(Moved here from Ateliers because I want the poem available to the public.)
I had forgotten. A one time, sometime member of the board objected to its length. So I took it down. I forgot about something else too. The poem's take comes across as more right now than it did then, in '88.
There was a silhouette that last night,
that white shore, that sandy strand in warm waters
bending back on the palm scrub of Florida,
the tidewater trellis of home.
Or had it been the red gold plume
of late sunlight sneaking through
the building backs of old Spanish town
to arc in the bend of the live oak's limb?
Or was it maybe the sinuous egret
who showed herself earlier that day
and eyeing down on the chameleon
hiding a few steps away from her;
lattice like tall grass, and lizard tail trailing
from the white bird's sharp mandible.
or even when seeing through sun's bright screen
to mid-day epiphany,
seeing the tourists and the unstuck pilgrims,
and noting how a moonraker's lifeline
can never get tightly tied to theirs.
But it must have been the silhouette,
the sealing in shadow of city light shield,
the woman shape on the rise out of sand dunes,
the lineaments of a lady straightening
and standing high,
with the disposition of her hair
the same as decurved seaoats growing in,
bowing beneath the midnight of blackwater blue.
And I was slow to come out of
the ribbed white waves of the surf,
the foamy surf whose silent sense
is in the years washed clear.
And the sight of her to send the shiver through.
As when nighthawks turn on the sharp wing,
or when spoonbills pull on sunset strings.
Like the red dipped pottery chips of ground doves
flashing in the surprising fashion,
or like a Great Blue's loom of truth
when she wheels over deep feeling's ocean.
And when she rose to go
the lead of her timely wake rose with her.
Four times by now having land crossed the country,
with this last crossing coming for keeps.
And the land left behind there,
the sandy shores and slash pine,
the southeast savannahs, the Piedmont,
the continuous forests, the heavy earth crest
whose heart beat I've lain into,
it is a rhythmic beauty not mine anymore.
It's all gone down, having gone under,
gone down to where it's become
some kind of propertied time-share.
First step off the bus in Georgia,
in the Georgia whose night air feels like
loose sleeves of the damp cotton blouse you wear.
And walking into the smell of perspiration,
the pungent odor, the savory scent close to
the tingling tease of marsh bottom blues,
the salt and pepper music that rolls between
the shine of magnolia and having come from
springs blinking through the shade of plane trees.
Stepping off to smoke in Savannah's corner where
the quiet of night is palpable, is fleshy,
is layered in the slow tissue of the city.
And there a clear-cut feeling of how it all
falls behind the busline drive.
And then again up for air in Carolina
where September's first chill cuts a little,
where the first forming chill of twenty years before
would cut the white wolf teeth
of teenage's first felt reckonings.
Just the sliced moment when pulpy rings of youth
get peeled away, when all first sorrows
stare down the taper of tomorrow's tunnel.
Even as what stays remembered
is a Carolina kind of laughter,
and young love's shoulders giving in by the falls,
down by the sycamores, the maples,
and the water wading familiars.
And still the music in time all of us kept to,
what looked as if it never would die,
as if it would keep the beat forever.
Maybe it's first how to learn, first estimate
that pain is a thing you can abide by,
and even when you hear the long knells tolling
the tales of Village soul-sickness.
And so long as you never stop the dream,
never stop peering beneath summerland's mantle,
never stop reaching for the one whose grace
will whistle back to you on the water wings,
still after the continuous lyric
having gone under cover
to come back up through layers of rock,
to come up inside the hidden lake, the glassy tarn,
a mountain's tucked away theme.
And so suddenly it became as crudely illumined
as anyone could likely see:
it was hanging on the wall, for sale
at a scheduled downtown bus stop,
and no candidate for the art of delectation;
just a screen screwed to the wall to picture
a silver woman's face hidden in mountains.
And then that same shiver, that same certain string
pulling, drawing, unseen and tied until
you wonder who the hell owns this life anyway?
Richmond by early morning,
the imploded capital of an Old Dominion
and four hours spent in the domed depot.
Listening to conversations, fixed occupations
of travelers, parting lovers, gray-time passengers,
and then getting caught out by the homeless ones,
the urban denizens who have fallen through
the ragged fabric in jagged city matrix.
