The Invisible People Of The Woods
They cry and cry, only to deny they ever cried...
October 23, 2009
The unforgiving evening has wrapped its shredded shawl
Around us all, the castaways spellbound,
Chattering and weeping.
We shiver over dim fires beneath a green tent
— Steel drums, liquor and guitars.
Our face meets your face
Like our eyes meet the light,
Poor children of the central nervous naked moon
Seeking entrance to the cold of the cities' exposed glow,
Peeking through the evening's shroud.
With autumn winds come autumn sadness,
Grates throbbing with lentian Toulouse-Lautrec light,
A long-lost romance offering one last clear chance.
The harvest guitars bleat like ghosts
Before they are put to one wall
To wear the faces of the dead.
Involved himself in a domestic dispute
Inside, where inbred outcasts burn with sin
In what was once a place of ill repute.
Now they scatter at the first gunshot wound,
Gnaw when they talk, express any feeling with a loud
Slamming of doors, faces, the chaos of utter ruin
Impels them back and away like a cloud
Of brown rain, taking the nothing for the taking,
Sweating poison on barren fields, tattooed and maimed.
The inarticulate shriek while those who can formulate
Confuse themselves and bore everyone in range.
Christ brings down a Thermos of forgiveness
To share like coffee in the wilderness.
Peddle their virtues and roll their wares
As they perfume the air
Already thick with
Wharves of salted fish
And the chink of coopers and hawsers
Trying to contain like vests.
The ladies must dress their best
To look in the windows down Howard Street
With its deco facades and old world arcades,
Its specialty shops like the knobmaker,
The chandelier chiseler, the violin stringer
Sheltered for the pleasure of ladies with blue minks and chromium hair
Just across the street from
The liquor prison with the two-way plexiglass chute
Called Gold Rush in bold yellow.
In the ghetto there is profit.
And bad coffee, but why, in diners
With pink space age lighting, with steel resisting neon,
Like the Chinese restaurant of your dreams,
That wide-brimmed bent hat slumps
Over the white coffee cup, the iconoclast stares
With the remorse of loneliness, with savage skepticism,
At a scene it seems is made for his needs,
As he smokes a Pall Mall as if the waitress
Hates him as an interloper, in for the ambiance,
Not the enormous clacking aspect of poverty
With white gloves and oversized shoes,
Sand dancing furiously, but with bare reverberations
Of feeling, tapping when no one has any dough,
And they've seen it all before, becoming violent and ugly.
The unrestricted face detaches itself
To bus depots, hard luck walk-ups, fleabag hitching posts at the dark end
Of the dice, stoically moving to the empty fruit crates at the junction,
The place where failure is no longer dangerous,
Seeing in its blue light not so much a gross distortion
Of those magnificent lying set of rules
We call America, but a gross distortion of need,
Fed by well-lit vending machines, and finally facing
The knuckled resistance,
As if almost nothing is too much.
One contemplates someone so wounded by the thought of failure
He can't lift his craggy, unsatisfied face from the plate
To see how his toothless, overwrought position is not
Evil, is not failure, but the kind of lean endurance
Every American movie hero is driven towards,
And one expects the tourists to drive up in their Subarus,
With film, their way of enduring it.
Last bleary evening when I hailed a cab at
Bond and Edmondson. I was no more than
An article of clothing at a showgirl's command.
I was a ghost picked up by a phantom
Who will let you be a celebrity
On one last moonshine ride to the hatted goons at the border,
Or worse. The cabbie, gazing at the unimaginable,
Muttered familiar particulars as I told him where we were going,
To Pulaski highway, leaving one neighborhood of dim joints for another.
He inquired of my sick motives, keening on twisted sexual apocalypses
That leave one hanging, rendezvous in blue rooms with red electrified vixens;
No, there are those motels on the strip, I said,
But it's further in, so he took me past
The lumberyards and post offices and all the outposts of the sexually mistaken night,
Every regulated act searing in neon, up the salmon-spawning red-hot road,
I let him carry me where he, if he had been totally free, would go,
Where those who have no one or nothing go, holding on to the last stool of extremity;
He was taking me to see my baby.
He is hesitant at the roadhouse destination, hearing
That Patsy Cline was alive and living in the jukebox,
And seeing the blue pool tables and the cigarette machines dispensing decades-old brands,
Still, for 10 bucks extra, he handed me over like a parcel.
My baby smiles at me from behind the bar
While a scatological scattershot shovels quarters into the jukebox
And half dead wails of the lonely give him some small consolation,
The songs of the missing angel. He, who had spent his whole
Childhood in the nearby motels, was moved and purified enough
By this song to make you feel he'd had his heart ripped clean out.
And then he buys me a drink, because I'm Shelly's boy,
While a model of the Statue of Liberty rotates on the bar TV.
(The buses don't run on Satchelmouth's birthday);
Downtown is empty, but the projects are full,
Teeming into the Seven-Eleven. I roll in
For some snakes, but there is only chaos, not fireworks
And the highest prices in town. A white man
Asks for a quarter, but seeing my guitar
Won't leave me alone, asking if I blow blues in G. I say
"Anything but that key," sparing him more than me.
I pass more homeless lined up shivering outside the shelter
Closed for the holiday, eyeing me as though I were a slave
Not quite worth eating. I cut away, through what I'd always
Assumed was an abandoned city block, only to find a kind of
Solution, a sort of reverse commercial strip where every
Beggar from downtown wandered around, advertising scars
To each other — a paraplegic here, a blind albino there,
An unconscious Indian vet propped up against a slat,
A man with his face torn off talking out the corner
Of his mouth. Concrete blocks broken all over the street,
Trash and plaster everywhere, syringes scattered, not a window
Unboarded, but people everywhere, dealing in alleys, leaning
From dead balconies, mostly silent on this, their day off.
I mingled in with them to an unnamed bar through plywood
Doors. Inside, no music, no pool, just a hand
Written sign — "the first bar in Baltimore" — and a poster
For Thunderbird, a crooked fashion model posing
Dirty and disheveled, dressed in a New York fashion designer's
Conception of rags, smiling "taste the experience."
The place reminded me of nothing so much as a Western movie bar,
With Indians perched like hyenas, an obscenely powerless
Ghost family. Even here I felt outcast,
Without even a cigarette to be hounded.
Soon I would be home, understanding a little better
That Hell is a constant repetition of the same missteps
While one learns the parameters of the trap, obsessed
With getting out, but always unable to,
Seeing only the present place,
Not the pastures at the end of the street.
The lean times have gone
And there's work to be done.
You can face the sea with everything reachable
That time can give a value to,
Your valuable time,
Small consolation for the indignant hammer of bells,
The cloying gong, the empty revelry of pain sounding
Keeping the fish still,
Clanging with history as vindication,
Holding our disturbance in pregnant air.
Now, you treat history with noblesse obligée,
Sip martinis, ravish cocaine, read Rimbaud in the hot tub
Behind the bar while Tuff Gong skanks on the CD.
There's a Haitian art gallery across the street from where
A lunatic gimcrack collector used to sell me wax lips and
Plastic alligator jaws full of bubble gum.
A boy delivers the town newspaper in a Volvo.
Most of the old fishermen are in jail now for smuggling drugs.
A seagull commutes out to the distant islands,
Not staying to accompany the bells
That are not ringing under the stars.
Helicopters would swoop down with their roto-blades
To whip up a wake against the current,
A reverberation to slap meaningless grey rock
And roll back like the lean times along the gravel.
The harbor blues descend, through intermediate oranges,
People in boats hoot, in unison, their alarms
Off-key, the distortion of private pains
In a conglomerate of paranoid honks and shameless dissatisfaction
At their daily spraying like insecticide out into the world.
They shriek for the free fireworks,
Continuing their pursuit of a candy beyond all candy.
Even in this paradise green, the wide-lipped bay,
The sound of conflict brings in the darkness,
Sirens must come in before the triggers are dimmed.
Feeble colors strafe the charcoal horizon.
The beating is as tribal as pain ever gets.
A whirlwind of inconclusion
Eddies to a close.
The absence in the wake of the bells sounds.
Where I see the trapped faces everyday,
Who think of the multi-mega-media star
Who can't deliver his lines this time
As if he finally played his card.
The pages of glory turn
And we are still mired in the smoke of its friction,
The journey through the baseline wilderness where
Everything is not plotted against you, only darkest fog.
The soft padded cats who leap in their youth
From laundry line to drainpipe
Eventually get mist covered
And eat the vermin under the porch,
And start collapsing their way through days
Where joys are more circumscribed and downward leaning;
Gaudy ice patches on the cracked sidewalk
Turn quickly slate grey, that's part of the
Humming forgetfulness, the savage sleep.
I am almost among them, who have almost the knowledge
That human beings don't do these sorts of things.
