Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29, 2012

Several days painting, getting ready for the show. I managed to take not too unsuccessful photos for use on the postcards, which, in my precipitous way, I have already designed and ordered. Richmond came in one day, bringing his blazing eyes with him. He lent my a copy of Kandinsky’s “On the Spiritual in Art.” It’s very gushy. I’m less impressed than I might have been because I was predestined to agree with it. Makes me want to write a big fat treatise on aesthetics, though I realize–once I begin to contemplate it–that I don’t really know what I believe on the subject. Nor should I, necessarily. It’s like a bird writing a treatise on ornithology. Maybe Kandinsky wavers between schoolgirl gush and impenetrable technicalities for the same reason. A man from Tennessee walks in another day. He talks way too much. He turns out to be a friend of JS. He gives me the latest news, which, though new, is pretty much a repeat of the last stories about him. We live life as we do. On one level, me with an art show seems presumptuous. The pathetic comfort I take is realizing I have seen very much worse, very often. A little boy–maybe three–comes into the studio and names all the animals I have painted, correctly. His mother stop can’t repeating “don’t touch. . . don’t touch. . . don’t touch. . . “ Hesitant to say, “He can touch if he wants to.”

Wondering if we will ever have real winter. My adamantine windflower has become a cloud, a host.

Set up a webpage for art and writing news, but send everyone the wrong address three times. Finally give up. For the moment. My new camera has sent me into a convulsion of recording.

On my mind all morning, in vivid, detailed flashes, are certain corners and segments of streets in London.

Il mio sole ha il sole e intorno a lui ruota obbediente

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 26, 2012

Four dogs upstairs at the studio yesterday. They were all sweet pups, but what an artist’s status symbol they have become. One becomes an artist so one can take one’s dog to work. If I took one of my cats, mayhem would be foreseeable.

Non ‘e lontana, ‘e portata di mano.

I don’t know how to make my keyboard make accent marks.

Oggi prima dell’alba, sono salito su un colle e ho guardato it cielo affollato . . .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 25, 2012

Invited to AWP in Chicago to read fiction, and to be a “presenter” at Rowe , in Massachusetts, for The Sun. Turned down AWP because of Malta (though it would have been otherwise had they contacted me five days earlier), and will probably turn down The Sun because of Spoleto– and because I was not good the last time I did it for them. Galling, as I love to do those things, and haven’t been invited in a long time. Teaching Greek tragedy I try to convince my students that Fate never forces an action or a kind of life, though it may insure that all easy roads lead in a single direction. Let's ask Fate someday why longed-for things always come at impossible times or not at all, why the desired person is not, at the point of meeting, desiring. I picture Fate right now as a fat old plutocrat who, asked the secret of his success, holds his belly and laughs, and gives away nothing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 24, 2012

Two purple windflowers under the hard stars of morning.

JC came to my playwriting play to talk about his play that we saw together, and about the life and necessary skills of the playwright. He was wise and eloquent, and I thought, if he indeed wished to be one, that he is not a full-time academic is a pity. It’s gratifying to bring someone in who says all the same things you yourself have been saying. New student in class, languid and not fully present, non-participating, having missed the first two weeks of class and the play we were all discussing, who has never thought about theater but signed up for the class because she thought it might be “fun.” Later she reveals that she is pregnant, but needs to finish the semester because it’s already paid for, and she needed my class because if she’s not full-time, all her loans become due, or some such thing. There’s no end of contempt we endure for our life’s work, on one side from busy-work imposing, micro-managing administration, on the other from students who are so oblivious to their affect that they’ll tell you in precise detail how they are gaming you. She doodled a sort of deformed weightlifter all through class, though I am a great doodler myself, and really can say nothing. I think she thought I would think she was beautiful. Another drinks out of a huge flagon of water all through class, and must, therefore, leave class THREE TIMES to visit the restroom. One sighs and looks away.

Met J after his sojourn in China. He brought a waif to my office who talked a blue streak about I forget now what. The waif had the most amazing eyebrows, and the forward lean to her of people who are chronically ill.

Last night, peaceful sleep, but the night before, the most violent dreams I remember, ever, and the violence done by me. I beat with my angry fists–in the dream– the most surprising array of people. I’ve tried to figure out the implied antipathy, but come up with nothing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 21, 2012

Current favorite poem: sonnet #31 from Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella.”

Gingrich wins in South Carolina. Of course, I’m for anything that causes dismay and discord among the elephants, and I do appreciate Gingrich’s impatience with the media, but he is, ultimately, even more terrifying than Romney, for I sense in Romney a moral grain–even if one antithetical to mine–but in Gingrich only the will to power.

