Richard Moore lives alternately in Boston, Massachusetts and in Leesburg, Virginia. His numerous books include the poetic collections A Question of Survival (1971) and Word from the Hills (1972) from the University of Georgia Press; Pygmies and Pyramids (1998), No More Bottom (1991) and Bottom is Back (1994) from Orchises Press; The Mouse Whole (Negative Capability Press, 1996), Empires (Ontario Review Press, 1981); and The Naked Scarecrow (Truman State University Press, 2000); a novel, The Investigator from Story Line Press (1991); a collection of literary essays, The Rule That Liberates (Univ. of S. Dakota Press, 1994), and translations of Plautus' The Captives and Euripides' Hippolytus. The poems below appeared in The Neovictorian/Cochlea.
Nosegays When the Pains Begin Fixed Point Theorem Symbols Into the Light O.J. or Just another Pampered American
The Naked Scarecrow Poets
To a Friend Who Thinks We Should Meet On Buying One At Last
In Polite Conversation from Word from the Hills
The Hazards of the Trade Reflections Astronomers
O ye of little... No Hands Pigeons Dumb as Isle After Kind Words The Life Surprise! Surprise! The Formalist Bombast Is Alive and Well
The Requirements for High Office After the Contest There It Is Everything Just Right Performance A Curious Defense of Poetry On the Infrequence of Sexual Pleasure in Old Age In the Dark Season Window Seat Canzone for a Tower Politics The Uses of Caving In Explication du texte A Pregnant Couple Tunes In on a Space Flight The Leader A Farewell to Dentistry One Kind of Immortality The Poetry Contest The Freeze Gulls Day Breaks Moonrise Prayer Spring at the Window A Proper Exit The Window When the Asteroid Hits Outing Roles Terra Firma
(For Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California)
Shall I go live with the Hippies or get me a room in the ghetto?
That's how I'm feeling today. O it's this terrible male
change in the forties, that made a conservative out of our Ronnie
Reagan, who wants to believe in the American Dream,
wants to believe he deserves that ranch worth millions, those herds he
bought with his TV smile: wants to believe they are real.
Surely it's proper to have a reality; but is it proper,
Ronnie, to pester and bug innocent students with yours,
till they oblige you and riot, so then you can call your police, whose
truncheons have made you the most popular man in the State?
That's no way to go hunting. It brings no pleasure to people.
Glory is all very well when there is something to eat,
something to nourish the spirit ... You'll say that it pleases the parents --
those with the votes -- and of course, Ronnie, you're brilliantly right.
Everyone know that American parents abominate children.
In the American Dream living forever improves:
each generation inherits a world indescribably better.
Merely the thought of it stirs anger in elderly hearts,
seeing those young punks hitched to the trough and pretending to scorn it.
Yet, can delight in a skull bloodied make anyone young?
Even the elderly sense your American Dream is a nightmare,
Ronnie. Believed in or not, doesn't it sour our lives?
Look at you, look at me here: undone by our petering hormones,
mouths in decay, and our hearts sickened with envy of youth.
Let's blame hippies and Marxists, and let's bless Capitalism,
first great ethical code solidly grounded in greed,
first to declare that the earth was a dead god there to be plundered.
Appetite sickens and fails; dead earth flavors our thoughts.
Each one needs a reality; each goes to market and gets one;
centuries wear men down, buying and bartering lies.
Slowly they blot out even the taste of our food as we eat it,
even the pleasures of love. Why do those languishing girls
fluster and anger us? What would we do with them if we could have them?
Peevish ambitions -- for those now, we are willing to die.
Surely there must be a way we cangrow old decently, Ronnie.
Clinging to dreams won't help us, when we turn into dir;
nor do our images, dancing on flickering screens or on pages,
teach us to mix with the ground. Why does the coming of death
seem such a radical change to us? We, who so quaintly were filled with
grandiose dreams or ourselves -- were we not dirt all along?
Good live dirt that was ready to sprout with delectable fancies
when we would let it? And look: nothing has come of it now.
We were afraid of it, frightened to touch it; we thought it would soil us,
yet it was only ourselves, fertilest dirt in the world.
Now all those things ungrown sprout out cancers within us,
and we will die, I'm afraid, screaming abominably.
