In Central America’s leafy parenthesis
some sliver of light appears from that magnificent
jungle edifice, the famous submerged cathedral
These are the gauchos roaming the pampas
and those are the Gauleiters gliding through
a series of Zoom meetings like those Hollywood
squares we loved as kids with everyone
glugging down jeroboams of Pouilly-Fuissé.
Some early glimmers of fame; a few islands
of camaraderie. The tempo of August is quiet,
even monastic. To be able to communicate
by going through the correct channels,
the interesting coveys of city poets,
their speech acts and interrogatives,
bonds between kinsman or kinship, mutual exile--
momentarily acquiescing the limits of choice
in 03 I hit rock bottom then again,
there was no bottom--or as we say here, Fluffya.
I was sleepwalking through life until the act
of a blind magician stopped me in my tracks.
Spring birds in flight orient themselves and correct---
To drift by listening to a chorus of peepers
in a pond far below and rock lobsters scuttling
from head to tail in tandem conga lines.
The state of being lost is a kind of vertigo--
Not all who wander are lost. Think of the enlarged
posterior hippocampus of taxi drivers in NYC,
the 24/7 lure of accessibility tied to our gadgets
as in a spell. Self awareness of distance
and direction like the genetic imprint of an ant--
The irrepressible dialectic of history
( two steps forward and one step back)
The Wyoming frontier was once stitched
with Buffalo grass. To reach the nearest city
just follow the rail line, our permanent
zone of transit--a train, an ark-- a fleeting
vantage point, slow to pass, yet still
we rocked in their wake as boats on the sea.
A sovereign surveyor abruptly ends his term
looming above a mountain of contending
theories how our institutions came to be inculcated
in the dark waters of white supremacy.
The polis at the bottom of our existence,
the bottom of the sea masks all civility,
relieving idlers of all their convictions.
The scapegoat is dead in their lifetime
of some public darkness. He may be ugly,
but he’s not stupid. The moon now a tangent,
an opacity on someone else’s distant horizon.
One need not travel to Niagara Falls
to feel the impact of falling water.
This is how Robert Frost characterized
visiting the Emily Dickinson house in Amherst
as a form of literary tourism. After reading
Emily Dickinson, as a kind of bottomless project
in American Letters-- where to begin?
much of her work at variance with the verse
culture of her time---Couldn’t one say that
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, best conveys
her crucial vocational crisis and that here
she came close to touching the bottom
of her existence as a poet suggesting
an aesthetics of terror.
They say SCOTUS is the eye of the storm,
the branch of government least swayed
by partisan politics---Gorsuch, Kavanaugh,
Barett---yet the obscenity of President Trump
belies all our efforts to write or paint.
A push for a conservative seat after R.B.G.‘s
death as if Roe v. Wade could be overturned
through some hydraulic pressure.
( If Garland had been officially nominated we wouldn’t
even being having this discussion at present)
Already storm bands of rain and churning wind
tear loose from the roving eye of the hurricane.
Skirts of rain unhook tiles from rooftops.
Lincoln’s hand clasps a fasces-a leather
thong that tightly binds all thirteen rods--
one for each of the original colonies--
but there is a twist--
a bald eagle head sits atop the axe,
an American touch,
“E Pluribus Unum”,
or Out of Many, One.
That strangely productive power
of the imagination produces infinite ways
of seeing the world, yet at times
it’s as if we were living under the guise
of democracy----unintelligible object relations.
Friends will confirm that I’ve been going
on about Bernie Sanders forever without
realizing how long it would take to vote
Trump out of office or that so much
would happen before we did, not to say
that work wasn’t involved or fun wasn’t
had mocking the President on Late Night T.V.
We were told that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
Does it? Seems like there are a few
outsized yachts & an armada of shopping carts--
the days beetle overhead with glacier-like slowness.
