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The Pump on the Rock

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.

Democracy at Work?


Photo source.

Truly, that which is required for the preservation of life, and for life’s well-being, is produced in great abundance from the soil, but not until man has brought it into cultivation and expended upon it his solicitude and skill. Now, when man thus turns the activity of his mind and the strength of his body toward procuring the fruits of nature, by such act he makes his own that portion of nature’s field which he cultivates – that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his personality; and it cannot but be just that he should possess that portion as his very own, and have a right to hold it without any one being justified in violating that right. – Leo XIII

Corporation Sole


The river that’s flowing before me now
Pretends to understand its lonely brother Styx.
It is October time, a time of myths
And stranger maths
Than summers know
Or passing springs can bring to sum.
The leaves surrender to a gathered text of sticks
Retailed for fuel and some

Forgotten task that lazes on the banks,
Awaiting frost’s soliloquy of spears and blades.
My whining spill of spooling line
Upsets a loon —
It glides and banks
A wake upon the distant shore.
Old grandsire Proteus appears at last, a blaze
Who builds his kindle, sure

Enough, from limb and branch of weeping pines.
The shivering fish that shake away my hook reform
Beneath the surface. Scaled with dusk,
They catch the disc
Of moon that spins and pines
For autumn’s tomb. A china plate
That shatters trees and stars, this lunar form
Resolves to hold the plait

Of Pitys’ hair the way that Pan had sighed
To grasp her battered body Boreas had thrown
In lust. So raw, his breath
Now fits its breadth
Along the side
Of evening’s flesh. Its chill now combs
My fire. I edge myself against this flaming throne
As ancient winter comes

To claim my blood as corporation sole.
The world’s collateral is not enough and preys
Upon my wasted groin.
(What god will groan
To claim my soul?)
With empty cup in hand, I wait
Between the river’s deep and castle keep. Each prays
To lift this golden weight.

Hurricane and Himmicane


Live-blogging the Brisket – Hour 4 & 5

Perhaps to temper the fire of my hubris with a little smoke of humility, in today’s Gospel reading (Rite of ’62) our Lord’s words were a fitting reminder of priorities, even as my Weber was attending to its business, I should be minding my own:

“Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” (Matthew 6:24-26)

But then after returning home from Mass, I wondered if our Lord also considered cats in these calculations…



Alas, they seemed undeterred by maledictions and threats of malefactions, should they even be considering carnoklepty…


Of course, I should have trusted n the Lord (and it being a Sunday too!)…


It is finished (sort of…)

andy pic_edited-1

It’s not every day that you get Hugh Laurie to do some electrical work in your house. I didn’t, of course, but my brother-in-law Andy is a perfect stand-in as he enjoys some whiskey-cum-bacon this morning upon finishing the installation of the faux-tiffany lamp fixture haloing him and the wonderful spirits of the house, furhter pimping up the bordello decor of my booze-room.

The perfect place that is no-place at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday to push back at the malaise and feel the tingle on the back of one’s neck upon catching sight, out of the corner of one’s eye, of the particles of nostalgia dancing with dust motes in the fading rays of a late-setting sun….

Many thanks to Andy for shedding some light on why this little corner of the O’Brien shack is one of my favorite rooms to visit… (And of course the lamp adds additional luster to the camping opportunities which our great little neck of Wisconsin affords visitors: Angelico/Angelica of the Twin Cities, I’m looking at YOU…)


Storm Days

winslow homer

                            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.

“Am I Hamlet or Don Quixote?”

paul vi

“The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…” – Hamlet

“Truly I was born to be an example of misfortune, and a target at which the arrows of adversary are aimed.” – Don Quixote

With ermine cuffs I sharpen up each gem
That studs this crown…No, Papa was not king
Despite this barber’s bowl. And Mama’s hymns
Remain in mind but there’s no will to sing.
Milan, more French than Roman, sings instead
Inside my veins – the fluted lace, the neat
And crimson fashions – coy frissons of the dead
Which resurrects a joy, now made complete
                  Oh, Papa! Oh, Mama! Since
I chose this road of sorrow, I confess
To neither left nor right. For Denmark’s prince
Well knew that failure proves its own success
And windmills creak and tilt upon the breeze
Canticles to a world I could not please.

John Barleycorn in Rags

john barleycorn

He is John, man in ragged overcoat
Long to withered knees
Manbeard made of clipped leaves and twigs

Man with face of rough bark
John who walks Saturday-night stupor
Through sibilant rings

Of maple, elm and linden leaves,
Swiftly satyr-dancing
Into crackling flower of fire

In peripatetic permutations, cough
Of dry staccato vespers, leaf to stone,
Each skeletal ballet whispers

He who is barrowed by mottled stile,
Stilled and waked in copper kettle,
Kegged and bunged for cooling cellar

In hoarse tones violent riots of autumn
Become seasonal rites trans-
Corporeal, quiet in slow burn

He is John of the demijohn
Bottle god of good folk,
Fanatic familiar of flagon, flask and firkin

His limber limbs are all consumed,
Sap-drunk as wasp and hornet
Dry and empty as cracked bobbin,

His spirit tumbles leaves down empty lanes
And empty well; he is spirit in wind,
He makes spirits from color, heat and motion

He is tall shoots and thick roots,
A shock of fruited stalks between
Breaks from his loamy scalp.

His anatomy taps boot heels,
Claps coarse palms. He, mate of dance,
Husband of hilarity, spouse of song.

Brittle brown leaves, fallen angels
Dancing down cold swift winds
Hymns that scrape, swirl and click

And always he must come along,
Always feed fire’s fermenting flower –
He empties nectar from his eye

He is John, and John must die.


bishop in drag

Here I was all set to vent my journalistic outrage (and privately, I did) regarding this kuffuffle, when a more staid and sober friend sent along the above as Exhibit A for The Possible Reason Behind the Reason Mularkey Had to Go

She also engages in a lot of modernist talk about art that I’m not sure squares with Catholic aesthetics – but I’ll let the philosophes among us make that call…

“Dorfman is an artist who understands that. The animated tactility of his work testifies to the obstinate fact that art comes to us from gifted hands in service to an eye. At the end of the day, sensibility is everything.”

As my friend asks, whither transcendence?