Sacred and Profane
In loving memory of my dog Joey
It is a pleasure to publish my work in such a medium as this, that affords a writer an immediate and direct access to a world-wide readership (at least potentially), something that would have been impossible only a few decades ago. It is a Godsend for unknown poets. My work is presented here in three parts: Early Poems, dating from 1964-66, Later Poems, dating from 1996-2006, and Recent Poems, dating from 2007 to the present. The thirty year hiatus in between my early and later writing was due to several factors, chief among which was a demanding career in science (I have a Ph.D. in physical oceanography). My early poems were self-published in 1966 under the title The Stem of One Colossal Flower and were sold in several bookstores in Greenwich Village. One of these poems, “My Phoenix Dozed”, appeared in the poetry quarterly Athanor (New York, Spring 1967)*.
My poetry moves between the sacred and the profane with unabashed ease. Indeed, it is at the core of my religious sense that these two poles of the human moral compass are both planted in the same holy ground, that they both subsist in the same (pen-?) ultimate Reality. It is in the disruption of the free flow of spirit between these two poles of human experience that so much sexual perversion, religious fanaticism, and pornography results. My feeling about this has not changed since I was young. I expressed it in “My Phoenix Dozed” in the lines
when there is no more contradiction
between the Mystery and the Movement
Nevertheless, some readers may find some of my poems (or parts thereof) too frank for their taste. Out of respect for these readers, I have marked with an asterisk (*) any poem containing language that might be considered in the leastwise offensive. Of the poems I have earmarked, only one -- “Brisa” -- is bawdy from its inception. The poems are arranged here more or less chronologically, both the early ones and the later ones.
*Athanor (MS 97), University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Special Collections Dept.
SOLSTICE I AM A LOVER IN A BASKET (For Bob) 1/52 TIME * WE ARE NOW THE WELDING BLIND * OUTSIDE THE CHICKEN-WIRED WINDOWS MY PHOENIX DOZED ONE WEEK'S LAMENT OF A LOVE-STRUCK SALT THE MONKEY'S TRICK O MIRACLED AMERICA, WHAT ARE YOU MAKING?
Snow caught on branches
Rare, this love, like it would melt
When summer came
New York, 1964
I am a lover in a basket
my lover keeps me there
ever she ent-
(it's a wide wicker one
with a top).
I coil about inside
ever my lover
takes to tea she says
to me, "you'll only frighten
It's not too bad really;
I can even peep outside and
see my love curtsey and
listen to their dis-
course, so fine and yes, re-
at mid-night they leave
(tired, brown and brittle)
and my love (see her fly!)
to uncover me, ent-
Poor symbol of peace
Like fettered falcon
With talons of ten broken arrows
Asymptotic in your grasp
To glory and its grail
And forever damned as Tantalus.
Now, the month's quartering is compulsive,
The moon's menstrual flood is dammed.
Now, the week is a knotted sphincter,
A sterile organ crammed with paper.
It stops the song;
It passes gas with clocks
All the long year
And hangs on the orbit string
Where fifty-two eunuchs fling
Into successive buttocks
Around the palace floor.
The stem of one colossal flower.
And undersea Orion rotates
Through the ink of our eyes.
Spent and salty
The nights of epochs
We are not small-eyed whales:
We bob on necks
Thirsty to reconcile
Love I cocked a time-bomb in your belly.
In one crimson coming I met you bull
And marked the calving time.
Now the welding blind is bitter.
These dissecting days diminish nights
Of musk and rough anvil meeting.
Love has spun beyond our bargain
And turns slow marble in time.
Outside the chicken-wired windows of D's place
Time stopped to find itself
An old woman stumbling
Through the canyons of my creature,
The millennial shawl of night upon her shoulders,
A boy beside her with a looking‑light;
All bent among the soup cans.
Inside my ticking gut, clocks cry for an end to revolution
Where time dies
Or is born in the bowels of creation,
Still as the city;
As my instant blood across Manhattan
From still wine to sleeping woman.
In the cathedral of my frescoed skull,
A crooked hand directs the dull gaze of a catatonic boy
Cold in the climate of a photograph,
Where image is ultimate;
Where freedom is longing and the looking glass
And I am dumb to lose dimension.
In this alley-world, the young will not demand
What old women search for
In the dead-dayed dreams they wear about their necks
Like bent birds they killed at dawn
Or the yawn of a woman wet with time.
when Mystery spoke
through the mirrors
of my clouded head
of zeros split by zeros
and of all things being
the products of dreams,
my Phoenix dozed,
feathered in a child's fancy
in an ageless tree,
in the puzzled branches of my longing bones;
marked the days in null time,
clocked the nights by Pharaoh's oxen
whose obedient turns
through the moon-struck sand
provided life for the wanting land;
time would be for the bird to rise,
not in the Mystery
of spirit, but in the flesh,
unleashed and beaking,
fresh from the grave,
from the tomb of my eyes --
my eyes, sewn to the petals of roses.
That time that would be is come:
it is manhood,
signaled in the cock's brain
when the yearning yoke that bleeding youth
wears about its neck
cracks like the dawn,
shatters and flowers
in the rising of woman,
in the resurrection
that is the consummation
of desire; when
somnolent days are eaten
as the bird shall eat
of the petals of roses;
when there is no more contradiction
between the Mystery and the Movement;
when I can build no church on earth
to God who is the holiness
of all things fired
in the burning second,
in the hour of my sun;
nor can I forge wingless Phoenix
for Peter on the stone: --
no, not when woman is the rock on fire.
Pacific Ocean, August 1965
One week, my love, 's'no gulf o'time.
It's just that this ol' ship's so slow
I'm lookin' at you eight behind.
An 'though I'll see you soon, you know,
This time's so tough, it's achin' so.
Panama, August 1965
Between your skin and a pinprick,
Love's set to hiding,
And time, the thief of monkeys, quits;
Leaves love abiding
In stupor wrought with senseless fits,
These nights confiding
In dreams the bunched monkey's kick.
-- Between your skin and a pinprick --
That close to grief;
No comfort in the eyes of night,
But dark relief
In stark time turned dumb, and the light
Of your belief: --
My dance of needles is the monkey's trick!
