Heading out of town for a few days - be back on Wed. July 2.


A new (& final) edition of Rest Note is now available. This includes the complete Fontegaia.


& so concludes Fontegaia.


So Frisbee sets off into the stream again
rainwater overflow down Arthur Street
little Tom Thumb fellow in my mother's fleet
fable what is he? Not quite a man?

One of the Little People, I guess adrift on the easy
rush of Irish gab, my fancy O Farewell, my little
fancy-man, now
! O goodby, goodby! & he sails
off across the soothing mutter of her breezy

dream (for entertaining anxious irritable boys) So
this is where my own lips take the wind grow
silver, inching navigating choppy water some cello
accompaniment for an aria (keening Hero

on the Hellespont, maybe) remembering
that golden eye a look through the still oil
framed on the wall that held me tremulous (all
out of time) an almond from Byzantium in a ring

of dancing fillies (Sienese) & the eye of memory
wells with a single tear where streams begin &
rivers flow an eye behind the eye from the bottom-
most well of clay looks out gently, steadily

the eye curtained in the wings like a hovering
Frisbee-disk whose story is Now and Providence
& you catch only a glint of it in the raven's
deep glance there in the black steppe & the ring

of far-off iron, the steadfast drone of its distant
harmonies over the flood of the horses' tumbling
hoofbeats shouts of the riders nearing their wedding in
a meadow quiet vast Oblomov pausing now almost (silent)



O Fontegaia... the long goodby (one more to go).


Cousin Juliet threw a spanner in the Works of Time
waving goodby from the Golden Gate (her father's
birthday) long time gone & left me dangling here
between earth & heaven like a sulky Absalom

That was 37 years ago my son, my son
crossing the J-sign slow jaywalk (against
traffic) on a unicycle there she goes again
amusing, she dove in a spiral a stealthy unison

near middle C (B-flt w/suspended chord) curls
(fetal, fatal) toward Cirque, the grainy source
(only a mummery) coos, cooing & the curse
(curving, along a consolation course) unfurls

her flagging route through 50 stars toward Jubilee
& a cardinal-red wolf-whistle signals car alarms, or
carillons over beseeching flowers, where
these final notes coming winging down to me :

& so the news leaks out like milk from the breast
at the rim of a constellation & mumbling lips
try to trace those lucid lineaments, slip
from wet clay curve to a bend in the poetry, a

bow at rest in the sky (like an eyebrow
over the blue, a smile spanning from earth
to epicentered mile-long bridge (near Bloomington)
like half an almond, handed to the other half now

(eye-in-hand, Eurydice... from long ago) only
the drone of cicada-love, the restoration oil poured
out (O longest day) a chrysm over the chasm my
sweet oeuil, my all-monde toot-suite (signet, Julie)



Fontegaia, unraveling (3,2,1)


My father had a silver wrench he tossed to lift
the rope-line of the tire swing up around the oak-
limb steel, it must have been but it's black
& gold in the early photograph (my nifty

Brownie snapshot) Quiet Sunrise in a Green
it was a long time ago the images
detach from mental frescoes occasional collages
random, incidental seemingly coalesce around mean

or mediate sort of circular logic (donut-
hole universe
?) & now tiny birds are busy in
another backyard (far from Hopkins Mendelssohn)
interrogative goldfinch definite chickadee that

plaintive you-know-who (odd dish pining, spinning
(rubato) his cloying clay, his urn of yearning)
O my Honey-Milk, my Sun, my Morning
Ring on the Telephone of the Horizon Wing

of (W-ing) Wings & it's this well of absolute
longing will meet the infinite unfathomable, &
irrational diagonal square root in Trebizond
where a little tree (almond? tamarind? chestnut?)

on the edge of a cliff whispered once long ago
to me & (with clay rim of earth growing so
slowly OK) held out the rope-line of the foot-
bridge (O be careful, son!) like a lifesaver (Mkl

row the boat ashore
) & the long (feathering)
paddle in the stream churned purling water
there (sword held aloft on lion's back by sculpted
angel in black clay
)... O my anxious, kindly father

[note : last lines refer to this great statue, outside entry to Minneapolis Institute of Arts, by Ernst Barlach, titled "The Fighter of the Spirit" (photo by A.M. Kuchling). & p.s. re "lifesaver" in penultimate stanza : I've never forgotten the ironic fact that Hart Crane's father's candy company produced the "Lifesaver".]

I'm almost done with the long poem Fontegaia. It's in 5 chapters, roughly 28 poems each. It gets more structured (numerically) starting around chapt. 3.

I see it as the caboose of the ol' Quatrain Line. That is, a sequel to Forth of July. There were some sequel-like things in the book Dove Street (the longer sequences there). But Fontegaia is more clearly a companion poem.

Some things are re-appearing here, toward the end, more or less unexpectedly, which rhyme with the beginning sections of Stubborn Grew (1st bk in Forth of July). It's nice if you think so, as Hemingway said, I think (about something or other).


What am I about? My self-image or ambition as a poet has not been ratified by the Grand Concourse of the Literary World. Not yet, anyway, if ever. Who is my gosh-best reader? Not for me to say. Maybe people will find things in my poems that I don't see, for better & worse.

You may want to know that I think of poetry as a pretty high-falutin' project, & that I think there's some pretty Great Examples out there - since Homer, maybe before. Dante, Shakespeare, them guys. Top of the crop. Not to mention Chaucer, Ariosto, Milton, Whitman, Dickinson... you know, the list goes on.

You might want to know that I think every poet shows, obviously or implicitly, who is or is not important to them, as models & competitors (& the blind spots may be the most telling). & in that regard, the game I think I'm playing is specifically an American game, in poetry in English, specifically - & still rooted back in the rivalry between the expats (Pound, Eliot, etc.) & the Americanists (WCW, Crane, Stevens, etc.).

That is, my writing shows implicitly that I'm not as interested in the poetry of the generations coming after Eliot-Crane-Stevens-Pound, as I am in that crux of the early 20th-cent itself. (Though I have my scattered heros - Berryman, for one.)

