a grain of truth

Vladislav Khodasevich; portrait by Valentina Mikhailovna Khodasevich


Vladislav Khodasevich,
past master of style
felt that truth, not style
unites the beautiful with Uglich

& art with life (so much ongoing
sordidness & light).
& if the heart is upright,
somehow… even pain might sing

as honest witness to the memory
of what was loved, back then.
My mother, once again
so firm in her infirmary

looks in my face with such solemnity
I have to shift my gaze
from stern blue eyes –
your aching isolation of senility

since I remember just how quick
you sprang for joy (sheer
giddiness of being here)! 
Now you’ve forgotten how to walk.

Maybe we’ll limp along in spirit, then –
as once Natasha with Osip,
Anna, Nadezhda… slip
the chains of boring gravity one

Leap Day!  Deep in snow & sunlight
not much different from Siberia
or Voronezh, syestra-Columbia –
imaginary friend… (wings’ wavy flight).



grain in the hold in the Boundary Waters

Mary (Elvira) Ravlin Gould, Jan. 2020


I was wheeling my mother Mary around
the old people’s home yesterday.
We came upon the Ash Wednesday
service, by chance, & rolled on in.

The genial priest lifted up the Book
& prayed for us all
& traced a cross of charcoal
on our brows (despite my mother’s look

of wary puzzlement).  & we rolled on.
Her father was an engineer.
Master of grain elevator
& sewage plant, he built his own

brick house along the Mississippi
back in 1929, or so –
Barnett & Record Co.
John H. Ravlin (everlastingly).

Granddad, your fathers came from Dublin
whirled by coracle & shamrock
to Vermont.  By hard knock
grace & cornucopia, they ventured in

to the interior.  You heard violins
of Verdi… Elvira
(some serene Barber adagio)
& in great lofty mountainous grain bins

of full, deep faith, one mustard seed
of your stern secret mother
glints – compassionate anchor
for Milky Way (ark’s cornerstone, indeed).


John H. Ravlin in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (1940s)


mini-Mississippi meditation


They found a body in the broken ice
upstream from Franklin Bridge.
Nearby, JB leapt the edge
50 Epiphanies ago.  Minnesota Nice

reminder of mortality, this cold
Ash Wednesday.  & who
shall rescue me from this
body of death?  You, Lord?

Let each one find you, mighty to save.
My own keeled-over Mardi Gras
diversions end Mid-Barataria.
O rheumy battery of barratry – behave!

Half-sunk, in debt to fraud… Old Ironsides,
our near-abandoned Constitution
drifts toward Mars Lagoon –
graveyard of hulking Liberties, Columbias

I heard Brad Barth, & maybe Latrobe
have shaped a mini-Mississippi
en masse.  Delta recovery
with restoration of the entire globe

– at 1/65th scale, using simulated sand –
in view.  Musk-earthy angel
of Odetta, oversing y’all
sluiceways – my diversions too; your hand

stroking the banjo-strings, your voice…
one grain of sand.
Let not Pharaoh’s demand
deter you from your bitter cross


a better choice, for man nor woman
noir nor blank, there be nought
but this flashing pivot –
fiery chariot, all-bearing, San Franciscan

stigma tattoo – all-loving happy ghost
& live-oak everlasting shade
reconciling all things made
& unmade (windy current, whirling host).

Water currents, pressure & flow
(scale-model of congregated
clover coracle, 200’ x 70’)
up to the Chapel of Eternal Now.

You just want to get in & start playing
with it.  We can (she sings)
no longer accomplish things
by damming things off.  What saying,

Great Spirit?  Hwæt?  There was silence
for about six hours
(prelude to thunderblast)
when ailing Alighieri, heart gone quiet as

a babe, asleep upon her mother’s breast
gazed up into the rainbow dome
at Sant’Apollinare.  You come
to me gliding, from Sabbath rest

in your almond canoe, Jessie-Jesu…
out of the gemstone casket
where 4 streams exit
like the Nile, from Ethiopia… O Hallelu.


from G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., Gemstone of Paradise, p. 187


dream song for Mardi Gras


In the remote silence of your dream
little Ojibwa cowboy,
every word, every sigh
your lips would bend to the birch beam.

