Poems

Mu
AThe Garden of Eden was not in Asia but on a now sunken continent in the Pacific Ocean . . .
Mu B the Motherland of Man.@                                           – James Churchward

It is said
that the citizens of Mu
laid roads so perfectly
that no grass ever grew
between the stones.
But ancient Mu
(the legend or the land)
lies silent in the depths;
the priests and the volcanoes
hold their peace.
Only the most majestic
mountaintops
where no roads ran
remain beneath the sky

Mill Mountain Review, 1971, 1:94

 

Museum

Statuesque columns of polished marble
in regal succession stand guard down the hall.
Far above, the towering vaults
whisper back the rustling of voices
and resonate the click of my footsteps.

 

Long-posed, entrancing, a young virgin face
glows from purest milk-stone as I pass.
Slender and smooth, her hands lie folded
upon a lap of rippling satin.
Still-posed she sits as for the artist:
her head turned slightly away, and yet
her eyes, almond-shaped and wide,
carefully cut and smoothed in stone,
turn back and stand transfixed upon mine.
Fully formed, her lips are parted
as if to breathe – perhaps to speak;
yet silent, she remains withdrawn
behind the museum=s velvet cord.

 

Staring into her deep-formed eyes I hear her draw a sudden breath;
her milk-white breasts gently rise and hold it for a moment, then
return it warm upon the air – a gentle breeze upon my cheek.
Her half-cloaked arms slowly stir, rustling the satin as if to rise
and reach to me, yet she cannot; her slowly misting eyes explain.

 

My fingers reach beyond the velvet cord
to meet her soft mouth, breathing warmly now.
They hesitate a moment on the air
then gently touch, to find her rich lips cold.

 

New Lycoming Review, 1969, 3

 

Application

Here I lie in figures:
Carefully constructed columns,
Meticulously placed check-marks,
Cautious paragraphs of admissions;
Three erudite letters
Containing my summated life
In its three distinct phases;
All carefully enveloped
In a neatly sealed folder,
An immaculately addressed packet
Which some young office page,
In his haste to bring the mail,
May drop unknowingly
Behind the radiator.

 

Sonnet on Separation

As the rose, opening to meet the dawn,
Spreads its petals, glistening with dew,
To catch the sun full upon its hue,
Knowing that petals fade when summer’s gone;
As the rose, even when summer’s new,
Emerges slowly to the morning’s gold,
Fearing that the night has left it old,
Remembering seasons that it never knew;
So cautiously at first, you now unfold
To find the rising sun’s long, orange rays
Are warm upon your long vermilion days,
And shield against the nights that will turn cold.
Spring is past; oh, may the summer delights
Not be lost in fear of winter nights!

 

For the Old Willow in Vilas Park

I don’t know for how long it had stood
poised on the island’s edge, shading the lake;
perhaps a hundred years. At least it’s been
huge and hoary longer than I’ve been young.
It bent so – twisted in ferocious gnarls
of arms that swept the eerie midnight sky
and sent me sailing, wide-eyed, to my bed
and covers that many times had saved my young
body from an awful, woody devouring.
By daylight it seemed to hover paternally
over its own lagoon, where summer children
bobbed until the sun went dipping down.

 

I don’t know why they amputated so:
the limbs fell, like Icarus, to the sea
in arching plunges, unceremoniously.
Perhaps the Parks Commission had condemned it,
fearing that some child, climbing in its boughs,
would fall into the lagoon and there be drowned.
Perhaps they feared lest, in its stooping age
it should lose its balance and fall upon
the city council’s skinny-dipping sons.
Or perhaps one night the knotty creature
swooped at some poor city father who,
no longer a child, forgot the glee of fear
and struck back in the only way he knew.

 

I wrote this in Oregon, long before knowing I would spend my career in New Mexico

 

The Rain Dancer

Daily he came to the plain: the rain-dancer
Bedecked with bracelets of bells that thrilled the children
And coaxed a smile from old men=s furrowed faces.

