pour Jean Charlot
On a poster I brought back from France,
a French artist has sketched
a bearded Lilliputian Columbus
in ruffled collar and tight-laced pants,
and a native Giantess, not yet Rigoberta Menchu--
nude, voluptuous, supinely well fed, asleep--
just at the moment
of the little man's arrival.
She is a continent, outstretched beyond
Gauguin's encounters in Tahiti.
She is holding horns of plenty
and must be pleasantly absorbed
in her nightly dreams.
He is standing atop
the upheld palm of her right hand,
claiming it with unfurled flag
for his queen in Spain,
taking it for an island east of India--
the little Don Quixote
smiling madly up to the Heavens,
he, too, in dreams, though more dangerous,
with hollow-eyed waking,
never seeming to imagine
that in looking down,
he might make a discovery
that would cause a new world to shake.
The physical union of this unlikely couple
seems doomed to prolonged frustration
from Beyond Modesto, first published in
The American Scholar (Spring, 1994)
Putting On a Tie
The knot slips tightly around my neck;
the end narrows too far. The silver pin
with an A (the one my father bought me
for New York)
when the red
I'll never get used to this choking cinch;
button-down collars manhandle my neck.
Obscenely modish, slender or wide,
for the sake
why must I expose
in this way?
I'll never sit easy at bargaining tables:
heads no longer speak for what's beneath,
stifled words mock the stuffed shirts,
over sagging limbs,
and the long
for unfasten time
to reestablish circulation.
Though passingly well strapped,
And with fealty to a strange, old code,
that I, too,
up my sleeve.
from Beyond Modesto
I resolved to give up
writing poetry--being too
busy, exhausted most of the time--
and managed to do so
until this morning's gibbous moon
fell without detectable speed
in a blue sky, and first rays of sunlight
touched the mountains, hills and valley
with detectable speed, nearer and nearer
to where I sat drinking my cup of coffee.
I learned the word, gibbous,
years ago from my father.
I was confused about its meaning
because he leapt from that word to:
"Hold out a right hand to waning moons,
a left one to waxing . . . ."
And I never asked him, "Which one's
the gibbous moon?"
Here in Southern Oregon, poetry
is one thing that never seems
essential. It takes too long
(to read or write); it requires--
God forbid--"concentration," and
a "big vocabulary"--especially
on such a morning when nature's
store of words--none detectably
human--seems to say it all.
Gibbous means convex, both
waxing and waning, stages
this side of full and on the other,
as opposed to crescent or concave--
before and after "half" or first
and third "quarters"--so many con-
fusing terms, so much forgotten lore.
Like almost everyone else,
like my father before me,
I've got to make a living
on this day or any other,
but not without times-out
for coffee in the morning,
memories needing definition,
old battles between words
and intractable nature--
still waged by two hands,
detectably older, reaching out
for right and left sides
of a standard typewriter keyboard. Beyond Modesto
An Unrhymed Sonnet on the Relevance of Lucretius
That Venus should seduce Mars at once and persuade
Him to abandon the war in Afghanistan (in favor of
Every sweetness she can devise): That the English for
RELIGIO in Latin be restricted to "superstition" during
These perilous times rather than that inflammatory
Cognate I noticed; That education, especially into The Nature
Of Things, might steadily break down yet-untranslated
Barriers to understanding among peoples, even during
Battle--All idle dreams! When last Friday's burly Apollo
(Or was it Phaeton?) hitched my silver Chevy Blazer
To his own tow-away chariot on Ventura Boulevard
And almost drove off; Before I, arms waving, ran
Dangerously through traffic and prevented an even
Greater violation than I had experienced heretofore. from Beyond Modesto
Looking into the ION with Finn
"Wir sind keine Greichen mehr."
Phillip Otto Runge
O Finn, Classics' Instructor--on the point
Of pointing at so many monosyllablic Greek words,
On the point of raising your voice for emphasis,
On the point of knowing you are only inducting
Me, not everyone else seated at the Souplantation
In Brentwood, West Los Angeles, all of us
Facing at least two ways, this January,
Two Thousand and One--
Instruct, in timely fashion, old habits of mind,
by pointing them out to me in all their gorgeous
Minutia, down the long page, down to the dirt-scraped
Nail of your index finger so recently deep dug
In neo-Virgilian loam, only to surface again--
Athlon of hard books and loose soil back home. Beyond Modesto
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, the day hadn't really ended.
Though somewhere the sun had set, though somewhen the polls
Had been closed, a winner projected immediately thereafter
(Almost an hour, however, remained for voting in the Panhandle),
That projection was recalled, counter called, then just called
"Too close to call." And yet it wasn't really the end of the day.
Votes had to counted and recounted, chads picked up off the floor,
Lawyers hired and debriefed, judgments made, judgments appealed,
Appeals reversed, rules overruled, opinions rendered. And yet
It still wasn't really the end of the day.
Some Otherwhere the sun had risen right at the moment it had
Set in that Formerwhere. The old millennium ticked on under certain
Calculations or miscalculations, merging secular science with oldtime
Religions with lunar calendars. Would somebody please define for me
A "Paschal full moon" at Easter before the end of the day?
Meanwhile our memories don't stop ticking either: they peel back
Scenarios we thought were about to happen. When precisely
Was it we realized we didn't have to survive Mutually Assured
Destruction, not yet to see the rising tides from icebergs melting
Into The Sea Around Us? Though they asked us, "Could this really
Be the End?" of the day.
But my eyes adjusted to bright sunlight as I exited the artificial
Darkness left behind in the Bruin Theater in Westwood Village.
Though victory had been declared (prematurely?), an incredible
Scenario hijacked jet planes to collide with twin towers just nine
Months and eleven days into what major populations of the Earth
Were convinced was the millennium. But no tragedy since Oedipus
Has ever really been the last one, at the end of the day.
Dies Irae, Day of Wrath, Day of Judgment, Graduations, Birthdays,
Yahrzeit, Happy St. Patrick's Day or Anniversary--every reason to
Grieve, every reason to party, to invest in the future, Postumus,
Though lovers' arm link above the moving waters of the Seine,
The Euphrates, the Ganges, the Humber. It is not the end of the day.
Mirabeau must have had foreknowledge that the Old Regine
Could never die, notwithstanding Madame Guillotine, for
The Goddess Reason requires humanity to measure the Nile
At full flood once a year, find a rosetta stone for translations,
Never to sleep. That's her Empire of Diurnaltiy--never, never,
Never! to reach, however we stretch it, the end of the day.
I do admit a great fatigue. It eventually dulls even
The Goddess of Reason, when she is tempted to imagine
Another god, Morpheus, Bringer of Sleep, whom she loves
In visible darkness, makes trysts with in moonlight, whispering
Sine Die, dreaming deeply at rest, at the end of the day.
from Beyond Modesto