As he moves the mine detector A few inches over the ground, Making it vitally float Among the ferns and weeds, I come into this war Slowly, with my one brother, Watching his face grow deep Between the earphones, For I can tell If we enter the buried battle Of Nimblewill Only by his expression. Softly he wanders, parting The grass with a dreaming hand. No dead cry yet takes root In his clapped ears Or can be seen in his smile. But underfoot I feel The dead regroup, The burst metals all in place, The battle lines be drawn Anew to include us In Nimblewill, And I carry the shovel and pick More as if they were Bright weapons that I bore. A bird's cry breaks In two, and into three parts. We cross the creek; the cry Shifts into another, Nearer, bird, and is Like the shout of a shadow— Lived-with, appallingly close— Or the soul, pronouncing "Nimblewill": Three tones; your being changes. We climb the bank; A faint light glows On my brother's mouth. I listen, as two birds fight For a single voice, but he Must be hearing the grave, In pieces, all singing To his clamped head, For he smiles as if He rose from the dead within Green Nimblewill And stood in his grandson's shape. No shot from the buried war Shall kill me now, For the dead have waited here A hundred years to create Only the look on the face Of my one brother, Who stands among them, offering A metal dish Afloat in the trembling weeds, With a long-buried light on his lips At Nimblewill And the dead outsinging two birds. I choke the handle Of the pick, and fall to my knees To dig wherever he points, To bring up mess tin or bullet, To go underground Still singing, myself, Without a sound, Like a man who renounces war, Or one who shall lift up the past, Not breathing "Father," At Nimblewill, But saying, "Fathers! Fathers!"
ENG 201 A : Literature for Creative Writers
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle That while you watched turned to pieces of snow Riding a gradient invisible From silver aslant to random, white, and slow. There came a moment that you couldn’t tell. And then they clearly flew instead of fell.
I am the blossom pressed in a book, found again after two hundred years. . . . I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . . When the young girl who starves sits down to a table she will sit beside me. . . . I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . . I am water rushing to the wellhead, filling the pitcher until it spills. . . . I am the patient gardener of the dry and weedy garden. . . . I am the stone step, the latch, and the working hinge. . . . I am the heart contracted by joy. . . the longest hair, white before the rest. . . . I am there in the basket of fruit presented to the widow. . . . I am the musk rose opening unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . . I am the one whose love overcomes you, already with you when you think to call my name. . . .
In the pond in the park all things are doubled: Long buildings hang and wriggle gently. Chimneys are bent legs bouncing on clouds below. A flag wags like a fishhook down there in the sky. The arched stone bridge is an eye, with underlid in the water. In its lens dip crinkled heads with hats that don't fall off. Dogs go by, barking on their backs. A baby, taken to feed the ducks, dangles upside-down, a pink balloon for a buoy. Treetops deploy a haze of cherry bloom for roots, where birds coast belly-up in the glass bowl of a hill; from its bottom a bunch of peanut-munching children is suspended by their sneakers, waveringly. A swan, with twin necks forming the figure 3, steers between two dimpled towers doubled. Fondly hissing, she kisses herself, and all the scene is troubled: water-windows splinter, tree-limbs tangle, the bridge folds like a fan.
I don't mean when a movie ends, as in, it's a! Nor tortillas splitting with the heavy wet of bean. And I don't mean what you do with your lavender robe all fluff and socks to snatch the paper from the shrubs. Nor the promise of a gift, the curl and furl of red ribbon just begging to be tugged. What I mean is waiting with my grandmama (a pause in the Monsoon) at the Trivandrum airport for a jeep. Her small hand wraps again the emerald green pallu of her sari tucked in at her hips, across her breast, and coughs it up over her shoulder a hush of paprika and burnt honey across my face.
Not, exactly, green: closer to bronze preserved in kind brine, something retrieved from a Greco-Roman wreck, patinated and oddly muscular. We cannot know what his fantastic legs were like— though evidence suggests eight complexly folded scuttling works of armament, crowned by the foreclaws' gesture of menace and power. A gull's gobbled the center, leaving this chamber —size of a demitasse— open to reveal a shocking, Giotto blue. Though it smells of seaweed and ruin, this little traveling case comes with such lavish lining! Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer's firmament. What color is the underside of skin? Not so bad, to die, if we could be opened into this— if the smallest chambers of ourselves, similarly, revealed some sky.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully-- Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand-- Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And--what was it exactly?--that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him-- The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did--made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
The long, gray moss that softly swings In solemn grandeur from the trees, Like mournful funeral draperies,-- A brown-winged bird that never sings. A shallow, stagnant, inland sea, Where rank swamp grasses wave, and where A deadliness lurks in the air,-- A sere leaf falling silently. The death-like calm on every hand, That one might deem it sin to break, So pure, so perfect,--these things make The mournful beauty of this land.