We were meant to leap and catch and praise,
Prevailing against ice mountains and surly rapids,
Crafting a slingshot from supple young trees.
Who thinks that this urge inevitably leads
To neighborhoods bulldozed down,
Full-capacity trucks moving the bones along,
Machines designed to act and belch as men
Huffing with inhuman persistence,
Mashing steel with rough-shod motions
To ingrained catches, gagging full tilt toward some
Jackpot of gold at the end of the road, some shiny largesse
Left over after the fat of the land has been stripped and sold
To meet the growing need pool. The chairman of the board
Might as well be driving this rig, with his Delaware lawyer
Counting the Hardee's in the side cab, but as the penetration
Goes on all night, the haze and the fur smoke
Take the truck grappler in numb cigarette drags away.
The distant sounds that flow in from other islands
Keep us intact in shared reverie,
Longing for the place no one yet has found
Where we belong.
The cancer stick factory looms, its walls once absorbed
Many charmed voices, who rattled chords,
Who festered in chains, claimed while they sat against its will,
The blazing flame that delivered the hot bombshells
So the choosers had a choice.
One could look through the steel to see the almost reflection of our lesser selves,
Wide magnanimous smiles and brighter than life eyes,
Which we adjusted internally, to what we remembered of mirrors and descriptions.
But the mill allocates to everyone, and takes pain to deny
That it has denied something or someone.
So many changed as the loom adjusted itself in their minds,
Not feeling how its resistance was what kept all of us apart.
Now it drops its saddened shades across
The changing play of bitter winds, an empty warehouse
Echoing, negligible, still stoking against a bare bulb.
Windows without glass, U.S. Government tags, faded slogans,
While the roads have diverted, off to greener fabrications
Of the same life-sustaining illusion.
Now the extras have populated the backdrop,
The needle was pulled out, people exploded out onto the street,
Dashing doleful disenfranchisees
Bounce like pinballs or rats
Along the salted irrigation streams of this city,
Seeking sirloins in dead walks and emptied nooks.
The building still fumes its commands
To these few who have not elected, and so stay.
Stray gladiolas are picked at the corner of Fifth and Edgar,
Herded and shipped to office parks and professional buildings
To muse together and share a well-potted plot
Where mum's the word and the scars are hung like flags to dry.
Others come from temperature controlled rose rooms, misted and massaged,
But they ain't worth a shit unless they're like a million more, only better.
The rivet rattle goes with you everywhere, you carry
The soap scum to another part of the city,
Another scene of another crime,
Another well-oiled mousetrap
That answers us with our order.
This forest is ready to burn.
He talks all the time just like everyone else, but everyone listens.
He walks to the same parking stone, but walks with meaning.
Every moment to him is a brilliant intricacy. It's easy to oversee
When all he has to do is appear and everyone looks at him
With the fear of some children at parents.
His jokes shape a thousand ships
In force at dynamic moments
That stop at his tongue, who is not bogged down in trivia,
Who fancies himself everyman, not making more than the necessary
Decisions any man would make, that's the secret of his success,
But how could that be?
Walking in the glow, sometimes he must want to get kicked.
I thought I saw him at George's,
Mouthing Java, unshaven, chain-smoking,
Trying to cash a rumpled ticket.
You put that expression in your pocket
To flash at a mail-room clerk
Too slow with more meaningless subpoenas.
As wolves are left the rancid meat of singular bread.
There is no need of consequence.
The foul bell chimes, and the sinners jump the cliffs.
The saints are shot like renegades, rebels left adrift
In the space between innocence and evanescence.
The Indians work the kitty litter mines.
The billionaire walks past panhandlers with the same education, depth and drive.
There is no need of consequence.
After many a moonrise, the spectators see
It doesn't inflict for their glittering applause and merciless charity
In the space between innocence and evanescence.
While we pile all our efforts on time bombs ticking,
Others back off and retract all they've been given.
There is no need of consequence.
We rise to angers that die out as failures of will.
We move quickly past victories and linger too long in losses distilled
In the space between innocence and evanescence
There is no need of consequence.
And benevolent stare
Christ is caught holding
A whip and a chair,
Crucified in Peoria
And everywhere. "What was the one
Wrong thing I did?" he blares,
Exchanging his passion for a peace pipe and air,
Leaving the crippled souls
But at this distance
His vision seems more rare,
That he is no further
Or closer here
As when the arms grabbed on his sleeve
They were not seeking miracles as much as
Waiting for miracles to fail
And the optimist promising to kneel and admit
That all he inspired was wrong
That they were right all along.
Such occasional moments sustained them
Even as God brought their troubles to an end.
Bitterness languished beneath the rock
That took Christ beyond them
Laughing how connections are all in the head.
The most vulnerable wear masks.
The brick skeletons are black against the lilac sky
While lights are strung over the graveyard's burnt grass.
The brooding beauty of the left-behinds
Under a thoughtless thumb
In the perfect light where everything counts
And no one ever comes.
The men who lose are surrounded in grey,
Making occasional forays to the liquor store,
Waiting through streetcorner cigarettes.
Their brains are unused chambers,
The souls sucked by a pervasive self pity,
The wind can't be felt, it is only a sound
Of winter crying — in the flames of spring air.
The homes where they can be drenched in every emollient save one
Seem vacant and distressing to them from even a slight distance;
A new low pang forms when they think of returning
But another block more of such men is too much.
They think of the innumerable, in animal robes
Sharing wine by the fireside, with crescents and roses,
While on their shelves, priceless words collect dust
That could be gold to lozenge the smoky air.
They return to their own neglected treasure.
What they are has no value. They converse
With ghosts, but it is they who are doing the talking
And the ghosts too selfish to respond.
They practice being artists, weave threads of pain
In bundles of knots, a gift to love.
They seek out the junkies who suck grey dick
And look enraptured in vapors of light.
They stay in the tavern, desecrate the art on its walls,
Making it more red with violation, keen with irony
For these devotees of affectation, who still look at occasional couples
With longing, even as they throw all subtlety to the wind.
Tough men embrace cold glasses with delicate hands,
Quail at the sight of young girls out for the night
Under the romance of the beer light. The men just slap pinballs
Hitting snags and alarms on the way down.
A few wonder about those other people,
The ones who listen to the radio, who sell
Their souls for a wife, home, kids and career
When there is so much anguish that can never be shaped.
They may sit there sulking for years,
As failures create new, less sustainable fantasies.
They dissent on bootleg Nancy Sinatra
And try to find a name for another doomed band.
Most of them sleep, eventually, and make amends with the familiar.
They find ways to wake up and cook themselves eggs
And try to look on the morning with someone else's eyes,
One whose small room can receive the whole world.
Tense behind curtains, trying to be invisible,
Working out new places to be when the postman arrives.
I wait for the wife to get home from work with the kids
And thank me savagely once again for nothing.
The kids whose joy saps the life out of me
Tie me down with their eyes, so that I must watch them
Struggle with toy alarm clocks and shriek
Whether happy or sad.
Occasionally, I hear from the kitchen "don't fall asleep.
I don't want them out in the street again. It's dark."
But I find I must spread myself out on the carpet
And rest bones too weary from way too much scotch.
I awake to an hysterical harrangue,
Three wordless mouths when my ear can't take one,
And I find I must leave, so I walk
To Marty's, but he won't let me in,
Seems his wife wants him all to herself this evening.
I'd go to the bar, but I don't feel too guileful tonight.
So I walk down the unlit streets,
Jealous of the dogs that bark at me,
Surveying my difficulties, the least of which are what I've described.
I can't get clear of my memory.
I can't dream at a baseball game like I used to.
I can't lose this sense of dread
That all that has happened will be taken away from me.
There are too many stars tonight,
So I'll go back home once I can
Figure out a way to get in
(Maybe I can sneak in when she takes out the trash).
I envy the smile on the face of the man
I saw escorted in shackles from the court to a van —
His worries were over.
"I developed a streak of independence brought on by neglect" - Lee Harvey Oswald
Who learn what they know alone
Are seen coldly, in terms of their isolation,
Not what they are isolated from,
The violence they pick up on radar.
Local loser fires three rifle shots...
But we can't clothe the killer of America
In such humble robes, we must look beyond him.
He learned Communism in the public library.
He read all the conspiracy theories.
He joined the Marines to preach
International Communist doctrine
But the troops didn't care
And the CO's yawned
And he learned how to shoot a high-powered gun.
He defected to Russia because he couldn't stand the way
America turned his mother into a pathological liar, or so he would say,
But he also wanted to invent conspiracies of his own,
To shed his experience to the other side,
To make deals with the darkness, with a poker face
That held nothing but lies, and all only to be recognized,
Illuminated. The KGB laughed,
And only after he mocked a suicide attempt
Did they let him stay as a model worker
Building televisions. But, making deals in his dreams with some third force,
Came back home, to the FBI, and Che Guevrolet, but they
Were professional, and this man offered only vanity.
