EUGENE NARRETT



 

Prof. Eugene Narrett received his B.A. in Art History, and his B.A. and Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature, from Columbia University.  He has extensive experience as a teacher, administrator and scholar, who has taught a full range of literature courses and other subjects including “Modern Poetry of Spiritual Seeking” “Ideology and Values of the West from Machiavelli to Post-Modernism,” “Romanticism and the Mystique of Terror,” and “Enduring Themes in Great Literature.”  His articles on the situation of Israel and the West have been widely published and many are available on his website, www.israelendtimes.com.  He has published four books: Israel and the Endtimes: Writings on the Logic and Surface Turbulence of History; WW III: the War on the Jews; Gathered against Jerusalem; and Israel Awakened: A Chronicle of the Oslo War.  The following poems are taken from his collections Truth’s Earthen Face, On the Way to the World to Come and Wanderings of Soul.  

 

from Truth’s Earthen Face

 

Hunted

 

 

To the silence of an empty room

They hunted me back home:

A cloud that had exhausted rain;

A flower after its completed bounty;

A man past middle age:

Every thing that lost or loses place,

I was.

 

They’d scented my fact of difference

And marked me down as prey,

For sacred dirt: excised, I made them whole.

I heard the screams of coded condemnation,

Too certain what they meant

To shed the agonies of soul

Whose source I was.

 

I sit now in a pleasant suburb

Amazed at what I see:

My self, by them defined, an old

Rogue elephant with no place but to die.

Being human, my hero work means

Confronting terror, so I clear my throat

To speak the thing I was.

 

 I see my border guards

As apparitions, from the tower I see

My companies collapsing, and my nation

Shaken like a fine tree in unseasonable storms.

No time for good deliberation,

No time now for soul to know or be

The way I was.

 

At bay in my garden with restive flowers,

I find harvest’s come too soon.

The swarthy sickle man, -- is that he,

Or she, and what the celebration when one feels

So sad? Forget the learned prayer:

Stretch out your hands and rise

The way I was.

 

 

*

 

 

Blue Sugar Bowl

 

 

There, on the table left, it broke my heart,

Humbly capacious, round and blue and white

Sugar bowl like a palm resting in love

On a child’s head. Just so it rests on its wheel

Once called a ‘lazy Susan,’ sits quietly

Within itself, and is for me without

Words, like my father’s lamp, to my reproach

Lost because humbly, like him, I acted not...

 

I acted not in time, inhabiting by force

The timeless realm of contemplation: Is that

It then? My grief in its full forms records

The myriad times my spark to no fire flashed,

Leaving the urn, remorse, too warm and beautiful,

For confession’s public form too fine a jewel.

 

 

*

 

 

Roses for the Light

 

 

Massive in their dark blush, red going black,

Mom’s spangled bridge of roses, summer-primed

Cast the white daisies into purple shade.

Blue everywhere, and green transformed the sky’s

Compassion white; the honeyed sun dissolved

Into the roses’ brimming cups, and their dew

Crystal showed true uncompromising red

At its work, very close to me and you.

 

All but alone on the end time’s teeming mall

With my soul of letters and imaged life,

I’m hounded and frail; more precious, then, the call

Of nature’s fertile forms she glorified.

They live, entreating to be held. Enthralled,

We open after their fashion, to the light.

 

 

*

 

 

March Asphodels

 

 

On the snow, squads facing eagerly east,

Asphodel in late March morning light

Lean expectantly to the promised warmth,

Honey-yellow trumpets, lamps of welcome, feast

On the scene they help illuminate, delight,

Their saffron sails spread petals to the storm.

But from the public way, marching through their heart

Come snow-heaped steps, blank mounds where voice should be.

 

Sorrow collects me, seeing as it felt to her:

Emptiness rising to the brim of things.

Only her soul brought violets, tan and red

Wash of shadows from files of birch on snow,

Miracles passing us, obliquely. “Spring,”

She wrote, a troupe of wine blooms centered there.

 

 

*

 

 

With God, Sonnets Were My Conversation

 

 

As I watched death unbending come to claim

My father, rumors coming true, ideas

Years from being fully known, I learned to pray.

I fixed my thoughts on forebears, ancient ways

Of hope, the need to teach my son what I

Learned not in time. Failing, of course, brought shame

Out like a signature, its mystery face

Showing nothing unacquainted with disgrace.

 

Disgrace, shame, death and prayer, abilities

Grouped commonly as fish teem in the heart

Of what was made by blessing: this creation

Where we strive and fail at word games, our cries

Rising, where… to mist and skies, to the dark?

Past prayer, sonnets were my only conversation.

 

 

*

 

 

Thunder on My Edges

 

 

Did I fail in the garden? Did my apple tree

Die? The heavy, unrelenting fat gray damp,

Thunder always on my edges,

Did it prove me cursed? Like plants,

I feed myself and bring the heavy quiet in,

Replacing terrors of night with warm slow peace

That melts into the heart like honeyed knowledge

Tricking the casuist censor with its sign.

