Along the Minnehaha

Poetry enlists the descriptive, inscriptive, epitaphic, encryptionologous powers of writing - which are obviously formidable - in its campaign of resistance to time.  The poet stubbornly proposes a spiritual orthogonal (an upright L) in opposition to the horizontal flow of history, events, distractions, decay, necessity, time, death, chores, etc, etc.

Perhaps I'm delusional, yet by the same token I do have a sense of being one of the most indomitably resistant poets in America.  Everything I do in this realm seems to oppose the practical, the social, the amenable, the common-sensical, the professional approach.  It's been like this for so long I've lost all perspective on it, anyway.  I do what I do, it is what it is, it's become second nature.  People may object to the obsessive-repetitive characteristics.  Perhaps they're right.  I have no way of knowing.  Let the chips crunch where they may.


Heidi, it’s been many a year
since we went a-Maying together
down Arthur St., in Hopkins
(Glastonbury? Mendelssohn) –

but next door, in the autumn rain
a misty hawthorn silvers
bright chartreuse berries
for the birds (windhover, crane,

starling) who may alight someday.
Just down the ancient lane
my father’s granite urn
abides, along the Minnehaha;

ravens stitch the cooling air
above the stream – a shade
those oak-leaf hands once made
over our heads (good chevalier-

Samaritan).  Yon turtledove
coos from a russet square –
fieldstone embrasure, where
vaults rise on sable ribs (alcove

beyond alcove, into the light).
Bring me your thorny ring-
around-the-rose, Heidi;
I’m ready now to dance & sing

athwart the maypole-chariot.
One drop of scarlet raven-
ink, one graven letter’s
steely prong... (one grail-griot).


Hawthorn in the rain


The mast is dogwood too

The long poem is a curious thing, just going along one can find oneself both inside and outside, like those M.C. Escher reversible mirror-steps.  Step by step I stumble down my wheaty way.  Moving back to Minnesota soon - thinking about the limestone there, & Adrian Stokes' ideas about carving in art, how it merges the figure with the limestone ground, brings them into a watery-stony symbiosis...


If I fade into the low relief
of Minnesota limestone
hedgerow cliffs – a zone
of Ice Age gypsy moths (brief

lives of dashing hummingbirds
& wingèd Peacock Angels
fixed in river-angled
banks of sediment) – my words

would bend into the grain, grow
rude & wooden – like
that bridge or flood-dike
scored by slashing Viking prow...

you’ll read about it in the paper.
World events (Pope
Francis Whirring Hopeful
WingsBlood Moon a Rusty Copper

PennyPutin Barricades
Himself in Alabama)
refract in your Ferrara
mirror (juvenescent shades

of gaiety & heartbreak, green
& bronze between twin cypress
ribs).  My wilderness
a Mendelssohn continuum (scene

from the window of a Roman train).
The mast is dogwood too,
MamaI made it for you
all by myself.  The rain in Spain...


Erica's "Ferrara" cabinet


& the ship sails on


The sweet old pussy willow’s gone
that once o’ershadowed Pushkin’s
backyard grave (great Russian
cat).  Leaves not a leaf behind –

only an empty space (alas, 
alack) anchors a magic
carpet o’ masticated
stump.  So we hung up our lyres

on the bow of that stubby caravel,
Acacia – stuffed to the gills
with incoherent motorings,
burbling Barranca Straits – with Mal

& Papa consulting the cabinet
non-stop... coat, liquor...
What have I left her,
now, here?  These were all spirits,

veering toward Prince Eddy’s Island.
Wracking my brains... hollow
ravine in the pupil, valley
so low... black hole of Depression

Inlet.  Perdita, somewhere in
the safety net, under
the ark at Porta Aurea
dear lightsome daughter!  Ravlin,

unraveled so.  Now rainbows flash
Medusa-shells, O
Mountainous Sad Shadowship –
to wit, to woo... (by Narragansett ash).


where was the willow once



Time is of the essence

I was never much good at baseball.  My last major stint was with the Hopkins (MN) Mighty Mites, when I was about 10 (ca. 1962).  Purple uniforms.  I remember the baseball field seemingly down in my bones somewhere (beneath the amnesiac brain).