The CIA wouldn't waste its time on a returned defector,
Especially one looking for a job.
How could they have expected
Their grand manufacture to have converted any souls?
He didn't know who to kill, and when he settled
On the bullet that grazed General Walker's hair,
He got away with it because he took the bus;
His pursuers couldn't think of a man without a car.
To the lawlessness and voodoo of New Orleans he returned,
To peddle himself as the fall guy
To the Cuban maelstrom's talk show fantasies.
He became Fidel Castro in his mind, resentful at all the cigars
Kennedy had stashed away.
When the KGB saw him in Mexico City, pleading that the CIA
Was tracking him, they would have laughed
If they weren't so saddened.
The long ride back, another dream shattered,
His fantasies forced a more fervent desire
That could never be requited,
But, as luck would have it, the work he got
Opened the door like a bolt of light
To the purpose of his life
— Oswald means "the power of God" —
So he left Marina his last $70 and his wedding ring
And walked with a large bag of "curtain rods" for his job at Dealey Plaza.
The whole thing was easy, there was no one to stop him,
Even his gun did not attract attention,
Even the cops, after the shooting, let him out of the building.
He had to kill a cop to get any respect at all.
When caught, playing for attention like a schoolboy,
He protested of any attention,
Was violently innocent, desperate for response.
He bantered with the cameras, making sure his smiling denials
Left no doubt of the truth. "You won't find it there,"
He said to his brother Roy when he looked into his eyes.
A sickened Jacob Rubinstein, another bit player in a play
Whose designs he did not understand, pulled the trigger for all of us.
"Football is the opiate of the people" -Lee Harvey Oswald
Thirty years and 500 books later,
Oswald's creations do not recognize his cry.
We don't understand how he did, alone, what they,
Together, thought they couldn't do. We notice
How the mob chieftain toasted Kennedy's death and offered congratulations;
We see Hoover's glee at breaking the news to Bobby;
We hear word reaching the CIA just as Fidel's death serum is being delivered;
No one seemed content to have their violent hungers
Just hang there in respectful silence, without measurable response.
When the myth of one generation's youth vanished,
The procession was fantasized — as theater, as subterfuge,
For if we are who we feel ourselves to be,
We all died, as we all pulled the trigger, as we all conjured assassins
In our efforts to connect ourselves to the empty center no one sees.
They are forever tuned to war sounds droning,
The moose noises of battles never fought
And men never born to begin with.
They help handicapped kids on gum machines,
And hate another war coming, will hate to see it go.
They were saved by the planes, but slowly destroyed
By rounds from the king they saved.
When it's over, political cover
Explaining inhuman orders, meaningless crates,
But here the stakes are tied more tightly,
To elude the reasons men have to die.
To feed his fat dead father, whose unquiet spirit
Is possessed by Geronimo, for when stole this last Indian's bones
For his campus clubhouse, and so the blood of America
Is demanded in sacrifice.
Housing, health care, clean air, freedom, truth —
These are the trinkets he is pawning with his glitzy smile,
As if the buyer should be pleased with these luxuries.
"One should learn to live without such things," he says,
As he stashes the receipts in a secret bank account.
"There are things more important than these," he blinks,
As he stumbles to the keys, and plays the insane
Melodies of long-dead patronized and patronizing composers
Who not less than ten years ago were scorned with a rage
Now reserved for the cacophonous moderns.
He forgets some notes, glosses over archaic flourishes,
But the song comes out about the same:
"...The magnificent flag remembers magnificent wars,
When men thought with their guns on
And all women were whores,
When those who toiled for our liberty
Were not merely sores
We must fight so hard to ignore.
Recall when the truth served at the pleasure of kings,
Not the underfed press
And disinterested magazines,
When righteousness reigned all over the land,
There were no coup d'etats,
No dirtied hands.
When we picked and we chose and we made our demands,
There was no one to talk of the wounded or missing,
They were drowned by the brass of the band.
A tone of voice could open doors
(Not like now when the rich are subjected to scorn),
Goodness depended on how you adorned it,
The ones with nothing were the scoundrels.
The trains couldn't run if the rich went to jail,
Ministers could always open your mail,
The weak willed were in chains, not begging for meat,
The unjustly imprisoned could keep quiet and meek,
Because the free were better than the enslaved."
Amid this nostalgic revelry he paused —
"Ah, but things now are not that bad after all...
The streets can be cleaned by declaring a war.
Our friends have seen to it that we can't help the poor.
We've gouged and we've gouged and we've gouged some more,
And none of the people have anything to show,
And, as we predicted, the gold is back in good hands.
We've revved up the dream machines and plugged up the holes,
The price of admission is your dark-hearted soul,
It's what you have, not what you know,
There are better off than you who can't say no.
We've bribed the do-gooders, fine-printed the sentiment of compassion,
And shown everyone that wiping your ass with the Constitution aids the digestion.
Those who oppose our wars are unpatriotic...
Those who question our values are immoral...
The poor, not the rich, are the selfish ones..."
And on and on this broadcast went on,
Followed by opponents who said "Yes, but look at my hairdo"
And critics who noted how strong and finely tuned his tone,
Then back to Liberace, with songs that went out
To every home, and no one was sure if anyone was listening,
But they stayed still, as one by one, all the doors were sealed.
Staring away his sentence,
The lonely people lined up for a thrill —
His creaking fall, as Christ rises every Spring.
The phone rings — not the Governor
(He's trying to find out when life begins),
It's just another angry commentator
Taking away more of his precious sympathy.
When he almost died, at thirty five,
He thought of how his billions couldn't help him,
And there, in the hospital ward, he swore
He would never ask for favors
And would never hurt a creature any more.
But this vow entailed certain compromises
He was not equipped to make —
So he gave away his money
To the most undeserving and ungrateful,
The violently powerless, the anti-social homeless.
He waited with a wad for the first rip-off artist to approach,
So he could hand him the cash without having to be asked.
He funded shelters in the suburbs,
Methadone clinics in the shopping malls,
He had some twisted dream that with all his money
He was beyond the law.
He thought if he returned the phone calls
And answered every letter with enough diplomacy and hope
That would be enough.
But wars are not like that.
They carted off his refugees, thinking them his friends,
And nodded, smelled corruption, when he purchased the jail
And replaced it with a high rise to house the murderers —
The white doctor they sent to him came away shaking
So hard he couldn't hold a cigarette.
The newspapers printed stories of sleaze and gross debaucheries,
Knowing he would meekly protest, but he proudly declared
All of it was true, what a shame they only printed
A small fraction of his indiscretions.
It was time to call in the law.
Treason, bribery, revolution, read the warrant,
So he hired the worst lawyers he could find
(Who were not only inept, but wanted to see him fry),
Rigged the jury, delivered the evidence, but, of course, he got off
And the people rose in fury how the rich escape justice.
All he could say to the murderous mob
Was that the rich invented justice to give the poor something to do
Besides dream of being rich.
At that, the New York Times rethought its position on lynching,
And with corporations held a telethon
With starving babies and crippled retards
All screaming "Klondike must go."
Philosophers came down from their mountain caves
To declaim "the man who would make us believe
That money is a vacuum to fill empty values
And that freedom is only selfishness,
When it is quite the other way around."
They even brought M.L. King back from the dead
To say "I cannot trust a man like him, who has never,
For justification, cited my name."
Then they rolled the horrifying pictures:
Klondike driving hundreds of Porches into the sea,
Passing out Rolexes to people without jobs,
Dropping a confetti of $100 bills on the White House lawn
As the first children stooped to pick some up.
He was so amused he called in a pledge himself,
And almost wished he had friends, so they could laugh with him,
But he knew they wouldn't be laughing.
The cops came several times to get him, but the smell and sight
Of the wasted people who lived in his house always drew them away.
Special tactical squads went in with helicopters to snatch him up,
But they came away with a double-breasted gentleman
Who swore that Teddy Roosevelt was President.
The real President came on TV one day asking for help,
For suggestions on how to get Klondike.
The letters poured in; they sent ruffians with Third World experience
Into his den, but they were arrested by the police before entering.
They tried again. They told the police, the media, the Pope,
But they neglected to tell Klondike
Who, if he'd heard, would have gladly obliged them by being there,
But, as it was, he was in Mexico City trading
Personal computers for indian beads to junkies.
By the time he got back, someone had freaked
At all the undercover cops and torched his house.
So Klondike found seedy dives, the better to get caught,
He mistakenly thought, for they somehow imagined lavish penthouse suites,
So Klondike remained miserable and free.
He turned himself in at some ghetto police station,
But they laughed at his presumption, that someone so well behaved
Could be so corrupt.
He rode the subway, pulled his money out of bank machines.
