the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
crawling in and out
the bone and the
for more than
there's no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill
How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors...
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.
From: The Armies of the Moon. Toronto: Macmillan, 1972
Thre's no point kidding myself any longer,
I just can't get the knack of it ; I suspect
there's a secret society which meets
in dark cafeterias to pass on the art
from one member to another.
It's so personal preparing food for someone's
insides, what can I possibly know
about someone's insides, how can I presume
to invade your blood?
I'll try, God knows I'll try
but if anyone watches me I'll scream
because maybe I'm handling a tomato wrong,
how can I know if I'm handling a tomato wrong?
something is eating away at me
with splendid teeth
Wistfully I stand in my difficult kitchen
and imagine the fantastic salads and soufflés
that will never be.
Everyone seems to grow thin with me
and their eyes grow black as hunters' eyes
and search my face for sustenance.
All my friends are dying of hunger,
there is some basic dish I cannot offer,
and you my love are almost as lean
as the splendid wolf I must keep always
at my door.
And as it's going often at love's breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.
Lucky life isn't one long string of horrors
and there are moments of peace, and pleasure, as I lie in between the blows.
Lucky I don't have to wake up in Phillipsburg, New Jersey,
on the hill overlooking Union Square or the hill overlooking
Kuebler Brewery or the hill overlooking SS. Philip and James
but have my own hills and my own vistas to come back to.
Each year I go down to the island I add
one more year to the darkness;
and though I sit up with my dear friends
trying to separate the one year from the other,
this one from the last, that one from the former,
another from another,
after a while they all get lumped together,
the year we walked to Holgate,
the year our shoes got washed away,
the year it rained,
the year my tooth brought misery to us all.
This year was a crisis. I knew it when we pulled
the car onto the sand and looked for the key.
I knew it when we walked up the outside steps
and opened the hot icebox and began the struggle
with swollen drawers and I knew it when we laid out
the sheets and separated the clothes into piles
and I knew it when we made our first rush onto
the beach and I knew it when we finally sat
on the porch with coffee cups shaking in our hands.
My dream is I'm walking through Phillipsburg, New Jersey,
and I'm lost on South Main Street. I am trying to tell,
by memory, which statue of Christopher Columbus
I have to look for, the one with him slumped over
and lost in weariness or the one with him
vaguely guiding the way with a cross and globe in
one hand and a compass in the other.
My dream is I'm in the Eagle Hotel on Chamber Street
sitting at the oak bar, listening to two
obese veterans discussing Hawaii in 1942,
and reading the funny signs over the bottles.
My dream is I sleep upstairs over the honey locust
and sit on the side porch overlooking the stone culvert
with a whole new set of friends, mostly old and humorless.
Dear waves, what will you do for me this year?
Will you drown out my scream?
Will you let me rise through the fog?
Will you fill me with that old salt feeling?
Will you let me take my long steps in the cold sand?
Will you let me lie on the white bedspread and study
the black clouds with the blue holes in them?
Will you let me see the rusty trees and the old monoplanes one more year?
Will you still let me draw my sacred figures
and move the kites and the birds around with my dark mind?
Lucky life is like this. Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that. Lucky life. Oh lucky life.
Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.
Holy is Every Man's Angel
Where Hides the Mirror of Perfection
Sometimes my tongue wanders
among ruins, feels a word lost under the skin
wants to define the touch, the abyss
the whole nervous theater
as seen from within.
Sometimes my eye exists
without me, and I am carried
everywhere at once until the center is far away
and in the blackness, distant as an undiscovered star
you are closer than you've ever been.
You are my life, my death, my limb.
Like an ocean turned to blood
I find you in what didn't exist—
the moment is carnelian, it runs from the painting
back onto the brush, and I am with you
completely with you without me.
Sometimes there is no punctuation
to the land at the end of the point.
The surf doesn't pound, the shore only speaks
when we leave. It is you, then —in me, under
and around, who opens into a burning page
and fills the storm with silence.
It is we who write our names
purposely close to the tide's edge
that we may find ourselves in what disappears,
leaving the world to begin, far outside
the painting's frame.
Ponderous. The chimes of a clock.
“Render unto Caesar ... render unto God...”
someone like me to dock?
Where’11 I find a lair?
like the ocean of oceans little,
on the tiptoes of waves I’d rise,
I’d strain, a tide, to caress the moon.
Where to find someone to love
of my size,
the sky too small for her to fit in?
Were I poor
as a multimillionaire,
it’d still be tough.
What’s money for the soul? –
of all the Californias isn’t enough
for my desires’ riotous horde.
I wish I were tongue-tied,
like Dante or Petrarch,
able to fire a woman’s heart,
reduce it to ashes with verse-filled pages!
and my love
form a triumphal arch:
through it, in all their splendour,
leaving no trace, will pass
the inamoratas of all the ages!
as quiet as thunder,
how I’d wail and whine!
One groan of mine
would start the world’s crumbling cloister shivering.