Chesapeake Bay, September 1965
This 7 o'clock on the Chesapeake,
I see sooty Vulcan
Spread his carbon wings;
Through the mills and chimneys
Of Baltimore, he sings:
"From ashes to ashes forever..."
His labor spills
Through the shipyards and timber docks
Over suburbs and Niggertowns
Where children play
And old folks squint at strangers
Through the evening paper.
And Europe's bastard,
And goes about his business
This 7 o'clock on the Chesapeake.
Baltimore, September 1965
and metronome to Proteus
as arc of muscle is
and leap of firebrand.
is belief in minus
our sweetest salts
in universal ether.
THE WATERWORKS * (To P) * (To Caroline on the day following her birthday) ECCE HOMO! * TO CAROLINE ON HER ANNUNCIATION UNDER THE FALL WALKING AMONG THE DEAD .FOR MIKE’S SAKE BRISA * BABY ISA AND THE BLANKET THE BEAR AND THE CROCUS THE INSECT GEE-LEE’s PLACE GHOST-LIMB * ALTERNATE LIVES FORTY TIMES I WEPT POETS SELDOM …
Part I Epiphany (For M.)*
I wish I could describe the moment
I first pulled her panties down below her hips
and exposed her whiteness
and her dark brush.
In this moment she was glorified.
Part II Youth and Middle Age (To Me)
You know my eyes were opened several years ago
and I nearly died for the beauty.
It was then that I first saw the light in the faces of the young.
It was then I became middle aged.
Part III The Fire Plug (To the Fire Plug)
But it was only this past summer that my eyes actually touched
the white-painted dome of the green-painted fire hydrant
in the bright sunlight
by the loading dock where I would smoke my cigarettes.
And I was so wonderfully filled with gladness and love.
Part IV Salvation (To Joey) *
My dog is so beautiful and soulful
I think that maybe even you might appreciate this thought I have
that if I could truly love my dog then I could truly love.
But this will never happen
if I am so preoccupied with thoughts of salvation through love of him
that I fail to take him for a walk; a shit;
for a good sniffing of and pissing on the tree or fire hydrant of his choosing.
Entering you, madam,
I am become mad in the asylum of my choosing.
Embracing you, dear one,
I know His tender mercies.
Loving you, my lady,
Is not I think a willful act of mine
But God's grace investing us,
My animal and yours.
Yet just be perfect in this one thing:
Do not smile.
And as surely as the day follows the night
And as surely as a man is drawn to a woman
You will smile.
And when this happens, I tell you, Caroline,
The angels will make their habitation the corners of your mouth
And their music will issue from your lips.
And God will smile with the pleasure of being through your eyes.
Noble and glorious... Is this man?
This self-esteeming sack of shit,
This walking, talking, witless twit,
This self‑adoring crumb,
This wailing fan of TV sports, this morally bankrupt bum?
Why, you just ask him and you'll find
That like a strumpet on the can who's straining her behind,
Who does for dollars in her bed any man she can,
This boorish man doesn't give a damn, he doesn't give a shit!
So tell me, tell me if you can,
How noble and glorious is this man?
We do not kid ourselves, do we my friend,
For we know man's score at the very end
By what he's earned along the way of grace
And by what he's lost in pride of place.
III. Il Penseroso
Noble and glorious -- this is man,
This humble sack of shit!
Indeed, my friend, nor you nor I possess the wit
To honor him, or take his sum
When the end of all his days is come.
Nor can we reckon at the end of time
Just where he'll be, this bag of slime, this work sublime!
For this man, the spawn of stars, ingenious seed of Adam,
Who from darkness comes to suckle tit
And wrest the light from Lucifer, this man
Is the Lord of Love and nemesis of Satan!
You tell me you're an angel;
I tell you I'm a dog.
Not that I am proud of it;
Nor am I ashamed.
Nor should I think you to be
Proud of your estate,
For we know what your fate would be
-- Whose company you would keep --
Were that to be the case!
Oh, Caroline, what were you then
When the world was founded?
I still dream of the days I was a frog
Singing hosannas in the bog
To our Lord most high.
And I still haven't figured out
Just why I was promoted,
Why my croakings
In a joyous chorus
Under the light of a Permian moon
Were not enough for Him
To whom I sang my praises.
You tell me Caroline
You're from Arcturus.
I tell you I AM Sirius,
Brightest in the heavens,
The very soul of Lord Osiris.
And like Anubis I am ever faithful
To Him who gave me ears to hear with,
Nose to see with,
And a lolling six-inches of
Tongue to wag.
Yea, I am faithful unto death.
(And by the way,
My dear Caroline,
Who's to say whose heart beats faster,
Whose breath is sweeter,
Who's more loyal to his or her Master?)
Oh Caroline, you do not know the joy
Of sniffing crotch!
The pain of being stuck
In a man's body --
O evil smelling creature that I am become!
For this man I am become
Is too dumb
To know God's pleasure
Is in a howl and a yap
In a croak and a slap
Of waves against the log I sit upon.
My spirit is so ancient
I WAS before the world was made.
I AM the genius of the glade,
The nova and the nebula,
The very tooth and tongue.
Oh Caroline, why am I stuck
In this man's body
When all I want to do is howl?
To sing His praises,
To hump a bitch,
To smell your crotch!
Oh Caroline, you taught me
I make my own reality.
And so I would now go to sea
To live on moon-swept waves,
My soul to raft on the blackest deep
Under night-skies clouded bright
With His eternal light,
My rendezvous with Him to keep --
As man as beast as star as ME.
And whether part or parcel of
Be I dumb or sentient,
Just let me lick the crumb
That from His table falls,
And let me hearken to His calls;
And let my barking heart rejoice
IN THAT I AM His faithful dog!
(I want to go to the well and drink;
With my beloved I want to drink.
To the waterfall I want to go;
With my beloved I want to go.)
Under the fall she dances
With droplets sparkling about her;
With tapered hands upraised
And feet immersed
She gambols in her whiteness.
Under the fall we dance
And take delight
In each other’s company
And in the nakedness we chance
To one another's sight.
Under the fall we stand
The one before the other
Our veils of separateness removed
Each by the other's hand.
Walking among the dead
This warm, late June night
The fireflies surprise me,
Astonish me with their bottled light.
