• ANATOMICAL ANGEL

    L'ange Anatomique, by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty, 1746
    Unfastened avidly from each ivory button
    of her spine, the voluntary muscles open
    virtuosities of red: Cinnabar

    the mutagen, and carmine from cochineal
    born between fog and frost, so many little
    deaths Buddhists refuse to wear

    robes soaked in its thousands. Sunsets
    of other centuries fade in galleries to ash.
    Red is fugitive: As the voice, the blow

    of gravity along a nerve opening to an ache
    the body can't unhouse: As the carnation
    suffusing cheek and haunch like saucers

    from the king's porcelain rinsed in candlelight.
    Gratuitous as the curl, the urn-shaped torso,
    the pensive, brimming gaze of pretty

    post-coital thought she half-turns over one
    excavated shoulder. As if to see herself
    in a mirror's savage theater as elegy

    to the attempt to fill an exhausted form,
    to learn again the old ordeals of wound
    and hand and eye. To find the source of burning.... more »

  • AUBADE BEGINNING WITH SLEEP APNEA

    Roused, as breath my sleep had
    seized returns—a pink bud swelling
    like a peony from this lizard's throat.
    As mate or threat, what strange excess
    translated from some foreign grammar
    of ornament. Poised on my laptop
    he looks like evolution's little scar,
    the digital evergreen of midnight
    currency transfers and failing pulses,
    ceaseless milt and molt of information.
    Though his elbows jut like epaulettes
    and an azure eye patch surrounds each
    obsidian, mordant bead, revolving
    separate, he isn't miniature or minaudière,
    not toy or clown, but a philosopher-king
    catechizing the rough or honeyed skin
    of things. Head swiveling imperially,
    he picks unseen locks, but can't escape
    his nature, all zeroes and ones, void
    or integer as god. Being, then watching,
    then gone, withdrawn to his peripheries,
    returned to that alert, invisible world.
    I raise my sleep-numb arm and shed
    its thousand scales, my fused bones
    lightening, fraying to feathers, to fingers
    that begin the day's unraveling.... more »

  • CHIMERA

    I will take your stony heart and give you one of flesh.
    The wake sewing shut those white lips
    and after when leagues and all behind to salt
    fell the grateful Spaniards prayed
    It became their habit to turn eyes sore away
    from surfeit Rashes and abrasions of spring
    leaf stem vine blossom aphid & berry stridulant
    intricate and promiscuous without the rose
    or borage or pomegranate embowered
    in flaunting silks on gauntlet cuffs No
    none of that repose their soldier-love required to root

    20,000 had died in Ravenna He survived
    without mark to show what he knew
    how fear cramped each man solitary
    inside himself until the spark that leapt stinging
    them on to violence the grass-fire battle-frenzy
    the grass that kneels to its burning
    Then aftermath's
    vegetable melee limbs and bodies

    But what is not threat in this contagion and panic
    of green Whores wives saints sovereigns
    this beach that thick-leaved mustardy shrub Names
    he thinks the names keep slipping

    Swift intent armored obdurate as beetles no one man
    felt the wound of where like Adam too late he walked

    * * *

    The air flexing began to bruise green around them
    the fresh human injury of them Like flies
    trapped in a bottle they didn't know what to do
    and carried on doing it
    while bird by bird invisible rescinded its song
    while the sun a drop of vinegar in milk curdled the sky
    Quiet sumptuous as pain eased by what hand
    abrupt as that held in the breath
    exhausted just before the witch confesses

    Like an executioner who ropes hair over hand
    to bend and lengthen the neck for his ax
    the wind brutalized palm trees spun men
    before it loosely as leaves in a stream
    He linked arms with another
    Broken wing Splintering oar Chainless anchor
    dragging through darkness thick with sand and water and noise
    whistles braying drums timbrels & ululations
    Pressed all night to the porch of the storm his ear
    mistook the self's own alienated music called it sorcery

    That the fury never ended he would learn
    walking the eye of its silence

    After the hurricane the stunned brilliance like a spell
    or question he woke into waking by himself to himself
    and naked as a saint to discover his ship
    with its ropes tools weapons salves Spain
    was the anchored ship
    now hoisted on planks of sunlight over the palm-trees
    sailing out of sight The boat sick
    for such mirth
    made by root sap riverbank & squirrel
    it would return to that green oak it once had been

