O more than moon


90 years ago today
Papa was 5 weeks old.
Lindbergh took off, bold
Icarus... Spirit of St. Louee.

Daedalus built his labyrinth
to keep the Minotaur
at bay.  OK so far.
Only minor casualties – 8 millionth

civilian, 1913 (unknown
poilù).  Our engineers
built expensive tears
into delicate ships, Apollonian

on combers like phosphorus, behind
the shining cranium
(a sort of No-See-Um
mosquito zone).  Dear blind

(icky) Eddy posed this question
to himself : Who’s my father?
Phoebus compiled a rather
complex artifice (Olympic Stadion

to be Demolished Tomorrow)
in order to swim again
beneath Shoshone moon –
just 8 light-years away (somehow

we’ll get there, Apollinaire).
She’ll do her zephyr flute-
dance (Bonfire En Route)
as lithe fiery planetary star


Stravinsky set for 8 août
– he had to settle for
the 4th (Madame Bouvier
demand) – juillet, or thereaboot.

Guillaume bowed to the plumèd crowd.
Jesus on autopilot
rose... began to float
over la Tour Eiffel (meek, not proud).

Lindy surrendered all his clothes,
like Francis (to his father
dead) – rose further
in mondaine esteem – only to close

that gap between our earth & moon.
Bright mother of reflection,
pearl of intellection
(pupil Christ within your black hole zone)

my jottos ink into Francescan gloom,
your caved-in grotto
on my kitchen plot.
Light tenders mercy in that little room.

O moon, your melancholy face
reminds me of my lost race
to perimeter of grace.
Mayflower, constant Falcon-Ace...

paternal covenant of trust.
O arrogance of youth!
To jettison the truth
like so much ballast (bursting dust).



leaves of the cottonwood


The leaves of the cottonwood are silver-green,
the river flows green-bronze.
That old green man’s
gone home to his fathers now.  He’s left the scene.

Hobo will join him, by & by.
Leaves only a memory.
Childhood in Mendelssohn, Heidi...
where we drew the plow from the slough of Bye.

Home is the place we’re hailing from
forever & ever, to infinite
space – echo of minute
alien birds, mingling in one b-flat hum.

& home is familiar Elsinore
where haunted Prince Hamlet
spins the wheel – to forfeit
Ophelia, at heart’s grim core.

Time is inexorable, yet life
is sweet.  Violets fade
while a slow parade
carries the king to the tomb of his wife

down the path of a labyrinth
dark gold & green.
Where a trompette marine
strings one tone (teal-absinthe)

Ariadne hums too, as she spins
the silk safety net
round orange parapet
knotting a quipu where Time begins


& Hobo apprends l’alphabet
blu.  He’s buried in summer
like acorn mummer,
coddled in hay, enfant Hamlet –

like Ionas from London (graybeard
or grey bird) cross-
dressed for her Highness
to pluck from the crowd, to be cured

(so they heard).  She’s singing there yet.
In a grey ermine robe
in the heart of the Globe
her voice, claire-voie, will penetrate

your ear.  O incommensurate
ineffable Spirit
one with your Incarnate
One, who sent Me as advocate

to make a waltzing Tree of Love
out of the union of
the twainClay molten Dove
from Kiln-no-Day, soaring above

sky-wells of Ocean Stream, I AM
your mandorla of light
& joyyour mirror-bright
bee’s honey-eyemultiocular OM

circumferencing the whisper-dome
breathing Hagia Sophia
through most-human sigh
urging love’s coracle to kingdom come.



a line in the road


Sarah found a baby turtle
this morning, inching along
a line in the road.  My song-
salience, or green volcano-yurt

on slow horizontal too... toward
her thorny rose-matrix;
my scrambled pick-up-sticks,
snarled with gold poncho thread

in limpid greys of dawn twilight.
This mutter-dome of whisper-
leaves, of zephyr-vespers
veils an agate lamp (magnet

for Blue Morpho & monarch flight)
pendant amid cedars –
like black-yellow flickers
gathered into marigold (O milky knight).

