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Four-olive Martini: A Minor Drama, Last Call

four-olive-martini-keith-wilkie

Your eyes are drained as sapphires lost in blue
And ice. The frown your face is wearing tells
An adequate counterpoint to the tap
Of painted nails now playing up and down
A crystal stem. What is holding me from you
Maintains for us our several separate hells.
Our share in the punishment—your sullen lip
Against the rim, my olive quarto on
A cocktail spike—each rings as clear and true
As Gordon’s and diamonds (or Seagram’s and pearls).
Delivering the sudden burning sip—
The winter sting that splits us skin from bone—
“To each our own!” I say, and know it’s false
But wish to cut the crap with a little gin.

Does Anything Rhyme with “Nobel”?

nobel-prize-medal

When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I’m going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.

To Arena

to arena

            Corpus mortale tumultus
Non tulit aetherios donisque iugalibus arsit.

                        – Ovid

That day the beach crept up on us,
The tide a sideshow of seashells,
We began our sunburn early,
Soaked in warm beer against curly
Sails, a regatta of tassels
Thrown to a chalky blue chalice

Of sky. We drank and drank it in,
Your eyes going crazy with thirst
And whispering about your art.
I sought to touch your skin to sort
Out my feelings. Worse came to worst
And you dozed off mid-sentence, slain

By cervezas, college finals
And sand-strewn immortality:
So California left its mark—
White underbelly of a shark.
The running surf made us dizzy
As it swirled beneath us, runnels

That heralded a tidal wave.
Except it never came. Instead
Your white one-piece provoked a flush
Desire upon your slumber. The flash
Of flesh, your tapering thighs, fed
My eyes, a hurt longing that drove

Me out well past the surf. Earth’s curve
Swallowed up a ship to its mast,
And swam me to shore to search for
More than Crusoe’s evidence, more
Than Friday’s footprints…. I lost
You in the crowd—and lost my nerve

When I found the beach blanket bare—
As if you’d been absorbed and left
No farewell, except sun and shade
That marked your place. With sunset tide
As my witness, the shifting sift
Of sand had scattered you anywhere.

Five Tanka for Creation

800px-Flammarion

Ὅταν οὖν τι σῶμα κατὰ μηδὲν ἐξαλλάττηται
τῶν προϋπαρχόντων, ἡσυχάζειν αὐτό φαμεν…. -Galen

1
Photosynthesis
Before there was anything
To kiss or embrace,
Before our bed was warm with
Your soil or my seed — hunger.

2
Caress of plasma,
Hydrogen and helium —
Touches my face as
My giddy hands graze your thighs,
Heaven’s dizzying columns.

3
Tectonic spangle
Of plates on the lithosphere;
Your soft surf of breasts
Against my trembling shoreline;
You alone, tsunami’s love.

4
The original
Hertzsprung-Russell diagram,
This random order
Constellates your dark features;
Your fuse burns a comet’s tail.

5
Trout scales, clade branches,
Ascend in rainbow patterns —
Your body pulses
Shallows beneath coral cliffs;
Your eyes glitter dark, seaward.

6
Eukaryotic—
The foundation of all flesh,
Dante’s (h)O-M-O
Draws me to your deepest earth —
Creative, an act of love.

7
The cool part of day,
A sort of post-coital
Tristesse setting in;
For you walk in my garden—
So perfect, so incomplete.

May Day

bf6d59e2ce404839d3e9ff9e817b5c68

on the Occasion of the Marriage of Peter and Lauren

I
Lay by a sense of time, in all the works
And days that harvest out your bonds of earth
Under stars that will sift and shift like sparks
Resplendent, ever new as things that birth
Engenders deep within this bloom of May.
Now take again what time’s plenty bestows
And pluck this fifth-month day. Let no decay
Negate the moment. Build instead the rose
Deep as the hottest blessings of the sun:
Proposals are preludes to all the things
Enlightened in the asking. There’s but one
That gives an answer, shaded in songs
Exclaiming May the Sixth, a day in spring
Recalled in time: Lauren and Peter’s song.

II
Exclaiming May the Sixth, a day in spring,
The world has put its ear to earth, a kiss
Recalled in time: Lauren and Peter’s song

Is played with strings that circle squares. We bring
Our bodies to the dance, our souls in place,
Exclaiming May the Sixth, a day in spring.

But which among our million moments ring
The clocks to bring us round and feel the trace
Recalled in time? Lauren and Peter’s song.

The wine is pure, the bread is everything
That calls us to witness what will suffice,
Exclaiming May the Sixth, a day in spring.

The kiss that makes a mutual language sing.
So yours and yours becomes a single space
Recalled in time. Lauren and Peter’s song

Will play on — God bless and earth avow — these strong
And willing partner to a strident grace
Exclaiming May the Sixth, a day in spring
Recalled in time: Lauren and Peter’s song.

