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Adult Strength (A Psychological Gallery)

adult strength

          I
Neuroses are not popular these days
Although my married friends all have them.
So they take meds and play
With possibilities. Otherwise, they don’t survive long
In the darkness. The vended pills, precise dosages at proper times,
The white scalloped paper cups half-filled
With tepid, highly chlorinated water.

My friends all pray their hearts out that their treasures
            Are not to be found in the dispensaries of this world

For the orderlies in the vineyard are few
            But the orderlies in the vineyard are strong.

          II
A woman I knew, not a friend, had married young
And spent her tenderness like a season’s first crop of honey
Unaware that a late-July blight is eating away at the honeycomb,
Aborting the queen. She always carries
The odor of late August hayfields, the tanned and broken stalks
Mown down and laid out beneath the sun in dusty rows.
She spreads her hands over my coverlet like a nurse in the war.

Her mind a cold bunker of last resort, she grew into her adult strength
With the soft shape of a slender teardrop hanging forever
In open space. I could not see her beyond that space and now
She carries on as if the world behind her eyes
Is counting down in dust motes to an explosion of lint beneath her bed.
I once watched her fall asleep in a sunny parlor chair,
The barbiturates pouted her lips to the edge of endurance.

As she slept, she spread her hands over the coverlet like a lover in the war.

          III
This poem is not a chair; it is a table of contents.
This poem is not a pen; it is ink spilled in a cold war with death.
This poem seeks to spread its hands out like wind that dents a clover field.
This poem is not words; it is the mind that sees,
Not a terminal palm tree (with apologies to Hartford Indemnity)
But a fist clenching at a handful of pills spilling out in all shapes and sizes.
It’s what’s seizing us:

We, out of our minds at the end of all possible poems.

          IV
Exempla abound: Take my friend the thinker. He once was
A political philosopher but now
He lives in the mountains, his back against the sea, reliving lore
From a long-dead civil war, his narrator’s voice grown silent as a gulag.
He teaches catechism to those who don’t care,
And even though it doesn’t pay well,
He believes the job is worth more than the money.

Or at least the money and maybe more.
But he was younger back when I knew him first; we both were.
He had a million wisdoms locked behind his eyes.
They were eyes, I recall, as blue as Kentucky clover.
His wife keeps the bottles hidden from visiting parishioners.
He keeps his wife hidden from
The blue shadow of winter, and even today

He will not come out from under that mountain’s blue shadow.

          V
Another case is another philosopher friend;
He had vowed himself for a while to a more pure kind of wisdom.
But relenting, he bound himself like Prometheus
To a lot of “ologies.” He’d drive himself crazy
When I wasn’t driving him to his head doctor. I forget
What happened to him the first time; but before long
He was concrete as an angel’s name again—

Yet still inconsolably abstracted
To the point of distraction all the same.
Now he does his own taxes, pays his bills on time
And keeps a sad eye on his wife—and she lives by the skin of his teeth,
That wife of his. Meanwhile, his life is a series
Of manila folders staggered neatly
On his desk between the blotter

And a pair of tapered brass pens
Set in their holders, sprouting from his desktop
Like a cuckold’s ears.
He could not know how his wife needed to open a vein.
She merely looked on in a mirror
At seven times seven years of some kind of luck
And discovered

Seven times seven years of beautiful loss staring back.

          VI
As for my own tendencies, they live on like business cards
Set on the careless edge of a bookcase.
Or, to my mind, I drift toward the ragged transient heaps camped out
Above heating grates near a subway station.
Could be trash. Could be human.
Either way, they continue on, unedited, in northern cities,
And either don’t know or don’t care.

Perhaps they are waiting for warmer weather that never comes.

          VII
Let us pray:

Dear Great Silences: —Miserere.

Dear Infinite Spaces: —Miserere.

Dear Orderly Universe: —Miserere.

Dear Successive Darknesses: —Miserere.

Pray for us, that ours may be the treasures of the dispensary.
Pray for us, that, unseen by the orderlies,
            We may stroll the vineyards in peace.

          VIII
Dressed in white trousers and jackets again tonight,
The needles are out like chromium fangs:
They glisten beneath the skittish glow of mercury vapor—
Lights Out.—Lights Out.—Lights Out.—now swallowed in darkness
Down this long gallery of tempered glass,
Through these long corridors of scuffed floors.
Then a fugitive sound.

Then a silence captured in the utopia of opposing mirrors.
Experience has taught that
Such a battle line never budges. Fixed as a star.
Lights out, but the lungs fill with insomnia like mustard gas.
And now I watch the imperious moon that hangs outside my window,
Its hooded eye appearing, peering
Into the long torpid hours that follow….