Yet there is something that blooms. Here, Ronnie, some flowers, these verses;
they are for you: noesegays culled from my shadowy years.
Water them carefully, they're from a ghetto, implanted by Hippies.
See, aren't they lovely? My wife tells me they're poisonous. Smell!
WHEN THE PAINS BEGIN
They were so easy for you always, endings,
beginnings. When your flesh first teemed
and my palm, touching your stretched belly,
felt faint punches of fist or knee within,
and the pains began, and in the town
where a thousand years ago the great
battle was fought, "The delivery room!
Get me there! you called. "O love,"
said the nurses, "It'll be hours yet.
The first one's always the hardest." But
shaking their heads at your impatience
and marveling how you kept getting your way,
loaded your light body on the stretcher,
wheeled you into the corridor, and there,
right there, you pushed the new life out.
FIXED POINT THEOREM
Under Venus, high-borne on the West's glow -- leafless,
they scribble their sophistries: evergreen masses
and filigree too delicate for old eyes --
excesses of clarity that blur merely.
I think of their premises, their lighted porches.
What will their garden parties do in winter?
Will Venus smile tomorrow? O, I have learned
all that, and scribbled it, that life. It glows.
Rub it all out, then, all that labor, out!
And what remains? For always in every trans-
formation, something remains untouched, unsmudged --
dark evergreens in winter, visored gods
of silence, death always intact, children
witnessing all, wrecked, rocks in the maelstrom
(first published in the Cumberland Poetry Review)
Sleet whispers among dark saplings, their
snow-clogged leaves spongy under my shoes.
A big gray beechtrunk, dabbed with snow,
grips earth, spreading, wrinkled, its elephant foot.
Carved symbols on it -- of lovers, mystics --
dark welts on the bark, decorous
as the scars Australian Aborigines
made on themselves, carved on their own
trunks, slashing their flesh, then rubbing
ash in the slashes. . . My fingers freeze
writing this. Good. And my feet grow numb
even inside their shoes. Yes, good.
I savor the pain, your parting gift to me --
and the leaves, the endless waste of leaves.
Gray and wrinkled, I grip earth deeper,
remembering the slashes, remembering
my dark friends, starved in their desert.
Grieving wounds devoured their sex.
Ghost children, leaflike, insubstantial
as poems, haunted them. That's how they lived.
INTO THE LIGHT
Lights, all colors, dance in the trees'
dense nakedness. Christmas! But here
shadows are branching, tangled in failing
light, and all color has left the land,
been squeezed out, as from a sponge,
and left the land a thing of ashes.
And the great sponge has squeezed all
its soaked up fire and color into
that shopping center, where sex-tools, soul-helps,
screwdrivers and philosophies
are for sale. Go, children, wander there
through store after store, glittering.
My bright ones, did I send you?
There's darkness here. It's visible.
JUST ANOTHER PAMPERED AMERICAN
Though covered with the blood he spilt, he
was "innocent till proven guilty."
He thought of suicide. That act
might keep his good name still intact
for children, friends, he left a note --
all heard Farewell! in what he wrote --
got in his car and drove about. . .
about . . .until he chickened out.
THE NAKED SCARECROW
Come, words; come, bring
me solace; scarecrow, you too, aid!
Out of old wood and rags I made
and dressed the thing.
They on the wing
observed it, gaudily arrayed,
motionless, save where it flapped, frayed . . .
I heard him sing:
"O wind, keep up that tearing, probing.
Soon now: definitive disrobing.
No more frills, tricks.
Those crows will note me, thus produced,
circle and caw, and come to roost
at last on sticks."
- from The Naked Scarecrow
(excerpt; the rest is to be found in Pygmies and Pyramids)
Scientists seldom are born, but the poets come one in a hundred,
which is too many: it suits tribal conditions at best.
Picture America's vast population, and think how it harbors
two million possible bards. Talk about oversupply:
one, maybe two, to a language, as everyone knows, is sufficient --
one to do tragedy, one comedy. More, and they fight.
Towers of Babel diversity tongues; but a Babel's expensive.
Though we are building one now, though it will pull us apart
soon, all jabbering incomprehensibly, loathing each other,
still the illusion remains ours is a workable speech.
Only in primitive ages could perfect plurality flourish.