Now whether this focus is an unmistakable sign of literary over-reaching on my part... well, it's definitely a gamble. Time will tell. Have I merely chosen anachronism? An inauthentic, bookish, archaizing style?

I would like my gosh-best reader, before making that judgement call, to be sure to read all my books... not just the quatrain-train. I mean the short poems; In RI; the unpublished poems... you have your assignment! - because the short poems in Way Stations & Dove Street & elsewhere can possibly help to ground, contextualize, acclimatize the long poems. (The books are (almost) all here.)

& why the focus on that early modernist group? Well, I'm fascinated both with Eliot's efforts to transplant contemporary (& American) poetry back into a Renaissance/English/medieval culture & context - and with the counter-effort (by Crane, especially) to ground poetic vision and cultural authority in "New World" materials & themes. & I'm too interested in history to stay in a more purely Romantic or personal strain (a la Stevens & many others) - much as I love & admire Stevens.

I see the 20th-cent. long-poem projects as a big game - played around the magnetic force fields of Homer, Milton, Dante especially... by Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Crane, WCW, Olson, David Jones, Zukofsky, Jay Wright, James Merrill, & others. I realize these are all men : but it should be kept in mind that there's another oblique feminine impulse in my work, coming especially from some Russian poets - Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva. & of course, the Bible was written by a woman (Book of J).

Not trying to be facetious : I know my limitations, including all the ones I don't know. There are a zillion contemporaries I haven't read. But I started writing in 1965 or so; &

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground

(Frost, of course, beats them all - but that's another story.) I've been too busy writing my own limericks to pay too much attention to my contemporaries.

Yes, I know this sounds silly. & I have to be going, so may continue this thread later. The game is big because the longing & vision inscribed in human culture by poetry - well, it's one of the building blocks of civilization. Or, I should say, it's an expression of humanity's attempt to ground itself in a visionary or spiritual orientation. The stakes are high.


Fontegaia, scrabbling along the surface...


Clouds on the move, painted gray sky wind
through the maple trees a raw-boned old oak
almost broken by drought a single raven, stuck
up there croaking his heart out of his mind

Sometimes these dark spells in the middle of June
presage a quick downpour hailstorm, flood tornado
when out of a gilded gloaming prairie pleroma O
look there's a handsome cloud
like a black doubloon

nailed to the writhing mass of an Iowa twister
an emptiness at zero hour & I guess
I think about Berryman on the bridge in Minneapolis
in December teetering, drunk get along, Mister

a game of Bohemian Solitaire in Lutheran precincts
Hobo Card turns up Queen of Spades in
or looking ice in the eye, wades
out O Johnny-go-lightly so many skating rinks

there used to be & skittering along the ice
like oak leaves in January nervous, unable to grasp
the hand of the arm hooked around mine (gasp!)
to a sober nostos in the detox tank (Minnesota nice)

& the Mississippi still moving along under
the snow this is raven country (stylish rake
with fishknife beak & snow-bandage, caked
over one eye) who dives for the target : (rotund)

Rainbow King swaying at the bottom of a well
sunlit harbinger of oaken fleets sunk to the ground
a choral sepulchre (1132 fathom) sounded
still sound (unraveled ravishment of Russian bells)

[Typing this on my little Neo in backyard today, there was a sudden downpour, had to run inside...]
Hobo, the poet, the dreamer, the bohemian. Homesick bum. The impractical failure, strumming his geetar. The man of (non)action, (dis)organization man. Danger to big-hearted women. Pop idol for self-centered, disaffected youth. Too detached to be cool, too withdrawn to be famous. Completely useless.
Who's this "Hobo", lurks around here & there in Fontegaia?

Related to the hobos in the middle of Crane's Bridge. Diffidence, negative capability... "they touch a key, perhaps". What is this? Detachment from particulars, attachment to some apperception or instinct for life as Whole. (?)

This is a Russian thing, too. Oblomov's homesickness. Tolstoy's mysticism. Nabokovian nostalgia. Desire for summers long gone, for Life with capital L, for childhood... Yearning with a capital Y.

- can be a dangerous... Lots of writers insist on the need to avoid such. Enterprising Odysseus keeps the Lotus-Eaters at arms' length.

Hobo a liminal figure, I guess. Surrenders "living" for the sake of Life. Secret future of the Earth. Hidden zone where all things fuse in one...

Contemplation. Secret quest for answer to the Big Question. Much talk in poetry blogland lately about the "conceptual"... in my view there is just one royal road of "conception"... it is the capacity to conceive a question about the unity of nature, or reality.... the question of origin. & following that thought-trail, to postulate :

1. consciousness pervading nature & reality
2. some logos or order to universe as a whole
3. human consciousness as a sign or representative of this cosmic consciousness
4. human destiny to achieve (after long struggle) union, order, equilibrium & peace within earth, nature, cosmos
5. this destiny represented long ago as return to Paradise or Garden
6. prophetic writings & acts point the way in this direction (I have my own personal beliefs & allegiances in that regard, which I am loath to describe or impose here)

One of the things poetry tries to do is synthesize and vitalize certain conceptual or experiential universals (cf. Aristotle). It may be simply the recounting of a dream. This is what my "Hobo" represents. Among other things. From Way Stations :


Not the flower, but the whistling stem,
the stump still sprouting
desire from pain, pain from desire -
a homeless voice, roadside day-
lily in rearview mirrors,
unstemmed longing, infinite,
to the barren node of the
Not for itself,
but in response, a choral thorn-
crown for harvest of black-
eyed Susans tempered
by drought - the keening
proud repentance
of Appalachian eyes.

From the fissure, a breath
of warm air - the frozen flower (touched
by a human hum) blooms.

In cliffside cave or hermitage,
a prehistorian, unfrozen now, draws
out Nativity from spring charcoal:
under the modal drone of mountain
banjo, streambed clay (glance
of a goldfinch) rose infant lips
are moving (do, re, mi...)


