Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exercise 8

of Conflagration:

Catherine O’Leary’s Cow leaves the lamp unkicked and it
Bottles three days in October and the streets of the city
Never change. There is no second star.

Wooden boardwalks line the lake,
of a town with smaller shoulders.
The slaughterhouses and criminals
Lack a grandeur, the knot of railroads
Easy to unravel

And on a gravel street that divides two counties,
the crumbling house I dream in is never built

(unbuild it now, strip siding down to the mirror
reflection of insulation board, to wooden frame
and cement-block foundations,

the wood unburning in the fire that now is not
planks inchworm back to trees)

there is no hollow woodgrain door to stand before,
with flashlight in hand
there is no regret
no bluebeard refrain in my head
of every door save this one
behind which all my terror and my sorrow flow
no imagined woodsman’s axe
to swing, and split his hairy belly throat to crotch
and release the clotted ghosts
I have stuffed this scarecrow with

my sisters do not stop here,
do not wear their ages
like borrowed clothes on little girls

and I, when we meet, have no wager
against your sorrow, cannot understand
your tattooed tear, your graveyard arms

can never match your hunger, or know
the way a city is rebuilt from ruin
so we part strangers in a smaller country

I have unspooled enough, let time come as it must
Let Pegleg Sullivan steal the milk,
Let the stars fall
If it ends in your kiss

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Footnotes without a poem

Gargantua and Pantagruel, the insults of the bun makers

"The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously,calling them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangyrascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsyloiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts,cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets,drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns,forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, baseloons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks,blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolishloggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels,gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammerflycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and othersuchlike defamatory epithets; "

Paradise Lost the description of the allegorical figure of Sin

And thrice threefold the Gates; three folds were Brass Three Iron, three of Adamantine Rock, Impenitrable, impal'd with circling fire, Yet unconsum'd. Before the Gates there sat On either side a formidable shape; The one seem'd Woman to the waste, and fair, But ended foul in many a scaly fould Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm'd With mortal sting: about her middle round A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark'd With wide CERBEREAN mouths full loud, and rung A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep, If aught disturb'd thir noyse, into her woomb, And kennel there, yet there still bark'd and howl'd Within unseen. Farr less abhorrd then these Vex'd SCYLLA bathing in the Sea that parts CALABRIA from the hoarce TRINACRIAN shore: Nor uglier follow the Night-Hag, when call'd In secret, riding through the Air she comes Lur'd with the smell of infant blood, to dance With LAPLAND Witches, while the labouring Moon Eclipses at thir charms. The other shape, If shape it might be call'd that shape had none Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb, Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd, For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night, Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell, And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.

The Divine Comedy, Inferno the wood of the suicides

To tell us in what way the soul is bound
Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst
If any from such members e'er is freed."

Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
The wind was into such a voice converted:
"With brevity shall be replied to you.
When the exasperated soul abandons
The body whence it rent itself away,
Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss
.It falls into the forest, and no part
Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it
,There like a grain of spelt it germinates
.It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
Like others for our spoils shall we return;
But not that any one may them revest,
For 'tis not just to have what one casts off.
Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
Each to the thorn of his molested shade."

