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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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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Siddhartha as a boy is willful

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Siddhartha as a boy is willful:
shirks his chores and doesn’t listen
to his Mom — who maybe knows,
but doesn’t really care that his en-

lightenment one day inspires
a needful world. Instead, she’d quite
prefer Siddhartha do his homework.
Tell me (she says) this enlight-

enment, it pays? You’ll need a job,
it’s no fun living always tighten-

ing your belt, believe you me.
At least a fall-back when enlighten-

ment won’t make ends meet!  — It’s well
Siddhartha pays no mind, content
to poke about, mindfully aimless,
ambling toward enlightenment.

 

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The Hangover

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Zeus had quite a head on him
after last night’s binge
too much nectar and ambrosia
hoo boy! So this morning
when Athena in bright armor sprang
full blown, well sure
he was proud of himself
(who else could have after all?)
but honestly he could have done
without the clanking and
(Ye gods!) the glare!
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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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No story

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There were never two men named Charles
in spite of what they both said
there were never two wives of two men named Charles.
There weren’t four children of two wives of two
men named Charles, and they didn’t
have eight pets, and forget about everything
you think you know,
nobody ever gave them sixteen names
thirty-two Christmas presents
or sixty-four walks around the park.

None of that ever happened.

 

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There you were

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There you were
helping your friends
who were not yet married
before their reception
by cutting something small
smaller,
carrots or cucumbers,
something.

You were being mindful
of the knifeness of the knife
and how strange it was
not because it cut
but because of the way
it cut

and in consequence
you were working
slowly,
holding up
everything and everyone
that depended on you.

I loved you for
your mindful sluggishness,
and how you were unconscious
of your beauty
in the beautiful moment

so now
I think sometimes
how if that beautiful moment had lasted
I might have married you
and you me
and how eventually
someone else would have had to take over
for both of us.

And I think:
how lucky
one moment
doesn’t lead to the next.

 

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