Center of the earth


We were scrambling through an endless cave,
Mark Trail & I, in the
cartoon – wait – uh...
that was a dream!  Mind, now – behave!

There was an independent chap with spear
all gold, atop a globe-
sized turtleshell, adobe –
yodeling (with shimmering lyre)

Good Will I am Good Will...
There was a lowly, sketchy
mule, named Eeyore, following
his master, Donkey Haute, until

they reached the center of the earth
– a vernal O, encompassing
an M, a W (whelmelding
vertiblur upon a sunlit hearth

all rosorangled in Pacific dawn).
& then I felt wings purring
in my sleep... a chirring
flutter-by of monarch (milky-spun

cocoon-shade of the teeming soil);
a turtledove was crooning
too, for old George – leaning
on his scythe, worn with grave toil. 

The axle of the earth, the axle...
muttered he – of rusty
us the icon, see.
Light waves from Chartres pinnacle.



A fleece of milky rain


Like a brown wren building a nest
with twine camouflage,
or a Joan in the Stone Age
on her inexplicable quest

to sketch the lineaments of splendor
(milky star-field in a barn
or Jason with a ball of yarn)
– how the sea calls Jonas under!

The booming surf his Book of J,
the figure on the prow
with heavy eyes... mild Io?
coaxing him to low brown clay

in gloom, beneath an ancient bridge...
where a rose may lie.
An olive shade skims by
overhead (a palm sweeps its edge).

Between bullhorns, he marks the twain.
Gaunt Maximus, in Colchis,
ancient of days (his
beard like a fleece of milky rain)

burbles an almond-scent breeze
he feels, not sees... melting
aria of everything,
snow-knot of spring (Persephone’s).

Like high sea-gates in sunlight, in salt air...
feathers of jasper & bronze
filigree one true coin’s
moss-green (Lincoln mite... kind fare).



Lilacs in West Branch


Soon the lilacs will be blooming
in West Branch, Iowa.
Old John Brown’s hideaway
among earth Quakers (humming

his grave tune, without the guns).
There Harriet’s railroad
tugged through Negus-made
tornado shelters – Grandma’s cousins

too.  I trace an equilibrium
through reams of loveletters
in turquoise blue (scatters
from Scattergood to end of time).

The clay looms closer on those farms.
Isis herself unveils
just past our Hoovervilles –
beckons with Everlasting Arms.

A refuge from the storm, where corn
& flowers grow.  Mild Shaidlock
led a mighty woolly flock
from Ohio to Muscatine, in 1849

(they write); his great-granddaughter Mary
married Jack Ravlin, & thus
they came to Minneapolis...
they rest, remain.  Spring memory.

The silence of unvarnished truth
glances from shepherd eyes.
Proud histories of lies
axed by one pine (standing on earth).


Henry Negus farm (Springdale Township, Iowa, ca. 1900)


Dark backward & abysm of time


Like a Prince Hal of the Iron Age,
surrounded by a full staff
of devices (every gaffe
in the book) Henry took a page

from Stealing Drums in Trinidad
as they slubbered through the murk
of a flood plain, like turkeys
in a hurricane.  It was that bad.

Had to go, blind fool, from Addis Ababa
to Babylon – from Lake Tana
to Concrete Cavern (ah,
Bull-Dance of Hummy Blah-Blah!)

& recapitulate his fancy
infancy – in a shed
built of old dry blood
& scarecrow straw, with Nancy

the Cow & Her Yodeling Shepherds
making rustic hay.
He lived a year & a day
on all fours – eating grass, curds

& whey, locusts, honey, in a swamp
by the Jordan, in Judea...
It’s all there, Maria –
in Miriam’s mandorla (under the lamp).

Henry wandered thus through drowsy realm
plucking mandolin...
one silver star over dark green pine,
one cirque of gold at the Argo helm.



Once upon a time

Once upon a time there lived a Mississippi riverboat captain, named Mr. Lawrence, who had two daughters, Jessie Ophelia and Cleopatra Desdemona (not kidding)... Jessie Lawrence married my great-grandfather, George P. Gould.


The hobo-poem stumbles out of Itasca,
a somno-ambulant mutter
just west of Superior
like a Nile-canoe in Minnehaha

or Thesée-en-Argo, lost at sea
in a maze older than time.
A stone-barrow, or lime-
burnt spacetime spruce-vortex (little tree

Apollinaire chased down in Paris
listening to Stravinsky
on the 29th of May).
Distant thunder... blessed senseless

mote.  What acorn happiness
coils beneath necrolithic
MoscowWhat lithe
Pocahontas limns Potomac offices?

