DEDICATIONS, PLEDGES, COMMITMENTS. For the past. For my own path. For surprises. For mistakes that worked so well. For tomorrow if I'm there. For the next real thing. Then for carrying it all through whatever is necessary. For following the little god who speaks only to me. --William Stafford

Thursday, March 27, 2008

PT: Opprobrious Words

I was going to sit this one out, but, what the helk...(my 4-yr-old grandson says "we always say 'what the heck.' Because 'what the helk is BAD.'") I guess I was born to be a rebel.

Opprobrious words
Once said, as courtesies like please
Or thank you, or even
I love you

Will float
Like plastic goldfish
Doing tricks
In a cheap bowl

The first rule of nature: everything
According to its kind;
Opprobrious words can not
Be taken back

Blooming everywhere
Over bare ground, through insects
Gravel, dust, marking intricate trails
One molecule at a time

(LOL! I just looked at the definition: it said "Contumelious reproach." Contumelious! Indeed. It also means "shameful, as 'this dark, opprobrious den of shame'." I found some other neat words nearby: opsimath, opsonic, opsonin, opunyia, oquassa....)


"Sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within."

--Galway Kinnell, "St. Francis and the Sow"

You bring your problems down upon yourself
free in their error, full of
your own hot air
raising the great gas balloon of you
upward, every time you open your mouth

unstopped by any loving hand
that would tether you to ground
to earth, the greatest good, to sorrow

you don't understand this: things
are not always as they seem
you have to get out of your own way
suddenly you forget yourself you're grateful
for their affection

for keeping you
with all your strings, grounded
infinitely loved, forgiven

then, like a child, innocent
you let it go, because
these are the very hands you trust
you know you can trust, the hands
consecrated to the work
of keeping you safe
and bringing you home


I keep diaries in my head
at night I write on sealed pages
in dream codes, a sort
of dot-dot-dash Morse himself
couldn't read, keeps them private
old loves recur, taller than they were
twice as bold
dressed in dimestore suits and ties
I never saw them wear.

And my father
who never heard of Neruda
Gu Cheng or the Cultural Revolution
rocks calmly on the porch
and speaks to me
of bread and milk
I'm sick he says
and wants to say goodbye
as if he were not already dead.

This is a book
my grandchildren will never read
the key is not in my hand
not even in my pocket
never will my children say
Mama tell us of Olden Times
and turn these pages that open upon
old houses, old rooms that suck me in

like Alice through the glass.
This world is mine alone
where the voices and the windows
the old mingling of bodies
and the landscapes are buried
what's here is one raw nerve, exposed
and aching to go where I never can
to grasp the fleeting things
that would disappear.

(This is an old one. Sorry if you have seen it before)

Rethabile Masilo, @ Poefrika, an awesome poet from Lesotho, in a recent post of his that asks "who's your hero?" lists (among others) Steven Biko, as a person who "faces injustice and speaks out against it." This is for you, Rethabile. And for Steven.


Geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.

--Jonathan Swift

Naked and manacled
In the back of a Land-Rover
Cannot be convinced of
Mankind's essential goodness.

The men who have done this
Go out to kill
Believing in the mercy of God,

In the music of love.

Humankind moves in a celluloid dream,
Subscribes to pain. When we wake,
Your bruised black limbs
Will have pushed out roots
Watered from your blood.
Black women will prepare them
Like gari,
Black men will eat of them,


And be strong.


Fear follows
me like hungry cats
at my heels

Feed me
their small teeth sharp
I have put out both
meat and milk

peace offerings
but they do not eat
nor drink
they are not pacified

I have nothing left
to share with them
they remain
hissing and wanting



(an excerpt)

And if the sun
should cool enough to freeze us
or explode to supernova
and thus incinerate us all
what alien ears,
on hearing a concerto of whales
a cry of birds
sent out in orphan Voyager
may celebrate our fragile hope
our itching curiosity
with what in alien delight
may pass for sacramental bread
and wine?

"In Dreams you are never eighty"
--Anne Sexton

At last, Love,
the girl sighs, melting
into the embrace of the blueberry-
eyed sailor she'll never again
lie down with in this life
except in dreams of
sixty years past, where
her skin on his skin is rosy
and warm with life.