Each syllable would lift up smoothly
like wing or wave, to join
the sarabande procession
flashing tiny stars in their night-cloud sky.

The piety of Aeneas or of Abraham
is tinctured with the same
topaz humility; the fame
of Black Elk flares no different requiem;

& Hobo’s yearning in the Bottomland
& Henry’s striving at the source
obey the same bone-flute discourse –
to verify one sweet-tempered command.

& like a low B-flat trombone bass line
out of some Delta funeral-song
the aura of her Don’t-be-long
with magnetism of her Love, B-mine

goes rippling counter-clockwise, from St.-J
to D.C. piles of masonry
& back to Lake Itasca –
& like mustard monarch or viceroy

lifts tender, glancing & reflective wings
to meet your own, brave
Jessie-Isis – clear sea-wave.
Peace pipes over the Golden Gate, wide swings.



up in Montrose Park


The war to end all wars was done.
On May 29th, 1919
Sir Arthur Eddington
tested heavy light, suspended

in a thread around the moon-black sun;
so gravity bent clay
toward refining accuracy.
Black Elk extends to six directions

silent gratitude & recognition,
just as an icon speaks
in speechless pine-smokes
or a painting glows with valedictory

emotion.  Around the summer solstice
rose-phosphorus sunset
seals the monuments’ regret
in Washington – western promise

magnifies & coalesces, in a microcosm
(up in Montrose Park,
at Avon Place, by River R).
That armillary zodiac, or star-prism

revealing violence, imperial dominance
(diagonal to its redeeming
countersign) – entangling
mn-mutter, amid all circumstance…

sweet Angel, levitant above the cancer
of the Capital; fleet-
footed Evening Star, bright
Pocahontas (waterlogged Delta, triangular).



at edge of Gulf, at Mardi Gras


So ancient Carnival-time creaks around
Hobo, at winter’s nadir –
up & down the copper
serpent-river, ice to Gulf, from underground.

Seigneur Latrobe & son (masonic
architects) glide on
into their slanted lichen
tombs, below the levee.  Chronic

exploitations, born of lordly guile
condemn brother & sister
to the poorhouse – maybe
forever (never God’s will).  Meanwhile

Mardi Gras Indians from Cajun swamps
tiptoe, sauntering in beads &
feathers, vaunting weeds
beside Big Muddy… spin their vamps,

magnanimous & happy-go-lucky!
As Frazer phrased it once,
the Oak-King was dunce
for a day, scapegoat – to bind three

realms, to decorate the grim
reality of king-dom
(manacled to thrum
of male plumage, sly rhythm

of greed).  Meanwhile us tramps lie in our camps
the ciphered segregation
of a riven nation –
the politic paralysis of frozen clamps


unbroken for a generation
yoking partisans
of limited taxation
with particles of airy explanation.

Yet lo, Hobo! the sleepy sleepwalker
still reigns under the rain…
King Virbius in blue vervain,
Osiris-man of verby us (dumb talker)!

One lone mustard tear of Isis
flowing down the dream;
knit-wit of Union, seam-
by-seam… Columbia, thy hum he is!

& out of one immense unspoken heart
on its wheel of suffering
flies this foam… a sparkling
shield of steely martyrdom – cart

of churl & Charlemagne, Big Bear,
Charles’ Wain – iron hinge
of Milky Way!  Melange
of pipesmoke sacrificial princes, there!

Martin, & Jack, & Abraham…
William & James… lights
winking from Astraea’s height –
sea-foam & flotsam of the cosmic Lamb!