Dry seasons never wearied him:
His parched moccasins stirred the loose earth
Beneath his constant droning, while his eyes,
Black veterans of many clouds, surveyed
The purple mountains, weaving in the heat.

Each barren day returned him to his hut
To paint new lines upon his cheeks and brow,
Rehearsing where his feet had fallen ill
Or his cries displeased the sender of rain.

Darker days never sated him:
Clouds poised on the mountains drew him down
To the plain to dance more furiously
That they might not favor another land
As once they had when he, in weakness, slept.

Till finally, his wizardry complete,
The old man, drenched, passed the village fire B
A collage of floating ash and steaming logs B
To be welcomed by the women, gently, home.

Almost a year, but still the village looks
With wonder as the black sacrosanct clouds
Come billowing in above the empty plain;
And still they stare, wide-eyed, at the rain
Which falls now silently upon the mounds.

Jeopardy, 1973, 9:46-47

 

Conundrum

after a theme by Davie Napier

I was disturbed, to say the least,
to read that it was in the East
where God laid down that garden row
and planted Eden long ago.
For if we were to have our pride
and know that God is on our side,
why would it not, then, have been best
for God to start off in the West?
But then I thought, “Is it not odd
that that word >East= was used by God
when no place else had come to be?”
and then it was it came to me:
If Eden was on “eastern” sod,
it must have been to east of God!
so that proves God lives in the West,
and now my mind is laid to rest.

 

Terminal

Downtown Philadelphia.
The bus driver, essence of George C. Scott,
drops me at 12th and Market.
The old Reading Terminal building is crumbling,
but the facade is the same.
From the bottom entryway the escalator looks nearly as endless
as to the six-year-old boy;
More dingy, though, and only the up side is running now.
The terminal – faded magnificence:
the sign to the trains,
the long platforms echoing through the tunnel darkness,
daylight at the far end where once the coaches emerged to everywhere
past brownstone rowhouses, gothic churches, Tastycake billboards.
In a short line I wait for a ticket home.
The window is unchanged:
archway opening cut in the pane behind wrought iron.
Memory races: the dark steel liners,
sandwiches on reversible seats,
the wide sliding glass reflecting the opposite windows,
the tunnel flash of darkness, then light again,
the smell of diesel and grease
that was my father’s and grandfathers’ smell,
the peak-capped conductor calling towns.
My turn: One ticket to Reading, please.
He smiles. How long have I been gone?
The Reading Railroad doesn’t go to Reading anymore.

 

Ash Wednesday

The Lord made me
from dust
These hands
with folds and flexing and tiny creases
This body
of trillions of cells
of so many organs in complex balance.
Lord, you made me from dust?

My wit
my intellect
my questioning and wondering
my humor
from dust?
My secrets
my joys
my fears
my love
all from dust!
My sadness
my childhood
my pain
my fondnesses
made from dust
My shortcomings
my proud accomplishments
my vision
my sin
all made from dust
From these tiniest particles
these allergens
desert-stuff
creepers through window panes
wind riders
You made me

You
in whose hands dust is greatness
and greatness is dust.

And I, Lord, shall be dust again

My sin
my vision
my proud accomplishments
my shortcomings
all dust!
My love
my fears
my joys
my secrets
all back into dust?
My humor
my questioning and wondering
my intellect
my wit
me into dust!
This body
and its ancient wisdom

These hands
and their music and healing
their reaching and warmth
remade again into dust by
You
in whose hands dust is greatness
and greatness is dust.

Monday Morning, 1986, 51(3): 14-15

 

Anniversary

June 27, 1992

It was a question that for me required answer.
If I were wholly alone, would it still be my birthday,
or are birthdays reliant upon the voices that pronounce them happy,
on hands that bring forth cake and gifts,
on arms that embrace?
The answer lay somewhere across the noonday ridges at Ghost Ranch.
I packed with water, sunscreen, brimmed bush hat,
camera and tripod over unfamiliar paths.
Two hours farther on a cliff edge I celebrated,
grateful for forty-five years of life walking in beauty,
for family and friends full of love, for work full of meaning.
Yet in the silence there was no need for meaning.
The whites of my eyes sunburned absorbing the beauty.
I held within me all those whom I have loved
and who have poured me brim-full with it my life long.
On this anniversary of my first breath, the wind embraced me,
and I know now that even in the wilderness,
knowing no one, no one knowing,
it is yet my birthday.
I celebrated full of gifts, grateful for this blessing:
that though I am when alone, I am not.

