Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness


My mother’s golden watercolor
of a corner by the porch
door – let us approach
this summer morning autumn splendor

as it was, & will be once again.
An open door in Hopkins
Minnesota spins
its Manitou of teeming pain

et vin (an infinite childhood);
Alighieri in Ravenna
summons high Sophia
in the guise of Beatrice... would

she still circumference all human
knowledge in her arms?
Beyond Hell’s harms
stands Boethius – Consolation

rhymes (decline & fall of Rome)
with Dante’s futurismo
(Roma onde Cristo
è Romano) – one bright sunlit home.

Paisans, turkeys, sheep draw near.
The meal c’est commencé.
Massasoit & Williams here play
host – what was a funeral pyre

unfolds to cornucopia.
The crux of natural law
is liberty’s Commedia
all-human Earth joins Milky Way.



Thanksgiving at 509

Tomorrow some of the local Gould gang will be gathering at "509", my mother's apt in St. Paul (with the same street number as their old house back in Mendelssohn - 509 Arthur).  It will be the first Thanksgiving in 65 years that she'll be on her own, without my father.  Mary Ravlin Gould, the very talented not-famous painter, potter & general craft master, will be 88 next month.

About 25 yrs ago I wrote a long poem called "Grain Elevator", sort of a take-off on the "dream-vision" (this one featuring Ronald Reagan, Walt Whitman, my grandfather Ravlin - the grain elevator builder - & various infernal images including trains, pyramids and golden nuggets of dust).  Anyway, the poem ends with this rather stylized Norman-Rockwell Americana coda, an old-fashioned Thanksgiving thanksgiving poem dedicated to MRG.


Your two clay whistle-birds
Are on the windowsill,
Ready for children's lips to share
Their flute-sounds with the real birds
At the feeder, on the other side of the glass;

You've always been the better maker,
Turning the years and years around
With muscular feet and fingers,
Clay speech rising from the wheel
To last this generation, and to serve
The next Thanksgiving – plates, bowls,
Pitchers waiting to ornament
Some simpler, lasting celebration,
Open house for the upright heirs
Of tender hills and anxious clay.

And where's that modest watercolor,
Lit with the cold and clear Minnesota light,
Of Granddad's granary downtown? Standing
Behind the rusted parallel of the tracks
And a row of poplars, crowded out
By warehouses and condominiums,
Its curving columns burgeoning now
Only with air and memory – and hidden
Wafers of petrified wheat, noon
Sunlight answering a lifetime's work
Just over the treeline and the crooked streets.

On a sultry day in late July
In 1961 – when I was nine – we stopped
In a little pasture beside the road,
Under the shade of clustered oaks,
With a herd of cows nearby,
For a picnic and a rest on our way
To visit Grandma's farm, and cousins
In Iowa City. And after the sandwiches
And sleepy talk, while the grown-ups
Snoozed among rocks and baskets,
I wandered off a little way
And found a squared-off family graveyard,
The gray slate leaning in the uncut grass,
Deep summer whispering from unfamiliar soil.

Maybe it was your voice I heard,
So long ago there in the aching depths;
Your voice, challenging me to find
That earthy crossroads – whistling word –
And lay Grandfather's brooding ghost to rest.


Still life with JFK


His profile in shining lunar silver
twinkles with Dublin glee
on the half-dollar (JFK,
insouciant).  Camelot forever.

I was born in ’52, believe
it or not, but only
52 years ago I
lost my innocence (heave

sigh).  I was 11 years old
when they shattered the crown
of the redhead king.  My own.
A double birthday, dubbed.  Fold

up the deck of your paper sailboat, son;
in Newport they will mourn
the people’s chosen one,
killed by the backlash of the gun.

A still life, now.  Brown Decades
(Peto).  Reminiscences
of Lincoln.  Whitman’s
chrysanthemum (cresting cascades

of lilacs).  Memphis underworld –
I gather the limbs of Osiris
(52-pickup, Rimini-Venice).
First king, dead king.  Neighborhood

gossip has it, Solomon,
he’s coming back.  He
never died.  Like Jonah
Houdini, he’ll eat fish in Hebron

yet again.



Mississippi sundown


Mississippi sundown.  Meek
flock of cottonwoods
leans toward sand-
bank... listen to the river speak.

Noah’s raven criss-crossed the ocean
weaving black on blue, 
salt over salt (sez you).
My splotchy gouache representation

wings away north, south... follows
Big Muddy to her delta
denouement, selah.
Breathes on clay (rows, rose).

This Inca bird, like a Cuzco condor
(or Marshall St. bridge
bald eagle)... no prison-
pigeon, but flight to the rondure –

a well of black water, with stars
in a lattice (for stories).
The Ghost, says Maximus,
prehends the insolence of wars –

lift up your hearts, she cries,
lift upParadise
is a habit of eyes &
hands, not formulae;

lips rim a coracle (of cedar
curve & silver plow)
so that you too may know,
my childthe Earth (from a star).