The beaten down citizens who concentrate their rest
like chimney swifts circling their nests
in the hour it takes for the paid policeman
to beat out the circuit of his rounds.
And noting how players in this board director's play,
how well they know the casting of their parts.
And seeing through to the leading lady, a bag lady,
seeing how she almost succeeds this time
in shrinking herself to a pin point on the bench.
Almost there. She's almost found the lotion
to rub out what's left of her own life's motion.
And wondering what she sees when she falls asleep?
A reverie, a savior, a shiny king,
or does she sleep the sleep of the preyed upon?
The victim, the pawn, the subject's sleep in Mother Night deep,
hoping to be taken before she can awaken?
And wondering again where Liberty's Lady keeps to now,
the one who led those walking without stockings,
the high souled lady whose heart beat pounds
more openly than that of gray City Fathers.
Or even wondering after some pirate's Jenny,
just someone to stir up concrete complacency
on the board by the sea
where the few get richer, where the many fade
in faceless opiate of the T.V. screen.
Then coming in the Black man, lean and lanky,
who catches the high hall's attention
when a friend calls after him,
and the dude doesn't miss a beat or the sweep
of the broom he keeps pushing, Replyin, "I ain't cryin."
And the feeling someone's got to get out of Richmond,
got to get out of falling down mounds of towns,
got to get to where the blues ain't naturally true.
And sheer weight of the wonder at how much longer
the urban corridor can keep on groaning.
Which is what a glance over memory's shoulder
says is really what's there:
the two ripe years spent in the Northeast
where shrieks get smothered in the great conspiracy
to tie down a maddened madonna in her corner.
Just a world woman's scream and mockingbird wings,
the bleeding, frantically beating, mockingbird wings.
And still trying to get to where
city shield's goblin glow doesn't leer,
to where there's some reason to believe
and boarding back on the bus
some saving reason to believe
that the city feed of civilization is not
a predisposition for terminal cancer.
and the years spent before in this mountain town
built beneath Monticello's first son,
a Virginian whose intelligence
always had the sad shade edging in on it.
Still don't know what he knew, that agrarian gentleman,
or what he saw from his little mountain
while he poured his berry bright Bordeauxs, planned
lavender, larkspur gardens and lilac groves,
where he wrote loosely penned letters when
brooding on the brain child of the continent's future.
But just passing through
like ten years spent before just passing through,
and coming back to where a daughter child
still wears the green gold highlights
of childhood's summer in her hair.
Passing through and still the ancient pull,
the toehold tendrils coming to.
The urgently beating earth,
the mountain swing and misty blue green,
the slow and heavy morning forms,
the gray ghosts of soldier boys
like twice flowering dogwoods.
And the heartland,
the mighty black angus who graze in blue grass,
and still the yellow corn dream,
the fat yellow sun in silky long sleeves.
But also the burning, the big belly cauldron
secretly stoked beneath waist heavy mountains.
Never understood it, that mountain town's magnet
except it always did have the deepest ripening
of a crossroad's Eden,
like apples falling in the ground swell of autumn.
And then the loves that were there,
or maybe the one hovering honey queen
who finally made of me a soldier in the hive,
showing a sky bear's son things he wishes
he never had seen before.
And still those same stations of the year, the necessary stations
that kept on succeeding each other
in the rapid, the rotating time frame.
Like the wild eyed man in green
who kept on tracking his charge through
the lively limbs of the locust grove.
Or the besting test down by the creek,
when must brothers be rivals for the prize,
and the oak king, the sorrowful scene
of getting strung up in the frozen, uncharted season.
And then there were the close friends,
the red dipped holly berries,
the brothers in blood whose paths did parallel
or until time came to screw down the years.
And still the high times we boldly held to,
and mauve of evening's slippery wings that
opened onto the cleansing night time rains.
And I must not have noticed it at first,
or how the sacrificial crowd kept closing in.
The simple souls vanishing in that hollow, burning belly.
Like the darling one man of landed gentry
who always wore that same black beret,
who pointed his high performance auto
one downy dew sunrise morning
over mountain's eastern edge.
