Tuesday, November 18, 2014

At the I and Thou Coffeehouse, Haight Street, 1967

the fourth pot of same-leaf tea
sustains us, dilute to green
then yellow, then but
a Taoist ghost of a beverage

we linger over poems,
over long talks of world-end
napalm politics
inconceivable here
where barefoot runaways
make love to passing strangers

there is food—
we make our morsels last
(Laura forgives our raw-bone budgets)--
insidious caterpillars
pose as donuts—

eye-food is on the walls,
dubious art muraled
by blurred visionaries,
and Donovan sings.

Poet Goodman is there with freshly
laundered hair
waiting for love, or a good review,
and poet David somewhere
between last night’s acid
and tomorrow's poem.

morning people for the
quarter-hour cup
each to his sole solace/
Isabell with half New England
in her shawl
comes in without opening the door—
she has studied with Jung
and now rarified to archetype
she is incorporeal —
someone asks Jonathan North what sign are you?

, he says. Go. Keep off the grass.
Donovan and the gypsy boy are
trying for the sun
and back in the corner
exacto knife flourishes
as Wes Wilson cuts screens
for a Fillmore concert

the psychedelic letters
twisting and bleeding,
arcing to leaf-curve
smoke billow, Beardsley twist

Outside in unrelenting sun
the citizens elect a mayor
whose vision of a city,
beadless and beardless,
he means to deliver.
The police glance in
but do not enter:

their eyes seem to count us,
weigh the threat
of beads and incense.
They see how many of us
have books and know how to use them.
Our days are numbered.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


This poem was drafted at Edinboro, PA, many years ago. It resisted completion. Poe's poem of the same title was in my head, and there was a vision of a mysterious city rising from the ice of Edinboro Lake, but nothing could reconcile the Conquistador setting of Poe's poem with the cold, glacial lake of Edinboro, a chill winter night with the trees covered with an edging of snow, the lake frozen. The poem remains so intensely personal, so much about one unnamed passion, that I still do not know what to make of it. Yet it will give me no peace until I have worked the gold out of it.

I searched the angry street
and the dismal forest gloom,
I spanned the globe, and yet
no one has shown me Eldorado!
Who, gaily bedight,
has seen the golden walls,
its ingot walks,
in the soft effuse
of a Mexican sunset?
Who, amid the mango groves
and phosphorescent parrots
shall tread the wayward avenues
of burnished gold,
beneath a golder moon?
Are they dead, those feathered, tawny men,
those speakers of Mayan tongues,
those carvers of
all-but-unreadable stones?
Who has closed the great earth
and silenced the horns
of Eldorado?
Who has been there and returned? —
madmen and dreamers!

One night on the shore of a lake,
(a Northern lake, no hint of summer!)
as I lay
in a bed of warm, expiring leaves
a low voice whispered:
Silence is the road to Eldorado...

Then, one December night
we walked, we two
(I thought you were the one foretold)
on an incredible avenue
of snow-filled trees
cupolas filled with myriad crystals,
the lake
a fractal fractured spiderweb of ice
and there, in that unbroken loneliness
of snows
in a stillness so still
we could hear the trees inhale,
we watched, touched finger to finger,
as on the frozen lake three spires arose
and out of the ice great glimmering stones
climbed up. The moon blushed. The breeze
caught its breath. It had always been there
and had only to be called
by the stillness of two not speaking,
falling into the abyss of dead irises
and conjunct heartbeat. Eldorado!

How long did it remain there,
where any passing stranger might
have stepped beyond its threshhold
into glory and untold riches?

Only so long as we said nothing
did it burn the backs of our eyes,
gilding our brains with memories.
And only so long as I never said
I loved you, was it as real as this,
as tangible as mirror glass, as cold
as frozen steel, and yet as barred from us
as though a dragon flamed up
between us and El Dorado.

Call it Eldorado,
city of dread truth and light, harbor of the mind,
city built out yet built by no one.
If I show you my Eldorado, make clear its walls
and towers from the fog, would you step into it?
Can it be real
while being all that you ever dreamt?
Is its wealth in ingot and bullion,
in dead weight a dead man may carry?
Or is it the city of Ideal Men,
whose treasure is that all who inhabit it
are inherently good, virtue’s automatons,
soldiers valiant and uncorruptible?

Can it be visible to you?
Could you address them
if you have killed your heroes?
If you are so unlike the graven greats
on the walls of El Dorado,
would you know them as brethren?
Would mothers, sisters, brides and daughters
of this proud Atlantis hail you,
or avert their eyes in loathing?

Shall not this city recede from us, then?
No matter how sharp the vision, each step
toward it takes us astray or backwards.
In silence we see it clear; in speech
it grows dim and cloaks itself in fog.
If I say nothing, my hand can almost reach
to the edge of one great turreted tower.
And yet, because I love you, I say
“There is nothing there, no city.
The sun on the ice makes fools of us.
Our eyes are not to be trusted. At home,
beside our fire, beneath the blankets
of an oblivious bed, is what is real.
My hand on neck-nape, on shoulder;
your hand as I raise it to palm-kiss;
these things are gold and silver.”