My abstract worming through its raving
scribble-babble, cartoon
peacock incarnation...
a myriad glancing-whorl becoming

the figure for your beaming face.
O the clear air of this
metaphysical silence!
Whose pause released one Finnish race

to lift her soaring steel mandorla
into lofty grace
planted in pivot-place
of riverine & prairie space – ah,

Psyche!  Sister Persephone!
I feel your sunny smile
now – lifting lilacs mile
on mile into an octave-harmony


of active commonality –
Joy’s hero-trial!
Path P – Indian file –
thread-thin tattoo to Liberty!

So the little tree of J
is ever-living.  So
Jonah bee surfacing
tuned to your buzzing play,

high Sophie – through the fallen timbers
west of gray Verdun,
the world’s war-passion
settled in destruction.  Embers

from a wraith of spring, the sack of Prince
Henry’s royal oak...
one ashen acorn spoke
welded to purple wheel of Providence.

The crayon trembles in my hand.
The palm curves green
circumference – Iona
ray, from Ocean State (to every land);

the grey bird murmurs through the surf;
the Camelot of JFK
& blessedness of MLK
merge in the spray, resolve to turf.

So Thunderbird ruffles the stream.
The turtle is a Phoenix
swelling at the matrix –
agate child skipping (on waves of dream).



your whiskey mule


The bulb in a wild Chinese lantern
is a bright orange berry,
edible, tart (very).
Little octagon amid the fern-

pine forest, summer Halloween
memento mori; lamp
in Thanksgiving pumpkin,
blood-orange earring for a queen.

My cedar gazebo in the rain
magnifies your painted
facets.  I’m your slanted
saint, beaming gray Bretagne

matière, like old Guillaume d’Orange
in his gelato-cool
Gellone prayer cell –
the armored ape (‘tis passing strange)

grown peaceable & rocky-mild.
Repentant berry-man
in shady homespun
camouflage (as orange span stilled

leaping crag to crag – a frisky
beggar-stag in Frisco
Bay).  My Lady, O
high-hearted votary!  Your whiskey

mule I’ll be – show stigmatized
tattoos you needled through
cliff-jagged river-scars to
radiant Pacific blue... baptized


in Minnehaha Falls – by Manitou!
Her figurehead (surmised
miraculous surprise)
bobs like green fiddlehead, unfurling You!

Blue-green pine haze of Tian Shan,
whose snow-cone peaks
harbor bright lightning streaks
& pure transparency of oxygen...

be like her molten meteoric smile
my natal cog upon
whose wheel of rose spun
hurtling through light’s peristyle

into galactic congregations
sharing pain et vin
Melchizedek’s Come in,
my wounded daughtersprodigal sons!

The berry, man, the berry lives,
though crypted in the cradle
of an origami grail –
sun of Manitou, sum of beehives!

That copper moss-green Lady
in the harbor lifts her torch
as an intelligible iris-arch,
so read the sign : her rainy-shady

smoke-signal, pine-scented candle
of a little tree – her fiery
omnipresent Amor, mirrory
agate Agape, all blumen (mandel).



a little air


A little air, a melody
out of Mendelssohn, maybe –
like a wisp of smoke you see
afloat above Red Wing one day.

Like pipes out of Apollinaire,
trompette marine – sole
zigzag rigmarole
of an enigma (serpent’s lair).

You walk the blank maze, Oedipus.
With ghost of Ariadne
by your side.  Keen
pal, forsaken thesis – surplus

collateral, original
betrayal.  Henry Adam’s
dusky twilight madam’s
mad, quiet... a virgin owl

nested in stone Columbia.
Only her bird’s eye
as the crow flies
correlates phantasmagoria

out of the desperate heart of Cain
into clay valves
where muddy stars revolve;
through the dawn labyrinth again

from light, toward light, with light
blazing mild power –
like some firefly bower
mowers glimpse of a summer night


beneath remote aurora-shower
bearing fathomless delight
miraculous & right
to chastened human hearts in flower.