Pound, Eliot - two great toy-grabbers ("fighting in the captain's tower" - over their toys). & thus between them establishing the tone of Professional Seriousness in modern poetry... Stevens, Crane at the other end of the toy-grabbing scale - different characters - the one too disinterested, the other too bohemian (which comes to the same thing, just about). WC Williams maybe around the midpoint on this toy-grab scale...

The grabbing-of-the-toys, of course, is the betrayal of art, the self-betrayal of the artist - since (according to Schopenhauer, Simone Weil, et al.) art is the release from, the suspension of, acquisitive desire... Yet this betrayal is forgiveable, due to art's doubleness : both desirable object & the (contemplative) quenching of desire...

Magazines, anthologies being essentially toy collections... Pound & Harriet Monroe (according to Peter O'Leary's recent article) instigated the diffident Zukofsky to grab for the toys (by way of branding them : mine, ours)... thus we have "Objectivism" : which is an aesthetics of the poem as perfect toy ("object", "rested totality", etc.)... & so the Langpos & the Conceptuals, in turn, learned from this model how to brand & grab...

I reflected on these things a little bit in an old poem called "My Byzantium" (in Way Stations). Here's an excerpt :


I wanted the toy bird,
I wanted to be the bird,
I wanted to sing like him,
I wanted to turn my back and
return to the womb -

the apple of her eye,
the only one, the pure one.
And after the long siren wail
and the freeway lotus
comes nostalgia's

In the beginning
I wanted Jamie Freeman's agate,
the one he found in the dirt, glinting
like the color of light in earth caverns, threaded
with spirals, like a map. Envy
burned - until I conceived
a ruse: he could play with my fire
truck in exchange. I relished
his innocence, I gloated over my prize,
I despised myself.

He could never pronounce his "Ys" - yellow
was "lello". We laughed. We called him
mudpie - he was a molder of clay,
always caked in black dirt.

Berryman hit the nail (about poetry, & Henry) : His Toy, His Dream, His Rest.
... & part of the fun of these long poems (for the writer, anyway) is that you are playing with many layers of meaning... successive strata of materials, paint, encaustic... cross-referencing & reflecting back & forth, like a pedal on a keyboard... & within a kind of fetish-structure, a gizmo-design. This is what I'm doing, anyway, with Fontegaia. The numerical business there is pretty complicated & arcane...
"Conceptual Poetry". Sounds, on the face of it, like the same kind of catachresis you get with "Language Poetry". Abuse of terminology. "Language Poetry" can be forgiven, as it's kind of a cute way of expressing that project's self-consciousness about the verbal "material". But "Conceptual Poetry"... - all poetry is conceptual. How about just calling it "Ersatz Poetry"?

I can understand, I think, one motivation for work like this : it's a reaction against the over-seriousness & professionalization in poetry. Not that poetry isn't sometimes a VERY serious activity; but I've been doing quite a bit of looking into & reading about Jasper Johns (a very serious artist) lately, & that's having an influence on my current view... the idea of "transitional objects", things upon which we project or re-project our original psychic bond with a parent... - toys, play objects... & how important this is, in art- & symbol-making...

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that poetry-making is similar to painting & art-making - it is the cherishing of play- or fetish-objects... the poem is fundamentally a toy or play-object : we love it for this fascination-aspect in itself, not simply for it's serious import or thematic messages about life-at-large...

- but how can we play with our toys if the whole milieu is so seriously vocational? A market, a school, a competition... (not that I'm against competition, really...)

Poems are toys, gizmos. Intellectual frisbees. Free-floating, free-standing. Paradoxically, they have to be real good toys before that can be taken seriously as "statements". I think the activity of visual artists (like Johns) provides examples of this. You have to be ravished by the thing itself, before you will expend time & energy to examine, reflect, extrapolate meanings from it...

Of course, poetry encompasses both, being made of words & ideas... & what I see in these catachrestic appropriations ("language", "conceptual") is a kind of grabbing-of-the-toys... (maybe this is another term for "branding")...

But to me, this branding activity is too much appropriation & not enough attention to the thing itself, the actual "fetish"... look at Jasper Johns & you see a master of the "thing"... (& the deep story of that thing)... branding is almost a way of short-cutting the process : it's fetishizing through branding, rather than making...

Maybe poets are continually trying to free themselves from ersatz or inauthentic appropriations... when the world is an inscrutable mix of play and work, pleasure and suffering, good & evil, just how the artist "plays" only grows more telling... & we can feel, in the art-expression, how play sometimes turns into heartless superficiality, & how seriousness turns into ponderous, life-killing hypocrisy... a human joy can grow cold & dehumanized in either of these directions... from illusion to delusion... a fine tightrope walk it is...

[We recognize the powerful magnetism of the fetish-object... I remember the sharp, voracious pleasure I felt, as a boy, just looking at a line of toy soldiers set up in the grass... this was the basis of a novella I wrote about growing up during the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill)...]
Happy Bloomsday



for my father

The still O of the tire swing we helped Dad lift
up onto the high limb of the backyard oak
stays with me by way of a distant photo-
memory (calm constancy pendentive gift)

It remained with us beneath that neighborhood
suspense local scenes (where the two roads met
twin Mirror Lakes) the plays for children (Kiss me,
) the chancy dramas panoramic masquerades

village parades mounted for seasonal visits
of the moon Oedipus the steady B-flat drone, a
foliate prairie time (mosquitoes, mostly) alone
with lonesome, ripening Roman nights

Ah all that labyrinth of lost desire (it seemed
infinite pain heartrending fear) in the garden
of drawn-out Mendelssohn delights farm women
shouting "hay!" vast raspberry fields (Eden

or Hopkins) such homespun icons branding
a speechless amplitude (ungraspable) my lips
cannot contain & thus the curious (quercus)
quatrains stretch my longbow toward a fingered

vortex of vanishing flint & just so Black Arrow
traces a curved margin beyond these eyes'
horizon line the ravens' angle from an oak-tree
bough only a father's meekness bending low

whose power of the zero marks the fingerprint of
Everyman Yahweh bull's-eye seraphim signal-
frame (pared wings fletched for downward
flight) that tired swing hangs plumb

6.15.08 (Father's Day)
I've put a link in the sidebar to Anny Ballardini's paper on In RI.