He had used the assumed names so that no one could know
Where the gifts came from, but it saddened him now
That it made him impossible to track.
Getting desperate, he ran up against a gang of prostitutes
Shrieking "look, I am Klondike" but they thought him too sick
For anything but the perfunctory offer of sex,
Which he gratefully refused, wondering at last how he ever came to care
For this madness now pursuing him.
The profligate horror continued, and the authorities
Were no closer to bringing him to justice
When he was spotted one day, buying every confection from an ancient Mister Softee truck
That had strayed too far from the green fields.
The driver sensed something as Klondike threw all the eclairs in the dumpster,
So he tailed him, at a distance, as he peeled off
Hundred dollar bills to spike-haired urchins in high tops,
Not even smiling, as they begged for more.
When he walked into the doughnut shop, his fate was sealed.
Klondike at the gallows
Reached into his junkyard of philosophies
Searching for the right final gift as he scanned
The imperturbable faces that paid to see his demise;
What lesson could he tell those who had seen his
Generosity with envy, who had seen him as another power among many
That didn't come through in the end, who didn't understand
That he really didn't care anyway?
He tried to explain, but all he could say was
"As long as the oppressed would rather suffer than educate,
Which would have been fine if
The rope hadn't broke.
The intangible is lost at the stroke of night,
Vanishing all but the moon and our created things
Glowing, blurred, and bleary, our captive energy
Hissing against the empty increments of the moments,
The rest of the daily machinations,
The dimming of the acetylene.
A jagged shriek, a soughful, humid horn,
A quenchless cough and singing groan occupy
This unwound, ground-down lighted room
And escape like gas. Dissipation shimmers and shakes.
We stoke the fires of a sax solo,
We brush color into our faces.
The demons are now in the air,
By morning they will snake away.
From trance to threat:
A tap once too quickly, a gasp too plangent.
Every time I pick up my pen, I am up against
A palimpsest of cliché — natural expression.
I don't know what a good musician is
But I know good music
And hear it almost every time I play
With my ear.
Dance to the bitterness.
The sweet heat is
The moping prisoners
Squeeming to get away
Into a pleasurable trance.
The hollow wing ascending,
The croak billowing
Over the deknotted, labial lands
Shading them like a cloak one sees from below
And scarcely understands, yet yearns to know
Of this something promising reward,
This evidence for hope
Sends hope springing in hot pursuit of an object
It can outrace.
Only the eyes burn away
Like seed shells falling...
Chamomile grass, fuchsia, spath
Sassafras stalks in a flax field
Ripe with lobelia,
Calanchoe, colendura, catmint
In a mind that remembers
That the sunlight received is commuted to flower
(As ears of bone transfer inside, to the net,
What, once in, is engraved in stone)
Whose only purpose
Pecky nosy birds:
There are no prim vanities in the bush,
No crafted aesthetic pursuit.
Beauty is just a response to the threat of extinction.
We pick the stem,
Dismember it to show our love.
Love was required by the pining stamen and pistol.
Love is what is sought,
But it cannot be given, only received;
The thing does not reside in the beauty.
On either side,
Terms are laid out
As if in opposition.
Both lovers and enemies stalk you,
Both lovers and enemies listen.
Matted with all the arcane simulations
That preceded your introduction,
You heard them all as well as we,
Heard them so well, we listen to you
Because we don't want to hear them again.
Out of boredom, we are prepared for the insanity
Of your combinations.
You must keep on challenging us
Even when, after stoning you for so long
We are finally allowed to ignore you.
Keep on blowing history out of your pores
And sucking it back in with conscious, hesitant breaths
With the generous passion for hoping
We can, must go on again.
Mangy with contrivance,
The patterns fold out into spirits
Each with a rhythm
That dances around the whole
With salty plum lickings,
Shaking in the hot quicksand,
Rolling with the bells
Of breeze through the branches
And bellowing hollows —
Climb the pounding floor
As sticks, insistent, hit, and blades, tickling, twitch
And cut the dullness of the skin that singes
And gasps for breath amidst smoke and alcohol.
Scoured metal tubs misdirect,
Mangle, and modulate
The proddings of nerves
Broken in the sweetness of their pulp;
As they are brushed in cadence, their pain bends and stiffens
In the back and forth dynamic to the divine:
Rhythm as logic,
As the massing of electrons around the empty space
Of which all matter chiefly consists,
Strokes of order:
Dancing becomes painting,
Painting becomes forests,
Forests become the heavens,
Which are precisely the sky, as the wind is the word
That in its whispers gives form to the prison,
The freedom that feeds on itself,
The whammy bar bent on the sunlight.
Out of the sounds of stellar shells
Grow imagined universes that light up the northern sky
And reveal the streams running through us.
Whose egos were too huge to co-exist
They didn't try, and agreed to cynically vie
To make each new song worst than the last,
And succeeded magnificently;
The band who wore boas, pink silk and mustaches,
Betty Davis hair,
And preened like California surf studs,
Never whining of their renown,
For they clothed in high school sentiments the subversions of high school poets,
Discovering and proclaiming loudly
That "love" means death
And "dreams" mean life itself,
As every prom band from Brownsville to Sault Saint Marie
Will agree, as long as the songs, in any key, can be
Bombastically stirring, beautifully pretentious;
The band that in a million posters summed us up:
The singing hair stylist, the gas station guitarist,
The house painter bass player, the disturbed church organist and
Fight manager drummer,
They toured towns in every exurb of Savage Plenty,
Holding businessmen hostage in elevators,
Moving cars, producing children
Who were born to seek this secret, for twenty-one futile years
Of radios too embarrassed to remember
Until the times, ever cruel, forgot,
And the wardrobe of the hip ones became the uncool threads of their parents,
And the birthsong plays again as if for the first time,
And decades dissolve into a stone that gracelessly holds the center.
We cannot escape, we who fled this madness years ago,
It comes back in all its lazy mendacity,
The symbol for what really is,
Not some Greek aspiration we call Art,
Just five guys powered by jellybeans in a studio for five hours
Producing sounds that still keep the Tsitsele crazy
Stamping and chanting its yeah yeah's for weeks.
I used to listen more
And copy less.
I used to let it ruin me more than I
It was itself before me
Now it submits
To my gentle stress against it,
A slight taint,
Not on it,
On me; I have not gained the friendship
Of the devil rhythm.
It hath gained mine.
Getting the white just right, he spends months
Thinking through the perfect lightening of blue,
Coaxing the sun out of pipes of blue aluminum,
With blue sky shining back out.
He peers through years of catalogues for that disturbed,
Elegant, sinister lettering, to spell "drugs" on rounded
Biomorphic steel in glowing red, rendered only after measuring
Neon signs against a thousand sunsets.
He has visited the Schraft's Ice Cream sign factory
And waited in countless Venetian blinded professional rooms
Too lonely, too shabby, too kept up by ghosts, and he soaked up
Too much of the stain and dust, retaining it in these yellow window
Shades and black gothic eaves.
He has waited through packs of Shiva Thin 100's
For the correct moment of sunlight,
When the atrium flashes with all its block glass shining,
In the autumn late afternoon when its force is equal to the sun's.
He looked, in that shadowed side of the building, at neon
Until it burned a hallucination that could persist;
On the sunny side, the neon barely subsists against the gleam
Of all the light Vermeer and Du Pont could infiltrate,
Like Hollywood with all its flood lamps.
The pharmacy window reflects everything, the glassy city and
Its shattered souls, alive in funhouse mirrors
Showcasing watches, scents, spirits, and the drooling consumer
So clearly all we see is the white of the sun
In the window that reflects all but itself
When that which is most real becomes illusion.
The easy wave of bird wings as they glide
Betrays their tangled path, just as the slowness of the sky
Can often be confused with silence.
What the surface yields at a given moment
Advances through a higher, inconceivable order
While appearing to dissolve.
The bones protrude —
Hearts that form dumb arrows —
Brutal insects fight the trajectory
Of uncompromising gravity,
Working for the dark fin of the moon.
The sandy sky
Splinters into plates, it curves away
Like the wing of a beach receiving the sea,
While the clouds run in splatters,
Like feathers in a deathly flutter.
Armies of bird spread like pine needles, dancing for fish,
Knotty streams of motion,
They hang in the wind, turn downward
Before rising in circles, their vapor trails
Pouring plasma seines upon the horizon,
Ignorant detailings of the void,
Illustrations of the mind's seeking
Against what's seen and not known.
Repentent saints have left behind and wonder, as they did
If anything of worth shows through — can these fragile coals
Be lifted up to the tumbling earth,
Or will their rigid forms continue to elude us
As we rise into heaven and descend into darkness?
Yet, as we're left with them, unignited, our love
Won't let us lose them
And that is enough residue of faith to console us
As our lives burn away in search of an ideal
That grows every day more elusive.
