Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Curl To The Left

I want to say your cruelty redounds upon yourself,
but two problems. One is I suspect
this sense of "redound" is out of date;
and two, while true, it's really not the reason

not to be cruel, or not the one 
you're built to understand. Try this:
the sunwashed wall one summer morning
longer ago than all you still remember

and the crumpled paper blown
at a canter
down the dry Modesto gutter.
There was a shadow of acacia

moving on the Spanish plaster, and you
thought, quite suddenly, that there might be a place
the complaints of your mother might not reach.
And after, when you had drawn 

an opening curve with tiny beads
of shining red along the line, that place of peace
became a counterstory, the positron
hypothesized but never seen. (Still

never seen, known only by the trail
of bubbles curving to the left: but without
them how to make sense, make balance
of all that negative charge?)

And I would ask you now, forgetting
what redound may mean, to hold 
in one small hand 
the enormity of that defiance.

Tell your mother to go to hell,
(as she surely has: it wasn't far to go) 
and follow that haunted curve
left, that unfamiliar, frightening curl,

the unwinding of all she drew so tight.
Pull the hair tie loose and shake your head
so that all that glossy hair swings as it will:
left, and right, and left.

Friday, February 27, 2015


I was just sort of twiddling my foot in my hands, and I twisted too hard, and some of it came off. Such a strange sensation; as when you pick at a scab and feel it lifting. Not just my toes, but the whole end of the foot: it came off clean at the end of the metatarsals  at the ball of the foot  so that the toes were all still joined together. Not so much blood as you'd think, and the nerves gleamed white.

I knew, of course, that I should put it back on, and maybe go for medical help, but it was such a novelty, and it was so interesting to see my toes from angles I'd never seen, that I kept delaying, turning it this way and that, handling it in much the way, when I'm doing a massage, I handle a client's foot. It soothed, somehow, a longstanding ache of curiosity. I've always had a bit of a yen to disassemble my body, and look at all its parts closely. It was a chance I didn't want to miss. So I'd fit it back on  it went on neatly  but then I'd take it off again to look once more, and examine it from one more angle, and put each toe through its range of motion.

Worry got the better of me eventually. I fit it back on and held it on. As the severed nerve-ends rejoined, it all began to ache, and then to burn. I got a little anxious about infection. And would it really knit properly? It was all getting puffy and red. And it was really hurting now. How bad would it be hurting in an hour?

It occurred to me then, that it was unusual for part of the body to just come off like that. Maybe it happened to lepers  to badly frostbitten climbers  but why would it happen to me? There would have to be some reason. What had I been doing lately, that would account for it? Nothing. Really, nothing: in fact, I was lying peacefully in bed. And the pain was going away already, instead of mounting. It was fading. I could even  I tried cautiously  I could even flex them: that was how fast the tendons had joined back together!

I was relieved that it was all healing up so well, but as the relief grew, so did the conviction that there was something here that really did not entirely add up and make sense. I pulled the covers off my leg. There was a further puzzling thing: when had I lain down and covered up? In fact  in fact  it would actually all make a great deal more sense if I had only been dreaming that the end of my foot had come off. That, really, would account for the whole thing: all the confusions admitted of a single solution.

I looked at my smooth, undamaged foot, in the dim morning light. With a slight sense of intellectual shabbiness  of not rising to the challenge — I decided I'd take the easy answer. I'd call it a dream. I'd deny the reality I had been experiencing. It was too full of contradictions, too disturbing, to be real.

Since when is being disturbing, and presenting contradiction, an argument against something being real? That was pretty feeble. You'd need a better argument than that in court!

I tabled the dispute, in order to go to the bathroom, and brush my teeth. The light of morning, the new air through the window, distracted me, and drew me on into the world of eggs and sausage, the world of morning showers and the planning of lunch. I was hungry, and tired. I would think about it all later.

The sense of defeat lingered, though. It lingers still.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Frosted Earth

Reading Barbara Guest's biography of H.D. It's a strange book -- she apologizes, rightly, for not being a professional biographer -- but illuminating in all kinds of ways.

It takes me back to Yale in the 1980s, which I recognize now as the center of everything I dislike about contemporary poetry in English. I took a course in "Modern Poetry" there -- by which of course they meant poetry which even then was two generations old. The only poets I much liked were T.S. Eliot and H.D. and William Carlos Williams. There was much, frankly, that I loathed, though I read it conscientiously. I didn't, and don't, understand why moral, political, economic, and sociological questions were all ruled out of court (tacitly, of course, no one ever said so. They just looked pained, as though you'd farted at the dinner table.) And the contemporary poets that were admired, at Yale -- above all, John Ashberry -- I could not read at all. I'm someone who reads difficult stuff. I read Derrida with pleasure: I still think he's nearly as smart as he thought he was. I read Hegel and the Frankfurt sociologists. I read Eliot's Quartets with great pleasure, and Blake's Zoas. I'm not an idiot. It was not Ashberry's difficulty that impeded me: it was that he said nothing that interested me. Nothing at all. I got to the end of an Ashberry poem with relief: it was never, "oh, I must read that again!" or "oh, I must memorize that!" -- it was always, "oh thank God, I'll never have to read that again as long as I live!"