Roger Williams sought to make head or tails
of the language spoken by the Narganset,
a brief observation of the costumes, manners
and worship etc, a little key may open a box
wherein lies a bunch of keys. In the farmer’s
market cherry tomatoes are sold-out, but cobs of corn
are sold just before rotting. Half empty tour bus
passes by while I write the Great American
tour bus epic conjuring cities of farmers markets
with fresh bread and sassafras tea. At the metal
railing of the bridge I vent by throwing
the peanut shells on a passing tugboat, the memory
sticking like rough honey.
we understand not one another,
Is there a bridge?
Three times in my life I’ve heard
that rapid, tapping sound a river-otter
made as it snow shoes up a small stream
as I stood between a corpse and an open window--
a graph of a mind moving with coordinates x and y
resembling flyspecks on old siding or
an advancing storm cloud on a summer’s day.
In Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral”
resolution is whispered surreptitiously
below audible language, insinuating itself
under window frames and doors.
Taking cabs to 2nd and Chestnut
to the Kyhber and then after hours
at the South Street diner with Dori
and Rick who could map his sexual
conquests per square mile using
the Taylor Series then applied
to various locations in the Philly
area during the early aughts--
Bump, The Last Drop, Bob and Barbara’s
Shampoo, Ulana’s and Dirty Franks---
but sometimes a strange night
like tonight at 7:10pm as the sun sets,
the humidity drops, temperature
stays the same warm breeze tiptoes
through the city of Philadelphia.
You have to find it, said Pound
before dying, the cathedral-like structure
of the highly educated girl; The baroque poet
withdrew from a world he thought to be met
with the agonies of death and decay, into the privacy
of his garden, his chamber, his prayer room,
his parish and his library; thus John Donne
about himself, his God and Andrew Marvell.
That beautiful Blake who is like four
feathers of a raven caught down in a chasm
of which we’re just later birds, but like
ah, he’s like a frozen four winged raven
shrieking for the light--not frozen, but
ahead of us like a box kite. We’re all
moving, moving, moving isn’t it nice?
The whole time in Rome, I’m quaking
with holy awe at the very mention
of Shelley,( who in the last section
of Adonais gave a trisyllabic trembling,
a shiver of slacks) and though
the caesuras---cracks in the slab---
are rare in Keat’s Hyperion they herald
the entrance of the Titan King Saturn.
And so Melville wrote:
Whence come you, Hawthorne? By what right
do you drink from my flagon of life?
And when I put it to my lips--for they
are yours and not mine, I feel that
the Godhead is broken up like the bread
at supper, and that we are the pieces
True hermetic Marxist solitude meant
taking a job on a roofing crew in late summer
of ’98 atop a church. A wind hammer demolition
job of surf suite roofs and palms imported
from Florida queue up Lumina Avenue.
With a voice in the hand, two in the sand,
said Feel Good Phil, a voice of the proletariat
whose presence on the crew of roofers stapled
to present punctuality, the forever poised
shift between forced bondage and the stained
foot-prints left behind to mark their passage.
To speak of the man from Hope,
Arkansas or the man of hope is to
declare a record of history as Americans:
asphalt bubbles black ooze under
the crumbling bridges of California
and the overflowing sewage drains
of Houston and the rusted railroad
tracks of the NE corridor, streets
of the capital lined with parking spaces,
haystacks and a slow opening of sycamores
in Metuchen, NJ toward the end of knot-
weed season, a red mirage followed
by a blue wave--Opposite colors mingle
from yellow to purple like nebula where
the welt by the hot metal’s impact blooms.
When I was nine I was flipping through
the dictionary in the F’s and I saw a guy
in a white outfit with a sword and I thought
I could do that. A foible so formed part
of the blade. My Dad had his foibles too,
for example, he and I never saw eye to eye
on cleaning up my room the I’d have to buy back
all my toys for a nickel each and if I slept
late he’d pour cold water in my ears--once I got
a black eye from a guy in a cast--
I took a hit meant for another kid named Donald--
My brother, considered to be smart,
suffered amnesia after being thrown
from his bicycle--The fabric of his
reality unraveled. My Aunt Frieda
and Uncle Charlie fled a war-torn
Europe the way a fly escaped the swatter.