The most famous painter in New York.
He knows how to wheedle bond dealers.
He knows the right brand of Schnapps,
The right alienated talk, as if risen from a Marxian grave
To see Tiffany's for the first time as something
To which Art can only aspire.
He can talk directly, without pausing, without laughing,
Comfortably talking to them, talking about money,
He drinks bottle after bottle easily, but it doesn't
Diminish the force of his theories of art
He perfected at school before teachers far less
Forgiving and less susceptible to gracious smiles.
His work begins at sundown, prowling the clubs,
Buying the right drugs for the right people, relentlessly
Seeking them out, only to appear as a matter-of-fact dealer
Of chemicals and irony, not interested in leaving anything
But a crude, macho, sexual trace, his business card,
So when the critics and collectors ask them about him,
It's "he's brilliant, an irresistible force" — he's there at
All the parties, willing, compliant, uncommunicative,
A master of non-sequitors at opportune moments, talking
And spending and loosening, like a municipal trader
Overseeing the future of New York.
He is thoroughly worn out when he wakes in his East Village
Loft, scene of many violent nocturnal performance pieces,
And after a bowl of cereal, paints more pictures to fill the void
He had created in higher minds the night before.
Occasionally he must stop, in shame.
Hangs like a second skin over the sealed roofs.
It cannot puncture the lay of the land,
So it sits and makes the land sweat
Until, nearly satisfied, it dissolves
As the tired, hating sun trivializes
The winking lights in the waiting windows
And closes finally their lids like fireflies hushed.
Birds vanish into the haze
And reappear unchanged.
The painter on his porch
Admires his flowers, though not enough to keep them from dying.
He gives himself a headache, receives congratulations
On the flower box, takes an aspirin,
And torches the whole thing
Because he didn't have the last word at the party last night,
Because they could not thank him enough.
Curse the flowers,
The sun would fry them and eat them for dinner anyway
Although they act as if they're doing the sun a favor.
The intangible stays fixed
In everlasting contradiction fresh
At the far end of the trombone plunging.
He leaps upon you like stain;
But no one cares about a second-hand man.
When man is nature and nature is man
Where is man who is man when nature is nature
To push it back
Into our sight, our hands?
Who breathe the current out as if their own.
We dress them up to dress them down
And explain their loss of breath,
Then hide behind something else that covers the recess
And so forget...
There is always the chance to be the hero --
The tough guy, the agent, the priest.
If a mind is occupied
For a moment more
Than necessary for
For normal doubt,
Then one can inhabit the next Godsend,
Can link with the chains,
Flower that erupts
That power dissipates;
Hours that tick so steady by...
So another contracts the glazed eyes
And sudden impulse fury the role requires and summons.
Such brutal clearing of throats
And chafing of arms.
The heroes are lined up, and proceed blindly
Firmly under hand
And over heads that stare
And stare back.
They are stranded like rooks,
Settling like dust at the depot waiting for the train
To move them farther away and further short.
It's right there
Beyond the final star
Behind the wall.
Can't you feel it when there is no wind?
Can't you hear it when there is no sound?
It makes the decisions as you move along.
It is not secret, but obvious.
Every moment reflects its message.
And it's right there
Beyond the final star
Behind the wall.
Watch us leap the highest fence.
Watch us walk from place to place.
Let our fight and its energies burst like a bloom
Before Your eyes.
Please may You favor me.
Let our efforts form a web to rest Your gaze.
Watch us as we come together
Through appointed elders speaking for us.
Watch me as I sit in peace
Spinning my secrets into space.
Watch out for us as we form a shell
To meet Your unity.
Beware the solitary onion
Boiling as it bleeds,
The bulbs moaning underneath the paper-thin sheath.
See only me
As we rise with all our hopes to meet You.
While the cries of cats and children sound the same thing,
The dogwood's always losing its bloom again
Fading purple as your prose
It's designed to contain.
We pluck immaculate sentences,
Finding inmates in the ruins
Of the swamp, the soup of nature, with its ineluctable virtues
Blowing blissfully beyond the page.
The paper shivers on the yellow sill.
We're trapped in our needing
Like chicklets, with moss for hair,
Run down the donnybrook to the pond,
The awkward out-of-time dance called following.
The icy cold goblin who lives in the lake,
The lady with the tarot enigmatically adding weights?
When I took this job, I had no idea
The results mean nothing, that the work is all,
And everything left over mere rationalization for the toil,
To be squandered in your free time, like mother's milk and pretzels.
The world inwardly exposed can be used to climb the stations of the cross
And to cast off commitments that would whittle away at your soul
If your mind was not occupied in impossible things
That whisper their existence, but disappear
In the seams between the world's life rattle and your mortal coil.
The bats that play in the rafters
And the wasps that escape to the light
To avoid our treacly desecrations
Have no hope of fame, for their world is too real,
But unless you can pass your demons on to the rest
They will remain your demons, and like parasites possess you,
To die when you can no longer hold them tight.
The angels don't want to listen to your stories, for to them
Dreams are all equal, they are what got you there.
For now, there are only invisible readers waiting while you are searching
For another reason to continue.
The methadone clinic awaits
At the end of the sentence
But the kewpie doll stares at you,
Sad keeper of flames
The suppressed that's madness
Holding the body's fort
Against the mind's
You've stood in defiance
Like only a martyr would,
Lost like a tumor in the night's luminescence,
Groping at a question
Formed by longing,
While the words are on the lighted side
With the answer and other
That guide your train through other fields,
Not these palm leaves,
The jungle alive with deaths
That charm the jarring blur you see through
As you pace in your rotted
With the hardly any furniture you possess
Your thoughts are embroiled
But you can hardly touch,
You feel way too close
At the same time,
Searching through emptied-out skies
For the clouds you thought you outgrew
When you thought they would not be
With the baby blue.
Oh my God, oh my God I did not think
You were in this needle too.
The stench of pork chops and chuck steaks
Hankering on the grill, and they are waving
The dirty linen sheets of all those many sordid neighbors
That you scared all through the night
As you drank away their bourbons and danced clear of their haze
And put your second-hand notions on their electrical clothes lines
To dry away the tears.
After fifteen clear-eyed beers, the thought awakens
Like a train in the bruised tomato of your brain
That you are forsaken, shake and bake Jake,
Now the jets have overtaken
The crumble cake of city, the brute necessity
Of an ordered society, the saliva like the plot
Thickens, and spreads its silver slime in gamy pockets
Where the sun don't shine. It's all sublime or nothing at all, the savage said
Before he took the knife to his head
And made it all worthwhile for an instant —
The clairvoyant winced, but she couldn't disclose where she was last night,
When the bullshit vapor hit the fan
And solidified down the chain of command
To end up where they were, it was easy for her to forget
At that moment, and remember that it wasn't her dream,
The fire truck screams, all awake that's going awake,
It's nosebleed season, and the drivers are putting all they don't have aside
To say it's all in a day's work, every dog must have his day job
And bask in the afterglow as if it is all something
That someone could do or know, no,
This time no freight can stop here,
No paisley hankies, no edible underwear, no bottomless cups of underarm detergent,
No tug on my cape for a friendly copper,
No swaggering cowboys on some weasel's lasso
Payroll fetching me for a tug on my noggin,
A silver bullet on my heart strings,
Climbing some mountain I really can't see,
But I will pretend to go to in the oblivion of my stolen dreams
For lack of better, and nothing thereof,
The place is indifferent except for the gong
That hits when you forget where you are
And remember who you are,
When the silver thunder nabs you hole in one in a million
And you're speaking like ash from a flame.
There's a thunder somewhere off, and maybe you can hear it.
Puppy meat, a roomless suitcase,
An excuse rattling about like a wind-smacked newspaper,
Subways and saxophones, sinuous sinuses
Groan and rasp, then engines
Scream out of mouths,
Humanity carried on the tip of a tongue
Through holes of grunge and decay
To hollows where each can stay.
Puppy meat, a roomless suitcase,
Those icy scrapers sway
And trash is inspected by non-residents
Endlessly commuting from hand to mouth
From pan to bench to bedsheet
Keeping the parks clean.
Dogs leashed to statues bark at ladies with mink coats
And overhead the silence of the icebergs rumbling,
Suffering an alpine view of the city to an alpine wind.
You must move fast when you are small
And you must eat.
A man sells fruit and news in an underground shed
Packed to the dust with pulp and leaves,
Warm ink newspapers hung out to dry on clothespins
Tossing under ventilation fans in the diesel breeze.
Venders smoke cigars and snort, pastel sidewalks
Lose chalk dust to the sirocco in the tunnels,
The black through which we go,
The rattle we know in our bones,
The route we all take to our homes,
Homeless suitcases in well-lit boxes
In unknown, familiar territory,
Puppy meat in three piece suits
Seeing other faces in black flashing mirrors,
For those without seats there are nooses.
