Sunday, December 31, 1989

Saturday, November 11, 1989

OCCASIONAL POEM FOR DUNCAN GARRETT


OCCASIONAL POEM FOR DUNCAN GARRETT

In a Bedouin's darkened tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels upside down
on the far wall.
It was first recorded
on a Paris boulevard in the fall of 1838,
a man stopped for a shoeshine,
the horses moved faster
than the speed of silver on sunlight.

Here in America, manifest destiny
focused in on silent, grim poses.
Metaphysical stealer of souls—
all we have left of entire nations
is recorded on gelatin plates.

Obscure rooms, the heart of darkness,
the mecurial greening of plants—
art and science wrestle under bedcovers
with the names of war—
the battle of Gettysburg,
the Japanese womam bathing her hibakusha daughter,
the running Vietnamese girl, napalm on her arms—
these images burn into the cornea.

You prefer to do it in the dark,
then wait to see what develops
but this is not a negative image—
every lining has its silver cloud.

A king in the attic of Banquo's ghost
never milled redwood on the Slavianka.
Jose Revere herded cattle not far south of here.
Did he recall his grandfather's famous cry?

Silver solution put into babies eyes
at birth keeps them from going blind.

           —F. Stop Fitzgerald




date? 11/11/1989  I saw the pinhole camera effect for the first time I went to Leningrad., on Nyevski Prospect. What year Was it Winter of 89? See Night Train to Moscow.

rev. 7/15/94 (last saved)
see  EQUIVALENTS  11/11/1989, expanded version

EQUIVALENTS (draft)


EQUIVALENTS   draft

In a Bedouin's dark tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels
an upside down mirage on the far wall.
This phenonemon was observed under certain conditions
and blue stones were cast to protect them from evil.
No one wanted to talk about what wasn't there.
Who could believe children and horses
were running across the sky,
no one could keep the world righted.

"Man is made in the image of God
and no man-made machine
can fix the image of God,"
shouted an enraged man
when artists built small dark rooms,
the camera obscura
to gain a better world perspective.
They copper-coated plates with silver
and let them tarnish in sunlight
but the image only lasted hours
before it returned to night.

The painter Daguerre named after war,
finding no solution to fix these images
depressed, left the plates overnight
in his studio and mecurially
they remained in the morning.
The first photograph of a human being
was in the fall of 1838, a man stopped
long enough to get his shoes shined,
early morning, long shadows,
buildings toothing the sky.
Horses in the Paris boulevard
too fast for light to capture them.
Photos of asylums, a child's death in white
the mourner in black with a bowed head.
Lola Montez. Andrew Jackson—
Thousands posed for a piece
of God's likeness in silver.

Matthew Brady packed glass plates
across the southwest recording the Civil War.
Confederate camels in the distance,
not Bedouin tents, but hospitals.
He followed the contract undertakers
to record the spoils of war.
After the Battle of Gettysburg
he arranged bodies for more impact
as if death was not enough for the final act.
A gangly Abe Lincoln with General Hooker
posed in front of the white tent
while Hooker's women tended to their needs.

The camera forged west. Timothy Sullivan
& William Henry Jackson glimpsed hell on earth
in the sulphurous geysers and fumaroles
of Yellowstone. Who would have believed him?
After traveling across the U.S.
photographing nature's private moments
one of his mules tripped and fell
ruining months of work but that didn't stop
the expansion westward.

Edward Muybridge resolved for once and for all
the argument of galloping horses—
did their feet really leave the ground?
His studies of motion showed horses with hooves
tucked under but he murdered his wife's lover.
Art and science wrestle under bedcovers.

A Baptist minister discovers the color spectrum.
The world no longer appears in black and white.
"When the time is right I will let you know"
but takes his secret to the grave.
Everybody is looking for an audience.
He sends long rambling episodes of his life
when others asked how to take the world in color.

we carry them around the globe stealing souls.
This the Indians knew
but Edward Curtis was persistent.
Perhaps they were right,
perhaps disease and war
is caused by the stealing of souls
slowly over time, eroding the self.
Silver solution is put into babies eyes
at birth to keep them from going blind.
All we have left of entire nations
is recorded on film.