Grimms Fairy Tales, the Juniper Tree

The little boy now came in, and the evil spirit in the wife made her say kindly to him, 'My son, will you have an apple?' but she gave him a wicked look. 'Mother,' said the boy, 'how dreadful you look! Yes, give me an apple.' The thought came to her that she would kill him. 'Come with me,' she said, and she lifted up the lid of the chest; 'take one out for yourself.' And as he bent over to do so, the evil spirit urged her, and crash! down went the lid, and off went the little boy's head.Then she was overwhelmed with fear at the thought of what she had done.'If only I can prevent anyone knowing that I did it,' she thought. So she went upstairs to her room, and took a white handkerchief out ofher top drawer; then she set the boy's head again on his shoulders, and bound it with the handkerchief so that nothing could be seen, and placedhim on a chair by the door with an apple in his hand.Soon after this, little Marleen came up to her mother who was stirring a pot of boiling water over the fire, and said, 'Mother, brother is sitting by the door with an apple in his hand, and he looks so pale;and when I asked him to give me the apple, he did not answer, and that frightened me.''Go to him again,' said her mother, 'and if he does not answer, give him a box on the ear.' So little Marleen went, and said, 'Brother, give me that apple,' but he did not say a word; then she gave him a box on the ear, and his head rolled off. She was so terrified at this, that she ran crying and screaming to her mother. 'Oh!' she said, 'I have knocked off brother's head,' and then she wept and wept, and nothing would stop her.'What have you done!' said her mother, 'but no one must know about it,so you must keep silence; what is done can't be undone; we will make him into puddings.' And she took the little boy and cut him up, made him into puddings, and put him in the pot. But Marleen stood looking on,and wept and wept, and her tears fell into the pot, so that there was no need of salt.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Imagery Exercise



In the kitchen, the school of plates
Is at last gathered in the shoals of the cabinets
The oven breathes hot on her neck,
she feeds it a songless bird

The teapot shrieks, a peacock,
And her hands lift the angry thing,
Headless and spouting into the cup
An open mouth that hunger cannot feed

The television flings shit all over
The vacuumed carpets and clean scrubbed walls
Till she throttles it with a switch
And stands in the silence,

Barefoot on the carpet’s hairy back.

the babies’ metal keys have stopped spinning
does she know?
how my eyes lick her neck, how
I breathe her milk-dreams like a cat,
her hair a nest of nightmares

in the dark, the bed sighs and moans
the pillows slip from their cases
like the heads of abducted whores
and while she sleeps
the moon and I stare at each other

exercise 6


Your incomplete surgery, dark-woodsing along
Behind the house, butterflied like a chicken.
Answers to the name of Sparky, eager to please
Free to good home, eastereggs set in black currant jelly,
It fishhooks sweetly lovesick, popping fisheyes

Here is the pipe the plumber capped, the ruststickpin of the blood
Veining through the rotten house, the yelping valve
the bit of apple stuck in the throat snipped out

This is way the bad-daddy-god ate his babies,
Like egg on toastes, jellybabies and sugar skulls
Munch crunching, pearlies grinding through the babybits
Here is how they trimmed him with the metal moon

Love rising and rising on the bloody seafoam

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Exercise 5 part 2

The summer I lived in the farmhouse,
the pears fell and rotted on the ground
And the wasps keened over them.
the honey dripped from the old stove
Where the bees had built their wild hive.
The rainwater, gathered in buckets
From the crumbling roof, had the color of whiskey
cranes,cars, tractors rotted softly
Their upholstery filled with mice
gloveboxes filled with crumbling documents
In the tall rank prarie grass ,
brown eyed susans rough and weedy
with no cows to keep them down.
The roof of the empty pig barn sagged to the ground,
the paint peeled off the north face of the house
In the storms the house was a ship
Shifting on the beams, creaking against the wind
My landlady, the madwoman
burned my record player in an oil drum
whispered about imaginary enemies
washed her frazzled hair in the whiskey colored buckets
and kept cats.

Kept them in buckets and barrels.
Kept them in cages, missing ears and tails,
Kept them one eyed, ancient long haired and dreadlocked
Feral and wild in the barns,
chasing mice through the junkyard cars
Hunting pheasants in the neighbor’s corn,
reeking of tomcat piss and shit
Kept them, hundreds, crying, human shy
Like men who feed pigeons,
wild and untouched,
coming to eat the food
she strew the ground with
like seed to grow more cats,
hordes and throngs of nameless and unnameable cats.