Slowly, without sun, the day sinks toward the close of December. It is minus sixty degrees. Over the sleeping houses a dense fog rises—smoke from banked fires, and the snowy breath of an abyss through which the cold town is perceptibly falling. As if Death were a voice made visible, with the power of illumination... Now, in the white shadow of those streets, ghostly newsboys make their rounds, delivering to the homes of those who have died of the frost word of the resurrection of Silence.
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams, I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands, Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you, Your true soul and body appear before me, They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying. Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem, I whisper with my lips close to your ear, I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you. O I have been dilatory and dumb, I should have made my way straight to you long ago, I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you. I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you, None has understood you, but I understand you, None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself, None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you, None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent to subordinate you, I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself. Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre- figure of all, From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light, But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-color'd light, From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams, effulgently flowing forever. O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you! You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself all your life, Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time, What you have done returns already in mockeries, (Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their return?) The mockeries are not you, Underneath them and within them I see you lurk, I pursue you where none else has pursued you, Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me, The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these balk others they do not balk me, The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside. There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you, There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you, No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you, No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you. As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully to you, I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing the songs of the glory of you. Whoever you are! claim your own at an hazard! These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you, These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they, These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them, Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain, passion, dissolution. The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency, Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest, whatever you are promulges itself, Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing is scanted, Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her: the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand. She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow— the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her: his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.
In the first version, Persephone is taken from her mother and the goddess of the earth punishes the earth—this is consistent with what we know of human behavior, that human beings take profound satisfaction in doing harm, particularly unconscious harm: we may call this negative creation. Persephone's initial sojourn in hell continues to be pawed over by scholars who dispute the sensations of the virgin: did she cooperate in her rape, or was she drugged, violated against her will, as happens so often now to modern girls. As is well known, the return of the beloved does not correct the loss of the beloved: Persephone returns home stained with red juice like a character in Hawthorne— I am not certain I will keep this word: is earth "home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably, in the bed of the god? Is she at home nowhere? Is she a born wanderer, in other words an existential replica of her own mother, less hamstrung by ideas of causality? You are allowed to like no one, you know. The characters are not people. They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict. Three parts: just as the soul is divided, ego, superego, id. Likewise the three levels of the known world, a kind of diagram that separates heaven from earth from hell. You must ask yourself: where is it snowing? White of forgetfulness, of desecration— It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says Persephone is having sex in hell. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know what winter is, only that she is what causes it. She is lying in the bed of Hades. What is in her mind? Is she afraid? Has something blotted out the idea of mind? She does know the earth is run by mothers, this much is certain. She also knows she is not what is called a girl any longer. Regarding incarceration, she believes she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter. The terrible reunions in store for her will take up the rest of her life. When the passion for expiation is chronic, fierce, you do not choose the way you live. You do not live; you are not allowed to die. You drift between earth and death which seem, finally, strangely alike. Scholars tell us that there is no point in knowing what you want when the forces contending over you could kill you. White of forgetfulness, white of safety— They say there is a rift in the human soul which was not constructed to belong entirely to life. Earth asks us to deny this rift, a threat disguised as suggestion— as we have seen in the tale of Persephone which should be read as an argument between the mother and the lover— the daughter is just meat. When death confronts her, she has never seen the meadow without the daisies. Suddenly she is no longer singing her maidenly songs about her mother's beauty and fecundity. Where the rift is, the break is. Song of the earth, song of the mythic vision of eternal life— My soul shattered with the strain of trying to belong to earth— What will you do, when it is your turn in the field with the god?
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.
Shirtsleeved afternoons turn toward leather as the trees blush, scatter a last few bright, weary wisps across the great bruised heart of the South. The spirit cup drifts down the pond's moon-sparked highway. Far laughter, shadows. Love or poison? Your turn. Drink to the star-drenched latitudes!