 

My mother died last year, -- I sure know that.

I haven’t prayed for her enough. The bat

That swarmed my pain-filled evening… was it her

Come back? Can such things be? A punishment

Vivid as scripture, Holy Writ in the air

Sweeping me from home with senses burnt.

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

“I’ll do, I’ll do…”

 

 

I tell him who speaks in my voice -- “I’ll do,

I’ll do,” yet He keeps instructing me. I’ll build

My garden broad and deep, pouring life in it

To watch it sicken, bearing indedible good.

The taunting thunder, and the sunless air,

The neighbor’s empty yard, and his dog’s bark

For my discarded and misplaced effort, here

In ashen earth, in cinders, shards and dark…

 

“You’ll heal,” says my cogent one; “You’re dying,”

Says my heart. The murmur of contempt grows louder,

Pressing me down like seed sown in despair,

Hashed so deep. Faith, -- is there something to it?

They say, there’s a life and future: keep trying.

What I was or am is buried in the root.

 

 

*

 

 

Garden Things (Turning in a Morning Bed)

 

 

Turning in his morning bed, the gardener

Extends his workman’s soul to the facts of light.

Green truth, flower hues, and bird song restore

His trust, shaken by things in the forms of night,

Creatures in revolt, and the buried heart

Flying out homeless and insistent to face

Your face and fix you with a garden’s mask.

Though its terror’s passed, all things bear its trace.

 

Prosaic things: lawn mowers, mail trucks,

The full fat light of noon; another year

Seeking its zenith banishes the soul’s demands

For sons returning, it haunts; questions to mock

Your few accomplishments. Yet gardening’s dear

To those that crave rebirth by work of hands.

 

 

*

 

 

Before My Peace Emerges

 

 

Sometimes an entire day and most of night

Must pass, even with rain, before my peace

Emerges from its inner cell, to face me

With its honey bread and eloquence, thoughts

Handed with words, the timeless soul is brought

To the world of shared things, to living light

From its own pure and sightless realm. God’s truce,

Withheld for reasons hard, falls easily…

 

To stay with me? Justice, gracious and blind

Would she just give herself to me, a soft

And willing heart, a real dream, a king’s gift

That lifts again, by me abiding life,

As it should be… sweet simple things to find

Where I knew they are: hidden in the heart of grief.

 

 

*

 

 

from On the Way to the World to Come

 

If it’s past Seeing

 

 

This winter sky my dear bequeathed

To me, this winter sky of mine,

The sky of late and timeless winter

Is like surprising things beautifully sent

In blessing to the blind:

The grays in every veiled form,

The silent trees where birds

Have only just begun to reappear

For the first time of mysteries,

The mysteries of necessary kindnesses

Of grace and wonder we had done without…

You gave me many things

With hidden, graceless grace…

 

Remembering it never ends

No more than a drowning person

After he or she has drowned

Finds rest from rising, slowly flailing

In the reason of the waves, slowly

Sinking and rising to struggle without mind

Again and again until we reach the ocean

And she takes us in…

Remembering this, remembering you

In what I am never ends

But even in the transient shy sunlight sends

Stray games, each patterned to some miracle

Of memory, -- in darkness we had many

Miracles that measure not

But in expectation taste and rejoice

And live again in mansions called for gold

And several sunlit ways we learned in childhood.

 

 

*

 

 

The Soul’s Delight

 

 

The brave forsythia and I

March slow away toward midnight

And still the sun explodes

In arabesques that from my knees

I wrought in honor to the yellow blaze

Of spring brought to the blue, to the blue deep.

 

What language does it mean, --

The evergreen against the gold

Before the threatened great old tree

Cascading blossoms white and pink?

The soul’s delight, the pattern

In my fathomless devotion, unseeing eyes I see.

 

The soul’s delight,

The thunder of a lush apotheosis

I read in fires made from fine matte prints

Many years later by lamps of amethyst

As the inner lights go down

And I remember on my way to sleep.

 

Somewhere the singing of a thrush…

 

We will acknowledge Him,

We will pay down our account;

Confronting all we found,

All; in the deep

Acknowledged and revealed

We feel the wheel come round.

 

 

*

 

 

Tower Songs

 

 

I was a bird in a tower

Among many other dedicated

Songs and drops of light, fat-hued

And melting notes from heaven fed

Beyond the day’s capacity with rhyme

Yet only sang atonement, time on time,

Building a temple of simpler design

From what they were and what did them devour.

 

I was a bird in terror

When they questioned me

And let myself be searched, --

They knew me then – pushed

Back and forth along my clammy perch

Crudded with small bits of fear:

They probed in and applied my pain.

There was nothing good to say or gain;

Their questions never ended:

From them I learned what demons are.

And at the last they said,

‘You’re here forever,’ and then they smiled, -- ‘it’s just a test. ‘

 

I’m a bird in a tower

That never will come down,

Built for my form by ancestors

Who saw and sang differently than I can;

They always taught me to be kind

But what the world is they forgot

And I, poor melody, had never known

This tower would be my prison home.