So I behold Dante & Job,
David the King,
hedged by ironic ring
of instinctual violence – the mob

of envious, avaricious rivals
circling their prey
to make King for a Day
once more.  Florentine hovels

I see transposed to Catlin prairie,
vertiginous Beatrice
mingled with Platte clay.
To the horizon’s elegant Bluejay

molts saturnine Cawtantowwit
with amorous Jenny-
Jonah; they buried be
only to soar in monarch-flight

O harbingers of Milky Way
whose kingdom is an Ocean
Stream – salty communion,
sea-green flock of Liberté!

Out from the massive turning of the wheel,
where Miriam churns the cream
of every starfish dream
into her almond meal (Messiah-seal).


sealed by kiss


This May light by the Mississippi.
Evening radiance
of ripeness – deep silence.
Nature can’t be explained, you see –

just felt.  The invisible sustains
the visible.  The unspoken
bee-silk tread, unbroken
dangling between a line of cranes

(fixed image from a coasting film
of tears, pooling in swamps
outside Ravenna dumps).
The retina, the iris-realm –

trim silence of almond canoe
hung up in dim garage
of old Ferrara (green
mirage).  She’s looking for you.

Calling you.  Her light curves round.
Curves round a pyx
hexagonal (X marks
her).  Regal Em, par exemple   bound

for glory in an Amherst cell
her russet star flames
golden dome   her name’s
a plunging eagle’s parallel

O gram of wheat  slanting to water
where the match strikes fire
in Mary’s   mirror-empire
as   furiously spinning   mutter-potter


echoes one   light-blazing choir
fluke-blinded hearth-power
of black earth-heart   your
milky diamond   from trench-cold mire

The universe is made of this.
A new world beckons now
from almond soil.  Plow
of the old world, sealed by kiss –

recycling topsoil of time
from Raven-Wife to salt
Ravenna – vernal vault
of Juliet to St. Louis sublime.

Moses – padre of Cleopatra,
stepfather of Jessie O.,
veteran of Shiloh...
he might know.  The river mantra

for the quick & dead (a strong drown-
gong) is fugal drone –
peepers in a mud-cone
warbling (like robins in a round).

Across there, from Monk’s Mound.
The planetary plate
is studded with jagged fate –
but we will make a joyful sound,

O froggy clown.  King Charles 3rd
awaits his guilty crown...
Henry is plastering his own.
His throne’s Columbian (a golden bird).




from Agate Rock


A pink drift of crabapple petals
lights the rust-brown bricks.
Hobo sniffs lilacs
through your gazebo’s flimsy walls

of ragged cedar.  Transparent air
& Saturday quiet;
a tiny spider’s lucid net
shines like platinum from here to there.

His soul’s invisible as God.
His heart beats slowly.
Time in the Family
of Man sways over Land of Nod.

His hammock is a green hummock
where hummingbirds & robins
warble, strum... Someone’s
calling you, Hobo (from Agate Rock).

You loved the looming sweep of limbs,
the creaky oaks in autumn
storms... quick, winter’s come.
The columbarium of paper hymns,

a windy wasp’s nest in your heart,
the melancholia
of sentimental sigh,
chilly memorial... you play the part,

poet.  These lilacs will not last.
Odysseus, in the Sirens’
grip, resists – sharpens
his ears – clings to the swaying mast


shuts eyes against his blinded sense.
Light tiptoes through, at last.
The shrouded cosmos (vast,
remote) circles a pilot’s evidence;

the pole star of his meditation
lifts into incarnation
(ark of a nation
anchored to her own grave station).

So Hobo’s apple petals scatter
in a spring chaos.
The Minotaur lurks close.
Greed splits matter from anti-matter,

rigid red from angry blue.
These violet bowers
dangling sweet flowers
bend over you in vain, Hobo.

Your dark twin leans from Golden Gate.
Her black hair beckons toward
the deep.  Only my Word
is closer to your heart, shipmate

your heart, & hers.  A violent order
is a knot of pain, a riddle
of ingratitude.  They fiddle
while my planet burns, smolder

in contemptuous hate (for neighbors
not their enemies).
Mauve Whitman breeze...
salt loveliness of tide’s martyrs.


the definitive quid

"I seemed to be living under a bell jar, and yet I felt I was close to something essential.  A subtle veil, a thread, barely separated me from the definitive quid."    - Eugenio Montale

Once in a while, in the midst of your bibliophiliac meanderings, you happen upon a book like Ezra Pound's would-be "ball of light in one's hands" - the true intellectual manna, the book you've been searching for half-consciously.