Gone the city. Not one gold flake have I
to prove it ever existed. And just as gone
the ice-blind illusion of loving:
you no more knew me than you knew
a maple’s groan in the frosted air.
I have no token of your having lived.

Pastoral Symphony

Some lines, updated, based on hearing the last movement of Beethoven's Symphony No 6 (Pastoral).

A shepherd flute plays serenades
against the turn and fall of stars,
the ripple of Boreal curtains of light,
the concord and peace of Nature.
In the pre-dawn stillness,
hills hymn the galaxies,
soothing and cooling the molten core,
sealing the slumber of Titans
within their adamantine cells.
This earth suffices. To live alone
upon it — suffices. Let gods and Titans
remain in stasis and torpor’d sleep.
Up here, whatever touching
of life to life is given — suffices.

Life in itself — suffices.
The universe is a song unfolding —
ah, joy! to be the witness of it!


Calling All Poets Laureate

A Texan amendment
to the arts budget
surprises everyone:
a Poetry Lodge
in the nation’s capital.

The artist’s rendering
is out of Beowulf:
a great mead hall
on the National Mall,
where bards convene,
drink tankards of ale,
and pot after pot
of exotic tea.
Workshops and readings
around the clock;
marathons even,
for those who can stand it.

It opened this month,
yet something is wrong
with this Tudor palace.
The Poet Laureate
is already in there,
and won’t come out.
The laureates of states,
of cities and colleges,
have come, and entered.
Busloads of applicants
push at the double doors
waving their MFA diplomas.
In they go by the thousands. 

There’s a stage in the middle,
and an open mic,
yet no poets come forward.
They are stuck to the walls,
feet locked on the carpet.
Wallpaper grabs them
like vampire Velcro.

A giant eye glares
through the leaded glass
window. The place is packed,
a web of younger poets
undulating like tapestry,
the older poets in groups
like the Elgin marbles,
pushing forward
but going nowhere.

The voice on high intones:
Just as we intended.
Poet Motels:
Poets check in,
but they don’t check out.

Anna Akhmatova: I'm Like A River

Poet Anna Akhmatova braved it out in Soviet Russia when she could have fled, as many others did, to Romantic, if impoverished, exile. She endured the Stalin years, and was terrorized and spied upon. Friends vanished, and her son was arrested and killed. In this severe little self-analytical poem, Akhmatova accuses and defends herself. She knows that her work was her life's end. This is my own adaptation from the Russian original.

I'm like a river
this heartless epoch turned
from its accustomed bed.
Strayed from its shores
this changeling life of mine
runs off into a channel.
What sights I’ve missed,
absent at curtain time,
nor there when the house lights dim.
A legion of friends
I never chanced to meet.
Native of only one abode —
city I could sleepwalk
and never lose my way —
my tears preventing eyes
from seeing the dreamt-of
skylines of foreigners!
And all the poems I never wrote
stalk me, a secret chorus
accusing me, biding the day
they’ll strangle me.
Beginnings I know,
and endings too,
and living death,
and that which I’ll not,
if you please, recall.
Now there’s a woman
who’s assumed my place;
usurping my name, she leaves
me only diminutives to end
my poems with: I’ll do the best I know with them.
Even the grave appointed me
is not my own.
Yet if I could escape my life,
looking straight back at what I am,
I should at last be envious.

amtrak, business class

riding dead-eyed in an alcoholic glaze to Connecticut,
hours to, hours fro, twenty days a month
(happy that man who rises and walks to his work!)
look at the juggernaut of three-piece suits,
the power ties, the snapping suspenders!

they imagine they own the world
as they ascend into their termite towers
in a manhattan cleared now of the inconvenient poor

the deal, the merger, the acquisition,
(the quick transfer of soaring or falling stock
in secret amid the wheeling and dealing
    for a little personal profit) –
all this produces nothing, not one apple,
    not one steel bolt nor fatting hog,
nothing whatever produced by their labor,
yet richer they grow, richer than
   the gloating emperors of byzantium

tycoon atop his tower of glass, perched
at the peak of world dominion,
has never heard “no” from his employees –
he’s driven everywhere, has but to nod
for a free lunch in the best-appointed spots.
he could not count his possessions,
and he is so cleverly taxed that his worth
increases with every filing, oh wonderful,
this thing called oligodemocracy.

imagine his mute astonishment
as he reads in the morning news
that two of his dummy corporations
have hostile-merged him to nullity.
call button pressed, he waits,
but no one comes. his coffee cup,
empty, may show its bottom
for the first time ever. his broker
is theirs now, his law firm, theirs too.

which one of those many women
is his wife now? is one of the others
involved in this distressing affair.

he sighs. there is always the offshore fund,
the stock in those armaments and diamond mines.
there’s nothing left for him now
except to run for The White House.
run, as in, run for the office. it’s his turn, anyway.
in time he could be president of everything:
the justice department, the military (left hand
selling the right hand weapons to use and replace).
it seems only fair: with the mess they’ve made,
they should beg him to make everything right again.

Sarah Helen Whitman As Poet and Critic, Part 6 (Final)

Whitman As Literary Personality By the 1830s, Whitman had already settled into the eccentric style of dres...