 

Five is the letter of sanctity,

The number five from above completes;

The fifth son came from a concubine,

A kind of dark self-sacrifice…

The fifth time that they questioned me

I sang like the haunted crow or dove

That once I was a man,

And so I was, it’s true: I was human once

Before they made me take their choice, --

That’s what freedom is...

Cross questions made the monster thing

That I appear to be,

Cross questions tied me to the tree

Where sadness drops each face and song, --

The shadow tree of the shadow king…

 

Keep singing, bird, by the brutal tree,

The monsters never will come down

But to my strengthening misery

Will freshly every spring return.

Deliverance is banned for me,

To enemies my sin is known;

Their minions have laid waste my home:

From bitter depths for sun I yearn.

 

 

*

 

 

Only Then

 

 

Only when we know the night’s grown late

And dawn will fashion us a state

Where loves differently hued and less in heat

Spill golden words into jeweled cups

Given heart to lip to soul, an alchemist…

 

Only when we sit alone as royalty

Grown old in powers that were matured

Deciding what to give away,

Before the silence and great taking make us pure

We turn the key to sharing what we wear.

 

When the last deed is signed and sealed

And we have prayed, forgetting such words were

As we have owed, and some not paid;

Just then true speech may be released

And only then these fragments be revealed.

 

 

*

 

 

The World Made Sense

 

 

Stars were shining in the days

My dad took me to the old

Abandoned freight yards downtown;

On Sunday mornings in the spring

Or in the fall when the air was mild

And the sky filled with splendor blue, and sun,

And I knew as simple fact that life was good…

He taught me to put my ear

To the wheel-burnished silvery-blue rail

To hear and know the train’s proclaiming hum.

Because the world he taught

Made place for kindliness and trust, --

What more illusion can there be…

A world of men who helped boys learn,

He told me to wave to the engineers

And sure enough, they smiled and waved to me.

We understood it all; the world made sense.

 

It even was a world where boys

Exploring a freight car on a wayside track,

A car uncoupled, could find, in wordless wonderment,

Sleeping in the straw a man in crumpled clothes;

Of course he wore a white shirt and dark slacks

In those days, an ordinary looking man,

Uncoupled, quiet, a bit embarrassed.

In those days, even more than now

After the gulf has been and heaven shows,

Men kept their sorrows to themselves

And failure, what greater sorrow-maker

For a man can be then failure’s hard uncoupling?

 

That was one memorable day

That now may simply live forever.

 

Everyday grace is what he taught me,

And never used the word.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

from Wanderings of Soul

 

The Scarecrow

 

“But as for man, in glory he shall not repose; he is likened to the silenced animals.”

 

 

Kids were running through the pumpkins

In their ranks, so jauntily displayed, receiving

All this passion of the fallen leaves,

Their glory strewing the ground, skittering

In the wake of small, fast-moving sneakers

And falling in arabesques behind, a trace

Of the joy that stirred them, stirred many things;

It is all a storm of glory, and it was; and

The tawny earth, hard-packed by so many

Happy visitors, each one forgetful of their histories,

And islanded with patches of green –

For some grass thrives beyond its time;

And since the orchard has a petting farm

With rabbits, roosters, hens, and three

Little piggies each with its own

Painted cardboard house, bearing their names,

Like us, of straw or wood or brick, --

Trompe l’oeil, awaiting its fulfillment

In honor of the learned fiction brayed for kids and foolishness...

 

At any rate and true expense, this evening

I’ll return to my candle and my prayer,

Enriched by darkness on its way to victory;

And somehow my soul hears my angel

Carrying a message from God within the cloud,

God above, reaching my somewhat frightened self,

Fearing in loneliness and glad to be called;

He’s saying, ‘no matter; it will be all right:

Have faith!”

 

                        And so I will, and so

My visit to the Orchard on its hills

Glorious with apples as only old New England

Or our God provides, to be in goodness

For a while; so I drive down the forest-guarded

Roads, so wonderfully familiar; -- let them be

Years of pain, still the heart has its home

In the world we know; nature gives herself to us,

Stealing, and gradually we give ourselves back

To nature and her God, or so I’ve learned

And the teaching palliates the pain.

It’s here, in this world I’ve come to know

By what its creatures did to me, I’m graced

With nature’s beauty, sweetness in the air

And glory for my hungry innocent’s eyes:

How strange that He should seek me out

For seeing; how strange that all this grace

Brought creatures into industries of pain…

Some day I will explain.

