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Archives for November 2015

The Deserted Millwheel

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                          For Elizabeth

                I
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands
Before encroaching winter, taxed and spent
Dreaming in the water that puts its hands

On verging river banks, and scoured strands
Emerge, whale-like, from gathered sediment,
Immaculately fixed. The millwheel stands

To know the absences which fill the land’s
Unpeopled parks and drives. Its blades are bent
Dreaming in the water that hides its hands

From streaming prayer where rainbow trout remands
The seal of God’s alluvial event
Immaculately. Fixed, the millwheel stands

By every creaking turn that time commands:
It’s dealt in grain and sand with hushed lament.
Dreaming in the water that folds their hands,

The dead will weigh by scales these shifting sands
That silence rotten timber’s testament:
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands,
Dreaming in the water that frees its hands.

                II
Upon this rough and tumble, water’s slough,
That threads through broken teeth, the queered
And broken planks resist what’s false and true
Of limb – accomplishing a circle squared
To what its body takes in and all that give
It out. A breeze alone could bring it down,
But will its peace of soul yet hold its own?
Its augured piles are foot-sure to survive
The play of coon and possum, each a prince
Within its thatch of hair, their residence.
Through millstone heart, the hurried currents crest
And curl around each swollen knee and joist.
Immaculately fixed, the millwheel stands
Dreaming in the water that was its hands.

Race Relations in Seattle

So I’m waiting for my ride at 5th and Jackson, when my bus driver friend Gary (older black gentleman, very nice, but very formal) drives up in the #14. A lady with tattoos on her face staggers towards the bus as I’m talking to him, so I step back to let her on, rolling my eyes to let Gary know he’s got a real winner coming on board. She’s just trashed, and being Caucasian, I guess that makes her White Trash (in this part of town, it’s probably 50/50 odds the inebriated person is black or white. The Asians are rarely wasted, or they never show it, and I won’t even mention the Native Americans).

Anyway, after the drunk Caucasian lady stumbles past Gary, he looks at me and says, “That’s one of your people, Finnegan.” Then he closes the door and drives on up Jackson.

Maybe you’d need to know Gary, but it was funny as hell.

Now, if our roles were reversed, could I say the same thing, and would it be funny? Obviously no, and I think it could be justifiably considered a racist comment. Doesn’t that mean that Gary’s comment is racist as well? What’s fair (or unfair) for someone on the basis of race must be fair or unfair for someone of a different race, right?

Only if you’re an idiot. The manner in which people of different races, especially blacks and whites, view one another has a long history in this country, and ignoring it, or trying to ignore it, turns us into fools. People are different. We treat different people differently, and that’s just the way it is.

No, it doesn’t mean racism is a laughing matter. Neither, in most or at least many circumstances, are drunkenness and tattooed faces. And I’m not sure how well this story would play in front of a crowd, told by a comedian. In fact, this seems like a pretty good illustration of the difference between what’s funny for professional comedians, and what it means to have a sense of humor in the midst of whatever life happens to throw at you. The former can be enjoyable, but the latter is necessary so that life doesn’t become unbearable.

Two Very Short Poems About Common House Pets

The Fat Cat Doesn’t Need You
Don’t bother talkin’
To that old grimalkin!

A Man’s Best Friend’s Personal Attendant
Holding a warm bag, he watched his collie wag
her tail at the end of the trail, then lallygag.

Liberalism, as the recent attacks on La Ville Lumière have shown, cannot provide the basis for a sustainable society.

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By liberalism, I do not mean Democrats versus Republicans, or the ideology of invite the world versus that of bomb the world. I mean all of it together.

Storm Days

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                            for my father

The wind is in rare form tonight – all in –
The pine and the walnut are sent adrift
In darkness to wave-break the night, an ocean
Of sighs that have slashed autumn’s lines and left

The summer unmoored – grief enough, father,
To see in the porch light your fading shade
That time when the talk sat with ease. Whether
The hour of that someplace translated your staid

And passing years – whiskey conversed, earnest
As lyrics, the crisscross of legacy
That made my manhood. Then you taught, honest
As wages, how jib sails are cut to see
A weather gauge measure a typhoon sea
And signal words speak a level ballast.

Two Very Short Poems about Favorite Fictional Characters of Mine

007 Escapes Again
As Bond jumped from the plane, some were stunned
to see a parachute fly out of his cumberbund.

Kinsey Millhone Moonlights as a Madame
She started a service (somewhat impolitic)
for very private investigations: “Call a Dick”.

Desire and Deceit

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For Rene Girard, 1923-2015

Not again, the old men with beautiful manners.
– Ezra Pound

The old men of our age are young against
The violent, suffering such sacred cries…
We live as if the times were free and cleansed
Of envy, but we know from these
Embarking ferries what cruel death would say:
The fire rises every dawn to mystery –
Familiar as desire, lost as memory.
So truth is night that verges every day
Which hates itself, yet knows itself as day.

We try to capture every moment’s breath
With flesh, but lose the soul of argument
Because the body knows that only death
Provides the wound – unless the sentiment
Of beauty heals the foreign element –
The other – those – the sin that takes the step
In which we place the body deep, deep, deep…
I wish that nothing were the case – but take
It life will some day give what death will take

And knew no French but heard you anyway
By age and time. By youth and wonder’s books
I sat and heard you lecture, heard you say
That creatures live and imitation speaks
The grammar grace’s tender mercy brooks
Between the prepositions of and in.
I loved a woman of the world – taboo
And token sin – and urge and instinct knew
That beauty suffered what my conscience knew.

