Sunday, June 22, 2008
but there it hung, and burned into my eyes.
The question left no room for a disguise:
I was forgotten, or at least erased.
And then I knew there wasn't any chance
for her to feel a thing but hate for me.
The tide we swam grew angry, and the sea
then pulled us, thrashing, from the shore. Her glance
was angry, too, replete with hurt and doubt.
Her choice was hers, the same as mine was mine,
no matter how our selves were intertwined,
the riptide offered only one way out.
And I can't blame her, I would hate me too,
for what I am, if not for what I do.
on the jungle gym in the school playground
up the street from where I used to live. Down
the hill, the lake sat like a mirror, blurred
by hazy moonlight. Later, several nights
as we lay naked in my bed, she rolled
away and whispered it. And when she told
me what it was she'd done, all of the lights
went dark for a moment. I held her hands
and they sat small in mine. I couldn't eat
my eggs. When we walked out into the heat
I stood, watched her go back to her husband.
I tried to catch her face, but couldn't see
her through the glare the sun cast on the screen.
And in that flash I understood that love
can never be controlled. When I walked in
She had the table set with dinner, wine
already poured, but nothing was enough
to keep me there. And on the mountain road
The moon, two thirds and waning in the east,
was watching as the rabbit ran beneath
the wheels. She gasped, her fist clenched, but we drove
on still. We took turns singing songs until
the two-lane drive turned into freeway lights.
It makes no sense, yet, somewhere in the night,
I loved her, lost her, all against my will,
in spite of things that make an ounce of sense,
And always without asking my consent.
Friday, June 13, 2008
my nostrils filled a moment with the scent
of horses. When they come in dreams I know
To wake before I smell them. But the bend
Of road was not a dream, nor were her hands,
which, creeping from my waist down to my thighs,
made no attempt to cover their demands,
but did stop short. And when I dropped her by
her car, back in a strip mall parking lot,
the scent still clung to me, to her, and all
I wanted was to feel the steady throb
of unchecked gallop, muscles rise and fall,
And know that I could slow it with the reins.
Her horses run untethered in my veins.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Four years ago, nearly to the day, I landed at Leonardo da Vinci - Fiumacino airport in Rome.
When my roomates went to sleep that night, taking the two beds in our tiny hotel room, I went out. I stuck to the main streets, followed the Corso till it took me to a bridge.
I found myself, nearly alone, in the arms of Basilica San Pietro, and soon enough lost in a tangle of streets that bore no mark or name. It was to become a hallmark of my trip.
Rome still calls to me. A memory, or a flash of dust against the sun. I was originally to take a year, go to grad school, complete a 3 year program, and now, return to Rome. But that plan didn't happen. My portfolio didn't grow more than a few hundred lines between the day I stepped on a train to Florence and a few months ago. It didn't get me anywhere, either.
And now I find myself here. It isn't what I planned, but it's as good as anything I imagined. I heard, for the last three years, the voice of Jan, our Belgian guide on our trip to Herculaneum, berating a student who failed to answer quickly enough on the difference in mosaic patterns. Imagine Arnold, with a slightly romantic lilt: "You are a luggard and a slacker, and you will never amount to anything." I remember following him for a moment when we disembarked from the bus at the Ponte Sisto, followed him until he disappeared into the twists of Saturday afternoon. And then I stopped and had a caprese salad and a pizza and a Moretti and watched a semi-final match in Euro Cup 2004. Rome was like that, always leading somewhere and leaving me with no idea how I got there, and often no idea how to get back.
Not more than 6 weeks ago, a line came, and, more importantly, was followed by another. It was the first time in more time than I care to remember that it had happened. And because I followed it, another came, not many nights later.
I've been living with a lot of "or", a lot of "but" a lot of "so". When the lines came, I decided it must be time for "And".
I'm not sure why it was the sonnet that came. The ones I've been writing have mostly been a sort of bastard child of Shakespearian and Petrarchan, if one were dissecting the form in meter and rhyme. But the sonnet it is, and in a rare moment, or when I'm too tired to rhyme, just a burst of blank verse.
I like "and". I'm tired of the other conjunctions. Rome had a lot of "and". It was always something more than the first sentence would hold, and never wanted to be left behind to be second. So for a while, at least, I'll write about "and". But first, because it's four years and a long-held dream come and gone, a small retrospective.