Not long ago I tripped over such a book : a work in philosophy by one Borden Parker Bowne, published in Boston (by Houghton Mifflin) in 1908, titled simply Personalism.

This book (and the Cambridge academic group loosely associated with it - now called "Boston Personalism") played a role in Martin Luther King's early thinking.  I suppose I was drawn to it for that reason, and due to my own prior interest in "the person", the personal (in an abstract, quasi-philosophical sense).  I suppose it was the same focus which had motivated my enthusiasm (7 years or so ago) for the philosophical writings of Michael Polanyi - another advocate for the "person".

I'm not in the mood for strenuous, inadequate paraphrasing tonight.  You'll just have to read Bowne's Wikipedia entry, maybe look further yourself.  Prof. Wiki calls Bowne "an acute critic of mechanistic determinism, positivism, and naturalism."  He was also an acute critic of abstraction, idealism, and totalizing systematics.  Nor he was one of those run-of-the-James American pragmatists.

Bowne seems to be located somewhere in that dawn twilight between late-Victorian disenchantment, on the one hand (the Brown Decades), and early 20th-century dynamic physics (relativity, uncertainty, quanta) plus mid-20th-century Existential neo-Medieval (Eliot) suprematism/despair, on the other.  He's a very sharp knife... a very free-thinking kind of Methodist minister, if you can imagine that.

What I mean to say : Bowne seems to offer a logical, informed, & convincing philosophical ground for my own more cloudy poetical conceptions.  He makes a rational argument for the plausibility of a "metaphysical" universe - originating in a living creative benevolent ineffable divine Person, and manifested (or progressively accomplished) in an experiential reality of free spiritual persons ("souls", you might say - human beings) joined in fellowship.  A reality of Persons.

And he's a pretty incisive critic of rival theories : scientific positivism, materialism, determinism - any kind of "objectivity" which reduces human beings to pawns, cannon-fodder, statistics - chips in a cosmic-mechanical system.  He shows them to be unthinking extrapolations from both common sense (ordinary experience) and science (the useful application of observation & measurement to ordinary experience) - neither of which give access to meaning in the philosophical sense.  The final cause(s) & purpose(s) of existence - beyond both common-sense utility and scientific measurement - have yet to be comprehended.

Bowne provides, I guess, a firm & bright "phenomenology" (probably wrong term) of the Person : not just the physical, embodied individual, but the thinking, feeling, invisible "subject" - the living, breathing personality/soul/spirit - the invisible Me and You beyond physical cycles & change - and related to (stemming from) the original, originary, creative Act of the perfect invisible ineffable universal Spirit-Person in the hidden heart of our own beings, and at the center of the Real.  Thus the individual human person exists as an imperfect, partial, limited image or "child" of the Spirit from whom he or she is created (& thus, also, "we hold these truths to be self-evident..." etc.).

Imagine how such a particular philosophical firmness or intellectual integrity might fortify the confessional faith/confidence of someone like Martin Luther King.  And to what heights (& depths) that might lead him.

I'm nowhere near being a philosopher.  I'm just a poet - but maybe a poet with philosophical tendencies.  I've always had an interest - since childhood, I daresay - in the "big picture".  My conception of poetry has always harbored a polemical aspect : I'm against the abstract objectification of the human person - the various philosophies, dogmas, pseudo-scientific theories, & ideologies aligned against the human being as a free spiritual-material entity with a future.  I think of poetry as a force of expression - a bearing-witness to this living, breathing, personal, metaphysical dimension of the human soul, persisting in relation to that benevolent over-arching Love-Plenitude-Origin-Being we call God.

Many inured cultural habits of the modern mind militate against the patterns of such a viewpoint.  But like Eugenio Montale, I feel myself on the edge, walking along a wall topped with broken glass - so near that definitive whatness, just beyond this thin veil of worn threads...

I feel we are on the cusp of a new cultural Aeon or Era.  The heavy meteoric Stone (Mandelstam's akme-kamen) of divine Presence hovers near again... the Ghost of Manitou, the leader of the Ghost Dance... the human incarnation, the global human per se, arises at the crossroads of time & reality.