In high school (where I focused on soccer) I had a very special English teacher, John Anderson, who radiated encouragement & good cheer to would-be writers like me.  In our school at that time, each teacher, and every senior, had to make an oration before the whole student body.  Mr. Anderson, for his part, read a baseball poem.  I can't recall the poet, or much of the poem - only the refrain : "time is of the essence".  It was about the national game.  I think I was so impressed by his performance that a few years later, when it was my turn to speak, I read a poem of my own (not about baseball).

This poem is about baseball, in a way.  It's also about iconic people, role models so-called.  In fact it's a kind of allegorical poem.  If you think of Dante's explication of the fourfold allegory of his Divina Commedia, this thing exhibits a similar symbolic layering.  How does it go - literal, moral, allegorical, anagogical?  Something like that.  On one of these levels lurks the idea that "Yogi Berra" - man, person - allegorically "stands for" something deeper, more universal.  But I'll leave it at bat.  Stee-rike!

                                the game ain’t over till it’s over

How the figure of a man at 90
(any man or woman, see)
becomes transparently
rough diamond, somehow... Yogi?

Behind home plate, in empty lot
traced over waste land,
he crouches – hokey Panda
Bear (wry antic square root

bassist of the base, Neanderthal).
Signals from the crotch
each crypto-kingfish pitch
plumb perfect (Sasquatch cone-ball).

Yankee stars wheel over stadium
where Little Bear paints
himself into pinstripe
corner (gray silo Te Deum);

Big Bear, worried, waves him off
Indian mound (a brave
9 innings) – takes a dive.
Let’s go explore the bottom of

the harbor, little lamb of mine.
I’m gonna let you shine.
Beatrice was a 9-
man game – for 28 seasons

soused us with spray of lilac
Liberty bells (for free).
Between you & me
the wave flows everywhere, Smolak.



Look at the canoe


        “Look instead at the canoe, I beg you, and observe 
        its honesty, dignity, and moral courage...”
                    The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

The last full drop of summer sun
plays out across a falling
garden.  Dogwood, shedding
scarlet berries, rattles in

cool air.  Leaving Lil’ Rhody soon
(for North Star State).  Exile
is a state of, meanwhile.
Yom Kippur whispers repent, atone;

Francis in Washington lifts up
his rod of Aaron (bloom
of magnanimity &
doom).  A star from David’s cap

came forth... a cedar replica
from Lebanon – like Wanda’s
wand (the State Fair Queen,
robed in golden Land o’Lakes

boxim (within more boxim)) -
aimed, centripetal,
toward glimmer-portal
of the Milky Way.  The little foxes

all stacked up, O my beloved.
Monarch is an imago
out of the cocoon
of long ago.   A turtledove,

the El of El – Francesco
out of San Francisco – ark
within an arc of light, or
Galilean galaxy (an Okie oak).



Papa touches down


Equinox : a bridge between seasons.
Nay, no night-mare;
articulate as horsehair
& as serviceable.  Musique de balance,

équilibre – night & day,
reason & faith.  Of summer,
d’automne... (mordant humor,
luminous grief)... Hey-hey,

giddy-up, Old PaintWe galumphin’ to see
the Pope touch down, in D.C.!
Strait o’ Columba, maybe –
where turtles kick through tough gray

curves – like a mess o’ limbic pigeons
decorating limestone
from the air.  Everyone
behold her, now – mazy Simone’s

the River Queen.  Like Ariadne
with her golden seine,
or murmurous Magdalen
of sunburnt feet, she will meander

underneath each Maximus
(from Po to Eridanus,
Neva-Neva to the rusty
Don)... O Theseus, she’s mulish US!

Chart the way-way back now, Mary.
Through this labyrinth
of dinosaurs, a kitten’s
coracle will bless – make merry.



Life's unwritten history


Summer loses weight, becomes
translucent at the end.
Sunlight slants graveward
with a farewell glance, & autumn’s

trumpet-call is barely audible
amid hilarious
alarums in the circuits
of the starlings (swarming, risible).

& so you wonder where you are
on earth.  John Berryman’s
in jasper, John’s in grey;
Man’s in a graveyard green (so far

from here).  Splat in a corner
one cloud-turtle (from
Iona) lifts her drum-
shell from the sea – almost another

comber, very salt & watery.
I’ll join the starling circus,
friends – I’ll whistle us
to Minneapolis, SE of Rimini.

That raven’s in the Bruegel scene.
His glance is like one
wintry oeuil upon
her apron – by the deep tureen,

at dawn, in the spare refectory;
feathered in soft silence
on a wall of remembrance.
What’s up, Dad?  Unwritten history.