As I approach the caboose of my long qua-train, I'm quoting Hart Crane, but sounding somewhat like Ezra...

I realize that the 2nd half of today's entry grows a bit vague & cosmic, & this is a weakness... it does not exactly cohere.

The "tire swing" at the end refers to a photo of my parents' backyard, early in the morning, in Hopkins, Minnesota, where my father had suspended, from a tall oak tree, that particular tire swing. I took the photo when I was about 10 yrs old, with a Brownie automatic. The shadows were very long, & the swing dangled very far, & the light was, well, limpid.
Fontegaia, closing fast...


A quiet summer Saturday only the rolling surf
of tires (on Hope St.) making noise I mess
with the tesserae of my familiar mosaic
shifting the icon-tokens here, there (St. Olaf,

St. George) as if to make it all cohere
here to frame a dome out of pure foam &
filmy scurf this is a job for St. Jerome, &
not some gypsy fiddlehead or balladeer

In the evening taking out the garbage
among the cedars behind the old church
the green dusk-light a lichen-phosphorus
struck an opal match from a distant age

some reconcilement of remotest mind
he wrote & so I remembered how these
flaky photographs I try to fix are emblems
only of an inward lens (sometimes you find it,

opening) Mnemosyne mother of every memory
your almond ray be with me now while I recall
the whole consort dancing together flickering
against the wall out of penury Oblomov's

burning heart under the bridge arching its back
& shimmering as if to mimic that far-off Sky-
(milky spine, rim of a panoply
of lights) whose furnace molds a cataract

in limestone vulcan flow where the rubber tire
swings motionless in an early stillness
quietude pleroma Diana's light sandal-
wing's whole world come round (suspended lyre)


Anny Ballardini has transcribed a short interview she did with me, the night before she headed back to Italy. At the Poets' Corner, here. Straight from the old paint's mouth, not doctored up.

We were on this patio in the backyard, it was getting dark, & we were waiting for people to show up for the farewell party.

"The ant's a centaur in his dragon world."


more apocryphal Fontegaia.


Solomon (a sort of Orpheus) could talk to animals
called all the birds to a Middle East conference
except disobedient Hoopoe (with his impudent
crest) lit out for the territory sent back signals

New-Founde Land past Sabaday Lake upstream
from Nile
& soon elliptical (circumferential)
messages began to emanate (confidential) from
there rumors & telegrams (Is Queen Bea On

the Make
?) Sol (looking for chess partner)
became intrigued & (in time) intrigue became him
too for the searchlight Queen was like a slim
flicker of sword-blade ever on his tail (still master

of defense & flighty game) she showed the moon
to his sunshine until the day of the (unlooked-for)
eclipse when she jumped him like a sidewinder
(blindsided) black to the whites of his eyes (one

blinkered mountain-cock one shady Lady Grey)
Only a wild goose chase for the wisest man alive?
Well (spake Sun in a Milky Way) their beehive
was productive Earth bore fruit thereof

downstream) Honeychile sunk the foundation
for a sweet return & in that milky (mnemonic) haze
suffusing all the suspiring trees ringleted, maze-
feathered Hoopoe looped-a-loop over his friend

Raven & as light grew stronger & pervaded
everywhere its gauzy lance (through magnifying
glass) tapped Leah's mane Natasha's limping spring
tattooed the track (flagroot) where they waded in


Fontegaia, still buzzing...


If there is to be a Jubilee indeed
it will seep like sap from the reign of Pax
at ease there on her footrest (stacks
of worn-out shields) recumbent on her seedy

couch & it will be deep-lasting, steady-flowing
like an Amazon or Nile carrying along all sorts
of vessels large & small freighted with quaint
& local cargo with room in the hold for going

far into the interior of summer & it will be
something like this elusiveness in the backyard
after work the day's heat lifting when the shade
of the maples (my vision focusing) seems (faintly,

barely) to open another eye behind my eyes
something dilates (almost) an eye of memory
& this fragile overlay of now & then is sweet
to me & slightly bitter too (an almond joy

from Mendelssohn) & Jubilee will not be solely
this or that but the whole orchestra in concert
we want no less than childhood happiness afloat
in the midst of a gentle civilization Heidi &

Henry astride their duelling pianos practicing
for each other across Arthur Street & the hoopoe
(through a hula-hoop) shuttling across their purple
passages love-sick like Solomon & Sheba testing

each other with spelling bees & hard questions
while the bees build archways of paired eyebrows
sun & moon silver & gold blue & green &
rise overhead in streams of free B-flight formations

[note : Mendelssohn is a neighborhood in Hopkins, MN. Pax, here, refers to the figure in the Siena Town Hall fresco.]


Fontegaia jingle-jangles along...


I meant for Siena to be a sign, Julie like the
miniature city in the palm of the Emperor's hand
but there is no adequate sign each one a dead end
compared to this manifold Providence the light air

shifts & manifests both here & there & the emblem
for justice done just right no emblem but the thing
itself can stand on that last bright day burning
up the straw in the denouement of a smiling

stratagem that clear intellectual thing that seeps
(a mariner's dew) from the eye of the Old Man
in Concrete or the plastered judge (in the western)
crying out like a prophet the milk of kindness keeps

on spreading on its way thicker than blood

so it will be when the sun cries out
you are the sun your heart reflecting the root
of itself O pigeon, home in the neighborhood

steeped there humble as public servant, or
copperhead dove shy profile etched in money
for a counterweight (In God We Trust) one penny
balanced even, equitable as is the blind goddess

figuring it forth because (as Williams understood)
Providence will not be forced since peace comes
climbing slow (take hold now, grasp thy tendril sum
in pregnant shade of vine & fig
) as it always would

as it always would come round & spin
like a tip on a piano top where the Professor
skips along some high-C melody & so to soar
into the octave waiting there like a Carib djinn


another mysterioso etch-a-sketch for gaga Fontegaia...