    * * *

    In what hour of what night did he know his soul
    to turn a stranger to him
    Pilgrim he will venture forth across uncertain fields
    Explorer he will cry out

    He may be nothing more
    than a hide rigid with gore & soil to be
    scoured pounded abused by caustics and by iron
    and in watered pigeon-shit kneaded until supple
    for the hand—
    but whose and must
    the hand continue to wear or it will toughen again

    * * *

    Daily he marched his men into corrugations of
    blue distances dissolving one to another like promises
    of gold & corn made by guides snatched from villages
    As the Spanish found new ways to die natives
    loomed naked on the horizon they looked
    splendid & violent as idols Their women & children
    restored for ransoms of melons or fish

    Often some chief would repeat his good friend
    possessed more of each thing they desired His noble gestures
    spread like balm his speech intoxicating
    but so militant their hunger his words came entire
    & legible to their sense as the amber & musk that steamed
    from these his fine furs

    * * *

    His dwindling force
    through swamps & ambush labored circuitous stalled
    like mayflies in their brevity & towarding and never
    fable riches youth nor rest to take
    Only the body
    with its anxious extremeties eccentric naked
    not natural from which a vein of fascinated shame
    opened darkly glittering smoldering
    like sea-coal Every eye interrogated
    Each inquisitor humiliated
    by these echoes of himself his body violating
    the silence

    * * *

    Now alone and exposed approaching
    he amassed his ocherous archive of blister
    and of bruise the old fabulous
    atlas of faith in blood & smoke redrawn

    Still even the most exacting map dreams
    omits & lies brindled
    with sums & suppositions

    Every step makes him more wilderness
    He goes interiorly
    to trade conches sea-snails & screw-beans
    for red-dyed deer-tail tassels and the arrow-makers'
    sinew & flint between ragged bands
    surrounded by enemies enthralled by visions
    that command them to bury their sons alive
    Girls whose marriages would multiply their foes
    become meat for their dogs
    Where were the jades turquoises zinzibar Where
    the sacred monsters cannibals or kings fielding legions
    of dog-headed warriors
    Husbands groaned
    bucked by pain onto the dirt when wives gave birth
    & both sexes wept
    strenuously after any absence overjoyed to see each other
    again in no essential changed

    Had any man traveled farther than he

    * * *

    Whether time is the ripening of fruit the dying of fish
    & the position of stars or all
    the king's clocks ringing his will upon the quarter-hour
    hunger is the self's severe eternal god
    From desert skies could be harvested evanescing
    bounties dove rabbit wild boar mountain lion
    when for two months the natives drank bad water
    and ate only oysters
    Or salamanders ants dirt
    deer dung but also many days without
    To suffer only this much
    demands devotion or the ingenuity of the wasp
    which deposits eggs in the walking nursery of a spider

    A single brief season happy to know enough
    everyone was summoned by neat cornet-shaped fruits
    the prickly pear migrating north as it sweetened
    from parrot through orchid
    What use ambition in the desert or will
    The pangs can shrink but never close

    * * *

    He came late to healing Even a stone
    they said possessed its virtue and how could he
    as well so different from themselves solicit less
    Left within his heart sealed it might sour
    Farther they starved him
    The power grew Passed along from tribe to tribe
    intangible economy of magic
    increased by use

    Fright filled some with a lassitude they withered on
    others suffered cramps headaches or had been struck
    by a sorrow a terror a surfeit
    Blessing each joint with a cross and that something
    of him might be spent on the hurt
    he breathed over it Just a little game he played to eat
    before his mind emptied stroking down & up the air
    like a kingfisher
    under the shadow of the vaulting falcon that played it
    When he lifted his hands his fingers
    glowed like ten lamps of fire Why not be all
    fire

    * * *

    How much can I change before I am changed
    It has been years so long
    without abradings of any other to recall him

    Dilation digression by these ways he will return

    Natives said he could not be
    Christian whose eyes they felt crawl over them
    as if where women & men had stood was
    desolating space His own people turned
    away warding off this apparition of a new fault
    in themselves This man

    neither their stone houses
    nor the need that stirs the fox's miles nor the moon
    following which laid down his bones
    to scry the distances in him but as though
    pierced by some small passive wingless insect
    whose gall blighting him
    would concealed suckle & multiply its question
    down a thousand generations
    he was that
    which they'd feared most to find
    now abject now famous

    Twice a year his skin like muslin pulled from his body
    Without armor or felted wool or hide afterward
    he was now discovered
    small pricked loose & unpleated opening
    to manifold injury & errand

    A channel for pain and a channel for hearing... more »

  • HARDWARE

    You lean disconsolate on your stool,
    Sullen and certain

    As minor royalty rusticated to this
    Unhelpful climate of solvents, gaskets, pliers, and bolts.