September 21


Observatory Hill


Observatory Hill, atop the crest
of Sydney Harbor – guarded
by phalanx of great-aged,
magnanimous fig trees – like a nest

for visionary eagles – keeps a lens
trained on stars down
under (twinkling diamond
octahedron, Southern Cross).

Yet here, in a nearby yard, one pine
soars higher than those figs,
flings moth-wide wings –
lime branches drooping like a pinecone

honeycomb – leans into evening
at acute angle (a golden
mean).  Jack’s cheekbones
were so sharp – as that pining

Rail-splitter’s, in the cracked-plate
portrait – like the pyx
flung aloft by priest
or angler’s scale-scorèd blade –

the vertical taproot must plunge deep.
Against sandstorm &
flood, the blistering worm,
a maze of chains... rusted keep

of treason’s rigor mortis – fatal
spire of PX’ed Magdalen.
Where buffalo pern
to droughtland hollow (fetal, natal).


The "cracked-plate portrait", by Alexander Gardner 


Rose pendentive


The half-moon curve of the golden dome
of Temple Emanu-El,
so calm on Morris Avenue
in Providence.  Only an emblem

of transparent well-being – invisible ties
that loop us in a web
of lovingkindness... (hub
of the universe – clear Paradise).

You know – it knots your heart, whoever
you are.  Like the bursting-forth
of a smiling cloud, one 4th
of July, or 19th of September –

like that lunar opalescent gleam
toward autumn equinox,
when they shepherd flocks
of lambkins, & piles of pumpkins beam

like orange suns toward Thanksgiving.
Then you will remember
the anchor in the harbor
under the safety net – the sea-bells’ ding

for one lost sailor.  Radius of sound,
a palm leaf of repose;
her memory a rose
pendentive (over Indian mound) –

Ferrara iron, sounding to the depths
of pain & memory.
I am your soul, Henry;
that almond eye Pacific keeps.



Royal Oak

A few years ago I began digging into various writings on anthropology, from The Golden Bough forward & back.  One of many things which fascinated me was the resemblance between archaic kingship rituals, from around the world, and the rites of Christianity.  It's a strange way of putting it, I know - but in some ways it seems as though the early Christians had struck a taproot leading back into human prehistory.  The story of Christ's "kingdom" (or anti-kingdom) and sacrifice - his giving of his "body & blood" in the Eucharist - was like a reflection of prehistoric human social rituals.  The King always "stood for" the God, or the Source of all goodness : he was the channel of the life-force (anthropologist A.M. Hocart expressed this quasi-governmental role of archaic kingship in his classic study Kings and Councillors).

It's as if the Biblical testimony - itself stretching back into earliest Judaism, offering a cosmological picture of the source of life - was reflected in a kind of "royal seal" or template : a gold coin with two sides, showing Past and Future...


The soul’s a kind of mirror, they
used to say – the old
mystical sheepfold;
you’ll find it on baptism day

refracted in an oval, seen
through water.  Incidental
angels rim the cave-wall
(all elongate, string-bean

apparitions, seraphim)
till harvest ripens
& a scythe descends
dividing wheat from empty flim-

flam... everlasting Judgement
Day.  That Galilean
gospeller, Samoan
wrestler, flipped oval Testament

into tight spring – a seventh wave
reversed the Jordan-flow,
the eye of Moses-kayak now
recursive back to Adam’s grave

(SW of Lake Victoria,
no doubt).  My Mirror Lakes
were Mendelssohn out-takes,
rehearsals for a Globe-historia –

the young king, hidden in an oak tree
still, waits for his mother’s
signalclimbs from a mummer’s
moth-shroudfloats to the Sea...

Descendant of the Royal oak at Boscobel House (courtesy of Wikipedia)


Quiet river scenes

Some of the chords in this little 2-finger exercise (for Ravenna Diagram) came from a recent article in the New York Times about the Yulong River in China.


Halcyon late summer day
in the ancient yard.
Soft came the word
from kayak lips... like one stray

Chinese lantern, swinging orange
over weedy greens.
Quiet river scenes –
Yulong threading bamboo (drafty ange

d’or fisherman) between karst hills
& water buffalo –
bull’s-eye, ground zero
for the monsoon spring.  God wills

fish from such limestone streams.
The way to Promised Land runs
through your heart, O branded
Everyman.  Job’s hook redeems.

