From the stench of rotting hide,
From the hot and muscled weight of death,
From the hunter’s tawny jaw,
From the ancient eater’s mottled mouth,
Comes wealth of peace;
Comes a city from the open side,
Comes the hum of honeyed breath,
Comes the transformation of the law,
Comes the manna in the drouth,
From all decease.
At Saint So-and-So’s
Highway traffic scores and hums
Beneath the Sabbath hymnody.
Laymen in tropic shirtsleeves come
Their wives in wireless fidelity arrayed.
The seating is precise, the manners casual.
Grins and handshakes are exchanged
Inside the sanctuary gate as usual.
Outside, Escalades and Honda Pilots range.
The Victim crouches on his cross an hour,
Tired as an aging wall-flower,
Who will not speak to the rotarians
Any more than Pharisees or Arians.
He turns with an embarrassed groan
Towards the altar, with its flower pots
And the altar boys, their hair well combed
Whose sagging bodies tell their wandering thoughts.
Soon these will return to the world they know;
Soon ever and again they will return
To low-calorie beer, boutiques, and late night shows,
To spread-sheets, focus-groups, and therapists in turn.
They will leave the cobwebbed well
And wander through the desert’s stations
For gross are the hearts of the nations
And uncultivated is the soil.
Caravaggio Catching Fireflies
As the sunlight fades and dies,
Caravaggio catches fireflies
Amid chiaroscuro, and the studio light;
With pestle reforms fire into night
Cups the light, turns alchemist, and drinks
Converting it to darkness as the daylight sinks.
The name rings hollow: pig-iron
In gravity’s deep wallow.
The unpoetic callus
On each palm’s pad too hard
To feel the microscopic knurl
Packed white with chalk, the burnished steel
Bar like some eel of river shining
Yet stippled still with the pock of rust.
The body, braced against itself feels fear
For its own softness, singing for sweet rest.
The plates all packed like brothers on the bar,
Their edges sharp from the white hot lip of the mold.
Then suddenly, the mind resolves itself to mass,
White pylons of tense bone, and round well fatted muscle,
Presses itself in feet and shin through concrete ground
And grinning, pulls through gravity like broken glass.
And there they hang, the bar and plate, all clattering in air,
Yet shaking violently as if they cannot stay, like leaves
or bells quite badly made, to ring the chimes and iron hours
Of body’s powers, pains, and passing finally away.
Towards the Pebbled Shore
My Papa took me out the day before
to sit outside the ancient red barn’s door,
All painted black, and sliding back to shut.
He told me I was helping him out, but
I couldn’t help but feel he wanted me
To witness something. I was there to see.
The barn’s inside was dim, and cellar-cool.
Its walls were lined with seed-bag, wire and tool;
The floorboards wide, unvarnished, roofbeams barked.
One long swift century had weathered, marked
It for its own. The sun outside showed all
The colors of the world there were. The ball
I played with sat still in the north field’s green
Long blades, bright rubber blue. The sheen
Of light struck firmly off each branch and stone
And gave each thing a presence all its own,
And lit the rock wall flaming low with moss,
As coals flame low and heavy in the loss
Of fire in evening. Papa loped out, took
The cockerel by his claws, and with a look
Of concentration laid him down upon
A stump, quite still. A stroke: the head was gone.
It fell down flat, heraldic, violently;
Beak parted, tongue out, crowing silently.
One eye looked up; alone, to watch the sky,
The other gazed at earth. The pool and dye
Of blood, much brighter red than you would think
Dripped down the empty ruff, in squib and plink
Into the metal bucket, drops of jewels
Upon a field. Invert, above these pools,
The bag of muscles twitched just where it was.
The dead bird’s gray pin feathers and gray fuzz
Soon littered all the lawn. The entrails out,
The feet off, Papa turned the bird about
And carved at each distinct and white-pink joint.
I stood and shuffled, looking at one point
At ground and sky, and back again as well,
Made nervous by the casual, wholesome smell
Of cockerel’s blood and feathers in the air.
I grabbed a quill, and put it in my hair.
At that age, I could barely think or talk;
But still some thing as round and firm as rock,
And yet as broad and moving as the gust
Of wind that blew that day came as it must;
Yet everything retained its form and color
And multiplied its mass; no shade was duller.
I knew myself as something with a shore,
Where water laps and freely spills. Before
I thought myself the world, some kind of all
Without circumference, gravity, or fall.
Color itself is a degree of darkness. – Goethe
Now sing of that which is, is in and of itself: the spirit,
Not any color, save informing and substantial White.
And its descent into the cragging world. Are you not near it,
It’s winging down, this light?
Yellow, color nearest light, blink of giant birth
Behind the hills at dawn, the emanation of that creche
Most brilliant, biggest light, least wrapped in atmosphere of earth;
Gentle complexion of the East bay window, silken mesh
And tint of Easter-tide brocade, of limpid beeswax’s flesh,
Of daffodil, of pale-split juicy blocks of pine, of inches
Of butter, Gauguin’s Christ, and too the bellied gild of finches.