The human soul is integral, invisible, personal... & stands under judgement, in relation (to the horizontal-vertical, the neighbor and the Spirit).  Nothing in the universe is either objectified or determined.  Your soul is alive as it revolves, turning toward its own intelligible Origin.

Of course, this could all be phony mumbo-jumbo.  But poetry stands as a criterion for dialogue, simply because poetry is undetermined by anything but dialogue. It emerges out of the living encounter between speakers & listeners, listeners & speakers.  Poetry is the opposite of discourse, lecture, prose - because it recognizes (intuitively) that it bears witness to a creative force both proportional to and incommensurable with itself : the mysterious origin of life, love, beauty, truth (& poetry itself).

I'm not suggesting that poetry per se has some special role in advancing this new Aeon.  This is only my own personal application of poetic resources toward a particular polemical end.  Poetry & State, in general, should both keep a courteous distance from Religion.

But we have had enough of Man the cipher, Man the factor in an abstract design.  We live in a dense world of love & sleep, of conscious & unconscious motive... moving in a dance of form & feeling.  Man the spiritual Person abides at the center, amid vast fields of other ineffable Persons (invisible heights & depths).

I believe in the ever-living Spirit, shaping the cosmos toward miraculous reconciliations & renewals.  I believe that Beauty is the signature of a creative Mind as Source; & that moral beauty - the beauty of compassionate & selfless love for all Creation - has been imprinted upon human history, like the trace of a smile across the ravaged face of suffering & grief.   Mary, Francis... John... the women at the Cross, the Tomb.

The tomb, the crossroad, dead end, turning-point.... anonymous blind alley, where the unknown soldier (Everywoman, Everyman) turns toward the hills.  Walk on up there...

Borden Parker Bowne


vive la France


This rustic humble tablecloth
from Vienne street fair
(crowding her amphitheatre
hewn by Rome) poses a math

problem : how can I square this
table ronde within
the weathered octagon
of an American gazebo?  Ms.

Emily might know, or maybe Marianne...
some mounded clay pitcher
of accurate grace.  Her
toss across a potter’s wheel (nine

innings for a feline Muse)
spins stars like comets
through snarled sailor knots –
Mary & Rachel, bearing news

of natural law so blazing sharp
as to make arrowhead
speed from seabed
(trompette marine like Jonah’s harp

reshuffling my raven coil
into the Argo figure
of a prow’s green furl).
Honey from spun goldfinch foil

will pour like waxen flame – the living
sœur de Jeanne d’Arc,
sourire of each undying spark –
calm rondure of a square (Thanksgiving).



round which we merry go


Now, at dusk, the early lilacs
breathe out their scent.
Tired crabapple’s bent
limbs burst into a climax-

galaxy of blossoms, pink & white –
rhyming those slight cloud-
petals overhead
like Botticelli’s passionate

notations for the Paradiso
(Beatrice’s dancing
flame-spirits, candescing
in a last heaven-crescendo).

Old splendor of May-month springs
anew.  None shall judge her.
Like Osip’s meteor
flung suddenly through Saturn’s rings

Ophelia steps from a weedy break
wearing Ariadne’s crown –
grace, honor & renown
clothe her again, out of elm-book

of Primavera-life – primordial
Persephone, sharing
one diamond ring
(soul’s Solomonic seal, octagonal).

The river’s profile of limestone
reflects its lambent flow.
Each wave curls now
light glances toward one flint Person


the intellect sees through the show
of leafy cottonwood sheen
(black limbs lean toward one
point round which we merry go).

It’s personal, in a fleeting, refugee
sense, mumbles Hobo.
The stone beyond Cosmo.
The source of lightning & oak tree –

where little Henry hid one day
like Bonnie Charlie in a bole
of mossy acorn-meal.
The soul is preternatural, he say.

Soul is King, & Queen.  Mary
floresces rose, in bloom
beneath almond moon...
Hamlet, Ophelia marry.

Adamantine chair of motherlode...
gravitational pull
of con vexed out of Hell.
Adam’s evening (nails in road).