A living soul talks back to hieroglyphs
until they come to life. 
Osiris in the loosestrife
with French polio – Ravenna stiffs

in sketchy skiffs, rafting a mossy
Giuliana to her sunny
son – sweet honey
from a shack smokehole, in Galilee.

You won’t get it right away.
The flags are thick
with gold encaustic –
targets flip like livid hay

in a tornado eye – the limp
thread hangs from one
thread or another in
a Mandan sundance.  Nails crimp

crumpled limbs beneath a cloud
of starlings... when one
raven, crowing, spun
through your aching pupil – proud

oculus of Solomon,
Galla’s ripe acorn
crown of sylvan
horn – an evergreen

Ravenna Pinetop, skipping 88s around
your retina.  The iris
in her sheaf of cornea is
larval now – pupa plummets down

octagonal, folded to ground –
Hero in milkweed,
featherweight... freed
fiddlehead wing, cedar-bound.

The mountain lurks above the trees.
Imago flies to her source.
Monarch wafts a deft Morse
code in air – needles sing breeze.

A message-smudge, still incomplete,
yet untranslated.
Fisher King... checkmated?
Will fly again lambchildBeat?

Through bearskin smokehole, near
the North Pole, Glenn
plays baby Bach again –
so grand, these little steps!  So dear.



Your moon, Apollinaire


Air is mirror-brilliant today, even
shadows cut clean
across Touro slate.
Mid-September, slanting sun,

a New Year for an old people.
Someone plays a flute
off Morris Ave... fleet
foot sails into New World marble.

As in a low relief in Rimini –
an august Agostino
Venus, or Diana
whorled in limestone dithyramb

out of the sea.  The jutting cliff
crusted with barnacles
whittles its pinnacle’s
bowsprit, figurehead – her glyph

(lifted in one hand-wave) twin
scallop-shells, like
castanets (break,
crashing surf...) where time began.

Your moon along the shore, Apollinaire.
Limestone foundations
crest across seasons,
granite castles – seagull’s mother,

feathering horsegrass in your hair.
1321... 1132...
Joachim voodoo;
Jeanne’s grey-eyed icon (Galla’s lair).

"Venus Beats All"


Dante at 56

Little magazines, poetry publishers, the literary community... I say yes to all of them.  Heck, I co-edited & published a little magazine for 10 years (Nedge); I spent at least 5 years trying to promote a local literary non-profit (the Poetry Mission).  The fact that I put a lot of my poetry on this blog is not evidence that I am some naturally cantankerous, nay-saying misanthrope.  No way.  I may be a little feisty - I think I get this from my mother, who is very feisty.  I may at times be cutting & sarcastic (this is all me, not my mother).

But I do not avoid magazines on principle - in fact, I received another rejection notice just now!  No, I put out a lot of poetry on this blog because the kind of drivel I'm writing is in fact very suited to the blog set-up.  Ravenna Diagram, for example, is an ongoing serial poem, sometimes quite diaristic & occasional (ie. responding to the "occasions" of the day).

Today's entry is an example, as have been several posts of late.  Dante died on this day 694 years ago, in 1321, at the age of 56.  Some scholars (the jury is out) have taken a position which entails that Alighieri & I share a birthday (May 29th).  So I am already 7 years older (& almost 700 years later) than Dante was, when he died - having completed his Paradiso not long before.

I haven't completed any Paradise yet.  I have not "lifted the great acorn of light".  But Ravenna Diagram is a cat's-cradle all tangled up with Dante, among other things.  Here is today's report :


If we can shrink down small as Frisbee
the little leprechaun
from Arthur Street (in
Mendelssohn), we might just barely

wiggle through the lattice-work
of Erica’s Ferrara
cabinet (dove sta
memoria).  Such delicate

moss-green & gold!  Almost as bright
as your sea-iris – sun-
flecked, pregnant lens
of summer season (cave-light,

river-carved limestone... lakes
of glacier-deft sketches).
Time’s a yarn, that catches
history in quipu-knots.  Oak aches

for each acorn – the great light
diamondiale, that lifts
each person (infinite
è finit, unbreakable).  Slight

limp, unfinished manuscript...
slow clay, Mendelssohn
relief operation –
Berryman in Resurrection crypt

or Pound à Venice (perilous seat
in dolorous gondola)...
Dante sets down Ravenna
raven-feather (geste complete).


