Poetry

The Imaginary
. . . expanded by The Unimaginable

Editors' Prefaces:
a) The Imaginary (NJ)
b) The Unimaginable (MH)

Poetry

Editors' Prefaces:

- Imaginary (NJ)
- Unimaginable (MH)

~ . ~ . ~

The Imaginary

The idea for this month's collection on "the imaginary" came straight from the canon of English Romantic poetry, prompted by its enduring effect on me personally, with its focus upon the imagination as a creative force which unites all our human faculties. The collection is complemented by separate, in-depth articles on the psyche and the imagination by poets/therapists Elaine Schwager and Victor Schermer.

The Romantic poets spoke of all things, things that mattered which I found nowhere else discussed. I had not seen or heard anything like them: their spirited imaginings, glee, gloom, love, death, social protest, revolutionary fervor, disillusionment; their efforts, poetic and personal, to regain lost faith, to look upon the treasures of the past for inspiration and solace and old poetic forms; nor, of course, their intolerance of and healthy disdain for the cultural conventions and political circumstances of their time that fostered and condoned oppression in any of its forms. All of this work I found within a pale orange three-inch hardcover volume. To the horror of my family, I quit pre-med and began the first semester of a decade of study.

The plan for The Lyrical Ballads is clearly described in the Preface to the 1800 edition. Wordsworth's objective was to

choose incidents and situations from common life [written] in a selection of language really used by men, [and] to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect.

Coleridge was to do the reverse, thus, to

[present] persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic . . . so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and resemblance of truth sufficient to produce for these shadows of the imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. (Biographia Literaria)

The aesthetic theories of Wordsworth and Coleridge, the so-called "expressive theory of art," can produce poems that sound whiny, cloying, and self-indulgent--not what they wished to bequeath to us, nor to future generations of poets. The deadwood in Wordsworth was evident to me, but I ignored it and looked at the living trees: "Tintern Abbey" and "Intimations of Immortality." Hundreds of times I read "The Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," "Frost At Midnight." Back then I had little feeling for Shelley. My fault, not his.

Byron could make me extremely moody ("Childe Harold's Pilgrimage") or fill me with laughter ("Don Juan," "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers"). William Blake, their precursor, could be crystal clear and moving--or more obscure than T. S. Elliot and Ezra Pound, those rebellious, reluctant successors to the Romantic tradition. Although I cherished Keats's odes, his many sonnets, "The Eve of St. Agnes," and his longer, mature works, I disapproved when he stood "tip-toe upon a hill."

The articles by Schwager and Schermer make clear how important the concept of the imagination has been since 1798, as it is now--and not only in literature. Thom Ward's poem, "Well Through the Test," exemplifies its childhood.

The Romantic poets, who rebelled against the idea of the mechanistic universe of the previous century (God as clockmaker who made the clock, wound it up and walked away) and despised 18th Century poetic diction and the use of fantastic and inappropriate images and metaphors as cheap attention-getting devices, wanted something more genuinely human and humanistic.

The early 19th Century could be viewed as a second Renaissance. Starting with Wordsworth and Coleridge, they resurrected the poetry of Donne, medieval verse, the ballads, Milton (with a reinterpretation of Shakespeare) from obscurity, to live and breathe again. Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian theories of art, nature, and philosophy, along with slowly growing reformist Methodism and evangelical movements, merged into a new Humanism against the sway of Nation States on the rampage. The Napoleonic Wars brought to England carnage, oppression, loss of civil liberties and economic hardship under the guise of protection from invasion (a real threat), with George III on the throne.

The political and social conditions of that time invite comparison to WWI, the war to end all wars, the failure of the League of Nations, and also to WWII and its aftermath: the Berlin Wall, an economic boom financed by the Cold War, and the nuclear anxiety we have had to live with since (acknowledged in E.B. White's 1948 essay, excerpted in this issue).

Accordingly, many of the themes and concerns of the 19th Century, with its lyric and narrative modes, are present and accounted for in this collection. James Ragan's "The Pebble Culture" does not entertain quaint notions of primitivism, but rather, re-enacts the invention of weapons in a cave. While the girl carves a bowl with a glacier flake, the boy

grazed the Abbevillian ax
against the wall, a shower of pebbles
forming in their meteoric light
frenzied points of departure, spoons into knives,
flint into spears, violence into culture.

Ragan brings us dead center, eye-to-eye, with our own "culture." In this, as in so many of his other poems, he is a man speaking to men. God shows up a lot in this collection; Paradise too, with intricate and driving sound patterns.

Jay Chollick's "The Gift" is a varied, urgent, imperative, sound-lively poem that casts a spell from the first line: "Give city as a gift, give/rush to her." He follows with the hidden, strange and beautiful, "give music/and the thin guitar." There are worthy mysteries here, along with some shocking realizations: "a dirty corner/muttering--that's someone's mind!" Read this one, movie-goers: I don't want to spoil the ending. And don't neglect his second piece, "Goodness."