Behind the mumble of these syllables you note
my shadow as beneath the horsehair color-swirls
a woman magnified as Magdalen one Sienese model
living, breathing, was & these fumbling trumpet-

notes at the end of my long Hiawatha-run
(Chicago to St. Paul) only a rough analogy
for that recurrent, elusive Somebody (Big G
for Curious George?) always trying to hide

behind in the crowd behind the arras
like not-so-shy Bernardino with his borrowed
burro burrowed into the misplaced shadow
of a corner niche to follow a Franciscan pulse :

of fiery heart for heart of fire zeroing in on
the ozone (old Indian Guide method,
spinning a pointed stake across a mound
of wood-dust) until heart burns clear refined

& simple aimed so like a magnifying glass
toward the summer sum's enfolding arms
you remember gathered up for Joachim's
futurity & my 8 cents' worth for a flighty lass

alas (held in my palm 33 yrs) flung up at last
toward that echoing bridge across the Bay
- one hobo's contribution meted out for the Day
to come O happy day of Jubilee & so forecast

the coin falls with (at certain rate of speed)
specific gravity (outside the gate, at 7:15) where
one attentive student (Poetry 1099) pivots
on her heel toward George the gardener indeed


a little more Fontegaia today...

I had thought the affair of only local importance. It did not
occur to me that it had spread beyond the territory.
- Oakley Hall, Warlock

The plumbline O my soul
troubled the water O my soul
broken King Pharaoh O my soul
limped by the pool in the old photo

the days flit by like a shadow
in a dream
, he says I am that shadow
by & by in the lullaby, O
my soul mn mn mn the waters go

ha ha ha the fountains flow laughing
& falling ha hee ho strange blue J-milk
for manna-sip in the old mosaic (Lake Mille Lacs)
chipped away by its own stone stream (humming

just up ahead of me) & so she heads domewards
a little jellyfish (my coracle & blushing rose)
to the dancing source & nobody knows her
like I do the bubble I seen
float (Frisbee-

like) homewards her 8 little bells on
8 little toes in the Sparrow Hills or
Mendelssohn flow, flow'r Flor
for the gardener (him with the oaken iron

spade & '52 speedboat) borne on a barge
upstream at the end of May (a cardinal card
upturned a 9 of hearts before the clobbered
Jack) O my soul a moth at the margin

of the painted screen at the edge of birth
where the long dream rounds unties the knot-
torn heart beside the plumbline, Juliet (well-
sign, jewel & madeleine... my muttered earth)

[p.s. note : the ancient Roman name for Siena was Saena Julia]
Fontegaia, slowly winding up/down...

i.m. Sister Dorothy Stang (1930-2005)

Old Noah let fly the dove across the shimmering
expanse & she did not return & so he knew
she was nesting somewhere as doves will do
perhaps in the shelter of a tamarind tree (sing

so I do woo who) or in the Wild West
forest of the Amazon where the violent
greedy & arrogant lawless with impunity
lord it over the poor but it will not always

be so (no no) it will not be so
when General Dove come brooding, blooming
out of the treasure chest of a looming, booming
General Dave the planetary voice come drooping

slow wheeling in the shadow of a condor overhead
the hovering pivot of the J in Jubilee your
heart's breakline an inward Inca Cuzco lore
the iron-spurred spring out of the sepulchre indeed

It grips the earth with a raptor's rapture
Justice all clear through & through because
it is a fateful swell (like water in sunlight's haze-
shine rainbow) early consciousness born of desire

& ratified refined by fire to pure conscience
grown free & sure transparent measure
of the ninefold Law out of a threefold choir
(3 rising triplets, folded in glancing descent or

swerve of seraph wing) O I hear the ancient
potter's wheel in the creak of an oaken rudder
aimed upstream, & violin mosquito-whine (horsehair
held taut to celebrate love's Oriental fundament)


Reading (slowly) Jay Parini bio of Robert Frost (since I was up Franconia way a few weeks ago). His time at Harvard, classes with Santayana, interest in philosophy of W. James, others.

Got me thinking in desultory way today about how nations & cultures slowly work around (or don't work around) certain intellectual problems or impasses. U.S. philosophy seems mainly about achievement of inner freedom & realism (Emerson's self-reliance), large dose of scepticism about religion (James, Santayana, Royce, many others). Maybe kind of a cousin to British empiricism. (I'm no expert, that's for sure : not well-read at all... just speculatin' here.)

This modern philosophy (secular, pragmatic, humanist, sceptical) runs counter to the older American strain of Protestant religious piety & enthusiasm. & you can see poets like Stevens & Eliot & Frost wavering & pondering at the crossroads of this deep intellectual/spiritual divide - ambivalent, cautious, crafty... (Crane, on the other hand, boldly, brashly, perhaps naively, rashly...) trying to work things out for themselves. Same can be said for their great precursors (Emerson, Dickinson, Whitman, Melville).

I see in my own poetry an unresolved obsession with this problem of faith & scepticism as well. I'm always trying to "figure it out". The mystery of it all, that is. I've come to some provisional conclusions (oxymoron there, moron).

I think I float somewhere between Eliot & Crane. There's this medieval sense that there is something uncannily canonical & authoritative in the Judaeo-Christian prophetic scripture & religion(s). But there's a stance, with me, against Eliot's reactionary authoritarianism - in fact a strong swing in the direction of Crane's Blakean-antinomian-poetic-Romantic kind of originary vision.

I think for me the resolution comes by way of an idea about the nature of religious language. For me, the Biblical record is - underneath all the hard-to-identify-with cultural archaism (& primitivism : see the amazing "Song of Deborah", for ex.) - strangely factual & historical (& despite the layers & layers & layers of storytelling & thematic editing & manipulation). There has been some kind of prophetic intervention of a powerful divine Word, the nature of which we don't yet rightly understand.

