Ogygia…early reviews are in

fauna of mirrors

 

“Lisa Summers’ new book of poetry Ogygia is delightful, mythic and episodic. The best analogy for this well-crafted volume is a film, perhaps a film like Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ or a Terrance Malik film. Summers’ poetic eye moves in and out of shots, sometimes offering a panoramic view, at other times close up shots of the lives and moments that inhabit that mythic world.

A poem that beautifully illustrates this camera lens effect is ‘Mylar Sirens.’ The name of this poem defines Summers’ aesthetic in this volume, blending the gaudy artificial with mythic voices of seduction and longing. The panorama is dominated by a ‘pitiless sun” of  a ‘blank // and glaring gaze.’ The focus shifts to the tune of ‘Benny and the Jets’ (Electric boots . . .). The camera chooses points in time to reflect the inner musings of the outer frame perspective. A standout line is the depiction of someone who is not the speaker’s mother, but might be:

‘Two Women in floral Paintsuits
(One Might be her Mother)’

The landscape of these memories, although mingled with mythic and Romantic elements, is decidedly not. ‘Not a patch of dappled light // here to soften the grassy expanses.’ There is no Hopkins to infuse beauty into this vision.

‘An Open Letter to Mammon’ has a strikingly different tone. It is an urgent critique of greed as a mythic, all consuming force; not just the ‘old, the weak, and the very young’ are “desiccated’ by this force, but rather the very landscape of the world in the poem that follows. This ‘muddy touché’ to Mammon is a key passage in the world view of this volume, in which the forces of spirit, goddess, beauty and mythic female power find themselves at the margins, torn, adrift, and forgotten.

One such women is invoked in ‘Eulogy for Sycorax. The ‘Eternity Machine’ of the starlit sky dominates the landscape of this poem, but Caliban’s mother is brought into focus here. Again, we see a grotesque Romanticism:

‘She Steps across the stinking mounds of
Starfish, spent by some plague
Of the waves sent by Proteus.’

It is unclear if Sycorax herself is the “primary dreamer” or if she will awaken to renew this fallen world.

The witches, outcasts and forgotten goddesses who people this volume in the richly textured language of this gifted poet remind the reader that some knowledge, some power, survives in roots that go deeper than the culture of patriarchal power and greed that seeks to efface them from the record of time:

‘Some roots begin in the future and reach back
Into the dry, scorched earth of the present
In search of the nutrients and the clear water
For which they thirst.’

The root at the end of ‘Half Savage and Free’ echoes the roots of earlier poems.  There is a haunting forlorn quality to the skies and landscapes in this volume with echoes of Wuthering Heights. Mammon figures here too.  Looking both forward and backwards through both a wide lens and mythic scope and a detailed microscope, this elegant volume of poetry and its vision contributes importantly to that search for meaning and roots.”

(Professor Tim Wandling is currently the Graduate Advisor at Sonoma State University’s Department of English. He has been a Literature faculty member of the department since completing his doctorate at Stanford in 1997, on Byron, “Transgressive Eloquence,” and 19th Century theories about reading.  He has presented or published papers on Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, J.S. Mill, and the teaching of Social Protest literature.  His scholarly interests include Romantic and Victorian literature, Frankfurt School critical theory, socialist feminism, utopian and social protest literature of all sorts, and the New Women literature of the late 19th c.)

 

 

“In Ogygia, Summers floats on the tide of myth. One also hears echoes of Plath and the Mirror and Wylie and finds shades of Tennyson, Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci,’ early Yeats with the musicality and nuance of the refrain, not used enough in contemporary poetry:

‘Before the night pulls tight its shutters / At the coming of the dawn.’

(Professor James Tipton currently teaches creative writing at College of Marin. He holds a PhD in literature from the University of California, Davis where he worked with Gary Snyder on his doctoral dissertation on the California nature poet, Kenneth Rexroth. Tipton has taught English and creative writing at U.C. Davis, the University of Bordeaux, France, and at colleges around the Bay Area. He is the author of the best selling novel Annette Vallon.)