Like armies in the night, we all live in pillboxes these days.
We don’t pray for orderliness in the dispensary.
But we do pray that reinforcements come soon. Tonight. Now.
Lights out. Lights out.
Lights out.
We all live here as if our lives depended on it.
Tonight.

Now.

The Pump on the Rock

pump-rock-1_edited-1
For Barney

Since you built it, you know that there is more rock there
Than water and more air than
Rock—there where fire has no place. The familiar

Old thing, its audacity is mere and thin
As its shaft, stabbing into this Pliocene crop
Of driftless children. Dear nearly dead dynamic thing,

It hardly begins to know itself before it spits and slops
And vomits air. Then, with a cough
And a rush of sucking sounds, it slips up the crude iron pipe

That responds with shivering thunder down between the elven earth
And cousin rock, always
To engender water forth — forth — and forth.

But also, like ghosts behind a clock, crusted gray as
A vole’s pelt and crimson-jawed, the years of rust creep
Upward in more silent ease

Along its sloughing shaft, and fold
Their slender gelid claws around the man-squared handle,
Worn to a green shine with use. Its rucked crank grows grumpy and old

With weather—the same by which the gaskets, cracked as candle
Wax, have lost their Vulcan grip.
So within the icy tangle

Of four winds, a million suns pique, hone and strop
This Sisyphean siphon
Into a steady ceaseless drip,

A metronome of drops to set its count of winters in Wisconsin
As it slides and plunges air
Through its piston

For a deep transmission of elements, where ages of rock are
Greater than time. And more timeless
Than rock¬, there is water here, more — more — and more —

All of it thirsty as
Fire’s industry to slake
The spongy spring-formed surface

Of the cold-cased earth. The pump takes
A breath, drawn from subterranean catastrophes,
And exhales. Submerge your hands within its stream of cold—they will ache

Like the grief of memories —
Baptize your tongue in its running column of blue, it will be struck
Dumb as tomorrow’s yesterdays.

Jerusalem

slaughter-of-the-innocence

Happy they who…having rested in peace, stretch out their hands to Him, who must lift them up, and make them stand upright and firm in the porches of the holy Jerusalem! There pride can no longer assail them nor cast them down; and yet they weep, not to see all those perishable things swept away by the torrents, but at the remembrance of their loved country, the heavenly Jerusalem, which they remember without ceasing during their prolonged exile. – Pascal, Pensees 458

We too were Jews, we here in Bethlehem
When Herod’s men with steel and daggered eyes
Believed in everything they saw. Each hem

And tunic sleeve, red as winter sunrise,
Repeated endlessly upon the flat
And edge of sword’s empirical emprise—

Potential trickles like driblets of fat
And greasy flame reshapes dispatching arms
That thread entwined through meat and sticky guts,

And turn the muscle’s issue into worms.
We too, subjects of a place-keeping pawn,
Were chosen for this cradled land. No storms

Could lull our cries, no Babylon could croon
Our lullabies so well…. Oh, Jerusalem,
Why could no angel stop your hand again?

Not living, you survived our Bethlehem—
Our braziers warmed your hypotheticals:
We come as one and yet alone, Shalom!

We come, shalom! assuming you—who else?—
Would tell us why the star that’s out of place
Now leads us to this place where power dwells….

Our mothers—bleeding milk and motherless—
Behold the shattered flesh. These bodies, curled
As severed tongues upon the ground, confess

Such tiny holocausts, such piercing cold.

Cowboy Catholicism

JUL 5 1977, 7/10/1977 The cowboy leaning forward in his saddle is Darrell Winfield, the original Marlboro Man. Most of his year is spent trading horses he breeds on his small spread in central Wyoming, but five or six times a year he spends about two weeks being photographed for their cigaret ads. He is married and has five daughters and a son. Credit: UPI archiveblog

A poem delivered in honor of Wyoming Catholic College President Dr. Glenn Arbery’s visit to the La Mesa home of Ernie Grimm.
Fools say truth is like a woman
Who can hope to understand her?
And pundits seek to cart her off by force
But there’s a certain sort of searcher
Who sallies forth to Lander
And tracks her ‘cross Wyoming on a horse
Bards say beauty is a woman
Whose appeal is quite subjective
Her hotness quantified by likes and clicks
But a lover of proportion
Will require no elective
And besides, there ain’t no wi-fi in the sticks
Wags say goodness is a woman
Whose favor ever changes
Inconstant as the wind, or as the tide
But the students at Wyoming
Find their good in mountain ranges
And upon a certain petrus, they abide

The Ordeal of Hannah Horvath?

untitledLena Dunham on line one, Mr. Pinfold…

IRL she’s a generation’s gutsy, ambitious voice, author, showrunner, and star of the HBO hit Girls. But on TV and the web she becomes “a girl who careens between wisdom and ignorance,” a girl whose delusions have brought her here, to the shadowy realm of Decreased Stigma

Abortion is found to have little effect on women’s mental health

“What I think is incredibly interesting is how everyone kind of evens out together at six months to a year,” said Katie Watson, a bioethicist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “What this study tells us about is resilience and people making the best of their circumstances and moving on,” she said. “What’s sort of a revelation is the ordinariness of it.”