Like the genre favorite of the Romantics (who were great walkers), Paul Espel's "As the Crow Flies" and "Last of the Nabateans" are journey poems. I have been where "As the Crow Flies" takes us. It's not a far cry from "The Ancient Mariner," though less wordy. Though ballad-like in appearance, it's tough when the sun goes down at noon. It offers straight talk full of paradox. Good excuses. Consider the punishment. Consider the crime: "What you need is a god/with a better deal." His "Nabateans" is another imaginary trek, a life-on-the-line poem with desert humor and zeal. But at least we are not lost.

The couple in Johanna Keller's "The Mutiny, Two Voyagers" are alone together on a wide sea, lost, but not overly concerned. The poem has a "Lotus-Eaters" quality: "Bound by the wind, that will not tell us where." The dreamy, the shipwrecked, in a gentle, imaginative exchange. Allegorical truth, their situation is veiled, as if they had been expelled from paradise--or found a new one.

The theme of separateness, sometimes cheery, of cold and ice, resolution, independence, but questioning, is adroitly handled in Alice Notley's "If I Didn't Shiver I Wouldn't Be Cold." The opening line is a mandate for us all: '"Try to follow your mind out/and anywhere." The dead are piling up. The past is very much alive. More so, the "soughtafter" is always sought; "stay in the poem--skating," a mandate for survival and a statement of the way things are. We all have a "floe" (pun intended). "The separateness/of our situations here is a/manifestation of the universe's cold gold fairness."

--NJ

b) . . . expanded by The Unimaginable

We conceived the magazine as a monthly, intending that it be responsive to the external vitality that can outpace the typical process of selecting, often even that of composing all but the briefest or most impressionistic poems. Long in preparation, the big June feature on the Vietnam War ('Only the Dead') appeared prescient when the controversy over Senator Bob Kerrey's part in a deadly village raid broke in May.

The dive-bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Islamic extremists on September 11 instantly rendered obsolete the machinery of Hollywood disaster factories, while challenging writers to counter the repeated phrase of witness and victim, "There are no words . . . " Those of Montale, Auden, cummings and others have served us well while reporters spoke and poets caught their breath. With that breath, new language borne on acrid, jet-fueled air is bound to enter lung.

As we here were already the self-invited guests in the library of the imaginary, we could quickly add a wing to display some writing on the unimaginable. Most was already available to us, from contributing editors James Ragan, George Dickerson, Margo Berdeshevsky, and others whose work we can draw on overnight. Much of that now reads as remarkably prophetic.

as if some Virgilian urge
had launched all minds into bereavement,
as if, in searching far from the fire's edge,
but for its madness we were so near to it,
raging with Cato on the rock's line scree,
"Are the laws of the pit thus broken
or is there some counsel
changed in heaven . . .?"

(James Ragan)

. . . they tear
the shroud so i can see time from
the bottom up they carve me into
instances of being and i am everywhere
like the quantum stones that protect me
from gravity until i look down
and there you are
gone
forever

(Marc Desmond)

It is time to get holy again.
Find a scarecrow or boric acid
for the doorsills, . . .

Didn't God promise
not to leave?
Didn't we lose the memory
that trees have of April?

(Margo Berdeshevsky)

That steel monument still pulsates
with the blood of a mother and a baby.
It ended the childhood of our older daughter
bleeding on the asphalt next to me;
the three year old grown-up who did not let me die.

(Viktor Tichy)

Merged within the scheduled imaginary work, the reader is left free to say where imaginative shares air with the unimaginable. New submissions, some drenched in, some redolent of the cloud we all breathed in, began arriving already on September 12. The masks are off now, and that poetry will stir these pages in November.

--MH

~ . ~ . ~


Poetry


Jeanne Marie Beaumont
The Hungry Bowl

Margo Berdeshevsky
of darker time
On Fridays, or is it any Day, Cremations

Jay Chollick
Goodness
The Gift (Give city as a gift, give)

Marion Cohen
The Binary Function, Distance Between, Is Not Symmetric

Marc Desmond
epilogue: death of orpheus

George Dickerson
Poetry Is

Paul Espel
As the Crow Flies
Last of the Nabateans

Charles Fishman
In the Eagle Nebula

Dana Gioia
Time Travel
The Lost Garden

Daniela Gioseffi
Aperture

James Hale
Sword Swallower's Swan Song

Patrick Henry
The Trouble with Greeks
Timbuktu

Maureen Holm
Voc Mani Sloka

Nicholas Johnson
Point of Honor

Rafiq Kathwari
Starting My Descent

Johanna Keller
The Mutiny/Two Voyagers

Philip Miller
Tim McVeigh's Father

Alice Notley
If I Didn't Shiver I Wouldn't Be Cold

Richard Pearse
Poem (Paid Announcement)

Ron Price
An Eighteenth Century Baroque Harpsichordist
Speaks of Twentieth Century Brutality

James Ragan
The Pebble Culture
Purgatorio, b. Mudtown

Elaine Schwager
Dual Finish

Viktor Tichy
Select Your Mother With Both Eyes Open

Thom Ward
Rhythm
Well Through the Test

 

~ . ~ . ~


The Hungry Bowl
Jeanne Marie Beaumont

         I placed the bowl on the windowsill where it seemed
to belong. It was a plain pottery bowl, a dull gum-eraser
grey, with a slight crackling in its glaze like the veins in the
eye. The rim was gently rounded, the bottom flat and unsigned.