 

Apache

Fifty feet above the sand it hovers
in darkness; in its nose, a lone observer
watching those below disperse like sheep
across his helmet’s reddened vision cover.
He glances right; without a second’s pause
the chain guns follow, mirroring his gaze
to set the fleeing silhouette ablaze.
Then down and to the left his eyes are drawn,
the muzzles mimicking the very nod,
to settle on another. For this stare
to fall upon a man is fiery death,
as looking on Medusa or a god.

It bears the name of those who bore this fate
on other deserts, islands, continents,
who saw the fair-skinned visitors arrive
on horses made of flesh or wood or iron.
Friendly gestures first, but soon demands
from settlers, traders, pilgrims, convicts, farmers,
missionaries and conquistadors,
for giving up traditions, language, lands,
enforced with tools of death beyond their ken
to bring the story to unaltering end:
centuries of aboriginal ways
consumed within the pale explorer’s gaze.

For J. J.

I tell myself a fiction it was an Irish poet,
incapable of reading Yeats without weeping
or of declining the subsequent pint, taught me to write.
True, he found a meter hid in my soul’s prose,
showed me to love the discipline of spare lines
and be moved in paucity of word and phrase.
Yet it was the practice of it, countless revisions,
the terse rejections and kindly detailed crucifixions
that ultimately wrested out the writer in me.
Now in clear air beneath Ben Bulben I stand,
pilgrim over the earthen minstrel=s bones and stone.
I come to honor that now water-sober soul
who stirred me to discover and rediscover fire.

Early Fall

Sofia’s parks were green as Ireland
and free from the debris of urban life,
but rich in liberated statuary.
Old men played chess among the stone personae,
a Vigeland array of human life.
Among the trees, umbrellaed cafes beckoned
across the low stone wall along the grass.
The dark-eyed waitress, slender, twenty-something
without a smile, attending empty tables.

She chats in flawless English, disappears
to fetch refreshment. Just across the wall
all overgrown with weeds in odd neglect,
in shade of oaks a larger figure lies
face-down prone, right arm above his head,
the left which once perhaps had held a book
chiseled off and spirited away.
Who is it, then, this figure left unkempt?
She does not know, but says that she will ask.

Horse chestnut leaves, back-lighted by the sun,
have just begun their journey to the ground.
A lusty local wine. Some children playing
beyond the blue and yellow Myosotis.
Cyrillic letters in their native land.
A man with furrowed face and peaked cap
across the way, triumphant, tips the king.
She’s back. She does not know him, but the barman
says the sleeping fellow’s name is Lenin.

At Fifty

This passage on the journey into light
within a sacred time of preparation
and half a hundred years’ anticipation
draws far horizons closer into sight.
Dogged discipline of meditation
and prayer to Whom obedience is owed
prepare the soul for keeping to the road
toward an unknown, trusted destination.
Along the meantime way one crafts a code
and curries wisdom, friendship, joy in living,
agility of humor, wit, forgiving
as sacred gifts on humankind bestowed.
A practiced empathy in time can fashion
within the soul a closely knit compassion.

 

Kite

for Jayson

As I hold your tether to ground, you chafe against it,
gently at first in halting, pulsing tugs,
and then in steady earnest as you find
the wind, and air fills out your sturdy frame.
Climbing, diving, dodging, turning, twisting,
you struggle mightily to wrestle free.
Indeed the wind would carry you away
and dash you from the sky like Icarus,
but my grip is firm, my footing strong,
and thus entwined we fly. Soar, boy!

Photography