Lightning rives gnarled raven limbs.
One glint from gold iris
shakes the paralysis
from icebound Neva aisles – low hymns

drone from limestone fish-caverns;
there is no place on earth
where Psyche’s sighing hearth
cannot ray lamplight (ask Jules Verne,

or Edgar Allan – ask St. Joan).
My Delta Queen glides on
toward perihelion
engulfing sorrow in her zephyr-zone.



On the blue horizon line


You see a cat stripe-shadowed
by the slats of a fence.
One of those incidents
from Mendelssohn, out of childhood

infinity... flicker of memory.
Today.  Mid-April air
and sunlight.  Barely there –
a plainness of weathered cedar, sea-

bells.  Sea-salt.  Far away
two splendor-pillars
mark the Gate of years
& gravity – shine, wave goodbye...

& on the blue horizon line
mother & father join
two hands (bright axle-sign
– a double-axe) under the sun.

Man & Woman, O (M-W)...
Come forth, my son,
my daughter, only one
Time & Space unfold in You.

The mysterious heir of heaven
danced a masque before
Magdalen’s cave-door –
mothering the grainy leaven,

heavy loom of Here & Now.
Under faded barn slats,
hidden in straw, the cat’s
prowling a kingdom’s simple prow.


A stone fallen from heaven

I'd just like to sketch out some quick unrehearsed responses to Joshua Clover's recent piece over at the Harriet blog ("Unfree Verse").  This is a plain-spoken, straightforward personal essay about some of the dreary aspects of working in academia, and of contemporary work-life in general, and of the effort to be a poet and write poetry in this time & place.  I respect Clover for his honesty, but I have to register my disagreement with his conclusions.

Clover sums up, near the end of the piece, like this : "In the society of ambient discipline, all verse is unfree."  He defines "ambient discipline" as : "I don’t mean Foucault-type discipline like sovereigns and regimes of power. I mean political economy basically. How our shared and fragile lives are structured according to the imperatives of the economy’s self-remaking."

Now this may not be Foucauldian, but it seems to be describing a structural, pervasive economic determinism.  We are not in control of our economy; it is in control of our "shared and fragile lives."  This appears to be an underlying principle of Clover's sense of what he terms "political economy".

There is no argument to be made against the fact that freedom, for each of us as individuals, is limited.  What I question here is the implied global determinism, structuring human social life in its totality.  The history of the 20th century offers numerous examples, from the political left and right, of theories of determinism put to use as means of denying the differences between liberal democracy, on the one hand, and political authoritarianism or tyranny, on the other.

I would argue that a belief in forms of government which provide limited, yet very real, freedoms - those freedoms we associate with basic norms of human rights and liberty - is not naive or delusory.  In the treadmill of economic necessity, so plangently evoked here by Clover, we can lose sight of these fundamental political conditions.  Moreover, cynicism will always rush to the aid of our discontent, if we let it.

I would also argue that there is an analogy (though imperfect) between political freedom and the freedom of art and poetry.  I was struck by Clover's remark : "Poetry can stand for freedom so intensely that people start to worry there is too much freedom."  This gets at something important, but then Clover deflects it into a gibe at Robert Frost (and, by extension, at the neo-formalist school of poetic "discipline").

Let's think for a moment about poetry as free expression.  For poets, this involves the very marrow of our vocation.  We are creatures of the dream of fabulous inspiration : we wait and work for the moment when the poem bursts forth with unaccountable force.  It is on this kind of "charismatic" experience that we have based our whole sense of poetry's cultural importance, its authority.  We believe poetry is the ultimate form of human verbal expression; that poetry is how human beings express living truth.

Even the cherished, exalted fountain of pure, living Truth, however, must subsist and be understood within shared limitations : of mortality, of biology, of history, of politics, of economics, of cognition, of cosmology...  - thus the Chaplinesque, tragicomic biographies of the poets (paralleled by the tragicomic destinies of the cultures which produce them).  Our experiences of poetic free expression, then, are elusive - perhaps never equal to the imagined ideal.

However, once again, this mixed situation does not negate the reality of freedom in poetry, just as economic necessity or political divisions do not of themselves preclude the (limited, embattled) existence of democracy, equality, freedom, and popular sovereignty.  As a poet, I believe in the effort, the labor, of making room for creative freedom and inspiration in one's practical life.  I believe this effort is justified, even if not everyone, yet, has equal access to creative opportunities.  Because it does take work.  It involves actual life-decisions; it requires some devotion, some faith, some self-discipline.  Most of our commitments, of course - along with our whims - may prove eventually to have been mistakes; but this does not disqualify the effort.