Red-yellow, in procession from the glorious to the rich,
But noble, as in fire and bronze in evening fire’s shade.
Clot-thickening, yet undilute, un-vulgar plenty which
Like fire burns the water under sky’s own dawn. The fade
Electric of the antique hanging bulb, the muddled wade
The insect makes in slowest moving amber; tears the son
Of Helios earned in falling, from his sisters, wrought in sun.
Yellow-Red, rich rust, scabbed sulfurous crimson of decay
That steeps the hides of mastiffs, copper coins, and certain sands
That bed the shores of Greece, the brindle of a chestnut bay
That rests inside its stable, groomed by burnt and leathered hands.
The tresses of the Magdalene, whose silken stays and bands
Are loosed, to shower perfume from the head down to the feet,
Which, gathering in spending of itself, is right and meet.
Now Red; in brunt all other shades, like mad and holy laughter
Or blood of fresh-killed hogs on diamond grains of argent snow,
As wine within a chalice; droplets on the collar after
Shaving. Desire, fear, old love, and anger; what will show
The energy of spirit in the body, what will grow
In nurture, feed and come to knowledge, hurt, and waste and die
In that same body, in those lights which now encolored lie.
Blue-red, magenta, prime materia, base dissolvant, dressing
Broad smears on cavern walls, as dye of Tyre on grind
Stone. Not yet ritual royal purple, but the crush and pressing
Of the murex, rock snail’s calcite fragments, slowly mined
For hue. The magic bull, the dun horse, giant elk, combined
In profile, first dreams darkening, like massive shadows lunged
Atop the dim escarpment, by the half light near expunged.
Red-blue, mauve’s blacking blush on ice upon the northern sea
And revelation of the going out of lights, the sound
Of heatless air. And all that there will ever ever be,
Consigns itself to this. Blue purple covers all the ground
In twilight, formless. Ice is smooth, low-peaked or cupped in round,
And licked with the untasting tongue of the departed air.
Yet this will also utter benediction, psalm, and prayer.
Blue, deep immersion in the depths of boundless ocean’s waste
Near nothing, vastness of unknowing at a distance, rapt
In magnifying waters, eons weighted and the chaste
Undoing of all things’s aseity; the depths enwrapped
But not the heights of Being. The waves that breasted, tilted, slapped
The sides of boats and beaches are invisible, above
And far, as earth from gem-stone stars, or distant Hell from love.
But then, green-blue cerulean creeps up, in forest brackened,
Like scrubby evergreens of Maine, a spiny beard upon
The lumpen rocks, the sun-warmed algae slowly on the blackened
Granite skin. The wormy mess of seaweed, suck and yawn
Of tidal pools that crave in midday heat to bear their spawn
Of microscopic and crustaceous loves unto the world.
The marshy, mildewed, breeze now hovers, salted, flapped, and curled.
Blue-Green the depths of ancient pine, the shadowed comforter
Of moss, set off by a pile of bones. The shade that slightly bruises
The undersides of needles, branches, ragged bark of fir;
A prehistoric armor. Here is rank, yet no one loses,
Here is rank with equilibrium, and nothing chooses.
The undergrowth grows only in the shade. The columned pines
Are pillars to the woods, the sky, themselves; and votive shrines.
Green is the light in yet another form, the plant, the leaf,
In climax of return, the same mutation as before,
Beyond all expectation, and beyond all firm belief.
The oil was dry, the bundled grain was not at all in store,
We thought the sea was all, the winter all; yet even more
We feared, perhaps, the net of light in water, sea of change
Into something rich and fresh, and strange beyond the strange.
Yellow-green, the color of the spring, and of the herbs
And wasteful, Solomonic flowers, the winding knobbled shoots
Of living wood, that bend without reluctance. Oh the verbs
And reverbs of that time, when time has brief fulfillment! Roots
Are only known by blossoms, and the sweetening, bellied fruits
to come are told by no invented rule, but by the flowers,
And quickened wombs of animals that swell with fertile hours.
The peridot will coalesce beneath accreting stone,
And wait to shine transparent, yellow glinting under green,
As sunlight through the canopy of leaves has dug and shone.
Reality distills, refines itself towards that mean
That vanishes, which neither mind has known nor eye has seen.
So unlined dark bears light out of its core and inky dye;
So purest light is darkness to the still, unblinking eye.
And now the swelling, empty Night
Swallows up Light, conspiring, in her matrix, to exhume
And crown him, birthed again, as if arising from some tomb.
The Concert In The Egg
And now we climb the marble stairs, and roam
Beneath the LED’s electric wash.
We see, within the art museum’s dome.
A painting by a follower of Bosch:
Placed in the quarter of the upper right,
A snake hangs on a branch that seems to grow
Out of the chaunt-book’s leather back. By sight,
Notation’s bars and measured ratio
Are present, silent. See a branch suspend
A slender rosy jug for furniture,
that seems impossibly, to rest it’s end
Upon the polished, creamy curvature;
While further up the branch, a basket holds
a dead upended bird, an orchard limb
With fruit, of shadowed pinks and quiet golds.