The newspapers here have a social disease,
Somebody wants more to breathe.
"Spare me a dime for the subway,
It's all I need to get home,"
A derelict collects his duty
From people who know and hate him and the subway so.
Money bags spill like seeds in the park that way,
But nothing grows in the park that day
And that's the way everyone wants it — barren,
To write off, reinvest, sell,
To keep florescent cells filled.
Gloomy florescent trains
Gliding like match sticks over grinding steel
Becoming perpetual, like the sun and the sea
But on schedule, as we want it to be.
Change tumbles smoothly in the intersecting vaults.
The transients have found a haven by Park Station.
A man pedals a fake swan around a fake lake
Reflected in a monolith
Whose mirrors fall down on passerby,
Tiles peeling off like pieces of the sky
Exposing plywood underneath.
Connections under the streets
Always racing, always beating the above-ground machines,
Sending its troops into buildings first
To pillage the coffee and Xerox machines,
To fill and weaken the building,
To master elevators,
To observe the icebergs floating on by.
Wrappers are freed and fly idle.
Pigeons feed on the pavement.
People feed around troughs around the vaults,
Avoiding the park, opting for safety, if not strength,
In numbers, in files of people kept track of somewhere
Programmed from somewhere to run these circuits,
These glass pores and this cement skin,
People dying in bowls of lettuce as icebergs pass the sky.
The Mars Hill Baptist Church
Stands amid Summer cottages built by Martin Aircraft in 1943
Announcing, in Korean lettering, a pilgrim's faith in the universal,
Like the Sinclair dinosaur,
Relic of the golden age.
Someone unloosed newspapers on Lexington Street.
The pages somersault like kids at a playground,
Sometimes sliding like stingrays over the asphalt,
And sometimes totally still, when the wind decides.
They populate the streets.
We can no longer read.
The lies dance like uncatchable playthings.
I cannot enter these marble walls.
Oh, one can go in the building,
Be given a tour by laughing friends one knows inside,
But when the eyes dart sideways
And the questions turn serious,
The paid frowners and auditors will escort you away.
I cannot enter these marble walls.
Office stiffs in cars
Hearing drive-time loquations with Raybans,
Urging past the signal.
But for every green light, a red one, and at this one,
I stand on the bus, packed like an olive jar,
Eyeing for a seat so that I won't kick like a part of the engine.
To the side of the road, a statue, the smiling face
Of a municipal engineer, who thought these superhighways
Lifting away like equations from the city.
I looked for you at the Knickerbocker Hotel,
In with the other junkies and their lies to keep the doomed quiet.
I waited at the Sip and Bite, handling scrapple and some Camels,
Wandered a block from Albemarle, but I only saw
Elvis Presley in the window of a formstoned rowhouse,
Behind doily curtains, a ceramic Mary, and the fat TV
Singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in a velour suit and fake sideburns.
I went to the docks, no boats, just drunken sailors,
And million dollar condos soaking up the view.
The blue church with the iron rail
Did not have sprayed on its walls your name.
I finally saw hives of gypsy moths
Infecting with frosty batting
Whole wings of leaves and branches,
Cocoons jumping from tree to tree,
White death in random pockets.
All the mayors go to jail immediately at the end of their terms;
Like some equation on the board from when the world was very small, it's simpler that way.
To find out why, spend some time in an Upton Street crack house,
Boards nailed to every window, nothing but
Trash and blankets, rigs and stems scattered.
These people are truly happy,
But each is in his own alien zone, in some blissful pain,
Wandering around loosely, no harm to anyone
If left alone from salesmen and profiteers,
But they are dragged through the heap
As the self-fulfilling prophesying symbol of what you have to fear
And what keeps withheld the things you cry for.
The children of the alcoholics stare
At the evening sky
with its changing patterns
Of never quite realized blue.
The mentally ill philosophers
State "the world ends every day,"
They are descended from immigrants
From the deep South, Poland, West Virginia.
The conservators here, with money stashed underground,
Don't have any higher claim to morality,
They merely look after their interests more thoroughly,
So fewer questions can be asked.
Yet questions are asked
In the only place where geniuses are accepted,
In tumbling city blocks where even the facade is corrugated
And the locks are left broken,
And the space in between moves away.
A Summer squall from a distant resort
Carries banana suntan oil into the battened-down town
Preparing for war.
The ties are knotted more tightly, the homeless get more
Greedy, blue ravens fly overhead.
Thousand of dead businessmen, arms flailing, march the street
As if they'd rather fail again in the earthly mission that killed them
Than stay dead.
The new immigrants
Laugh at all this pretense, for them,
Roles are not so clearly delineated,
"Everything that moves is fair game, we came to make money," they say,
Not seeing how easily attained everything they want is anyway
Or that they'll have to silence their own victims, too.
The bongo players have left the suburban lawns,
And are muttering like schizophrenics the laws of the Lord
Shivering over grates of Hell,
Saying "this time we won't make the same mistakes twice,
This time the revolution is won,"
While resolution clicks on
Like a dark, final switch.
That click together like Venetian blinds
And twist in the trade winds like feather pens,
Are moving peaks of crystalline green,
The oily, mad-with-life sheen of mermaids
Swelling like bouncing skirts
That tumble in like percolating soap suds,
Stretching like cellophane to a flounce
That sloughs onto beaches
Of instant coffee, raw sugar, cream of wheat.
The world is full of imaginative TV weatherpeople,
But especially here, in Fedora Lampur
Where subject and predicate dangle
In the paralytic continuous,
Under the tropical cloud of the Tourist Uncertainty Principle
That lurks whenever the island's evil secret is covered up
With another outward gesture
To the always dying
And always generating
Heap of choking green.
A prim, tiny lady, holding clippers and a mister,
Is swallowed whole in a miasma of red and purple blooms,
But snips at the fabric, sure of her complete control,
The leaves weighed down by sadness,
The pods still unexploded.
The cool winds make a mockery
Of ambiguity and contradiction.
Hollow morning smiles are exchanged
From loathing servants to the fresh-washed
Gatsby's in sandals walking
Aimlessly in the heat;
The white hotel manager chews out our black waitress
For our benefit how it was inexcusable not to serve
Apple juice with breakfast;
Then it was back to the hotel room, with barbiturate
Sesame Street going out, the great American liberal dream,
Where blacks and puppets live together in creative freedom;
Then rum that left me cringing and clawing in confused
Euphorias stumbling onto the moonlight-dappled beach,
Feeling totally dependent, just like the moment
And touched the island's veil
And bloodied myself with the strangeness,
The interdependence, the forced hybridization
Of the colors of all the nations together
Yet remaining unaware of all
But some provincial perfection —
A wave slightly larger than the others
Could signal the destruction of the island,
But you can't feel the pain splash on you, still they are
Ready to console you with rum, while the steel pan
Drum is out of tune, but that's part of the charm
Of this tossed-off, haphazard, happy place,
This paradise of the impoverished.
Welcome to the tropics,
The only heaven we can conceive of,
The only one we have seen.
Its aloneness contradicts your own — they are together
And you wish to be among them
Who don't hear the dull clang of the bells
Of your city calling you home.
Trees, confined to strands, seem, in these low skies, closer to heaven,
Sprouts of reed, their tweed billowing, humming like ducks,
Sway in ripped tributaries
That give way to the crotchety silks of corn
Pinned down more orderly than on a quilt,
The blackened grass fields
Moving like fur,
The fallow land bearded with sand and huge red asparagus,
And the gothic farmhouses, humble before nature,
With rust-red tin roofs and long sagging windows,
Tractors left to burn to a crisp in the fields.
It's an idyll built from poultry.
Even the tree roots look like chicken bones.
Even the crabs only enter traps
When there's chicken in the bait box.
Thrown back, they keep coming back in for the meat,
As if seeking their perfection, in succulence
Until they are picked for use
After steeping like tea, gaining verve and fecundity,
Becoming holy only when consumed.
The wildflowers turn blue in the late afternoon.
The changing arts of nature
Make all declaration false,
As the mist obscures all distance.
I construct fables to make sense
Of this constancy of small town
Continually merging and being revised.
I order my fantasy
Too falsely — I imagine there's only
One Pitchkettle Road, one Girdletree Street,
One Pinchpenny Co-Op, one Peacock Motor Inn,
One Confetti Cafe, one Dreamland Motor Homes,
One Ophelia's Hats and Wigs, one Viola Palmist Advisor,
One Willie T. Brickhouse American Legion Post #400,
One Skipper's Grille, one Closet City, one Sand-Witch, one Hocker's IGA,
One Mutzie's, one Beauty Barn, one Manlove Construction,
One Bluewater Trading Company Gas Lace Peanuts Cigarettes Shrimp Hams Bacon
Fireworks Pottery Decoys Beer Used Furniture and Lotto sold here,
One Poor Lil' Boys and Girls Antiques, one Vibe Shop,
One Washtub Laundromat, one Mappsville Tourist Information and Industrial Park,
One Class Act Tax Service, one Dari Treat,
One Tru Blu Gas, one Dagsboro Cinema, one Vic's Country Store
To serve for all the others.