No one, as poet, has to take a job in academia.  No one, as poet, has to play the mercenary games of networking and self-promotion (I'm not suggesting that these games, and academia per se, are the same thing : they are not).  Poetry is a distinct labor, which is sometimes rewarded with inspiration, and even more rarely with public recognition.  The freedom to make the original poem - unmediated by necessity of any kind - is the honor, and the ultimate social value, of the trade.  The "autonomy" of art, which Clover derides, is part and parcel of this limited, experiential, laborious, earned freedom.

"The poem is a stone fallen from heaven : no one will judge it." (Osip Mandelstam)  This, it seems to me, is the credo of every real poet.


Inland sea


Old Hobo glances back upstream
as the spring bluets form
an inland sea – a swarm
of peacock eyes (out of a dream-

song dome) across the autumn grass.
Retrospective.  Phoebus
in an ochre crevasse,
Magdalenian cave-compass.

Your yearning for Eurydice,
so youthful-hungry, Henry
out of want, not plenty
ignorant (in your blind way).

An oscillation of the sun
and moon.  The Q. of Heaven
looks out from her den,
mild lioness... dusky horizon.

Henry, by his veiled statue,
thinks on Beatrice
(pine-green eyes, sea-
grey).  His melancholy’s ocean-blue.

Jerusalem, JerusalemHow
I would have gathered you...
the soul’s an orphan zoo
without the smile of Manitou.

A little tree in Galilee
still rustles in the breeze
from a breathing sea.  She’s
calling you, sailor.  Be free.



Languid, voluptuous, orange

This poem forms a pair with the previous one (see yesterday's blog entry).


This wheel’s unseen circumference
includes a coffee can
from Hart – a Savarin,
no? – looping a salience

of tulip spires (languid, voluptuous,
orange).  For Hart, Johns
sounded gray Ocean
& signaled with a palm Love’s

one transparent spring (from deep
to deep).  A little tree –
lemon? – mustard, maybe;
the orange flourish of a steep

green trumpet, embracing its iron
lattice like a bride
in May... no one can hide
from Love’s almond dominion.

This doctrine bides each alteration.
A sigh amid these wheels
rides wingèd heels
from scythe to seedy germination –

Time’s origin (space-flowering).
Leaf-whispers from a pair
of olive trees, who share
one catenary pattern... stirring

life-draft, dangled from twin pillars,
lifted toward Pacific
azure – scarred, terrific
sentinels of hope (hers, yours).


Tulips (Nancy Hart)


Yellow-gold forsythia


Down by the spring river, tossing sticks
in prehistoric Mizz,
my Jordan – little Isis-
canoes, or Ferrarese six-

wheelers; in my mind’s darkroom
recalling you – Love’s raven-
haired sybil (guardian
at the Rock’s entrance).  Your gloom

when my father’s birthday wheeled around
each April.  The yellow-gold
forsythia enfold
your mother’s grave, who died... O sound

those flowery depths, Ophelia
and rise again!  He was
a good man – rays
of intellectual Amor blessed his day;

he might have walked her from that grave.
A little light only,
through camera oscura...
you know.  You showed me her cave

in San Francisco’s spare kitchen –
where a thin light-blade
infiltrates the Maid
so Piero’s hypno-sarabande might spin

anew (red cedar, blue spruce, evergreen).
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with
Two Circles... one light-heavy scythe
defines this wheel’s circumference (unseen).



Along Path P


At the crossroads, the just man suffers
just for being just –
Job, or Boethius,
or Jesus – carrying a load for others.

Dante whispers in Ravenna dusk
near his exile’s end.
Beatrice, penned
in a rose window, sets his task –

to sing the icon that he sees
breathing through granite
as turtledoves through light
gray feathers tune the breeze.

Stillness in time.  Iron history
crowns an infant brow...
the Son of Man, now
turning evergreen (in Maggie’s

almond eye).  The desolations
of a nightmare fade
when that rusty parade
sinks into brown decades (stations

on the prairie).  Mary Morning Star
signals her six ways
along Path P...  Praise
Manitou & Manitou-Child, our

big-eared Bunny Rabbihe
of the octave melody
which we sang, Adonai,
before dawn, one Epiphany...