Remember, man, that dust remembers man –
Recalls the day angelic beasts renewed
Our call to human living. Manners can
Propose a mystery: the stage construed
With shadows, fictions made with words and breath;
But understand by holocaust of faith
That noon escapes, confirmed by midnight’s dark,
And night corrals the stars, each a splintered spark,
You ancient man, that hates and loves the dark.

One Very Long Poem About the Relentless March of Time, or JOB’s Yang Answers Jobe’s Ying…

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Immortalia ne speres, monet annus et almum
Quae rapit hora diem.
-Horace; Odes (IV:7)

I
Month to month like threads laid crosswise at widths
Make a weave of season’s textures
Which interchange with each pulling away
Almost nightly, or when divinity
Comes to visit, whether for suspect or
Noble reasons, to hear the cantos
A Penelope or an Arachne
Might string along – to hear, in day’s small chambers,
In week and fortnight houses, in months’ mansions,
The estate of years – to hear and cherish
Sorrow or joy and the shadows between
As if they were different slants of a sunbeam
Registering climates on the hand in key, pitch and tone
– To hear major silences in sullen grey,
The slog and sleet which are rests and stops,
The forecast and unforeseen, the genius
Behind their miraculous compositions:
And then, to undo it all, and start again;
This is not to fear from month to month, but to know
That all things are timely, all lengths enclosed by time,
And if we ourselves are plucked from the skein,
Our patterns are finished for us by God. . .
But there is more to a month than its weather –
There is its measure of soul, embedded
In every month and

II
                                     moment come to pass:
January of the gelid-eyed, blue-glass
Fastens her doorway-gaze to year’s impasse.
February, whose feverish twist of lips
Is an icicle wrapped in cotton strips.
March blasts the world with an organ chord;
He is Spring’s protectorate and warlord.
That thin lily of frail sweetness, April
Is ephemeral as her days, yet just as cruel.
May, the matron of heaven’s angel-choir,
Fulfilling spring with first signs of summer.
June, the simple seed, the simple vintage,
Simple flower and fruit in summer’s montage.
But July whom I knew, loved and drank to,
Inebriates me with a stronger brew.
August, the emperor of summer’s time
Prefigures the goldenrod past its prime.
September stands in sad nobility
With crumbling arches of elm and oak tree.
October, too, holds honor with a breath –
Each pile of leaves that burns with sweetest death.
November, the minor chord of sorrowing,
Arrears the land for all its borrowing.
And, though full of dead weathers, December
Lives on a poor child’s hope to remember
Yearly redemption

III
                                      through reparation.
Who knows if Jamie Wyeth meant these things?
Paintings are to the poet what God is to negation,
That is, the only way for either to entertain with voices,
To give voice at all, is by blocking out
What is true for all seasons. What remains,
The differentiae, is the only act of fidelity
Required. What remains is a little space
To work out the admixture of colors,
Taking on Penelope’s suit, as if I were another
Brazen and horny-handed suitor unconcerned
About the finished product. But it’s the colors
Flayed by day in the dusty sun or cooled
By the subterranean shelter
Of a root-cellar which reveal the design.
Go then, my rhythms, like the susurrus
Of unreeling yarn, with a Greekness and a Romaness.
Call down Athena to attest to grace that will endow
My words with sight: January is a god, February, a fever,
March, another god, April, fructified light,
May, pure as pears, June, empirically wedded to July,
August, downfall of empire’s misplaced calendar.
September is boding virtue’s crop, October’s octave
Is prayer dinning in the ear of barren November,
Fulfilled through all, the incarnate words of December.

Two Very Short Poems about the Relentless March of Time

A Winter’s View of Autumn
Following September, orange October guided
November, bister and more sobersided.

The Present Moment
Forever severing and pari passu
Gathering everything old and new.

Love Among the Bins*

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Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
     How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.
         -Fitzgerald

It was only a minute between bins (searching
     For the will I am to be the will that is Shakespeare),
Amid the critically grey patches of C.P. Snow
     And/or the redundantly anthological: Ancient American
British Byzantine Greek Modern Oriental Women World . . .

I was singing down bargain barrows and stalls,
     Intoning e.e. cummings, refraining A.A. Milne,
Reading stormy pages from Lear to hear the fear
     Of the real in his nonsense and the queer nonsense
Of the real in fools, kings, verses, hearses, pussies and owls…

But as if out of those untitled leaves of time,
     You came to sift the bins with crisp feminine whispers
That feather-fingered in litany down my spine,
     Searching for Early This, Late That, or Posthumous The Other
And the forgotten period allusions of Last Name Only:

“He is the most important of the Fitzgeralds,
     After all,” you declaimed ambiguously to Children.
Then, after hovering like a muse in Religion,
     You genuflected briefly at Travel. “He may have written
Something about Algiers and Alexandria, at that time, as well.”

You can what you’re able to do, O Lex
     Legendi! In pencil skirt and penciled eyes,
You index finger put to crimson lips collects
     By their purse the pebbled pearls of Demosthenes,
While other letters scatter, inspirited by your catalog

Of silence. Thus, overdue, my love was indexed:
     Like the frank contents in an earnest table;
The sincerely erotic in the merely episodic;
     The Dick Diver in my translation, the Calypso in yours;
Never again to leave this lovely, enchanted, bookmarked aisle.

*I tried to post this on Rufus McCain’s Facebook Page in honor of his being put in charge of the prison library and license plate pressings. Naturally, I made a hash of it – so hopefully he’ll see this and post it himself on his page…

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