As I sat on the cracked pavement beside the mossroofed shed
One hot and waterless day, one of the kittens came up, crying
Its eyes sealed shut with phlegm, a bone thin skin kite
The coyotes had come in the night again, eating the babies
And this one had escaped with a bite taken out of its side,
the muscles working like puppet stings in black gore,
the bluebottle maggots crawling through the muscle
it had one good blue eye, a calico coat and cried to me

So I took it to my room, and wrapped it in blankets
Gave it milk and tuna-water in an eyedropper
Baked a brick to keep it warm through the night, poured
Peroxide and alcohol in the open wound and petted its scabby head
And spoke to it through the night

Not wanting maggots in my sheets, I left it with the warm brick and blankets
Sleeping, mostly clean and exhausted the small lungs breathing ragged
I slept and dreamt of cats
In the morning it was cold and stiff despite, or because of, my attentions

And I buried in beside the fencepost by the brown eyed susans
Too deep for the coyotes to dig it up.

Exercise 5 part 1

The river smokes into the tree line
sun burning through the shoulders of the hills,
A clouded eye, a white sky
undying mayflies strafe still water, endless

There is the body of a town,
Sprawled and white on the mud-bank.
Brick faces of old hostelries, of boarding houses .
Boarded windows and crumbling facades remember Julia Marlowe .

Rock hilltops jut above the green.
studded with silent Radio towers,
empty churches strain the light through colored teeth
mute giants brooding over a boneyard
stone angels with mossy eyes and evergreen
stand over men who hauled away the forest

the old houses lean and whisper together
of rain and fire, of the day the town awaits
the train tracks rust in the sun, the
bricks falling slowly to a red dust,
grass grows between the cobbles

the shuttered shops are filled with useless things
old photographs yellowing in milk crates,
unspun records and dry-rotting millinery
rusted tools with forgotten names

the clotted river dreams among the stones
the hawks circle above the corn on the rising warmth
in the tall grass generations of rabbits
have their miniscule terrors

in the softly grumbling houses, the children
of settlers have forgotten the use of this place
the heaped earth of mounds under grass and roads,
bone beads mixed in gravel, damp with morning

the streets unused till the moon shines on them
bonedust in a china plate

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

translating the untranslatable 1.

The Kingdomless

Alone, in the inconsolable dark
I am prince of a ruined tower,
My single stars is dead,
My metal guitar sings melancholy
Of a black sun, and black humors

Speak, grave, should you chose to comfort
when again will I see see familiar shores,
the flower of my desolation,
The rose and ivy tangled?

Am I the cold dawn? Am I love’s angel?
A king or a savage?
This or that hero?
My face is still marked by the queen’s chaste kiss
I have dreamt of caves,
and of the hungry sirens

I have twice crossed the rivers of hell,
Strumming Orpheus’s instrument
Singing each in it’s turn
the sighs of the saints,
the cries of the dead

being my attempt at a translation of Gérard de Nerval incredible

El Desdichado

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, - l'inconsolé,
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.
Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m'as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d'Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s'allie.
Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?.... Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène..
.Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

a note on why the hell i would even attempt this:

Nerval is interesting to me for many reasons, being in the habit of saying lovely things like "This life is a hovel and a place of ill-repute. I'm ashamed that God should see me here." and doing bizarre things like taking a lobster for a walk on a blue ribbon. when questioned on this he said “ I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do.” In my opinion, this is a fucking awesome response when someone asks you why you are walking your lobster through the park on a ribbon.

This particular poem, and Nerval came to my attention via "the wasteland"., back when i was a wee highschooler, walking around with my pocket edition in my back pocket and quoting Eliot quoting "Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie" even though i speak no french

in addition to being an influence on Eliot, I found later that he was important to Artaud and Breton, who are, if you are unaware, badasses of the highest order,and the line itself i think is haunting, as are many of the lines, packed with rich and simple symbolism, that just keeps unpacking as you go, ferinstance, "Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie."

"the black sun of melancholy" which , while readable in a surface level and carrying a perfectly clear meaning, also carries with it the weight of alchemical and occult symbolism, the entire poem taking place in the negrado, the putrefaction step alchemically, in which the sun turns black, the gold to lead, etc, before rebirth. and referencing not just this, but the melancholia engraving by durer and the anatomy of melancholy. The only other writer that i can think of that plays with this level of density in his images is Jarry, particulary his caesar/antichrist, and Jarry was completely batshit insane

the last stanza is difficult to convey how perfect it is

Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

literaly meaning something along the lines of \

And two times victorious I have crossed Acheron:
Modulating turn by turn on the lyre of Orpheus
The moans of the Saint and the screams of the Fairy.

however, fee, being more "weird" than the usual english garden fairy, think along the lines of the host of the dead, or the fallen angels. I feel that, like all translations mine is flat, and only emphasizes certain aspects of the poem, and loses entirely the music, which is clear even to someone with as rudimentary an understanding of french as mine is.