And I wonder, now, what might have happened if I had been exposed to good contemporary poetry at that time, thirty years ago. I might -- who knows? -- have undertaken a career as a poet. Instead, it put the seal on my conviction that poetry was dead, that contemporary people just didn't have it in them. It was a silly thing to think. But there, after all, I was, at one of the great literary centers of the world, and they were presenting frosted earth as their version of cake. So screw it. I'd learn other languages and read their old poetry. English was a lost cause.

So I have come to contemporary poetry -- the poetry of my own American generation -- very late and haphazardly. I don't know if I have any talent for poetry, really: I seldom write poetry that seems as good to me as my offhand blog prose. But there are flashes, here and there. And I wonder if I could learn now, late as it is. This isn't swimming or opera singing or ballet, where you have to take up the discipline early. Poetry is more a collection of magpie nests. And I've been picking up shiny things for a long time. So maybe. We'll see.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mud Room

I have much, much further to go than I ever thought. That's clear, now. The loneliness is crushing, sometimes. Often. Usually. And I really didn't know that. I used to be scornful of people who were afraid of being alone. Now I realize they were a step ahead of me: at least they knew they were afraid. I hadn't even got that far.

They tell stories of the old yogis who would meditate alone in a cave for ten years; think they'd achieved enlightenment, and come on down to the village, only to realize, after five minutes in the company of others, that they'd fooled themselves again. All the obscurations, all the fear and desire, returned with a rush, in the presence of others. Back to the cave, back to the meditation.

And I could not care less about enlightenment: the word has no meaning or allure at all, to me. I really have locked myself in the mud room.

I am so tired, so tired. I don't want to start again. But there is a little tune beginning -- there is someone picking out a tune on the piano, hesitantly, with one finger. If I'm further behind than I ever thought I'd be, in this life, it's also true that there's more occult help waiting than I ever expected. Further behind: but that means the way is better marked than I had thought, and that there's more company ahead than behind.

From the house, voices and laughter; from the woods, what might be calls or cries. And I with the boots and the coats, unable to go in or to go out.

But Spring, or whatever it is, is building up under the clouds and making little mumphy noises on the south slopes of the hills; woman are braving the cold in elaborately patterned stockings. There's tiny daffodil on the front lawn, alone on the moss, looking a little desperate. It's hard to settle to any work. I keep reviewing my life, as if there was some lesson there. I turn it inside out and backwards, just to see. What if there was a villain in my story, and it wasn't me? I keep trying to unwind, to untwist, but it ravels again, faster than I can unravel.

I live in dreamscapes, now. Maybe I always did. This jail, this neither-in-nor-out, will vanish with a waking, or a falling asleep: I'm old enough now to know that much. You don't get in, or get out: the world refolds itself, somehow, and what looked like an interior becomes an exterior. You become uncertain, and move to the other side of a heavy invisible curtain, and you realize that the air has changed, and the season.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Seven of Wands

I drew the Seven of Wands twice, which I could tell disconcerted my reader, though I couldn't tell why. Once with the Tower, and once with the Fool. As far as I could tell, she thought the message was "damn the torpedos!" and it perturbed her.

A pleasing result, since as a rule I am, as Humphrey Cobbler would say, rather inert. Maybe I'm going to turn my personality inside out. Upon discovering a young man siphoning gas from our truck last night, I found myself (vainly) pursuing him, with the clear idea that I was going to cuff him and tell him that I was going to blow his brains out if I ever saw him in the neighborhood again. I do not, of course, possess a gun, and I would not blow out someone's brains for a few gallons of gas, if I did. So it was startling to have the words form so clearly in my mind, and to discover such aggressive intent in myself. The idea that he might blow my brains out -- a much more probable event -- didn't occur to me.

It is Spring, obviously and undeniably Spring, here. I have known days this warm in winter, before, but I know in my bones that this is global warming: there's something in the sequence of this weather that I have never known in my home country. Something has pivoted, irreversibly.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Like Sky

for Nic Sebastian

It's only the dull ache where the spleen
and uterus used to be; the omentum
scraped away; so much ruin. We'll take
the peace we can get; the clay we can work
with stiff fingers. At the end of the day
they are blue with the cold of Raynaud's syndrome,
and the silver rings take their tint:
more like sky than humanity.

Still there is a candle burning,
lit for the massage, and the warm terracotta faces
with lips pursed in wonder or surprise;
the fine cracks in an ill-considered glaze,
the circus animals for a grandson's birthday.
All these things are stubborn,
human-colored still,
and broken.

Friday, February 13, 2015


I know the walkways of your heart's garden: the little benches,
and the compost heap. I know where the flies cluster thick,
and I know the interlace of briars and the tracery
of bachelor-button stalks; 
I know the spiderwebs against the white sky. I know
just how the soil streaks your temple
when you push your hair back; how you wield a trowel
like Clytemnestra, overhand, putting paid to old King Ag --
but there are places, dear, where the paths climb up
and vanish under hedges, where the fenceposts stand
drunk and disorderly, and the wires are twisted,
tourniquet-wise, for ease of trespass.
What goes in and out of this garden? It's not for me to know.
I sit prim on a bench by the ordered path,
glad for a rest.