A Poem to End, about the Beginning:
On The Wings of her Heels is a synthesis, newly made, of two things - my first assignment written on an exhortation to lose ourselves on the first day in the Eternal City, and an ode written to Keats upon finding the truth of his Negative Capability. I should have taken Negative Capability a little farther on my trip, but I forgot it somewhere between Budapest and Amsterdam.
I drank too much coffee too late at work tonight, and I couldn't sleep. So I sat down to put this short portfolio together, and the two assignments merged as I composed. It was a natural synthesis, and a perfect poetic introduction to my valedictory statement for the trip, a placeholder in transition away from what I dreamed when I first saw the Aquaducts rise beside the freeway, and where I find myself today. And, as with any valediction, an acknowledgment is due to the two men who shaped the trip: mille grazie to Rick Kenney and Kevin Craft, who shepherded a group of curious students through much more than I realize, even to this day.
An Introduction to the Poems from Rome:
Oppenheimer's Prayer was born of a cigarette butt outside a church where we went to see a Caravaggio. I believe the assignment was to find the spirit of a god in an everyday something. When I first moved to Seattle, I read Tom Robbins' Still Life With Woodpecker and first was teased with the idea of a starving god. Subsequently, Neil Gaiman, Eliot, and others expanded the concept, and it found a place in my heart. And I thought, looking at that cigarette butt, then up at a dusting of smog, "what about the god who is fed praise more and more daily?" We pay tribute with nearly every action to the one who brought us fire, and that thought led me to this. I imagined the splitting of the Atom as a quest of a religious zealot to free the one ancient god to whom we still pray, daily. And, on freeing him, he showed the power of those prayers, in a flash greater than even Zeus' lightning. This poem went through about 30 incarnations, and special thanks is due to Doug Ramspeck for the now-finished, and far superior, product. Iapetto is a latin diminutive, meaning the son of Iapettus. Giapetto is the way that most of us hear the name, although his true name is Prometheus. Il Miglior Fabbro.
Pagan Temple Under the Savior's Palace is the opposite. It was born in the home of a god long left for dead. Mithras was brought from Persia and Asia Minor to modern day Turkey and Syria, and eventually to Greece and Rome, by Greek soldiers - the patron of a mystery cult and thought an early warrior-savior archetype, known only through clues left in icons. At Basilica San Clemente, a Mithraic Shrine was buried under an early church, likely in the 3rd or 4th century. That church was later built upon again, in the 11th century, and that is the Basilica that stands today. Many pre-Christian traditions around the world speak of places where the divine essence breaks the surface - often but not always in the form of a sacred tree. The triple layer of this site would seem to argue for a font of the divine, hidden somewhere beneath the stones and mosaics here. But in the earliest temple excavated, there is a starving god, who I saw living off the scraps of prayers that others leave behind.
Livia was the wife of Augustus Caesar. She kept chickens, and an Auger told her once that as long as her line of chickens survived, her children would rule Rome. I saw her, a pure dove in a sea of pigeons, in a corner of her husband's palace. I wrote a poem for her, and, again, it has been through many changes. Once again, my thanks to Doug Ramspeck for his guidance in paring it down to something more than a rambling thought with a few good lines.
And finally, Voyeurism. Bernini sculpted marble into flesh, proof that you can at least squeeze blood into a stone. The picture included is barely adequate for a hint of the reality. In my second year of Latin, I studied Ovid, in the original, under one of the world's preeminent experts on The Metamorphoses. My professor made it a dream, but Bernini breathed life into the stories. What you can see here, and hopefully in my verse, is a shadow of the statue of The Rape of Prosperpine. There were other statues, equally enthralling. David, biting his lip and squinting as he prepares to heave his stone. Daphne, hair and fingers shifting into leaves as her toes grip the ground and spread into roots. Apollo's eyes realizing that he will never hold his prize. Marble made flesh, in all cases. But this is the one that caught me. What you can see in this picture is the way his fingers sink into her thigh, and the way her hair swirls and pushes back against him. What you can't see is his finger nails almost breaking her living skin, or the scream pushing through her lips, or the drip of saliva building on Cerberus' tooth, or the madness in Pluto's eye.
