To Beat Ennui
If all else fails, I list some things I love:
my life, my wife, and Highway 61
Revisited; Baudelaire’s faux infamy
when iron-maidened into sonnet form;
the bravest Shostakovich symphony:
11? 8?; the battered heart of Donne;
to watch in safety any kind of storm;
to feel my brain-buoyed spirit rise above
my childhood’s God; John Coltrane playing live;
The Waste Land; Heaney’s Station Island; Lear;
Macbeth; Walt Whitman, Paz, Neruda, Frost—
most often when I plumb their darkness, dear
as the sublimity I thought I’d lost,
as seas that beckon me to drown or dive.
Nights Your Wife Is Gone (II)
The Comp I essays done, you’re playing Blonde
on Blonde, all country-blue and hip, and Ain’t
it just like the night to play tricks. . . . You’ve yawned
all day, but now, an existential saint,
you have a glass of stout in front of you,
the music’s loud, and you’re abuzz with now.
So good sometimes to be alive. Why do
you teach? To live forever, blaze a Tao
of Shakespeare, semicolons, service to
community? You’re mostly serious.
You love Neruda, Bruckner, Coltrane, Bly,
and students, colleagues, friends. You’ve learned to woo
your muse and think less with your dick. You cuss
enough. You’re blessed. Your wife can tell you why.
After watching Martin Scorsese’s
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
No envy, fear, or meanness, Dylan says
a Clancy taught him in the Village, pre-
Freewheelin’, possibly, the Guinness dark
as Oxford Town, as Billie Holiday’s
“Strange Fruit,” Odetta, Mavis Staples, King
the saint in Washington: “Let freedom ring.”
No meanness, envy, fear: perhaps, like Bob,
I’ll strip myself of Zimmerman, break free
of who I think those others think I am, embark
on quests artistic and absurd, appear
in any guise, go anywhere, as long
as I am someone else. Is it so wrong
to be my breath that speaks, avoid the mob,
evolve? To feel no envy, meanness, fear?
I’m thinking I’m not thinking of myself
when I assume the caring role, expose
my mama-tit for blood and friends to nose,
then nibble, suck. The books there on the shelf
explain it. Oedipus, Othello: they
took on too much and killed their wives before
their own self-fascination quickened, bore
the infant pride that sucked their lives away.
Now Leonard Cohen’s on the stereo
and growls, “I need to see you naked.” I
have never said these words to you, can’t bear
to voice my need. But down your wine, let’s go
to bed. I’ll slide my finger up your thigh.
I’ll kiss your breasts. I’ll show how much I care.
Sinatra’s reeling on the stereo:
September of My Years. A mallard’s perched
upon your neighbor’s rooftop, unbesmirched
by river muck, green head absurd, aglow
in golden light. And you’re hung over—no,
still drunk. Odd duck, too young for fifty, so
in love with life, you’ve played the guru, searched
for God in all; abuzz and stoned, you’ve lurched
from laughing saintliness to half-assed sex
and back—enough to learn at last that most
of life lies in between. But don’t get too
damned wise. Your eyes are going. Daily, flecks
of you return to dust. Some hearing’s lost.
Right now, your wife is naked, calling you.
Part of Me Thinks Jazz
I want to write a Coltrane poem so bad-
ly, but I know that part of me thinks jazz
is freer than my waking mind: a dazz-
ling herd of wildebeests, a scorpion mad
with sun that stings itself to sweet release,
a waterfall so hot and fast it smokes
the river nymphs to shore where tribal spokes-
men dance a trance that bleeds their bloodlust peace-
fully. It could be Mingus, Miles, or Monk;
or Bird or Diz or Duke: the freedom with-
in structure, logic’s skeleton support-
ing slabs of rough-cut psyche; senses drunk
but soul as sober as a judge of myth-
ic confluence; a tempest hugged in port.
More angular and less angelic than
the stained-glass trope we use to see the world
in colors that we haven’t got: “Criss-Cross,”
“Green Chimneys,” “In Walked Bud,” “Epistrophy,”
“Misterioso,” “Straight, No Chaser”: truth
told slant, the preexisting shapes all smashed,
made new, still glinting black and white and blue.
I drink straight vodka: there’s no gin, vermouth,
or olives here. My journal pages curled
from last night’s spill, vacation mail-stack stashed
beneath my dog-walk jacket, pizza pan
unwashed, jazz on: I feel so free. A few
nights more I’ll play the modern monk and toss
out caution, worship conjured mystery.
You’re swirling near a center, void of past
or future—yet there’s always now: the chair
awaits with its embrace, the lamp is bare
with longing for your rub, the book so fast
to pose you riddles sits as placid as
a Sphinx, the wine is dark, and Coltrane’s on
the stereo. Relax. Now daylight’s gone,
you feel the power that your magic has.