Tomb of Dante in Ravenna (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Out sailing

Side note : "Rhode Island Statehood Day" is May 29th, which also happens to be JFK's birthday.  (& see NY Times article, where the photo appears.)


An Ocean State sky, color
of sleep or turtledove
today.  Don’t move,
let the wind speak.  Late summer

mandorla of ripenings –
a little boat in your hand.
John off Rhode Island,
lounging, relaxed.  Bare shins

& feet propped up against gunnel.
Good book on deck,
half-moon of wooden oarlock
framing calm harbor.  Sea-knell

through the photo (Pietà).
When we go back to the sea,
whether to sail or to watch... we
are going back from whence we came.

America’s Cup... can you drink it with me?
The Round Table, the Lady
in the Lake... a malady
in the Grail (of all humanity).

One raven-prong drills through the human.
Black Sea sunlight rays
from the depths.  Maximus
with one hand frames the circle’s rim :

one sail traces its catenary arc
along a thread of fleece.
Ariadne’s peace, which
passeth fathom five... Mark.


JFK sailing, ca. 1950s


The latest Dionysus


Rite of Spring twirls out of Paris,
1913 (tight-coiled
as a Springfield
bullet-train).  Apollinaire’s

the latest Dionysus – tranquil
eye of Martian hurricane,
versifying inane
Europe’s Grande Guerre Nonpareil.

He will die too (head-wound).
Le Roi Ubu est mort.
Two threads, athwart
a catenary arc (gray ground,

blue sky) form slow raincloud;
two notes, or three
make melody
like a wedding day, a shimmer-shroud

of mutuality.  The King’s
in Memphis for the evening;
Queen’s busy restoring
an old carol (Acorn Tree-Ring);

Lincoln’s going to the theater
of the war tonight.
Curvature of sharp flint
Choctaw cheekbones, at the center

of the storm – a smiling ridge
of tears.  Pocahontas
cartwheels one meticulous
J² = Mx/Mn x 1132 (thread-bridge).



Occasional flight


Out of the vernal vernacular,
low to the ground, weedy,
where the plane (on its way
to the White House) took a detour –

in the park, where the kids play
& choose up sides, & dream
of glory, & ice cream –
someone planted (in post-igneous clay)

a wedge of limestone, with an antique
bicycle saddled to
its pinnacle (blue
Schwinn, I think).  Joints creak,

wheels wobble in the barnyard breeze.
My kingdom for a horse,
cried desolate hoarse
Richard, knocked to his attainted knees,

blood-drenched.  Phrases mumbled
as we read along, in school –
Eli lama sabachthani... rue
the day – gave pause.  We fumbled

for our lunchboxes.  We floated
spitballs toward the furthest
pate.  Life in the West
was always evening toward sunset –

where Thunderbird lifts hefty wing
above snow mastodons,
& Mulberry Bay runs
rosy, toward plum Everything.


Flight 93 Memorial (from www.britannica.com)


Pioggia povera e preziosa

Erica Dorf would have turned 97 today.  She worked for decades as the artists' booking agent for Avery Fisher Hall.  For a few years in the 1950s, she served as personal secretary to Gypsy Rose Lee.  Erica was also responsible for producing the English subtitles on many of the classic Italian films of the mid-20th century.

                                    Erica Tagliabue Dorf, 1918-2007

Rain falling on your birthday, Erica;
after an August drought
these gray skies float
down water lifelines, pioggia

povera e preziosa.
Your green & copper
wooden cabinet
like something out of old Ferrara

still stands guard quietly
in the dining room;
out of the city’s boom
& boffo, to this rustic hideaway.

Memory is mother of the arts.
You were a hidden matrix
deep in that beehive-vortex
(10 W. 66th) where music starts

up from the frescoed scene –
that Lincoln Center fount
of gaiety in sound, that
plummet of gravity & Balanchine;

ferrying Fellini to his grand entrance
or steering Isaac Stern
toward the stage, you were
the dancing master’s high romance –

sparkling eye of the champagne
della vita. In your wide
Gypsy glass, hide
me now, Rose – the globe’s your reign.



Dragonish paradigm

Ravenna Diagram, the continuous poem-in-progress, slithers along in its dragonish way through the clouds.  These lines of Stevens' come to mind :

The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
But he that of repetition is most master.

That master theme of his - to consider the imagination, as it shapes the "First Idea" (or ideas) by which we live, is also an unavoidable subject for me (& any poet)...