IMG_5715

Na Muintir: Three Fragments

muintir-na-tire-1954-large

                                              After Seumus McManus

(The Coming of the Gaels)

Let us sing of the coming of the Gaels,
         Three tribes like three streams, wandering
Across the wide lands of the East and South,
         Across the roaring body of seas, land
Of foreign powers and ways weird to Eire.
         From there came the Milesians though last
In order, first in war and rule.
                                                These were met
By bristling Firbolg and mighty Tuatha Da Danaan,
         When to these the Milesians beat their path.
All three were kin of Celt’s blood, who before
         The singing of songs separated to become
One tribe, they of whom we now sing our tune,
         The triple-headed river of wandering men,
Come from the East, the Gaels, warring down
         To the peace of a single river’s flow: the Gaels.
First the Firbolg came, and they from Hellas,
          Long enslaved but cunning in their escape,
Capturing the ships of their veteran masters,
         Outrunning the curses of Manannan MacLir,
They managed a beach head, and thereby good fortune
         Until the Fomorians, tribe of rovers,
With a stronghold on Tory Island, waged big war
         Coming down like birds of prey, across
The cold grey seas, white-tipped with chill wind,
         Come down from the Island of Tory, northwest.
Because of the Firbolgs, the Fomorians would work
         A petty worry in the wake of the Tuatha De Danann.
So came next these clever and skillful folk.
         Awed by the finery and execution of artful works,
[Read more…]

Gerasene Farm

gerasene

– for D.F.

“What do you want with me…?”
“We pigs are brainworkers.” – Napoleon
“Who is going to save me?” – Wilbur

Sundays during slaughter time, when work and days
Are a matter of acres and seasons, pink flesh
And exposed blue-white bone

Are surely signs of progress—satisfaction—fertility.
And when autumn begins to spit snow from its mouth
We’ll fire up the fifty-gallon drums for boiling skin

From the herd. With our blue knuckles now scalded red
We’re allowed to pretend we know Odysseus’s swineherd.
He’s a neighbor, say, who might need to borrow a pritch,

Lend his spare block-and-tackle or resharpen a bell scraper
On our millstone.
                             And that’s when Monsignor comes by to bless it all
One bullet at a time. It doesn’t take long after we call

And he’s there almost immediately.
                                                        There’s no dying soul,
No family grief; it’s all just business. “Tail
To snout” he likes to say, quoting from some other good book.

So Monsignor takes off the blacks and Roman collar
This Sunday, leaves them back at the rectory
And dons red buffalo plaid and tattered bibs.

“Scares the devil out of the herd,” I once heard him explain
“Don’t like black or maybe they just know.”
                                                                  Flexibility
Is one of his strong points.
                                            This day is full of a sky

Afflicted with a tin-foil glare from broken clouds—
It’s the day he’s chosen to come help because
He generally likes the business

And specifically on a Sunday. “Not unnecessary work.
A form of relaxation, I would call it.”
He grew up downwind of a giant swine operation

And of course raised his own and has some opinions on swine.
He knows his pig flesh, alright, the way
A horse trader knows teeth and hoofs.

Monsignor lowers the blue-barreled gun,
A pistol without history – it knows neither wars nor duels
But only a resting place between hunting seasons.

He stares the hogs down, and anoints
Their lives with purpose, cruel
For business, and kind but for no kind of fun.

Afterwards, he walks back to his car
To clean the muzzle and chamber.
                                                       Throats cut, they wait
With us for his return.
                                    We don’t let him near the boiling pot.

He’s no good at that part.
                                           But he has a great eye
For parting flesh with a .45.
                                          And maybe for that reason he was made a Monsignor,

But when he scalds the flesh he scrapes too much flesh with the hair
And very little hair with the flesh.
                                               We politely
Put him off to visit with the children

Or maybe put a beer in his hand and tell him to rest a bit,
Though rest isn’t in his nature anymore than
It is in the clouds that scud like corpuscles across the sky.

He was born on a farm and to hear him tell it he fought
Half the day with earth and flesh, the other half,
All blood work.
                                If given half a chance he could shine

Like the best of rural vicars and squires.
At any rate, his place in literature
May one day be secure—

Interpolating experience and innocence
With marksmanship and common sense:
“Pigs are a good investment—nothing wasted if you do it right.

Efficiency is in the nature of swine.”
“Why else,” Monsignor would add, “would the desperate demons
Of Gerasene plead with our Lord. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’

You can almost hear them say. It must have been a favor,
Well, maybe not a favor; more a false mercy, for our Lord
To provide that herd, that cliff, the sea beneath.

But there’s no mercy for demons, of course. That’s a figure
Of speech is all. Literature is full of them. But Scripture
Only uses it on purpose. No levity with that sort of business.”

Literature, indeed, I nod. Napoleon and Wilbur
Might talk past each other among the cold clouds
That gather and disperse in winter configurations above our heads.

But also in the sense that fictional pigs make of life and death.
It’s all fantastic friendships for nostalgia’s sake
Or a drudging work detail

To serve as footstool for naked power—
Pink flesh and blue-white bone for them—and sometimes for us.
But Monsignor? He doesn’t even bother to say–

And he gives it no more thought
Than a man of the cloth ought to be
Expected to do:

We watch him hold the pistol like an aspergillum.
And he anoints them both—Wilbur and Napoleon—
With one shot.

We were poets once and young…

…or younger, anyway.

Desktop5So JOB was visiting the Dappled Things website, as one does, and he stumbled across this in the “featured poem of the day” department: a little ditty he composed a while back for some M.L. character…

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 11.18.37 AMI do so love “ogling theologians.”

[Image: Gargoyles at Notre Dame, and the Café Grotesque mascots they inspired.]

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.