THE LEAVES SLUICING THE RAIN DOWN THE BACK OF MY NECK
The leaves sluicing the rain down the back of my neck
to put out my candle of serpent-fire
like an orchid in an abandoned house well,
lightning in its tears, thunder in the hollow
of its telescope when the white runaway horse
pounds its hoof upon it at four in the morning,
the muscled embodiment of moonlight made flesh,
the stars running to peer through their windows
to see what’s making that sound.
The sodden path down to the lake, rife with duff,
an Orphic descent whose picture-music
owes nothing to death, and the moss-pated skulls
of the prophetic rocks along the way, every precarious step,
the assessment of an omnipresent danger
that could kick the stool from out under your noose,
though you were foolishly hoping it might be
an Egyptian ankh, granting you long life
in an underworld where anything that’s violet
is the toxic shadow of an inconsolable grief
that laments that it had ever met the sun eye to eye,
and try how it might, can’t make a way of life
out of suicide. But I didn’t come here to grease
the hinges on hell like the wings of rusty birds
or desecrate the place with my omnipresence.
Once I realized the realm of the dead
is no realm at all that can be distinguished from the living,
I’ve returned to this underground river from time to time
where the roots try to take hold of my skull like the moon
as if it were their last chance at blossoming,
and my bones are scattered along the banks
like socket wrenches from a dead mechanic’s tool box
or a coffin that’s finally run out of things to fix.
This is where I come to return my harp of water
to a watershed of indistinguishable wavelengths
in homage to the source that handed it on to me,
a voice of my own, and there’s a bridge I stand on
no one’s burnt down yet, just a fallen log really,
but to me an overarching oxymoron that lets me stand
on both sides of the mindstream at once
to pay homage to a death I long to be worthy of
like a teacher my life is obligated to surpass
to fully honour her undisciplined transcendence.
Like water. A carrying away into a carrying away.
We couldn’t tell time if we weren’t all dying.
Eternity just a sundial that never closed its eyelids.
The wounded serpent of the waterclock bleeding out
like a human heart to remind us what hour it is,
what windfalls and harvests of the season of our soul
to leave in the begging bowls we place
at the eastern doors of our autumnal burial huts,
hoping we’ll see each other again, once are bones are dust,
like Canada geese returning in the early spring.
Some bring silver swords minted of moonlight
thrusting through the parting clouds
and lay them down on the water gently
like children they once cherished abandoned for life
as the greatest gift their hands had ever grasped.
I lay down this gift of a clear voice
that no fear or desire’s ever broken in like a wishbone
pimped out like tinfoil to the glamour of temptation.
Whatever storms raged in the crowns of its oracular branches,
this tree never injured any bird that ever sang in it.
I never hung my lyre like a dreamcatcher over the bed,
or used it to seduce butterflies into a spider-web,
dolphins into a bay of fishing-nets, nor yet
let its strings go slack like the pentatonic spinal cords
of a guitar that’s lost its nerve in the dark corners of life.
Nor did I ever refuse to sing what the dead asked me to
anymore than I did the living. Nor let the medium
intrude upon the message in such a way
the import of the song couldn’t exceed
the wingspan of the bird that released it
into the vastness of its interstellar longing.
Here the dead whisper their secrets to the waters
like coy sylphs of the wind flirting with waves,
and here where dissolution walks in the same shoes
as regeneration, and one step east is one step west
and though there’s a coming and though there’s a going
birth and death don’t know anything about this,
and Prussian blue the wet wind that’s been crying
about the sturm and drang of things to the broken pines
whose excruciations have become part of their character,
as if the haloes of the rain rippled through their heartwood
like the echoes of old engagement rings
from wide-eyed springs that have lasted for light years.
Death isn’t the derelict of life’s glory.
Just as peace isn’t the end of passage.
Mid-summer squanders as many flowers
on the capricious rivers of life as it does
the funeral bells of the fallen water birds.
And maybe that’s all these words are,
wild iris and daylilies lifting their skirts
above the flowing like troupes of gypsy fires
that like dancing to the flutes of their own desires
as they burn on the pyres of their floral reflections.
Who knows this late in the day, but maybe
I’m just trying to approach my own death
like an unopened gate to a garden
the way I did as a novice to love
when I couldn’t tell a larkspur from a hollyhock
nor what sign the star sapphire of the borage
wanted to be planted under like the Pleiades?
Anyway it pans out is ok with me, though.
I like it here where the waterlilies reset their sails
like redemption out of their own salvage
and after a long, grey day of funereal rain,
the clouds begin to clear around nightfall
and my eyes are seeded with the stars
of unnamed constellations of New England asters
that don’t conform to any known starmaps
I can follow genetically back like a fuse of dna
to the Big Bang of my first flowering into life.
And maybe I’m a mutant in the ancestry of death
that has always been the subliminal motif
of a symphonic life that wasn’t immune
to the picture-music of the celestial spheres
but I can’t help noticing how the bones of the muskrat
and the skeletal remains of the heron’s stilts
toppled by the stealthy fluke of a fox
all resonate like musical instruments
laid down in tribute on the roots of the trees
and on the sides of the paths that broke like melodies
on the ears of the dead who could taste them
like the tears of the moon on their silver tongues.
In this realm of radiant starmud in a state
of reanimating life out of its own detritus and decay,
I can hear their ghosts returning to life
like native atmospheres
returning to the songs of the lunar night birds
that don’t abuse their solitude with a sense of loss
without sweetening the music
with the ripeness of their silence
just before the grande finale
of their next windfall of transcendent whole notes.