 

 

“I was transported into a mystical land of springtails, selkies, myths and maidens – so transported I hardly realized I was parked in the Whole Foods lot, still in the driver’s seat with Ogygia propped against my steering wheel.   I read it cover to cover, going back for seconds on favorite lines about lichen-covered faces and secret chambers of squash, and hanging on the powerful italics and ending lines, like interrupted dreams and offerings of pins.

What I think good poetry should do, and does, is shake up the dusty places in the soul, unsettle the mind in inexplicable ways, and remind us of things we didn’t know we’d forgotten, awakening parts we didn’t know were asleep.  Good poetry should cause a dust storm of déjà vu that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, like missing the smell of a horse’s sweat that you’ve never ridden. 

This book stirred me.”

(Stacey Tuel holds a Masters of English Literature from Sonoma State University with an emphasis on Creative Writing. Her story “My Mexican Cleaning Lady” was included in Best Women’s Travel Writing. Recently Stacey can be found behind an old typewriter as a member of the Farm Fresh Poets at the Sonoma Valley Farmers’ Market.  Her new  chapbook “Snapshots of Ireland” is based on travels with companion and co-author Jonah Raskin (CultureCounter Press.) )

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Ogygia – Release

My new book OGYGIA is finally out.

If you live in the SF Bay Area, please join me, Daedalus Howell, Jonah Raskin, Stacey Tuel and Amy Petersen at Epicurean Connection (122 W. Napa Street) on November 13 for an evening of poetry, music and our book(s) release party.

Find me on Twitter @the_bananafish if you have any questions about the event or would like to order a book.

I’m working on getting a new email address. For now sixtomales@yahoo.com is what I check.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Ogygia

 

 

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Open Letter to Mammon

Mammon

A muddy touché! Ye villains
of Hong Kong and Dubai,
fork-tongued evangelists of the bible belt!

We applaud the handing over
of our stolen goods –
May we offer you a free-of-charge
gondola ride over the holy land
a bird’s-eye view of your assets
your wives and daughters, your mothers
your pimps, your priests and pederasts
your arms traders and factory generals
your Legacy on its death march –
advancing with the Exodus
in the shadow of a thunderhead
towards the promise of absolution
in a wine dark sea

Desiccated by desert heat
the old, the weak, and the very young
and others beyond utility
shall remain eternally entombed
under a violent sun;

Still others, inhabitants of bygone ice
of the high steppes,
of the Dengue jungles,
of the sand spit nations,
by your leave they join the fate of those
dragging their feet from Bethlehem
with the taste of sea salt
on their black tongues

You, tiny man with the tiny screen,
spitting crimson betel juice
on the shoeshine boy
from the City of God,
on the shoeshine girl
from the City of Angels,
grinning, your grill glinting
as the laborers of your camps
vacate the bowels, oozing with parasites,
of your Super Babylons
of your endless outskirts
of your suburban Irkallas
with their rent-a-Nergals
festering like a thousand boils
upon the continents

The widening gyre spins in
a kaleidoscope
of shampoo bottles

Throw a rock through
the liquor store window –
Go to Jail dot com

Yesterday, a reactor meltdown in Japan,
Tomorrow the monarch will perish
in the rain of highway shoulder poisons,
meanwhile microbeads assemble in
nearshore waters–
they are watching you like
a billion billion billion
primitive eyes in the waves

Forgetting, they abandon the stragglers
shaking breadcrumbs from their pockets
tossing silver coins for the trade rats

Some leave to wander the
emptied alleys and wind tunnels –
woodwinds of the Trades –
echoing in the lonely island temples
sinking back into the oceans
of their emergence

No one to know what the polecat ate
No one to hear the gasping
of the Vaquita and Silky Sifafka
of the Mekong Catfish
as they sink below the surface