11/11/89











CONDEMNED FLESH


CONDEMNED FLESH


Below the mission outpost of civilization,
three cultures clash with time:
tarpon roll in the Múlege River,
holding midnight's secret under their skins.
Desert palms clatter, venetian blinds in a storm.
Copper women walk barefoot & wash laundry by hand.
We live in a hostal with feeble electricity,
by the prison walls, satellite disks track quasars.
You are my companera of the mythical journey,
my lover whispers, buying me with turquoise.
We don't look too far beyond condemned flesh
and eat only what is offered—sea turtle steak
under the bouganvilla arbor of El Candil—
rationalizing: the turtle's already dead anyway.
A tide of carmine blossoms eddies at our feet.
Even from the beginning, we were planning
the extinction of love, silent tapers in the church;
the turtle's plight beyond salvation.


11/11/89, Mulegé, Baja

1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch


Sunday, November 5, 1989

HUNTER'S MOON



HUNTER'S MOON


How many men have sworn undying love
under the last full moon of summer,
bartering for it like blankets in native markets
of the Andes, Oaxaca, orTikal? In Iqiutos,
where the Spaniards sailed upriver looking for El Dorado,
and dolphins are thought to be half-human,
men still rub dolphin oil on their pricks,
calling them bufeos, then fuck them for good luck.
The canoejueras, plying their profession from bank to bank,
who harvest gold with their porpoise mouths,
suck and lick the river with such skill, it is said
they can make even the dead come in the rocking boats.
A woman walked along the banks of the Amazon—
where truth becomes a seductive blur—
miscarried a small dolphin,
and they burned the poor creature
who flew up into blue smoke.


I believe in anniversaries.
If you want to talk, go back to that night
when the stars wavered under a moon so full,
there weren't enough arms to hold it,
and undo those promises made on the road to Oaxaca—
because something in my reptilian brain
still waits for you under the marriage blanket.
But an unseasonable seed sprouted
in my garden, and so, you wanted my death
in the Temple of the Jaguar at dawn.
I should have known darkness devoured each shadow
our feet planted and we never escaped the jungle.

The cats are fighting tooth and claw again.
At least each knows the other, and in this knowing,
the separate sheets of memory are shrouds
for the eventual death of stars and angels.
Something of the past resurrects in telephone lines,
satellites orbit loneliness and other notions of guilt.
After your call, the house rustles, things fall from shelves,
I think rats & opossumsóno, the earth is trembling again
and I blame it on my wildly beating heart.
Inconsolate weeping has little to do with why we failed.
And so, we wear this badge, our voices prayerwheels
carved from heartwood of felled ceiba trees.
Mending broken shards to tell the future by
is almost like reconstructing the past to fit our needs.
The cat does his laundry with his tongue.
Southern birds rub wings with a milder winter.
If you go south long enough, it becomes north.
One can argue almost anything but I'm tired & want to sleep.
This poetry which preserves us
is our final inheritor,
our final judgement.


11/5/1989


DISPELLING DARKNESS


DISPELLING DARKNESS


To break night's spell
the sun rises each morning.
We spell words on white paper
to break the silence
& night spills onto the page.

What is unwritten is more infinite
than what is written.
Therefore, every time we make a choice
we exponentially reduce the choices left.
When we think of the future

the archaeology of knowledge
meets the contradictions in the self.
Genetic code holds the memory
of the ancient world
before there was language.

When we define it, we must begin again
because poetry is the structure
inhabited by stromatolites,
the first "I am" life uttered.

11/5/89

1992 Santa Clara Review



Wednesday, November 1, 1989

PROGRESS


PROGRESS


The story is unlikely:
a dream of white walls, oak sills
twin beds, the north-facing window,
a radiator, Bing Crosby croons from the stereo,
a deluge of words that make no sense:
snake betrayal of the earth.
I must have known something, but how?
Like when the Challenger blew up, I saw something
from the Möbius strip teaser of time, convoluted
amoebas blossoming against a blue-mantled sky.
Tell me why we share dreams even now,
on opposite sides of the earth
with day and night between us?
I worry about where Einstein sleeps
and write elegies for the dead.
The Chernobyls, t he Manhattan projects haunt me—
my cousin helped to build the bomb.
The age of enlightenment burns words right off the page.
There's more work to do, I'm not sure what it is.
Think of the secrets locked inside stone,
where does the memory of the earth sleep?
Gaia. No wonder she trembles,
shaking parasitic cities from her skin.
I've planted a stone in the garden for you.
What else is there to do?
They say the role of the poet is to reinvent the myths.
It's not the accumulation of knowledge,
but something deeper, akin to the group mind of Neanderthals
born with the mythology of an entire species intact.
We work with a genetic cuneiform,
and have no rosetta stone to decode,
only vague hunches we call by the name of poetry.
What do we leave our children—
is this truly the last of the line—
venerable dinosaurs of the modern age?
Maybe none of this is real: we're fictional
characters, suspicious we don't exist.


