The Rower

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Departing just at dusk, having sneaked down
To the lake’s edge, led on by springtime
And your young blood’s joy in its own restlessness
And happening on a boat secreted in a secret cove,
You set oars to the locks, shoved off from shore,
Hearing the soft decisive scrape of boat’s bottom
Sliding over rough silt-buried stones,
The thunk and clunk of setting-out that made
A momentary echo in the shallow hull, but died without ado;
Then sensing the smooth surge, the self-sufficient craft
Kissing into the smooth lake, bow-waves and wake
Endlessly disappearing into black water,
Face firmly fixed toward your origin, only occasionally
Glancing furtively backward, as one guilt-ridden,
Though guilty not of a past but of a future,
You peered through gloom in hope to scry a destiny
Or glean some dim foretelling of a future track,
Yet rowed onward with reckless confidence
In destination, destiny, desire; as in a dream.

Small wonder when there reared up from your source,
The past you beat away from yet still faced,
A shadowy, vast, overlooming crag –
For you were in the mountains and
Had been for days, had come indeed
On purpose, to escape those flat,
Dull, visible days spent on the lower plain,
That future otherwise inescapable; how was it possible
That the invited and inevitable sheer presence
Shocked you? Was it that you thought
You had attained an utmost height already,
Shrugged the encumbrances of girdling earth,
And nothing loftier was left to know?
Or, so used to the unbounded vistas of your youth,
To past and future spread about you,
An endless succession of meals
Set on a table without end,
Assumed with altitude you would encounter
Just more of the same—oh, grander,
Splendid, isolating—thus more to the liking
Of your young aspiring heart and eye.

Reasons, if reasons there were or are
Add not nor subtract not one atom from this world;
So there it was, that thing, itself
And part of everything else too
Whose overwhelming distance made it seem
To follow you implacably, pacing you
Effortlessly, the borrowed boat’s clawed motion
Giving to its vicious peak a serene glide, a patience
And a presence more than natural
So that, all at once overcome, you gave up all
And turning plashed about for shore
And home, and would be haunted
After your return, then and for all your days.

Had you kept rowing – ah, what then?

 

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This is the house we all built

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This is the house we all built.

This is the woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

These are the tears that are cried at night
By the youngish woman
Who lives in the house we all of us built together.

Here is the imp that comes in the dark
To lick the tears
From the face of the girl
Who lives in the house that we all built as one.

This is the witch with a striking beard
Who conjured the imp that came at night
To trace with its tongue the tracks of the tears
That were cried by the lady
Who lives in the house we conspired to build together.

Now comes the priest with righteous mien
To chasten the witch with the wisp of beard
Who called the imp
To lick the tears
That were wept by the woman
Who lived in the house we all built.

This is the popular, vocal crowd
That cheers the unforgiving priest
Who rebuked the witch
Who summoned the imp
That licked away the stinging tears
Of the tragical woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

Here is the singer who sold the tale
Of the joking crowd
That cheered the priest
Who tormented the hag
Who raised the imp
Which sipped the tears
Of the sad old woman
Who lived in the house that we built.

And there the woman lived and lives
Who heard the impecunious singer’s tale
Anent the jocular jeering crowd
That adored the cleric
Who chastened the witch
Who summoned the very junior devil
Who caused to cry
The attentive woman
Who abides there still
In the house we all of us built together.

 

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there’s something sacred

First and Last Word

there’s always been something
sacred about a lost corner

of cracked asphalt
under the daylong sun

where absolutely nothing grows
except the sad weeds

 

just as I thought I heard
trumpets sound

though I was taught
the walls were long down

I noted the prophet
head cocked patient

sitting on the curb
beside the riven pavement

and knew there were still ramparts
and work for the trumpeters

 

from my mundane height I hear
every car on the road

every radio every satellite
how much more

does he hear sitting down there
among the holy holy weeds

 

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What you owe your body

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What you owe your body
Is more than you
can provide

It will eventually
wander away from you,

end up
standing to one side
like a party’s incidental guest
unsure whether she is speaking to the host

still mad
about
the abstract betrayal
as you
played keep-away, or pounced again
and again
on your best friend’s
long
shadow
on the platform
waiting for your train
late that afternoon

and you said nothing

again and again

One day there you’ll be
lost with longing for
that playful noncommittal love
you had back
when your body
fit you like a glove
late that afternoon
waiting

 

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I viewed a knight errant; he was

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I viewed a knight errant; he was
dressed in humble garb; he
knelt gingerly upon the sidewalk
avoiding cracks and mumbling
as if in contemplation;
a mantle of plastic wrap
he clenched about his shoulders
like a favor, a sturdy buckler
of greasy cardboard
pinned between his elbow and
ribcage (on the left wide
where he keeps his heart);
his shoes sprung but serviceable;
his equipage stowed in ample pockets.