Native Australia spoke five hundred languages once.
Each tongue wagged with a poet, who sung things live and in color,
polished and kept words sharp: There the proportions were right.
Nights after catching a rabbit, they'd stage an historical drama,
keeping traditions alive, body and spirits intact.
Stuck in their customs, they never developed a wheel, or a bomb, or
one flat simplified speech. Colonists shot them up quick,
sending the poets, along with the women and babies to Heaven.
What had become of their own poets has seldom been guessed.
So we shall try. Malnutrition, of course, is a possible answer.
Poets are tardy at meals; some aren't invited at all.
Back when humanity started its age-long quest for abundance,
scarcity was the result. Man grew obsessed with his seed,
planted his fields and his women. The women were always more fruitful.
Babies grew faster than beans; someone, of course, had to starve.
Why not the poets? For tilling recalcitrant fields they were useless,
troubled by notions that God's earth had a life of its own.
That's how it went for millenniums down to Imperial England,
home of our colonists, stout murderers, shipped overseas,
loosed from the gallows in London, where many a poet had perished.
Morals inspired the laws; it was illegal to starve.
In the abundant society going today, it's a problem,
keeping the poetry down. That's what our cultural life's
for. It replaces the rope as a means for displaying the poets.
Magazines, critics, reviews -- excellent system it is:
either it flatters a poet until he is maddened with praises;
or it deprives him of sense, stuck in a corner ignored.
Both ways, whole generations of poets conveniently perish,
visions are buried, and all classes are safe from the threat.
There's no question of going around, entertaining the people;
that's for the crooners, the folk singers, and similar types.
Serious poems are much too solemn for mere entertainment.
That is the beauty of art these days: pedantry blooms.
Only an expert even attempts to unravel its marvels.
Yearly the experts change. Beautiful. Once we convince
poets to write things murky enough to be quickly forgotten,
poetry's problem is solved. Fashions are altered so quick,
verse grows incomprehensible faster than poets can write it,
ruining all in their haste. Everything follows from one
principle: art that requires an expert judge is a dead art.
Stillborn poems permit poets to scribble unharmed.
TO A FRIEND WHO THINKS WE SHOULD MEET
We have the texts we've sown,
Would I be good to sup with?
Why add things to put up with?
THE FRIEND REPLIES
It's Christmas in these parts.
The living breath warms hears.
According to each creche,
The Word shall be made flesh.
ON BUYING ONE AT LAST
Makers these days enamour a
purchaser of a camera
with automatic focus
and other hocus-pocus:
film-winders, flashes, then, sirs,
film and exposure rhyming
with perfect shutter timing.
Snap all things with this marvel,
galactic down to larval;
carry the universe
dead in your photo hearse;
picture in nothing flat...
nothing worth looking at.
IN POLITE CONVERSATION
Scarce worth your mocks,
my books in flocks
from the boondocks
all make no stir.
In New York, sir,
Within, you bet
I seethe and fred.
I do; and yet
I smile, I tease.
You feel unease,
proud prince of sleze,
your each book, worse,
a brand new hearse, for your dead verse,
down! bend the knee!
belongs to me.
A REPLY TO SAINT PAUL
[Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.]
-- Romans, 12:19,20.
On vengeance I would draw the curtain,
put wrappers on my rage and ire,
O Lord, if I could but be certain
about those coals of fire.
-- Richard Moore
A fact to which I will attest:
of all nuts
with which the human palate's blest
are the best.
You just can't beat 'em.
That's why I eat 'em.
Hey, boy, outgrow that walnut phase!
If you refuse to praise
almond, pistachio, and cashew,
the Good Lord gonna smash you.
The Good Lord? Take Him out and smash Him.
History's cleaver's gonna hash Him.
That's what mad time will do --
chop up my walnuts too,
and you, chewing your cashews, dears.
glittering under chandeliers
with footmen, flatterers, and flunkies --
until at last a few
sad mangy monkeys
outside their leafy tree
sit chomping vulgar pea-
-- Richard Moore
from WORD FROM THE HILLS (1972)
Blest be the midnight thaw among the signs
of spring, when one can dress in lighter stuffs
and walk the muddy roads without earmuffs,
noting more nakedly how the wind whines
cantabile through orchestras of pines
as the young moon in hiding scatters puffs
of tarnished silver, which the wind rebuffs,
shaping the darkness to its soft designs.