11/89

Thursday, October 26, 1989

JIGSAW


JIGSAW
 
 
The predictable paths we make daily
are beaten smooth & polished like bone.
After years of disuse and neglect,  
those less traveled become spongy with rot.
 
The old couple radiantly warbles a welcome
like birds in spring, oblivious to their house  
falling in, who's to evict them? Jigsaw
crazed white paint exposes the heartwood.
 
Down the back porch stairs, a missing step,
a vacant tooth whispers something I can't grasp.
The shaky rail offers no shortcuts,
but a leap of faith to collect the mail.
 
And it is not spring, sometimes life is like that.
It takes an earthquake to shake the foundations,
so why did I awaken at one a.m., my unfeathered feet
ready to flee, with nowhere to go?
 
 
10/26/89

Monday, October 23, 1989

IN IQUITOS

IN IQUITOS

Where the Spaniards sailed upriver looking for El Dorado,
and dolphins are thought to be half-human,
men still rub dolphin oil on their pricks,
then fuck them hard in the sand for good luck.
The canoejueras, plying their profession from bank to bank,
harvest gold with their porpoise mouths,
still suck and lick the river with such skill,
it is said even the dead come in the rocking boats.
A woman walked along the banks of the Amazon,
where truth becomes a seductive blur,
miscarried a small dolphin,
and they burned the poor creature
who flew up into blue smoke.


10/23/89

Tuesday, October 17, 1989

LIVING ON THE EDGE, 10/17/89

LIVING ON THE EDGE, 10/17/89
          –for Susan Swartz


I yell at the cats fighting in the basement,
my cabin dips and sashays a slow dance toward the creek.
The mirror sways in supplication, oak trees shimmy,
acorns, falling hailstones, scolding squirrels and cats
aren't to blame, the deep growling is the earth itself.
Half-dressed, I run outside, laughing with neighbors,
there is almost a festive air, the ground undulating
beneath bare feet, a small boat on a bilious sea.
Eerie static fills the airwaves, when news finally breaks,
we are voyeurs watching events unfold on TV.
The Bay Bridge, a toy drawbridge, toy cars,
a mile and a half of collapsed freeway, Cypress St.,
a roller coaster bed, with cars sandwiched underneath,
bottles of unbroken wine no one scavages,
a column of literate smoke from the Berkeley Library.
The Marina's on fire and sinking, someone says.
A B-grade disaster movie upstaging the World Series`
and space shuttle to Jupiter. Atlantis rising.
The Ferry Building clock stops at 5:04 pm.
Women jog with firehoses, victory streamers,
bikers carry the old ones to safety on their backs.
Just five minutes from the street of death,
my exlover interjects how he's single again
and of the two women living in his house.
4It takes a 7.0 on the Richter Scale to break the ice
but patterns of behavior limit us. Rescuers,
out of body bags, switch to sleeping bags, who will help them?
Gallons of paint, spilled rainbows, symbol of hope,
my friends draw arches in the dirt to heal themselves.
The Pacific plate leaps ahead of the American plate`
in a slow race toward home—Alaska. Terremoto.
Like a war zone, as the landfill liquefies into jelly,
rubble from the 1906 quake rises to the surface
 in a horrible resurrection
of chaos, a system of physics, wild and convoluted.
Parking garages squash
into cement pancakes. Apartments fall, card houses. 
Already the dispossessed talk of rebuilding on the ruins.
Fissures in the streets boggles the mind.
In the time it took God to make the universe, the ballgame
is rescheduled. Disaster transcends the World Series.
When Gorbachev offers aid, many weep.
It takes the heat of Chernobyl & the 25,000 dead of Armenia 
to thaw the Cold War. Thousands homeless.
VP Quail smiles photogenically in the face of tragedy.
Bush calls up to say his presence would be a distraction,
then changes his mind. Though scientists claim there's no such thing
as earthquake weather, it's hot, still, like April 18, 1906.
We've become impatient with the notion of the unseen, the unexplainable.
Children are hearing things, closer to nature they feel it sooner.
With phone lines jammed, I don't even know if my mother is alive,
I get an obscene phone call. A media carnival descends upon us.
One more good aftershock and the newscastors would sink into the bay.
In a few million years, Los Angeles will be somewhere
off the Bering Straits. Hollywood, USSR.
An occupational hazard of living on the edge of the continent,
we're always waiting for the Big One to strike out.

