Palm Trees in a Parking Lot
I summon courage to the bench and zip a pair of summer shorts. What is just below the hem explains why I could wish for blind. Bullet belts of barreled mirrors. My stump a mugger wearing nylons pressed around the ears of shame. High-heeled dreams of Cinderella. Palm trees in a parking lot. Dressing for my wedding vows would tear me up and spit me out. As Mother put it on the table, “You can’t wander down the aisle in hiking boots or saddle shoes or sneakers with their sloppy tongues just hanging there below the lace.” She didn’t get the compromise: to wear a pair of fancy shoes would throw me off the balance beam; wooden legs and driftwood bones would never have a graceful place. We took a set of ugly flats and tied them on like saddle bags. I was certain, over-come in sticky bubble-gum of thinking everyone was looking down. My dress would have to drag the floor, even if I tripped and fell. The coral reefs of crippledom were cowboy boots with spurs attached. Weathered toes like turtle heads avoiding judgment’s alligators. Hunchbacks in a corner hiding. Praying when I climbed the stairs, the camera-man would be at lunch.Spanked by Shock
The March of Dimes for charity. Her presence, they thought, some rough-hewn flavor of a cruel joke. A crippled girl just doesn’t do it. Swallow thirty miles of gravel. Without a leg. Weak hinges of stolen parts. Acquiescing to her pride, they let her go and planned to have a car on the path when she dropped, but she kissed earth only when the eyes of their backs were turned, recovered in the space of an urgent blink. Vans were useless candy-stripers wandering caves of hospital floors. Pity drove the sponsor party. A poor librarian offered wafers of ten dollars a mile, came home poorer, spanked by shock to learn that she had made a mangled seventeen, not just one or two in weak. Determination’s oxygen was nitrous oxide etherizing spots as raw as pounded meat. She walked ‘til the blood scored its own streams in the Picasso of suffer. It’s sometimes hard to fathom the draw of transfusing dreams. That limping is Spring. Running is Summer. Falling is Autumn. Winter: a chair. Pregnant with pain. Delivering try. Sweat, sweet eucalyptus leaves-- anemic will was slow, but there.Warts on Dirt
Old tin tubs for stashing mail. Thumbs protruding from the gravel. Haystacks rolled in spools of threads. On the overpass sat a hamburger joint: the scent of grease and fake orange cheese. Traffic smacked its cracking lips of speeding up to stop again. Ads on billboards sold Master Card, cruises, and waterbeds. It was the river we missed. Cars--stone warts on dirt. My hips were sore from motionless. Autumn’s khaki waffle flesh like parchment tan of ice cream cones. Leaves fell from pages of an old piano book. Worldly angst, an oar-less kayak swimming upstream with the rush of greed and little else. Urban noise--a rude, rude wrinkle of brown paper bags when God was busy on the phone, straining to hear a season stretch its wings. I, like others, guilty of walking gums of the earth in rotted teeth of an old sedan.
If I were a Cockroach
I'd choose to live at sea, aboard a cargo ship of the U.S. Merchant Marine. I'd like to fall from an overhead vent, into the skipper's salad at evening chow. I'd be a small marine catastrophe. At night I'd creep deep inside the chief mate's ear, where I'd be an unreachable tickle. I'd want a perfect death: squashed by the second mate's parallel rules, streaking my pastel parts and dark juices across a nautical chart of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, twenty miles or fifteen centimeters due east of Nantucket Island, where my ancestors tickled the skins of whaling ship sailors.
Once when the moon was out about three-quarters and the fireflies who are the stars of backyards were out about three-quarters and about three-fourths of all the lights in the neighbourhood were on because people can be at home, I took a not so innocent walk out among the lawns, navigating by the light of lights, and there there were many hundreds of moons on the lawns where before there was only polite grass. These were moons on long stems, their long stems giving their greenness to the centre of each flower and the light giving its whiteness to the tops of the petals. I could say it was light from stars touched the tops of flowers and no doubt something heavenly reaches what grows outdoors and the heads of men who go hatless, but I like to think we have a world right here, and a life that isn't death. So I don't say it's better to be right here. I say this is where many hundreds of core-green moons gigantic to my eye rose because men and women had sown green grass, and flowered to my eye in man-made light, and to some would be as fire in the body and to others a light in the mind over all their property.
1. About the Dead Man's Not Telling
The dead man encounters horrific conditions infused with beauty.
He looks and sees, dare you see with his unblinkered eyes.
He sniffs and ingests, dare you do the same as he.
He hears and feels, dare you secure such stimuli and endure the heart.
He sets foot on the anomalies, he traverses the interior laden with the screams
of witnesses underfoot.
He walks among the pines crackling with the soon-to-be-broken backs of new life.
He freely rests among the appetites of the unsatisfied.
He bites off the head of the Buddha.
The dead man has seen bad Buddhahood.
He has doubled back, he has come around, he has cut across,
he has taken the long shortcut.
What is out there, that germinates?
The dead man knows that there is no luck but dumb luck, no heart
that will not skip, no pulse that does not race.
Things go, time goes, while the dead man stays.
2. More About the Dead Man's Not Telling
Has not the dead man asked a basic question?
Did he not lie in the crib like a question mark without a sentence?
Did he not encode the vitality of roots, the beauty of leaves,
the kinetics of branches, the rapture of the sun,
the solace of the moon, even the hollow that shapes the seed?
The dead man is the one to ask when there is asking.
Those who invest in the past or future shall forfeit the dead man's objectivity,
his elasticity strung from down-and-dirty to up-and-ready.
When the oracle spoke, the dead man listened like a shell.
When the quixotic signalled from the wood, the dead man grasped
the new life that needed no more plasma than the dew.