 

So I drove through the woods

Shattering quietly to colored glories

While I more silent shattering fulfilled,

And came to the graveled dirt drive

And followed into mystery, and arrived

At the base of the hill upon whose breast

Apple trees ascend in graceful waves

Beyond sight, helping this swimmer of wisdom’s stream;

And they ascend, laden with ruddy glory

Yet simple as the clasp of a mother’s

Or father’s hand as they walk you

Cross the gravel parking lot that crunches

Seasonally perfect, fine tuning the fine miracle;

And we go down the shadowed paths

To the petting farm where they’ve built

A three-tiered skyward ramp for the goats;

That’s love, because they love to climb,

As we in our ways sacrifice ourselves

If only to rise, to rise and find

What hands in love provide, --

The heart of cherubim, God’s paradigm,

Reward for the young scapegrace who climbs

To the top where a leather pulley bears

A tin can, top knocked out

That kids can cram an apple in

And crank up, hand by hand on a wheel,

To the happy goat who understands…

And everywhere I turn are groups

Of picnicking children, and lion-hearted ones

Running through the pumpkins in their ranks,

And happy people entering the farm store;

Are they like me on the mountain’s farther side?

Some enter and are gone; others emerge;

They’re coming out with smiles and fragrant cider-donuts

Raised in cinnamon, and jugs of cider

Thick with taste and health, and sweet,

And apple pies and honey jars and apples

Piled into bags, red and white and green

And crowning at the top abundance,

The fragrance pleasing to the Highest Wisdom:

Royalty of grace…

 

We’re in the store, my soul and I, cool almost as a vault,

Shelves filled with bags of apples in their class:

Jonagold and Empires, Spartan and Macouns,

Red peppers, beans and late tomatoes

Sheltered from the storm, the cold worm

Coming to drive his necessary spike

Into the loving heart of things

As if to someone we were little more

Than an old tubeless tire wedding its nail;

The abundant heart of things

Too full and good for the current plan

To bear it should beat on.

 

And so the animals and gems of earth

Adorn our complicated selves with old simplicity,

And the soul’s in place with the senses

And God is utterly silent, so near is He…

And there, by the fence where the path

Passes from the company of kids and pumpkins

That makes a season of all saints,

Standing as a guard or a memorial

To the farm beyond, a scarecrow leans

His smiling head and holds so gently out

One well-sleeved arm from which a hand,

Whether relaxed or tired, but with the grace

Of il Magnifico, Lorenzo Medici, has fallen

Into strands of straw, giving up the game,

Perhaps;

Perhaps we’ll strive to hear him,

Giving him his due and us our own

For he is one, like us, who would be heard.

 

His smile; at the center of it all, --

The swelling hill crowned with branch-laden glory,

Green and red and gold against the gray and blue infinity,

The children running through the pumpkins,

The old tractor pulling a long wagon filled

With bailed hay, and the kids waiting on the platform

To step aboard and enter timelessness

Where we, too, once were home;

The goats that climb; the busy burrowing pigs;

The roosters crowing and reabbits quivering in their fur;

All the ages and forms of what we are

Circling through the store of fruits and bread…

In all this natural sweetness, by the path and rail

He stands, and it all circles on his smile

Cross-stitched in black on his burlap head

With jollier eyes than many of us and ours

Can summon forth from the soul’s well.

Our aspiration and pure form he is;

Pink circles of pink cloth like health

Adorn his cheeks, and by way of a cravat,

Or beard, straw thrusts and spills

From the collar of his purple flannel shirt,

Black-checked and stuffed with memories,

Memories of the tree in seed, memories

Grass stores of earth when it goes to sun,

Grass that withers before the reaper can fill his arm

Or the binder tie his sheaf, --

So many to be tied; so many withering;

Yet he endures, and smiles a telling

To us,

His overalls light blue and by the knees

Patched as so many of us need to do or be

With green and red and yellow bursts,

Taking up signs of glory…

His socks of hair-straw legs spilling

Out of his black slippers, attention straight

He stands, except he leans his head,

Smiling all the way for he’s sure of what it is –

Smiling as he leans on his left shoulder.

It’s his left arm, the arm of justice and of might,

The quality where men restrain their grief,

That points to the side, toward the rail

Where many stand and lean, and wait,

And arm from which the mitten hand has dropped,

Letting his essence, which is of earth

Well-gathered, spray out in urgency

And say, ‘it’s just the way it is; please look.’

I saw a blue and white pavilion

Sheltering picnickers for whom His open hand

Is more than enough, it’s everything

For now, and for them, now’s forever;

And I see the goat walking to his height

Where an apple two kids, one black, one white,

Have crammed into the can, drops on its way;

But the goat will wait,

The people still come,

They will come when I no longer count them in this way,

The drive delivering car after car of passengers

Whose time is come to timelessness at harvest time;

And the tractor pauses at the loading station

Where young souls get on, well-guided,

Chrysanthemums fill every crafted red clay pot;

And as the years, cycling, bring these words along,

Trees bud and blossom and dress themselves in glory,

Then give it all away, while people

Pass in and out of the store of delights

Forever making choices where every choice is good:

For seeing, He gave me this...

 

And the scarecrow’s glad for the post that keeps him

Up so straight, true as his smile,

And keeps his body from betraying him, --

As so many of us find --

In all its pure simplicity of earthly gifts,

And keeps his smiling soul foremost in our mind

And sight, -- and so at harvest time we see him...