I've seen those lights in sleep, or nearing sleep,
out of my inner darkness sometimes seep
and curl in driven clouds before they flee,
vanishing into heaven knows what deep,
and wondered when, if ever, I shall see
what moon may hide in cloudy depths of me.
THE HAZARDS OF THE TRADE
When I wrote strange mad stories about us,
she understood. She made no fuss.
Then why did it all fall apart
and life imitate art?
In the last light above still pond
the cloud roof opens hugely
in the midst of itself
like one of those luminous trap doors
in old illustrated Bibles
up to the angels, and there like God
Himself a bright white cloud
revealed in those still sunlit regions --
and all this centered over
the reflecting water
to give, as by design,
that sky-world back, roughened, affirmed.
Sky embedded in earth ...
Girls in a giggling band go by
and, seeing me bearded and baggy, cry,
"Hey, mister, you're weird.
What asylum did they let you out of?"
I return them a rough shout.
But then my mind, pond-calm,
reflects (as the pond, that cloud)
those girls, those daughters -- yes,
they were goddesses.
Seeking the origin, man hopes
through ever larger telescopes
to probe a universe more vast
each year and deeper in its past.
As they discover, so do I,
still watching with the naked eye.
O YE OF LITTLE...
That strange object looming
over the golf course this evening--
that luminous cube (or square)
flattened (or thickened) like a
blond domino-half, dotty
with lights -- is actually, as we know,
of dwellings, although not one dweller
is visible -- and not for bees nor for wasps
either, but for real
people. You just have to believe that
when you look up at it from out here
among the dark dunes and fairways.
There is no problem, of course, explaining
why there is no sign of anyone.
It's because there are no elephants,
waving their heads and trunks out
the windows or draping their great gray
bodies out over the picture
windowsills. Elephants are
ineligible for low cost housing.
They earn too much money working
in circuses or hauling lumber and
Gullivers, no King Kongs, no Grendels
either. They have all been killed off
by the poets and philosophers
before my time.
Then what about
the ordinary real people supposedly
in there? Wouldn't they have been
killed off too? How can they
exist under a lot of domino-dots
floating up there in the faint sky
with no Gullivers, King Kongs, or Grendels
to feed? Of course,
I know they really are there. It
says so right here. . . Real people
in there. . .
So why can't I believe it?
When you bike no hands
around the pond
and look up, even
though it is autumn,
the sky with all
its sunny clouds
moves with you,
a great white flock
among the treetops.
They fold to the stone buttress of a bridge,
flutter, and at this distance disappear.
One knows they must be there.
The bridge, a heap of stuck stones,
riveted and calipered with steel,
piled into the river's bed,
stirs, shatters to fragments of rock,
alive, till it draws back, frightened, solid,
from the pigeons' flying flock.
DUMB AS ISLE
(Submitted to the Town of Belmont, Massachusetts, in Application for an Abatement of Real Estate Taxes)
This is no house to feel groovy in.
Its plumbing is antediluvian.
No haven for love or lubricity,
primitive its electricity
(cleverest of its creations,
unimproved now for three generations),
my poor house, it limps on is grim knees.
There are bricks on the loose in its chimneys.
When winter cold sets in in earnest,
heat fails: it's improperly furnaced.
How did it become such a bummer,
this Victorian refuge in summer
whose life is long gone, unlamented,
air conditioners not yet invented?
Why don't I wise up and sell it,
let other fools touch it and smell it?
Will this shambles and I ever part?
No, no, for with all of my heart
I love it. It's just like a wife.
I'm stuck with the slattern for life.
AFTER KIND WORDS
Yesterday, God; today, poor, lonely.
His praises were for my ears only.
What harm, a tuneful touch of flattery?
Much kinder, sir, assault and battery.
What was it in me grieved? What grieved it?
Mere talk did it. Self-love believed it.
All that is bad enough. What's worse is
to sit, preserving it in verses.
The life with which a poem stirs --
the poet's or the listener's?
O, how deliciously absurd it
sounded that first moment you heard it,
and now my dearest, ever after,
reciting it, I hear your laughter.
A new anthology, in its bulk great.