But - & here is my humanistic caveat : this Word, from the beginning, has aimed toward universalism. It is a fundamentally dramatic presentation, of a representative reality. This is epitomized in the title Jesus applied to himself : "the Son of Man". He used it in a double sense, and interchangeably, to refer 1) to himself personally, and 2) to humanity in general. As I understand this, he was intentionally setting himself forward as a kind of "actor of a general sign". This is an awkward way of putting it - I mean as a representative figure. You might think of this action as a kind of equalizer : a democratic limitation on the authority of that same Word. What I mean is, what is being implied by this kind of verbal formulation, is that the scriptural witness, the whole Biblical narration, is to be taken as some of the Epistles take it - as allegory, as typology : "in a spiritual sense". In other words, the historic act of divine intervention, narrated in the Bible, is intended to be understood as an "illustration" of universal human experience.

This is in no sense put forward, here, as asserting a limitation on the moral, experiential, spiritual motivation & meaning - the diverse forms of religious sustenance - which are and can be drawn from this scriptural & sacerdotal source. My thoughts here represent just one among many ways of drawing out the implications of the Biblical event(s). For me, anyway, this vague direction seems to offer a possible means of reconciling faith & humanism, religion & the secular.

& further... it must be kept in mind that the "Son of Man" is characterized by Jesus as someone subsisting always in (close) relationship with the Spirit of God. It's an irreducibly binary or triune mode of existence (leading ultimately to unity & oneness). Here is where humanism & faith part ways. Jesus relates in the Gospels that "all Power & Authority" have been granted to the Son of Man; indeed, the Biblical "illustration" of truth may have even emerged originally from Man; but what is the substance of this illustration, exactly? It is the manifestation, & the record, of the unaccountable activity of divine Spirit - understood as guiding humanity toward its own ultimate goal. Sacred history is a strange sort of two-step... conscious/unconscious... reason/nature... sort of like the action of poetic/prophetic inspiration (O Muse of fire...)
The odd thing about the latest blab movement, which they're calling Conceptual Poetics, is that it seems to be made by poets who have no ideas. There are no themes, no topics, & no artistic concepts about how to shape & present same. The only idea in play seems to be the same one that underwrites the making of processed cheese (although processed cheese is more substantial). Take a prior artefact and run it through a processor, or homogenizer. This will get a laugh & win you a place in the Conceptual Poetry Movement (or Process). It's sort of like Flarf with a straight(er) face, a more determined (prosaic) pose. I don't know why I'm bothering to talk about it. I guess it's part of my Friday-at-work process.

"Knowledge is Power". & there is a kind of will-to-power on display in the foregrounding of conceptualization for its own sake. It's the fascination with finding the magic algorithm, the inner overlap structure, the handle-grip of the machine, the key. Like starting a lawn mower : sudden burst of control over all that grass. Then to pretend that it's not about power, that it's simply (un)artistic (unvalued, unoriginal, uncreative) free play : classic move of every intellectual game & ideology.

John Latta's post today, on the other hand, is classic Latta. Here the self-consciousness of the writer - the knowledge-overlap, reflexivity - becomes a useful gauge of limits, a rebuke to hubris & self-delusion. Humility as realism - the still-human comedy.



Blue-grey flame beneath a crown of golden straw
and the horsehair held in Lippo's fingers leaps
the traces racing after her who is resting
so still in her eyelash-curved wave (folded

over itself) closed lid of myrrh-box purr
of the murmur whirr of well-oiled wheel
hum of milk train passing the jeweled
field at dawn (sound of river R)

and the lift of the wave (from Diana-moon)
like the green crest of a fiddlehead, or
an arc of spray from Fontegaia
copper spring uncoiling (moss-green

coin) a silvered nine (or silver mine)
a rain of pennies in the children's books
(uttering the sun) where the willows shake
their shade over the stream of early time

O my agate gate where I creak transfixed
in the wind out of ---- & (lipped by the curl
of your magnet smile) Where now is the whorl
of original spring? In the wood of my myrrh-

box the streaming grain of the stream
comes itinerant steeled in the hold &
buoyant floats the acacia toward the delta
doubling round the final bend, your salty palm fans

open to trace an almond there
(ancient flotation sign) Mississippi Miss. ms.
Papyrus unrolling from further south
toward the mouth lifted into gypsy (stolen) air

[note : 1st stanza refers to a small painting of Mary Magdalen (attributed to Lippo Memmi) in the RISD Museum, Providence.]
So Fontegaia is drawing to a close, along with (I think) maybe this whole long-poem jag I've been on for - if you count all these long poems - 20 years.

I hate to come across as intentionally arcane, obscure, obfuscatory in Fontegaia. That's not my aim; I'm a very simple fellow. If it's obscure in the end, it's a failure. But then, often my previous self-explications de texte have left me with a bad aftertaste.

Nevertheless, I feel like expatiating briefly... - so what is "Siena" in this poem?

1. the home of the little Fontegaia fountain
2. a nexus of medieval & Renaissance visual art
3. a sort of little sister to Dante's Florence
4. an early example of a "free city", with a republican government & proto-democracy
5. a government of elected officials (for a few decades, 13th-14th cent.) known as "the Nine"
6. the town with the most-famous & ancient "Palio" horse race
7. a center of Franciscan Christianity (St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernardino)
8. a kind of outpost or offshoot of Byzantine art & culture
9. a place that was specifically pointed out to me...

Taking all this into account, then, Siena serves as a kind of sounding-board, or catalyst, where these elements (& others) interact to form new things.

Right now (in this final chapter) you see a lot of imagery around numbers - esp. "nine". I don't want to get too explicit (since I'm still in progress!). But I'm trying to suggest some relations between poetry & knowledge, poetry & civil society (political philosophy), poetry & religion.

Dante famously wrote that "Beatrice is a Nine". No one's ever been quite sure what he meant - but the prevailing notion is that he's referring to some representation of the Trinity (3 being a factor of 9).

Maybe I'm working out something similar. "J" - the mysterious muse or instigator (in many guises) of all my quatrain efforts, since Stubborn Grew through Fontegaia - can be understood as a kind of mark or hieroglyph : a curling spiral, or inverted nine, or...