But wait, Mammon, remember
your little chochita with
pinto bean skin?
She hides her poison darts
under her Shakira beach towel –
She is coming for you first, hombre

You and your black market organ traders
who sleep like infants and fear nothing
if not the loss of your Legacy –
you must know that It too will be buried
in the sub-sea archives

This text is classified
Your last wishes will be recorded
in the annals of the Lithosphere
lost in the subduction zones
guarded by tube worms –
great scholars of the deep

For Wendy

ErnstHaeckel

 

Sagacious peach!
Sturdy in her mud-caked boots,
her white hair – a dandelion mane,
she walks, alive with the riotous laughter
of water running over stones,
among the wisest of the
willows that grow along
the banks of Redwood Creek.

Oh! Patron Saint of nettles
and Dharma transmissions,
champion of the lowly springtail,
keeper of the soil’s dark secrets,
we beg her – do not leave us to a world
of watery tomatoes!

Instead, across an abyss of
time and hard memories,
she calls the Seneca Nation –
guardians of the Western Door.

Though wary of our West Coast ways,
they teach us the wisdom
of the three sisters:
we learn that to save the bear bean
the squash and gourds,
the Iroquois corn,
is to save ourselves.

As we stare at each other
in the dappled plains of understory
we are invited to dance
beneath the coast live oak
with the Hamadryads,
losing ourselves in the absurdity
of old limbs and stiff backs,
rolling our ankles on acorns.

In the borrowed words of Alan Chadwick
Wendy tells us, her unruly students –
The garden makes the gardener;
the farm makes the farmer
.

And we whisper back –
And so patience and noble heart make the teacher.

Kabocha

photo-1
Green, warty and humble
this small Japanese cousin
of the buttercup squash
has a cult following among
pumpkin enthusiasts.

Known for its mango flesh
its smooth texture, its chesnutty flavor,
the kabocha is revered as an aphrodisiac
by squashophilic peoples of the globe.

For most, any amorous feelings that arise
from eating the kabocha
resolve themselves on mortal men and women
but not the pumpkin itself, as in my case.

If you have a large enough knife
to cleave this rock-hard squash-bauble,
the fragrance issuing from its secret chamber
will make you believe in fairy godmothers.

The scent is recognizable
to anyone who has dug their bare hands
into the soil beneath the late-winter leaf mould
– fermented, pungent, cool
ripe with humus, alive with springtails.

I often bake the kabocha whole
to avoid the problem of breaking its hull,
but I have been plunged, on occaision
into aromatic confusion
as the baking fills the kitchen with the scent –
I kid you not – of a sweating horse.

For any girl who has lived through
a pre-teen obsession with the Equus caballus
with plastic models, show ribbons,
the complete Misty of Chincoteague collection
(although Misty was technically a pony)
sweating horse is the smell of Freedom.

Speaking of, the foul-tempered steed
of my childhood was a bony, geriatric half-breed
called Sham whose passion for running me
under low branches resulted
in at least two hairline fractures,
and a few swollen ticks in the thigh,
ten or so stitches.

Sham spent the last of his days
grazing on a hill behind my house
on Montford – a place known
as Horse Hill by the children of Homestead
feral, abandoned in the weedy summers
to roam the bramble choked deer trails
that traversed the mountain.

We hunted for blue-green liquor bottles
in the Eucalyptus grove above
the old farmhouse where the oft-nude tenants
communal in numbers,
smoking their hookah pipes
and their hand rolled joints,
let us run wild like vermin.

Only years later did I learn Jack Kerouac
had written Dharma Bums within
those very same walls –
hung with saris and sarongs
reeking with patchouli and ginger beer.

With a power unmatched by color
the baking kabocha reclaims the dreamer,
leading her by the ankle bangles, dancing
in a free-association revelry, lucid tripping
through the perfumed labyrinths of memory.

In the year of our Sham came Polyestor 
out in Odoroma – better than 3-D by far;
I saved my Scratch ‘N Sniff cards for years
on behalf of all persecuted heroines
Divine, and otherwise.

