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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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

ON THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS

ON THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS

~after seeing Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” for perhaps the seventh time

Where did all the angels go

who used to descend,

used to declare.

They can’t comprehend,

bound to heaven.

 

There’s nothing left of them

but scattered feathers.

Nothing celestial cares.

Heaven’s tethers

long ago dissolved.

 

Accusing god is fine,

whose matters have evolved,

or who isn’t even there,

or resolved,

no matter what, to make us care.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

If the door has blown closed, open it.

You do not need a key.

Feed the birds.

There is seed in the blue jar.

 

Pick the apples, eat the cherries.

Make wine from the grapes.

Do not eat the yellow pears

for they are bitter.

 

The garden is full

of deep green weeds.

Cook them in oil.

They will make you strong.

 

When dew shines on the leaves

go out and wet your feet.

The copper basin holds rainwater

to wash your hair.

 

Milk the goats

at sunrise and sunset.

Drink what you like

and make the cheese.

 

The dogs will kiss

you awake.

The cats will sing

you to sleep.

 

They will tell you

what they wish to eat.

They will tell you

what to dream.

 

At midnight,

the owls will come.

The great gray owl

will speak. Listen.

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

 

about the path in the forest

and what you’d find if you strayed.

How manners matter,

respect for elders, kindness

to strangers, even giving them

your last crumb. When it comes

to the point, respect, too, for animals,

because you never know.

About how careful you must be

when you make promises and

what happens if you don’t keep them.

How dangerous it is to offend old women.

(Never, ever, offend old women.)

They told what happened

if you lied, stole from the poor.

They told what always happened

to people who wanted to be like god.

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

THE GREEDY FISHERMAN

~after the Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time, there was a fisherman who lived in a vinegar jug by the seaside. Every day he went out fishing. Some days he caught enough fish to sell, some days he caught only enough to eat, some days he caught nothing.

But one beautiful morning, when the sea was calm and the sun was shining brightly, he caught a little golden fish, the likes of which he had never seen. “Ah,” he thought to himself, “I can sell this fish for a pretty penny.”

But as he pulled the hook from the fish’s mouth, the fish spoke. “Fisherman! If you let me go, I will grant you a wish. Anything you desire.”

Of course the fisherman had never heard a fish speak. “Why should I let you go?” he said.  “I can sell you and get rich! A golden fish that talks!”

“But you can wish for all the riches you like,” said the fish, “if you let me go.”

“Well, all right,” said the fisherman, who still did not quite trust the fish. “I would like a nice cottage instead of a vinegar jug.”

“Go home then,” said the fish. “It is as you wished.”

So the fisherman rowed his little boat home, and there, just as the fish had said, was a little cottage where the vinegar jug had been. There were two rooms, the kitchen with a good stove and a neat table, all complete, and a bedroom with a neat cot covered with a featherbed. Outside was a bit of garden, with cabbages and onions planted in rows. The fisherman was well pleased, and for many days he lived contented in his cottage.

But one day he began to think, “Why did I not ask for a mansion? Surely the fish could have granted me that. I’ll go back and see.”

He rowed his little boat back out into sea. There were clouds over the sun, and ripples in the water, but the fisherman was used to bad weather. He rowed out to where he had first caught the fish, and he called, “Fish! Fish! I have another wish!”

The fish immediately poked its head from the water, and the fisherman thought it looked a bit larger than it had at first.  “Yes? What is it?” asked the fish.

“I would like a mansion. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” said the fish, “I can. Go back home and you will have a mansion.”

The fisherman rowed home, and there where the cottage had been was a big stone mansion with beautiful gardens and a barn and a stable full of horses and carriages. The mansion had a hundred rooms and a great hall and a gallery and servants to look after it all. The fisherman was very pleased. He liked the beautiful things in the mansion, and he liked telling the servants what to do. And he stopped going down to the sea to fish.

And one day, after he had ordered his servants to prepare a bath and a picnic lunch for him, and had watched them busy themselves with his orders, he thought, “I could be king. If I were king, I would have more servants, and the lords and ladies all around would have to obey me, too. I will order my yacht to take me back to the fish, and I will tell it that I want to be king.”

So he ordered his yachtsman to make ready, and down to the sea he went. The sky was covered in cloud then, and there were whitecaps on the water, but the fisherman was not worried at all. He knew about all kinds of weather. “Fish! Fish!” he called. “I have another wish!”

The fish appeared then, poking her head out of the water. Yes, she was definitely larger than before, thought the fisherman, but the fisherman did not worry. As he grew more powerful, he thought, of course the fish would grow, too.  “What do you want? the fish asked.

“I want to be king,” said the fish.

“Of course you do,” said the fish. “Go back now. You are king.”

The fisherman had the yacht bring him back to the shore, and sure enough, the mansion was gone and in its place was a castle. It had a moat, and towers and flags flying in the brisk wind. The fisherman was greeted at the shore by a herald blowing a trumpet, and by a golden coach pulled by eight white horses, and the people lining the road waved and cheered as he passed on his way.

The castle was as magnificent as he could have imagined, and he was attended by lords and ladies who were happy to do his bidding. He had fine food to eat and fine clothes to wear, and wanted for nothing. But one day. . . “If I were emperor,” thought the fisherman, I would have kings and queens to attend me instead of mere lords and ladies. I will go back to the fish and tell it that I want to be emperor.

So he ordered his royal fleet to escort him to the spot where he had first met the fish. The wind was high and the rain had started to fall when they reached the spot, so the fisherman had his herald blow a trumpet to summon the fish.

She reared out of the water before him, half the size of his royal ship. “What is it now?” she asked.

“I want to be emperor,” said the fisherman. “Make me emperor.”

“Go,” said the fish. “You are emperor.”

This time when the fisherman disembarked, he was met by six golden coaches, each with a king or queen inside. His own coach was three times larger than their coaches, and was pulled by twenty black horses. As the kings and queens escorted him back to the palace that had taken the place of his castle, the people again lined the road and waved and cheered. It was raining and the wind was howling, and it pleased the fisherman that the people were standing in the rain to greet him.

And so his life went on. Kings and queens waited on him, and did his bidding. Anything he wished to have, he had, anything he wished to do, he did, and no one could stop him, or even stand in his way. But one morning as he looked out the window of his private chamber, he saw the sun shining over his lands, and he said, “I would like to make the sun come up when I want it to. I want to make it set at my pleasure. I want to be god.” The kings and queens attending him were horrified, but they said nothing. The fisherman ordered his coach and attendants to take him to the sea, and his imperial fleet went with his imperial flagship out into the water. The clouds were towering, and the rain falling in great sheets, and the wind was blowing a gale. Two of the ships in his fleet were capsized and the sailors drowned, but the fisherman did not mind. He himself stood at the bow of the ship and called the fish. “I command you!” he shouted. “Come forth!”

The fish emerged from the water, her great golden form looming above the ship. Everyone but the fisherman fell to their knees. “What do you want?” said the fish.

“I want to be god!” said the fisherman.

“Go then,” said the fish. “Go.” And the fish slid back into the water. The sea was suddenly dreadfully calm, and the ships vanished, and the fisherman found himself on the shore where there was no palace, or castle, or mansion or cottage. There was nothing but a vinegar jug, and there the fisherman lived alone for the rest of his days.