when writing a poem
fades into translation:
jogging after the sightful
a fraction or two late.
Like a deafmute's dance,
feeling the music through your feet,
vibrating, a heart's beat later
Damagebred syncopation. Style.
I slept ten nights by a smoking fire,
felt the scent of the camphor tree.
A restorative meal was laid for the ferns,
I ate, was light with dry grasses,
ready to pass through the dark,
down the long road through the dark.
Dark day, bright night in one.
Day and night in one so absent here
that no one recognizes him,
no one knows
the way is long, the road is hard,
there is no mountain here,
the peaks in this land are downward,
icicles dangling from the eaves as stars
through the dark and its little day.
Spirit of autumn, smoke of autumn's song.
Dusky lane, fog on the meadow
gloving the ferns' mystic forest.
Red waters fall from the fells:
fallen the fiery maple.
The fog rises off the river like a ghostly bush
and sheds out of its shadows an ancient boat,
spiky with spears.
Warriors arrive from a devastated land
where the grass grows higher and greener:
the slain shove up brighter silage.
I pull myself tight
flee the flashing fire.
this is not my home
and the birches on the fells
scratch my warmth into crystals.
I ignore the ice
that creeps in my veins.
my me is melted by darkness
overrun by rime.
mysticism is all.
mysterious heavenly fires
no one knows
the north star
which will accept
only the finest line
The white heat of the fells
above the stand of stunted birch.
So the heart sees ever
beyond the reach of reason.
Some gave a sense of size,
though they stood at the door
or on the shore beside the boats
plying the boats like lyres.
Some vanished soon after.
This admits of endless interpretation.
This says nothing.
Autumn's smoke in the air.
The poppy drops petals boldly
and the massing cranes wing
over the aspened waves of grain;
knowing nothing of complaint
they groan heavily across the land.
The insect's legs stiffen,
the blood flows into the rowan's
And truth was this life;
we touched it without knowing it,
every moment its warmth.
this morning on my way to work
a troll flew inside me
on wings of sadness.
from the bridge I saw the hay
bowed toward a dark autumn.
the flashing lace of a leaf's flutter
fled the troll's hot hands.
the reek of burnt flesh was revolting.
Who hid among us, couldn't help it,
made her life a test,
nor could anyone hurt her
any more than himself,
not through forgetting
or other indifference, at most
could test for warmth, could that
be why it stopped flowing?
Saw through and heard through, no wonder
that world opened up.
Yesterday they still called you in to eat
by the same name those children
now use to call you out.
Under the trees of white clouds
she looks into the eyes of a doll
her mother played with.
Eyes cry, small and whirling,
every eye's lash
a tear's noose.
Homeland in the Air
Like an immigrant the mind makes
its sunlit way from inn to work,
walking, groping along, almost living.
Almost living in this strange city,
swirled round with strange words like stairs
between floors, clattering, uncarpeted.
The mind lingers between floors,
stops at streetcorners,
like an immigrant the mind makes
its way from the harbor downtown,
from inn to work, from day to day,
living . . .
But no. Suddenly, like muddy patches
in the snow, like open stretches in the
melting ice, something tears. Was once,
no more. A stray word heard on the street,
did I understand that? or something
in a store window, and when you look
it's gone, in a girl's gaze that, there,
that's it, and it's already blank, familiar.
What do you remember, or do you? Something
somewhere, between floors, uncarpeted, a smell
but from where, from home, was there once a land?
Forgotten, nameless, Wasonceland, Nevernever.
The land you left.
Like an immigrant the mind makes
new homelands, quickly, like bare spots in air,
speechsodden villages, scentladen gates,
splitsecond yards where memory blooms
and wilts before all time.
Emigrant, immigrant, the mind makes
its blooming way through confusion, love,
memory, almost remembering, yes
leaning heavily on its staff
the mind sways, restless.
the gray stone pierces it.
panting foams out
from between gapped teeth.
after the twelfth road
the fences stop . . .