10/17/89
Forestville

1989 Press Democrat


Susan Schwartz was interviewing me for the Press Democrat for a feature story. Towards the end, I was losing my focus, felt seriously ill. So I cut the interview short and lay down on the bed with a stomach ache so bad, I took my jeans off.
Needless to say the article was upstaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Thursday, October 5, 1989

THE ANIMAL SORROW OF WOLVES


THE ANIMAL SORROW OF WOLVES
    That philosophical understanding of carnage,
      that concentration of the species.
            —Gerald Stern

It was not easy making friends with wolves.
I'd sit on a ladder by the wire-link fence,
careful not to make eye contact or they'd lunge—
their yellow eyes; calendulas eating the sun,
hot flickering grassfires and phosphorus.
I'd listen to them worry cow hocks (or was it horse?)
across the stained plywood partition,
the bones echoing with a hollow thud.
Was it the slaughterhouse stench of dead meat
or the primal odor of concentrated wolf?
Full moons, they'd answer in chorus for unseen kin
ambulances, fire engines and police cars
the cubs knowing only the endless pacing of caged life.
The man who kept wolves—the town dog catcher.
Late afternoons, I heard his woman sobbing and crooning
like a sleepy child. Did she really come like that?
I felt envy, slow to notice my lover's eyes had turned
the color of Indian corn. I learned to sing louder
and longer with each passing stranger
running a practiced hand along my flank
until I was wolf-mother beneath the fig tree
sucking a rivaling empire of boys in men's bodies.
Sensitized by pain, I sang best, seeking asylum,
I studied the flight of vultures and despaired;
was the idea of love, a vulgar carcass of bees and hornets,
romance, attainable as the horizon, or Mars?
Each moon, a new eye. I learned carnelian hunger,
my spoor took on the scent of wolf
and I devoured the Möbius circle of desire.
It was never so bad or as good as this.


10/5/1989

1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch


Thursday, September 28, 1989

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN                                                  

The first hunters who crossed Siberia
survived winter's ancestors
because they wasted nothing—
something of the Inuit remains.
What do we know of Siberia?
We say Siberia, naming the nameless zone
between the taiga  and the tundra.
We say it because it conjures up the idea of wind and snow
unfettered by man to come and go where it pleases.
When we say Siberia the air fills with tundra flowers
and we mean the Siberia of stunted pines
and caribou migrations, but it's also the Siberia
of strip mines and  nuclear physics.
We say it midsummer, under a curtain of fire,
where night never begins;
and in winter, where it never stops.
We say it to sustain us as the invisible wolf
testing the strength of double-paned glass
stares in from the pupiled eye of night.
We say Siberia, stretching out syllables
until it becomes the wind's voice.
Sigh-bier-ria.
We say it as a punishment to our children.
We will ship them off to Siberia.
Banishment is always another country.
We make jokes about it,
and so I touch your golden skin in summer,
how it radiates the sun
while mine is the white of winter.
In the land of exile,
the land of the long ruble,
of opportunists and political prisoners,
where does the Siberian tiger sleep now?
We say Siberia and know nothing about it.

You tell me someone has to be the first
to love across political boundaries
until nations put down their ideals.
There's little comfort in knowing tears or blood
are the same chemistry as their mother, the ocean.
In Novosibirsk, scientists in white rooms
play nuclear physics with Godó
like ours at White Sands and Alamagordo.
Something of the landscape must touch them
surely they dream?
Last night, the sky wore red
and I stood between two rainbows.
Prisms and physics could not explain away refracted light.
There are those desperate enough to drink perfume.
They must've pissed the very heart of summer flowers into snow
only to go blind, was it worth it? Nosdrov'yeh,
a toast clawing olfactory nerves and tissueó
the period between midwinter and spring. Asylum.
But you've been there too, a spy among inmates,
your drawings record far better than any camera
life within the walls of insanityówho's more insane:
the Georgian man over and over again in pencil,
the scientists who turn their backs on the earth,
or those who send the flower of their youth
to front lines to bathe in jellied gasoline
in the name of an idea?
We are all crazy.
It comes with the territory.

