a muse
that was playing hard to get. O the fallacious brilliance
of our teaching errors. The illustrious craving
for dangerous love affairs with thresholds and taboos
that had never been crossed or broken before.
Did a knife ever sink into the heart
as deeply as those we fell upon
to discipline ourselves in the black arts
of our tragic flaws? All our fire pits
smothered in ashes by grieving women
who really meant it, though we were too depressed
to see them scattering our urns on the wind
to ceremoniously exorcise the feelings they had left for us.

Leave things as a token of what they are,
like stars light years ahead of themselves
plummeting into the darkness of the black holes
that lay ahead like hourglasses that would invert their souls
and leave them on the receiving end of their own hindsight.
Let the mirages deceive the deserts of the moon
into believing they were the ambassadors of watersheds
that could green a sea of shadows with wishing wells.
Permissive in my joys, it didn’t hurt to be sparing in hell.
Something infernally elegant about compassion in a demon.
I wrote like a carillon of apostate bells, and books
began to appear on the staves of library shelves
like night birds in a museum, singing to themselves.

My life in art back then. A lucid agony of embryoes
curled up with their knees under their chins
like fossil question marks in encyclopedic shale
that preserved them like the juvenalia of my first attempts
to write about life as if deep in its heart
it secretly exceeded it own table of contents
in a hidden harmony of alternative endings.
Exotic exits from homely entrances,
after every poetry reading more people
felt like poppies than they did like wheat.
And I could see I’d made a good impression
on the death masks of the scarecrows
as I threshed the harvests I had sown
under a new moon of well-seasoned potential
that I shared with the birds like sunflowers at zenith
not earthworms in the starmud of a walled garden.

O delirious moment that counterpoints the past
reduced to the absurdity of recounting it
for the trivialities it turned on like microcosmic gates
that escaped our notice, but made all the difference
in the elaborate depths of the outcome.
A stolen typewriter in the hands of a radical friend.




Gentle the stars and the town asleep.
No stranger at the gate. No door ajar.
The windows deep in their own affairs.
Flowers thicken the hot night air
with pheromones of sex and death
that follow you all the way down the street
like homeless kittens and lonely junkies.

Walking my solitude off alone,
the cold stone of the moon overhead,
the first night bird I’ve heard tonight
singing high in the leaves of an elm
strung like a guitar with power lines
and in my heart, a child of longing,
the half-finished spectre of a poem to you.

The streetlamps bud like day lilies
but nothing blooms in the tungsten light
though insects gather in impotent frenzies,
my poem to you makes love through its eyes
to the leaf and the star and the stone
seeking out images of you to adorn
this figment of desire in a shrine of thorns.

A woman dreams in a house far away.
The road grows darker and longer
out among the fields where the stars
wax brighter than the themes of a poet
igniting like fireflies down by the river
he sits by nursing his imagination
on the night shift of the inconceivable.




The young poets tell me I’m old.
The old poets tell me I’m young.
Is it done, then, the work, time to let the sun go down?
Evaporate? Scatter my ashes among the stars
and out wait the eras to shine again?
Or is there still enough within me to immolate,
Take a firefly like the heater of a cigarette
and kiss the fuses of the supernovas, the wicks
of the unlit candles? I don’t feel dead
though I try my extinction on several times a day
to see if it fits yet, if I’ve grown my way into it.

What the river gives up in speed, in flashing
down the heights of its sharp-edged peaks,
its supple effervescence, it more than makes up for
in the mass and the depth of its movement.
Yesterday, a snowflake on a furnace. Today
an encyclopedic glacier greased by its own melting
all the way to the sea. Yesterday, bright vacancy.
Today, dark abundance. And the days and the nights,
this keyboard at my fingertips, the blacks and the whites
of these eighty-eights, is it time to stop playing
and bury it like the spinal column of unknown fossil?
The only pillar of the temple I could never tell
if I were building up or tearing down. Time now
a waterclock of ice, and frost on the garden?

When the wine is asleep in a dark cellar,
what does it dream? Does it remember
the bitter, green grapes, or the headiness of the red?
Does the watershed recall the fountain giddy with birds
or is the goblet empty, the hourglass left overturned,
the full-fledged sunlight dropped its flight feathers?

