Can Poetry Matter?
(New York City, March 2017)
Left the wine importer's tasting,
denied a restorative cup of joe,
I passed out on a Manhattan subway platform.
The ambulance drivers lugged me
me up to the street, where I signed and was
allowed to go. Before wine the arid years
in the men's tailored clothing business.
Sauntered into fabric show rooms
muttering, "life is short, art is long."
Stacks of swathes on black velvet boards.
Culling, culling, day and night, in pursuit
of the inane: a quest to entice profit
from fashion's cryptic charms. How I endured
that work I will never know. I had embraced
meaninglessness, and then I memorized poems:
"O the mind, mind has mountains: cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no man-fathomed."
And soon I scripted lines that were my own:
I have one body. It harbors one soul.
A reclusive word stands watch between the two.
I listen for it in the tribal chirping
of sparrows, in the magpie's seamless mimicry.
No different from anyone else,
my colorless life the simplest privilege.
Under mounds of clutter I stammer my name.
A voice then echoes, "mother."
A Brown Study
Released from a narrow band of ice
by the bright, not quite sunlit, light,
a drop of water rolls slowly
down the nearly flat, rubber roof.
Having little else to do, my attention
is poised for this show. I watch as the water
makes a straight, shiny line on its way
to the gutter, and then—in my mind's eye—
down the spout to a leaf trammeled drain,
eventually to seep onto the street,
perhaps to reach the sewer and from there
to lose itself in a more fitting home—the river,
where sycamores stand at intervals
of their own rooting. Thick trunks, winter
bleached, leafless. They grow taller than neighboring
trees hung with vines like shaggy, greying hair,
a ghastly, appalling muddle. But life
holds fast. A single swan drifts with the murky
current, its arched neck graceful, decorous.
On the far side a heron crouches, then stands,
revealing all of itself before lifting off
to head upstream. Above me a small gaggle
of geese honk and land in divine disarray.
Virtually nothing to remark on
on this winter walk, but delight in looking,
reprieve for witnessing the waning of a day.
Away from It All
I see the skeleton, but not the stream.
To the south the rivers are swollen and brown.
This is not my country. I do not know
how or why these waters rise and fall.
In spite of disappointment the morning
light still floods the bedroom. Cranky sinews
that rack the body also tarnish the mind.
One day death will fine me, then cease to care.
We are in France. Two plus hours north
of Toulouse. The Aveyron, land of gorges
and rushing water. Our gite lies at the base
of one such gorge. The late summer sun takes
its time in reaching us and then departs
tout de suite. Our hosts reside in the house next
to ours. No others in this sunken place,
but three resident cats, one old and missing
an eye. They play upon our hearts. We wander
the countryside: fortress towns, Cathar strongholds,
churches and cathedrals, many sights all
equally compelling. The birthplace, too,
of Toulouse-Lautrec, that poor, licentious,
aristocratic cripple. Dining is more simple
than imposing. Confit of duck a common theme,
the wines delightfully off beat. What's worse,
I wonder why I'm here, away from my
pointed and pointless routines, still struggling
to put the pieces of my life together.
Once, many years ago, an Irish fishing
guide parsed the Immaculate Conception
for me. Did I know how Jesus arrived?
He arrived by rocket from outer space.
How had I forgotten this travelogue moment?
It's made everything so clear.