I’d end up by roaring
with all of its power of lungs and more –
the comets, distressed, would wring their hands
and from the sky’s roof
leap in a fever.
If I were dim as the sun,
night I’d drill
with the rays of my eyes,
all by my lonesome,
build up the earth’s shriveled bosom.
On I’ll pass,
dragging my huge love behind me.
feverish night, deliria-ridden,
by what Goliaths was I begot –
I, so big
and by no one needed?
I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus
With tigery stripes, and a face on it
Round as the moon, to stare up.
I want to be looking at them when they come
Picking among the dumb minerals, the roots.
I see them already--the pale, star-distance faces.
Now they are nothing, they are not even babies.
I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important.
I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit!
My mirror is clouding over ---
A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all.
The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.
I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam
In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it.
One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that.
They stay, their little particular lusters
Warmed by much handling. They almost purr.
When the soles of my feet grow cold,
The blue eye of my turquoise will comfort me.
Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots
Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell.
They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart
Under my feet in a neat parcel.
I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark,
And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.
In the stone church
of Lesser Towne,
Joan of Arc, Lorraine’s maid,
prostrate on the transept floor,
her womb, a sacred sepulcher
of slandered witches.
As French armies fall, she prays
in a chapel where walls rage
with men-crushing dragons,
dead children hanging
on knights’ silver shields,
Savior dragging gilded cross,
horses flying into heaven,
and a spiked halo
on a statue of the Bishop.
Her mother, the organist,
and her father, the janitor,
dissuade Joan from listening
to the Angels who exhort her:
Beat the English.
March to Paris.
Send a hot epistle
to the Bishop of Beauvais,
insisting he remain
a loyal Frenchman.
A letter ignored at first,
then saved for her burning.
At her trial,
the Bishop’s accusation:
Joan dresses as a man.
Her last words, a simple query:
How can a woman fight a war,
if she wears a dress?
All day long, all through the night,
all affairs--yours, ours, theirs--
are political affairs.
Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.
Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don't say speaks for itself.
So either way you're talking politics.
Even when you take to the woods,
you're taking political steps
on political grounds.
Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it's a question, as always, of politics.
To acquire a political meaning
you don't even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,
or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months;
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one?
Meanwhile, people perished,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.
A man looked at us across his little dish
Of watercress and peas and said he’d wasted
Five years. We couldn’t ask him doing what?
He said he knew he’d let some thing alive die
And didn’t know how to get it back again now
That it was gone. He looked as if he were
About to cry, as if a fresh death wanted him
To mourn. He talked as if the place he’d been
Had so unwelcomed him it had ruined his soul,
As if it were a place into which drained an
Absolute dead air. He said he’d left no friends
Behind, no one who’d notice he was gone.
And here he was without a job, no place his to
Live, no one his to love. We said welcome home.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.
The drum of war thunders and thunders.
It calls: thrust iron into the living.
From every country
slave after slave
are thrown onto bayonet steel.
For the sake of what?
The earth shivers
Mankind is vapourised in a blood bath
can get hold of Albania.
Human gangs bound in malice,
blow after blow strikes the world
to pass without charge
through the Bosporus.
won’t have a rib intact.
And its soul will be pulled out.
And trampled down
only for someone,
their hands on
crush the Earth — fissured and rough?
What is above the battles’ sky -
When will you stand to your full height,
giving them your life?
When will you hurl a question to their faces:
Why are we fighting?
Oh, love, why do we argue like this?
I am tired of all your pious talk.
Also, I am tired of all the dead.
They refuse to listen,
so leave them alone.
Take your foot out of the graveyard,
they are busy being dead.
Everyone was always to blame:
the last empty fifth of booze,
the rusty nails and chicken feathers
that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,
the worms that lived under the cat's ear
and the thin-lipped preacher
who refused to call
except once on a flea-ridden day
when he came scuffing in through the yard
looking for a scapegoat.
I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.
I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you - you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.
Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.
A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-speckled, black
The great corollas dilate, peeling back their silks.
Their musk encroaches, circle after circle,
A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in.
Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees,
You move among the many-breasted hives,
My heart under your foot, sister of a stone.
Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds.
The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down.
In these little boudoirs streaked with orange and red
The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings
To father dynasties. The air is rich.
Here is a queenship no mother can contest ---
A fruit that's death to taste: dark flesh, dark parings.
In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees
Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down
I set my eyes to a hole-mouth and meet an eye
Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.
Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg
Under the coronal of sugar roses
washed-up, on shore, the old yellow notebook
I write from the bed
as I did last
will see the doctor,
"yes, doctor, weak legs, vertigo, head-
aches and my back
"are you drinking?" he will ask.
"are you getting your
I think that I am just ill
with life, the same stale yet
even at the track
I watch the horses run by
and it seems
I leave early after buying tickets on the
"taking off?" asks the motel
"yes, it's boring,"
I tell him.
"If you think it's boring
out there," he tells me, "you oughta be
so here I am
propped up against my pillows
just an old guy
just an old writer
with a yellow
walking across the
oh, it's just