Assessment. My eyes are cracked like two year old
dry red oak. But they’ll keep you warm in the winter.
I have a ten thousand dollar smile that always has
a little hook of compassionate irony in it, and my crowns
are aligned like the zodiacs of Etruscan kings,
but it’s not out to catch anything, it’s not baleen,
and it’s never been a blue whale skimming krill.
Broke my nose, shattered my elbow, punctured my lungs,
splintered my instep, my right hand fractured and rewired
so many times it’s a necklace of puka shells
and the knuckles have all been punched back
from the Himalayas into the Appalachians.
And my skin is a cuneiform of scars,
a Proto-Nostratic alphabet, a stone calendar
of Mayan glyphs, a stamped passport
to the external world, the used condom
of a horned viper, a bag of water with nine holes in it
that has been shot through like a country mailbox
on the side of the road in passing, the parchment
of a gnostic gospel that’s leathered in the sand
a long time in a dark cave waiting for a goatherd.
My left eye has a black spider brooched to it
like a sloppy gunsight, the skeleton of an umbrella
from a partially detached retina. I grew up
with earthquakes, so I don’t shake when the earth moves.
I don’t drool, mutter, or flare an ear like a conch shell
to hear what the sea is saying. Sleep like the dead,
no dreams when I’m writing, and body still tight
and muscled enough to give the snarling crackheads pause
on a Saturday night outside the Shark and Bull,
and when I put it in black leather like a rat snake
I still feel like a famous eclipse in the moonlight.

Heart still a meteor that breaks its own rules
when I see a beautiful woman. Don’t drink.
I make my own sugars. So my liver and kidneys
are still donatable, and to judge from my last lover
still got a lingham to put a smile on the face of a yoni,
a jewel in the lotus, something Freudian in my slips,
and I haven’t forgotten how to encounter the lips of an orchid.
Smoke too much, but I’ve got a canary in my lungs
that lets the miners know when things
are getting too toxic. Wino of the coffee bean,
black, pure protein, but my nerves remain titanium
and I hear now, despite the excoriations of the past,
it’s a great antioxidant against Alzheimer’s
and people are eating crow like hot asphalt
on their doctor’s advice, and I’m not going to die
of a terrorist heart attack waiting for me up the road
like an i.e.d. without a bomb disposal unit.
Too bad, I would have taken a lot of them with me.

But on the apples of my love, no blight. On the sacred shrouds
of my indecipherable sorrows, no stain. My loyalty
still as suicidal as it’s ever been. My anger
still as focused as a laser and my indignation
at the pettiness, meanness, hypocrisy of my peers
still an early savage flint knapping obsidian spears.
Is the spring really a younger season than the fall
and the sum of autumn’s fallibility, the experience
the spring’s apprenticed to? Not likely, but my wonder
at just being here, doesn’t know what year it is.

My vices aren’t grey. My virtues are still as estranged
as they ever were. And even after fifty years of writing poetry
I still haven’t cracked the koan of my solitude
though I can juggle twelve thoughts in my mouth at once
and say what I mean, without hoping to be understood.
Didn’t have a middle-aged crisis. Maybe I wasn’t
all that important, or maybe everything’s been such a crisis
from the very beginning, I didn’t have time
to look up and notice. And younger women
haven’t been unkind, nor the older ones unmindful
of my boyish charms. And as for my spirit, the lightning
still hasn’t asked the fireflies for a starmap
and my human divinity hasn’t gone crawling to the gods yet,
but there have been moments that lavished felicitous eras
of mauve New England asters in a bolt of morning sunlight
in early September under an apple tree when all I could do
was stare transfixed at how perennially startling
the brevity of the beauty of the earth can actually be.
So my seeing hasn’t aged. Nor my imagination
flaked like paint off the flowers. And I swear
the return journey is a lot more innocent than the first.

Being is time. It isn’t something happening to you
from the outside. It emanates from your heart
and when the lucky day comes you see it’s all now
and in every moment, a whole new universe
flashing out of the void and returning to it
like the pulse of the dawn after dusk after dawn,
and the past is creative and the future’s already
been achieved, and death is not a reason, it’s an art,
how can it not be San Francisco, 1966, as well
as all the regrets you’re going to have about it tomorrow,
when you’re the radiant and the watershed
and the fountain time flows from resplendently
from the seed to the root to the leaf to the flower
and back to the fruit in a tree ring of water,
a sun dog of light, you can’t run from, you can’t
catch up to. Because you’re the sundial, you’re
the waterclock, you’re the pocket-watch, you’re
the hour in its prime just hitting its stride
and you’re the eternity with one toe over the starting line.