    Because they are new and manifold and useful

    You feel their whispers against you. The staunch
    Resistance of objects. How can I tell you
    O my soul,

    To exhaust the realm of the possible when
    Ever the light
    Is uncongenial as February and your hand unlovely?

    Like a dog nearly annihilated by nerves
    And boredom chewing her paw to sore, red velvet,

    You've torn your nails so far flesh swells
    Closed around each bed like an eyeless socket.

    That you should be making such small change!

    Fingers inarticulate as moles nudge a debris
    Of dimes not thick enough to hide

    The candy-colored butterfly flaring
    Across the tender, veined delta of your hand

    Heralding indelibly the eviction
    Of this vulgar flesh

    Or the one word needled in black, knuckle-Gothic
    R a p t u r e... more »

  • OVID IN AMERICA

    George Sandys (1578-1644), translator of Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologized, and Represented in Figures, and resident treasurer of the Virginia Company for its settlement at Jamestown (1621-1624).
    I. A Long Voyage, 1621

    I left you where you are:
    A humming late summer afternoon
    & mottled by shade a man reading a letter
    Becomes the image of a man reading
    That I am forgetting.
    This page is small yet stout enough
    To bear me whole upon it to you
    All the way in London. I may expand
    Myself at leisure then fold it tight,
    A sanctuary;
    Like our vessel christened The George,
    My letter is another ark to preserve me: George.

    No midnight is so private as the sea's:
    Timbers breathe, a loose rope snaps, & as the wind
    Shoves you behind then slaps your face,
    Seeing nothing, nothing to be seen, you feel
    Unhoused, evicted from time.
    But tonight, my love, my lamp is feathered, shy,
    Herald of the next ransack & assail.
    Behold the storm petrel! gray wick-threaded throat
    Burning the oil secreted, an amber musk
    Of uncompassed seas & the solitary hunt,
    Of error & sign, &
    That delirium—which turned
    Our ship's boy to mowing fields of Atlantic salt.
    Like windrows he dropped the waves.

    Until gaffed, pulled like a sleeve
    Through himself,
    He will live, tongue-bit, torn.
    To return likely to a stool set on the shale
    Where he can mend nets skirted by braggarts
    Who have never traveled farther
    Than the smoke dribbling from their chimneys.
    I try never to imagine drowning.
    Noisy urgent inefficiencies above, waves
    Pummeling, sky shredding, & the body
    Anchored only in its just longing for air.
    The tighter death's embrace, the more languorous
    The moment. So this boy suffered
    Some vast charity of sight.
    He was what he saw, an adam.
    Now he may be adamant & stain & distance;
    & also that small satin interruption
    Of terror—the instant breath's
    Orphaned by self's perishing through poetry.
    Like Daphne his voice is forfeit for the song,
    But we do not grieve for Daphne.

    My bird-light gutters.
    Its call had sounded
    Like dry wood giving up a nail.

    What is this your wound that you must follow it?
    For you I had no answer; consider only the reveries
    Of the carpet navigator in his room. Listening
    To collisions of wave & star outside his tower,
    Rock-rapt, icebound, with a mind by dread
    & ceremony & the dozen arts of courtesy
    Girded, he invented those ideal earths in latitudes
    Unstrung that I now trespass—

    After I had translated two books
    To the pouring of seas & clamor of sailors
    I began to brood long on landlessness,
    Coming to believe it my sovereign, my home,
    When on the flat horizon of weeks at noon the flaw:
    A color merely, private, ethereal, collecting
    Heft in the warp of time. Days
    Before we quailed at the barbed illegible pelt
    Of forest, I wrecked, forlorn upon its savor,
    Sweet damage of apples
    Fermenting in rain-soaked hay,
    Giving way to something ranker—
    I tasted it at dinner lying on my tongue.
    I am His Majesty's servant as my god made me;
    I am also my damps & exaltations; I am afraid.