There! just up the cemetery path
Beyond the black mass of a bush
I see the host of little lights
Disport, unmindful of my ambush.
Fairies! I think; or, could it be
That these are the souls of the dead?
(And might it be Midsummer’s Eve
That such nonsense moves my head?
And yet) I walk with a lighter tread
Than last time I was here
For then I had a friend with me
And moonlight showed our way.
(Early June it was then
But seeming like October
The way the mist in the moonlight
Hovered, as it would on bog or fen.)
Tonight my only company
Is my dog beside me; and when
He’s not, but is off upon his rounds
I've comfort still in familiar sounds.
For the moon is down and darkles
The cemetery ground, and forms
That all around me loom
Of headstone, bush, tree, and tomb.
Prayerfully now I stand, head bent
Upon their dark, green bed
In spirit, or in wordless prayer intent
To hallow them, these dead.
And comes to me that past
Is present in these dead;
That I, as if already dead,
Am present in the future.
Whence the kinship that I feel
With all those buried here,
All those who've rested here
These past two hundred years.
For some time more I stumble through
The blackness of a moonless night
Treading lightly with my dog
Unawares that now the ground grows light.
For a large orange moon
Has risen in the east.
It floats for just a moment
Above the darkling brow of trees.
A sign, I take it, my vigil's ended
And a seal. a seal upon a vision,
One granted me as a boon, I think,
By a grateful dead.
Branches gnarled and intertwined
As dense and intricate as old grape vines
Reach out from either side of me
To touch the ends of time.
It is a vision of my soul as being
So soul, I see, is nothing more than
The proper function of my being.
As heart's dove, soul’s so very small
(Therein to be contained); but when
Transformed and unconstrained
She fills all space and time!
My soul is like a cosmic tree
Whose branches span eternity.
Ah, sweet dove, your secret’s out:
You are the tree you occupy!
Alexandria, 1997; revised 2006
Note: In mathematical physics, a "proper function" or eigenfunction is a solution of a the (linear) equations describing a physical system in the absence of external forcing, and which is used as a basis for constructing the solution in the general case of applied forces. As such, the eigenfunction (or set of eigenfunctions) represents the "soul" of a system, as it contains all the natural oscillations, or resonance’s, of the system. In frictionless systems, the resonances, or modes, will have infinite temporal or spatial extent; for example, the sine wave that represents the response of a rung bell. The mystical understanding that all (God) is contained in a point so small it is “lost in the Gnostic’s heart” (the actual quote has it as His “throne” that is lost) mirrors the physical and mathematical understanding that perfect physical law is universal (One); and that therefore the Godhead resides in a point; that the (Fourier) transform of such a point function is a uniform spectrum of (sine) waves spanning all space and time. Additionally, one cannot help but think of the wave/particle duality inherent in the nature of the photon and all matter as well.
Day by day I see the clouds grow across the blue Gulf of Nicoya.
To the northeast, a lone towering cumulonimbus now sits in the afternoon sun
Like a wedding cake, resplendent in serried hues of pink and gray.
Puntarenas lies that way, I think, that poor city that was once a busy port
Whose only paying traffic now is in despair – a little sport fishing –
And the occasional ferry passenger. Mike is over there, alone and indigent,
Mike, whose gnarly nose was broken ten times (he said); who told me of Mussorgsky
And his great love for him; how Rimsky-Korsakov would induce him to compose
By shutting him within a room with just the right amount of booze
And of his birth in Sicily in 1943 (the same year I was born)
To a father in the Wehrmacht; of his construction business in Boston
Now long gone for drink and (roomfuls of) hundred dollar whores in San José.
I think of how he told me this as we sat at 3 a.m. outside Hotel Helen
A can of beer in his large, capable hand, the two of us together smoking cigarettes
By the still warm and filthy curb, inhaling, drawing in the pungent city air.
Will it rain soon, I wonder. For Mike's sake. Too poor in spirit
Or too reverent to voice, even silently, a prayer, I let it lie within me.
Better this -- inchoate, unformed -- I think, than stillborn and dead upon my lips.
Eventually the rains will come and there’ll be dancing in the street. But now
The cattle thirst, the peninsula is parched, and the mosquito breeds in stagnant pools.
The sand is warm beneath me and mercifully it does not move. God knows
My life so shifts about me!
O Brisa! long-legged, tall and lean,
you stand your corner like a lioness!
There, beneath the street lamp, dress
hiked high upon the thigh (its seam
Distressed, near bursting, I would guess)
you move within the pool of light
impatiently, dramatically, as if the night
were stage and this a film noir scene.
Unforgettable, the unexpected sight
of you, at the acme of your stride
hip forward, calf extended;-- oh, wide
is your gait as you restlessly pace, O queen!
Not for you, because of your pride,
the crowd of far less attractive whores
who, too, ply their trade out-of-doors
but on the corner opposite. Too mean
For you are these, whose nightly chores'
performance your fastidiousness does lack;
who lack the courage and the grace, the knack
you have for setting terms, serene
In the knowledge that never on your back
will any sordid, venereal contract
be consummated willingly;-- not while the act
may be performed in ways men deem
Lubricious, and unhygienic contact
still avoided. As well, for rapid egress
you know it's best to have your dress
entirely on, no matter how it seem
To one who pays a callousness;
for, ingress may by ingenious ways
be had, despite the corset and the stays
or their modern likes, impervious as neoprene!
(Or, Brisa, are you outcast for your ways
that so distinguish you and set you apart
from the vulgar company? Too smart
for them are you, so victim of their spleen?)
O mistress! it was chance, the start
of this, our brief relationship
and short and sweet it was the courtship
that I paid you. To boot the green
Was right at USD 30 and the tip,
most certainly, was well-deserved
so artfully was I served
by red hibiscus lips and body lean!
Not chance, the second night I nerved
myself to seek you out again
O Brisa, passing by again
the others standing there -- a team
Of mules compared to you! And when
I saw you standing as before
upon the very corner, once more
it seemed to me it was a dream!