         It wasn't long before I discovered that whatever I put
in the bowl disappeared: just-picked berries, walnuts, pinwheel
peppermints, even stray teabags. And the rain that collected
overnight when I left the window open, this too quickly
vanished. An insatiable bowl. Each time I fed the fish, the dog,
the neighbor's cat, I had to add to the bowl. Something for the
bowl. Not that it demanded, not that it shook or threatened to
crash, but because it made me feel better.

         Then one day my cabinets were bare. I was going on a
long trip. I said, "Bowl, I have nothing to feed you; chew on
that for a while." I locked the door, leaving the bowl to its
emptiness. And the bowl was happiest then because it was
emptiness after all that it had always been after.


(Jeanne Marie Beaumont's book, Placebo Effects, was a 1996 National Poetry
Series Winner (W.W. Norton, 1997). She teaches at Rutgers University and
lives in Manhattan.)

 
~ . ~

of darker time
Margo Berdeshevsky

Roots.
They were born in cement,
cord-cut on some steel
base of some near tower,
dark wings, present.
Near as a Christmas cry;
mourning song, hovering.

It is time to get holy again.
Find a scarecrow or boric acid
for the doorsills, send away
the centipedes, their eyes,
in my root, their brown metal
rattle across the kitchen carpet.

Didn't God promise
not to leave?
Didn't we lose the memory
that trees have of April?

But the yearly dark,
a winter swan and hungry,
looks with her empty eye
how blank and clear
this plywood home,
too ready for love's graffiti.
Its weltered,
driven
root.

 
~ .

On Fridays, or is it any Day, Cremations
Margo Berdeshevsky


Somewhere Fridays, or is it any day, a painted bull, gold ribbons, black lace.
Some serious laughing, some serious flames. Somewhere, unearthed stars,
weeping,
so many years. This, was someone's mother, her sternum, her knee, her crown.
This, was someone's child. Somewhere, they pick through ashes, for bone.

The child who has not yet set foot on the world is each infant, in this burning. Each day,
smoke. Each day, distant bureaucracy, bribing, military fitted khaki. But each day, prayer,
in finger sized flower baskets.

Protect the days, the darks.

On the forty-second day she may receive a name, a number in the chain of four but one
would be better, like China, like Viet Nam. On cremation days, hands sifting ashes, for
bones.

Enter the third distance, mid-life woman, so pleased, to bear wings.

Garbage, and angels. Plastic bird-kite, crawling the cloud. White-sleeping, the child
becomes a woman. Small breasts. Hands, like the midwife, reach. Her flying squirrel dies
anyway, and the third world rests. My purple fear of crowds that suffocate, dreams.

The music resembled pattern, reiterated, night in netting, frogs, coaching the gamelan.
I am afraid of this third world, even when it allows.

When her child set foot I had to watch. When they picked for bones, I made pictures.

Soon, there may be a birth, soon
another two feet may
not touch, yet.
Touch burning, and birth, on the same dirt.
She rises, she may not come down,
she belongs to heaven,
still, while God has gone to the desert.


© 1999 Margo Berdeshevsky

(Margo Berdeshevsky's work is widely published. A contributing
editor to the magazine, she lives in Paris and Maui.)

 

~ . ~

The Gift
Jay Chollick


Give city as a gift, give
rush to her, a traffic light, give
curdled noise

And from the darker boroughs,
pry out of those deserted eaves their
hidden things

And all the smoking thoughts
of tar and splendor; give her the
yellow cab, the strange

and tarnished feet of beggars, give her
gaiety, the rainwashed child
looking in

And other things--a dirty corner
muttering--that's someone's
mind! Give trampled streets and

Wandering, the poignant
solitary groove
where just one footprint moves or

Disappears into the curving snow
or turns to sandal and the wind a hotblast
summer--languor

Rising to a golden heap, give music
and the thin guitar, the banished horn,
the midnight luster of the stars.

Then give reluctant silence--not
too much: she craves the raucous
side of brick, but not its patient

Assemblage, the stately accretion of a
wall, but toppling,
shuddered by the wrecking ball.

Give her NY vesuvius!
The language burst! The concrete burst!
Give what's torrential to the girl

And in return, if you're
a lucky male,
you'll get her measured fire, and a kiss.


(Prior publ.: Rattapallax No. 5)

 
Goodness
Jay Chollick


Who these days has a
moist idea?
Or gulps down with a new
alacrity
another's light?

