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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For me best a paperback

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For me best a paperback:
No good hard boards,
No slick dust jacket that absorbs
The unpredicted inevitable knocks and tears.

Rather the words writ in a rush
Hastened to publication,
The immediate cheap paper
Not worth the saving:

The leftbehind vacationhouse detritus;
The not quite worth packing for home;
The someone else’s freshmanyear surveyclass albatross,
Borne till it could be misplaced in a move

To wash up not yet loved
In beachcomber thriftstores of the mind
In Simi Valley Marin Moscow or Iowa City

Priced to sell
With four neat Roman Xs
Stamped across the pagetops.

 

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Often in Error, Never in Doubt

(for Donald Trump)

John Skelton

John Skelton
put his hat of felt on
put his pants and belt on
and his shoes of leather
meet for any weather.
His outfit put together
no hesitation whether
he should go outside—
Aye! I shall! He cried!
And with furious stride
went out through the wide
open front door.
Never yet before
had traveler set out
with fewer pangs of doubt
and such a shout!

 

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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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Nobody ever went to jail

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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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Ariel

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Later some said
You’d all along been practicing for dead
But I believe it wasn’t in you
To practice what you thought you knew;
You thought yourself wise and were
Already plotting your rise.

 

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Edna St. Vincent Millay (a clerihew)

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Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare…

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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

One supposes she meant to imply that people who do maths
Have taken quite the best of all available paths
And that study of the other sciences might be eschewed
If one wished for a chance to see Beauty nude.

But I wonder what she’d have said had she lived to learn
About the physicists at CERN
Who have managed to catch the Higgs Boson
Without any clothes on?

 

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Paradise (pt.10)

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One walked in silence,
remembering Paradise,
Mourning for Paradise,
the Paradise that was in desire,
and remains in desire,
Stones gathered together never to be used aright,
Paradise too long in the building,
Ruin of nothing,
lapped by the sea,

Surge of the sea…

* * *

“‘No ideas but in things,’
Bill Williams said,

“But as for me,
& I’ve minted a slogan or 2
in my day,
slogans thick as money,
words heavy as coins

& would have minted more
had my time not come…

“But as for me,
let me assure you,
“There are ideas
and not only in things,
“There is nothing easier than to get ideas,
let me assure you,
let me assure you of this.”

* * *

What can only be communicated in silence,
Darkness and silence….

 

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Paradise (p.9)

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Little-read now,
but in truth little-read even in his time;
And less loved,
but known for those who loved him in his time.
And the great tower
which was to have reached as high as Heaven
Undercut — or top-heavy,
or with too weak a foundation, —
Too long in the building, in any case.

The sea which gnaws at the land
The land which fills up the sea

* * *

And now in Venice, antique city,
All history encrusted upon her,
and in all her long impatience a kind of patience at last visible,
Pearl of the middle-world,
Her treasures flotsam, flotsam her art,
her history flotsam;
Her citizens flotsam, borne to the edge of the world…

And now, in Venice, what thoughts?

But to have envisioned Paradise
Though the hand was not the eye’s equal;
And to have approached the shoals of Paradise,
Of the chosen island, the site where the great building should take place,
Braved the reefs, stone to tear out a ship’s belly;
To have heard the waves crash and the susurrus,
Sea-surge, waves on the stones,
Day-long, night-long, as ever, so now,
And to have made a start anyway, though never an ending,
Is this a little thing?

“Bill Williams said you had a mystic ear, did you know?”
“He never said that to me. No, I never heard that.”
“A mystic ear, he said. Never a word wrongly chosen,
Never a word misplaced.”

Silence then, the old man perhaps pleased for a while…

But to have had a vision,
To have felt in one’s hand the heft of the stone,
To have made a beginning of things, —
Though on a too-narrow foundation,
The stone on stone laid too high,
Stone laid on stone, and on stone,
The vision made real,
which could not stand the weight of being made real,
Art outstripped by fancy…

 And to have had such a vision,
And to have made such a start

Is this a little thing?
Is this insignificant?

A start, never an ending.
And here, and here…
what thoughts, shaped in silence?

 

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