Looming in the linen of the dream,
the dawn fleece of time...
the scapegoat’s crime,
the victim’s cornerstone (walled

without seam into apex of dome).
This your chink of light
through the long jail night.
Your Camelot (milk-train kingdom).



hobo takes upward path


This deep translucent honeycomb,
this palimpsest of green
beside the bronze serpent
of midmost river, mother-stream.

Hobo must climb from his log-bed
of lassitude & diffidence.
He sees the circumference
of his enormous creaking sad

forsaken solitary double
ferris wheel – his rusted
rose or Island Road,
a lonely spark of conscience-trouble

(ancient Roger Williams port
for Puritan & exiled
Quaker, reconciled
by Narragansett welcome-heart).

He must un-knot his mumbling
& speak to the res publica.
Tender Mnemosyne
leans like a wispy cedar, trembling

against the scorpion-twister
of learned viciousness
& bland unconsciousness –
conceited treason like a blister-

burn, compound of avarice
& vanity – unreason
squawking each lesson
through megaphones of fraudulence


– corpse-flowers of corruption
breeding in rotten logs
of oligarchy – hogs
& coyotes preying on the children

of the designated sacrifice
(the under-underclass
under the overpass,
who pay for our convenience – twice).

The Minotaur of twisted love
contorts against grace,
O Hamlet Falcon-Ace –
his den of hate-mark drove the dove

out of her rightful nesting-place.
Her forum of good will –
Columbian windowsill
of human fellowship (Dante’s

& Aristotle’s animale
compagnevole) – sheds
reflective limestone beds
of ever-new Itasca springs (ey

yo) out of unfathomable depths
of Manitou-benevolence
(Ghost who in silence
walks beside you, sweet Princeps).

Ophelia, Horatio, Francesco,
Juliet... heart-Jonahs
surfacing from Okeanos –
anchored fresco-arc astride Frisco.




Hermione's return


The park bench by the Father of Waters
is Hobo Henry’s throne.
Where he comes to his own
like Leontes (late to his daughter’s

recovery, Hermione’s return).
That sidewinding father
plays hide-&-seek – with another
voice, another fleece.  Like someone

you met once, on the road to Emmaus
or St. Petersburg – sly
Queequeg, tricksy Bluejay...
warbling red Robin in burnoose

of raven-ink.  His tattoo labyrinth
the cave he trails from –
a smoky-flutey hum
folding the whole into a ninth

symphonic inning (end-beginning).
This personal boomerang
widens your gyre, bright Milky-
Zed – like a shadow slowly shrinking

toward your noon.  Come back again.
Global res publica
out of Exodus.  A prairie
equal sign, Mississippian –

grass salience across the river (Monk’s
Mound) still reminder
we were slaves once, here
(Dred Scott & Gateway Arch plunk


side by side).  Slaves kept by others,
& slaves to ourselves.
Whose arrogance resolves
into a Minotaur of rival brothers

(orange vs. black – harsh prison stripes
mirrored across scarce
monarchs, dense cedars).
Vlad in Kiev?  One of them types.

Or Nabokov, in camouflage.
A Frisco safety net
might bolt this Nut
who stretches out her flamande bridge

into an arch, over the Nile –
osprey transfigurement
of J to fundament
(her spirit flaming into smile).

This late romance, Leontes-Hobo –
some Pygmalion’s design –
lifted La Paix from Brooklyn
mud, with Liberté (moss-emerald glow).

Her incarnation of a crocus rose
& spun gold gyroscopes,
kalimba-periscopes –
around a Maypole calculus

of loving fingerprints, & penny-clues.
The Earth, in shadow of
one flighty Jonah-dove...
your arc of fellowship (King of the Blues).




bearing her true report


This tenderness of moss-green light
in the craggy oaks around
the Witch’s Hat (ground
bass of Sibelius, to finish right).