Que lastima! How I would adore
to doggy you again, O Brisa!
this time not to come con prisa
but to err the other way, extreme
In vigor and duration, O Brisa!
that I might exact full measure
of the sensual, the carnal pleasure
that such congress -- to some obscene --
Brings to a man in need. No measure
of praise I can bring to you suffices;
for here, too, fail all my devices
my canny use of words not keen
Enough to pen your vulvate virtue
or paint a picture of your mien
so leonine, so worthy of esteem: --
a picture worth the time with you!
Couples bound by mutual attraction,
Whether basely so by sheer inertia,
The massiness of years,
Or whether purely so by the truest love,
The passion of their tender years,
Will not have their orbits budged
By so much as a feather;
So cannot sense what the solitary do,
That strange pull of gravity
Exerted by all things upon the naked soul.
It is the lover who alone does long,
Who, by fortune mean or mercy rare,
Is left to God's peculiar care,
A derelict, bereft, awash upon the tide
Of love, and sailor-bait for Sirens' song,
Who hears the call of all things Real,
One to another, that through all nature
Sounds; who feels a strange attraction to
The objects in his view. Nor comely must
An object be to exercise its spell on him;
For, a worn and blackened pavement stone
Or a simply crafted stone bowl, a parrot's
Yellow piercing eye, or a leafy frond
With a sunbeam on it; all these, alike,
Can draw this lover to. Think you,
Perhaps, it's but the image of his soul
The lover sees reflected in these things
And mere illusion it may be this bond
Of gravity he feels; that like Narcissus
Espying his own Beauty in the pond,
His heart aches only for himself;
That any love requited
Is only Echo's gift,
And the only gift of God he knows,
But if the wind should blow
Upon Narcissus' pond
And make his image go
Into a thousand pieces,
Will his love then multiply
Among the multitudinous facets,
Or will it die? Oh, there's a test
Of what this lover truly feels! Just see
Whether, like his image, he is shattered,
And, like a drunkard, moans and reels,
Or whether he, God's own, survives
To make room in his heart for all
The multiplicity in Things;
To know the bonds of gravity he feels
That these are his myriad wedding rings.
For Sheikha Fariha al-Jerrahi
Four dervishes, Fariha, Dervish: A mystic lover of God, often a member of a
in hearts and souls allies, Sufi order or tariqat From the Farsi “dar” = door
hold corners of this blanket
on which the baby Isa lies. Isa: Jesus in Arabic
It is a vision pure and true
that I wish to relate to you.
It came to me in dhikr circle Dhikr: From dhikrullah, or “remembrance of God”.
when last I was in Mexico. Dhikr is at the heart of Sufi spiritual practice
As I sat with Suleiman,
Abdul-Azim and Aisha,
there before my inner eye
I saw the infant Isa lie.
Naked he lay, the holy child,
on a blanket of pure energy;
in the air he was suspended
by the love we all extended.
Both were the identical hue,
the baby and the blanket; as
pure energy they shimmered,
iridescent pink and blue.
Just imagine and you'll see
the baby and the blanket. O
see how they shine so bright
in the tekke's subdued light! Tekke: Turkish term for a dervish meeting hall
Now, in spirit, we all did hold
a corner of that radiant cloth;
yet, only I was conscious of it,
its awesome beauty to behold!
Neither Aisha nor Abdul,
who as Mariam and Yusef
might be cast; nor Suleiman,
who, likewise, as Magian
Might be cast; none
of this dervish school
was blessed to see but I
this vision of the Chosen One.
Nor to anyone but me,
unbeliever and blasphemer,
idiot of God, whom
you know by his flower,
Which is the red hibiscus,
fell the task of telling you,
my Sheikha, of this miracle, Sheikha: fem.(?) of sheikh: a (spiritual) leader
this vision pure and true.
O my Sheikha, well do I know,
that in the tariqat I'm no adept; Tariqat: Turkish rendition of Arabic tariqa, used
yet, I would ask you to accept to denote a particular Sufi order, or to mean the
this, your humble servant's story! mystic path in general
Perhaps it will endure,
this telling of my vision pure.
Perhaps illahis will be sung Illahis: Songs,, or hymns, sung during a dhikr
by mystics under other suns,
Members of the Tribe to come, Tribe: A reference to the larger Sufi community
progeny of precious tariqat!
Gone will be the hill of Arafat Arafat: One of the several hills around Mecca
in time, but not the will of some
To worship Him, the Source
and Substance of the universe.
He may be like the holy child,
innocent and mild,
Or furious and wild
as Isa was that day
when from the Temple Mount
he chased the wicked ones away.
For He is All;
Allah is His Name. Allah: God; etymologically related to the Hebrew
He is the Manifest; Elohim
He is the Hidden.
There! Habib has said
what he set out to say!
So now pray for me, Fariha,
and utter me a Fatiha! Fatiha: The Sura Fatiha is the opening verse of the
Qur'an. It functions in much the same way the
Say to me: "Rejoice, the Lord’s Prayer does in Christianity
for you are with Allah!"
Say: "Whether today
you breathe your last,
Or whether you live
to outlive your past,
just say: 'Hu, O Thou, Hu: Literally “thou”, but used also by Sufis to
O Breath of Creation!” signify the Divine breath
Note: Sufism is a broad mystical stream that flows within Islam. At the core of Sufism is the sense of the unity of being. The Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz have become well known in recent years from the popular renditions of their work.
On hearing Naziri sing Rumi
forsake me not my friend
for if you do you know
I'll be the one forsaking you
cold and dormant you'll then lie
within my icy breast
waiting for some spark of change
to change the climate of my heart
you'll wait until the time is come
or wait until I die
you may be patient as the bear
that slumbers through the winter
or maybe as the crocus is
that itches for a thaw
when yet a snowy winding sheet
enwraps the earthen body still
your son's not dead you know
but merely rests
waiting till it's time to rise
and greet the wedding guests
he rests upon his stony couch
waiting for the bell to ring
announcing the festivities
the hymeneal feast
will someone now bestir him please
and tell him that the music's started
the new wine's poured
the wedding guests are all arrived?
the women at the postern gate
are showing signs of restlessness
one of us must make a move
or they shall die of grief
in the blinking of an eye they'll die
for a love they know 's impossible
will you bet whose move it is
the bear's or the crocus'?
would you bet your son's inheritance
on such a dicey outcome?