O, must I read it, all that stuff I'd hate?
Leave it to time, let it slide slowly out of date.
He's metrical, and on the phone his choice is
for the mechanical, recorded voices.
They give more information for his dime,
get it all over with, don't waste his time.
The living speakers put him in a tizzy.
Not anyone you'd want to meet, now is he?
So that's your formalist. But something worse is
that he's the formalist who wrote those verses.
O poet who'd fulfill your full potential,
beware of getting too self-referential!
BOMBAST IS ALIVE AND WELL
The car was "hydroplaning on a puddle."
Announcer, in your muddle
try speaking English, as the driver did,
who cried, "We're in a skid!"
THE REQUIREMENTS FOR HIGH OFFICE
His words release
nonsense, fluff, fizz,
but he's at peace
with what he is.
AFTER THE CONTEST
Which of the two more nearly is the sinner,
the grumpy loser or the graceless winner?
God said, The winner graceless turns from me;
in my vast bounty set the loser free.
THERE IT IS
Before breakfast's first bite was swallowed,
sunlight-beguiled, I followed
butterflies up and down the lane.
Of course, they have no brain,
yet seem to search, and when they find
a creature of their kind,
they flutter nervously around it,
so happy to have found it.
EVERYTHING JUST RIGHT
Fit to be whipped,
(the sinner quipped)
I wait, Lord, hurt,
for penance girt:
hair short, hair shirt.
How good of you to come! You've joined our tribe, it
seems: buy my book and ask me to inscribe it.
"To my dear friend," I write, and name you, creep,
since words are cheap.
What urges you to come tonight and savor
my words? Are you about to ask a favor?
Ah, what pleasure to have something to grant,
and say, "I can't!"
- to rub my shining lamp...out pops the genie
who cries to the whole world, "This man's a meany.
Of history's locked book, know what's the key?
And now about this poem that keeps pretending
to mean something: it might be never-ending,
but I shall make, before it gets too drear,
it stop right here.
A CURIOUS DEFENSE OF POETRY
The man who finds,
within, relish for scraps and rinds
respects the world, all species and all kinds.
Man's deepest gift
is his ability to lift
things into being with his care and thrift.
Let the muse-miser
save all, and we shall all be wiser,
executives; so don't you dare down-size her!
ON THE INFREQUENCY OF SEXUAL PLEASURE IN OLD AGE
"Observe the glowing dawn,
old man. I think you should.
Where's Venus up there?"
for now, but not for good.
The day is near, not far, not far,
when she becomes the evening star."
"Truth speaks, you silly man,
says things you can't ignore.
Come, face them if you can.
We'll change the metaphor:
Your day will end soon, sun will set,
darks bury you." "Not yet, not yet."
IN THE DARK SEASON
I fall out of the foliage of my feelings.
That is the beginning, the ending,
when the orange peels appear
from the shrinking lips of the snow
and broken bottles, still clinging to their labels,
in the gutter outside the church.
A silk stocking coils in the mud.
In the dark season, someone has sown
the seed of confusion. The church will graze
on the flowers, the fruits of love,
the soft nutritious pulp of remorse.
Do these events signify
summertime in another hemisphere?
One studied a new language in the darkness,
looked far down into the well,
into the hints of sunlight in its depths.
We are dead such a long time before
and will be dead such a long time after
this leaping into light
as a dolphin leaps from the sea
and carries the glare of that moment
back among the curious creatures
who have not known the light.
Don't tell me this is like Plato's cave;
I know that. But in death, our element,
who swims with us? Do we even?
If God is light...No, but there may be,
as the poet says, a soft monster
deeply sleeping among his thousand
arms under millennia
unnumbered, and enormous polypi.
I think we have been frightened into life
as fish leap from greater fish below.
We cry angrily in our cradles,
then overcome, grow tranquil through the years,
hopefully, ready ever for the depths
ever ready for us.
Yes, but of course, there is the need
for symmetry. Matter calls out
for antimatter, which forthwith
sings in the shadows. Thus, tonight
streetlight fingers new foliage
with breezes making light of it,
where unseen trunk divides itself
into a multitude of tips
above ground and below, as in
a mirror, strangers to each other,
two lives, depending on each other,
therefore the same life: in dark depth
and moisture one, in dry sunlight
the other: God and Satan, one,
female and male in each one, one.