In the chemical signatures of Odorama –
burning flesh, dog shit and new car,
my memory attached itself
to the purple vinyl couches
the red velvet cushions in the Castro Theater,
the noxious clouds of exhaust
coughed out by my father’s Camaro,
Etzel shouting down the dumbwaiter
at Sam Wo’s and the grease of Chow Fun,
to the face of Dexter the foot-fetishist
and his kindred spirit,
the faceless trailside killer.

One day a farmer will grow a
Kabocha big enough to hide away in –
Cinderella’s carriage
in a world without clocks
and ill-fitting slippers of glass
where the walls are edible
and hung with seeds.

I will ride upon the top, madly whipping
the reins, the wind groping at my hair
with its icy claws, while
all the silent watchers in the forest watch
from the haunted hollows of black night
as the old horse draws me swiftly
away to a truer freedom
than the Dharma bums
could even grant a Cinderella
for I, too, would rather sit on a pumpkin,
and have it all to myself
than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

The Strait of Messina

ogygia_back cover

Summon the selkies, the freshwater fishes
Shuck the black oysters in sea wormwood dishes
Let the sea gods dream as the shearwaters scream
Ten bits in the pot for your wasted last wishes.
The luminous wind-gall is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms
Any port in a storm will do, merry men,

Any port in a storm will do.

Bring cards and a bottle to succor thy souls
Sail silently under the black Sacks of Coals
Whisper the waters – the Scylla awaits!
We make for the ballow to slip past the shoals
Boldering weather is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms

Any port in a storm will do, merry men,
Any port in a storm will do.

Turn not to the blunderbuss, saker and cannon
But rum up the tongue to lively the Chanty Man
Ncidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim
Make Charybdis an offer of Abraham-men
Blustrous bunk is the least of her charms
But when she starts blowing great guns and small arms

Any port in a storm will do, merry men,
Any port in a storm will do.

Keep her rap-full! See the cavernous maw!
The great horned claw, the spiked toothy jaw
A debt we must pay for our bird catching days
See the pull-away-boys row swiftly away
Charybdis, old girl, she’ll swallow us raw
Ready About! The storm petrels swarm
She’s already blowing great guns and small arms

Yea, any port in a storm would have done, merry men,
Any port in a storm would have done!