Or the $10,000 a job man, the squire's lawyer
who showered, shaved, sat back in bed one day
and touched the pistol to his head.
And the broken down brother, the sweet and gentle one
who parked his car one black wing night
down by the old woolen, the crumbly brick mill,
who sat there waiting for the night train's horn,
who bit on the bore of his big gauge gun,
who did the damned thing in safari fashion.
It's just he was some mother's boy,
that outrider whose brain pan stays in my hands.
And so maybe it got to seeming as if when
tossed to the roulette in white light moment
every ace's high flying number
must come around in the end, sooner or later.
And they called her Sweet Elise,
every boy or man who held, or hoped to hold her hand.
The soft blond lady, you see,
whose painted likeness, the brush tipped image of her
reclines on her couch above the polished oak bar.
Who could make any man swear for certain
he was the everlasting king,
or until he saw how the honecomb she held
was just a shakedown, a breakdown
of the frightened girl deep inside
the moon dark catacombs she hoped to hide.
Exactly here I figure my failure.
And still passing through, coming out of it, coming to.
And back against the milky blue ridge
with the girl whose liquid love is the sunlight;
which is closest to the thing, the transit action,
the swollen heart, the chest constriction.
And again walking through the red brick town
while holding onto this little girl,
cutting across a creek with her,
letting her lead, begging the long lead,
then passing beneath the silver of sycamore
and river birch branches with her,
and seeing the sense of him again,
that same wild eyed brother.
And there it is again,
that same feeling of dark earth folds,
of every ground swell having risen.
Knowing now it's only the half-tamed
who snap the twigs awakening him.
And then saying goodbye that Indian Summer morning,
leaving this girl to silver slip of childhood's day,
while heartheld in how she takes her careless leave.
And walking the town that never got to where
it could bolt down on its passions,
while wondering if you ever can get to where
you bolt down on your passions.
And still that agrarian gentleman
whose likeness walks the streets.
Tall, red haired, slightly stooped,
who now walks aimless in the mid-distance,
no longer with sharp intelligence for
seeing renaissance visions on the ridge.
And these still being the streets remembered well,
walking them like they were spiral stairs,
knowing where they turned, where they stopped,
where they stared back
from basements and cellars keeping the lead.
And the subsisting shadows living in the dark,
in the damp, in the understories,
there for the 200 years and more.
This the discovery to set some apart:
knowing shadows, the lively shadows that wait
for lonely lovers to come,
waiting for them since they're the ones
who lean in a little, leaning just a little,
or until shadow faces feel some of the quiver,
some small substance of what they were once.
And if only it were possible
to get to where the heavier, nature's daughter
could maybe come to slip between, since,
shadows are helpless to give as much as they
glean of the leaning, layered, the gothic soul.
So it's back on the bus in an auburn afternoon
and turning its way into the slant of the sun,
entering soon the graybeard mountains
and deeper into the coal country where
this world-woman gets bled in the bowels
and black blood smeared on the towels.
The highway here crazy in crawl of an asphalt snake
and the high blue sky a taunting thin ribbon.
Faded green of late summer trees that look
shaken, nervous, uncertain.
And do they wonder if hollowed out mountain sides
will someday sink, fall flat, collapse?
But then the mountain man's moon
that rises over the tracing river,
three quarter's spent but still holding on,
still pushing, pulling, and barely half-combed.
Then Charleston, Huntington, crossing the Ohio,
the emphysemic river in the night.
And three times crossing in route to Cincinnati
until feeling the everysoul certainty surge,
the Appleseed who inwardly screams:
what have you done to my Country?
And all for the shake down, for the frantic will
of creature consumption.
But again a wandering memory coming up
of having crossed that river before
when bending into, looking for her love lost
further inside Mississippi's wilderness,
or in green-gold grasses no longer her desire
to let go that day with her own playful heart.
And then another year whose drive is heard,
a season spent shouldering pipes, working the boats
and drilling the off-shore holes.
They called it The Marble Mountain, an oil rig standing,
drilling into a Mothering keep while we
went swirling through the deep Gulf stream,
and as drunk on blue motion
as I ever did get back in New Orleans.