Dolphins from darkness visit light.
Who from her glitter visits us?
These, lost inside you: look outside
in the not-you: you find them there.
the plane descends,
passing full moon
over dark earth
down there, flashes,
the moon in ponds,
in rivers, lakes,
shines back at us.
I look around.
Strangers there read
or sleep. No one
sees; I, alone...
CANZONE FOR A TOWER
The valley buildings there, jammed in a dense
and unmoved audience,
beady with windows, may observe at will
- now nearly empty for the break at noon -
this full apartment project on the hill,
where toddlers, out of tune,
scream for their Cinderellas and Jack Horners
just out of sight around the great brick corners
of their childhood - or watch the older ones
with harmless toy burp-guns,
fathoming how to feel.
Deaths are imagined; bodies crumpling, real.
Sunlit below the hill, it looks so pretty,
that tidy dollhouse city,
with no bad smells here and no broken edges;
and there, almost man-sized, straight as a vector
among the lifelike, childlike buildings, wedges
their omnipotent protector,
the insurance company's tower, said to house and
busy in bright long rooms more than a thousand
employees, calculating every risk -
a stunted obelisk
that, rising joint by joint,
like fabled Babel, never achieved its point.
Great base begins, ascends, only to stop.
A gray roof sits on top.
A corrugated pyramid that pinches
inward, like foldings of an old box camera,
it only seems to add a few more inches.
Then, maybe to enamour a
poet who'd say, "Adequately endowed,
it might have poked up through the highest cloud,
that roof, summoning one last gram of power,
sprouts up a tinier tower,
to show us how the real one would have ended.
How high, had it not been thus telescoped,
might the great tower have groped
out of financial soil, that seemed so fertile?
That shrunk pinnacle gives a sense of distance;
but the whole thing looks drawn in, like a turtle,
out of some scary existence.
Those camera-folds - do they stretch? Stretching taut,
what if, right now, it darted upward and caught
a sputnik? Science tells us there's a chance
a stone building might dance,
fly from its weight, defect
from its form, shriek some dreadful dialect...
Song, no; we'll find in grand structures like this
They lack an inner pulse,
these high-minded creations of adults.
The stunted angel's rich, but has no wings;
and under urban soot
it stays sensibly put;
there's no danger - except from a few, odd,
out-of-the-way, uninsurable things,
like, say, the Wrath of God.
-from A Question of Survival
O it’s so dumb to mix
science with politics!
Our Parties think man’s curse is
the way it all expands,
ordained, out of our hands.
Laborites think our fate
lies in the Steady State,
whereas the other gang
believes in the Big Bang.
Gutsy the lad who lives
with those Conservatives:
their cosmos mere erosion
after God’s mad explosion.
But the funding of a third
party has now occurred,
in whose deep understandings
the universe expanding’s
an accident, man-made.
It’s caused by war and trade
and principally the goading
of bombs we’ve been exploding.
As for the Boo-Hoo Bombs
we’ve made lately, they’ve qualms,
if we ignite one, whether
we’ll blow up altogether.
O don’t they think we’re goats!
They say that just for votes.
Thus rhymes go willy-nilly.
You think this poem’s silly,
reader? You think the dude
who wrote it’s nutty, crude,
leagued with confusion-breeders,
unjust to our great leaders?
He begs you; he beseeches:
forget him; read their speeches.
THE USES OF CAVING IN
It’s war, the trumpets sound.
Why is it that our Empire stumbles?
Every poor patch of ground
The vast colossus treads on crumbles.
– Richard Moore
EXPLICATION DU TEXTE
My verses? Anger? Hate?
No, just that one poor clown
learns thus to compensate
as one poor life runs down.
A PREGNANT COUPLE TUNE IN ON A SPACE FLIGHT
Of astronaut, rising from rocket thunder
Into his orbit, “Well,” he
said, “dear, in your great belly,
punching and kicking, there’s a greater wonder.
In gravity still caught,
rages the mundonaut.”
Because he’s free of wit and whim
and feels for you, you follow him.
He has no problems of his own;
or if he does, they’re not well known.
With yours, thus freed, you sense him cope,
absolute as a gyroscope.