How is it that "representative persons" become part of the landscape (seascape?) within which we navigate?  What is this shuttling back & forth between the verbal model, the paradigm, & the actual here-&-now?

The question of the icon or image, & how it might be interpreted...

Confess I'm not saying much here.  Just trying to open a door on this thing, which seems to have its own idiom.


In the events all around you
at this moment – like
that cabbage moth taking
a hike around the arugula –

there is one Event, like the breeze
cooling your sultry end-
of-summer haze.  Send
to Gilead for news – release

those carrier pigeons from the rooftops!
Take a message to Garcia!
Summon our immune
militia (Firecracker Pops

& Marty King to lead the way).
None shall die in vain.
The long day wanes.
Like Max in Mexico, the monarchs play

hide-&-seek behind bronze pillars,
Lebanon cedar.
One beloved figure –
footnote painted in a corner –

shy colossus in Rhode Island
pasted with primary
color – Hurricane Mary
(Maggie to her friends) will stand

for every cyclone & dust-storm
of tears.  Here’s looking
at you, kid.  Bring
apples, Rosie... comfort Everyworm.



BAP : Best Academic Poetry

Latest tempest in the American Sneezepot has to do with the 2015 edition of the avuncular Best American Poetry anthology.  Apparently a "white" poet passed as a "yellow" poet, & was accepted as such by the editor of the anthology, who then defended his decision to keep the winning poem (editor seems to have found himself in no-win situation).

Anyway, the most curious thing to me about the editor's (Sherman Alexie's) defense of his modus operandi was statement that 99% of the chosen poets were professors.  Who woulda thunk it?

Anyhow, a Twitter exchange with Sina Queyras about this lil' imbroglio resulted in the following hepicene poem by Yorick truly :


I have eaten
the poems
that were in
the anthology

and which
you were probably
for 2016

Forgive me
they were so

Plums in anthology basket


Something rich & strange

                                      i.m. Edwin Honig

That Bluejay with a raven on
his shoulder, that trickster
was a local fixture –
like cornered kid on stony Roman

pavement, Maggie.  Now you see him
in your mind’s eye, whom you knew
from streamy childhood (blue
was the mussel surf, where the Rephilim

stamped a sweet circumference
with giant feet). & Babe
the Blue Ox, & Gabriel
w’hm seraphim, & the fish fragrance

of White Bear Lake (miroir today)...
all the waters in the world
seem to coalesce now, pearled
to a cedar point of windy memory.

Only the shrill cree-crow of the tall
iron swing on River Street
reminds you of the weight
of all that autumn.  One free fall...

Weigh, anchor.  To the bottom you shall go,
infant infantryman –
loaded with diamond
mondiale.  A Seekonk conch will carry you

across her retina’s black sail, into
the womb of Imago.
Full fado five... just so,
Pessoa.  La vida es sueño.  Ephphatha.


Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox


The Venn diagram of Ra

It is the ever-never-changing same,
An appearance of Again, the diva-dame.
- Wallace Stevens

We look around and we see pairs of things - night & day, winter & summer, man & woman, life & death.  It's as if Nature is posing a geometry problem : draw a line C from point A to point B.  Find the inter-mediator, the golden mean.  Build a bridge across that chasm.

We want to make whole what seems to be divided.  It's a psychic necessity.  Sometimes our solutions are very simplistic, and instigate more fractures than before.  Sometimes our answers are very elegant & abstruse elisions - yet despite the sophisticated technology, we end up sliding into the next ditch.

I've been working on a poem-project in which the two parts of the binary, the two points of the calipers, are spread so wide that I can often seem to lose my way - but it also allows for a lot of creative mulling & curious detours.

I knew from the beginning the poem was involved with geometry.  I usually do with this kind of thing.  I start getting unaccountably intrigued by certain numbers & their divisors, how these numbers might be fleshed out in stanzaic and other patterns.  It's a kind of numerology.

The poem is anchored in a Venn diagram - the overlap of two congruent circles, each circumference passing through the other's center.  A pun is a sort of imperfect Venn diagram - the overlap of two meanings in one sound.  The name of the poem is Ravenna Diagram (you see what I mean).

I seem to have many thematic motives (over)determining this basic layout.  One of the main motives has something to do with the traditional Orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation.   Here three Persons overlap as one God.  In the Incarnation we have, very roughly speaking, a Venn diagram of the unity of human & divine.