The hat itself a darker green.
Twilight of thunderstorm –
fork-gyring twister-worm
over holm oak in Oklahoma (lonely

scene, brooding).  That mounded Pan
by Mississippi, in Rez
graveyard... his enormous
Rabbit-corpus.  Heavy Everyman

skittered, skating on ice
unswift as raven-wing
(Po-boy, kow-towing
Whitman’s rust-mold Providence

under the night-shade of Cautantowwit).
Earth shaken by thunder,
horns of Minotaur – 
titanic labyrinth of lies (knit

by yon dull orange cur, on fire).
Outcast beyond these walls
Jerusalem worm-hurls
against the black hole (central pyre


of Man’s propensity to murder)
– bearing her true report
like tattered gun-shot
pennant under murk of war.

These damaged epitaphs of pride
& shame (twin Boanerges
buried for albino
snow-contagion).  No crypt can hide,

no script elide.  Vermilion Thunderbird
wheels down to Red Wing
tallying everything
& reckoning each deadman’s ford –

plumb eye of blistered Galilee,
eye of the hurricane.
Out of the depths, someone
traces an arc of palm, for Henry –

skipping from the sea like royalty
(posthumous Davy for
posterity).  Sea-floor
of grey Jonah.  Ocean-reality.

From Queequeg’s casket, like Osiris-
tomb, the rose tattoo
(framed by two-man canoe
of Manitou) slowly rises –

sweet grail of sunken Paradise.
The maze of Ariadne
beams from Milky Way –
meek penny-glow (seal’s copper glaze).



as a Chinese jar

Bangladeshi New Year festival, Eagan, MN

What does it mean to assert that the poem is an end in itself?  In this season of crowds and anxious change, the assertion is controversial, maybe counter-productive.

To say the poem is an end in itself is a way of saying that beauty is an end in itself.  Beauty is self-sufficient; the poem is self-sufficient.  The poem justifies itself, merely as poem.  Beauty is what it is.

But what is beautiful about a poem?  We have a sense of what is meant by a beautiful face, a beautiful act, a beautiful life... not by any means always the same thing.  What makes a beautiful poem?  What makes a poem beautiful?

There are infinite paths in and out of poetry; infinite occasions for the right, the perfect poem.  I've witnessed them, heard them, countless times, in countless places, over the last 50 years.  So what is their common denominator, with respect to the beautiful?  Beauty itself shows many faces, many dimensions - but the common form, the universal factor is this :

the poem is an end in itself.

The poem is its own fulfillment : a kind of pleroma of time & experience.  A breathing, living, perfect, indestructible entity.

An icon, in other words.  A representation of something metaphysical - the transcendence of time, death & change.  A heart-stopping stroke of lightning.  A stillness still moving, living, breathing (Eliot's "Chinese jar" in Four Quartets).

This is the perfection of the poem.  Every poem bears some trace of it.

But the really confusing, paradoxical thing is : the beautiful is everywhere.  Poetry draws its materials out of the most ordinary, impoverished, grotesque, pathetic, banal, & recalcitrant places & episodes in human experience.  The metaphysical diamond is made out of coal dust.  & moreover : the coal dust itself is beautiful (the haze over the grubby railroad tracks, the derelict abandoned bleak junkyards).

The beautiful poem is simply a gesture toward the beautiful poem of reality ("the Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst, but men do not see it", chants the Nazir-poet Jesus).

A gesture.  A geste.  An act in words.

The poetry I enjoy & admire is steeped in an awareness that these perfections and gestures are already complete & finished for us.  Their presence is tacit and unassuming, but it is there : the work of the poets who came before.

This is one of the dimensions of the early 20th-cent. Russian poetic tendency known as Acmeism : an acknowledgement and receptivity toward the past.  Not a groveling imitation, but a sense of kinship - as opposed to the Futurists, who advocated a rejection of the past as a basis for the future.

There are no revolutions in poetry, because the beautiful is inherently integral.  It is a whole, a wholeness.  This is not to deny the validity of other kinds of revolution (political, social, personal).  It's only to say that poetry (as opposed to prose) is (ultimately, somehow) in touch with something beyond change, something perennial.  Rhythm, harmony, music... the beautiful.

Good to keep in mind during wartime.

Confessional blog post # 341

Greetings, fellow moles.  I've lost the habit of conversational blogging.  The old Brown University Library (the Rock) was my Alexandria, my table-talk slab : now I'm way out here in the high lonesome, like a rolling stump (off Highway 61).

