FIVE DOLPHINS SWIMMING OFF THE BOW OF MY FOREHEAD
Five dolphins swimming off the bow of my forehead,
glancing encounters with the moon that lacquers their skin.
I’m in a lifeboat under the full sail of a blank page
just to keep up with them, though I know I’m moving
into deeper night seas of awareness, too far out
to make it back to shore in time to make the curfews
of the lighthouses trying to keep the shore-huggers apart
from the salvagers who run down to the shores in a storm
taking over from the mermaids like a nightshift of scavengers,
who want to run you up on the rocks just as surely
by holding their lanterns out like the tinfoil constellations
of false hopes on the event horizons of precipitous cliff walls.
I revel in the glee, the ecstasy, the rapture
that doesn’t mean anyone’s coming to save me
of running free with my imagination for the pure joy
of living with it as the only known antidote
to the decrescent moon that had its fangs pulled.
I give my flightfeathers up to the wind off the sea at night
like a seagull to a sky burial that sheds them like apple bloom.
Mediocrity thinks that words are the sounds you make
like the names of things when you’re beating
on a hollow log of a muse. Amplified echoes
of a weak pulse. Thunder without lightning. Life
without water and blood. Sex without lust.
But words are living creatures with an integrity
and mystic specificity of their own that don’t need
anyone’s voice to animate them, because
long before anyone was born to stick them like fingers
and things of the world into their mouths,
words were speaking for themselves
like nightbirds in the woods, the shriek of the hawk
as it whistles by like an arrow between the talons
of its parentheses, the hermit thrush and the mockingbird
that speak in the tongues of words they’ve cloned from sound.
How else do you think the fox in winter,
following the pheasants tracks learned to print,
and then later the leafless trees taught it cursive script?
Sweesh-ka-ka in Kwakiutl means robin.
You can almost hear it on a green bough
outside your window in the spring when the crows
from their island rookeries are squabbling for squatter’s rights
with hopeful migrants from the south of winter.
You can hear it in the way a star splinters on a moonless night
like a chandelier in an ice storm. I don’t write
as if I’ve been talking to foreign ministers all my life
with urgent messages from an abandoned embassy in Babylon
that shredded all its clay tablets like papers
for my eyes only to keep them out of the hands of my enemies.
Words aren’t memos to feel something you didn’t yesterday.
Or the gravestones of dead metaphors to help you recollect
things you’ve buried in your past like a bone box of loveletters.
Abracadabra. Grammar is magic. Words cast spells on the stars
that turn them into bulls and fish. Black and white magicians,
witches, sylphs, sibyls, incubi and sorceresses
that can curse or bless the dancing ballerina on top
of that music box you keep like a secret aviary in your larynx
to jinx the silence of a false dawn with the sound of rain.
Can’t you hear the mirrors crying to be liberated
from the same old reflections on love you bare before them?
Words aren’t a collection of old shoes you’ve shed in a closet
full of skeletons like flesh and snakeskins
you’re never going to wear again. However long
the firewalk you’ve got to go barefoot if you ever want
to wear wings on your heels whose flightplans
don’t need to be measured by the width of your feet.
Words are demons. Words are wounded angels. Words
are drunks slumped three stairs up on the fire-escapes of hell.
Words are dragons that swallow the cosmic eggs
of sacred syllables trying to break out of their shells
like fledglings. They’re not the vicars of your moral life.
They’re not forensic evidence of how wonderful you were.
They’re not the yarrow sticks that wrote the Book of Changes.
They’re not a memory system for the absently-minded
collective unconscious talking in its sleep
elliptically to archetypes of the definite article. Isn’t The . . .
enough of a biography to factualize the fictions
and fictionalize the facts of anyone over the course
of a lifetime drilling wells into a watershed of mirages
to get to the bottom of things like a shipwreck in a desert
when it rains? Everybody gets wordy about things
they know nothing about. In the beginning was the word
and so on and so on sound begat sound, but what gets lost
in translation like the prequel of the lightning flash
before the rolling thunder, is the genesis
of the imagination playing by itself in the dark
like a blind child listening to the rain on the roof
crying its eyes out for things that can’t be seen in the light.
Comb, coma, comet, comma. Ball, ballet, ballistic, symbol.
The dead word in the living voice of the undertaker
as he combs the hair of your corpse, isn’t poetry.
It’s just another night light on in a morgue
without a midnight or a dawn to know what hour it is.
Don’t be fooled by the luster of the polished stone.
Or the transparency of the crystal skull. The dark ore
conjures more stars to the window than the candle lures moths.
You miss the point of your seeing altogether like a black dwarf
if you go out to look at Orion on a winter night
and come back in singing the praises of your lenses.
The gold of the rainbow pours from the ore of the storm.
You don’t need to bury yourself alive to mine it
or make a sluice of your tongue, a forge of your heart
to refine it. Or open your mouth like Crassus
among the Parthians to wear the corona of your eclipse
like a sun that shines at midnight, coal in a wedding ring.
Five dolphins swimming off the bow of my forehead like Delphinus
nudging a poetic sailor who jumped over board from Job’s Coffin,
or the Black Turtle of the North to the Chinese astronomers
on a nightwatch without an astrolabe ashore
as Nicolaus Venator from Palermo repeats
his Latin name infernally backwards in the dark mirror
of the nightsky like the alpha and beta of its two brightest stars.
Note: The poetic sailor referred to is Arion, the poet reputed to have been saved from drowning by a dolphin. Nicolaus Venator is the Latin name of the astronomer, Niccolo Cacciatore, which, spelled backwards, was given to the two brightest stars of the constellation, Sualocin and Rotanev, though, modestly, only of the fourth magnitude.