 

At the center he stands and smiles and waves us on

As we pursue, accepting remnants of our miracles,

The charity of earth that forms his guise;

For that, he never needs to move or say a word,

But stand there with his head a little to one side,

His poor thin arm alerting us

To the mysteries inside of which we rest

Like swords waiting to be drawn

But not to fight, not any more,

But raised in victory salute, souls at their best.

No greater wonder till our eyes

Will open one last time, accepting his light dress

As ours, and walk in it forever to the great surprise.

 

 

*

 

 

Kissing My Door Post, I See

 

 When Nachmanides died, they say

His parents’ graves, till then well-resting

Side by side, waiting for the call to rise,

At the juncture where they touched, split wide

And an eight-branched lamp of gold arose,

Its candles burning before our eyes

As if messiah had finally arrived.

I write, ‘finally,’ – it was near eight hundred years ago.

So if for them it seemed at very long last

What say anyone of us, rambling giddy days

This path of rock and mud and crazy gleams

Scattered off the old, rotating universal

We love to worship in our folly’s praise,

Flirting like animals in mad season

Yet we have no issue, -- nearly all goes waste;

And we’re so high few anymore complain

That every step we dance in fact’s descending

To the ultimate morass, the gray swamp

Above the body-shattering adamant…

The soul’s been drugged and gagged;

How she weeps for us, her degraded flesh.

Surely we have made the throne invisible;

Our public metaphors of joy have lost

The guts of joy’s deep source:

Redemption from blindness, from false striving

And cruelty’s scintillating light,

So easy for the cruel to give a different name;

 

So we dance on, stuck in our lust on monsters of the deep,

Blind as Ahab, the diving devotees of waste,

Blind with cruelty their masters and mistresses;

So much the acts of public worship;

But the lamp’s similitude stands upon my table,

Eight candles waiting to be touched to light

By the true hand, soon, at the true time when I am able

To see it and receive them in the night,

My ewe within our stable...

 

Of course I found this corner of the path,

For my name contains the secrets of the lamp;

I’m honoring it with letters come a long way

From the fountain where all letters rise.

My predecessor, my forebear in the holy camp

And mysteries of the Name, don’t seem to last

Very well in our day; -- O, God

Of my salvation! In my heart

How many times I let the honor slide

And went unarmored out my gate

And through the shadows ranged:

All that they’ve done to me

In pitiless masterworks that to this day

Shape my limbs and form my dreams,

Undoing everything I was and am,

And still I’d pass my sign, the lamp

Brass signs on bronze, the lettering of His light

Almighty, descending like the dew of life

Strewn from branches rooted on high,

The bridge of those three letters coming down to me;

I’d pass without a kiss into familiar darkness.

 

Master of change who teaches us in sleep

While certain of our work we seem; --

We dream and He forms us

No matter what they’ve done, the arrogant…

Master of the door that every poor man seeks,

Where every poor man in His image waits

Beneath His power raining from above, His weapon

Singing from the stars, and His hand

Shaping and protecting what is dear to Him

Alike with its tormentors, for His plan;

All of this coming to our little point of light,

The often wandering miracle of self

Bearing in its soul divine the stamp of life –

And so we stray and worship it, and grieve –

And grace and resurrection from the camp

In which we wait, dreaming of victories

All of which take the form of marriage and the lamp

Concealed as disclosed, fertilities.

 

Or He protects and sends the arrows of the stars

When they sing with us, in the night,

His angels to the lonely man of faith

Who scarcely lies to sleep, so far from health

He wanders in these days, stretching

On study benches his aching limbs,

Meditating on bones sustained on ashen-bread

And ready for the spirit’s gust; --

Everything I am is in His Name,

And nothing that we have or are

Is anything but letters held in candle flame

Where grace solves each unyielding edge

Like metal making precious in the master’s hands,

And the love in which all came to be

And work and move comes quietly

To the table of our world, and with our sorrow sits

Till we re-form its image

As we first were formed as stars,

Pure intellect and love forever growing more complete,

To flicker on the darkening plain, and rush

Together, wedding, while waiting for the Master

Gardener in the Apple Orchard with His turtledove...

 

Out of the ground, crowned with light

He comes and bears us up the ladder to the sky,

By my three letters, here, and the bridge

Within them, that is in Him

The doorway for the poor man, me,

That I’m so glad to kiss again, awakened;

And when He pulls the curtain back

Upon our healing time, neither day nor night,

Our light is touched by His

And the circle closes, flowing upstream;

And in its midst, the lamp at last unlocked,

Is shining in our eyes.

 

 

*

 

 

Like the Last Moment

 

 

Indian summer

Emerging from long shadows and chill frost;

After noon, the harvest sun suddenly is fat,

Supreme, possessive of our sense;

Time stops, -- if only so it did!