The true town is the false one, the synthesis
Where roadside schemes and thoughtless pit stops
Are edited from the image.
This created, greater place creates
A greater human, who is still somehow less
Than the lesser human, not allowed to be real,
He can't cling to the all-too-easily proffered substance,
The sweet unguent distillation,
The ambrosia borne by seeds.
And then it's night, pitch black
Except for the pale, heroic light
In chicken house windows
And the jeweled holes
Of Orion's belt —
My eyes dip into this light
And I am swimming in a great river —
Everything is being viewed through me.
For sensing all you can be and letting it go,
Like the branches release the full-bodied leaves
And reject the sun that even now swims in our midst,
To await scarcity with an uncluttered mind
Like the inscrutable tree, without expectation,
Wholly itself when only surviving
When almost asleep.
But, no, everything is ripe for burning,
And we confront such abundance by tearing a swath through the center of it.
We eat, greedy to receive all that is finally ready:
The amber guitar, now dry and crisp enough to strum,
The valleys of tossed salad, the yielding paths,
The exotic birds that pass strange, wide spaces above us.
The wind blows the leaves like pages in a book
We finally can read
The aromas of Summer's past.
The cool makes it clear, the warm brings it near,
So magnified, these gusts of dying efflorescence
Make us finally aware,
Make us finally strive.
Not every picture tells a story
Although one may exhaust a thousand words in the telling;
Don't judge a cover by its book.
Don't think, lest ye be thought.
Ignorance is next to cleanliness.
Two rights make a wrong
If they both make a left
At the same intersection.
Two many heads spoil the one.
Look before you sleep.
He who looks before he leaps is lost.
The squeaky wheel gathers no moss.
If at first you don't fail, try, try again.
Nice guys finish.
A word to the wise is efficient.
Silence is cheap.
The jet reaches down
into the clouds
swimming in turbulence.
It escapes to an ordered mosaic
of ballparks, pools and houses
— One expects
giants to come out
and shake their fists
One must fall
When one lands
the palms tower above
the Spanish moss
Does nothing but
hang over one
from the Cypress tree.
The coral homes are as bright
as the sun
and one must
Follow street signs
to find the one route
To the salacious sands
where one gazes
Through layers of vapor
To discern and to judge
to enter and own
Until one merely looks
and does not follow.
But to be with you
I must win your hand
and finally lose.
In my silent life, where thoughts of me
are a rumor,
There is a sadness that devours love
Because it cannot find itself
it needs to resolve
Into something else
And kiss to evade being kissed...
We were lost in our separate worlds,
But veered clear of a middle where we may have disappeared.
I had the word and she had what the word meant.
We weaved around a closeness
We were actually escaping from
And brushing up again against...
The edges of balance...the mortal tender straw...
The inflamer and container of illusion
Dangerous like a funnel together
But going each way alone,
Nosing toward the place where we can leave parts of our soul
Like dew in deposit cans
To be carried away and drunk by nymphs in another room
And finally to grow into a message
Now floating in the waverings of hell-fire eyes
Against the whiskers
The last outpost of falsity before the final truth.
The flames of spring ignite, the knots start unconnecting,
The ghosts float and fly, juggling knives
As if they never killed before.
The contents of an envelope after spring unglues the wraps
And terrible thoughts of a steamy world
Where we search for facsimiles while the abnegation swirls.
We are caught limp in the sockets, plugging in our passion,
Playing the odds with our portable prongs.
We file the insoluble in a voluminous canister,
While categorically denying all the sparks that short amidst us,
Miraculous and irreducible. We cannot evade
These entanglements of sticky lips and flesh,
We follow the worn path to heartaches and the treasure the heart protects,
And try to wander free of the fetters of the cruelty
That is our beauty.
I have come face to face with a beauty that kills,
That lingers and singes, where it hurts to look too long
Or too far, for fear that I would understand
Why those the most beautiful are the most alone.
Like all the other megalomaniacs, I never figured out
That it was really me speaking, from the beginning,
And so I am left holding the sagging moon, inconstant
Like a rotting grapefruit, and I wish only to watch her
Play the banjo all day, from scowl to smile, as the sun
Skirts irrelevantly over the burnt grass,
Tailor made for tragedy.
Lollipop-eyed ladies exercise their sadness on a leash each day,
While old business blue and grey men play horseshoes around a sphinx.
No moment of the world will allow me a space in another's glow.
Sometimes it seems God wants all things to grow.
The way you lift your garter
Tuned to the classical tone
Of inebriant wind through
Your shocking locks of flame,
That your cloven hoof covers —
A white nun's face
With burgundy swirling around
As random as the wind but more fanatic,
A radiant cardiac concerto
Where every move is choreographed perfection
A dance of death
Where the viewer, not the dancer, dies.
And you say:
"Ouija boards are dangerous.
No self-respecting Greek peasant woman
Would let her sons be caught with one."
Expending his last straw of reason
Empties the shells of his despair
On the foyer, the same urge to kill
Falls from us too, the same unburdening.
You have no right to refuse anything
But your whole life is one tribute to refusal,
Refusing to cross the bridge
To another, whose demands are not to be
Debated and sequestered and denied, are not even demands
But only questions, opportunities...
How long does it take you to back down, or fire?
You felt like you were the one who got trap-doored
By another person's mode of reason.
Like a rubber eraser with a bullet tip, you wobble
But you are numb,
Not clawing at distances.
To return from captivity,
He had stolen what he gave to her;
She had stolen so much more.
Who remembered all the insults they had taken from him,
Who listened him into coherence?
She played with the necklace that he called pretty
Strung with the keepsakes of what they had together
— It was only worth itself —
But was the whole of the world she knew,
And so much less than the world she was enduring.
The astonishing woman can manufacture happiness, she thought,
All it takes is to make him free for laughter and dreaming.
She will write volumes on her own,
While knowing what he feels but cannot say.
Her eyes are locks that would open to be locked again.
If he returned, would he meet her expectations
Or could he meet, as a stranger, her stare?
There is so much nothing they must talk around,
So much to do that is not worth doing
Until its done.
She had given so much unanswered.
He had asked too much before he finally left.
Look at her, counting her fingers,
Trying to know what he thinks,
While any guess is hopeless,
And he was all too eager to tell her
When she loved him.
He may not need her again,
Although she seemed to fit completely inside him,
And she held him there.
And then he came, and he was gone.
At the frames and pedestals he'd requested,
A catalogue of might-have-beens
Where love was not nestled in among other things,
Not part of a package deal.
It made him a slave to bitterness;
Imagining women in the gallery of studs,
Always trying to give in, never able to,
In search of the perfect love, the selfless heart.
These kindling connections
Are enough to light the sidewalks home
But not enough to doom you
To a life apart and alone,
Enough to light the mirrors of your faith
To see in fragile glimpses just how softly
You must touch others lives.
And isn't everybody, who is caged like an animal
And misunderstood like a zookeeper?
I've touched your mind's garment,
I've worn your masked face,
I've followed you to bed
And you've inhabited my dreams.
I want to enter that final song of union
But I spin variations of my closeness,
Tombstones of my longing.
The symphony ends on a field with flowers
Where the audience has been outdistanced,
So quiet, I am finally free
To know the flowers as you,
Intertwining with whatever is underneath,
Growing without need of a trace of my being
Or yours, after, out of the war,
The peace has been spoken.
Why do we try to describe it,
What everyone can recognize
But no one comprehends?
(Just walk along the muddy shoals,
the effervescing froth drawing in
in a sibilant crashing).
Trying to catch it,
Our feet sink into the loam,
Our tread upsets the perfect rolling curve
But such tensions are
Quickly brushed away.
This sea on one side,
The gulls — who look on us only as a source of food —
On the other, and, in between, us
Speaking, acting, believing to be noticed,
At the animate edge, yet another eye
Between which, the silence of a landscape,
The tension of a gaze.
I have been admired, I have been oppressed,
I have been, at best, guessed at;
My cry becomes a crow's caw,
Another noise in the neutralized wilds
That, if we have any say in the matter,
Will not wake us from our sleep.
Still, through our teak and cedar walls we hear
Sound enough to just incite our anger
To send us lashing against ourselves.
The lonely crow, already flown away
Now under an eye that did not want it
But in wanting, got it
The moonlight onto the floor
But only if as silky as the curtains,
So call them too.
Out of the stainless fog
A pink tree.