Life at one time had its
angels mixed: when
every janus wing, and
feathered,
was at its other side
a scapula does anyone
remember?

And despite their naked clothes
good people preened, they
wore their haloes
like a hat they mouthed
A sudden alphabet--spoke
oak
became a babble of a branch,
a tree's stupendous
sighing does anyone, longing
for this purity
remember it, when

Goodness strode?
And when death, its
unmarked swollen amplitude
was still
unknown?

 

~ . ~

The Binary Function, Distance Between, Is Not Symmetric
Marion Cohen


Human condition metaphors:
It takes longer to return than it does to leave.
If I move closer to someone, he moves farther from me.

But mostly, I stand at the top of a slide and look down.
Then I stand at the bottom and look up.
I take a stick, twirl it, watch it change size.

I dream the distance between a point and itself is not zero.
Every point trembles.
Every point gasps.
Each is the exile from its small country.]
There are directions of preference.
There is great wind.
A general current has begun.

This is not the dragging of inertial frames.
This is the racing of inertial frames.
Space is proven not to exist.
Everything looks for a place to go.

(Marion Cohen is the author of twenty books, the latest of which are Epsilon Country (Center for Thanatology Research) and Dirty Details: The Days and Nights of a Well Spouse (Temple University Press). She is a classical pianist and soprano, and a professor of mathematics at Widener University in Pennsylvania. This is her first appearance on the magazine.)

 

~ . ~


epilogue: the death of orpheus
Marc Desmond (1945? - Feb. 2001)


time is the hardest labor of all
lifting each second into place
while i remember the simple dance
of skin on skin the catch in your voice
tangled with mine the lightness i never felt
the love you planted in shade your spiderweb
palm lace kissing lace the touch
of faded petals rustling
for a long time now everything
has seemed normal the air is warm
and gelid a globe of burning gas crawls
across the image of a sky projected
by our desire for simplicity walls ripple
and drool acid art becomes weary and repetitive
just like home
i have spent a piece of silver
for each year since i left you behind and
now the age of silver is almost gone gold
howls past me into your dead ears and i receive
a blessing in many colors even as i think
claws mark my road they involve me
in hue and texture they tear
the shroud so i can see time from
the bottom up they carve me into
instances of being and i am everywhere
like the quantum stones that protect me
from gravity until i look down
and there you are
gone
forever
 

~ . ~

Poetry Is
George Dickerson


Poetry is a country road
where strange words
bump into each other
and ask for directions.

Poery is a make-shift stage
Where a clumsy man
Can take off his gloves
And become a magician.

Poetry is a time-warped cliff
Where the gnostic tree
Of ancient myth
Leans out into the future.

 

~ . ~


As the Crow Flies
Paul Espel


You're further north
than you've ever been before.
It's cold as Christmas.
Sun went down at noon.

Lost in these woods
just under the timber line.
Not a stitch of moss
to hint which way to go.

There's frostbite in the air
and you can't get warm.
Already you've got no
feelin' in your toes.

The way you came
there wasn't a bend in the road.
You stoked that throttle hard
from there to here,

but left the bridges standin'
burned the rivers out from under.
You slept sound for a while
in those river beds.

Now you can't go back;
the maps are all too faded
and there's not enough moon
to read 'em by again.

You're ripe for salvation;
they'd spot you a mile away.
What you need is a god
with a better deal.

You hold a finger to the wind,
some sign of where you stand.
There's plenty of wind
but you don't feel a thing.

That's frostbite settin' in,
common as death up here.
But there's a country doctor
with a brand-new, fine-toothed saw.

 
~ .

Last of the Nabateans
Paul Espel


Petra, desert capital of the Nabateans,
was a center of the caravan trade. Lost
for centuries, it was rediscovered by a
Swiss explorer in 1812.


The truck you hitch a ride on
stops in the middle of nowhere.
August in the Arabian desert--
even the children look old.

Sandstone canyons guard a hidden
cut deep in the rose-rock walls.
It's empty as the desert sun
till a one-eyed Bedouin kid appears,
"Coca Cola, mis-ter?"


Shifting foothills lead you off in
the dusty mountains. You're worn out,
sunburned, lost. A few likely exits
dead-end and your canteen is dry
when you curl up under a ledge
that's like a stuck out tongue.

The shadow you wake to is a bearded
old man who looks like Moses, says only,
"Mai?"
the local word for water.

He beckons you to a private cave;
inside is a faded red soda-pop cooler,
1950's vintage, American standard.

Its peeling stencil sells
The Pause That Refreshes. And he tries
but you're not buying. So he brings out
a jug of wine that's free and clear.

It's almost dark when you stumble
back to the lost city. Thanks to
Moses--who's beginning to look
more like Columbus.

© 1991 Paul Espel

 

In the Eagle Nebula
Charles Fishman


Here they are: starbursts
at the budding edges
of the universe 7,000
light-years from Earth.
What are such numbers
but the signs of our wonderment?
In these prongs of interminable
silence these uninhabitable peninsulas
new stars emerge They glimmer for ever
ignorant of deity and darkness then burst
into flame. Such burning at the tips
of these fingers!