My sense, my life slowed down,

The hum of early fall is gone:

Sharp nights have done the generations in.

In the silence and stopped time

My symbol garden settles to perfection

Of vivid textures, planes and forms:

The water in the tarnished copper pool

Is perfectly still; in its basin, pebbles shimmer

From the depths, and the leaves, lightened, float

On its smooth transparent face;

The trees, the trees reflected looking down.

A perfectly round pumpkin

Makes orange seem gold, the first and real gold.

Nothing more filled with brightness can be seen.

Above it stands my fragile weeping jade,

An apple tree, a spirit quite divine

That this rock garden sways around

Worshipping, in that they dance and sing

The silent music of pure vision

For the conductor, for Victory;

The apples are like berries: soft of skin,

Bright with translucence, brilliantly red

Obscenely keen on charmed seduction

Of the soul, in its long course; red

In the sweep of small-leafed branches

Too few and delicate to keep the sky

From filling it with light as with its seed;

So everything is filled, and to its place

Stillness succeeds…

 

On a flat gray stone, a green gourd

With golden carbuncles like scar-beads

Ornamenting its bursting rotundity croons;

And there the digitalis, the heart-stopped

Produces two very late and beautiful white blooms

Being true to its name, ‘Ambigua;’

What should it know of mercy or virginity

Ready to be drawn and brewed

To still a heart, as time and place may be –

For all the worlds are in the crown

At the last moment of display --

Beard-tongue is tall, is somber purple,

Weird season’s royalty

Of contrasts, promises and dismay, --

Of death approaching, varied in its beauties,

Like two day lilies long subdued, that decide

The first deep-killing frost – they sensed it well –

Will prompt them, days before, to send

Their last profusion day by day

Before my eyes, rejoicing to the end,

Two lilies gold above the brown rejected leaves

Where we are, soul and me;

And the wild daisies, profuse and undemanding

Stand behind it all, gloriously simple

And undismayed, like old-time heroines;

Snap dragons love the drink of mornings

Whose chill brings nectar from the sun

Every stem of them, dozens, scores

Still budding, ages after they were slain

By drought and heat that drove us from the house,

Still rushing to fulfill some promises

Among the legions of white trumpet calls

To the soul only, hungry for their touch

And desperate to discern:

What dragons innocent I tried to love.

 

I cannot see and slow to this perfection without praise,

Though I’ve seen the breaking of my dream

Draws near, and it was nothing but a dream.

Yet, dream within a dream I count the days

Till they return me to this time when time delays.

 

                        *                      *                      *                      *                      *

 

The thick wedge of stone beloved by mystic birds

That perch on its ramped apex before lifting to the pool;

And the white and gray three-tiered ship of rock

Holding back the gorgeous hordes

Of dancing ivy and sweet woodruff, mercy-belled,

The perfectly still face of the water in the well…

 

It’s all my world, and came like honey from my heart,

A living being: sweet from the strong, and from the dead,

The living;

It was the world I made from nature with my art.

But hardly am I slow enough

To love and live in it, though it abides

With me who saw it and created it:

I put it into place alone.

And many times I died to keep this place

Knowing not till now, at the lip of the very end

Of things the one who set out long ago

Could find a way to wed love to his side;

In pain and hope I put it into place

So it could tell by showing me

How a garden in its last glory

Before the cold and dark stop up the breath

In putting forth its mystery,

Our after thoughts, and second thoughts

And all the forces that by law or reason

Couldn’t speak in their proper season,

In the natural show and touch of things,

But suddenly rise perfect and complete

In hue and form and stillness

On the last afternoon

To say what we meant to be and mean

On stepping through October’s gate to meet.

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Once More to the Farm (After the Vision) 

 

Long ago it seems, before the dream

Of return was realized

In a weekend of harvest rain

And a day of glory in the garden

For the soul rejoiced and stepping through the gate…

Before the dream’s mortality again was lived,

I traveled to the farm and saw the Scarecrow

Smiling and pointing, his floppy-hatted head aslant,

His shirt stuffed but not with pride

As harvest strength bled dryly from his cuffs;

And saw the pumpkins plump with the year’s feed,

Earth and sky, and secrets

Sensed by children racing in eternity;

And two goats, a billy and his mate,

For apple treats on ramparts mounted to the sky.

I chose my wares, made small talk with the store folk,

And sadly drove away

With harvest tide and loneliness;

Without my seed I saw it all but only from outside,

Passing like a shadow that can talk and seem…

The scarecrow knew what it was,

And we considered one another a long time;

Remember the pink splotches painted on his face,

The game fixed smile and pointing arm

Silent in straw amid the happy noise, I do...

 

                        *                      *                      *                      *                      *

 

Some weeks passed; the vines withered

And I gathered in their fruits;

The garden’s frailty again exposed

I saw it cold and brown and gray,

A rare place for diseases of the flesh

Whose only comfort is to pass away

And let the spirit be in falling leaves…

We’ve seen the latter day.