Much painting today, good progress on several fronts. At noon I was embedding crow feathers in deep impasto. In the dark of evening I was painting a particularly fierce wolverine on a ground of flowing cloth, held to the canvas with acrylic medium. Writing is never accidental or fortuitous; painting sometimes is, adding interest to the hours spent alone in the studio. I still miss Jason’s company. It’s different painting with another, and, aside from the perils of being subjected to the wrong music, better. Though I can’t converse and write, I can and would prefer to converse and paint. The glassblowers blare this amazing techno trance music from across the library. I actually like it, though I have to close my door against the volume. I think this is the first evening painting I’ve done in that space. Of course, in the dark, the wild thing come out of the river, and one must be very careful.

K and I collaborate on a project involving braille and Thoreau. I remember when we shared studio space determining to make him my friend. That happened, but at no time did I actually understand his mind. It seems very mathematical, almost computer-like, and the work he’s doing now a working out to some extreme decimal a few simple ideas. His worksmanship and perfectionism are remarkable, and unapproachable to one such as myself, who thinks the work is done when it says–to me–what I wanted it to say. I never repeat, even when I should. His work IS repetition, dots, loops, whatever has struck him at the time, extended into epics, into dispensations. I am mostly idea with just enough execution to get the point across. His ideas are fascinating, but his execution approaches the level of fanaticism. I honor it, if I can’t quite share it. He’s the one who’s making money at it.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 20, 2012

Classes still a kick, windflower still blooming, soon to be joined by a sister, if the bud is allowed to flower.

Went to the theater to see Fight Girl Battle World. Inadvertently walked through a movie set on the street and had a flustered AD chasing after me. When he caught me he opened his mouth, then turned to the center of his group and said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.” I love Asheville. As I was early I stopped for a martini at Zambra’s, where I watched MS moving about all curly-headed and handsome with his red shirt and serving tray. Delicious drink, too.

As for the play, the script was awful, and, being a writer, that’s the major thing I bother about. It was derivative, bland, at no point sparked by any memorable jeu or discovery. It depended for laughs almost entirely on knowing references to popular culture icons like Star Trek, and if you didn’t know those references the evening would have been baffling. But, the production was sensational, high energy acting, and directing that made better than the most out of each shoddy moment provided by the script. I had gone because student friends were in it, and they covered themselves with glory. BA looked so sexy in his space hero costume that I couldn’t stop smiling. Despite their labor, I was heavy bored before the end. I guess I wasn’t the play’s ideal audience, though not a particularly bad one, either. I love all those old shows, and can endure camp for a little while. Nevertheless, I would go again to a dozen like it to make sure plays like it keep being staged. There’s destined eventually to be a jewel among the zombies and laser wars and vampires.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 19, 2012

Disintegrating crescent of moon. The car looks like it had been shot with diamonds. On the subject of the car, last night after choir one of my choir mates bashed–lightly–into the back of it. It may have been inadvertent, but it didn’t look like it, as she eased forward, stopped, eased forward again until they bumped. She was trying to get out of her parking space, yes, but she had about a hundred yards to back up in. No damage; said nothing.

The man making breakfast at church on Sunday stays I my mind. I have always admired his lively family and his own personal beauty. He looked so happy making the community breakfast, grinning from ear to ear. He was in a horrible accident a few days ago, with a torn aorta and multiple fractures. If I were a medieval poet I would have a field day on the subject of mutability.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 17, 2012

Chall and Sebastian at Posana last night. Many of my students were there, but most arrived at the edge of prompt, ordered dinner, which arrived just as the reading was about to begin, therefore entered past the middle of the reading. Where do people learn manners anymore? Maybe they just don’t, relying on what they feel to be good intentions to ease them through every situation. Loved C’s fiction, noir and clean-cut. S’s poetry will be good to talk about in class, for it was clear the two readers had very different senses of audience.

On the radio an account of Italian neo-fascists who call themselves “Casa Pound,” honoring Pound at their forebear. O, Alas! cried my heart. Pound’s politics and economics are interesting on paper, maybe even a little valiant, but in practice they have been associated with such horrors that one cringes when the subject is so much as brought up.

Drinks at Sazerac before going home. I had intended to go to a program by the people who shafted me in Lear, to show good will is restored–but, in fact, it isn’t.

Blessed, blessed windflower, still enduring.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 16, 2012

I bless Martin Luther King for giving me this day off.

Pot-luck last night convivial, the P-D’s new room gorgeous. My attitude at the pot-luck was uncharacteristically good; I let two opportunities to flee away pass by before I finally did. I enjoyed making my dish. In the larger world, I have taken up three musical instruments since Christmas, since September added serious wine scholarship to my list of hobbies, found satisfaction in preparing manuscripts for submission, re-discovered pleasure in preparing for my classes, even finding occasions–plays and readings–so spend MORE time with my students. Have not despaired at rehearsals. In short, I’m experiencing a revival of enthusiasm and energy greater than I’ve known for a long time– a time in which there have been, instead, many a decline and extended torpor and turning-away. I never know the whys of these things, though I assume they’re not totally random. Nothing exhausts me except physically.