I have waited for you,
she whispers, for so long, so long,
and the sweat beads like silver
on her upper lip.
Her laughter is mild, yet
under her bare feet the stairs
burn, consuming the kitchen
with its frills of daisies and jam,
the study with its tiresome
globes and catalogs,
the bedrooms with their odor
of babies being born,
semen and blood.

All the doors are open
to the burning stairs. She would say
O my God, my Love, at last,
but there are no words because
his lips are on her lips
and the blaze licks at her sleeves,
her skirt curling like a paper doll's.

When she wakes, between her thighs
is a wrinkle rough as woolens,
deep as a pit. Her tongue's a knot.
Her face is gray as a potato
and full of eyes.


60 miles above Midway
The silica tiles glowing
At 2300 degrees Fahrenheit
With a red light, or white
Or blue like any other early
Star, and somewhere
Off the coast of Florida
The sun rises and a flight
Of pelicans waits inland
For splashdown
36 sunrises after ignition
The blue-flame engines burn
Meteorlike, it falls

The birds fall and rise
Above the blue-green glitter
Of the tide
6-tenths of a second after
The last bird dives into a wave
The slight deceleration
The last roll reversal at Mach 2.6
A tail of flame and a double
Sonic boom
Followed by a whir
Of wings


Who would understand
The satisfaction of
That day the gull
Tipped south
Steered by a north wind away
From whatever was fixed

Light and lacking focus but
Committed to air

Who would understand
The truth of it
But someone arbitrarily reborn
In a stranger's nest

Who would understand
The exhilaration of feathers
Above all the graffiti
Of civilization
Like a soul glimpsed
Leaving the body done

To My Daughter

Blood of my blood
your name remains unwritten
on church records
school rollbooks
letters of intent
or love or sympathy:


I write it here
a message in a bottle
cast out
with the wild grace
of my hope
all that's left
before your veiled eyes
flickering down the dark
carry it away with them

Anniversary: Keep Away

After forty years
Your face is one
I no longer recognize
Among other half-remembered faces
Of children grown
Lovers gone
Friends departed

In your endless rage
I know only
The red wilderness
Of burnt Mercury
I would be glad
For some small thing of Earth
A red carnation

Once keep-away
Was something children played
Now I listen to you breathe
You sleep in pieces
This part of you
That part of you

I think how as a boy
You hid a pocket knife
In the top of your Commando boots
Had a nosebleed at Grand Canyon
And threw your unsold newspapers
Into gutters

Now you lie buried
Belly down in pillows
Mouth open
The outlines of your dreams
Of Guam, of flight, of Halley's Comet
And the end of the world
A trailing current
Of your death

Leaving no notes behind
No messages

There, high in the tree hangs a paper-wasp nest like an over-ripe fruit.

Beside the wasp's nest, some birds have built a nest of their own: strange neighbors.

Something about those two windblown nests reminds me of lions and lambs.

WI: A Letter

I know a woman lovely in her bones
--Theodore Roethke

Dear Omniscient Whomever,

I know a man unlovely in his bones,
by any human measures, of ill health,

and filled with parasites, with body parts
as rotted as the pistons of an old

Plymouth, still, sweet in his pure and tender
soul, who would be raised from his sickbed by

angels, sharp-edged but in no great hurry,
spinning on their graceful harpy wings like

falling-down galaxies. He raises his
obscene middle finger toward the coat-rack

in the corner, in the half-light, spinning.
I know how it is, how space flight is a

risky business. I wonder why in a
universe where angels dance with ions

in a hundred visions and revisions,
Prufrock-like, why is this final, deadly

apparition not an angel? Would not
an angel, any angel, even an

unlovely one be better than this per-
verse revolving coat-rack in the corner?

With Love,


"I have a problem. Everybody I ever loved
I still love." --Alice Morrey Bailey

What I wanted most was
First, a sort of lusty voyerism,
To stare boldly
For a long time,
Neither of us speaking.
Then, for an icebreaker,
I would have touched his hair
Where pale blond had silvered,
Would have taken his eyeglasses in hand
To better gaze on passions
We would not name. Without a word
I'd have taken his coat,
Have taken his hands in mine,
Turned them, looked a long time
At the palms, the nails, the backs,
Would have touched the hairs
Growing there, and touched
His arms. At last,
I would bury my face
Against his chest and breathe of him
Until the inside of my head,
My lungs, my cells, are filled
With the scent of soap, after-shave,
Sun--whatever it is--
That makes me want to cry.