 

~ . ~

Time Travel
Dana Gioia


Surely the comic books and movies have it right.
The past is waiting for us somewhere--
The table set, soup steaming on the stove.

No theme song, please, or special effects.
This ordinary room with its preposterous lamp
And blue-chintz sofa will suffice.

How long it took to recognize
The shameless modesty of our desire--
Only to possess what we already had.

Let me unlock the door and step inside.
Will you be there at the other end,
Waiting unawares--

There on the morning that we met?

 
~ .

The Lost Garden
Dana Gioia


If we ever see those gardens again,
The summer will be gone -- at least our summer.
Some other mockingbird will concertize
Among the mulberries, and other vines
Will climb the high brick wall to disappear.

How many footpaths crossed the old estate--
The gracious acreage of a grander age--
So many trees to kiss or argue under,
And greenery enough for any mood.
What pleasure to be sad in such surroundings.

At least in retrospect. For even sorrow
Seems bearable when studied at a distance,
And if we speak of private suffering,
The pain becomes part of a well-turned tale
Describing someone else who shares our name.

Still, thinking of you, I sometimes play a game.
What if we had walked a different path one day,
Would some small incident have nudged us elsewhere
The way a pebble tossed into a brook
Might change the course a hundred miles downstream?

The trick is making memory a blessing,
To learn by loss the cool subtraction of desire,
Of wanting nothing more than what has been,
To know the past forever lost, yet seeing
Behind the wall a garden still in blossom.

 

~ . ~


Aperture
Daniela Gioseffi

--for Annie and Jim Wright


I attempt to rearrange the past in Venetian Palaces
built by blood thirsts or delicate lusts,
full of plaintive strains of Monteverdi
trilled in Gothic arches.
Through a camera's eye
I look backward on hope,
every lost stroke between us
mesmerizes mind
into something fair and kind --
as here, in the present, dying drones
drone in autumn sun,
leaves rot, purple asters turn to grey seed --
like tiny mushroom clouds dotting umber and sienna land-
scapes of late autumn, muddled earth
with the garbage of greed
everywhere, crushed cans, chemical poisons, wasted paper,
but in my mind, dusk pours in slanted light of high windows,
twilight motes dance amid red velvet curtains
in Venetian Palaces above shimmering waters, narrow streets,
we lie embracing, intertwined forever
until darkness erases us,
the woods here in dark.
The stamina of memory opens an aperture,
a window on forever, before
the nuclear age
when only a burnt out
dark floating of Earth toward Vega,
after the sun was done,
was an end so far off
it couldn't be
imagined.

 

~ . ~

Sword Swallower's Swan Song
James Hale


He never gave a second thought to death,
But then, there's only so much one throat
Can take. After his doctor gave him

The bad news, he thought, what the hell,
At least I've made a million kids go gaga,
And, so far as I know, not one of them has ever

Tried this at home . . . But home is precisely
Where he was when he decided not to fight itó
A life without swallowing. Unthinkable.

(This is James Hale's first appearance on the magazine.
He lives in upstate New York.)

 

~ . ~


The Trouble With Greeks
Patrick Henry


Dust settles after a war
Over a woman or a man's pride,
Each drawing right to their side.

The conscript clears off home
By way of hot islands,
Through frying-pans and fires
Of concocting women or
Big one-eyed toughs he beats down
In cheap waterfront bars
Where old sweats and drifters hang out;

Spinning out the long fabric
Of homecoming, only to find
Another fight for his own place
Taken over, shacked-up wife
And son looking up to his hero now,
But will strike down the old man soon
As the shadow falls on his Oedipal dream.

A blind man who never saw this, made it all up,
Finding the lines in music
As the harp left by open windows
Plays itself in the breeze, as pages
Turn down random key passages, as red leaves
Fall today or tomorrow when nobody checks.

~ .


Timbuktu (Mali)
Patrick Henry


The harsh desert wind blowing in today
But welcome after the heat of yesterday,
A cooling fan after that gong-beating fire
Now settles its dust to cover the grey city
That might disappear as if it has never been:
Only another dune lost in the vastness
To answer the question, Does it really exist?

If we need any city, then why not this
Straggle of mud, sand and timber adrift:
Dust threatening to roll up its name in legend
Like a magic carpet wiped clean of its pattern
Back to unprinted yarns blank as the desert,
Its trade, learning and character gone forever.
Even now many think it has never been at all.

 
~ .

Voc Mani Sloka

(Aria in Suvicnai* for mezzo soprano and
cello. Premiere: April 29, 2000, Carnegie Hall)

Maureen Holm


Sovanu paska, paska menuc doy.
Sovanu blitse, blitse debic dannai.
Igewa, igewa.
Sloka, sloka pei! Igewa ku.
O, gabrü memmau killoy.