Stared at as I write by the living Circe, who likes to have her nose against the computer, and by the stuffed dog I got in Galway, and the little stuffed panda I found on the Millennium Bridge in London. Maybe they are good spirits, presiding.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15, 2012

Powder of snow, and that gleam over snow in the city that makes you think it’s dawn, but it isn’t.

Excellent painting yesterday. Textured several canvases with gel medium. I took to the framers the painting “Homeward,” which is the latest, probably the last, form taken by the big hunk of plywood I bought to use as the sidewalk sign for Urthona Gallery in 1993. It had the sign on it, then sat in storage after I closed the various galleries, then was painted in bright abstract patterns on sand for the wall at Avenue M, but the hanging apparatus on the back couldn’t hold up under the weight, and broke. It sat in the studio until I conceived the idea of Rough Beasts. I redid the underpainting in neutrals, and then painted over it a little owl flying home at first of morning over a fairy tale landscape. Took it to the framers so it would hang this time. Five or six lives under that lonely little owl. I suppose I should type all this up for a prospective buyer.

Forgot until I saw the mess on the piano, but I wrote a song yesterday morning, to one of my own poems, to be accompanied by either concertina or harmonium. Used to write music a lot, but got embarrassed being around real musicians who could talk of chord spelling and augmented this and diminished that, and so hid it away, and lost the computer that had the staff-writing program. Bought that anew, thinking I shouldn’t be the only one on earth prevented by incompetence from doing what he wants to do. Look at all those Presidential candidates. Taking a fresh look at the libretto I wrote for Frank for the Jonathan opera (it’s exciting) made me hot to take up the quill again. “I can do this,” I thought, whether I can or not.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 13, 2012

Excellent first week of class. I feel different about it than I have in many semesters, eager, prepared, not anxious to do those things which you can get away with and still cut corners, new research, new angles, easy eloquence in lectures. I feel it in my creative life as well. I’ve never been what I would think of as an “experimental” writer, but I have been so in past days, and intend to be when leisure allows me to sit down and write again.

CK had a 20th Anniversary party for her firm at Highland Brewery. I may have been the only person there who was not a business. I took a tour of the distillery next door, remembering when the whole place was a hopeful film studio. Where are all those people now?

Cold under the fading moon, Venus aggressively blue low in the sky.

Took my students to the Magnetic Field for C’s new play. I think it was the first original play many of them had seen. They kept asking me, "Which one is the playwright?" The first time we get to talk about it, the playwright will be present. I would be nervous about that if the play had not been good, but I can’t imagine what they could say that would hurt his feelings. One protects oneself by being good.

SJB emails from new York that he wants to work on the Lincoln play again. I realize that I probably cannot do that unless a production date is pretty firm. It’s like dating the girl who jilted you five times before. Yes, you’re tempted, but even a sap like you has limits. . . .But, who knows how I’ll feel in the morning, or what he means by his circumspection?

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 12, 2012

Dream at waking: I am called upon to be a substitute French professor. One must wear an elaborate academic gown for this. I borrow the gown, teach the first class, which I think goes rather well. In the dream I congratulate myself for the miraculous retention of my 10th grade French. The college is my dream college, which has appeared several times; it’s like a gigantic version of my elementary school. But for the second section things are confused. I have trouble getting into the gown this time, and my hands are full of things when I start down the corridor, and I can’t look up the room number, so I start peeking into every room, to see if there are students waiting. I am waylaid in the hall by someone who wants to have sex with me. I am having the sex, wondering to what degree I wanted it and to what degree it is a rape. Then I wake.

Prodigious writing yesterday. Wrote in a new style which I may have invented, or if not that, certainly never used before. My story “The First Full Night of Winter” was “one of the top ten finalists” in Ruminate Magazine’s fiction contest. The note even gives me the name of the man I should excoriate for not giving it the prize– though, in truth, I have no recollection of either the magazine or the submission.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 11, 2012

Late afternoon under a stormy sky, winter thunder, prodigious rain. Wrote in the morning in my café notebooks, and now have before me the task of typing everything out. One day off makes me remember I’m a poet and forget I am an academic. Come tomorrow and everything turns around. I am half a dozen corners and no middle.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 9, 2012