It occurred to me this afternoon that another facet or motive of this design has to do with Time.

A poet, or any writer, always writes from where they are.  They express their place & time - their "Now".  But a poem or any fiction can project another "Now" as well.  Proust dwells on this mystery with magisterial complexity in his great novel (In Search of Lost Time).

For the ancient Christians, I think, Time was duplex, dimensional.  There is ordinary time, the successions & cycles of clock time - & then there is God's time, Eternity.

History, for them, involved the terrific drama of the intersection of these two dimensions - played out as the destiny of Humankind on earth.  There is a subtle concept called in Greek pleroma - the "fulness of time".  This can refer, apparently, both to the "climax" of the plot of sacred history - God's actual historical presence on earth - and to a sense of time as a kind of ripening of eternity within clock-time (these two notions are obviously close kin).

With Ravenna Diagram I have these two "historical" points of the calipers, a pair of points in spacetime.  There is the "Now" of the author, the poet, me - speaking out of my own experience & character, my place in time & space.  Then there is a second "Now" : that of the historical Jesus, the person who actually lived in Galilee and Judea 2000 years ago.  & then there is a kind of aesthetic middle term - a third "Now" in spacetime : the Italian town of Ravenna, where Dante is buried, where he finished his Paradiso - & where towering, awesome mosaics, representations of Orthodox Christianity, glimmer in their cave-cathedrals (some of these glittering icons found their way into Dante's poema as well).

Jesus tells a parable somewhere - & I forget the exact details - but he concludes with a riddle about time.  Something about a man inviting all his friends to a wedding banquet, but everyone makes excuses.  So he flings open the door & invites all comers.  However, some people show up not clothed properly for a wedding - they are tossed out.  Jesus says something like, "the Kingdom of Heaven is like this too.  So when the Eternal comes upon you, make sure you are prepared."

I've probably botched & oversimplified this parable.  But what interests me is this phrase about "when the Eternal comes".  It seems to goad the listener toward attempting to grasp a certain sense of the layers of time.

We live in a doctrinaire & factional era.  Our "side" is always ready to pin a simplistic label on the other "side".  They are deluded idiots.  Fundamentalists are convinced that old books are roadmaps through life's foggy ambiguities.  Secularists are convinced that religious believers are basically mystified by myth.

I think there might be a kind of philosophical, reasonable aspect to this religious concept of a duplex Time - spiritual and material, temporal and eternal.  The stereotype of puritanical Christianity, clinging to the spiritual at the expense of physical pleasure, is a very old cliche - with some basis in history (think of the desert monks renouncing the world).

But it's possible to think of the religious emphasis on the spiritual as a pragmatic counterweight to life swallowed up by the chaos & futility of the purely material.  A balancing, not a rejection : a synthesis.

This is how I conceive of Jesus' admonition about "when the Eternal comes".  The Eternal is always there : it's only as we get older that we begin to sense the limits to clock-time - our limits.  An awareness of mortality is a spur to long thoughts.  Then we start to sense the presence of the Eternal.

I noticed this with my father - not only while he was dying, but actually long before.  There was a kind of intellectual detachment.  Not that he didn't enjoy life, or care about others - but there was this sense of limits, the fleetingness.

Such a sense can result in a reshaping of priorities.  "What am I doing with my life?"  People are always ready with quick answers to this one, too - usually addressed to others.  But to grapple with it for oneself is the issue.

When you try to write a poem or fiction with two such compass-points, you are immediately handed a wealth of difficult artistic/philosophical problems.  How do I represent my "Now" - and that other "Now"?  But hopefully I put my trust in the creative process.  The whole impulse of poetry is toward integration & wholeness - to enter the rapture of the mesmerizing song.  My pleroma & that other Eternal might in some sense be one & the same, or at least connected.  After all, some such conundrum was the challenge Beatrice threw down before Dante, too...

Mosaics in Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

Scent of an ending

Summer fading, a For Sale sign on the house... getting ready to leave Little Rhody.  Yet still remains one rose out back, a very bright one.


September.  One late crimson backyard
rose remains.  Knot
not exactly Ruby, not
Desire – but Steadfast Fire (framed

by maroon foundation of the house).
Afloat upon your thorns,
a crozier, or serpent’s
copperhead – magenta compass,

planetary pole.  Away beyond
all foregone Oregon
disputes – those Diomedan
straits of Fenris-Greyhound –

54º32-by-Four!  Ringing
the International Date
Line – must I hesitate?
Princess in a shower, singing.