Did I tell you Solzhenitsyn lives in a fortress
of his own choosing, deep in the mountains of Vermont?
It's the Gulag  all over again.
He brought his Siberian islands with him.
Dogs patrol the electric fence in regimented intervals.
Stalin's been dead nearly as many years as we've lived.
America is also an experiment,
an armed song singing itself
toward extinction like all the rest.
Yes, we are victims of historyó
fill the silos with grain.
But I touch your face,
my fingers memorize geography.
You ask, how does it feel to be living with bears?
Everyone loses their teeth in Siberia
and you never met a woman before who bites.
I cannot forget your eyesóall that blue,
not of glaciers and ice but of the soft secret heart of stone.
Translucence leashed and folded like linen bedsheets.
Your hand reaches for the moon hidden beneath my shirt,
seeking familiar patterns in a gesture that's timeless.
Learning to live with the land is something the Inuit knew
but even they've begun to turn their backs on it.
We should be around the fire telling stories,
buried in thick furs, safe in each other's arms
but we're not dressed in skins.
I carry a bear's tooth in my pocket
and keep skulls outside my window, just in case.
We live on opposite sides of the earth,
lovers in exile, but love is like that.
We need visas and annulments.
By naming it, it's too late,
we're no longer in the country of origin.
Siberia is singing from the heart of deepest night.
Small hooves pound in our chests.
We live on blubber,
savor fatty tissue and cannot sleep.
V'kusna ? Out of death comes life;
from life, death follows like wolves
trailing the caribou herd.


9/28/89

2003 poetsagaistthewar.org
won 3 Best Poems of the Day recognition
1995 Atomic Ghost:Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age
1992 Maverick "Paisano" issue, nominated for  Pushcart Prize
1991 San Francisco Bay Guardian, First Prize
          Sing Heavenly Muse








Friday, September 22, 1989

SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS


SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS             
Тіні забутих предків   — based on the 1964 film 
                        by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Parajanov


Ivan fed Marichka guelder-rose berries.
The deer witnessed their love in the rain.
They cannot marry. Their families—enemies so long—
they've forgotten why. He promised to return in autumn.
In the mud: a horseshoe, a cowbell, a ram's horn.

A vee of sheep, like blazing light, entered the circle.
But winter came early. Low wind under the doors & incessant rain.
Ivan, gazing at a bright star, slept fitfully on the grass.
Beskid, why don't you marry? the wind asked the mountain.
Because the green field will not have me, said the mountain. 

Time melted into the boundless expanse
when she came through the birches to find him —
and fell from such a height, the birds were jealous.
The hunters brought a bear down from the mountains.
A constellation hanging from a trapezoid of birch boughs.

When Ivan returned, the mute could tell him nothing.
Marichka, so young and so drowned. Shadows everywhere.
Torches along the river at night—venial stars and eyes of fish.
He followed her downriver on a raft. What else was there to do?
To be buried among birches in the Carpathians by a lover,

who buried the child in you, required a special kind of music.
Grave-digging, he became fascinated with the texture of earth.
Tamed by his grief, the deer came to listen.
His mother held an invisible axe to her heart.
Slender candles in the church — bent tapers of life's roads.

Don't blow out the horse fire, it has to go out by itself.
It's shameful what love has done to him, the villagers cried.
They made up songs about his life. The icons knew suffering joy. 
The villagers gave him a burning crown of thorns, a lamb for warmth, 
but temptation arrived in the shape of a woman on a white horse

who cast a shoe. As he bent to the pony, she lifted her red skirt. 
His eyes, slow as a summer river, rose to her face, where east meets west.
She offered him an apple. Why not?  he shrugged. 
Harnessed together like common oxen, they began a new life.
But he broke her coral beads, thinking of Marichka,
another broken necklace, one summer among birches.


Yarrow and aster fell before his scythe; he cannot love his wife.
His thirst, so great he kissed the mirror of the river
where Marichka slept. The deer came to lick salt from her grave.
Even the wind knew something of her name.
So they blew away spirits of the dead — insistent candles.

The pine burst into flame, the shaman and the woman conspired,
their lips seeking another kind of secret. Sleeping with geomancy,
& wanting a child, she stood naked in his circle of sycamores.
Signs of earlier fires. Trinal jealousy. A nest of hoodies, young crows.
Who throws corn at horses stampeding into the forest so thick,

no crow can fly? Milk spills into the river by faith alone.

The ram is riding the horse. Crows fall from the sky.
On the tavern walls, pine boughs whispered a warning:
Ivan, Ivan — Marichka is in the river waiting, asking, when?
The shaman raised the ritual axe, there were no witnesses. 

He staggered to her — a red wound. Her hands answered him, come.
Milk & blood spills into the river. Wash his body beneath the mountain. 
Bury him in the field with coins, an axe, & the clothes of his youth.
At the wake, bagpipes skirled, the floorboards shook —
men grappling with women's skirts under cover of darkness.

The fallow green field raises her moist hips to meet him.


9/22/1989



The Гуцули Hutsul, (an exonym:outlaw, thief, wanderer) of the Carpathian highlands of Ukraine and Romania, identify themselves with the Rusyn ethnic minority.