Voc mani sloka, sloka tedü.
Nu sonic lennia kim debai.
Edevi kum battoy sis bajani,
nev husko fai ranne dari miju.
O, nev nev ranne faisi dari mijai.

Sovanu paska, paska menuc doy.
Sovanu blitse, blitse debic dannai.
Igewa, igewa.
Sloka, sloka pei! Igewa ku.
O, gabrü memmau killoy.
Gabrü dani memmau,
voc mani kum killoy!


[*]Suvicnai (shoo-veets-NYE) is an invented language.
 

~ .


Point of Honor
Nicholas Johnson

 
If I loved honor more, there'd be more dead people.
My father's shotgun would have been used,
not just on himself or as an impressive wall ornament.
If I loved honor more, there'd be more people hurt
for stupid reasons. My wife would have been shot
in the act, her lover in the back, all
because of an exchange of bodily fluids.
Yes, she'd have come to me with her legs and knees
all bandaged up, asking for money and forgiveness --
the things I'm running out of. If I loved honor more,
I'd have done my full stint in my jet fighter,
shot anything that moved, and not felt bad about it.
I'm still not clear on all the points of honor.
I was stupid for a long time -- longer than I was married,
longer than I hoisted a flag. Take a look around. Look
how many are dead. If honor had been involved,
there would have been more: Fisticuffs. Duels. Seconds.
Honor has made people happier than alcohol.
Hell, if honor were really involved, there would no World
Trade Center left at all. No business as usual. Me,
I'm sick of bodily fluids and scrapings things off
after C-4's done its work. I'm sick of the air
that insults our lungs, and all that's thrown at us
on the evening news. We should know better than to
consume ourselves and moralize. Thank God for death.
The ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes
we don't even know. The enemy is a shadowy character.
There are too many silent partners. Buddy, I know
because I was one of them for a long time. Like most men,
I've borne my share of coffins down, but if I had to
choose, I'd rather listen to a band no one had to march to.

(
Prior publ.: Poetry Wales)
 

~ . ~

Starting My Descent
Rafiq Kathwari


I sprout wings running on the tarmac
after a bomb rips the baggage claim.
Soldiers stand in single file, khakis blurring
smashed gold of mustard flowers. My legs
collapse. I roar over tips of Poplars, follow
Jhelum upstream where Mother, standing
at the river's source in Verinag, tears open
a pomegranate with bare hands. "These are
rubies from my dowry stolen by the in-laws."
Her dupatta undulates and she floats away
reclined on the veil. I give chase, soaring
above the Himalayas, depression fuming
over the Pacific. I am the pallor of twilight,
starting my descent. A town rises to greet me,
Tarrytown Institute for Mental Tectonics.
"Wait," says a nurse when I ask for Mother,
"Why aren't you already where you are going?"

 
~ . ~

The Mutiny, Two Voyagers
Johanna Keller


HE

The vessel creaks, the waves rise. In the hold, rust
bands the rows of barrels. The fruit trees grow yellow
in the dark. A stunted lemon swings. Crabapple
throws its anxious thorns. Lime refuses to flower.

SHE

After the squall, we'll water them. Darling, let the
rudder go. Let the currents carry us.

HE

Discarded charts fleck the wake, trace where we had
been.

SHE

Dust is clouding the instruments.

HE

We drop them overboard into sargasso--

SHE

--and rest in the white palms of sails, reading one
another.

HE

I dream. The compass flutters, silver dims to dark. It
winks at a passing whale, it is inhaled with plankton,
lodges in the oil-rich body. The needle spins,
unlooked for.

SHE

I dream. The sextant, pronged and filigreed, falls
fathom after fathom until it strikes a dull clank on a
clay amphora. It sets off a tidal wave through wine
still sweet.

HE

And we are changed. We bring the trees into the light.
Your hands bloom. We place a line of empty jars to
wait along the bow.

SHE

Act II, Paradise. The wide-planked deck is a small
stage. Below, honeycomb. The sleeping cabin
overhears our conversation.

HE

Long nights turn the starry clock. Cradled in each
other's arms, we whisper our discovered names.

SHE

Our days are fair, scalloped by suns. Together we are
bound by wind, that will not tell us where.

 

(
Johanna Keller lives in New York City and writes poetry and essays on music and literature.)
 

~ . ~

Tim McVeigh's Father
Philip Miller


If he could
He'd run away
On that Monday morning
But he knows
He'll be surrounded,
Eyes outside,
Watching his gate,
Inside the dark eye,
Of TV screen,
The digital clock
Glowing in the dark:

That something would catch him
As he crept out
In the dark before dawn
Like a convict himself,
Looking for a cool cave
To find refuge
Before, just a glance at his watch,
Or at the old mantel clock
Still ticking away,
Tells him it's 7 AM

When hope against hope
He'll be alone
Looking behind him
At the silent house
At the familiar old sticks
Of furniture,
Sitting in their accustomed places
And the rooms in the shadows beyond,
Every door shut.