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Autotextuality

Autobiography

I am disappearing into quietude
in a quaint country tract house
known as the “Merlot” model.
My house is slightly smaller than
the Chardonnay and
the Cabernet models
but bigger than a Zinfandel.
Here, a spec house coup de tat
took place: the terror of terroir.
I hear the ghosts of
of an old turkey farm
gobbling in the twilight.
I wave to the Hooker boys
who clung to their ancestral
home – the Thunderbird model –
a double-wide, paid for in cash
before the spec house scourge.
Now they waste away with
despondent elders on plaid couches
in a front yard of ice plant.
In America ten old toilets
are a sculpture garden.
I see their gaping mouths
as like fonts of holy water
alive with wriggling larva
to receive the butts and ashes.
I am leading an anxious life
at the end of Evergreen Lane
where the Acheron runs high
during the winter rains.
I am an American but
I don’t feel like an American.
I might be an Americana
or an Auracana.
I was born at the wrong time.
I’m trying to get back to the right time.
A mistake was made.
I was born into a world of
Zodiac killers and Cool-Aid suicides.
My father’s friends had
big moustaches.
They wore bell bottoms pants,
tight shirts and leather visors.
I read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
hoping to summon my
real parents – one a lesser God,
one a tree or a trilobite
or a hydra – it didn’t matter.
I imagined I was trapped inside a tree
when the mountainside killer,
was stabbing women
on the trails of Mt Tamalpais
while running in the 1970s,
while running from the 1970s.
I had a second-hand
Girl Scout uniform and
two badges: The Rambler Badge
and the Sewing Badge.
We found a pink rubber phallus
in the elementary school
sandbox when we were out
selling Thin Mints, and we
were told, in a manner,
that the sturdy pillars
of patriarchy rely on silence,
so bury your treasure in the sand,
Girl Scout, along with your head.
I used to babysit for a rock star
until three in the morning
while he did lines at the bar
and forgot to pay me
when he stumbled in
knocking over the tea kettle
and woke the baby.
I didn’t have an unhappy
childhood although
I could see some people’s thoughts.
My father thought he might
like to push me over the
edge of the aircraft carrier
into the Pensacola Bay
when no one was watching
because there were no rails
and that brave pilot friend of his
had gone up in flames,
torched to a crisp in runway fireball
during a Naval air show.
I did not have a happy childhood.
I tried to read the thoughts of trees.
I walked the Steep Ravine,
alone on a foggy morning
but the trees and I were shaken
down to our roots
by the roaring Harleys
on Panoramic Highway.
I woke up in Sao Paulo.
I went to see an American movie
with a student from L.A.
but we watched a snuff movie
by accident instead.
I saw a girl like me dragged
under a barbed wire fence
in the desert while men
looked on in the sinister
clammy, darkness of the theater.
I am reading Don Quixote
for the fourth time
because we all labor under
our delusions but at times
it feels good
to laugh at Sancho
and not with him.
I refuse to read about our
founding fathers because
I know too much already.
I have never been to
New York City but
I read Call It Sleep twice
and it made me wonder
how many other children have
sat upon the railroad tracks,
the ties stinking of creosote,
when they doubted God
loved them or their mothers.
I cry still for little David
when I think of him.
I like it here but I want to
go back to where I came from,
if I only could remember.
It was an island in the blue Pacific.
A nymph had a garden
of carnivorous flowers.
She collected knee high mushrooms
and aromatic herbs.
She kept a few lovers on hand
in case of emergencies.
She took care of all the orphaned
children in the cold world
but had to turn some into sparrows
while she grew more food
and changed their soil clothes.
I have gone out, a ghost
among the possessed witches
in the sale racks and laundry mats,
in the grocery outlets and malls,
lost among the maenads.
I have seen the skinny woman
dancing wildly, running backwards
on the highway in the midday heat
under headphones.
I listened in City Dreams to
The Songs of Yes
burbling like underwater music
in the 8-track tape deck
of a flat black Camaro,
my father racing the back roads
near Nicasio Reservoir
asphyxiating in dope smoke
and carbon monoxide –
me, just hoping to live.
Other kids my age listened to
Dream Weaver or
Don’t Fear the Reaper
while I preferred Bartok
just to prove a point.
I joined the calligraphy club
that met in the school library
before the first bell rang.
I to arrived earlier
with my nibs and inks
before the roving gangs
of anti-Bartok thugs,
black combs in the back pockets
of their brown cords,
Shaun Cassidy-cool in their
white Jack Purcells.
Even my best friend said
it was my fault for being like that
even when she lived in