Lengthy, peculiar dreams last night, more informed by details of actual life than my dreams usually are. In the dream I was a blond woman, though I was concerned about it, so I must not have been a woman all my life. I kept checking in mirrors to see if I looked right, kept analyzing my actions to see if they were plausible. Many details are lost now, but I seem to have been looking for, acquiring, and decorating a house. It was our house on Foxboro in Akron, though it had a view of a rocky coastline and the sea, and the interior was quite different. Through the dream crept a recurring, sinister figure. I called him the phlebotomist in the dream. I know this because I called 911 and told the cops whenever I saw him. He was a black man dressed in black, with one of those blood-taking cords in his hand. He went from house to house stealing blood, not by force, but by convincing his victims of some untrue thing. There were apparently horrible consequences connected to surrendering your blood to this man. In the last scene I was driving down Eastwood from the east, seeing the back of our house from the road, as I have done a hundred times. I saw the phlebotomist, stopped and called the cops, then I went home to a house full of beautiful antiques, looking out at the ocean. The door was open, and I looked around for signs of robbery, realizing that I had not been robbed, but that someone had unpacked my moving boxes and set the house up for me. I was glad, because their taste was better than mine, and because I was a woman, and had a vague feeling I should not be doing my own heavy lifting.

TD’s birthday celebration at his house, Got to play Transformers with August for a while. We developed a bottomless pit, and then a bottomless water that only his steam shovel and my hand spider could get over. I tend to under-praise the casually transfiguring power of a child’s imagination, because I still have it, and it strikes me as less foreign than it does some. When the guests arrived, I realized I had no inkling of TD’s life other than that part which relates to me. It was very young-marrieds with babies, and I had no idea how I was supposed to behave. Saw Tebow in action, which I gather now is the big thing. Everyone had an imitation of Tebow praying on the field. Looked very chivalric.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 8, 2012

Exceptional day painting yesterday. The day, in fact, seemed to stretch on gloriously, and I achieved more and more various things than many a day in the past. Prepared twenty-one manuscripts to send out. Giant vacation midday naps had thrown off my sleep cycle, but yesterday going all day set me back on track. Stood in the backyard at moonrise and blessed the enduring windflower.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 7, 2012

Twelfth Night celebrations ended with “movie night” with R and DJ. We ate bad-for-you food, drank too much, and gave our imaginations over to Inception, which was not what I thought it would be. Worked at the studio until everything needed to dry before I touched it again. Worked hard on the book which has changed its name, I’m not certain to what. Went to school for a while, but recoiled finally from doing any actual work. But the purple windflower expanded in the 60 degree sun, triumphant, sun-countenanced, as though he had fought tenaciously, finally, into spring. I don’t know what to do with that flower. Its hopefulness, its tenacity fill me with such strange emotions.

In the dark of the morning, before the light came, I finished The One with the Beautiful Necklaces.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 6, 2012


Went out onto the porch at 4 AM, thinking I might see some remnant of the meteor shower, though in fact I had not remembered which night it was supposed to be. It was very clear and the stars were blazing. The Big Dipper, directly above, poured its contents on Weaverville. One yellow light–Saturn? I don’t know–shown in the middle of the east. The heavens are a part of nature I studied less than others, probably because of my eyesight, so it is the case that when I do consider them, it is with a fresh eye, with delight that the things which are supposed to be there, are.

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 5, 2012

Blazing moon all around, not even full.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 4, 2012

Began a serious revision of Under Two Mountains, which dawned on me in an instant when I was talking with TD at the café this morning. Going to the Y for the pre-dawn work-out, then to Starbucks to meet him is about the only social ritual I have.

Hadn’t planned to take down the Christmas decorations today, which was a good reason to do so, to allow it to sneak up on me without too much thought. It is always grievous to me to take down the tree. I think that as long as it can be Christmas, something wonderful might happen. I’m such an animist that I tried to think of an adequate way to thank the Christmas tree for bringing me so much joy. Then I dragged it down the street so it could lie for a while with those of its own kind, rather than waiting for the trashmen alone out back.

Despite single digit temperatures and a serious snow, my purple windflower soldiers on. I should go hang a tiny Christmas bulb on its stalk.

The house is still heavy with the smell of pine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 3, 2012

My tracks were the only ones in the snow this morning.

Studio too cold to work. Serious cold everywhere, a bracing wind like an oncoming lake of ice.

Visited Marco in his new house on Jefferson Street, overlooking Clingman and what is, from there, clearly a little valley leading into the valley of the French Broad. The house is fantastic, like an article in an architecture book, clean and spacecraft-y. His taste is so austere and modern; mine is bric-a-brac beside. He made me a gift of a cactus that looks a little like a penis and balls.