The "Palio" horserace - focus of chapt. 2 of Fontegaia - is a sort of extended riff on poetry-as-Pegasus. Now Pegasus, & Medusa, & Perseus, & Cassiopeia, & Ethiopia, & the 9 Muses, are all intertwined in the original Greek myths.

The Muses were actually a mythical figuration of the Apollonian (rational) spirit in poetry : they each represented a different facet of the ancient organization of knowledge & the arts (history, comedy, tragedy, lyric, astronomy, dance, etc.). Orpheus, the Greek ur-poet, was a representative or missionary of Apollo (thus his fate - torn apart by the maenads of Dionysius, the devotees of irrational passion, fury).

In Fontegaia, I'm developing (sketching out, let's say) a dual transformation : first, shifting between Hellenic & Hebraic elements (or muses); second, shifting between Apollonian & Dionysian aspects.

The underlying argument is that poetry figures reality holistically : as measure : dance. The dance is actually underwritten by the fusion of nature, good will, and knowledge. The agent (& also consequence) of this fusion is what is called "grace" and "wisdom". The innate or potential actuality of human good will is represented (in social experience) as conscience and natural law - that is, the global/universal awareness of good & evil (irrespective of race, ethnicity, cultural traditions, local conditions, etc).

Law & government are essentially the formalization of this innate natural law or (potential) good will - actualized on behalf of the whole, of the common good. When knowledge of the good unites with good will, the outcome is wisdom, expressed as grace. Without good will, law & government fail, are futile.

In the poem, "Siena" is both governed by "the Nine" and expressed by "the nine (muses)". The "ring-dance" of the Sienese maidens in the civic fresco by Lorenzetti is meant to be an image of the synthesis of art & political actuality, of poetry & history, of Apollo (knowledge, light) & Dionysius (passion, rhythm)... in measure.

"9" as a visual icon - the spiral, "J", the fountain - presents a kind of symbolic "square root" of this number. But this is so complicated I'd rather not get into it here, right now.

[p.s. I realize my presentation of "grace" here leaves out the whole theological dimension. In a theological sense, this is the other side of the coin : grace itself is the agent of the fusion of knowledge and good will - since without divine grace, the human will is too corrupt to receive (to understand) truth or knowledge.]


I was never much of a runner (though I was captain of the soccer team, & was on the track squad for a while, & was indeed one of Al Franken's wrestling partners!). But something in me (call it "Pegasus") starts racing toward the finish line of these long poems. It happened with Stubborn Grew, with Grassblade Light, with July... & though I was not thinking or planning or expecting it all, it happened again with #8 of this final section of Fontegaia. & it's a wonderful feeling, when something leaps into place - as if it were there all the time, just waiting for you. Rivers play a big role in these poems - & it feels exactly like - suddenly a new tributary of fast, fresh water slams into my regular, slow, meandering, ruminatin' river... I suppose a mundane psychological explanation is that I'm anticipating the end of all this inching laborious composition... maybe so, I don't know. But I did indeed want Fontegaia to run clear - & fast - at the end. & I had no clue as to how that was going to happen, until one evening a few days ago, sitting in the back yard after work, #8 just started tearing along.
Fontegaia, at a gallop now...


The aged sheepdog sometimes loses the scent
of his old flame but then steps back 4 steps
and picks it up again waltzing from the steppes
to the Andes down the incremental ink-track went

trailing a single dark hair curled in a Guadalupe
loop & round & down into a quipu knot like
Juliet in Cuzco sunspot in the shade of Manco Capac
so love's mazement makes a labyrinth of rosy lips

& so the blindness of the heart's black hole
(cunning J-dem conundrum) might become
a spinning jenny demonstration thrown some-
where by modal centrifugue toward Clio

& Calliope or Cassiopeia luminous suspended W
above the primal falls where the well begins
the fountain springs where Frisbee spins
in stillness, hovering - Noah's rainbow -

out of the still center of the potter's royal palm
near the Middle Sea of an infinite (88-fold) stringed
mappamondo out of the hole in the Blind King
shade out of Poe's fable & Whitman's dream

the light light fingers leave across chippy water
old jib wassail, old Bluejay way & the scent
of a goodness deepening through distance what
she meant by leafing me through the dark matter

of Siena ennead Nile-milk by leafing me alone
& all disintegrated from her heart a separation
of the eyes from sun old chaos-causing Cuz
undone by djinn a spirit-whorl's O-zone


then thence to begin again
as unfurled flag or fiddlehead
since Lucy's lightened way led
Will unburdened now as if reborn

& as each petal of the famished heart
made bold to turn again beheld as from the pool
rose rose lake standing sheer a school of
golden fish translucent there in evening light

there at the Itasca source of all my labile
laboring here in ordinary Providence
toward you because love's endless
sentience is spun from a blind sapience wild

tamarind tree of very rooted nature kind
& true through fair & foul equable steadfast
& firm lasting forever like a droning mast
through the last tempest until you find

streaming good will in a delicate arc of spray
from a limestone font sweet susurrus underneath
the stumbling speech of a beckoning mosaic wraith
of inward memory you always knew & could not say

O harbinger of restoration little messenger
on tender feet my carrier pigeon
out of Jonah's wail take this portion
to her Mystery like the town in the cupola, or

the rose in the chest Jose Martin Jasper
& Hart it flowers so and flows toward where
up where it came the stream in the mirror
the rose in Notre Dame so follow now now soar


(p.s. some notes : this is the centerpiece of the final (5th) chapter of the poem. "j-dem" - term from contemporary physics having to do with theory of dark energy. "Manco Capac" - mysterious Inca savior-god (see Melville's Confidence Man). "Middle Sea" - ancient term for Mediterranean (middle C - center of 88-key piano). "Blind King" - The Blind King was the name of an old storefront windowshade store on Atwells Ave., in Federal Hill, the Italian section of Providence.)
Fontegaia keeps on keepin' on...