a wine vat in the redwoods
like a voodoo child.
I wrote their names on their diplomas
in perfect looping letters
with pens dipped in venomous ink
like Atropos, sealing their fates
to the Cult of the Blue Oyster.
I have seen the Cow Palace
and Friant Dam,
the California Aqueducts,
and the 405,
the domes of San Onofre,
the towers of Ocean City,
and understood
like anyone could,
the enduring horrors of concrete.
I have wandered Lonely as blow wife.
I have felt a Funewal in my Bwain.
I am leading a life of quiet desperation
here on Pickett Street,
but the world does not
walk by in curious shoes
but rumbles past in battered trucks
with mowers and blowers,
with five gallon jugs of poison,
Banda blaring from tinny speakers.
All the lawns are perfect, the roses
are red, the cherry plums precisely
pruned on Pickett Street,
but nobody is curious enough
to come outside to see
not even on little cat feet.
I never wanted to walk
around the world but simply
to imagine a Kudzu dæmon
sleeping beneath the two acres of
asphalt in the Safeway parking lot
listening for a crack.
I imagine muscular vines
tearing off the Starbucks roof
reclaiming the courtyard by
the cellular service store,
a storm of tendrils tearing apart
the dead aisles of RiteAid,
ensuing fireball to open
seeds and cones buried
beneath the mini-golf course.
I have seen the strangler figs
that surround the stone temple
of Angkor Wat – turning back the clock
of concrete and stone –
Buddha smiling.
I wonder – how does Ferlinghetti
know anything about
womb-weariness if he
doesn’t have one?
Go home, Beatnik. You’re drunk.
No rest for the weary.
Young women should be explorers.
Young men should live as women,
at least for a spell.
I love my two sons.
I love my two daughters.
We are children of the revolution
with our tirades about Bisphenol A.
A loop de loop in your noodle soup
I am his Highness’ dog at Kew
I’m guilty judge, I ate the fudge
Pray tell, whose dog are you?
I have never been to New York City.
I lived in San Francisco in 70s.
These days the cities swarm
with righteous hipsters.
They ride Google buses.
They were Google glasses.
They wear Tom’s shoes –
absolution for the sins of paper cups
for plastic-is-forever lids,
for the dream hauntings of child slaves
that pick the coffee beans for their
dopio macchiatos while they type
on their tablets on the way
to the cubicle fields where
the code farmers labor.
I too must confess:
tea tastes like warm, wet straw.
I wish I could say that I
walked on the beach of hell
in grey flannel trousers,
but I was wearing jeans.
Cervantes understood
the rock and the hard place
where Beauty dwells.
So did Forster.
And maybe Hardy with his
woman under the stairs.
I can’t say the same for most of them.
Virgina Woolf swallowed an apple -
the holy onion itself
stuck as a lump in her throat
until she heard the mermaids singing.
I understand Miss Lily Briscoe –
why her center cannot hold.
Why are the great stone
faces in North Dakota all men?
And why is Liberty a woman
standing in a dirty river, gangrene
while the towers crumble into
of ash and smoke?
Columbus did not invent America.
I often tell myself the secret
that Sojourner Truth
invented America.
On television I learned that
the Tea Party invented Freedom.
Everyone thinks so.
But they’ve moved the party to Texas.
This is just to say
I have planted a small orchard
of plums
in the neighbor’s field.
Forgive me.
I have learned a few of the
soil’s secrets, like humus.
I don’t rank myself above the nematode
or the protists or the fungi.
If I stare long enough at
myself in the mirror,
I become a fractal.
I once loved a horse named Sham
Who was my one way ticket to freedom.
He lived on the ridge of Old Horse Hill
Deep in the valley of the Old Mill
where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums.
I rode him to the East Peak
of Mt. Tamalapais to watch the sunset
and rode him down again
through the hidden, blackberry
trails and ferny ravines
of the mountain’s secret folds
even while the trail side killer
was still at large.
This white horse and I
were going places -
to the arid plains where Shayṭān dwells
to the temple of Angkor
to the sacred grove at Dodona
to the scrub forests of the Thar Desert
to the hollows under the mangrove roots
where they would search for me in vain
until he walked me, daydreaming,
under a low branch.
I am a five-headed Shiva
in a hall of mirrors.
My position is one
of profound disorientation.
Through the carnival glass
the wounded mother stares out.
Other times I see the face
of Medea, tormented by
having eating her own children.
Faintly, the phoenix rises
from the ashes in the cremation grounds as
it awaits rebirth.
In China, the damned waters
of the Yangtze stagnate
and the Earth wobbles as the
great reservoir fills
drowning the ancestral cities.
Amidst this confusion, the fifth head –
Tat-Purusha, the supreme one,
the listener – meditates.
The rest is fable.April 18, 2014