I'm not anything like what I wanted to be now, or anywhere near where I thought I'd be. But the coffee is finally wearing off, I have calls and spreadsheets and appointments tomorrow, and there's no point in dreaming of Rome if I don't follow the streets here when they turn a funny direction in front of me.
And I have a new conjunction to begin things. I'll try to move away from viewing the world in aperture, and towards following the streets wherever they turn. So, as I move on, I bury that dream I held so long with a line stolen brazenly from the boy poet. The epitaph shall read: Here lies a dream whose name was writ in water. And I'll try to remember, more often, what they made us memorize and recite: First, lines I recited in a cave on the Adriatic Coast, "Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." And second, recited in my best faux-German accent over pasta salad, "For here there is no place that does not see you; You must change your life."
And finally, because this is all a little too serious, something silly: a double dactyl written as we closed our trip in a classroom and banquet hall up a set of stairs from the place that saw "the most unkindest cut of all"; written and performed above the landing where Great Caesar fell:
Kenney and Kevin Craft
Schooled us in Poetry,
Opened our eyes.
Taught us the words we need
Living as poets are,
"Would you like fries?"
by following a hem around a turn
and soon I found myself beneath a bridge
and watching Tiber's waters as they churned
and dove. The streets were tangled ripples on
a time tossed sea, and changed, and turned, I swear,
each time I passed. And as I walked along
past monuments, an echo filled my ear
with voices that I knew from somewhere I
have never been, told secret names of things,
and sang in marble dust that filled the sky.
My Rome, I found, while lost, upon the wings
of heels. Ten thousand years of pilgrims ere I came,
And still her cobbles greeted me by name.
We broke the bonds that held you, Iapeto,
Beneath bleacher bench seats
We loosed your many thousand years
Of pain and pent up rage,
To show you what we made
With that coal you carried, long ago,
In your fennel cane.
Slowly, we worked,
Worked to show you,
To honor the coal you carried,
The light in dark you brought us, Iapeto.
Daily, we worked, across the generations,
We worked while the eagle tore your living bowels from you,
We broke the bonds beneath a football field,
And now the eagle, hungry these sixty years,
cries in the night for you,
Screams for the salt of your blood,
The warmth of your flesh, Iapeto.
Gravel crackles under my footfalls sounding
All the world like cockroaches carpet earth here
In this subterranean temple, empty
Save for the god’s ghost,
Mithra’s spirit lingers here, dreams, recalling
Years long buried, days when the faithful brought him
Sacrifice sweet with
Votive begging victory over darkness.
Now though, Mithra, wandering hallways ghostly
Slurps only marrow.
Graves long cold are icing between the layers
Church on church on temple where once a god learned
Nothing is sacred.
“I walked, in my dream,
Through the halls of my palace.
And I came, dream world wandering,
To a room that I have never seen.
The walls were unadorned
And bare, and on the floor,
Neither marble nor carpet.
A whirlwind twisted
And one of my chickens,
Pecking seed from the floor,
Stood centered in the eye.
Then that whirlwind vanished from my dream room.
It left only bare stone walls,
The feather of raven,
The Auger spoke his prophecy.
The wife of Augustus went on her way.
Where he slept that night, his innards were cut from him,
And from the pulsing bowels
Another future came.
I too have seen
A devil in a dust sportcoat,
Spinning in a room adorned only with
Tufts of lupin flowers,
A dancing, onyx feather,
And a ceiling of cloud high above.
You should have asked Jocasta and Creon;
The future, once spoken, can never be changed.
I walked in your gardens and looked for you,
Lady Livia, but found only
Olive grove blooming,
And dust devil dancing,
In a room that to you
Must have seemed more a nightmare than dream.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The greedy fingers feast upon her flesh
And quench their thirst on tears that never fall.
Black, wild hair swirls through his diadem,
And Cerberus, three headed, stands and howls
With one mouth only as his master claims
The prize. And she, the daughter of the fields,
Cries madly of her noble lineage
To no avail. He holds her fiercely, clasps
Her to his chest. Prepares to take her down
To his grey home. And when she leaves the land
Will miss her sore. The fields will not yield grain
Nor will the olive, favored by her sister,
Ripen, nor the grapes weigh down the vine
To honor Bacchus. Now, he grasps her, grips
Her in his hands. Perhaps if I but knew
The price I’ll pay, I’d rush out to her aid,
And pry his chubby fingers from her thighs.