I can play pieces out of the hymnal on my concertina; that is to say, without the fingering notations. My harmonium arrived today. It is simple and mysterious at once. You don’t really play a tune—

The approach of the new semester is not, at this point, a source of joy for me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 2, 2012

The Iowa raree show grinds on. And afterwards, the analyses which take idiocies at face value, as though there were really something there to analyze. And after that, New Hampshire. The media are to blame in that flat-out lies are accepted as data so long as they can be attributed. It is sloppy and vicious reporting. The worst of the worst in the political zoo are creations of the media, in that deviations from reason which do little harm in a Kiwanis Hall in Trenton are put, without critique, on the national stage and treated as though they were responsible perspectives. It is cynical, traitorous. I actually blame the media more for valorizing fibs and insanities than the candidates for originating them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Go, Song

Set myself the task of writing a sonnet a day through December, 2011. Did it. Here--

Go, Song, through This December

after Sir Thomas Wyatt


Observe that when I sang into the air
I had no reason, given all the signs,
to doubt that you would, mystically, be there
to hear love’s praises bellowed in the pines
(those that break in the storm, and do not bend).
Love, I insisted from the witness of the bards,
could not fail nor waver, nor–particularly–end.
I hear it now above the neighbors’ yards
scurrying away, turning its ruined, lovely head
to scream some parting mockery. Go, song,
wither thou wilt among the living and the dead,
utter the only truth which lasteth long:
Some are to be by love’s storm rapt and caught
and born deliciously aloft, while others–not.


In the photo I was sort of beautiful
in my receding, camera-wary way.
Oh, praise, I would have said, such tangible
readiness for love’s approach, the first blue day
when I was able, willing, could guess what to do.
I never, not even then, expected it to last.
Let me testify in praise of you
that the luster falling off you as you passed,
scented of you, rebounding as I know it did
from your stubborn parting of the sundered air,
hurled me back, of all skepticism rid,
to that moment none a second time should bear,
when all the feast was available for a song,
and on the laden table every dish was wrong.


Double Sonnet After the Unsuccessful Date

So your old boyfriend was a slob slut sick drunk
birthday-forgetting, yoga-scorning, running-back-to mama punk
hysterical-sobbing-jag inducing, dumb idle anti-dynamo
vehicular menace, roaring pissed-pants beery boy-o,
a waste of denim, Satan’s first string slam-dunk
who made you miserable and smelled like skunk–
but didn’t I see it coming? Didn’t I know
you’d take a deep breath and sob “I still love him, though.”
Why bother to note that I scrubbed, and combed my hair,
gleaned the Internet for anecdotes, changed my underwear,
reset the scope of expectations for your sake,
kept cognizance of conversation’s give and take.
I’d like to know what a fella has to do to tear
your gaze from the burnout night-cleft of despair,
to help you heed the little twittering I make
to help you keep your sense of scale awake.
He was not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.
Drunken stupor is not revery.
I drove here through the shout of traffic stereophonic
expecting something more than gin and tonic.
Yet will you neither for myself nor for my poetry
bring the love that warmed him in his pukes to me.
Maybe one day you’ll mourn your loved, lost comic
and one, hearing, may guess at me. Ironic.
Out my car window now sing I across the darkened land
in measure bitter, in measure cruel and grand
how I offered myself, fairly immaculate, not quite a wreck, a man,
to hear you murmur sadly, “You will never understand.”


Go, song, into the frostbitten garden,
murmuring Love and Love over the stricken roses.
Tell the brown bulbs packed so hard in
that spring will thaw them ere this chorus closes.
Tell the judging angels hovering there
at the almost-invisible edge of things
what power allows affection to repair
the silent tongue, drowned road, the broken wings.
Amid the barbs and dry stalks, alone and bent above
the ruined tendrils and the slaughtered bloom
stands yet one insanely murmuring Love and Love,
as though by murmuring of that ruined room
of heat and hope, a spirit might be coaxed at last
into blue moon’s purlieu at the Solstice’s first blast.


Let’s get this right.
This is what I pay
for a stroke of satin in the night,
for one act of the play,
for an ambiguous delight?

Not that I complain.
Not, God knows, that I refuse.
Just allow the ambushed brain
an hour or so to muse
on what is lost amid heart’s gain.

Heart testifies it’s worth each drop
of spattered blood, of tumbled wine.
Brain, uncertain, cannot call “Stop!”
until it’s sure what’s murder, and what’s mine.


Oh! To be the beautiful barista
behind the dazzling order window
at the 46th Street Dean and Deluca,
at ease, a-grin, strong arms akimbo.
--he that inspires revision of desire–
was it really espresso that we craved?
Whose eyes do brim with ambiguous fire
that can be purifying, set-apart, depraved.
Observe this: what I hope and what I know
are bound in union with a diamond band.
And so, breathless, I ask for cappuccino,
breathless receive the white cup in my hand.
I’ll dare hors d’oeuvres, or even dine, at length,
when after this I’ve gathered up my strength.


I had forgotten how the graceful mid-life
sycamores turn Bryant Park into a grove.
It’s December. North Wind’s sharpened knife
divides the rose bush from his tender trove
of pink, the sparrow from her shield of leaves.
There, a brown rat’s scurrying with a treasure,
and in the café the Spanish couples tease
the sudden smiles they’ll lingeringly remember.
The radiant heater grazes my right ear.
This turns out to be enough to make me stay,
to make me write the finish of the year
as though it were a poem begun and ended by a holiday.
Time speaks. I have to hurry onward, though
I’ve half forgotten where I had to go.