Who cares if he, with secret sinning
humming within, is madly spinning?
A FAREWELL TO DENTISTRY
I keep my spiritual purity
living on social security
and a stupid little pension
unworthy of mention.
I’m glad I’m not a winner,
stay home and eat my dinner.
“Damn restaurants!” I shout
through teeth falling out,
safe from those mangy curs,
those greedy plunderers,
dentists well trained to trounce
our savings accounts,
who stuff our mouths with gauze
and crowd our aching jaws
with shipment after shipment
of clumsy equipment,
with implants, dentures, braces...
Your food’s flavor erases;
you feel your juices stall,
taste nothing at all.
O offspring of some tart,
this growing old’s an art;
so make dinner yourself
from cans on your shelf
or packets in your freezer,
and smile content, old geezer,
as toothlessly you savor
each glorious flavor.
Aromas! Waft aloft
from tastes tender and soft,
not too hot, not too icy,
and wonderfully spicey.
Dentistry’s like the world,
Constantly it’s attacking.
Laugh, sending it packing!
ONE KIND OF IMMORTALITY
Yes, be a mother: relish the sensations;
preserve your hangups, dear, for generations.
THE POETRY CONTEST
WHY YOUR ENTRY FEE IS MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
The situation, sir, can only worsen.
Your poem’s point will certainly be missed,
read by no ordinary person –
O no, sir: by a specialist.
What you need in your hopes of succeeding
is a course in the art of misreading.
Common sense dumped, go for art’s higher values;
safari through bad dreams; con verbal wastes,
critics to guide you. Listen, pal use
your noggin. Dig their dirty tastes.
What you need in your hopes of succeeding
is the art of a course in misreading.
It’s easy. Get them phrases disconnected,
sprinkled all nutty through your juiced-up dishes.
Godfather, Wise One, what the heck! Did
Christ trouble over loaves and fishes?
What you need in your hopes of succeeding
is an art, sir – of course! – in misreading.
The deep cold comes, and even the great
pond is frozen, dusted with snow,
luminous under Venus, the moon,
suburban lights on the dark hills.
The cold wind has blown over and over
it, and now it is still, my mind,
frozen, determined, and still the wind
shrieks. Let there be no end of it.
Silt there, a half inch or a quarter
under smooth pond, where today gulls
stand high in the chilly sunlight. . .
I have discovered in solitude
a huge solidity beneath me.
Ocean, I think I shall fly soon.
Maybe I’m flying already.
He wakes, his dream
slowly fizzling in his brain,
a burntout flare in the night sky.
Soldiers in Viet Nam
wounded, hot, thirsty,
in endless lorries . . . our wounds
festering in the heat.
This was worse than duty
occupying Russia . . . that huge
sullen population . . . I lie
indescribably uncomfortable, thinking,
‘ But we have never occupied Russia.’
I want to get to the bottom of this.
I play dead to tempt the dream back,
but it slips, slips . . . waking discomforts
dismember me. Pieces of me
circle like white birds
over the body on my bed.
Slowly they sink nearer, nearer . . .
They will reassemble into me
before the bathroom mirror.
We notice a star or two
here and there
among nondescript clouds
which like our thoughts
are too vague
to be completely real.
The moon’s glow
from behind the apartment house
gives them their only substance
as they go slipping one by one
behind that tall wall of darkness,
which seems to topple out to meet them.
If I move a little to the right,
toward you, my dear,
would I, perhaps, see that moon,
her naked body and her solid light
full and frightening in the summer night?
Perhaps. But we won’t force her glitter.
Better to rest content with mere effects
on absently drifting clouds
and not go dredging for surprises
lurking in dark buildings.
Yet soon, I think we must admit,
her tip will be appearing,
like a bud
reaching sidelong over the bricks,
pushing them gently aside:
for our earth turns – still turns –
sweeping the pole of our sight
ever closer to her body in the night.
Even these clouds may be gone then
when at last she stands there –
mottled – perhaps not fully round – yet bright
and of an unearthed passionate white.
God, as I go making poems
out of nothing, out of only myself
(for all these things I feel,
the richly rotting soil, where seeds
tunnel unhoping up through darkness,
may be myself only, after all) –
as I shake them out into the world
silly with hope they will turn up lovers,
I, of course, am something like You.
