HOTEL POEM, 5:30 A.M.

HOTEL POEM, 5:30 A.M.

Terrible coffee from the machine in the bathroom—

it’s too early for terrible coffee from the lobby.

I can write by the bathroom light

if I sit in this chair by the door.

John still sleeps.

All night I kept waking

and drifting off again trying to remember

the words to “The Highwayman,”

who kept morphing into Paul Revere.

Romantic figures on horseback—

one all fiction, one nearly so.

Revere did not ride into Concord, for example,

and he already knew they were coming by sea.

And there were two men in the North Church tower

sending the signal in case the riders didn’t make it.

But “The Somerset, British man of war” was real,

and when they rowed across the bay, they—

he was not alone in that boat— were afraid

they would be seen “just as the moon rose.”

Who cares?

The nameless  highwayman, on the other hand—

well, the musket drives me crazy.

How could Bess reach the trigger if the musket

was beside her and her hands were behind her?

And wouldn’t the trigger be too close to the floor

for a woman “tied up to attention” to reach?

Maybe someone on some online forum

could explain, but I’d rather

think about that than a few other things

I can name, but won’t. In the meantime,

Will “the people” waken in this “hour

of darkness and peril and need”?

Or stand around “dumb as a dog”?

Except dogs are hardly ever dumb.

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OMEGA

OMEGA

. . .that which is sought transcends all knowledge, 

being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility 

as by a kind of darkness

~Gregory of Nyssa

 

Light through the grisaille illuminates

Omega on the shabby wooden altar.

What we’ve called “God”

or something like, is disappearing

into a cloud of galaxies

and unanswered prayer, or devolving

into fire and air and trees.

 

Some of us are here, bound in ritual.

Who knows what we believe?

Some of us have been around outside

and turned, or turned back,

hearing the echo of a name.

We murmur the ancient creed.

The psalms are full of mercy and blood.

 

Angels have descended and grown small,

their voices turned to syrup, or tin.

Shall we yet fear not?

A dead Jesus hangs on his cross,

between the guttering candles.

The cup is emptied and filled.

We make our humble offerings to the dark.

OLD GODS

OLD GODS

Eventually everyone abandons

old gods. The Romans did, the Greeks, the Goths.

Poor Jupiter, sad Gaut— swallowed like Metis,

or like Persephone, exiled underground.

Great Pan is dead. There is nothing new under

Helios, or Ra, or any ball

of burning gas. Old gods, all gods, are

nothing but constructions of finitude.

What is, defies each attempt. Even

the atheists fail, their ridicule grasping

straw. But still, transcending all the light

of each imagined form, outlying limits

of sense, that surface of last scattering—

there is nothing but a kindlier dark.

WRITERS’ BLOCKS

 

WRITER’S BLOCKS

1.

Mile high glass mountain.

Enthroned on the peak

the jeering Muse in her Unattainable Princess mode.

She is eating a melon, spitting out the seeds.

 

2.

Basaltic monolith set down by an alien god

in the middle of the narrow way

between the abyss and the infinite seething swamp

 

3.

Fierce dark angel with a sword thin as a laser

darting to and fro, to and fro,

severing all connections

the strands of the web

synapses in my brain

sinews in my hand

 

4.

Little wooden cubes

painted with apples, balls, clowns,

letters upper and lower case

A

B

C

 

The Kept Writer, July, 2002

ALTERNATIVES

ALTERNATIVES

1.

I ate the fish,

though it offered me anything I wanted.

I wanted something to eat,

so I snapped its neck and brought it home.

My wife made soup with a few wild greens.

If she’d known, she would have fussed.

She wants more.

I want less.

Enough to eat,

a roof over my head.

My little boat,

and the water, and the air.

 

2.

I was Vasilisa the fair, destined

to marry the tzar.

I carried Mother’s blessing

like a little doll in my pocket.

I did all the witch required.

I was on the edge of safety,

but I did not heed the doll’s trembling

and I asked about the hands.

Now the doll lies at the bottom of a well

and those disembodied hands are mine,

and the white bones in the fence,

the mortar and pestle,

the chest of wonders.

The skull above the door.

 

3.

When they left for the ball

and the house was quiet,

I went into the garden

and stood beneath the tree

on Mother’s grave.

Stars, a thin moon—

the sky all silver and blue.

Through the silence,

my Mother spoke,

gentle, like a dove.

She told me what to take,

where to go.

Now I’m old,

in my cottage with my cat,

content as any queen.

Why would I want

to be queen, when I have

a gown of moonlight,

a crown of stars?

 

4.

Here, my dear,

is the little hood I wore

when I was a girl.

And here is the little basket

I carried when I went

to see my granny.

I’ve put some cookies

in the basket.

Don’t eat them all

on your way home.

 

5.

It was difficult at first,

that other woman’s daughter,

so lovely and so spoiled.

She resented me, though I told her

I would never try

to take her mother’s place.

(I’d had a stepmother, too,

and I knew how it was.)

When she ran away,

her father and I searched everywhere.

We found her in the forest

with those little men—

you can imagine what he thought

though she insisted all was well.

She would not come home,

though her father pleaded,

offered her dresses, jewels, a prince,

anything she desired.

I told him to let her be.

She was old enough

to make her own way,

strong enough to survive.

When we left her there,

her father said it was like

leaving her in a coffin.

I told him to wait,

and I was right.

She came home

not long afterwards.

It was easier then,

as if we’d become allies,

which, I suppose, we were.

 

6.

On my sixteenth birthday

I climbed the stairs into the west tower.

There was an old woman there,

turning a wheel.

A thin thread formed under her hand,

like magic. She invited me to try,

but I don’t believe in magic,

so I thanked her,

and went back down to the party.

 

7.

Every day, I am thankful

for this generous goose.

Without her, all of us here

would still be poor.

THINGS SHE DID

THINGS SHE DID

Once I was a fisherman

until I caught the talking fish

and ate it—against its objections—

and now I cannot speak

of anything but blue.

 

Once I was a bookbinder

until I bound a volume

of verses about flowers.

Now I am trapped by fragrances

and the lullabies of bees.

 

I was a grave-digger

alone among the stones

with the cool earth around me

until all I could do was

sing to the shovel, and the clay.

 

Once I was a weaver

but one day my fingers tangled

in the web and pulled me in.

Now I go on and on,

a tapestry of knot and scrap.

THE FEAST OF ST. FRANCIS: leaving facebook, part I

THE FEAST OF ST. FRANCIS: leaving facebook, part I

It is right that on this day–

remembering his nakedness, his simplicity,

his begging bowl, the broken church,

the wolf and the birds, the peach–

I should separate my worldly self

from so much busyness, should turn

away from a virtual world.

The real one compels.

The last crickets.

Coyotes in the dark.

The moon rising as the sun sets.