You must go into one of those shops and spend
a buck or two on scarf or blouse or some
unwearable-by-you expensive odd and end
to prove that, barring incident, you’ll come
to the embrace of arms at journey’s end.
This? The man after my own heart
mentioned it as I did depart.
This? It’s for the beauty who will wait
when I approach the arrivals gate.

But make sure to remember to divest
your shelves of all that cannot be explained
before you totter toward eternal rest
The gloves, the picture frame, the silken vest,
ungiven, mock from the heap of what remained.


Permit me before this winter dawn to send
a message to those who wonder what my business is:
blank page. . . . blank page. . . blank page. There is no end
of blank, blank pages, until there is.
Of course it is no occupation for a man.
No good comes of it, not diamond, not treasure found
Perhaps I do remember how it all began.
Perhaps too close to sense the winding-down.
Oh, but those monuments of fulfilled desire,
when new life sprang from the lip of a pen,
between the rose and the knot of fire,
and one was whom he wanted, then.
Listen, the next stroke might be utter night.
Permit me turn my back, and write.


I feel like Tennyson interrupting “In Memoriam”
every few pages to tell a Christmas story
where the snow is like the ash of a crematorium
and the bells with their leaden and peremptory
tolling toll out–well, something illimitably sad.
Except I’m not particularly under it at all.
The lights are hung, tree trimmed, the tidings glad.
Still, all that mirth retains its power to appal.
One does not dispute that something is amiss,
though one does not quite venture to define.
One needs to let the loved go with final kiss,
especially now, with festal senses tingling the spine.
You’ll fear the sky is lead, the gaudy tree is dying.
Ring out, wild bells, set the wild echoes flying.


Go, Song, tell of the chains that bind us,
broken here, and here, rusted along each link.
Foretell where the probing sun will find us
when day stands on the New Year’s brink.
You were too wise to sing of love in its youth
when vows were swift as streams and any sweet
protestation might be taken for the truth.
Now the zenith and the midnight meet
and no one is sure who has the upper hand,
whether exhaustion or ardor has the victory.
It is, my sweet, a wide and dangerous land
that lies before. I don’t suggest you follow me.
The ripened fruit has broken from the vine.
Go, song, cry “Love!” the thousandth time.


The broken instrument,
the interrupted ecstasy
are two birds of this purple night:,
two singers from deep cover.

The lovers’ sadness is that this is not
what they would sing at all.
No gardens enclosed are here,
no love-knots from the rosy lover.

Distraction. Fume and cloud,
the clear road home obscure;
silence at the phone’s ear,
the sure finality unsure.

But for an instant, shattered, overcome, however bent,
the full throat and wisdom, the all-in-all of what we meant.


When, falling, you have reached the floor
you think that you have reached the end.
But, companion, beneath the floor
the cables cross and the tunnels bend
and the gray steam like the breath of beasts
awakes in thunder, and you perceive that under
what seemed quite final lie empires more.

When you touch the last white note,
the final key, you think the lordly song must be
vanished then from every throat.
“Down” warble the hard wires and the wood,
“Down” the keys which in silence stay behind
groping through the depths for rhapsody
convincing to the downward plunging mind.


Go, song, into the night of many colors,
into the dark where there is no dark
into the tide of love where there are no lovers
but only the wounds by which lovers mark
their passage downward into history.
Oh, how could we have loved so wisely well
and come to this? It is a mystery.
How could we have stood where white stars fell
with our arms open to the yielding sky
and come away with nothing but a song?
Even that shall fade, at last, and die,
under moon too feeble and a night too long.
Hear that? I’ll whistle, and then turn away.
You can smile in your sleep until break of day.


Come into the great dome of forgetting,
my sole, my only half-forgotten dear,
where each day is a renewed begetting
and a universe-in-waiting is each year.
It’s well to shake off that which wouldn’t be
and dwell for a while in sky-blue speculation
of all that might have been our empery.
Note, love, it’s but the tiniest damnation
to have loved in truth and been deceived.
Compare that to the Tartarus, blackest, worst,
of sweet promise never having been believed,
of having seen it all descending from the first.
Under the great dome of forgetting, come.
We’ll meet again, wept clean, when night is done.


I have mentioned now to friend and foe
in matters related to the heart that I
am easily the simplest soul they know.
No bricked up walls, no skeletons, no sly
bend in corridors which seemed so straight.
This, somehow, did not suit the weather.
Intricacies of this game I’m learning late,
that “no” for “yes” and “soon” for “never”
bear power I was tardy to appreciate.
Let me catch up. Before the moonrise I’ll refuse
what I longed for, twice, and then debate
love’s left and right, down, up, to the morning dews.
Really, I was never very good at this,
trading for mastery one sweet night’s bliss.