But if he could
On that Monday morning
He would slip through the walls
Find an empty field
And stare at the sky
As a child would
Naming animals
The clouds made
Disappearing into one.


If I Didn't Shiver I Wouldn't Be Cold
Alice Notley


"Try to follow your own mind out
and anywhere"
past the stormtroopers on the ice
till I come to the soughtafter
five at the mortuary four on the floor
how many dead by the time I
actually get to the door
through which might be the soughtafter
the soughtafter must be wintry I'm still
on ice no more stormtroopers cold night
stay in the poem--skating
down the white river, now a
breakup of ice god that's pleasurable
or dangerous a melting, coming apart in floes
people on other floes . . . poets I was younger with
separate and floating too, Ted has a floe
Anne has one Steve Bernadette the separateness
of our situations here is a
manifestation of the universe's cold gold fairness
no one has more to face than this?
and I'm all alone now, I've floated off on
a sidestream or is it the mainstream it's
very wide and my floe is still holding

where is the soughtafter
caresses the icy needles of pines on the banks
my fur coat's white dusted
new snow new coldness
it might be the soughtafter being here
so alone and cold like a mind
a certain mind not thinking
not thinking and not thinking
floating far from my "group"
who are you ice who are you strom
who is this ice I've been for so long
This is distinction, says a voice,
Your features are etched in
ice so everyone can see them.

(From Mysteries of Small Houses (Penguin, 1998).)

 

~ . ~

Poem (Paid Announcement)
Richard Pearse


They were sending in your firing squad, but then
a more liberal regime took control.
They decided instead on hanging. Have a Pepsi®.

The hangman was delayed by his daughter's wedding,
so they let you sit for an hour
here in the shade outside your cell,

let you fan yourself and decide
on a hamburger or a tuna sandwich for your last meal.
Pepsi® goes fine with either one.

Too bad--the customs guy had been about to pass you through,
then reached into the corner of your bag
and found the one pack of Marlboros®--

Freeze! Well, you should have known
the country is now sponsored by Lucky Strikes®,
which is a subsidiary of Pepsi®;

the notices were all over the airport.
Your show trial took two hours,
your defense underwritten by Pepsi®.

Nearby, in the sun, a squadron of ants
is efficiently hauling off a piece of a dog turd.
How grateful they'd be for the Pepsi® you're enjoying!

 

~ . ~

An Eighteenth Century Baroque Harpsichordist
Speaks of Twentieth Century Brutality
Ron Price


I read a story in the newspaper.
A teenage girl with aids,
a fourteen year old Cuban addict.
She goes out, gets knocked up.
They ask her why & she says,
"Why not?" I mean, who cares why!
The money the state will spend on her
& her child, that money
could support my ensemble for a year.

(Ron Price's new collection is A Small Song Called
Ash From The Fire
(Rattapallax Press, 2000).)

~ . ~

The Pebble Culture
James Ragan


When in Greenland the ice had slid
its one broad shelf across the plains,
pushing past the rise of stone and lava,
and arctic ferns had split their roots
between the tarn and tundra
not knowing which, the thorn or reedbuck,
they had fed or fathered, one stone struck
steep against the other, chips flaking
off the white spurs of fire,
and a girl in her Choukoutien cave
of burnt bones and antlers, carved
her bowl into a hollow, the rough shape
incised into the curvature of a breast,
now mothering, now flowered, and the boy,
who saved the razor edge of the glacier flake
for his own picking, grazed the Abbevillian ax
against the wall, a shower of pebbles
forming in their meteoric light
frenzied points of departure, spoons into knives,
flint into spears, violence into culture.
 


Purgatorio

b.
Mudtown

James Ragan


And as those who go
in body but in spirit stay,
we passed down to Charcoal Alley,
where in the mist that cleaved
the red forehead of the sky,
we watched the rain wind in its reel
with no more force than a spigot.
No one knows how first
the Manila Chinos saw the vast
Pacific space, the hypnotic
spin of dark and light
that rained upon the soil
with unblurred uniformity,
if on their spines the derricks
drilled their bits to breed with oil.

On the day that fire swathed the clouds,
we heard the crackling of eucalyptus
ignite the distant barricades
as if some Virgilian urge
had launched all minds into bereavement,
as if, in searching far from the fire's edge,
but for its madness we were so near to it,
raging with Cato on the rock's line scree,
"Are the laws of the pit thus broken
or is there some counsel
changed in heaven . . .?"

(Contributing editor, James Ragan, director of the
writing program at USC, and author most recently
of Lusions (Grove 1997) is completing his fifth and
sixth collections.)


 

~ . ~


Dual Finish
Elaine Schwager


A boy is being made up
by his mother. Pared away, revealed:
the reflecting double
entendre, as she paints his lips Chinese red
and sweeps a thin black line
over the lid with a fine tipped brush.