I know that when you choose my friend
what you will
will be done
but where's the fun
in knowing moves ahead of time
o subtle one?
enough it is the game is yours
the rules your own invention
why load the dice and stack the deck
when cheating is a sin?
nor counter me it is but venial
for that's only if you're mortal
you my friend are a special case
and death remains an option
o friend this game of intellect
and is hardly worth our breath
so let's return to where we were
when this dialog began
when we were speaking with our hearts
of denial and divorce
of icebound hearts that break
the fastest of all friendships
shall we talk it over now
in a quiet corner
now before the dancing starts
and things get rowdy?
let us while the table's set
and the good wine yet pours
My cherished human beings
who long to become truly human…
The Heart of the Koran
Meditation on Sura 2 Ayats 21-25
How generous your heart O Lord
that you should cherish this
your vain and impudent humanity
for in this one insect is a beauty
far beyond that which I find
within the breast or outward form
of much of humankind
See him as he sits O Lord
upon my upturned finger pad
inspect him: marvel at his form
its primitive economy
how much more raw and simple could it be
this narrow little triangle
but 3/1000 of a meter
from its apex to its base
and his color: toad-like brown
with stripes of blue upon the sides
a blue like lapis but blacker still
and slightly iridescent too
consider his spirit O Lord
just ask: does it presume to own
the very ground it sits upon?
What inspires you to love my Lord
this vain and impudent humanity?
perhaps it is because we're toys -- new toys --
and like all boys you love to play with gizmos
every day is Christmas Day for you
among whose countless playthings
are reputed to include
18,000 worlds of pretty galaxies
bright galaxies of worlds
of mountains plains and seas
worlds of flying crawling swimming creatures
leviathans and dwarfs
monsters and men
I see you charmed by all the sights
that meet your open eye
the myriad bodies of medusae
afloat in azure water
big-horn sheep in mid-leap
sparking from their flying hooves
echoes flying crag to crag
I see you look with curiosity
upon the hearts of men
how bloody red with discontent they are
while golden green and serene
are the hearts of artichokes
And on your birthday
you've got cherry bombs and firecrackers
to celebrate the day
what a great big bang they make O Lord
enough to take you all the way
from here to kingdom come
I can imagine reflected in your eyes
a zillion galaxies of stars
how bright-eyed you must be on Christmas Day
to see your presents sitting there
beneath so-many a Christmas tree
See you now this jackanapes
parade about the parlor floor
how like a little nutcracker
made of wood and paint he is
how proud he is to be a man
so central to your cosmic plan
what is it Lord that fascinates?
what keeps you playing with the little ape?
I think it more than curiosity
in what you make
in what presents itself
to bright expectant boy's eyes
I think you have an eye to growing up
and the prettiness you see in galaxies
and bright enameled toys
is in your native heart a sign
that beauty must enchant you
Perhaps you see potential here
in the little ape
for beauty unadorned
a beauty past desiring's end
I your little ape have seen it here
among my humankind
a beauty barely hidden
easy to divine
a beauty manifest I'm sure
somewhere on this good green earth
in deserts cities forests plains
if you'd only look to find
To Sodom you sent angels
looking for a righteous man
your son you sent to Bethlehem
looking to redeem us
now send a legion of your angels
and your Ideal Son
and have them look among my kind
for the Perfect Ones
a man and woman pure of heart
and keen of mind
as perfect in their outward form
as in their inmost being
but two among the many
who alone redeem us
are reason for your mercy
Make a present to yourself
of these Perfect Ones O Lord
put them in your treasure box
with your marbles and your jacks
your nebulae and quasars
and all your other precious finds
I think you'll come to cherish them
in the course of time
perhaps enough to keep them in your purse
till time has run its course
and perish this the universe
…’fink i'll take me down t' Gee-Lee’s place
'n' get me sumfin good t' eat
sumfin ’s ’ll fill m’ stomach an' stick t' m’ ribs
sumfin ‘s so mouf-waterin' good
y' can taste it jus’ by finkin' 'bout it
now i ain't talkin' only taste here
-- now you listen brover what I be sayin’ --
'cause Gee-Lee’s food is food dat feels good in yo' mouf
-- 's got what dey call textcha --
an' lemme tell ya he got diss way of mixin' 'n' matchin'
y’ meat an' greens an' grits an' all
like dey's a jammin' combo d' way diss morsel an' dat
o' what he servin' a 'ticular night
-- what he call hiss blue plate special --
dey play togever if y' catch my drift
an' dem helpins o’ whatever
dey look good next t' eachuver
jus' like ' fine lookin' brover 'n' sister dressed up da nines
goin' t' church sun'ay mornin'
o' maybe gettin' married f' d' very first time
if y' ain't been t' his 'stablishment down on Florida an' U
maybe you seen Gee-Lee anyway
' got dreads an' soul like'd the word's meant t’ be for
-- sh' -- i mean real soul
an' a real good smile too
good lookin' brover an' ladies' man anytime he want t’ be
but he spend most hiss time cookin' an' fussin'
so 's t' make folks feel comf'table like
like dey was royalty o' somefin’
o' jus' like dey was back home wif d' family
sittiin' down t' dinner on a long win'er sun'ay af’ernoon
d’ sunlight streamin' in gentle like frough win’ow panes
t’ain't been washed ta impress no one
an' yo' manners come easy an' natural like
like d’ food dat come from y' mamma's garden
…what i be sayin' now?... oh yeah
it's like i can taste hiss good cookin'
anytime i wants jus' by finkin' 'bout it
like right now i can taste hiss catfish sandwich
all battered up and fried
so's all da li'l' bones ' so soft doan matter
-- sh' -- jus' doan taste it but feel it on my tongue
an' up on da roofa m' mouf
ever' li'l' morsel like a alphabet letter
jus' crunchin' an' poppin' an' slippin an' slidin' 'round in d' mouf
kinda like dey was a playin' games wif your mind
much as wif d' taste buds on yo' tongue
Cap'n Ahab Took a Fish 'e Isn't Supposed t' Have
…see what i mean?