Chartres Street blues, Creole stews and the alleyways,
the old man strays, or the enclosed precincts
of Crescent City's moon sheets.
But still tonight it's on to Cincinnati, then Indianapolis,
that charitably named Indian City
where in the dark A.M.
the primitives stand in their voluntary line,
keeping to a doctrinal, Mennonite past
while waiting for the bus to take them back
to their barns, farms, cairns and bushels.
While the worker woman who works the concession
talks to the on-duty policeman about
the shooting gallery of the night before and about
the station's hard floor on her cheeks.
And the terror is still in her eyes as wide
as a surprised sparrow's, with fear still in his,
even as they try so religiously hard
to walk, talk and be citizen normal.
Can't then help but wonder
if we're not everyone of us lost
inside this larger one way ride
with the only sense of desperate destination
always posted west in the soured side of
And what if sign makers have lied, or become lost too,
only not telling, since, it might seem better
if so many lemmings not know where they're going?
The concrete grids grown wider,
the horse cart blinders willingly worn,
the asphalt smothered pastures, and the programs played
in silicon, atomic games
of interface annihilation.
Or the midnight screams seeping through subliminal,
and worst of all
the disconnected emotions, unplugged perceptions
like unsnapped distributor caps.
And the smoothed out slogans that harangue,
while the eggman falls off his wall again
and the eggman's heart has hardened.
All of this is set in the penultimate year
of our player piano President, the Arch Republican.
Chicago and it's 7 A.M.
gray like granite, sharp like the wind,
Enviable is the talent for seeing the short plan,
for taking the brief lead
or for blocking out the pattern and filling it in.
But just another spread city whose underside
falls in faster than outreach can mend.
No need to argue the point, no point in drawing it out.
And for what is it all for what?
For pyramids of power,
for the man-centered ego whose concrete grip
is a variety of the money broker's tyranny.
For an artificially maintained erection,
for the empiric and persuaded, pathetic, unseated soul's
gross picture of immortal projections.
It is for the self-stroke, the contradistinction,
the unnatural child of an out-of-nature brain.
Thanks all the same.
And who needs the Pharaonic monument?
Just bend me over, roll me down the hill,
turn to till me under;
let me rest when it's time to rest
to fly on feathers, the one love's breath who stays
the pouty red lips, the slip, the oceanic catch.
Somewhere now inside perpetual motion,
and riding on the flywheel with drags set free
Minneapolis, Minnesota, Wisconsin,
to cross another synchronous river
in another moon rise like girly eyes fluttering
over the hard lines of glacially carved basalt.
And no longer seeing to the soft contours
of sweet water Gulf stream shores,
or to the savannahs, the proud plateau of the Piedmont,
and the timeless and told Appalachian story.
All forecurtained to the folk,
never to be drawn again except in memory's
eternity of delta days and tidewater pull.
And still now passing through a Midwestern rain,
and the burnished brown of plains stretched beneath
the lengthy Great Lakes out like splayed fingers.
And going into the spread of where the drama
opens up onto the heroic landscape.
And she who grows herself different out here.
The earth rise, her ample size,
younger, not yet conquered and holding onto where
an anorexic will is not her picture perfect.
Then the Dakota daylight, the Badlands in a sunrise,
the painted canyons like mansions in the morning,
and the red sandstone.
Then easy coyote loping over potted prairie,
Old Man Coyote, foolish Trickster,
and still running in the way he ran
when closer to being young,
when he didn't have a clue until
the Sunrise Sisters took pity on him,
all in the first felt hues, the sure woman steps.
And they who seated themselves inside his belly
to tell him what gift to give next,
this before the time of straightening changes
while rivers still walked the rainbow bridges,
and land's love sang its songs on trails of beauty,
when not just a vestige, a half-remembered dream
but more the way and still saught after.
And now there somehow seeing him still,
and then there the feeling of wanting to step with him
on the outside rim of inside chances.
Even to taste the glory of three Sister Seeds
who will, anyway, fold back the layered finds
on their own, their once-and-future, their pine sap day.
By now rolling through Montana,
then nearing to where Custer's idolatry
still stands erect in marker stone.