From the bent of his spine
and his questing gaze
I guessed he was seeking
a suitable weapon
and a world worthy of his service.

 

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The Lives of the Poets

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Ogden Nash
As a poet was brash
His lines rushed out in a lengthy and seemingly unstoppable torrent
And his rhymes were abhorrent.

Ezra Pound
Wrote verse difficult and profound
The fact that even he couldn’t figure it out
Should suffice to remove any doubt.

Edward Lear
Was rather queer.
But of course, the word had a different meaning back then
So instead, one should simply say that he preferred men.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Died discontently
Aware that decent rhymes for Clerihew
Are, alas, very few.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Was heard on occasion to say
That only the author of Euclid’s Elements
Had ever seen Beauty without habiliments.

 

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I heard of a girl who told

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I heard of a girl who told that she was haunted by her father
even when he was still alive
she was a Lesbian and lived in Berlin
back when you’d still capitalize Lesbian
like there was a homeland you’d visit some day
she’d let you know her father had more than one quirk

That man’s name goes in a drawer, was a thing he’d say

I heard she told that her father was unforgiving
unforgiving like God, that kind of unforgiving
I heard she was the kind who stayed careful always
not to allow love to overcome
respect for distance
and recognized that after all people, they are dangerous
even if they never act, even if they smile
and that you’ll never know everything wrong with the world

That man’s name goes in a drawer, her father would say

not to beat around the bush
I heard after her father pulled the trigger
they opened the drawer, sure enough it was full of names
I heard that was always the end of her story
but I believe it must have left her to wonder
what else that her father had said was going to come true

That man’s name goes in a drawer, that’s what he used to say

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You were a work of fiction

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you were a work of fiction
you were a solo cloud
baiting the Lord
with your sourest word
sure that His sword
was as light as a feather

you were clever and light
you had spent time underground
wasting your breath
in singing, your health
in fucking, your death
in not caring to go on forever

you were still somebody’s baby
you were a commonplace book
you rode the rails
you might have gone through hell
in the end you sat down on a tumbledown wall
we sat there together

you were as sure as a bird
you kept your friends to themselves
you had that place near Paris
you had a brother who called us
your cousin bent God’s ear
but we brought you a plastic tiara

* * *

you were a fiction
light as a feather
you were a sword
baiting the Lord
let’s sit here forever
singing your health

 

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Honest Al got a yard full of cars

Honest Al's - Google Streetview

Honest Al got a yard full of cars
always tells the truth
about them anyway he wouldn’t
bother to lie about a thing like that
if Honest Al wasn’t being
honest he’d probably just tell you
anyway This one’s a piece of crap
you want it?

got a junkyard and a junkyard
dog an alley and alleycats
got sufficient military firepower
for this neighborhood because
you know you never know
Honest is one thing but
no rule you gotta be stupid too
got a lot of other shit

to deal with too like banks
and trucks and insurance
and taxes and traffic
and rising sea levels and
bad air and this raised
brown spot on my arm
it’s been there
a while it’s probably nothing

anyway

Honest Al’s going to the beach
to lie in the sun for a while
forget his problems watch kids play
and read some fucking poetry

 

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Nobody ever went to jail

Robinson_Jeffers_Hawk_Tower,_Tor_House,_Carmel,_CA_2008_Photo_by_Celeste_Davison

faith is a coherent structure
of lies, but the insistent
endless inhuman beauty
of things is incoherent truth

and nobody ever went to jail
for making well-wrought urns
but not by these
shall we come to glory

mumbled the old man squatting
in his handlaid tower
looking out over the sea-churn
high up and foreseeing everything

including its inevitability

.

then standing stretching
walked away from what should
have been the tied-off
end of it all

descended the stairs
stepped over the doorjamb
walked into town
to buy groceries and gin

the traditional unwilling challenger
impassioned, nearly all-powerful
but drunk with it
hardly a friend to humanity

ruining everything like always

.

always doing that one more thing

 

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