How comely the horrific consequences, how amiable the gorgeous advantage
of the newly born.
Things go, time goes, but the dead man goes nowhere without you.
You who told him know what is on the dead man's mind.
You at the fringe, the margin, the edge, the border, the outpost, the periphery,
the hinterland, you at the extremity,
you at the last, counterpoised, have caught the inference.
The dead man counts by ones and is shy before your mildest adoration
Sounds of the Resurrected Dead Man's Footsteps (#6)
Oh, said a piece of tree bark in the wind, and the night froze.
One could not have foreseen the stoppage.
I did not foresee it, who had expected a messiah.
No one had yet dared say that he or she was it--target or saviour.
In the slippage between time and the turning planet, a buildup of dirty
grease made movement difficult.
Time slowed down while events accelerated.
The slower the eye moved, the faster events went past.
The raping and pillaging over time became one unending moment.
Nazis, who would always stand for the crimes of culture, clustered
in public intersections, awaiting deliveries.
The masses would turn in the Jews.
From the officers' quarters could be heard the beautiful Schubert.
And in the camp there was the grieving tenor of the cantor.
The one rose and the other sank.
Today, one can stroll in the footsteps of those who walked single file
from this life.
Often I stand in the yard at night expecting something.
Something in the breeze one caught a scent of as if a head of hair
had passed by without a face.
Whatever happens to us from now on, it will come up from the earth.
It will bear the grief of the exterminated, it will lug itself upwards.
It will take all of our trucks to carry the bones.
But the profane tattoos have been bled of their blue by the watery loam,
additives for worms.
Often I stand in the yard with a shovel.
I am the poet of skulls without why or wherefore.
I didn't ask to be this or that, one way or another, just a young man of words.
Words that grew in sandy soil, words that fit scrub trees and beach grass.
Sentenced to work alone where there is often no one to talk to.
The poetry of skulls demands complicity of the reader, that the reader
put words in the skull's mouth.
The reader must put water and beer in the mouth, and music in the ears,
and fan the air for aromas to enter the nostrils.
The reader must take these lost heads to heart.
The reader must see with the eyes of a skull, comb the missing hair of the skull,
brush the absent teeth, kiss the lips and find the hinge of the tongue.
Yes, like Hamlet, the Jew of Denmark before Shakespeare seduced him.
It is the things of the world which rescue us from the degradations of the literati.
A workshirt hanging from a nail may be all the honesty we can handle.
I am beloved of my hat and coat, enamoured of my bed, my troth renewed
each night that my head makes its impression on the pillow.
I am the true paramour of my past, though my wife swoons at the snapshots.
Small syringe the doctor left behind to charm the child.
Colourful yarmulke that lifted the High Holy Days.
Writings on Walls
(First published in The Spectator)
The ones you can read are fakes, really the genuine don't communicate, don't name; you may guess at a letter or two, but you are wrong, don't fall into self-deceiving. Only the fakers are caught, fined, cleared off the streets with their sprays, only they fall onto the high voltages, fall under last of the late night, first of the early morning trains; "person under train" (without legs, you may shudder). The mainline - so to say - imagemakers are otherworldly and descend in squadrons to hover before the walls, bridges, brandnew garage doors, carriage-sides, you know the places. Floaters invisible, they keep trying - predicting, warning - giving otherworld-weary directions, they hope, to us (the deluded, suicidal, murderous illiterati). Throughout the quiet hours they labour at their grotesqueries, their inflated, distorted, overlapping Linear Z syllabaries, duplicating, revising, updating their wasted starshine warnings that we solvent-swill, but never quite destroy, and never understand, at great, and growing fatally, expense.Every Dog....
(First published in Staple First Editions)
It was a good long day, it's true, but I thought not extraordinary. Yes, there was sunshine, but also a sprinkle of rain, and thunder moved somewhere, keeping its distance. I wasn't bitten at all, I only ran into a nip or two. The mastiffs, and other gnashers and tearers, were indoors or dashing themselves in vain against strong fences. For ages I ranged almost free of care. I found a fairsized meaty pie - not too stale nor too much paddiwack - tastily gulpable, and no call for growling. The females I snuffed were well-bred and friendly. A brindlebrown proffered a close encounter. We shared a minute of standfast joy till she hopped weak-kneed away - no doubt her squeal showed satisfaction. The sun went cloudy down at the end, as it often does, the thunder rumbling less and cracking more. It never came to a storm. Wish I'd known its standing, that it was The One, that passable day I thought not special. I'd have given it closer attention. I'd have fully relished that handraised pastry, and the several streetside fragrances. I'd have rolled longer in that golden horseshit. Wish I'd tried again for that brindled lass - she had such a sweet caramel eye. I think perhaps she glanced back over her warm shoulder, before she jogged jaunty across the pell-mell highway, to lose herself among the others, romping.The House
(First published in Sycamore Broadsheet No 30)
Where, before him so many left leaving album-ovalled eyes crumpled hats, dead Sunday books unhandled, dinted, blunted tools He remembers an egg-blue box and its bow -- sweet laid-up daughter chocolates ten years dry-whitening He remembers how throughout that house under faded covers, backs and borderings he'd find still-bright colours varnishes, gilts old hidden immaculates part-parcelled and preserved He remembers a deep shelf set in a tall staircase wall that he'd quickly feel every single goodnight over as he climbed shadowy steep to bed but never touch on something once kept, he remembers that he somehow somewhere glimpsed in the house but glancing missed back in that long-emptied and fallen place Freedoms diminish in quiet ways Send him even now a particular wind and the branch at his window scratches in always the same downward arc with always the same stiff twisting.