 

All this before the days of vision, festival

And dream’s end, all this accomplished

And the body’s warm, the heart still full

And bent on stepping through the gate

From sunlight into mists of dream

To live the rest of my imaginary days

 

Some weeks passed, and the last flowers

Shared with me

Their last secrets, and their grace and glory

Hinting of the world made to cherish me

And love such as my heart was given,

Hurt with insight yet always giving…

 

My store of apples being exhausted, back I went,

Driving myself over the hills

While a red light read, “check engine,”

And trees were in the glory of all souls

Hovering near, waiting their turn to speak

The terrifying gibberish of the real past, 

The substance and the soul of which we’re made

Until we’re hauled by better ones into community.

 

Now it was sunny, in the after times

After the vision of return was realized;

Now it was sunny, but no more children,

Crowds of picnickers or jammed parking lots

With streams of spirits bearing bags of apple gold

And red, and cider jugs, and pies with cinnamon;

Only crowds of spirits in the silent air;

It was cold in the scullery of heaven

Where messiah one day will be born…

That day when everything was dying

Before my eyes and in my heart

Experienced with death as a state of being

Where the face and all vital functions still perform…

That day of seasonal death… I bought my wares

And stepped outside to find a saving sight

Whose music would find the chord in me

Established in the good years, and the days…

But the farm almost was abandoned:

A pair of grandparents with two children

Walked slowly, filling time, time without light

Despite the sun, and watched the pigs

Squabbling for apple cores in the mud

Made by yesterday’s rain: grace for us

And gardens, grace for them in theirs…

It was dark although the sun was out.

A single parent and another child

Walked aimlessly past the caged rabbits

Uselessly huddling in their hutch,

Their mouths at work on shadow carrots

Competing for the shadow satisfactions…

The pumpkins were everywhere in rows

And unkempt ranks, profuse as autumn

When everything raised to die is laid out

In the grand marketplace;

Mad as our own unruly play

Toppling like an over-piled haywain

Sent forward from the good old days

Into this darkness, -- and the sun was out,

The sun was out:

This darkness in the light that’s always late.

Profusion of shining pumpkins,

Profusion and goodness of those united states…

The goats waited on their rampart’s tower

For the treats the children send,

But all those lives were elsewhere,

And the farm was left in its long slow quiet descent

To speaking shadows such as me

Who was, myself, descending the long stair.

 

My friend and teacher, the smiling scarecrow

And his pointing arm losing its strength of straw,

Was gone, even as it states: ‘the flower will fade,

The grass will wither,’ and ‘as for man,

In glory he will not repose, --

He is likened to the silenced animals.’

That was the echo he had left for me

That day, ‘out of Zion, consummate in beauty,

God appeared,’ that verse of the hymnal;

He knew the root of all memorials

Was the place to which we lift our eyes, -- to the hills,

For strength and a guardian when it’s time to sleep:

And in the season of stillness, it’s time to sleep.

 

And when it’s time, suddenly the spirit within

My life begins to seek what I have missed, --

Perhaps you’ve found the same –

In the day everything forgotten dreams;

And I walk sheathed in memories, and speak

To the spirit that prophecies through me,

A gifted but distempered trumpet set apart

That one day saw and heard the image of his sound

Walking in the garden, and joined in his heart

One portion of one day the two worlds, life and death,

Where dreamers are more like to drown,

And carried them away like sparks of health

In silent conversation, alone in the rain

Of music, living out its days apart...

There was no image: it was shadow Being.

Everything is filled with first things.

 

I drink hot tea and slice my garden produce

For drying and freezing, imitating life

For joy to come in the later season;

Yet I remember him, our monument,

And the meaning of the gesture of his arm

That time I went with hope a last time to the farm.

 

 

***

 

On an Exilic Urn…

 

 

Crying, -- at death

Tears are slow

At the death of a nation,

A people, a promise, a dream…

A human being dying of grief

Defeated, dreaming still...

 

Crying, tears are slow

Milking a numbed soul

An old black and white cat

Rises like a lion, like a boxer’s cut

Leaps from a blow

From the spent violets

Green, shadowed and full

On the lens where you bled

And pounced on a small gray bird

Of grief; dazed by its feast

The stunned soul, easily shocked

Above the kotel courtyard

Sees a dragonfly, its brother

Shimmer and hover, passed

By a flapping black moth

Exposing the future;

And a fat jay,

Prussian blue and white and gray

Bathe grossly, casting spray

In the sun while a young cardinal

Newly flush, and a dun thrush consider

Degrees of shade and danger

And are anything but numb

as one in the womb of an urn;

Like a man crying pure as milk and bread

at rest in a blue and white bowl.