how dem letters kinda tickle up dere on d' roof a’da mouf
especially wif dem li'l' doo-hickies da letters got on dem
an' hows dey make y' fink about jus' whatcha eatin'
so's y' doan jus' sit there lookin' like a dumb cow
chewin' it's cud not finkin' 'bout nofin' 'cept maybe
cow heaven an' how much clover it got dere
now doan get too excited brover
'cause 's not like d' food always spells it out f' ya
jus' what it be an' where it come from
but sometime it do an' den it tell its pedigree
' can't say dat 'bout da food y' get in restaurants
an’ carryouts these days
'cause mos’ ta time it taste da same
fish chicken poke doan matter
it all taste the same
den Gee-Lee ‘s got some good iced tea
help t' wash it all down wif
an' some fine home baked pie like strawberry rhubarb
(whish be my personal favorite)
iss 'bout d' best yo' gonna get any place
dis side o’ da Mason Dixon line o' fo’ dat matter
any place y’ can get yo' saggin' ass to
wifout spendin' all yo' bread on a tank of gas
' goin' take me down to Gee-Lee's place
an' get me sumfin good t' eat
Note: My language here is inspired by what little of Deep South Black dialect I recall from being there many years ago. It may be mixed with some Northern idiom for all I know. As well there may be some plain “malapropisms”. And I am not sure how far my speech may depart from standard “Ebonics”. Please bear in mind that the poem is simply a spontaneous expression of my admiration for a fellow poet’s work, where somehow food became the appropriate metaphor for the sustenance I found in his verse, and a Black vernacular a natural medium of expression, since he is Black and was raised in the South.
Nothing… Nothing can compare
To this embrace of empty air.
Arms, lips, and warm moist loin
These I know, are familiar coin.
But this! What commerce
Or dynamic of the universe
Is served, supported
By this token of your love, reported
Fruit of (painful) intercourse
Among the saints, reputed source
Of being, this pregnant emptiness
So vast and unsupported, this fullness
Of the beggared heart, the empty bed?
You are no like or opposite to wed.
Nothing to see or touch. Instead
Like a ghost-limb remembering
Old cells and ganglia, offspring
Of the severed self, you come
To fill the air between the sighs
To make whole again one
Who, in the night watches, cries
Who has no mate, no inviting thighs.
It is raining now, and as I look
At the stores’ marquees in front of me
Something like nostalgia strikes.
A change of season, a turn in the weather
Will do that. Sometimes it recalls
Our childhood; but it may summon also
Ghostlike memories of lives
We’ve never really lived.
It always seems more circumscribed
Life in these alternate lives.
Like now: It is as though I’m married
-- Not happily, but contented --
And all my universe were centered here
In this shopping center, in this car
And my heart didn’t have to travel far.
Forty times I called your name and wept
Because your name is beauteous.
Was it you or an army of the righteous
I pointed to across the Ganges plain?
Your chords instructed me to dance.
I am Shiva, but I have only two hands.
I am a unicorn. My horn
Is a bridge to you across the sands.
Poets seldom in their subtle art
Grow old gracefully; rather, start
-- Sometime past their 22nd year --
To write so artlessly it could tear
Your heart. It seems as if a vital gear
Once whirring with all its sprockets sharp
Had been stripped; as if Homer’s harp
Had lost its strings, and all worthy things
And sentiments, all truth the poet sings
Have no accompaniment, so hollow rings
His call. If at all he has an eye
Or heart, great truth or beauty to descry,
He fails in mind to identify, and his ear,
Enfeebled, hardly hears the spinning gear
His nature winds, or the falling of a Muse’s tear.
Pray God that I upon my 61st year
Find my harp strung, that the work begun
When I was twenty-one will have lost none
Or little of its vigor in the interim
THE BRONZE FROG (short) THE SONG OF JUAN SINMIEDO (For Sobiah Nawaz) THE SOUNDS OF LIFE THE BRONZE FROG (long) IT SOUNDS LIKE RAIN DISSOLUTE UNION THIRTEENTH STREET THREE HAIKU CYNTHIA LAS HORMIGAS SPARROWS OAXACAN EVENSONG TO MY FRIEND JESÚS -- IN MEMORIAM WEEP, WEEP, THE GOLDEN WHEAT WHAT’S YOUR HAPPY? WALKING AMONG THE DEAD (short) MY FATHER TAUGHT ME
THE BRONZE FROG (short)
I think the happiest thing I’ve done all year
Has been to buy this green bronze frog.
He sits atop my toilet tank
Where daily he greets me
With sparkling black glass eyes
And an eager, wide-open-mouthed smile.
Now every time I go to take a piss
I share in his felicity, his bliss.
In all the world there is no ass sweeter than my own;
For you to find his match, señor, him you’d have to clone!
See him as he stands demure, his burnished feet so close;
You’ll see why it’s hard for me not of him to boast!
His eyes are sloe, his coat is thick, his mien beatific.
Oh, when we’re apart it hurts! Aiyee, it’s like I’m lovesick!
Each day I wake I wake with joy to know my burro’s here
For with him I have a livelihood, free from want and fear.
Oh, how I love him so, my dear, dear Conejo!
Together you may see us go round about the pueblo
Stopping at the likely spots where tourists may be found
Who’ll pay to pose for a photograph, mounted or on the ground.
And what a picture he does make, with garlands gaily freighted
And upon his close-cropped mane, paper flowers plaited!
His saddle blanket’s brightly hued, his saddle finely tooled;
To me he’s like a princely steed, caparisoned and bejeweled!
The day be done we head for home and a currycomb.
I fill his manger with fresh oats and hay that’s newly mown.
The other night I had this dream, of God it was, not men:
I saw our Lord upon an ass entering in Jerusalem.
A swelling crowd hosanna! cries, when in the ebb and flow
Lo! I catch a glimpse of Him upon my dear Conejo!
Note: Juan Sinmiedo, or Fearless John, is an epithet by which our subject is known about town. The epithet seems to have been inspired by a popular story and television series (in turn it would seem based on the Grimms´ tale).. I can only guess how our hero feels about this (I was reluctant to ask him). The burro’s name, Conejo = Rabbit or Bunny.
Puerto Vallarta, November, 2007
Oh, daughter, go, fetch me a towel,
Wet it, and place it on my brow.
The day has been long and I am weary.
I’ll take my rest here in this room
-- The one beside the rose garden --
The one your mother loved so much.