    Heaven & hell enlisted their geographers,
    A map has opened the soul's five hinges, & Persian
    With expectance how often have I feasted
    On departure. London, Naples,
    Marriage, Damascus, now your dear person.
    So much flowing through me
    My sight has silted dark my mouth. I beg
    All the many tongues your wonder cabinet holds
    —Dolphin, mockingbird, Muscovy bear—to tell
    This arrival, so unforeseen, disorderly
    As my hope you will not forget who I was, & am,
    Unwildered, unwestered, constant, returning.

    Bless you where you are, & where you would be
    When you are there, & bring you thither.
    My love,
    What may never not be strange? What,
    This morning, will wake & make me new.


    II. Winter 1621

    It begins like a legend told to a fretful child:
    It was, it was, and it was not. It begins
    As if with symptoms of that sweat
    I hear, so late (oh not
    Thank God too late), you were spared:
    A little blush along the throat. A restlessness.
    Then the silkworm's casement, tapering
    & pale as the egg of a chimney-swift,
    Which we will convert to cloth
    To cover the naked Indian. A bobbin,
    Which dropped in my tisane would ravel the maelstrom
    Of silk. Spindle of whirlwind, spoonful
    Of follow. The thread's stained scalding mile
    Pours out my glass tempered in our kiln,
    As each new settler is also seasoned
    In this furnace, our new-found land.
    (As the man drowning believes he digests
    The mild water, as the damned marry flame
    & yet blister, so do I know myself
    Grasped by change at the stroke of change.)
    Hold this glass up to your eye & through
    Its pebbled horizon you may spy your room,
    See its ire of surfaces sore with chairs.
    Green grass green grace...
    Would that I could account this world one
    Where nothing is lost only exchanged.

    Without coppice, park, romancely glade,
    Or commanding vantage,
    Woods press on us; they fester,
    & they watch. To the northeast white spruce,
    Phalanxes of fledging pinions, clamp
    Root to granite & hoard
    What they glean off salt-fog, sea-spray, & stone.
    From ewers of willow-oaks darkness steams.
    At breakfast I have pinched the plantlets
    Insinuated by a maple's winged seed overnight;
    It unclasps twin leaves, pale hands
    Loosening the soil of my rest,
    They never empty of their solicitations.

    I find no empires here, no apostles or emeralds.
    Instead, all things a-broil with an awful begetting
    & my hours unsettled by some new show
    Of riotous & mystical imagination.
    Though we might wish to wedge us barnacle-tight
    To shore's edge, our foundation raised
    On marshland recalls this irritable fact—
    The estuary, a nursery of strange devices,
    Throws off new forms so promiscuously
    I wonder how the world holds any more shape
    Than a dream?

    From my hand at night (my light
    A little oil in a dish or a rush taper smoking
    Not so different from his), flower
    Ovid's fantastic shapes, shadows
    Of an old empire's former splendor
    Now perjured by Virginia's clay & leaf & sand
    Turned to the king's profit as iron, silk, & glass.
    Belief is possible at night, solitary, firelit.
    Then, I can believe in Ovid's centaurs,
    Or at death that he was met by a three-headed dog.
    I can believe in your letters, which never come.

    It is for you that I persist
    In translating fresh birdsong, like this bunting's
    Comecomecome wherewherewhere
    All together down the hill.
    (Where did they go, who went before us?
    Starved trove: scatter of blue beads & a name
    Grafted to that bald acre.
    Roanoke.
    There is my terror & my tale: to go west
    Under this eternity of nameless trees.)

    And what will you make of this
    Humble hieroglyphic of nature I forward to you?
    Nocturnal, double-wombed, variously called
    Monkey Fox; Frosted,
    Or Short-headed, or Indolent.
    Let this Leafy-Eared Rat-Tailed Shuffler
    The naturals call Possoun
    Join your zoo's other fantasies
    & with the Little Military Learnéd Horse
    Enjoy its dish of ale. Its fur is durable;
    Its flesh wholesome, white, & pleasant.