The Visitor

thevisitor
I always know when my neighbor
sits down to compose a few lines
by the arrival of a young woman
with a peachy complexion
a dusting of freckles across her cheeks
a wreath of freesia and satin ribbons.

You can’t help but notice
how she bursts from her peasant’s dress,
how the sultry breeze lifts
the flowing train of her hair
that catches the sunlight
like a gold spun scarf.

Dancing down the walkway
in hemp skirts and shoeless feet
with dimestore bells about her ankles,
she brings jars of raw honey and,
for reasons unclear to me then,
three ducklings in a willow basket.

My mother’s heavy drapes
exhale a long-held breath
from folds of their black lungs.
Choking on the foul vapors of exhumation
powdery clouds of mildew and dust
I spy his baldpate from my
upstairs window, watching
as he scurries into the house,
locking all the doors as he so
delights in her sneaking in.

Through the branches
of an ancient and dour cypress –
monarch of my shade dark yard –
I strain to see this Thalia
fertile, bounding, laughing,
as she climbs through
the window of his kitchen
leaving a shower of crab apple petals
hanging in the heavy air
before she vanishes inside.

And so I know his wife
is away on the dull errands
that a marriage to a man
of his many talents demands.

His muse sets his books in order
fills the jars with ice and lemon water
licking the honeyed spoon.
She reserves two box seats
to see the Chinese acrobats
sews herself a silk dress
of fire engine red, hand embroidered
with mother of pearl buttons.

She reads to fill his head with
age-old teachings of the sages,
of the bards and sorcerers
of the cave dwelling magi
of the hermits and ecstatics
of young lovers and wise women.

She scrubs and polishes;
she feeds him buttered bread.
In her pond water eyes she
earns the favor of gods both
wrathful and lascivious.

By skill or by witchcraft,
the lucid dreams of men –
of the poets and the Troubadours
of the priests and rabbis
of everyday park bench creeps –
dreams in which they trace
the soft, pink flesh of her breasts
the gentle curve of her waist
with their groping eyes,
their bony fingers
are awakened in him.

Sure enough, my neighbor is
rewarded with much success
and admiration.

     *     *     *

After five weeks of rain
when the black mold seeps
across the kitchen ceiling
when years of tiny, pattering feet
of warm and dimpled hands
and strawberry kisses have past,
when the pipes are leaking
and the wires have gone bad
and the foundation rots
in the dark, dank earth –
it is only then I hear the familiar
knock of timid knuckles on my door
the knock of desperation.

My old friend Achlys, the muse of gloom,
arrives shrouded in the mist of wintry fields
smelling of dead leaves and moth balls.

Pale, bone thin, and weeping
with chattering teeth, swollen knees
crescents of black dirt below her long nails
her cheeks scratched and bloodied
and her shoulders covered with thick
pollen from the crab apples,
she scrapes the mud from her boots
upon the threadbare rug,
shakes the rain from her rag mop of hair,
gray as the fog and full of burrs,
upon the only pages
I’ve managed to complete.

The ink runs black
in little rivulets over the paper,
the desk, and onto the floor.

She tells me, in a solemn voice
that there is no point in writing
anything else and she proceeds
to list the host of coming plagues
that promise to eliminate life
as we know it, and in just a few
generations too, and how the West
is to blame for everything
with their appetites for gadgets
for speed and strange salads.

But then the little stream of inky water
pools upon the floor, making
tiny, mirrored lakes.

When the sun breaks through
the clouds – orange, pink and white
reflected in shimmering puddles –
molten drops of gold upon the wood
of the kitchen floor –
an oil sheen, then a nebula
rotating in the cosmic stew.

We sit together and watch the changes.
We go way back, me and Achlys.

In a while, she wonders out loud
what new metaphor
could ever arise from spilled ink
seeping through the floorboards –
now only a stain upon the mind.