Always somebody who's gotta split, push off into the foresty night, wounded,
hears the call, goes, won't look left or right, hits the road, climbs
the mountain, vanishes without a trace,
word drifts back years later, whispered
by dark strangers, seen glowing in fiery runes on the sheer rock face,
a mysterious people flits through the forests; then
he returns at the head of an army, chaste soldiers, food must not pass
their lips ere revenge is theirs, else death is instant, brings us the
kingdom, axes as long as there's forest to cut
or to enter, to emerge from, can't stay,
gotta press on, gotta pass the word, chop chop, no time to waste, kingdom
come special overnight express, can't wait, it'll waltz on by you if your
lamp ain't lit,
O kingdom, O steelyeyed man, O sacred
folly, world ain't done, always something more to do, always the same
distance forward or back,
take your pick, don't pause, keep moving,
maybe then it'll seem like you're heading forward (or back, take your
pick) toward the kingdom.
tiny, black, tailed.
each with hard fingers that pinch repeatedly.
tail hairs stab
skin sore from pinching.
eyes flicker, aflame with fear.
wait for the springflooding lake's
Night's gloom looms on all hands.
I wanted to be
a singing shadow.
A voice. Then
a snap. Then a creak and a crash
as the mountain moves one fathom
closer to Mohammed.
Let the turban unwind.
Women comb down their thoughts.
Sidestepping shadows off sorrows.
Carl, flagwrapped king
follows from the fells.
Mohammed rips his wrap
and his clothes and headdress are
like patches of mud in the melting southern snow.
The king is fetched from the fells.
A hero true,
the flag he flew,
to war us led.
The king is dead.
Through war he
sent for me.
and drummer sound.
The past's sound.
Now crouching into fell
the mountain moves again
like a plump god,
his eyes on fire like curtains.
distant as a dream
poisonous snakes distend
their twofaced whips.
the killer's coldness
dances like a fire's tongue.
on the floor the plunging
curl of a country road.
around the volcano of a tremble
a raw growl at the trumpet's lips
erupts a stab of triangle.
the cores disappear from below
drowning in white.
The trees are, the nights grow longer bit by bit,
so slowly nobody notices.
Nor can the darkness still the whispering in the trees.
Still, it is as sad as a child
to whom one speaks soothingly, from whom one is keeping something,
but who already knows.
He stood with his back to me
and I did not know him
until he turned
and light split him.
Shaking ash off his suit
he turned into ash
and dispersed like smoke
or like the shades of those beings burnt into light
at Hiroshima's bridge.
Rising to its hands and knees
in the midst of fearful emptiness.
Rising like a bird
because the city is ashgray
as the sky.
One day you'll wade to shore
and the sun will shine
Your body's wall will
on every side.
I ask time for words
but the garden is silent, waiting
for rain. A candle
burns steadily as fate.
Tea gone cold in a cup. A dark day,
the phone doesn't ring, no one answers.
I listen: sparrows
in the boston ivy. My heart beats,
my blood flows, the silence
hammers in time.
What was before
is now alien, and the new
cannot be had for love
the rain that pounded the pavement
shoved its wet hair
under my breasts.
the last swallow
has gone north.
I light candles astride the winter mums.
I see you counting the months on your fingers,
I know what you're counting.
You'd tell me soon enough.
The fingers that make you a door at such
an abstract task.
A short year, so short that next year this time
you'll have a threemonthold baby,
or as a man's life, a year, a second snow
has fallen before he's left his footprints in it.
Death comes quickly for a man. A woman dies
slowly, has children,
and her happiness is to die before them.
When she grieves for her child her voice and flesh are one.
When you breathe close
I know that there's a bed.
Sheets, a rumpled pillow,
and many quiet words like skin,
fierce, soft as movement.
I don't want to leave, ever, anywhere,
until I hear remember feel:
moment by moment flows the river.
Do we shield each other
against the tree of life
your feelings taste
of tart birch leaves.
you look so good
yet to taste you
is to feel your acid explode
across my tongue.
your leaving unlatched
the gate onto darkness.
so long a journey from there
to the dawn.
that the feel of turbidity
that a bent head
can find in its hiding
Fragile rivers, burnt fields,
The old man leans against the dusty beech
and grinds out music on a hand organ
so slowly, so wearily,
that every note stretches and breaks
like a drop of water poised
at the edge of a willow leaf.