At the edge of the Gulf, at Mardi Gras
Hobo floats to sea, to see…
out of wrath & misery
lamps of justice, liberty – her wings, Noah!


sketch by Benjamin Latrobe


on your dark retina


The soft touch of watercolor
like a moist afterthought
on your dark retina.
The comeliness of ballet dancer

uprightness of innocent angel
her glance prematurely sad
– unfolding her fan of mustard
gold (butterfly wings on purple balsa)

beneath rough branches of jack pine
& beside the air conditioner,
a sunless window (in its lunar
TV efflorescence).  With her fine

naiad brow, brimming with thought
& the dignity of her wings
like a daughter of Memphis king
or mother… Isis or Hathor (Thoth

merging with dappled river pattern
yet again).  & in upper
right-hand corner a minor
violet cloud, a miniature icon –

Notre Dame (unburnt as yet?) – or
Statue of Liberty?  Unclear,
inchoate… like right now, here
in this charcoal-smoky, somewhere-

possible America – suffering glare
of phosphor-bomb campaigns
& camouflage engines –
blind canvas (some cimetière


marin) of noon.  & as the sun descends
west of the granite capital
& you sense (as the ineffable
arc of those feathers, wafting, bends

to rose Pacific horizon) the limpid
gloom of freedom’s evening
then she will be gathering
fragment-limbs of her beloved…

Isis, young dark dancer by the Nile.
Shades of live oaks,
holm oaks, holly oaks…
green Acorn Kings of Hollywood… will

stay awhile.  The restoration of the earth
will be a Morris dance –
as (in his happy trance)
the young king will relight the hearth

under the aegis of that Providence
kind Williams’ hand held forth
over the sea-froth
chasm of an Ocean State (whence

every liberty proceeds).  I mean
the heart’s imagination
of dove-divination,
when prancing St. Jeanne rose again

from dusty repetition of revenge
into a coracle of Union
her canoe of sun-flotation,
Hobo’s freeway cloverleaf (Stonehenge).



love is a subtle mode of gravity


Love?  Love is a subtle mode
of gravity, persuading
everything into its ring
via reverse-magnetic motherlode.

Implicit ground of adoration –
centered in that other
sprouting up like heather,
unaccountable (& yet akin).

The Petersburg raznochinets
who wrote, maybe
we are Hagia Sophia
with a million eyes… completes

that Galilean one, who said
you are light of the world
& so like sheep into fold
he goes, smiling into Ya-Neku.

So like that sonorous Adagio
building gradually upward
on frail threads, the sad
clown walks into her thundercloud

shadow.  Like Mary Magdalen
she follows the mild voice
of one who mediates
all force with dove-modulation –

her cooing sing-song tilt of wing-
span balancing the red
& blue with a rusty rod
of iron – his wand out of Sing-


Sing, his foot-pedal, bruised purple
as small Rhode Island
violet (one grain in hand
touching the resonant key of small people).

She bears the crux of all martyrdom
across the political spectrum
like Mater Dolorosa on some
Syrian plateau of desolate Rom;

yet every child’s candle flickers yet
on the anniversary of statehood
& Providence, in the law-code
charted for Restoration Day (kismet).

When Rome fell, & sheep scattered
into milky constellations,
whirling light-grains
penetrating countless catastrophic

neighborhoods of pitch-black space.
In the darkest of Dark Ages
the ratio on parched pages
scratched by severed stump of Maximus

shone like Einstein intuition –
Man is imago of your Divine
infinite plenitude… sign
lofted into deepest void-perdition;

there is no sovereignty like this.
To be the peaceable reply
to every trumped-up tyranny –
we all God’s children, sang the Empress.



snowflakes on Presidents' Day


George III was buried yesterday
200 years ago.
The mad King Bluster-Tyro
pressed New England into granite liberty.