There's a danger
In moving closer,
In finding what you'd thought were stars
Are floodlights to keep bug and burglar away —
But there's nothing memory can't fix
After we've fixed on it.
Cars slide down an unlit hill
With beams that allow us to see
Even at this distance,
Even from our frosty spyglass
We get a tingle watching
The bug-eyed Jaguar sloping down,
As we imagine ourselves as birds
Or, rather, ourselves, diving with the birds
Into pools that ripple as we drop.
We've stolen the sound of the birds
And made music out of it,
And now we hear music when we hear the birds;
We'll close the window before acknowledging
That it's not.
We close the shade to repeat the lesson.
We keep it closed to master it.
How much can you see
Over the ocean at night.
You hear your ears ring with your blood music.
Your eyes strain against the black.
You chase down every glimmer, every crack.
You could sit there for hours
Reforming the rocks whose dark mystery excites you,
But the sun may come to burn it off and overtake
What you've held.
You can't bear the sun
Won't take effect
Until we hear it
But what do we hear?
Your words are just a clamor;
We are the key.
You cannot know what you said,
You only know what I said,
Who heard what the stars said,
We heard what he said
And we gaze at the stars
And say "Einstein."
And what do we mean?
We mean to be heard
(As the stars surely do as well)
So we audible the meaningful
To a context we can't share.
And the spoken crumbles
Like clumps in our fingers
That reduce to grains in our hands
Our life into
The act of catching
But is the sole way
Of moving on.
In the flux;
Staking a ground
In the dust;
Striving to see a key
Out of clues left before us like puzzle pieces
That resolve only as certain as you please.
Desire builds a voyage
From the spires to the skies;
Desire talks, awaiting its listener
And the beat fades
And desire wanes
Away, and those who stay listening
Are doing nothing but speaking.
It resides in our hands as we clasp it around,
Squeeze it out.
With our hands we receive the keys on the other end
Of the gentle glissando (for example).
There are missed notes
That nobody hears
But that play on without correction
In the teacherless rooms between our eardrums
Beating the sound, giving it form
And keeping it in like some secret that's good
Only if kept to oneself.
And in the whistles and taps that rise with the wind
The music's overtaken.
I am nothing
When free from the things I must chase,
And the things that follow behind
To snatch what I've stolen
Without my knowing.
What the mind has is
Consolation for the nothing holding it.
I need to draw my name in the sand
But neither the sand, name nor stick are me
Nor are they those I wish to reach
Through the medium they've assumed
To be them
For whom, I am nothing but feeling.
By blame, your cacophony makes me a harmony,
As you can see, happy.
I'm a simple enough equation:
Enough for them, enough of that.
I combine in snatches, in smatterings
I do not know but am told I am composed of.
I'm told I am remote, well,
That's not a judgement any more
Than you calling me a pig;
What matters is relation.
At the farthest reaches of understanding,
Past the yes,
One has nothing to show; lacking belief, lacking a soul,
One can only murmur a silent "I know" and turn a head,
Because, at the point where distance is overcome,
Distance begins, the cards are on the table
But one can't compare the hands.
They are different brands, in different realms.
I have become one.
Can a human in solitary confinement be imagined?
Ask the gorilla.
The world cannot survive without one
Distanced from the others.
Every loose leaf shaking in the hinging wind
And lets it free;
The leaf disappears
On its way through your mind's sieve
Until you think you don't need it.
People cannot be what
I want them
They can only, at most, be
To fill the parameters of my need,
So there's no separation,
Each becomes absorbed into the world you perceive,
The world you devised around yourself,
The world you will create again.
And now that it's time to blame them,
Is it useful to wonder what is and is not real?
Or should you ask:
What is me and what is you
and if there is a difference
I can ever comprehend?
Ask the gorilla.
He'd appreciate that.
What makes us clap like seals
At sublimity is people's thoughts?
Why do ideas have values at all?
We are awed by performance
Of what we don't understand,
The sky we protect ourselves from.
We seek to go where we can laugh at everything.
And now cats eat tuna
(A reminder of the days when they both roamed the sea floors
As natural competitors),
Except now we feed cats instead of porpoises
And so we've made a choice that rules them —
Except when the cat refuses.
Rows upon rows of needless knickknacks
Carrying on as you come to attention.
One cobalt salt shaker among many
Is recognizable when with the others.
If taken from here, it would be rescued
To be used, where its distinction would
Illuminate something different, would highlight
Another collection, in another room.
II. Stock Situation
Riverboats afloat like dice —
The gentlemen can raise you,
The rascals can see you
Nodding in silent reconnaissance.
The suit of spiritual indifference
Changes hands and the truth is withheld
Until we lose ourselves in the tease
And we commit
To what we've captured from them,
What they've given away
As they silently lie.
III. Shell Game
Pick your patterns, mister, step right up.
Guess where the gold is laid;
Under one of these, even I don't know which one,
But I'm willing to wager you can tell.
All you do is pay up, and let me show you what
The gold looks like...
See! You got it.
I owe you a dog
To make a little girl smile
When thinking daddy —
So whattaya say,
I wait with a gun —
Come get me,
Come let me out
Before I shoot
One or the other.
But I know you never come
With a key, only a lock
That snaps shut when I try (as I must) to explain
What you're saying.
You hold out your hand
As if to say you won't hurt me,
But somehow you make me hurt myself
Because of what you can never offer
But swear you are giving.
It's fear that draws me toward you
And fear that draws me away;
To never be without you
To never be —
The fear of emptied-out November
When all is still and all is in its place,
When everything outside of myself is purposeless
And there is nothing else.
Like a shell rattling its contents
When the wind hits,
The subject of the search
What the wind hits
With a rasp it whispers "I object."
"Come get me, I'm available," I thought you said,
"Tell me all your secrets, and see what happens to them
When I pay you attention."
How little you know about me, but nothing
I do surprises you, you accept it easier
Than a compliment, or an undiminished stare,
Then you speak the words that bind me
The sachet of dependable lies
She empties, to refuse
The only thing she can seek that's left to her.
She screams until no one
Can calm her down
At the frigid center
Where no falling, no imbalance
Would contain her in someone else's hand,
Where pure calm answers her —
A dispassion she wishes to share.
This certainty will end
With her awake on her bed
Before they've had a chance to take it.
Diminishing his subjects
Simply by getting his way;
There's always the readers
Willing to serve
Willing to see beyond the belches and whines that can only signify
Their slow and silent demise
To some irrefragible evidence for hope.
But he's laid to bed each night thinking tonight will be the last time,
And his anger, by morning, has grown so, he can only choke:
The puppetmaster cannot help but do what he is told,
And no one out there should change the way they are moved,
I am thinking of myself, first,
If I hurt, it's because I made it hurt.
If I am honest, this pain must end with me.
What if he did pull down the scenery,
Mock the words put in his mouth,
Avoid the trap-door at the conclusion of his soliloquy?
At the moment when he had stolen everyone's attention
What would he say?
Before the sound comes back in retaliation,
While the bird whistles are still something in those distant trees,
I feel at one with the encircling world,
But it has its lessons for victors like me
Who want to be more than a part of the scenery.
Trees cannot know trees, shadows aren't permitted
To know shadows, time won't meet space,
Nothing can deviate from its position.
So I look out a window,
And I imagine myself into the world,
And it fills like windows at sunset
Blocking the life within
From those who can't help it anyway.
He prided himself on being a chameleon;
He turned into music when the music played.
He tittered with the titterers
(And dithered with the ditherers)
And when they lagged behind he walked away,
The one who knew, who held the key
To they who could be
They scarcely perceived the possibilities
They created with their own lives
What he, at his tragic distance,
His burning eye
The fragility of human values,
How they always rely on human values,
Like the way we look disconsolately for things
To talk about besides ourselves,
Yet preface our remarks with I,
Bringing all our force to bear on something else.
If only finding ourselves did not make us destroy;
One misplaced smack to a youngster
Who will be forever in repentance
And you forever in remorse.
Trees, responding to sunlight,
Responding to rain, survive by reading.
The limbs ache perfectly
Because the sun to them is perfect
And the rain falls perfectly
Into the tree's place.
Each is a perfect expression of where it came from,
Each is utterly opaque,
And all are rewarded in turn, all they can want
Is given to them,
Although they never know they have it
Because they did not really want it
To be given.
And now, dear, that I've surprised you
After the wherewithal and the what now
With what I really am,
You stand back and stutter, you know
Your hate has to find a home somewhere else,
You cry only because you're alone,
Only when someone isn't there to answer you,
Doomed to wander in duplicate,
The sane are on either side of a line.
The lost cuckoo proudly
"The same to you."
The found look for their someone
To take their message to the Gods
But they find only loonies, lesbians and poets
All holding their tongues
And staring back,
Startling one of the ever-startled things
In the vast unstartled world.