Regard my wine-red Prius awaiting me
in the café lot, so patient, so eager,
igniting instantly after long neglect, free
with her love despite my criminally meager
grasp of things mechanical. I know
why this strange tenderness, the touch of shame
when I behold her wearing all night’s snow.
Our vision of love is apparently the same:
Let in who can unlock the door.
Wake when the driver is in the mood.
If he presses the pedal, give him more.
Keep secret your workings under the hood,
unless, of course, he lifts the latch, dives in
where all of your fame and fleetness begin.


Mother and son sit in the Mountain Java Café
over large chai and red velvet cake,
discussing how to spend a winter day–
incidentally, but quite deliberately–to make
a memory not even what comes next
can quite annihilate. She woos him.
He demurs, unfolds, radiant now, then vexed,
relaxing finally back into the dim
sweet opening of everything, when they
were mom and me, and wide smiles
never left their mouths. If I could change today
I’d be a grown man in half spent December
sitting with his mother over tea and cakes,
following gladly every tangent that she takes.


Your face is a map of Moses’ Sinai:
much wandering, little coming to rest,
beauty and exhaustion, ply on ply
upon the pathways of the wilderness.
I think when morning comes the tender light
will pour like gold into the lines, like rain caress
those riven human furrows. It was right–
if one doubted– for me to spend the winter night
in embrace, if not quite familiar, then
comfortable sufficiently for a song.
You left me once. We are observant men.
You must anticipate my leaving before long.
Love is not as timeless as I thought.
You have grown old, and I have not.


When he sat down in the vacant spot
I heard what my sour Muse would have sung,
“Despite what you’re thinking, he would not
be beautiful except that he is young.
He’d not be witty except that he’s tall,
nor gentle but for the lashes of those eyes.
He’d scarcely have a quality at all
had he not taken us by surprise.”
Be that so, I move to give him room;
he shifts to fill the sudden space,
one thing upon the other, so that soon
we are–how shall I say it?– face to face.
Let the Muse remember what I was writing then.
Praise Venus, unfinished opus, misplaced pen.


I will not hear you praised by anybody.
Even the innocent stares as you glide by
are the kind of infidelity
from which a weaker heart than mine might die.
Yet I know you slay the casual eye
and swagger through their boyish revery
like some figure out of third rate poetry
whom maturity cuts off, but will not die.
It does no good to sneer that all your worth
is beauty, for you know how beauty
is my one weakness on this rolling earth,
my paradise, my prison, my infirmary.
I’ve watched men in such a wild deep drown.
I beat the waves, breathe deep, kick for solid ground.


The cold of my feet this winter morning
extend a harsh and timely warning:
Three fluffed cats will not forever serve
to keep you waking warm. Don’t you deserve
what every other person that you know
had since the winds of lust began to blow?
Find you a lover and find him now.
Rejoice to be both the furrow and the plow.
Love like a youth and hold it, mount it.
Love like a man and not talk about it.
Versatility should make it easier than it’s been.
No matter. Open the door, the window. Let it in.
Before full winter some red remnant save.
Let the great bear, fattened, come into the cave.


The Egyptians in their dark Book of the Dead
cry “I am pure!” before the demon of the pit,
so that even if sin bears down like lead
they might not, by this witness, die of it.
So under your window crying “I am pure!”
I start the dogs and wake the neighborhood,
of all things earthly, of one thing sure,
that I have fucked us back into the good.
Kissing sweetly, holy in embrace,
though seeming in besweated ecstasy,
I’m thinking of spirit in a holy place.
Learn what other realms of love can be.
They who with malice to my window stole
found me entwined with fire and soul.


I set down my book and realize I know more
about the goings-on in golden Mycanae
than about the lovely couple right next door.
The fault is no more mine than it should be:
one family laments in rhythmic throe,
the other hangs their Christmas lights
and smiles, but is difficult to know–
on one side incremental calamity, which delights
to the exact degree that is appals,
on the other, half nods, the blushful “never mind”
in suburban murmur with its dying falls,
rejoicing as it shuts the kitchen door behind.
My neighbors learn from the jabbering brood of Atreus
to let silence justify, to let circumspection bless.


The moon is gone. The at-home stars stand bright.
It is Christmas and the streets are empty.
I am missing my mother tonight.
I have lifted from the shelf the three
remaining Santa mugs that she would make
hot chocolate for. Now, tonight, no more.
I am a little melancholy for her sake.
I would hold the stupid mugs and let her pour.
I would do as we did, whatever it was.
I would dwell in one place and tether my heart
to a path, a curving arc, as the white moon does,
to change in brightness but never depart.
I pull the Irish whiskey into reach
I pour three times, a little into each.