Her tears and bruises would subside in time,
No pomegranite seed would pass her lips.
The chisel stopped the scene, in marble cast,
So I could save myself from all to come.
Yet I do not. Deep, coal black furrows will
Stand fallow when the god has taken her
Beneath the stones. But now the goddess fights.
The flowers have not tumbled from her hair,
Nor has the garment fallen from her back,
And Pluto’s scepter lies between his feet,
Forgotten as he wrestles with his prize.
His muscles strain and veins leap from his thighs.
His fleshy talons claw into her skin,
As I stand by in awe and watch the rape,
This living marble holds me in its thrall.
A voyeur to the act, and thus condemned
To suffer Ceres’ wrath in winter snows.
and couldn't fall asleep, my slow thought turned
to Thomas, and I went into the poem.
But when the second stanza ended I
began again, and suddenly forgot
the second line. I lay there for a time
and tried to piece the words together. I
cannot remember when I last forgot
a poem - I've never lost a second line.
A line in "Coliseum" often trips
me, even one in "Fern Hill," but at the
end. Never the beginning of a poem.
And so I lay, through one, then two alarms,
and by the time I brushed my teeth my knees
were shaking. Which of my old friends would I
lose next? And if I can't recall a line,
which would I lose entirely to time?
Now I'll be late for work, and on my ride,
I'll cycle through, in fear of what is gone,
as when a Philatelist, coming home,
discovers his home flooded. Spends his day
in turning pages, books. Now which of my
best pieces, years spent in collecting them,
is ruined here, by Time's persistent crawl?
Will it be Poe or Eliot or Keats,
and when they're gone, how will I ever hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear?
And when the words have left, which song will be
sung by mermaids, how will they sing to me?
And as we fucked behind the yurt the sky
was ribboned green and gold. I see her face
framed in the Northern Lights. And I can taste
September in her kiss. I'm not sure why
the emerald snakes curled in between the clouds
in August. In that halo, something fell
between us, although then I couldn't tell
you what it was. But I know this much now -
Aurora Borealis is the Dawn
of the North Wind, and when Boreas sings
his notes are all in minor key. The things
I felt that night were votive to his song,
and ancient gods are hungry. Now I know
which dawns will break, and which will bring me snow.
And when he came home Friday night he closed
the door and had a heart attack inside,
but no one knew till Monday. At the show
tonight I thought of him and wished that I
had seen him when he last came into town.
He would have had a Makers, and a Pabst.
He told me, once, you couldn't turn around
in Vegas and not hit an acrobat.
He smiled, and said Barry Manilow
was a real performer, and now I know
exactly what he meant. On my way home,
composing this, I nearly missed the road
and had to swerve to exit. I'm not sure.
Was I trying to avoid my own front door?
And when the wheels went up, a moment's peace;
My email had to wait, my phone was off.
The last few days had seemed a dozen weeks,
and all the hours never quite enough.
Then, knowing that my future would depend,
at least in part, on something I could no
longer control, I focused on the sand
and watched the snaking ribbon of the road.
And then I had a moment of a dream,
of vans and manifests and delegates,
until the kid beside me nudged my sleeve,
and passed the water from the stewardess.
Beside the highway, once, I stopped and cried,
and then went on, and still I'm not sure why.
And something sparked a single thought of her.
I'm not sure what, the wind, or how the trees
obscured the moon, the way the pollen blurred
the edge like fog. But I could feel her tease
my earlobe with her tongue. That night was crisp
and we were drunk, and young. She hadn't crossed
my mind in years, but suddenly her lips
were almost real, and just as quickly lost.
And somewhere in the shapeless place between
the second time I hit the snooze and when
I shook myself awake, I had a dream
of horses, running, rearing on the hem
of night, that space between the dew and dawn.
They flashed into the silence and were gone.
All the girls go tanning, even the moon
and just like theirs, the one she gets is spray-
on, bronzed by smog and sunset where she plays
poolside above the strip, all afternoon.
She's on and off a diet, just like them,
and waning now, though still some extra pounds
a little chub, but happy that she's down
a size this week, and feeling very thin.
They all put on their heels, head to the club,
Inside the guys buy drinks, the girls all dance,
she staggers, with the crowd, at 5 am,
back to her room, she barely feels the sun
Slide in beside her, whisper something sweet,
and kiss her as she's drifting off to sleep.