It dangles lusciously, almost by whim.
Then sang the funnel hatted quack:
“I read the birds, and note the star,
And scan the viscera of pigs
For knowledge of the things that are.
And these are the most casual facts,
That anyone could understand.
The world expands, goes round, contracts,
And blows like grains of gusted sand.”
The lapwings, stork, the bat in half-light blacked,
An owl, with eyes in back of the beaky head,
A neck that twists like one whose body’s racked,
Are met, as ghouls who come to eat the dead.
The owl winds talons in a wimpled nun’s
Habitual veil. He hovers over tangled
Night, who sees much, hears much, in the sun’s
Departure, over air presiding, angled
On eastern winds. And he is thus their vane
and orient; eyes black, intelligent
of good and evil, of desire’s pain,
And old rebellion’s rich impoverishment.
And harped the man with the tuberous nose
“To make a lad feel young and gay
There's nothing like a tub of beer
Make haste, for all things pass away.
For drink and life are much the same:
There’s both too much, and not enough.
I drink enough to keep me tame,
And to forget the other stuff.
Over the open fissure of the shell
— Whose slabbed sides cracked like pistol shot,
Or plates of broad midwinter ice in hell,
that frigid deadland, deep as hate or thought —
Thus, in the dimming dawn, (or end of day),
The snake is honored in its figuration.
A type and image merely for the way;
Effective only via dispensation.
One man, birdhouse on head, in back, observes.
A stork stands on the crimson chaperon
Belonging to the piper who disserves
His neighbor’s ear with wheedling semitone.
And pipes the man in the scarlet hat:
“The wealthy never need resign
their riches to the poorer man.
Of Virtue, Wealth’s the surest sign.
My avarice is needed, too;
It all coheres, in one great whole
Where good and evil, false and true
All twist toward one final goal.”
Beneath the egg’s receding, round horizon,
a village of the plain lies feverish,
Afire. Floating in darkness’ orison,
A leopard guards a tender, cooking fish.
A tortoise plods beneath the egg as well
Who’s yet to be flipped over, unstrung, bored
And hollowed with a knife blade from his shell
To make a merry lyre’s sounding board,
And blend all chaos in harmonious love.
His peeling, wrinkled hams drag needled claws,
His ancient eyes scan all the scene above
For food to pinch and tear in beaky jaws.
Then sang the fish on the cooking grill,
“The fireside is near and warm
But though it burns a bloody red,
I know it will not do me harm.”
Sensation heats my chilly flesh
And is a sign, at least, of life.
A sign is substance, rendered fresh,
And cannot lie, or deal out strife.
Then breaking out, a monkey blows a shawm,
And hunching, gazes cunningly at you,
And grips his instrument with hairy palm,
As if to hide it secretly from view.
The egg tilts on a ledge, half off the ground,
Into the dark, where, lit by new moon’s shine,
An elf prince sits, attended all around.
His nude well-favored, red-skinned concubine,
Flirts and displays herself to minute men,
Who tender their respects, with downcast cross-eye,
to her idolic, tiny frame; and then
All nuzzle closer with their stiff probosci.
Then sang the scarlet elfin queen
“Come close, my thin-legged lovers all,
There’s more to sight than you have seen.
Come feel the flesh that caused the fall.
There is no love that knits all life
Together, save rampaging lust,
Therefore, embrace me, little men
And bend your bodies as you must.”
And at the centre of it all, alive,
Bizarre, grotesque, and painted out of tune,
Out sprout a clutch of human beings. They strive
Like lilies in the thorns inopportune.
Remember: “ex nihilo, nihil fit.”
What hen, I wonder, laid and warmed this brood?
What blimpish, half-breed cockerel seeded it
With half-born harmonies and music rude?
Then sang an echo from the egg:
“I am myself, a ship of fools,
And all my crew are born in me
And learn my inner logic’s rules.
They breed, and fight, and learn to play
The little game I teach to them.
It is a game where no one wins.
I hatch them only to condemn.
And when at length, they break my crust,
And venture through the outer space,
The darkness is all light to them,
And all the road before their face.”
We leave the gallery, and take the street.
And silence breaks beneath the weight of feet.
Fire and Smoke
Fire and Smoke,
Nor one without the other;
The effect created in the womb of cause
Emerges in procession from the matrixed laws
Each child the father and the brother;
Fire and Smoke.
Water and Sand,
Unmixed, the living brine
Lending its motion to the million grains;
The ocean pulling at her planetary reigns,
Sands drift down sinking as they shine;
Water and Sand.
Waking and Sleep,
From depth to vastness
Both territories hidden by the map,
We nightly ford the river, bridge the bridgeless gap
And are exiled from out its fastness;
Waking and Sleep.
Time and Space,
Dimension and Procession,
Those two broad rubrics of our liturgy,
Our own mere measurements of Was and Be
Are gifts that beggar all possession.
Time and Space.
Life and Death,
These twain are one;
The boar and vulva painted in the caves,
The vintage chaliced, altared; God nailed to the staves,
The sowing and tyrannic sun;
Life and Death.