Jasper circumference


The vast Flemish panorama
coheres in a raven’s eye.
Through haunted oaks, high
wind tosses bugle-calls (taran 

tara).  Bruegel’s gray paint congeals
on the perimeter
of the sea... Demeter
wanders like a Walloon reels

caterwauling, Persephone!
In Flanders grass, poppy-
purpura (like the sea
around a stubby Orizaba

only the poem is humble
enough to bear the yoke
of a poshlost rude joke.
She won’t let you stumble,

Psyche, in your edgy sundance.
That quatrefoil in the blue
mortuary was for you,
poilu (Apollinaire) – entrance

to complete volume of sibylline
Mnemosyne.  Pine
tree pantomime... a line
of sketchy aquamarine (shan shui).

A jasper circumference defines
our Atlantean task,
to reconcile each mask
of pathos (in a matrix of threadlines).



Ha na hidm ha hey

Icon Man

Note to reader : some of these poems are pretty darn obscure.  If you peruse this blog's web version (as opposed to mobile-phone version), you will find links, at the bottom of the page, to subject entries (labels) - which might be helpful in tracking down my footprints, or other footprints.  This holds true for all the Ravenna Diagram posts on this here blog.


The knot in the heart is a universal
wedding ring, wherever
you are.  Heavier
than iron, ce diamant mondial

de l’amande.  Bright orange lozenge-
mandorla, shedding leaves
of tears – vicarious
miniature trees (strange

fruit).  Like the shady crossroads
with the Dead End sign –
a little Chinese lantern
(glass by LaFarge).  Six nodes

in one honeycomb eye – melodious
riddle of light & shade.
Henry & John, a cannonade
off Sydney Harbor... looming ficus

guarding Southern Cross.  They sought
a figure for relief –
hoopoe... cloverleaf...
barely-veiled grief.  Stray mote

of dark December.  Henry looks up
through rose window.
A rim around the chi-rho,
hint of shining salt.  Red stop

sign on the dynamo, outlined
in cedar-glow (Mosaic
Shepherd Stands in Lake).
What the heart seek she shall find.



We Were There

                                      i.m. MLK

That other Henry, in seclusion
(District of Columbia).
Mourning Eurydice
veiled, so – Isis in stone.

The chaos of the dynamo,
the violence of men
(Mont St.-Michel)... sun
clouded by confusion.  Apollo

camouflaged as Hobo now
flickering cigarettes
into the Seine – alights
in Memphis, on a garbage scow.

Columbia, Columbia, murmurs
the mourning dove, come back.
Gray sketch in black
& white, along the watchtower.

One ghost dance treads this lambent maze
draws wool into a knot
or chord of charity.
Her milky Manitou is wise.

The profane land, amnesiac
is lifted into tune
by memory of one
who went before – his trouble on his back

your trouble too.  A Psyche-glow
to orient the west
toward east, the past
into a future peace – heart’s overflow.


In the summer of 1968, my father took me with him on a trip to D.C., where we went down to the National Mall to be part of the crowd at "Resurrection City" - the encampment of the Poor People's Campaign, which had been initiated by MLK.  I went through some of my dad's papers after he passed away last spring, and found this pennant.


National Poetry Month begins with April Fools

                                       i.m. Jim Harrison

April by the ancient river.
The old bones of the king
remember everything
that he forgot – his yellowed quiver

like a scrollful of desire, old goat,
old Harry son of Harry,
with his dogs, with his ’44,
a massif in a cave, disconsolate –

world like a bungled maze, a hive
of killer bees, in a hole
in the ground.  Old King Cole
with his pipe & his bowl, still alive

somehow.  A dust-mote labyrinth
horned by his own shade.
I met a straw-blonde maid
of Provençal, spruce terebinth

from Marseille, or Toulouse – name’s
Quitterie  who kissed
me sweetly, once
outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields...


Turn again, O Man, from thy insect
wickedness... a dust-storm
swarms the bristlecone
pine, high in her cold dry cleft,

still evergreen.  Through yon spiderweb
of desperate cities
one clear flute-breeze
intones a major melody (B-

flat) – frail threads transmogrified
like griffin-chords into
transparent unison – blue
octave through twin pillars (pied,

squared).  It was an iteration
out of alienation, empty
heart of vanity –
whose nothingness nested creation.


Long ago el Rio del Espiritu Santo
rolled, a mighty glacier-
torrent, out of here –
before your dream-songe Manitou

brought you to tent among these timbers,
People.  April was Earth
before a human birth
lent gentleness & poison (hers,

yours, mine).  I found a moss-green coin
locked in a cedar fork,
swept past the flooded park
into this punted limb.  Begin the Beguine,

spun the vapid strings... the War to End
All Wars is ended.  An old
king crawls from the blistered
bole (emptied orphanman, around

the bend) – shines in the springlight
like a babe newborn.
Roland honks his horn;
Guillaume unwraps his gauze (a Calumet).