Does it hurt You to make a universe?
Was it that You wanted lovers?
Fine free ones, free enough really to love You:
free if they wished to ruin You even –
and you so old and bushy and hard to love!
O it must have been hard –
yet I think You had to: before,
could You be absolutely certain
that You existed – spaceless, timeless,
alone in Your cosmic nothingness?
Out of nothing, out of only Yourself,
God, you had to create this universe.
O, and it must have hurt to pull these chunks
out of Your uncertain existence,
these great infinite chunks.
No wonder they say that You love us.
Ah, did we force You to alter your manner of living
with our slovenly habits?
Did you adjust to Your new dependence,
now that You must live like any helpless poet
Only in changeable images men can concoct of You?
SPRING AT THE WINDOW
Birds into song, buds burst.
Which shall the bee find first?
A breeze pleasantly keen,
whistling through the screen,
cools chin under my beard.
Shut up, Richard, you're weird.
Deluge transforms the scene.
Outside translucent screen,
houses and cars, mere guesswork.
How, Lord, can such a mess work?
A PROPER EXIT
Above me an oak tree weaves
the sunlight with its leaves,
now, under clear blue sky,
a good moment to die.
Cloud in a dark thick roof spreads overhead,
over suburban valley depths below,
from every closed horizon but the last,
the west; there, let in from the upper sky,
a turquoise emptiness. Here underneath,
roofed in, a landscape caught: headlights in chains
have bound down the dark body of the earth;
low aircraft people space with creeping sparks;
radio tower aerials are blinking.
Of the dim roar only the loudest horns
rise thinly to the hill. Still, lights come on:
how close, how dense, they now seem to become.
All of us here pressed slowly down, congealed. . .
yet there's that band of light across the sky,
the west, windowing turquoise space beyond –
and suddenly I see it's a vast windshield
quietly pushing through the world out there;
and all the little lights are instruments,
flickering on the dark panel of earth,
that no one can decipher. Yet I'm going –
no, not just I, but we, all of us, one –
into that out there, somewhere. Where? O where?
WHEN THE ASTEROID HITS
(The “Age of the Dinosaurs” ended, it is now believed, when an asteroid struck the earth. A cloud of debris filled the atmosphere and changed the climate. The dinosaurs did not survive.)
These dark clouds always clear,
sunlight returns, our spir-
its fill with warmth once more –
said the wise dinosaur.
Twin towers, does your end befit us?
Was that our asteroid that hit us?
I'm not, but if I were she,
I'd never go to Hershey,
the town in Pennsylvania.
(Don't, darling, or I'll brain ya!)
A chocolate of renown
labels the hapless town
with that offense to fame,
its sticky little name;
and on the land surrounding–
its project and its founding
(hear all its barkers bark!) –
is an amusement park.
Vulgar; but does she care?
No, brings her children there.
They scream, they dance, they love it.
A blimp hovers above it,
filled with hot air on high,
a gut to steer us by.
Corporate intestine, ah, duct,
swollen with Hershey's product,
be kind to children! Pet them,
feed them with junk food, let them
on roller coasters go up,
chocolate-filled...come down, throw up.
It's not a pretty sight.
Never mind. Serves 'em right.
Their souls longed – for a star?
Nah, for a candy bar.
To whom my roll of dental floss bequeath?
It will outlast my teeth.
One role I can't bestow I grub, grow greedy in.
God made me a comedian.
Broader based than a city block,
more high than an old mansion and more worn,
thrusts out of New England, a gray
giant, half born
to sunlight and clear day.
An icecap smothered it
for eons. Here I sit.
Over its bulk of many-stoned
amalgam, which the glacier’s brutal kiss
to pink faces, flat, upturned, dumb—
over all this
an ant creeps with a crumb.
Dark scratches back and forth,
compasslike, still point north.
Some maples lift their leaves nearby,
skeletons decked in spring-green fineries—
their tips of life, now warmed and new,
to the chill breeze
and the sky’s ancient blue—
the sky there, so much older
than even this huge boulder—
but now how mild we find it grown.
Who can imagine the long glacier’s creep?
when mountainous dark ice and snow
fasten you deep once more, no one will know
how hard the slow North’s grip
grinds over your great lip.
from A Question of Survival