Open Letter to Mammon

Mammon

A muddy touché! Ye villains
of Hong Kong and Dubai,
fork-tongued evangelists of
foreign currency!

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 blackened 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 bleachies glinting
as the laborers of your camps
vacate the bowels, so 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

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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.

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

Bird Time

Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)
Marc Chagall, Paysage Bleu (1949)

Tripping on the torn hem of an apron
the neighbor, Patron Saint of Scrub Jays,
scatters handfuls of unshelled peanuts
on the dry ground.

It is mid-December, and yet
the rains have not come;
she and the birds are taking austerity
measures, planning for deserts.

She sets her clock to ‘bird time’
as she once said that a lifetime of unwinding
ticking clocks is required to know
just one of these inquisitive creatures –

‘They are the guardians of dry Western lowlands,
spies of pinyon pine-juniper forests,
the watchers of denatured empty lots
overrun with mustard and milk thistle’  –
Flying Thieves, she calls them.

Betrayed by the years,
the burrowing lines on her face,
the milkiness of her eyes, her tremors,
have forced a hermit’s life upon her.

She works at home alone,
processing claims in the kitchen –
the place of her extradition,
the shadowy country of old age;
her friends too are taking measures,
saving copper pennies.

On sunny days the scrub jay
steals peanuts from the
the brim of her old straw hat;
she has learned
its many vocalizations –

The cat is in the field!
The bird bath is refilled!
The crows are on the light post
plotting raids on the blackbirds’ eggs!
The old lady is in the backyard!

In the amber light of her years
the rivers run thin and
salmonless through dark
tunnels in the great concrete dams –

The Damnation of the West:
sublime organelles of industry,
post-human tombs of free running water.

What plagues incubate in the depths
of the mirrors on the deserts?
A few free rivers ran when
she was a child, running wild
with her friends – free rivers
and fewer fences.

*     *     *

It is Christmas again and yet no rain has fallen
this year on the wings of the jay or the silk moth.
Yet, here, in bird time, not a day has passed
since the last storm brought floods
and mosses were draped around
the laurels’ slender necks
like emerald-sequined boas.

Under the afternoon shadow of a valley oak,
picking dry burrs from her wool socks,
the old woman dreams of summer’s return–
of the fence lizards basking
upon the pile of rocks placed at the trunk
by an ancient farmer
in the emptied field.

She will pass the year’s end
chatting with the chatterboxes
about the weather
the mast years
the gray squirrel (their shared enemy)
while the machines of the suburbs
unwrapped in the morning’s frenzy
defile the precious silence.

She waits for the black night sky
to close its sparking cape
over the paling remains
of a blue, tearless heaven;

she remembers for both bird and woman
the croaking of chorus frogs in the culverts,
the soft pattering of rain, its gentle music
lost to the anxious drone of
of so many blue sky days.

After Entelechy, the Real

Market Street

Haven’t you seen them? They were
asparagus green, such envious
wine cellar queens of the foothills  —
pills in their purses, one hand on the wheel.
Still, we endured; we penny saved
our azure dreams, our vital dunes,
scratching in the asphalt fields.

Ultrasound pictures, unborn
empire builders of pluripotent America —
you’ve no pity for the weak
for your mother the flight risk,
for your father, persevering chump,
for indeterminate democracies
small disturbances in the atmosphere.

Stay a while, try the silver aerosol,
write ‘Freedom Was Here!’ on the cold
walls of the headland bunker;
hug a sneering hipster on the train,
do something chivalric, stroll down Market
but don’t feed the vagrants at City Hall
cartons of curdled strawberry milk.
We’re not pigeons, after all.