I may from time to time, try this exercise as a way to better understand a poem. please know that i am aware that this translation is a dim shadow of the original, and i make no pretense to speaking french, or latin, or greek, or whatever i take it upon myself to mangle. take it as an invitation to get to know the original better, rather than any hubris on my part.

here is a far better translation than mine, and other poems

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Exercise 4

He took the old pen,
the blue bic with the burst nib
And ran it along his arm,
up the river, not across the street
Again and again.

According to Borges the number of metaphors
That are accurate depictions,
that strike us as true,
are limited,
the rest are merely startling, forgettable.
Time is a river. The stars are eyes. Blood is water.

the tools are small and finite,
the recombinations of these arbitrary symbols,
almost dizzyingly infinite.
In the river that is time that is his blood ,
he saw the small dead men,
miniscule roadwork crews
that paved the roadways of his arteries,
that pumped the leaking bellows of his heart

They are the dead men that run with the hunt in the night
that live in the hollow hills,
that eat the bread and drink from the bowl of milk,
that hate iron and the sound of bells.

Among them is a childhood friend,
a stealer of cars and pocket money,
a hoarder of miniature liquor bottles,
a walker of traintracks now dead and buried young.

He is a Polaroid of his sixteen year old self,
the sweatpants pushed up too high on the leg,
the heavy metal teeshirt.
He is riding a stolen bike along the inside of the vein,
bunnyhopping red blood cells,
chainsmoking Marlboro reds in the man's pink lungs,
spraypainting his name along the bridgework of the bones.

He seems content if lonely
waiting for the rest of his gang
to hop the train that takes them here,
the final arcade that is inside the middle aged man’s body.

He has made himself a kingdom,
he is an empire to himself.

This one lay himself down into a sleep
and never woke,
here another found dead by his wife,
this one by his own hand,
up the river not across the street,

they live in him like worms in cheese,
like birds in air,
like deep sea fish in darkness
inside the hollow man,

that clanking automaton
of levers and pulleys,

the dead say nothing to him,
having said their allotment of words
go back about their work,

the pavers, the bellows, the vandal
that carves his name into the back of an eye,
memento mori.,

Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur,
Mors venit velociter quae neminem veretur,
Omnia mors perimit et nulli miseretur.
Ad mortem festinamus*

and a pen knib scratches out a portion of stars,
and an eye peers in through the broken firmament
to the man’s small house and street and allotment of breath

Our bones are built of bones
the world and the word is flesh.
The sky is the dome of a skull

* from the Red Book of Montserrat
with thanks to the juicy and delightful Ms Rachel Mckibbens

Monday, February 9, 2009

a was an archer

A was an archer, who shot at a frog,
B was a butcher, and had a great dog.
C was a captain, all covered with lace,
D was a drunkard, and had a red face.
E was an esquire, with pride on his brow,
F was a farmer, and followed the plow.
G was a gamester, who had but ill-luck,
H was a hunter, and hunted a buck.
I was an innkeeper, who loved to carouse,
J was a joiner, and built up a house.
K was King William, once governed this land,
L was a lady, who had a white hand.
M was a miser, and hoarded up gold,
N was a nobleman, gallant and bold.
O was an oyster girl, and went about town,
P was a parson, and wore a black gown.
Q was a queen, who wore a silk slip,
R was a robber, and wanted a whip.
S was a sailor, and spent all he got,
T was a tinker, and mended a pot.
U was an usurer, a miserable elf,
V was a vintner, who drank all himself.
W was a watchman, and guarded the door,
X was expensive, and so became poor.
Y was a youth, that did not love school,
Z was a zany, a poor harmless fool.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Exercise 3.