The banality of what now?

Mammon 1, God 0

I feel a little like General Jack D. Ripper ranting about flouridation. “Ice cream, Mandrake. Children’s ice cream.”

It’s folly, of course, to ask, in instances such as this one, “Is nothing sacred?” Of course something is sacred. Something is always sacred.

Out for a Larkin

crucifix-santa-croce-florence-italy

Walk into a Catholic church, and tell me what you see
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
A God you’re told to worship, though he looks like you and me
A dead man, pierced and naked, hanging from a tree
An ad that sells you sorrow, with some pain thrown in for free
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
And you wonder how, with such a pitch, it ever came to be
A dead man, whipped and bloody, hanging from a tree
Since no one’s seen a dead man rise since AD 33
A dead man, sent to save us, hanging from a tree

Instability

               It is a horrible thing to feel all we possess slipping away – Pascal, Pensees, 212

The winter churns away above the stars
And thunderstorms divide the falling snow
Like pulverized domains of Venus, Mars….

The only difference between what they know
(By which I mean the gods above and worse
Below) is wind and snow, how both renew

The chilling grudges either side of time—
And time is all we’ve got to make the few
Mistakes that take us out beyond the game.

Detested earth beneath my feet and breath
Within my chest indict these bones I claim
The same as draughts on squares that jump for death

Or life. The Herod name, so old, so full of gold
And rusting all the same…. I wish the earth
Would swallow whole the price that fame foretold

In blood. Intestinal politicos
Like Caesar can negotiate the cold
And haunt Jerusalem’s dunned porticos

But kings affixed with templed crowns insist
When thunder whispers names in swirling snow
It means that children die with all the rest

That vanity deletes. In general,
When word goes out, the world will not resist.
They say I am unstable, illiberal—

I say a word that’s canceled can’t exist.

Cartesian Blues

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Cartesian Blues
. .. by Rufus & Quin

I’ve got the Cartesian Blues
From the middle of my brain
All the way down to my nuts and screws

I went to the doctor,
An’ I said, “Gimme da news …”
He just handed me a bunch of data
And said, “It’s just dem ol’ Cartesian Blues!”

I put on my shirt, I put on my shoes,
I put on my rubbers
I had nothing to lose
But them godforsaken Cartesian Blues

I went down by da red lights,
An’ asked, “whaddya got, and how much are the dues?
She said, a hunnerd dolla for 38-26-34
Will get rid of your Cartesian Blues

The automatic teller
Spit out some cash
I’m a handsome feller
I gotta make a splash
Just as soon as I peruse
This article about
The Cartesian Blues

I think therefore I am
Was the caption on her selfie
A vegetarian except for ham
Very clean and never filthy
Except when I hit snooze
And get those Cartesian Blues

So I went down to see the bartender,
And said, “I need some medicine—it’s called booze,
And he answered, “Well I got 101-proof bourbon, aged for 30 years in a 50 gallon barrel,
And that oughtta cure those Cartesian Blues”

It hit my naso-cortex
Like every species of shit
And caused a spark to fly
Across that Cartesian split
But the next morning I paid my dues
I still had those Cartesian Blues

So I went to the social worker,
Cause I got nothing to lose,
And she said, “We got 20% unemployment,
A third of the population is mentally ill,
In the great urban area 5300 people are livin’ in tents,
And now 100% of our assistance programs are means-tested,
Which means we alls got Cartesian Blues”

She referred me to a psychiatrist,
So I told him “I got something on my mind”
And he said, “I think you mean brain”
And I said, “mind”
He said “brain”
I said “mind”
“Brain”
“Mind”
“Brain”
“Mind”
“Well, this is clearly a case of those … Cartesian Blues …”

I went to ask my Ex-wife,
“Ex, Why why why did you move?”
An’ she told me, “I can’t graph
or coordinate your Cartesian Blues …”

In place of God there’s a Demon of Doubt,
All faith is just a ruse …
That is why COGITO ERGO
Cartesian Blues