Ceremonies of the royal tomb
reverberate across a nation
scarred by assassination.
Abraham, Jack… William, Jim…

framed by wide wings of Martin
(& Bobby too).  They stand
elongate, with palm frond –
archangels in a nave-cavern

of fluted oaks.  Stone tears well
from republican cenotaphs
when that Ant-Leader laughs
who foments red-black wars (from home

to hell).  So long waves coalesce
magnificent Pharaoh & Osiris
in theopolitical impasse
with alien slave throngs – witness

the fissure of Red Sea by their God!
Tyrant & people, king
& kin… a knotty kenning;
Agnes Martin might trace a grid

to simplify ratios of power & myth.
A single snowflake amid crows
of winter, in the beginning was
the splinter-word.  Her spark was in the pith.



like a small town playground


The restoration of all things
what’s it about this phrase
corrals my shifty gaze?
Some infant stimulus it brings?

As at the source of vast rivers
(Mississippi, Danube)
a baby spring’s hubbub
purls out of ground… shimmers

in bitter February air & light.
The restoration of a truth
too plain, too clear, to booth
as Peter would (its glare so bright).

Universal constant, Einstein’s measure;
flexible cinch-thread
of muttering light gold
sent to bind man, through rose embrasure.

Power’s byzantine – but truth Franciscan.
Peaceable polity
is founded in equality
chaste as a child’s eye (Petersburgian).

The restoration of the human world
is like a small town playground,
where the rusty sound
of an ancient iron swing is curled

within your inner ear.  You heard it
years ago, once… now,
again.  No one knows how
the goldfinch’s tricolor obsignat.


dimensions of Pacific promise


It’s possible we understand the common good,
since we are human beings
blessed with intellect, & feelings.
Might we live in the old neighborhood

again?  The narrow streets of Providence
for example – haunted by ghosts
of Roger Williams & his hosts
Canonicus & Miantonomi (his friends,

working out in late-night conferences
the immemorial foundations
of good government).  Nations
& peoples, grounded in the ancient senses

of those words (Pax, Libertas, Justitia)
sustained, beyond the bite
of Mammon (greed & spite)
into a vivid substance of reality –

dream-songe of every poet ever born.
Yea, Henry Acorn King
will of foundations sing,
laid deep before the civil wars began –

of Edw. Coke, bent over Magna Carta
(constitution of our civil rights
before the king, his knights,
were born); of Williams, apple of his eye

& visionary of our liberty
who felt the fiery seed
of conscience, freed
from all coercion, was the key


that opens up a box of keys
the iron root of human
dignity (since we are one
with goodness only as we choose

to be).  & how distinct this innocence
from those manipulations
of the Mammonites, evasions
of sadistic Minotaurs!  The silence

of compassionate stars rebukes Caesar
& all his empires, murmurs
Hobo.  His abode blurs
river-mud with gravity (cold graveyard

avatar).  All density of stone
compacted into black hole
rings your somber footstool,
Everyman – refining stokehold of the sun!

& indistinguishable from hopeless hell
until the graceful whisper
of Columbia, your dove-sister,
thunders like lilting from a light-filled well –

like those Latrobes, who journeyed down to Delta
après shaping simple mansions
for America; or Hart’s dimensions
of Pacific promise… Ocean harmonies (selah).

So Hobo’s heart lingers (below the sweep
of salty galaxies, just off
the bridge).  His brooding strophe
coos from orange shadows… azure keep.



O for a muse of fire


From your Valentine, scratched the prisoner
in Rome, young martyr-to-be.
To daughter of Asterius – maybe
a Morning Star? – love to configure

with philosophy, so (269 a.d.).
Skull crowned with flowers
along with more & divers
relics (Santa Maria in Cosmedin)

– & some of them in Dublin, too
(Whitefriar St.).  Ante-
dating troubadours & Dante
with his severed head & body (rue

the day with smoke of juniper, acacia)
he died young, for liberty
of conscience – thought is free;
fled upon wind, Asterius (Astraea).