At first my sister’s horse was only a handspan, pocket size
Almost a toy, except for the way
it would run in circles on the tabletop,
Knocking over the gravyboat
drinking from the upturned waterglasses
Leaving hoofprints in the butter.

My mother said to pay it no mind,

as it grazed on my salad,
and defecated among the potatoes
Slowly at first, and then quickly it began to grow,
A struggling puppy, biting hands,
eating from the sugarbowl.
My sister drank and stared
Cursing under her breath,
as the horse ran in circles around the table
Snorting and soaked with frenzy,
as she sat and slowly chewed

“is the beef too tough?’I asked.

as the horse ran up the stairs,
Knocking the family photographs off the wall
My wife passed bread around the table
But my sister did not take any, as her horse
now fifteen hands high, nickered and ran up the attic steps
eyes rolling, hooves drumming on the wooden floor,
so we could no longer pretend to speak.

with thanks to the beautiful Ms Rachel Mckibbens

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Exercise 2

My shipworm riddled heart

is bound in hammered copper,
to keep the worms from the rigging of my bones.
When I lie still to rest I hear them,
boring through the woody ventricles
the blood rusting the hammered skin,
the tinny sound of the surge
the hollow thump of softly rotting timbers
against the scrimshawed copper case,

a seashell held to my ear echoes
only their wet knotting

I cannot sleep.

They tangle through the dumb wood.
My father, the sharpener of knives
carved this heart for me
from a wharf piling,
bound it with rotten rope
and gave it,like it a gift,
a judas-kiss sharp with whiskers
and the words “keep it safe’ .

I hammered the housing that holds
it in shining copper , now verdigris-green
from the sea salt splatter and acid of my blood,
tapped the tattoo with a tinsmith's hammer,
stitched myself lungs from coral and sailcloth

now , the long nights drawn on, and compassless
I walk the muddy sea bottom
with pearls for eyes

My mouth sewn silent with a sailor’s knot
my creaking shipwrecked heart
a bellows in the dark

Your name scratched on it
The only thing shining

with some vague alluding to Bill Spearshaker and an endless debt to the cream skinned and fair
Ms Rachel Mckibbens

Exercise 1.

Ireneo Funes morning.

opened my eyes again,found the bed as I had left it,
drool on the pillow the shape of a continent I have never seen,
reaching down, my pants lay on the floor in the same place
they have fallen for thirty years,
the belt splayed,the inside out leg,
recalling, within a few millimeters,
the way the pants fell the first night
I shared this bed with you,
when your snore was more soprano than reedy tenor ,

and i put the pants on,bare feet on the cold floor,
remembering each leg I have owned,
the infant's floppy puppetry,
the awkward teenage gangle
and the sodden stumps I am headed towards,
remembering forwards
slid jeans over my soft fat legs,
walked into the fluorescent light
shaved just my cheeks,
my mouth still holding the shape

of every word I have spoken or not,

I brushed one third of my teeth,
the blunt brushes bristles bent
and worn from each day's
half-hearted saw and drag
across the slowly desolving enamel of
each tooth,each a little smaller

like stones on a riverbed of days,

tumbling through words and sandwiches,
and a countable, finite procession of breath.

waited for the bus,
and knew which one of the three
on the route it was,
the coffee stain on the third seat
from the November morning
when the fat woman jostled against the child,
now doubtless out of high school,
the greasy linoleum flooring
like the kitchen of my first apartment,
the fake wood grain
like the endpaper in a manual for insomniacs,
suggesting just a hint of a face.

Walked across the street,
the cobblestones weary
from the familiar scrape of my step,

thrice daily for fifteen years

into the familiar air of an office,
the wilting plant and smell of cheap coffee,
the yellowing plastic of a computer monitor,
the way the hand curves to the precise shape of the phone,
the ever slightly diminished pencils.

The world is in ebb,
retreating from the moment when I first saw you,
and everything clings to its dull certainty

with apologies to Jorge Luis Borges and thanks to the inestimably lovely Ms Rachel Mckibbens