With a clatter and racket
and a scream of delight
Thalia pushes down the fence;
spry and sure-footed as a cow,
she crashes through my yard,
his livid wife snipping at her hair
with the pruning shears
until Thalia, not looking,
collides with the great trunk
of the old cypress in my backyard
spilling words in every language
she’d hidden in the shredded paper
bedding for the ducklings
in her basket of gifts.

The Expedition

return trip

After passing more gas giants
than he’d like to remember,
after stalling for days
at a failed brown dwarf,
a small, fastidious archeologist
from the exoplanet Tau Boötis Ab
landed on a smaller, bluer planet
that had been emitting faint
biological signatures
on its journey around
a tired star.

Curatorial by nature,
he searched for relics:

ceramic shards
a jaw bone
ceremonial attire
temples buried by the sands of time or
broken by vines and lichens
a dormant seed –
anything from the
holographic archives
of past digs.

What he found at the bottom
of a barren plain was a small
sticky label, stuck to a piece
of the hide of something,
mostly made of carbon,
black and mummified and
possibly preserved by
adhesives from a tiny tag
bearing the faded glyphs
’84033 O-R-A-N-G-E.’

He found no other biologics anywhere.
His life-form detecting scanner
was suspiciously silent on the subject.

He checked his map
then scratched the little
silica strands on his bulbous
translucent skull where his dual
brains rose and sank
like blobs in a lava lamp.

The archaeologist,
fastidious and thorough,
cursed with tedious longevity,
spent the best light years
of his life searching impact craters
volcanic vents, suspect alluvium,
vast seabeds, long since evaporated
by a cataclysm the great makers
of the mystical sticky dot
didn’t see coming.

He analyzed every molecule
in the cylindrical sections
taken by the advanced
core drills of his tiny probe
until at last he packed up his tools,
slept the fifty-one light years
it took to return home empty-handed,
his reputation in ruins,
to his native Tau Boötis Ab
with nothing but a
hard luck story.

Half Savage and Free

‘Ethiopia’ from 'Secrets de l’histoire naturelle' (France, c. 1480-1485). Artist : Robinet Testard. Bibliothèque nationale de France

They’d sought no probable explanation
no disambiguation of class,
(order, family, genus)
for the idiot in the courtyard
filing his nails with flint,
painting the stone walls
with his own excrement.

A few had teased her for
a nose, an eye, a grimace
perceived in the child.
But for a red-faced cousin –
rapacious youth with a lazy eye –
lurking by the dolly tubs after dark,
the truth was known to none
but Kate.

These days, one does not know
Queen Victoria from Miss Ape.
By the burning brambles certainly
there were water carriers – slaves
inured to far-off mutterings,
to the rustling grasses
and drifting sands –
to the birds.

You know, some scholars
would bet their sunny reputations
that Moses was high.

This feeling of foolishness
inside the echo chambers of
Royals that talk too much
if only say that Helena
was a hemophiliac
like her grandmother
(though it was little talked about)
and then with Charles who claims
to have seen things in a new light
attaching less importance to
divine intervention, design.

After a few years of bumping
around the Pacific then
puttering about in his little garden,
granting agency to all things equally
(turtles, finches, white rabbits)
he made a mockery of the old lines.
Such are the hazards of Royals –
fecund, rich, spoiled.

They’ll have us marrying
scullery maids and smithies
before long!

And what to make of
these hemophiliacs bloodlines?

Kate was the first to
fall ill with pneumonia;
an entire line, all in one house,
gone in a single winter’s night
except for the colicky infant
fast asleep in the cradle
of the wet nurse’s arms.

In the morning, to let the air in,
a maid, barely seventeen,
pulls back the heavy curtains
which exhale their consumptive dust
into the emptied rooms of the great house,
something inside veiled and creeping.
She waves to the smithy’s son
passing through the gate
with a posy of fresh violets
in his breast pocket.

The innocent orphan turns
towards the window.
Heir to a Godless dynasty,
with none to sprinkle the dirty
water of the parish font upon her,
she may yet take root
in this sunless world.