 

The cardinal glories

Against the apple leaves

And the Edenic scent we know…

Consider being already dead

When no one calls or cares

But eating; all the feathered bipeds,

Strange berries and paradise

That could be sweet as textured green,

Furrowed sheaves of a late summer grove,

Thin stretch of grove, shadow thin

With chicken wire between our sorrow’s place

Of shadow face

And my jolly neighbor’s Elysian Fields

And quiver full of kids…

A park of sun forever

While in this gracious shade

The birds are gathering more,

The birds of meditation

As twilight makes its way

To splash, perch, nibble fruits and watch

Me go away with twilight

Wading deftly from the east…

 

Oh what a part we played

Till the plow turned us over

Like a page

Pretending sanctities in the month of splendor

 

From the writing that we were

An orchard grows,

Birds in the tree backstage...

 

Every urn is gracious in itself;

To be a vessel of tears and love lost

How great a destiny for female form

Containing man,

Simple forms of good gathered for the king

And stored for centuries till just

The name remains,

The letters that we were

And memories, the still birth of a mole

And fools without place for words

Cherish grief and bride-tricks

While the numbed, forgotten soul

Drowns in old hopes gone dry

And vivid memories arranged

And finally ranked: currants in the urn.

 

In the fountain by the urn

My bride, the lair of birds

Tumbles in ashen-bread well-mixed with tears;

We are at play; our veils lift

In the apple orchard’s light:

Birds lift light above an urn of tears…

 

What do I know of the form of the soul

But study God in poverty?

A shield against pain in an age

Of monstrous beauty that knows no truth

We cry in the shade of an urn.  

 

***

 

Thoughts for a Gray Ghost

 

 

Like a bad guest, a gray bank of evening

Fear settles messily

On my table; it does not care

That my stomach’s empty,

That I have nothing left to say

Except to brother sorrow;

That I have nothing left…

Fear has its charms when fed,

And eloquence of night

When the pain field dissolves

In purity of snowfields, virtual

Winter without the cold:

Enjoy pain then, one may

Without demure refusal;

Pain fields dissolve in time

For the dead to arrive

Attentive to the soul’s insemination

Of the darker body, -- redemption,

Each according to his deeds when alive

And the pain, so they say, absolves...

When I was alive I didn’t know what it was

To have died, to arise from the mind

Like the dead, like snow drops

In a spring one imagines but may not share.

 

There is justice, there is nothing else

It hurts so much to know

And those who hear soon disappear

Beneath the careworn air...

 

 

 

 

I Wasn’t One of Those…

 

 

I wasn’t one of those writers or athletes

About whom they say, ‘he’s good, and he knows

He’s good,’ and everything they do is done

With joy’s unconscious flair, though I had some

And knew it, but not as quick as I was meant

To run; so I told myself small lies and essayed

More than I could, taking many hard blows:

Complete at last, I learned to be afraid.

 

A long time like this; finally, a third

Shot that did me and down I went, to find

The meaning and the name of failure; Weird

Sisters I had known choraled me, my face fell

Far and yet farther off the peace that mind

Tracked for its star, -- there’s nothing else to tell.

 

 

*

 

When I Sought the Well

 

 

With her I sought the well where sorrow passed

In crowns of charity each other gave,

Charms of a youth and maiden bound in peace;

It might have been a child’s dream, so fast

The spell of those sweet times went to their graves,

The hopes we had believed; but no release

Comes to the strong heart: only kindness saves.

 

Silent in the midst of love we paused;

Having always done without the laws

In sorrows we ate pomegranate sauce.

 

My garden grew no knowledge to appease

The candle struggling in my heart; insight leaves

To reign where she my host is crowned with sheaves.

 

 

*

 

 

Roses for My Rest

 

 

And what of her who walks the waves,

The laughing one I crossed the sands to find

And found her passion in the crimson flood

She tramples into charms that blot the mind?

 

What of her ancient sacrament with me

By which I’ve honored her in grief and dream?

By memories I walked to charm my way

Back, to the frothing roses of her stream…

 

 The future that meant nothing, then; times recalled

That dissipate like foam, like mist

In evenings dressed for heavy-headed sleep,

The only rest now known…

That never lived, whose lips were never kissed

Survive to band themselves uselessly to death

Like the screened door of an abandoned home

When storms force voices from the bitter deep:

By loving her I lived to rue my breath;

And when the floor collapsed, they hissed.

 

The past is gone like the ghost that we call ‘thought’;

My youth like water passed beneath her steps;

She’ll be a simple girl I’ll turn to now

To dance a bed of roses for my rest.

 

 

*

 

 

Set to My Lyric

 

“A lot of little lights gone out…”

 

 

No aged wine of song after youth chose

Unguided, madness in the name of song

Severed from honor, lost to folk and self,

To lodge like a puff seed in a sick rose.

A garden of exotics where gray dawns

Complete intemperate evenings, bestowing weakness

To youths by the book inscribed for quests forlorn,

Giving their candles for the killing kiss…

 

Even the worst gardens die, their seeds fail

Release; but scent’s lodged in souls, transforming

Bodies to its character, penitence; thus bad music

Lives, enforcing every cost its lies entail:

Lust’s honesty is pain; it keeps collecting

The lost, setting them right by their own lyrics.