    With one hand I can reach for
    A medicine man's last breath caught in a vial
    Or a hummingbird, stuffed
    With arsenic & leaves & looking
    Like a fine jeweled dagger aimed at my heart,
    With the other hand I brush away
    The web spun in a fox skull's whitened socket
    While a wild turkey glowers from its corner
    Like a small dyspeptic dragon.
    My cullings do not quite master my closet.
    When I imagine myself returned to the smells
    & noise of London, from my stiff knee
    Sands grinding as I walk, no marvels
    Except those which the mirror surprises in all of us,
    The swan-white wing at my temple,
    I do not know what to hope for:
    That you do not see me, or that you do,
    But as though I were pinned under glass.

    At my windowsill a quince widens
    A jaundiced eye into the dark where are
    Real nettles beneath the words & invincible red
    Root of the madder.
    As long as any image of this world
    Sticks in my soul, I remain—


    III. Spring 1622

    300 were murdered. Twice that
    Refuse to garden, hunt, or gather food
    But languish like sparrows sunk in a frozen pond
    Staring up at shadows, awaiting
    The sign that will call them back to life.
    They cannot imagine their future.
    Haunts without words to tell their trial; like Io,
    We would flee the noise of our new voices.

    Last night's sun smeared across the sky
    Its customary rose-gold gore. You,
    In London, you have applauded no tragedy
    Your approximate heart might use to figure this—
    This violence. The trees
    Do not desist their manufacture.
    The perfumier's corky bitch
    Chewed out the tendon in her master's wrist
    Until it inelastic snapped & back she bowled,
    Off to the woods & not sniffed since.

    With the smell of breakfast still in the air,
    The aftertaste of lead was the scandal
    Of blood. Bodies stung into postures,
    Penitence, Weariness, Surprise, & cardinal
    In red caps, red garlands of red roses
    Wrapped around white throats, white
    As bacon fat. No one need travel any longer
    For all have found what they sought:
    Henry walks his own fields, Lucy is not afraid,
    Will has finally grasped the subjunctive.
    The dead do not look asleep.
    We cannot sleep through this life.
    I watch the flies at their devotions, & I learn.

    Time will not end by water or fire,
    But by a congregation of frogs who yelp like hounds
    & ride each other in shallow plashes.
    I am inhabited by things that wake me,
    But do not show themselves.

    One frog my hand holds like a swollen glove.
    As your maid might pare a callous,
    I trim the brief cloudburst of its brain,
    Which has the texture of cheese under my knife.
    The frog, insensate, blind as an idol,
    Would sit until it starved.
    If I put Ovid between it & the window,
    Tickle its hinderparts with acid, it leaps
    Towards the light, avoiding the book.
    Its movements finical as a rope-dancer.
    Though she have her heart & liver pulled out
    Another frisks & fidgets up & down.

    Who am I so far from home?

    A year—& through branches light comes,
    A pilgrim out of March from a farther world.
    There is a flaw in the air. I breathed it
    From the swamp, a kiss of damp
    Translated to a plague that would remote me
    From care & corroding solicitudes, crown me
    With this headdress of red-painted deer-hair
    & weight my ears with wheels of copper.
    My face painted blue & silver, my body
    Washed in crimson dye, they would greet me
    First with lamentations to mourn my old life,
    Then by psalms I could enter
    Purged & reborn & singing in a tongue
    Not mine I know not where to go. (I know.)... more »

  • SONG & ERROR

    For Audrey Richardson Curdy (1931-1986)
    It was 1986, when currencies to be changed
    Into multiple-launch-surface, anti-tank missiles
    Swarmed through numbered bank accounts
    Like Ovid's seething knotted seed of frog-slime,
    Which not seldome attracted by the sun falls
    In little frogs with the rain; when it also rained
    Radionuclides, strontium, caesium, & iodine,
    Over river & clay, & over the poet's Black Sea
    Exile, before the prevailing winds blew them all
    Across Europe from Chernobyl (jewel of a name
    That means black stalks & tasted newly of metal),
    & I was in your room trying to build a fire.
    Wet branches breaking, those were your breaths
    Ripped out of the air. What was it hiding you
    So that at every hour's dusk I startled on you
    Where you lay, nearly resigned in the talons
    Of your most personal shape? Something still
    Obdurate, still wild as the horned lark
    Rising from its nest at the hunter's feet.
    I didn't allow you to speak what I didn't know
    To ask. As far as the bolted iron door to adust
    I could have followed, to watch the way
    You put on your flame like sweetness
    Wearing the skin of a lion, & there kept
    My vigil mild while bones leached minerals
    & cell walls ruptured. It isn't you
    Curled like a seed of storm-pine in a furrow
    Of ash, but your same small jeweled hand
    Belonging to a Roman matron that I see,
    Its livid reach forth the black igneous rock.
    Too late to retrieve the truth, too late not to
    Have been like the alchemist who, lowered by rope
    Into the volcano, feeling the sharp concussion
    Of heat, reported his own eyes saw olive groves
    & sky, mountains, & rivers of water & fire.
    What can I make of this? Oh, what am I to make?... more »

