Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Dresser in Emily's Bedroom

Right there, feet from the bed she died in,
sewn up in tiny fascicle bundles, unread,
not to be read, not to be published,
monoprint chapbooks arranged and re-
arranged to suit intended readers
she was too reticent to speak to,
ever, except from behind a door, ajar.

How they came from her writing table there
(no bigger than a oiuja board),
from planchette pen to folded leaf
stitched shut and mummy-wrapped,
living and smothering just feet from where
a gasp and pen-dab and a foot-tap
telegraphed them into being

How many enwrapped, entombed inside
that oblong moth-proof drawer?
how many survivors of admonition
a poet should never ... a lady does not ...
eighteen hundred tightly-wound mortars
she wryly called her “little hymns.”

Emily Dickinson at Amherst,
I in your room as close to fainting
as ever in my adult existence,
at tear-burst, with a strangled cry I dare
not utter. A life, a life’s work,
a soul's compression that one executor
could have tossed away for kindling
or suppressed for jealousy or malice.
But we have you, Emily, we have you always,
your words in a fascicle of stitched stars.

Anniversarius 41: Autumn Dragged Screaming

So where is Autumn?
     It is the week of Halloween
          and — nothing.
The maples are green, oaks green,
     willows even greener,
pines frowning their drooping arms
as if to say, get on with it, already;
the drama is long past over.

Bird flocks rehearse their southern pilgrimage
     but come right back
to feast anew on unchilled worm and beetle.

Damp rain sogs down,
     slime mold slides silently
          on and up the rotting beech trunk.
Mushrooms proliferate
          at an illicit rate.
The spiders are working overtime,
     harvestmen in jitter-skitter,
a Macy’s parade of Daddy-Long-Legs.
Sparrows engorged, squirrels spherical
     with acorn overflow,
eating all and burying nothing.
And the flowers just keep on,
     well, flowering.
Only the birches are shivering,
reading truly the Northern Lights,
the wisping fall of Orionid meteors,
white trunk flagpoles alert, on edge,
expectant pencils stuck in the ground.

It might have gone on this way:
     Indian October
          into Mexican November,
into a luridly Amazon December.
Today the unseasonable yucca plant,
     tomorrow the writhing anaconda!

It might have gone on,
     had not a thirteen-foot truck
somewhere just south of Pittsburgh
slide under an eleven-foot overpass,
the top peeled off like a sardine can.
One dull brown oak leaf escaped it,
     and then a blast
of sumac and willow and locust and maple,
     an Arctic air blast,
dust-devils, the choking lung-clot
     of burning leaf-piles.
And as the oblivious driver
     wends southward, southerly, south,
intending to take the autumn hostage,
he instead cracks open the heavens.
The horizon turns yellow instantly,
    the soft green lap of leaves
becomes the crackle-crisp
chatter of Rattatosk, the gossip squirrel.
Up, up Ygdrassil the World Ash
the singe of Autumn rises.
Red the long carpet in maple grove,
fiery the brush fire burn of euonymous,
yellow the leaf-sky in silhouette by azure.
Come winter, then, if you must,
     come autumn now,
a world-held breath of defiance.
I go, I go, a leaf, in glory.

Assignation (A Chinese Translation)

     after a Chinese poem “P’u Sa Man” by Li Yü

The flowers were bright
     (and might have lit my way like lanterns)
but the moon was diffused in light mist.
Cool, but not too cold,
that was the best night to go to my lover.
Trembling I trod the perfumed stones,
step upon step amid the night-blooms.
I held in one hand the golden-threaded shoes,
in the other his scroll of urgent summoning.

South of the newly-painted hall,
in the appointed place I met him.
His face was turned away and upward
as though he searched the moon face
or with his hawk-fierce eye some dove
asleep on a still and leafy branchlet.

At first, I leaned against him, shivering;
my pale arms could not encompass
the sweep of his cloaked broad shoulders.
He made a sound that might have been
my name, or a sighing exhalation.
I said, “I cannot come as often now,
so tonight you must love me twice as hard.”

At Innsmouth Harbor

The catalog of jetsam —
things washed ashore at Innsmouth:
a gnawed-through baby rattle; five
matched silver spoons of serpentine design;
a multitude of basalt pebbles, each
a perfect copy of its brethren, angled
obtuse with the hint of an eye,
black and unseeing (on the obverse,
an alien cuneiform, unreadable),
coins all of an unknown empire;
the rusted machinery of lost umbrellas
(from where since no one ever in Innsmouth
has ever owned or needed one);
clots of dank seaweed and curds of ooze
astir with phosphorescent pulsings;
a human skeleton, a chain, a cinder block;
blue bottle labeled tincture of laudanum,
wrapped in soft velvet with an ivory carving,
priapic secret of a ship captain’s widow;
an octopus impaled with the periscope
of a German U-2 submarine; a map
of the New England coastline inscribed
entirely in Runic letters; a trident,
vertical, twelve feet from top to bottom,
awaiting whoever dares to claim it;
and finally, as always, coats, hats and trousers,
all manner of ladies’ gowns and negligées
cast off on the rocks at Devil’s Reef,
all for the taking if anyone cares.
There is no catalog of flotsam, no list
of the things that will not come to shore:
the ten-lobed all-seeing eyes of the ghosts
of Trilobites, mandarins of the ocean deep;
the wary, watchful ammoniac waiting
of Architeuthis, the giant squid; the pound
and beat of the tide-drum, counting all down
to the world’s end, the sun’s death, the pull
of all into the dark heart of the iron stone
where everything that was and will be comes to rest.

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 his 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.

Death and the Maiden

after the German of Matthias Claudius The Maiden: Pass me by, oh, pass me by! Go, ...