Balancing books on Tin-Top Hill


Here in the cozy habitat
of Cecil St. – Chester-
cat, snug in his nest
(or hut) near the Witch’s Hat

on Tower Hill (old Clifton
Fadiman abode) – Le Roi
est mort, Vive le Roi
brazen carillons cry (Berryman

fleet flute-plot) – I’m remembering
Rhode Island.  Ocean State.
Providence, full spate –
tight-furled concert, in a spring

of industrial silver (Jewelry
Capital of the World).
Hazelnut head, all pearled
with raven breakers... like the sea

my gong-struck muse (Medusa chord).
Apollinaire will bear
the burden of the air
leaning against brick wall... absurd

farewell to fiery squid (trompette
marine).  Buried in roses,
granite Roger poses
on Tin-Top Terrace – a light

unto both Gentile & Jew (washed-up
driftwood apple tree
in prow of paddle-me);
balances books on his coffin-cusp.



Cottonwoods on River Road

A poet builds a house with words.  Underneath the words, the wind blows.  Time moves on, change happens.  It's out of control, seemingly.

Or is it?  The house is built on sand, or stone.  Maybe limestone, which is a record of shifting time.

Back in the 1920s, my Grandpa Ravlin built a sturdy brick house at 1615 River Road, in Minneapolis - around the corner from where I am now living, after about 45 years in Rhode Island.

In 1615, John Donne became an Anglican minister and Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral (pretty much against his will - he was commanded thus by King James I).

A poem has its own architecture, if you live in it for a while you begin to sense the contours with your fingertips.  The first Book of Ravenna Diagram concluded, fittingly, just as I was leaving Rhode Island.  Tonight - maybe - I'm starting up again.  The impulse is relentless, like the Big Muddy ink-wash across the street.  It feels good to be at it again, anyway.

Moving is painful, as thousands of Syrian refugees can tell you (better than I can).

The state of Rhode Island was established (under the leadership of Roger Williams) as a "refuge for troubled consciences".

Let them in, America (Statue of Liberty speaking).


By the River Road, under the tall
bare cottonwoods, on the last
warm day, before the blast
of ice descends from the North Pole

I think of this Mississippi
constancy (unbending
loops & bends, winding
serpent-wise out of prehistory)

& of my frailty, my brevity
having forsook soft sand-
castle petite Rhode Island
for some territorial interiority –

inward cthonic Mendelssohn
where Mirror Lakes echo
down Arthur Street (so
far-off in the way-back zone).

The cottonwoods lean toward the sun.
Gravity pulls at
the Franklin Bridge (that
spider-thread my brother swan-

dived off, & lived).  Flatland anguish
drags at Minneapolis –
down gridiron avenues
of gray snow, hunkered refugees...

The low sun, like a paradigm
hovers just over the mammoth
snake.  The face in the cloth
shudders – furls birchbark (trireme).



Indomitable busker

It's a mystery to me (a mystery for which I'm grateful) how these long pilgrimage-de-Henri sagas adjust themselves to my own contingencies.  They round themselves up in their own good time.  We are told art is practice practice practice, & maybe that's what it is.  "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will" (Hamlet).

For example : I'm moving to Minnesota in a matter of days.  It's been a roller-coaster year, yet this Ravenna Diagram thingum has persisted, kept on keepin' on.  Now - a few days before we leave, & in the midst of much pack-up anxious biz - the fourth chapter of the poem, and a big structural cornice, draws to a close, seemingly in a fairly-fitting fashion (how can I know).

I'm thankful for the poem time.  I'm thankful for the moonshine of this little Ocean State.


This polished late October light.
Burnishes each diamond
of the backyard iron
fence.  One survivor-cricket

churrs behind spruce (indomitable
busker).  Over the rail
a wave of clematis still
surfs; the massive parasol

of luminous russet dogwood leaves
still braces (on its sturdy
mast) against a gusty
autumn breeze.  Halloween in the eaves.

I’m leaving very soon.  The golden
spider packs his poison-
bag, curls (frozen)
in a thread-vortex.  I be beholden

to my Ariadne.  In her hazel eye
the gold lambswool, yellow
Corn Maid poncho flow
into one clay design – pendentive sigh

of wild oats panicle (brown
dangling bird-feet
elegant & neat
as many-rimmed Ravenna urn).

My host is flown.  Like Stella Maris
over the ridge, at Swan
Point – pivoting on équinoxe
de printemps (April 12 it was


this year)... like Beatrice’s Florence,
born le 4 Juillet – or taut
Francesca, by her net
of Inca wool... ou sont les neiges,

maintenant?  They’ll ride my splintered
coracle back home.
Or (gone threadbare) roam
my prairie west – O mulish cowherd

wind-wag, tickled to Frisco Bay!
Morning Star, look homeward
kind upon yon way-weird
son.  Apollinaire, with calumet...

the wars is over, anyway
– wars in my old heart.
Ravenna’s where we start
again (light brdftprnt of Dante).

Motif of a sacrifice.
Eternity turned
ice-cold (solid,
absolute).  Not nice –

unless you reckon yet again.
The dogwood mast is creaking
in the slanting afternoon;
winter will be coming soon

for Hen, who gathers everyone
into his earthy tavern
(like a Grecian urn)
across far distances... (American).


dogwood (& spruce) on Fisher St.