  • SPARROW TRAPPED IN THE AIRPORT

    Never the bark and abalone mask
    cracked by storms of a mastering god,
    never the gods' favored glamour, never
    the pelagic messenger bearing orchards
    in its beak, never allegory, not wisdom
    or valor or cunning, much less hunger
    demanding vigilance, industry, invention,
    or the instinct to claim some small rise
    above the plain and from there to assert
    the song of another day ending;
    lentil brown, uncounted, overlooked
    in the clamorous public of the flock
    so unlikely to be noticed here by arrivals,
    faces shining with oils of their many miles,
    where it hops and scratches below
    the baggage carousel and lights too high,
    too bright for any real illumination,
    looking more like a fumbled punch line
    than a stowaway whose revelation
    recalls how lightly we once traveled.... more »

  • THE SEER

    He is a voice of shipwrecked marble,
    greened and shattered statuary,
    shouting pop songs to the morning.
    Clothed in his exhausted changes,
    cardigans moulting over rickracked
    black skirt over broker's ruined suit,
    which clings to him in another's shape,
    he looks halfway from human.
    There is nothing else he can do;
    but bandage his dreads in knit caps,
    bind in wool his arms and shins
    against the delirium, insistent, delicate,
    terrible, as a campaign of ants. He touches
    his blind eyes, their leaking meats,
    his lips, groin, last year's broken hip,
    to constellate himself for the straits
    of evening's rest. Hearing him sing
    the songs of seven generations,
    of hillbillies, castaways, mavericks,
    we, the dying, who wait impatient
    beside him, by our understanding
    are comforted, soothed by his vision
    of those green acres. Before him
    a bus's pneumatic doors groan open,
    like an old priest climbing to his knees
    without conviction, and with a gesture
    archaic as the lavish waste of new
    vintages poured out onto dirt, the smoke
    of pleasure and of sacrifice, the singer
    cups his hands saying, fitfully, nothing.
    The sweatshop-racket of cicadas,
    a bird's two-note diminuendo like
    a dog tied up outside, bluebottles purring
    their little flesh-songs, decay and repair
    —in the wind small things also cry.... more »

  • TO THE VOICE OF THE RETIRED WARDEN OF HUNTSVILLE PRISON (TEXAS DEATH CHAMBER)

    Until wolf-light I will count my sheep,
    Adumbrated, uncomedic, as they are.
    One is perdu, two, qualm, three
    Is sprawl, four, too late,

    Night is already a thirsty county in Texas,
    Salt flat and unremitting
    Blacktop dry as my mouth,
    And your elastic vowels, my genial,

    My electric ghost, my
    Radio's lonely station. Because the spectacle
    Of suffering corrupts us, all punishments
    Are now executive, offstage.

    Most presume you a fable:
    Echoes of approaching bootheels
    That harry labyrinths of concrete corridors,
    Or hooded in burlap.

    We are convicted
    As we are also pardoned: He cherished
    His lawn, or afterwards he covered
    The victim's face. You make no judgments

    Yourself. Only in bursal tones,
    Tactful as the file box
    That shows, if opened, the neon, pleading heart
    Of Jesus wrapped in barbed wire,

    You perform penalties others have scripted, so
    Untroubled by so many.
    How long I have listened to you
    For news of the opal distances,

    Or rain to freshen the morning's arrival.
    What keeps me awake? Nothing
    More than a fly's dysenteric violin.
    What puts me to sleep

    Is your clement voice, saying
    The dark has no teeth. While men like you live
    In this world do I dream
    I am either safe or spared?... more »