Apparently we inhabit these digital knowledge-canals.  Robots remember things for us, bots remind us, etc.  I've gone out of fashion (about 10 years ago) as bloggentator (aka Mr. Potato-head).

Poetry shivers in the frisson of its immediacy, its grasp of The Cool - the shimmer of This, your slangy Now.  Behind lurks the power of the Word Itself - like an Old Master, like Big Daddy, with the moneybags (Universities Bank Here).  It Can Help You.  But the kids are nervous : that's how it goes (swimmingly).  The Academy of American Poets invites you to become an Associate Member (tote bag to follow); Poetry magazine hits monthly, like velvet lightning.  Jimi Hendrix reads us!

(It is really good, btw - especially the issue I was in, sometime last year.  Tonic verbs, with scattering of playdough... what is poetry, btw?)

I've lost, as I say, the hobbit of consternation.  Out of the gloop.

Still try to read books, now & then.  People may get the idea I've retreated into some kind of bizarre eccentric personal hut.  As John Keats once averred, "I am picked up and sorted to a pip.  My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk."

Yet my day is very scheduled (horae) - what with family industries, managing various major national crises, reading parts of a book or mag, and writing my Answer-To-Dante Poem...

As a matter of fact my personal mental space is so "Middle American" it's become exotic to many.  Recently I was subjected to a biting, sarcastic FB attack, by the accomplished young poet Phillip B. Williams - I guess because he felt I was some kind of Neanderthal.  Probably a generational thing (young guy knifes geezer).  You have to wear a digital sign on your head now to explain what appropriate medicines you are currently on in order to make you immune to the wrong purifications.

Am in the middle of this volume, American Covenant.  By another Philip - Philip Gorski (Princeton UP, 2017).  See, I can still find scholarly tomes!  This is a good one.

Do you know the difference between despotism, liberalism and republicanism?  Are you aware of the "civic religion" of These States?  Are you conscious of its binding presence in American history, and in your daily life?

It's a kind of hagiography, or demonology - from John Winthrop through Hannah Arendt, H.L. Mencken, W.E.B. Du Bois, John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Lincoln, the Federalists, Roger Williams, many another.  Along the road you receive a blast of enlightening rational political science, theology, sociology... sorting to a pip the various strains of religious nationalism, radical secularism, libertarianism, neo-liberalism, democratic republicanism, etc etc - aside from the special orthodoxies of the Two Major Parties - which have framed the debate about American life since the Primal Dawn of Roger Williams' Canoe.  Umpt to Trump.

Gorski is searching for the spiritual-intellectual common ground : the forces moving American history.  I'm finding (right now) his commentary on Hannah Arendt quite stimulating : her concept of the "public happiness" - as she describes the revolutionary origins of the United States - having to do with a very concrete experience of democratic participation, a path to finding oneself-as-citizen, something wider and more liberating than oneself-as-private (economic) individual.  She gets at the root of the necessity for self-government, popular sovereignty : that we become content, energized, & deeply happy, as we engage with our neighbors on a basis of equality and justice.  Thus she redefines (or rediscovers) the Founders' meaning of "pursuit of happiness" : it's a public, civic thing.  So she asserts the authority of the forum, the commonweal, as a counterweight to merely private interest, the seductions of predatory Mammon (pure money).  Reading Gorski's interpretation I was reminded of my halcyon days with the VISTA program (established by JFK - the domestic Peace Corps) so long ago : community organizing for civic engagement, empowerment (by the scruffiest neighborhoods).

There are many sorts of poetry.  I'm following up some very ingrown toenails of personal obsessions, with me since the early 1970s (that's almost 50 years ago).  Problems with Shakespeare, Bible, Nabokov, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Hart Crane... Pound, Dante, Stevens, Eliot, et al...  - what to do with the Epic Poem?

I am aware that just because they are old obsessions doesn't mean they are interesting.  Coolness is a kind of polish - lemon wax.  You have to be able to speak to the moment... perhaps I've lost my touch, my Lemon Pledge (if I ever had it).

Too late now, I guess.  I'm an inveterate Blog Monster.