Look, the eastern mountains blush
As a maiden might at a suitor’s touch
Purple and pink the distant crags
But red the nearer rock faces
A red that calls to mind the blood
Shed daily now across the land.
Ah, a cool draught, a breeze I sense
Coming from these selfsame peaks.
(The air there must indeed be cold
To hold its freshness to the plain.)
Come, my daughter, and sit by me.
You are fair and gladden the night --
The night and the rose-scented air.
Note: Ms. Nawaz is a native of Baluchistan, the province comprising south-western.Pakistan
Such authority in the slamming of a door
Such competence, it’s truly hard to ignore!
The sounds of life are jarring and they mock me
For I cannot write a single line of poetry!
I think the happiest thing I’ve done all year
Has been to buy this green bronze frog.
He sits atop my toilet tank
On a hand embroidered table linen
Where bride and groom in loving stitches
Wed amongst the flowers.
Above this tableau
A red paper flower’s hung
By its green wire stem
I’ve wrapped about the copper water pipes
Protruding from the bathroom wall.
The verdigris’ applied, I know,
It’s been produced in a chemical bath. So?
Only a purist or a prig would care
Just how long it took for the green to get there!
The frog’s insouciance is irresistible.
Every day, no matter how I feel,
He greets me
His black glass eyes a-sparkle
His broad head lifted up expectantly
His mouth agape in an eager, ear-splitting smile.
Now every time I go to take a piss
I can’t help but smile and share
In his infectious bliss.
(The Mourning Dove)
She lifts her small head
Her wet beak ablaze. A sun
Beam pierces my breast
(The Reluctant Samurai)
Time I write haiku
Battle over, daimyo dead
Not so: lose my head
The curve of the bay
Is like my bey´s scimitar
I want to drink
Till every molecule of me
Is dissolved, rent
Reduced to more elementary forms
-- Amino acids, atoms, ions --
All afloat on a simmering sea of lipids
The nondescript color of vomit
(This I somehow strangely envision)
Every particle of me a smiley face
Looking up at me
Absolutely, divinely drunk.
It sounds like rain
Outside my bedroom window
Or is it the wind I hear
Rustling the dry leaves
And clacking them like castanets?
Or scissoring the palm fronds
-- Rasping them --
Like a locust its hind legs?
The advance of the light
From the corner of the nearby rooftop
Suggests it is a star I see
And that the night is clear But
The branches of the tree outside
Never do seem to move
And the cool draught that now pours
Through the open window
Insists it is the rain I hear
Note: Puerto Vallarta has a dry winter that extends through May.
Cool downdrafts are associated with raining cumulonimbus clouds.
(For Dee H.)
The spics sleep on thirteenth street
Their jungle bongos beat …in perfervid dreams
Of rut and rot, of purple mountain tops
And breaking glass. Toward Avenue A and up
Up the blank-eyed tenement walls I look
And I own it all, the city and the night, the light
Enhaloing the streetlamps, the still warm asphalt
The fretwork of fire escapes, I own it all
Behind me a few doors, San Sebastian
Twists in agony in his gilt cappella
His hermaphroditic plaster form pierced
By a dozen well-fletched Roman arrows, his gaze
Through the store-front chapel’s plate glass window
Imploring, piteous, ecstatic. And next door
My own apartment the year before the plaster
-- Like my youthful pride -- would buckle and fail
Dee, I loved your lisp and how you said
The first line of this poem The sthpics sthleep...
I loved your body and how you looked in jeans
How the springs of the folding bed would complain
As loudly as that AA Wendy bitch
Across the dingy sounding board of a hall
And Bach on the bare old Zenith by the bed
And the warm orange light of its vacuum tubes
Spare as a monk’s cell I imagined it
My apartment, no stockings, no woman’s evidence
As callow and ascetically inclined I was
I was lucky to have missed the eye of celebrity
That that pot-bellied poet-pederast of Tenth Street
Never wrote a poem for me entitled
“Gimme Yr. Ass Boy” not among his best
If there were any best after his youthful Howl
And dear Kim, who quit Balanchine
Before she was fifteen, and Roger, the seminarian
He was as close I got to faggotry
And proud I was, not that I was stiff
And he limp, but that Mother would not approve
…The spics sleep on Thirteenth Street …
Indeed, I envy them their sleep, their dreams
For what I loved and lost on Thirteenth Street
New York, April 1965; Puerto Vallarta, April 2009
The long-ships arrive festooned
And laden to their oarlocks
With bride-gifts for Cynthia
Olaf’s fair daughter.
Furs from darkest Rus
And silks from Samarkand
All sorts of precious gifts
They bring to Bergen’s king
To celebrate the wedding
Of Cynthia, his daughter
To a Christian prince.
The flood of dragon ships
Fills the great harbor
Buoyed by bright Selene
Upon her heaving bosom.
Oars are sharply shipped
And sails are sudden dropped.
A clangor now is heard
In Bergen’s great hall
As servants carry baskets
Of bread and set down trenchers
And tuns of mead are opened
While in the royal kitchens
Spits turn with veal
And with venison and lamb
And divers fowl are roasted
And baked in savory pies.
Mulled wine is ladled
For each arriving guest.
The galleries are full
Of musicians come from France.
Hear them as they practice
For a night of song and dance!
In the tents of Ishmael
The timbrels are silent
The flute laments a loss
And Yemen’s moon is pale.
The emirs all discuss
When Elif will return --
Elif, their August moon!
What caravan will bring her
From Egypt or from Aden
She of noble lineage
Her journey to complete.
Lines composed on the news of the wedding of a friend
Puerto Vallarta, July 2009
They pour though this tiny hole
No larger than a pinhead
Down the tile grouting
And out across the countertop they flow
A tidy stream of living dots …
“WHAT DO ANTS HAVE TO DO WITH ART?!!!”
Yells dragon lady, top heavy
With bust, bangles, hairdo and makeup
Nearly knocking me out of my chair
And wrecking me for a week
Now I see this line of tourists
Filing down Matamoros Street
The block is short, the sidewalk narrow
And hewing to the wall they seem
The Word made Flesh, the providential
To the lady’s question
I love the little sparrows
The way they hop about
When they’re foraging for food.
I love the way they flutter their tail feathers
When they’re bathing in the cooking ashes.