Amber eyes rise over dark lashes, suns:
twin spirits of one god. Frosty peach
carpets the forgotten bone now prominent
inside his cheek. Dual finish powders
the stubborn shines. Mirages
disappear on gritty skin. Hair

glossed into an aura of taffy
custard around the scrambled look
of queen and king, vying for rule.
When he slips on her dress and satin
jacket, she feels the force of love embrace the
boundless being of her son, his body

in moon's soft play twinkles
assaulting the line
used to divide light
discovered from light created,
the disguise
from what it fears.

They enter
the Drag Ball, her moustache drips
between her teeth and she wonders if he sees
what a prison this light she has been
for him has been for the light in her?
All this time

she could have painted
on her face, like she painted the alchemy
of a woman on him, the music
of a man, the vestigial identity
that needs someone to love it,
to become the other

side of things.

(Elaine Schwager's collection, I Want Your Chair,
is a Rattapallax Press publication.)

 

~ . ~


Select Your Mother with Both Eyes Open
Viktor Tichy


My mother gave me an art book of the sculptures in Prague
when I was too young to know what a sculpture was
and too old to feel that I was her breathing sculpture.

She chose me and my Iowa over the sandstone saints
on the bridge of Gothic steeples over the Vltava River.

The ice broke after the Velvet Revolution
staged by a Czech playwright,
while the gulls stretched their wings
from one river bank to the other, laughing.
Small wonder she chose me crying.

*

Behind my closed eyelids
waves the hair of an Egyptian princess
framing the small face of a Jewish child.
"You have a rare gift, the heart of a poet,"
she whispered twelve years ago
in an implicit adoption ceremony
after I bled through the lines of our first writing assignment.

It was not meant to be poetry. A strangled requiem
primed my throat
choking with the memory of two licorice marbles
in the smile of a Philippine schoolgirl,
her only jewelry, her bare soul.

It was not meant to be poetry. A therapy, perhaps,
in the night when my veins were allowed to open
for two lives carried on a single stretcher
from the New Jersey Turnpike bridge.

That steel monument still pulsates
with the blood of a mother and a baby.
It ended the childhood of our older daughter
bleeding on the asphalt next to me;
the three year old grown-up who did not let me die.

*

Now I sleep with the mother of children with angelic faces,
eyes wide as the Orient, and mouths full of Mandarin words
and oranges. She will be mother once more.

I have a secret to whisper into your ear
before you open your eyes in the morning:
the world will be born any second now,
and no child is ever too old.

(Contributing editor Viktor Tichy is widely
published. A Prague native, he lives in Iowa.)

 

~ . ~

Rhythm
Thom Ward


Because it is now evening and not morning a man sits on the toilet. His left hand is preoccupied with a small photo album featuring snapshots of his wife in garters, spikes, silk panties and bras. His right hand is preoccupied with a suddenly exaggerated version of his penis. He flips the photos and studies them. Flips and studies, studies and flips, the work of his left hand. Over the flesh, shaft to head, the work of his right. On the other side of the wall his wife lies naked in bed flipping through the pages of a gardening magazine with its marigolds, lilies, chrysanthemums and vetch. As the pages are glossy and tend to stick, two fingers from her left hand go to her tongue for the saliva necessary to capture the corner of the page and roll it over, her right hand serving as brace, a foundation, of sorts, to ensure the magazine remains upright amid the sudden flipping of each page. What neither of them knows is how the flipping of the photos in the album and the flipping of the pages in the magazine occurs at precisely the same moment, at the same velocity, to produce precisely the same outcome: a new photo, a new page to study. Of course, it can be argued the man's movements are of a higher dexterity, or, at least, a more nimble concentration, having to account for the variable of the right hand and its ongoing work. Though, from a different perspective, it can be argued such work is rote, requiring no intelligence or will, nothing more than involuntary reflex, even as along the walls light diminishes, a light that has no concern for existence and essence, is not preoccupied with the album and magazine, toilet and bed, the man and wife, who by now can do nothing but continue in the isolation of their perfectly-matched rhythm. Photo after photo in the album flipping, page after page in the magazine flipping, the man never coming, his wife never falling asleep.


~ .

Well Through the Test
Thom Ward


for entrance into kindergarten
the administrator places a ball

in my nephew's restive hands.
Alex, please describe this ball,

its shape and color, how you
play with it, those kinds of things.

After a pause he looks up and says,
Rainbow eye. If you get hungry

lollipops make a parade.
She bites her lip and scratches notes

on lined paper fastened to a board.
No Alex, describe the ball, she says

a little more emphatically.
Lots of things are good to watch,

he says. Her forehead crimps
then releases. Tell me about the ball

in your hands, sweetheart. Can you do that?
Another pause, this one longer.

What ball? he says.


© 2000 Thom Ward

(Author of Small Boats with Oars of Different Size
(Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 2000), Thom Ward
has contributed an essay ("A Little Primer on What
and How") and other poetry to the magazine. (Feb 2001.)
The BOA Editions editor comes to NYC next month.)


~ . ~ . ~