There's no telling the music's shape,
not even its time signature.
It's discomposed as the shape of his own life.
He makes a few shuffling forays across the yard,
polishes its stones with his ponderous step,
thus pass his days, his nights
he spends alone in an outbuilding,
the floor in winter runs ten inches deep with water,
which is why his cheeks burn red
as paradise apples: TB,
or else the red of the mad.
Some dream made him pick up
the organ today, perhaps when he was younger
he played at fairs, how would I know.
But I see in his face
that there's dancing in his brain
up, lift your feet high)
and his chest trembles with an old memory,
warm with sorrow and tears,
like this land that is also just a memory,
without true presence.
And his eye lights up with intelligence
or whatever passes for it here:
life is short, days long.
Life is as short as standing at the window
from morning till night watching the world
Well, he hasn't many days left,
death won't pass his alley many times more,
tomorrow, maybe, it'll take from him
that battered organ
and dump him in a ditch;
smelling a little of weeds, a little of mud.
Though in a sense he's already half
sunken into his home in the dirt
like this whole yard:
flagstones, beech, well: wheelwork broken
All right, I go, my cart removes
across the undulating green
as across Russia,
church towers gleaming white in the dusk,
a bird bobbing on the bells' peals.
Sod huts, well sweeps,
sweetsmelling sage, fields of cotton.
Fields bend like windmill wings,
I hear the beating of the trees.
This world is so old that it doesn't feel real.
This is like turning the yellowed pages of an ancient book, like
driving a hay wagon through the book
back in time
two hundred years.
Old dust on the sun,
on the sundial
that won't move.
Autumn, old driver, pissing
against the wind,
a fortunate few lying
flat, lashed by his
spray, arms spread.
Autumn, its faces, when
it pipes down its organ
and pleats the waters for ice.
I wanted to be dead, to pocket
myself through my shoulders.
Autumn, its faces:
that the stones could storm so,
the waters wash against my arms' shore.
We drive beneath the vast night and thunder,
leash dog, spare horse limping
and whining aloud:
I've got feelings, rhymes in my head,
fingerprints, bottles in my bed,
hens' eggs pave
the Christian's way,
brown sheep bless his living.
We drive from night till dawn, till our dream wakes
with a start.
And then it's summer and the lilacs.
And the servant dips his sleeve
once more in the coffee
and nearby what's left of the Russian
intelligentsia mutter melodiously
in the arbor.
Draw fast, shoot first,
win a little, look around, whither,
how many, whether it's worth it, get its ass
handed to it, when you've had enough
And wonder whether others need it,
when you get there first they stare
in amazement, when you anticipate
in a curved line, beyond space and time, you can do
what you want.
The whole fuckin lot of em stands &
we came from afar, rescued, resisted,
changed the course of history,
drew so fast you couldn't even see our
we got here first, just barely, they would have drawn,
handed our asses to us, you know it, somebody
coulda bought it, definitely coulda, someone
slower than us.
The morning's team
stamps bright in the dim woods.
The pond steams into the fog,
At this well darkness and light.
The horse gallops thuddingly across the meadow,
its secret is in motion
and in the strong shoulder of danger
and in the seed that screams
into the mud, wanting out.
Everything's an answer.
do you feel those long white nails
that scratch the lake's skin till it bleeds
and its cry freezes lace in the trees.
I'm thinner, I think. But how?
My right thumb bears the sign
of horse and dog, one traced by
a shoeing knife, the other
by a canine tooth.
Scars spawn life
and my heart is an open trench
full of tears' grey heather,
dog tags jangling in the wind.
In autumn, turkey slaughter time,
I drive four dogs and a fifth
(spare horse) trots behind
when the woods are swept by steely winds
and the fields spotted with guarded fires.
So ride death's spirited steeds,
slight and savage, the autumn wind
red as blood, red as rowan trees.
Close by, deep inside you, some thread
speaks, a dark tongue. Behind your eyes
I feel a new gaze,
| Preface | Poems | Biographical