And the little two-step towns,
like the one where a fair boy boards the bus,
crying and reaching back for his father,
braking against that long, lonely mile
down the aisle's unknown end of the bus.
Poor boy, frightened child, so soon to measure
his own meager resources.
And the fanning flags of black and white magpies,
or the tailored, yellow meadow larks,
and the red tailed hawks flying over outsized land,
more little town bus stands.
And the philosophizing bus driver
who wears the hard heeled cowskin boots,
whose slow words slowly rise out of
canyons and back tracks
and into drawn up plains leading before
the high backed, sharp shouldered mountains.
And maybe one man's diurnal harmony
can only be the sum total of philosophy.
But by now nightlights blink on their own,
while daylights refuse to meet sharp perceptions.
This a worrisome thing:
that no-sleep tends to dull the impressions,
that falling fresh sights of easy mornings
and of early youth
tend to give way to the untouched days unfelt,
the hollow days of mid-distance living.
Billings spread out, then Bozeman, then Butte,
the same dirty Butte seen years before,
bottomed out Butte and the station's pin ball pilot
who greets a load of itinerants with the words
"Welcome to outer Siberia,"
while keeping his focus on the gaming screen.
And then that other town,
that tucked-in settlement signing itself over
to the high cliff lady's open arms,
the veiled entrance of her first and last reception,
to the overseeing, overguiding, overlighting conception
of a stone warm, heart born lady sculpted on the rise
like a Sacajawea momentarily held
in the mandala of her motion,
like a cellular lady of urgent dreams
and always the swing of the pendulum.
And then the fresh form in the feeling coming back,
the thawing thought, the tugging thought
that all in all any lover's lot
can keep to that of a faithful follower,
while still then nearing to the Tarn,
nearing the hidden mirror of her high soul that
gleams in resinous, coniferous folds where
what's blue is true, what's glacial green stays new.
And yes the preening in the stations we keep,
keeping to them without falling asleep,
in tieing ourselves to the runic, the rooted World Tree
staked down at the knees, tethered by intestines,
and living the life she guides, since,
it's the only trust, the only unbroken dream,
since all life is an experiment, keeping open ended,
nothing given for granted,
and everything at last counted in the somatic,
the body language of millennium's abandon.
And so then crossing the continental divide in
the third night and sleeping the sleep suspended.
Now in the great Northwest and getting localized again,
what's another name for getting turned in.
And how to explain the small thing intrusive,
the underground sense like a vein running through,
like a first forest feeling for re-emerging relatives?
And maybe this is the old growth home,
or maybe it's just an echo I can hear
of a grandmother's ancient imprint,
some serial step reached in her Creek Clan's memory
following down in long trek from Bering landbridge
and then across the continent.
How even to explain the larger thing expansive,
the rivers, mountains, marshes, dreams,
the land ladies seen, lost, toasted, crossed,
and made with slow way between.
The same earth risen ladies
who've let go their shower of hair,
in amber atmosphere, the twilight hair,
the midnight blue a mystic rune,
the slippery sunrise, or the eggshell light
coming to when a land lady washes her body down;
and always the way of these dark haired beauties
who emerge through the mists,
who still spin, dance, and disarm the reception
with dema, dena, deva intelligence.
Like the sunburst in lake's face suddenly golden,
or crossroad's quiet when she trips the latch,
like marshy bed borders when turning herself over,
or the silver showers of light in uptilt faces,
and always her moon smile shining lately through,
through musculature of bare birch branches
just in the nearing end of winter;
and even when she sometimes, when she sometimes,
when she mourns the loss of her sorrowful ones,
her earth sons cut like sheaves while
keeping to her true nation sewn inside
the billows of her many colored sleeves;
and still her dark earth daughters, her wilder women,
her lively daughters who never hide,
who always spend themselves in the spiral time dance.
And so once again the Pacific Ocean,
the lipping, mothering motion's round tide.
And sea floor's shelving rubbing up over
continent's mantle in tectonics of
the urgent, down under meetings.
Or sharp seastacks standing out from dark coast,
and the covering rainforests undercovering in
primitive horsetail, rush, the fan of maidenhair fern.