We clambered to the clear high room
where SF in a bay flamed
orange bloom – became
entangled like a quipu sum (loom,

cedars).  Weight of one iron anchor
filled that octagon
with spray of azure ocean
when Evening Star fired his tangential

thread of light into shade-womb
of piers – that San Franciscan
adamant, where limestone
Rhodi petal-fan (leaf-shaken hum).


Her heart was a Mediterranean

Edwin Honig would have turned 96 today.  Child of a polyglot immigrant family in New York, Honig devoted his life to the art of poetry in translation, crossing linguistic & cultural divides.  In this time of great refugee distress, I would telegraph this Honig poem in reply to all the anti-immigration demagogues (Trump, Le Pen).

For an Immigrant Grandmother

She sat for an age at the window with glances that threw
Pennies of pity at collarless beggars, and cripples
Who crawled like crabs from gutter to curb rippled
The geese in the bag of her hunched-over flesh. But you
Always could tell by her murmur for heaven to witness
When neighborhood children like sparrows hopped in distress
To catch from the hand of the baker his three-day-old bread.

Yet she danced with a hint of the hips and a lilt of the head,
And the savor of turbans and princes and spices welled
From her smile like a promise of Turkish delights withheld;
For her heart was a mediterranean cradling the earth
With wishes that tumbled like fish and golden sea fairs
Where pirates were drowned and angels were spared by her prayers,
Till she slipped unaware on the edge of a sigh to her death.

young Edwin Honig


The occasional ark

Sometimes the macrocosm & the microcosm bump into each other, I guess.  I was reading some old Ravenna Diagrams, about a painting of St. Augustine by Piero della Francesca (I saw it at the Frick), in which Augustine's cloak is a crazy quilt of leather Gospel stories.  This got me thinking about Melville's Queequeg & his tattoos.  & then there was a story today on the BBC about the divided Bering Straits islands, Big and Little Diomede (divided for decades between USA & USSR).

In some sense the earth is a human body... in some nonsense, anyway....


On a sultry 16th, in the month of Caesar
I was ambling down by the Blind
King, on Wickenden –
betwixt the Golden Sheaf (or Fleece) &

her Sheep’s Clothing – like a raven
in wolf gear, or some Pierre
o’Cesca – like That Man there,
following his own tattoos into an Inchon

Dept. of the Interior.
Aboard the good ship Keep-U
(between Racquel & Rue – 
achh...) skirting an ice curtain

somewhere... in a Wolsey red, mate.
Weaving around blind
cataracts, muzzled
shoals – paring bears in the Strait

below White Narrows (it was 1728).
I don’t know why ‘twas done.
The Inuit intuit none
of our designs.  Split Diomede? Great.

They look you in your eye as though
you were in RI!  Weird.
I only see weed (black widow’s
weed).  A coffin exchange came through

the aerial, Mira – maybe
amygdaloid inside?
Keep the white slide
for video, Queequeg. That’s my knee.

Little Diomede Island (Ignaluk)


See you in September

A poem in which I manage to condemn, in the space of one quatrain, both ISIS & Miley Cyrus.

(Some background : my maternal grandmother was born in West Branch, Iowa.  There is a statue of the goddess Isis in a park there.  Herbert Hoover was also from West Branch; the statue was a gift from the Belgian government for his services to their country after World War I.)


This delicate native wanderer
like a dusty monarch (rusty-
orange) might just be
traveling incognito somewhere –

on white-winged moccasin, from
flower to flower – her agate
glance like Grandma’s (great) –
in West Branch, near the Iowa farm.

I dream of a different Isis there,
no punitive Hooverville;
another Cyrus too (there will
be no clicking Mileyhahas to prepare

with die-cut revelry your family’s
despair).  She will be veiled
only with cloudy knowledge
of the bright round pearl; salt seas

will anchor plumb her understanding;
Solomon will test
& be tested, & she
will best him (at the Ontario Fling

& other things).  A whippoorwill
accompanies their evening;
Caroline will be singing
like a wren from the oaks, a royal

Charlie... like a gal you met once –
Cal? – along the shore...
– that lacustrine circle where,
of yore, the monarch floats, hunts...


"Isis.  Goddess of Life"