I love their little puffed-out chests
When they ‘re braving the cold.
I love it when they quarrel
And jostle each other for space at the feeder.
How dear to me they are!
In Oaxaca, the city by the ancient mount
(Once a sacred center and now a charnel house)
Evening has come, and with it this, an evensong.
Around the city’s central square, the Zócalo
People softly walk and talk. The colonnaded
Restaurants and cafes that ring the square
Are quiet now. Only the clatter of dishes and clink
Of glasses are heard, as waiters prepare for the nighttime throng.
The balmy air is lambent, suffusing an orange light
To all its boundaries, to the masonry and stucco walls
To the sidewalks and park benches, to all that we call things.
Monte Alban is sick. The sacred mountain is sick.
An invisible pall hangs over it. A sick energy
A miasma, pervades the ruins and open grassy spaces.
Even on a breezy day when the sky is blue
The mountain’s ill can get to you. Maybe it will
As you are leaving, somewhere between the young woman
Aum-ing and the archeological museum. Sitting there
Enchanted by a place whose genius left it long ago
She may not have noticed it creeping up, the headache, the thirst
And a mental nausea such as I felt but once before --
In an empty Senate chamber of our hallowed US Capitol.
The Church of the Society of Jesus opens its doors for vespers
Admitting me with the faithful -- the elderly and lame.
The priest says missa and from the rood a transfixed Christ
Is taken down, his olive skin still warm and moist
As I hold him on my lap. (A queer Pietà we make
As my heart is moved to pity.) Pure air now fills the nave
And my charred lungs, air, like a cool blue liquid fire
That dispels, at last, the last of the mountain’s ill I bear.
Now ends the Mass, the legless man upon his pallet
Is swiftly ushered out, and close behind disgorges
The ugly crowd, and overflows the porch outside
And poisons it. What does it take to poison a place?
For four hundred years this church has held its own
Against a tide of human woe. What benediction
Or genius of the place has saved it from the fate
Of Monte Alban? Or is it only a matter of time?
The sacred mount held out for fifteen hundred years
Before it was abandoned and given to the dead.
Was it simply our need and ugliness that poisoned it
Or was it some great evil committed there that doomed it?
Our bodies too, like these sacred places, may sicken and pall
By an evil we may commit, or by our daily sins.
You left so suddenly
I didn’t know you were gone.
I didn’t know until my friend Alfonso
Mentioned it. What? Murdered?
A heart attack? A drug overdose?
Oh, not you, not you my friend!
Perhaps I should have known
Something was amiss. Now that I think of it
It was a week or so went by without my seeing you
At your usual haunts -- by the empty kiosk
Outside the Café de Olla on Basillo Badillo
Or on the beach at the foot of my street, Calle Pilitas.
You would always have your work with you
To work on and to sell. There
In the bright freedom of street and beach
You’d make these bags and purses. You’d make them
Out of the small colorful squares of magazine clippings
Which you’d then wrap in clear plastic strips
And weave together. They were functional
And pretty and nicely lined, these bolsas you made
And I bought several of them as gifts.
You know, Jesús, your death hurts me more
Than will the death of mother, brother, sister
Because you are decent, gentle and unassuming.
I remember one night you complaining
That your poverty caused you to live with unsavory types
Who were always causing problems
But you didn’t call them cabrones -- that was not like you.
And then in the spring came the economic crisis
Making a tough time tougher.
Was that it? Did this finally do it?
Did all this finally break your beautiful heart?
If you took a drug and overdosed
I would understand.
I remember the conversations
We had about addiction. Often
As I was on my way to an AA meeting
I would stop to chat with you. And you understood me:
Yes, good, go to your meeting.
For your part, you told me of a long relationship you had
With a rich American girl; how she would punish her father
And you in the process
With her promiscuity, drugs and alcohol.
So you understood. But, Jesús,
Never once did I see you intoxicated
Not in the slightest. Ever. Your eyes were always bright
And your smile was always genuine
And your heart was always …
My neighbor Paula said
You had high blood pressure.
Was it a line you did to relieve the pain
That caused your heart to break?
Or was it directly the sum of life’s disappointment
And the struggle to survive that broke your heart?
I love you my friend, and I will miss you sorely.
Alexandria, January 2010
Weep, weep the undulant wheat
Weep, weep the combines beat
Weep, weep the golden main
Weep, weep the threshéd grain.
Weep, weep a stubbled mat
Weep, weep the prairie flat!
(To the silos the land’s increase
To feed the world and our obese
The straw be fodder for our kine
The chaff o’erblow the land supine)
Eastern Pacific Ocean,1965; Puerto Vallarta, 2010
A fellow asked me the other day
(I swear, this is what he had to say)
WHAT’S YOUR HAPPY?
I paused a moment to reflect
On this unhappy turn of phrase; replied
Which must have left the man perplexed
For the conversation then, it up and died.
Walking among the dead tonight, the fire flies surprise me.
Fairies! I think; or, could it be that these are the souls of the dead?
Tonight is different from the night I walked here with my friend Zohair.
It is later in June now and the air is warm and humid.
No moonlit mist hovers above the headstones
And in the dark I am alone, alone with my dog and the dead.
I stand upon their dark green bed in silent contemplation.
The only sound I hear is Joey -- the jingling of his collar --
As he noses through the grass nearby.
I sense the past is present in these dead; that I, as if already dead
Am present in the future. And so it is with a sense of kinship shared
That my heart goes out to them in prayer.
As yet before the moon has climbed above the line of trees
A vision comes to me (a gift, I take it, from a grateful dead):
From either side of me an old grapevine grows, its gnarly branches reaching out
Toward the ends of time. It is a vision of my soul as being
Mathematically transformed, its eigenfunction as it were
So soul I see is nothing more than the proper function of my being.
Alexandria, 1997;Puerto Vallarta, 2010
Note: A proper function or eigenfunction represents a mode or natural resonance of a (linear) system.
In this sense the set of proper functions represents the “soul” of a physical system.
My father taught me
that a geometrical progression
is better than an arithmetical one
my mother taught me
that if you want your pillow fresh
then fluff it every day
all else I learned in kindergarten
before I was expelled for throwing blocks
and in that most inclusive school
the school of hard knocks