Just breathe. A priestess sits upon a throne
beneath the flying buttresses inside
your skull. Her robe of incense wafts the drone
of reeds, the pulse of drums. A virgin bride!
Her hymen-honey frightens you, you groan,
spill seed—this verse. You’ve only partly died.
San Francisco Symphony
From Alcatraz, we watched Blue Angel jets
that spiraled, rolled, and dove in sea-blue sky
above the bay. We bought a book by Bly
at City Lights. We sent e-mail regrets
to colleagues, saying we’d be out of touch.
We rode the bus down Haight and back to paw
used jazz and folk and punk CDs. We saw
some Painted Ladies, ate and drank too much.
We scaled Nob Hill to catch Van Morrison’s
Masonic Temple show: all scat and blues
and Celtic soul. We dodged the Wharf, the views
from Lombard Street, from Telegraph. The fun’s
the moment—now—as well as memory.
We heard the San Francisco Symphony.
It’s coffee and a Bruckner symphony
this Sunday morning. Percy looking out
the window, Scarlet in a sleepy pout
below the stereo, the timpani
a hound’s white noise. And me? I want to tear
the hide off life, to separate the strands
that weave our narratives, my veiny hands
all wet and smoking . . . smell of burning hair,
saliva salty, I the hunter, hind,
and bird of prey, and God the horn, the dog
the scherzo, lightning, thunder, mountain fog,
sublime while reconstructed in my mind.
The slabs of sound are sliding into place,
a shrine I enter, searching for a face.
The chair-back’s blue in front of me, and white
the polyethylene and steel that arc
like flying buttresses to keep the dark
inside this pressurized cathedral. Light
shines bright outside, but I am transept-dim,
as Bach or Bly so richly are. A swell
of bass and cello floods my iPod; smell
of paperback surrounds my wine-glass brim.
The steward’s dreadlocks gleam as black as beads
I’ve bought in Rome. My notebook’s cover art
is Byzantine: a bird, eyes ruddy, sticks
its beak in open chalice-bloom. My needs
are few within this flying crucifix:
just God . . . through Paz, through Frost, through Arvo Pärt. . . .
Marco Island, Florida
The outdoor pool’s a heated 81—
about the normal mood and age round here—
and on the beach, bikini top undone,
a spray-tanned coed’s drunk on sun and beer.
I walk the sand with eyes cast down for shells,
but see just scales and fronds and blobs; a mat-
furred quadruped; a flesh-pink hunk that swells
then shrinks in sun. I loathe my belly-fat.
The blue waves ripple white, a Quaker’s beard;
at night, the surf’s a birthing mother’s moan,
and all that buried life’s still there, still feared,
despite the scotch, the iPod’s soothing drone.
At times, the ocean smells of death, so old,
so choked. But never dead—no, not that cold.
Hephaestus clangs his anvil deep inside
your ear. He’s ugly, lame, but oh the things
he makes: the heated metal, hammered, sings
rebirth but pyre-flame first. With wings spread wide,
a crow that thinks you’re Odin plucks your eye.
So now you’re wise: that’s bad for art but good
for life. A dancing skeleton with hood
and sickle grabs your hand: a baby’s cry
is what you hear, and then you see a king,
a bum, a nurse, a whore, a priest entwined
with skeletons and dancing too. Your mind
joins Brueghel, Bosch, and all your books to sing
you “Happy Death”—a tune profound yet trite.
Fuck paradox! You dance with all your might.
Anvil clang, my booted foot
in the stirrup:
a horse I ride backwards,
drunk, young again.
Not the lub-dup
of my mother’s patient heart
but my own fire,
dark lignite inside
licking blue and spitting orange.
The veins in my neck,
the suspension bridge
of my head,
cello torso humming human,
slant rhymes from the sky,
Van Morrison at Nob Hill,
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony,
San Francisco, city
my mother wanted
to visit but never saw.
My father the bellows-maker,
my self the dragon,
my song smothered
unless it has something
This skin gas-flame blue
under the sliver moon,
curved surgical needle
keeping all the sky’s guts
down on us.
A coyote cries in the woods across the street.
Ooh, this salsa’s hot!
Gentle reader, where’s this poem going?
Habanero: Promethean pepper.
Mom and Dad rubbing sticks,
1959 San Antonio honeymoon.
along the River Walk.
And who by fire?
Leonard Cohen asks.
Who by water?
I’m walking the dog,
but this song in my head.
If art really is the residue of living
(Cohen again), then
relax: This poem is only ash.