THE LITTLE NOISE I’VE MADE OVER FIFTY YEARS OF WRITING
The little noise I’ve made over fifty years of writing,
a star that roars in the silence on a clear winter night
as if I were trying to keep something warm from dying.
A nightbird in a grove, that sings, with nothing left to long for.
A solitary wolf that howls at the moon like a train in the distance
for the pain, for the madness, for the long drawn out sorrows
of passing, for the sadness in the eyes of the wise who know.
No food in the house, tv, heat, father, young,
I ate books in the bottom of a garbage can, in the company
of suffering women who hated men. I went
dumpster-diving at the Salvation Army for a copy
of Dante’s Inferno with a hard cover embossed
like an old man’s hands at prayer. What a strange life,
zip-guns, foodstalls, and Scientific American.
Stars, Egypt, and Keats. Dangerous freaks on the back porch
late at night, and worse, terrorized by social workers
and Sunday school teachers, fathers for a day,
who couldn’t imagine a kid who didn’t like baseball
or the eldest son of a welfare mother who needed the hamper
at Christmas, who wasn’t secretly crying out
to be severely disciplined, stern but virtuous,
by a thought-strapped surrogate for a dad
I was glad I didn’t have. One’ man’s sin of omission
can be the blessing of a son devoted to his mother.
My mother was the soul of compassion, strong and vulnerable,
and feared everyone. Open-hearted, wary-minded,
she read a book at night. I’ve been writing them ever since.
To write something so true and beautiful about
love and suffering, the lifelong gratitude I’ve felt
for the immensities of the abyss, the mysterium tremendum
et fascinans that got me out of the neighbourhood
without a criminal record waiting to fill in the blanks.
What don’t I owe to the stars? To the tongue
of the antiseptic solitude that licked my wounds
with sacred syllables and mended my heartbreak with gold?
The pursuit of an earthly excellence to make up
for the shabby and dull by looking into it so deeply
you bleed for the mystic specificity that makes it all
so unbearably beautiful and inevitably an intimate reflection
of you, the starmud of your awareness, the duff
of old nightmares, imprinted on the mind long after
their substance is gone, like the face on the shroud of Turin
or leaves on the forlorn sidewalks where terrible young girls
with the emotional life of the Medusa, once played
jacks and hopscotch and the Cyclops lost its eye
in a streetfight over nothing like a belligerent telescope
trying to bully the stars into gangs that marked their territory
like black shepherds of the zodiac they terrorized
with Braille and bling. I can sing about it now at this remove
like a snakepit of guitar strings that used to sting
like a fishook in the eye you had to push all the way through
to keep from uprooting the way you saw things
like a flower you were trying to keep alive on the porch
of a burning house, or the rose-bushes my mother
used to plant in the slums. Like mother, like son, I suppose.
If you eat enough ashes of other people’s thoughts,
it’s not true you’ll eventually breathe fire of your own.
You have to eat their hearts, assuming they have one,
not their words, to qualify for dragonhood.
Don’t put your steel through someone else’s forge
or you’ll start psychobabbling like the frauds and dabblers
about the taste of life in poetry with the flavour
of cold lettuce soup. You want to be real, gorge on life
like a famished angel come down to earth
that hasn’t eaten anything for lightyears, or a noble enemy
that doesn’t glut your appetite for blood and fire
with award-winning junkfood when you honour him
like an organ donor for the dark abundance of his art
that doesn’t blunt your desire to devour his heart like an owl
whose wisdom hasn’t lost touch with its saurian roots,
until he’s flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood, bone of your bone.
Winged heels, winged horses, prayerwheels for spurs,
stars under the saddle, bareback burrs, easy enough to ride,
acephalically high on the severed blood of the moon
but that’s only the measure of someone inspired to write
by what they can see in the light, sunny and Apollonian
as dolphins splashing your bow, but feather your poems
in scales, a snake that flies, a wilder wavelength
on the dark side of the muse slumming in her origins
and the songbirds turn into stone at the low end
or shatter like wineglasses on the fly, given the range
of the picture-music that flashes like black lightning
from a wivern’s eyes just before it rains like mercy
and the moon begins to cry. In this supersymmetrical life
of dark matter and energy no one’s ever seen,
there’s no destiny in chaos, but the deepest loveletters
are written to the muses of annihilation who consume you
like black widow queens with ghostly hourglasses on their backs
like crone phases of the moon so full of the dark harvests
they reap with fangs and sickles, time stops, and creation
reverts to maternity and your passions are bled like poppies
and the lyres of your sentiments are empowered
by the matrices of mandalic spiderwebs between
the horns of the moon you must pass through like a poet
through a dangerous gateway or a poem through the larnyx
of a voice older than night that pierces the dark
like a spear of light through a wounded heart,
like a howl from the grave in praise of an art
that kills you into a life that isn’t disciplined by birth or death.