The bracken, the club moss, and the shield fern
holding on to high slope sides.
And finally coming to a south Sound residence
on the gravelly shore of this salt water inlet,
an oyster shaped trough in its treelined tidal zone.
Massed mountains in the near distance,
the upperthrust of righteous rock
that for first residents keeping local
were held too dear to trample upon,
were ever the nearer to them in chants of potlatch.
Salmon shoulders, the uppercrust of white boulder body,
and last light ephemeras before the cedar weave sleep.
All in the closely pressed and maritime moody sky.
Pacific willow leaves like pennants
or the illusive breeze in black cottonwood.
The leathery salal, the ocean spray when it blossoms
and bends as if from gracious knees.
And madrona trees, the magnificent madrona
red barelled, anchored in dark soil.
And it's here once again the heavy pathos,
the slow beginning slowly running through
to its own slow end and quickly up to meet
the yellow moon sexual, overpoised,
rising up over dark green conifers.
And already the bird signs.
In the cormorants perched with open wings
who dry in the sun like thunderbirds.
And the sharp shinned hawk out of close cover,
or the golden eyes in mating display.
And the conversational crows, the manic and cut crows
like totems freed from their poles.
The secretive thrushes who scout in deep forest,
dark eyed juncoes in winter homes,
the slender neck grebes in sinuous script,
and dunlin draperies flashing over the bay,
or the Stellar's jay with words come intelligible.
And still the great blue bird, the holding heron
whose long bill weaves the way through sky's large loom.
But it's even here where still can come
the monsterous thing, what shakes the bad dream.
It's the bellied blackness coming down the bay,
that steals past the point and gobbles up the bay,
like a methodical Pac Man's face, the wheel house steering,
the timber ship blotting out a star spangled night
to dwarf the massive douglas, hemlock, and father fir.
Voracious, never sated, evil's humdrum kind
like a Minotaur of Minos gone mad,
like a Leviathan of commerce gone amuck.
And it's in the heart home's wilderness,
pounding, reverberating through the keep,
and pleading with her beneath slash burn skies,
you hear what's spoken beneath the singed screen:
Rise Up, Mighty Woman, run and beat the drum,
rattle stormy bracelets, break through the chains;
let earth sides freely breathe again, raise the wild wind,
and kneed us as you please.
Jun/13/2013, 7:35 pm
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You're right, tere, this is a timely post. I'm afraid it may not garner many reads due to the length and difficulty of reading from a computer screen. Which is a pity because this is sweeping and beautiful. It seems to want to capture the history, geography--the zeitgeist of this indescribable country we live in--and damn near succeeds. Reminds me of Whitman. A book would do it justice.
I do see a few places to trim, but not many and not much,
Jun/15/2013, 9:52 am
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Thank you, Chris. Yes, the poem is lengthy, at least, by current standards. A shame to me but it doesn't matter. And yes, again, Whitman was my guide. Sometimes I read the poem and I think, damn, what a downer. Other times I'm struck by, what?, by the depth of its love.
Jun/15/2013, 3:21 pm
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"the depth of its love." I wouldn't have thought to put it like that, but that's it.
Jun/15/2013, 4:30 pm
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I read the first 4 stanzas. At first, several days ago I made two attempts and really wanted to scan it due to its length. Today, I actually began reading it out loud, and it was when I discovered, or rediscovered, the roll and the substantiality of the language of the poem. I did scan the rest of it and could see that it was a cross-country thing, a poetic answer perhaps, vaguely familiar, with Kerouac's trip across the country, or Ginsberg's trip through the turbulent 50's and 60's rebellion. But of course, the message was different here. I am taken back to your brother poets, whose names I cannot at the present remember.
Jun/18/2013, 3:11 pm
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Very good, Zak. Yes. Reading out loud is the way to go here. Or so I think. And sure. Kerouac and a whole slew of other poets trying to bring up this rum idea called America might come to mind. Think about it. Whitman, Kerouac, Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Masters, Crane, Robinson. All have looked to raise up over the page a feeling for America. It kind of begs a question. Why?
Jun/19/2013, 8:07 pm
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