Out the library window beyond the Courthouse
at the end of the park under the shady maples
& ringed with vines lies an old well (RW's
early spring) from whence the plumbline goes

straight up into the sky. & just as a stone
draws perfect whorls in the stream just as it
drops beneath the surface disappears
I would draw a set of radii from this point on

into the town & let it pulsate, rotate
a rippling impression of an ancient face
a Personage as if breathing through the ice
of frozen circumstance warm air, wind aslant

into cold soil where the seeds are And
this, my sketch for an image of the Truth
- a living, breathing parsonage at azimuth
of plumbline-crown (its vertex in your heart)

& that which is everywhere the same inexorable
necessity the gravity of the grave & the
blinding roar of the sun & the restless sea in
motion under the moon become slowly amenable

(amen, amen) to the georgic human hand
trembling over its seedling-keys for the prevailing,
guiding melody the providential path the Way
and suddenly over the verdant, waiting plowland

a harmony of 9 courting spheres in a dance
memorious pavane slow Sophie-seraph lightfoot
sarabande for Roger's will-to-truth (soul liberty)
See they whirl in a stereopticon (Siena trance)


Onward she goes...


Down stately Prospect Street I go, on my way
to work in the morning in Providence
dawdling along slow brain-matter dense
trouble in mind trying to figure out that Day

of Jubilee how out of these slowly corroding iron
wrecks this wracking violence just how
it comes (as the blarneyman says) dropping slow
Pax, that is Peace not just my private lawn

but Peace in general over the broad rolling earth
to the steel-drum splash of sword into plow
(delving, planting) How will it be? Just how?
It seems impossible to frame the Falstaffian girth

of such an expansive, expensive ship of state
Impossible so to direct the human will
into such channels of a civil grace so naturally
supernatural a dream (full-timbred first estate)

Until we reckon in that primary, original good will
the deep dark cosmic J-dem hole the well
of doing-well prompting an echo in the soul
of every child the fountain of the W (Blue Nile

falls, hovering beneath a well-wrung constellation,
Lucy) there in the balance of its equilibrium
a dance of Will with Sophie (merged in the hum
of some mellifluous & royal honey-hive) turning one

turn, then another 1-3-2 and so revolving
in a far-flung highway O that milk train way
from the deep breast of the dark matter hey-ey
O the sustenance for every steadfast vessel (love)
I've put a link to the video of the reading with Anny Ballardini & Peter Thompson over in the sidebar. (Requires Quicktime player, which is available as free download here.)


Busy today in Fontegaia-land...


Strange mourning dove hidden somewhere behind me
this evening fluting her clay ocarina inconsolable
blue-grey counterpart to all the cheery warblers
and chatterers a low woodwind in minor key

lonely What do you want, heavy-hearted little bird?
You have your mate somewhere, I'm sure
you have the bird-feeder and the June weather
Time, time... you're moaning Time hoarded

kept close within your somewhat tubby frame
keeping time & this minor key, this mournful note
must have another counterpart, your saturnine
urn its jovial mead-cup true end and aim

of such drawn-out, repetitive, lengthy, endless complaint
O ever-despised, lonesome, no-count heart (slate
tablet's plum-robed sentinel) of yearning earth!
My brooder, there in the shade - muttering, faint!

You chant your dirge just as you do in the window
of the town hall in Siena and this evening
your meaning came clear through to me (wings
of seraphim bear similar sign) it is to know

is to love to love is to know (beckoning
mote in the eye of Magdalen) there is no more
than this
this is the source of that obscure
slow semaphore absent moon-fountain (morning,

) elusive water too clear to see
only rightly seen in simplicity
foundation sure of every
spectral fresco of good governance & free

& then he played a brief encore a haunted
(Chopin?) gypsy melody an elegy
quiet, mysterious & sad maybe
for his own people (from Lvov) (Beethoven

counterpoint) and somewhere
there is an axle of the rolling earth
in the heartlands in the heartlands of
your soul I hear that wasp intoning there

magnified from the well of deep rose evening
a drone (a B-flat miner) zeroing in on a target
of concentric colored rings his whisper-chariot
uniting with a deeper bass like a maestro's fledgling

son down deep there in the well of milk and honey
where the milky Word reigns raining upward
from Eternity and shore to shore a pillared
arc arching back high over the makings of a day

I want to go there now into the heartlands
where the wasp sings at the axle of the earth
and wheels like a master of the clay an eagle-
wraith diving toward the dove where she stands

hesitant spouse bereft widow (amid neglected
purple irises beneath bent lilac wands)
transfixed at the sepulchre (her hands
against a rim of cold, solid granite)

& hears that other, deeper voice from the spring
through the full piano-panoply (drift of May
silver & gold) as a matrix of concentric waves
(streaming river-water) melding into a ring
keepin' on Fontegaia...

for Phoebe

In the rattle of the restless uncertain business
down the street, up the street questions
the soul, then : chance, or Providence?
I was lucky last Saturday a willing witness

ushered into my (free) place (father of the usher)
4th row, Lincoln Center Emanuel Ax, playing
Beethoven's 5th Concerto with playful bearing
of a rollicking bear who's found the honeycomb

there and when 10 fingers lift from pounding octaves
and tremolo of tender haunting trills he turns
rolling on his bench hearkening smiles breathes
in the violins sweet master of intricate delight

So glancing at the Times this morning noted
photo of distant galaxy in the shape of a nippled
breast and thought of the Milky Way the principle
of designation human signs for the remote

ongoing mutter of dark matter but I think this
dancing bear has found the honeycomb indeed
in the dome-nest of the turtle-home the secret Law
of setting-free (between gloomy ax and the kiss

of Pax the pact in the mosaic in the fresco
in the sign of Siena) yes this old geezer
(Old Faithful) this old hobo too insouciant
slouch-hat rambler found his Lincoln icon (imago)

where the stereopticon of the spiritual war
between time and Providence is resolved as when
a magnifying glass pours sunlit fire into a thin
green blade of grass as from a deep well-jar