And sometimes, especially with snowmen when the weather has changed, there are NO SECOND CHANCES. True story.


Your hands can smile
With touch
Your pink nails laugh
With their half-moons shining
Smelling of things grasped
And let go: deliveries
And departures

Day after day
Hands are your navigators
Across smoke rainclouds
Starlight leaves ice
Over and over
They tell the story of your life
The left one
The hand God gave you
The right
The hand you make

They are a library
Clapping time
For the rest of your life
What if Never should come again

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
--Anne Sexton

What if Never should come again
Or Why like kisses should happen along
And shatter the day that Daddy made
And Mama shuddered that you were born?

But what if Ever could happen along
And some like They should come again
To swallow the dark that swallows us all
Before we lie all slithery down?

Then we all would shout for the dark to break
Like mahogany splinters and those dark bowls
Of our eyes our hearts come back like birds
To a Somewhere place more here than gone,

Where Sometime frets in the wings for its cue
And Time that begot us and made us new
Is Father and Mother and Lover and Son
And we all are Many, and we all are Few,

And we're counted, One by One.


Mid-life I discover
the girl is gone-- the house
she lived in
inhabited by strangers.
Is this the crisis
I was led to expect
would unbury itself
from my mother's flesh
and spread like an infection
in an untended orchard?

My father took fruit
from wild trees, cut out the worms,
sugared the remains in honey.
The knobby red pieces drowned
in his sticky bowl like candy.

I used to think those wild pears
and apples bitter, the shriveled
orchard overgrown. This was a place
where men were kept
like yellow dogs in pens.
Like all things
it was transient. The black-haired
bastard boys who stood
at the wire fences,
the slant-eyed women who cried,
unable to embrace this insanity
are faceless and formless now
as the shadows of those skinny trees
they left behind.

The truth is
old orchards must be burnt
with all their worms, and
new trees planted. The strangers
who plant, mid-life,
luckily may find a girl in the ashes,
raise her. At least
she may have her share.
The sleeves of fire
may make her beautiful again.


"I will eat you slowly with kisses
even though the killer in you
has gotten out."--Anne Sexton

The pinkchalk dye
marks only wagging strings,
fringed needlepoint tracings
and balloons, pulsing and collapsing

in unseen hurricanes.
It does not reveal
the soft underground place
where pain drums at the bowel's door

like an oiled machine.
It shows how ribs
imprison the black heart
kicking at its bars

like a drunk
raving of the blade,
the blade,
God, the blade.

Annie knows.
She knows the body
is a damn hard thing
to kill.

A Letter To Cecil B. DeMille

Remember me,
Ipana Pearlywhites:
bit moviestar
from the Forties
who might've played
opposite Bogart
and George Raft,
but didn't?
pillars of ivory
once graceful
now gone to dentures,
whose especially talented
agility of hips
and imaginative tongue
taught men a new language,
whose willing flesh
became a garbage dump
for every twobit producer
west of Bakersfield?
To look at me now
who'd ever guess
this chaste rhythm
of breath under breasts
that used to rise
like helium balloons
but sag tonight
like used condoms
once fired little crimson
cherry-sucker syllables of sugar?
No one.
I am become a history book
of refrigerated kisses
preserved on celluloid
between the pages.

No Passion Greater Than the Mind

No Passion Greater than the Mind
Devours the Body or the Soul --
And all I know of Base Desire
By Mind was Body told.

My Soul kept White as Ivory
B'ignoring where the Body's sent --
May drop a Tear and shed a Sigh
Before this Passion's spent.

* * * *

Mind Is A Tiger In A Cage

Mind is a Tiger in a Cage --
Soul is a Desert Flower
That withers for Little Space
And dies a Little Hour.

Mind is a Tiger in a Cage --
But Flesh is Recompense
When Soul so Curiously Fades
For Want of sustenance.

(Two a la Emily Dickinson, who also Lived in Her Head!)


Night risings--listen--
the freefall of an apple
a flurry of wings


Lies in November


My stone has hands
It sleeps in the cradle
Of my hands,
Drinking my fire
My stone grows hair
In wonderful curls
Down its silky back
It loves the ice
That breaks me
More than it loves me
It sings of boots
Of blackbirds dying
Of the cracking of heaven
My stone knows black and white,
Was there at the hour
Of my birth
Understands cemetaries
Is flexible

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About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.