The epileptic heart dances offbeat.
Dante & Beatrice
found simplest way
to unity – their cosmos whole, complete

in charity.  So ran my Yeatsian effusion
from the green island;
these pipes, my steely friend
summon her countertop restoration

in the green night of Dante’s neighborhood
where phosphorus gleams
amid Franciscan tombs
like camouflaged green acorn (woo’d


from wood) to be kingdom come
in your creaky dreambed
Ophelia (Juliet, Cordelia…)
– O rondure of love’s gentle realm!

& poetry burbles of it night & day
to multitudes in their sleep
compartments, while the creep
of despotism creeps from sordid victory

to victory (absolutism corrupts
& empowered absolutism
corrupts with most extreme
prejudice).  So the public servant sups

alone in his cold cell, & the journalist
languishes for speaking truth
in cellars of Pharaoh Badnooth
& enemies of human happiness request

your presence in the Furious Throne Room
where kids die miserably
every day, for lack of liberty
& prison sing-song will pronounce your doom.

O for a muse of fire, cried Hen’s herald –
who solders every soul
with mettle from the molten
whole.  Who clears the air, to yield

a solidarity of understanding
in the sheepfolds of Jerusalem
& Greece… Gregorian hymn
with ocarina harmony (Cahokian thing).



so in such straits


In the blank depths, at nadir of winter.
An acid stain of turpentine.
Peto’s absinthe green
in the still life; drumbeats in the mirror.

Lincoln & Kennedy… Kennedy & King.
Black silk around the photographs.
Time, summarized in epitaphs –
a rocket glare that freezes everything.

& traitors cluster in a mortis-ring
about great Yggdrasil,
composing lizard doggerel
with fangs of trumpery & sting

of fraud.  Shaping a lattice for a type
of self-enclosing anti-Christ,
whose mesmerism none resist –
Rumored Injustice To Be Smashed By Hype.

So in such straits we huddle round the mast.
No longer measure progress
by the steam pipe’s hiss
& whistle of alarms.  It’s in the past,

a memory of island buoyancy
elliptical & calm
we’ll find that palm;
amid light’s brilliance, a transparency

as if an eye looked down from azure dome
as acorn witness for an apple kingdom –
as if the citizens of heaven-home
were you & I… gold fleece of human freedom.



in the Grand Army of the Republic


Hank limps onward, like a lost private
in the Grand Army of the Republic
through swamps above Nilotic
Memphis – or plug of gneiss granite

broken loose from Superior shoreline
(euphoric azure of sea air
lifting over the spare
curves of rusted railroad iron).

We carry so much indifferent amnesia,
sleepwalking across Earth.
A measureless unplumbed worth
overshadows our shadows (ecclesia

del girasole… sunflower’s rotation
in the silence of Ravenna
backwater).  Antenna-
headed cave figures, in Papillon

foreshadow these elongate, lantern-
eyed hierarchs of grace –
a shadow ladder, on a base
of basalt (box-within-a-box of Lincoln

logs).  A matryoshka puzzle toy
from Kiev, or Constantinople;
an emerald imago of all people
in mild irises of Maximus (old boy-

martyr).  Matrix, crosshair lens –
vertigo of San Francesco
whorled to the point of zero,
razor-sharp.  Star of St. Stephen’s,


or the sea.  Is shadow-hero
of millions of shadows, round-
about… perceptible ground
or incarnation of your own heart’s

broken-down ego (melted to music).
Is Jonah of your ocean,
Columba… is feminine
Adonai of Morning Star (mystic

bloom, afloat over Cahokia).  Is
Gateway steel of your
clear breeze, Superior –
Osiris to your adamantine Isis

(Psyche-Amor).  In Ford Theatre
the violence comes to a head.
A Service of the Dead
melds Abraham to one frail butterfly-

phantom – one solidarity of soul.
Whim’s monarch, hoboing
from Mexico, to spring
the news… Pinetop’s True-Loving Honor Roll.

In the heart of the heart of hearts
where all the waters start,
we’re no longer apart –
little acorn coracle sea-charts

mark the almond center of the diagram.
Here the luminous shadow
smiles out of clay wheelbarrow,
& love never ends (warbling I AM).