Mom visited the Mays in 1972--the one
family in my parents limited social circle
in Berkeley--a month before I was born.
Berkeley at that time was a loose
federation of buildings spread out
along a hillside. Much later in Philly
I celebrated my 29th at an Italian
restaurant on Broad Street or the Avenue
of the Arts (aka the avenue of the tarts)
The D.S.M-5 is the book of woe
as if the bloody circumstances of my life
had been shrink-wrapped until the words
were colorless oxymorons like “affordable
housing”, the evanescence of vapor,
hard water, beauty of drifting trash.
I light a spare cigarette against
the wind behind cupped hands.
How can you map yourself in the gaze
which does not judge but falls asleep
from time to time as my therapist
did during therapy--I walked down
Holzhausen Strasse where we used
to meet after school. Once during
a re-consultation Roger said,
“I hated that office.” Roger that.
Remember the eyelid of the gormless
kid feeding bones to a dog or winter’s
trace dripping from the eaves?
The evening window dreams with the sun
fading on a magpie brown carpet of leaves
unweaving at the slat fence as real torches
hem in the alley with bobbing rays.
Why such blankets and august mouths?
But did he drink his liquor warm
or sip it from the morning sail
and can you smell the wicker
sleeping cool under his bitter nail.
Look how young his eyes once were
collecting shards of wind
and drifting through rich days of lavender
or basking in some afterglow
of some vagabond utterance.
As verily as Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane
all the trees in Montreal are moved every winter
so as to aide snow removal. Cape Cod is a cathedral
of silence in the Eastern Corridor; and Muir
Woods is only a few miles outside San Francisco;
Victoria Falls are a raw, massive, pounding
curtain of water. It’s like we’re clearing
the channels to an invisible radio, many voices,
one dial. Rewound voicemail recordings squeak
like mice. The vacuum of empty days erased.
At least cheese left some evidence of its past,
even as it grew more inedible toward the end,
especially for the mice. What was that odor
early in the morning, something like sweat,
moonlight and mashed up moths? I turned 49
in September. My neighbor’s wife left me
the following message, Thanks to you the
neighborhood is now infested with the Chinese
Spotted Lantern Fly...Next door the shoulders
of a yellow house half-raised as if in apology.
As a child I conceived of the city as some-
thing behind a border, somewhere abroad.
Whenever someone in my family drove on the Auto-
banh to the city I would imagine crossing
the border to a place made famous by Rabelais
who in 1523 wrote, You shall have the rest
of the story at the next Frankfurt Book Fair.
At first glance the city was not without
its secrets. It was a tension in breadth
and height, nothing else. Everyone knew
that behind the bleakest facades extraordinary
things were happening. So I lingered in
certain rooms seeking the indefinable--
something from the earlier life lived in
these streets. In the evenings, walking
the streets or sitting at my desk in Sayreville, NJ
working by lamplight, I write and dream.
I will reappear within the city of my own making.
Culturally speaking, Sayreville, NJ
was light years away from the East Village
with its magnetic infrastructure---
word on the street was always a year
ahead of the cops with their euphemisms
like “planned shrinkage”, which meant
an up-tick in crime, walls of garbage,
broken porticoes, zaftig rats, bright
Christmas trees, blood splatter, smaller
rooms in more expensive neighborhoods.
Blotches of speed: tail & head lights
exiting and entering the Holland Tunnel;
a necklace of rubies and diamonds.
The East River had its many moods
sounding a panic surface of damp tarp.
Real and unreal separated as sleep departed.
Too bad you couldn’t find a way back
into that dream of New York City
where you shared a smoke with someone
and an inside joke about an un-upholstered
revolution at Corlear’s Hook, adjacent
to the shipyards, NYC’s premiere
brother, hence the word Hookers.