St. Stephen’s Day

So I’m happy right now over nothing,
over the one-time-lovely music in the coffee shop,
over the varying glint of cold sun from the ring
of water in the tossed-off beer can’s top.
Don’t try to ask me what it’s all about.
I’m happy even lacking what I’ve told God
incessantly I can’t be happy, ever, without.
To one with my world view, it’s very odd:
as if some gentle winter Eros shot
one with a dart of animal contentment,
not caring what is well and what is not.
This is not exactly how one meant
to spend the day after the letting of the light,
having desired too much to come out right.


Someone should investigate the interplay
between “I love” and “I endure.”
No matter what the airy poets say,
even true love’s tenure is never sure.
On Christmas I did not return your call.
and bade you not to over-analyze.
The next day you were sighted at the mall
loading up on sale goods not my size.
Oh, I know we do not love the less
for a moment’s cruelty, a sudden veer
into some gratuitous unkindness.
It’s just that I hear the raven pinions near,
winged time in its forever onward flight,
and the first moment after noon is night.


Yes, I thought that quoting sly John Donne
would make my shaky case the stronger,
and even after all my song was done
your heart could sing of it a little longer.
Of course I lean on it too much, this verse
I spent my spendthrift youth subjecting,
cages, brothels, citadels, or worse
by the rivers of my vanity erecting.
There’s time for champagne and a sparkling waltz
before the tragic drumbeat starts again.
I was vain and vicious, sometimes, never false.
I was a man in the wide strange field of men.
So few nights now till our year does end.
So few words to dissemble lover, brother, friend.


The many-branched oak in the church yard
is singly more complex than any human thing,
its twists of twig, ravines of bark, the hard
shadows of its undersides, the bruise of wings
of birds of passage, sheltering, then gone.
We say for convenience, “The tree is bare,”
allowing the illusion of simplicity along
the ragged, riven, woven thoroughfare.
Beneath, a white tree burrows down into the black,
a perfect negative, redefining complexity,
watchful and covert, so slow in its attack
you think all’s still in church yard and with tree.
Speak first of playtime in the shade. Then draw back.
Think of ghost root going downward. Think of me.


Before the disintegrating moon has gone,
before uncertain blue can grow to power
sufficient to provoke another dawn,
before the timeless dark becomes the pointed hour,
I plant my feet and sing a little song to you.
Go, Song, I tell it, among the faltering declarations
and ambitions gone awry, amid the gestures askew,
the well-meant misdeeds in their crowded nation,
go far enough from me to witness what I meant
when your face first seemed to me love’s face
and all the stones were chocolate and the wind was bent.
We have nearly spent our lives recovering the place
we started from, me with a white rose in my hand,
our way aflame before us in the sunlit land.


Midwinter, as some slow poets still believe,
a purple anemone– a windflower- has come,
night-colored and defiant, New Year’s Eve.
It is a sign of. . . something. . . and for. . . someone.
At this most credulous of hours I believe
it is fair omen, and for me.
But of what and what consequence I leave
to the glassy angels in the Christmas tree
to know, and my suspicious heart to guess.
Bloom of heart’s purple, most unlikely flower,
welcome you are to warn, or be, or bless,
for whatever mission you fulfill this curious hour.
I’d cup my hand around you until spring.
I listen. Tell me what onward thing to sing.

In the New Year

January 1, 2012

Gray and yellow morning, healthy chill in the house. Half the invitees did not show for my dinner party last night, but four of us were convivial and reached the new year in peace and friendship. A few rooms away, the dishwasher hums through the second-to-last clean-up load. Uneaten rolls strew the front yard, waiting for the delectation of the crows.

Somebody on the radio this morning was saying, “when we die, we are going to have to face God and account for every legitimate pleasure we denied ourselves.” Loved that. Going to twist it around and make it my motto for the year. Fear accounting to God why we shrugged off pleasures He sent us, how we presume to be holier, purer than He Himself. He set the table and we did not come. He stands there under the half moon scraping the garbage into the bin, wondering where we were, why we didn’t even call.

Purple windflower persists now as evening becomes full night, the moon like a ladle of cold fire in the south.

L invited me to a movie, and I went, seeking to set a social paradigm for the ensuing year. We saw War Horse. I don’t know the original book, but the film is different from the play in that every time Spielberg can inject gratuitous sentimentality, he does. Ruskin would have used Spielberg as an exemplar of pathetic fallacy, had he seen him coming from afar. Those things calculated to make the audience say “ahhh!” are precisely the things which violate both plausibility and human nature. But it is often a powerful film, and I struggled not to sob out loud, even though (or perhaps because) I knew what was coming. I appreciate how it allows the Germans to remain fully human. It makes France look like the most beautiful place in the world. Maybe it is.

The task I set myself to write a sonnet a day through December was accomplished.