I am not here. I am on those craggy eastern hills streaked with ice where grass doesn't grow and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope. A little shepherd girl with a herd of goats, black goats, emerges suddenly from an unseen tent. She won't live out the day, that girl, in the pasture. I am not here. Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain a red globe flares, not yet a sun. A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly, revolves in that maw. And the little one rose so early to go to the pasture. She doesn't walk with neck outstretched and wanton glances. She doesn't paint her eyes with kohl. She doesn't ask, Whence cometh my help. I am not here. I've been in the mountains many days now. The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me. Nothing can amaze me now. I've seen worse things in my life. I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover very close to the ground. What ever was she thinking, that girl? Wild to look at, unwashed. For a moment she crouches down. Her cheeks soft silk, frostbite on the back of her hand. She seems distracted, but no, in fact she's alert. She still has a few hours left. But that's hardly the object of my meditations. My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably. I've found a very simple method, not so much as a foot-breadth on land and not flying, either— hovering at a low altitude. But as day tends toward noon, many hours after sunrise, that man makes his way up the mountain. He looks innocent enough. The girl is right there, near him, not another soul around. And if she runs for cover, or cries out— there's no place to hide in the mountains. I am not here. I'm above those savage mountain ranges in the farthest reaches of the East. No need to elaborate. With a single hurling thrust one can hover and whirl about with the speed of the wind. Can make a getaway and persuade myself: I haven't seen a thing. And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets, her palate is dry as a potsherd, when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her without a shred of pity.
The only clouds
forming are crow clouds,
the only shade, oaks
bound together in a tangle of oak
limbs that signal the wind
coming, if there is any wind
stroking the flat
fields, the flat
swatch of corn.
Far as anyone’s eye can see, corn’s
dying under the sky
that repeats itself either as sky
or as water
that won’t remain water
for long on the highway: its shimmer
is merely the shimmer
of one more illusion that yields
to our crossing as we ourselves yield
to our lives, to the roots
of our landscape. Pull up the roots
and what do we see but the night
soil of dream, the night
soil of what we call
home. Home that calls
I shall forget you presently, my dear, So make the most of this, your little day, Your little month, your little half a year, Ere I forget, or die, or move away, And we are done forever; by and by I shall forget you, as I said, but now, If you entreat me with your loveliest lie I will protest you with my favorite vow. I would indeed that love were longer-lived, And vows were not so brittle as they are, But so it is, and nature has contrived To struggle on without a break thus far, Whether or not we find what we are seeking Is idle, biologically speaking.
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings. In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
In the moon-fade and the sun’s puppy breath, in the crow’s plummeting cry, in my broken foot and arthritic joints, memory calls me to the earth’s opening, the graves dug, again, and again I, always I am left to turn away into a bat’s wing-brush of air. That never changes . . . not this morning, not here where I’ve just found in the back of my truck, under the rubber mat, in a teacup’s worth of dirt, where it seems no seed could possibly be a corn kernel split to pale leaves and string-roots. It’s a strange leap but I make it and bend to these small harvests because somewhere in North Carolina there was a house and in it, my room and my bed, bare boards and the blood stains of a man that in each slant rain’s worried whispers puddles to the cries of a slave, murdered in 1863 trying to escape. Somewhere there was a child who slept on the living room’s red-vinyl couch who still matters especially now that I can’t remember when the creek that bounded our family farm led to an ocean or when a boxcar’s weather-wasted letters spelling Illinois meant somewhere there was an Illinois. It’s still 1976-- the day after I’ve been seen playing tennis with a black boy, and it seems I will always be held at gunpoint and beaten as if the right punch would chunk out his name. -------- No, it’s 1969-- The year my mother becomes a wax paste, or so she looks to the child I was, and she drips into the pink satin and I learned the funereal smell of carnations. That year the moon was still made of green cheese. That year men first bagged and labeled that moon. There are no years, only the past and I still don’t know why Odell Horne pulled a shotgun on my brother or how the body contains so much blood. I still don’t know why Donna Hill went to Myrtle Beach and three days later came back dead. For ten years I lived with Louise Stegall, the lover of my father, one of her four men, all buried-- suicide, murder, drink, again murder. It was after the second one that she sat stock still and silent, four years in the asylum. Now she walks the road all day, picking up Cracker Jack trinkets to give to children brave enough to approach her. When I was nine, the starling pecked outside her window a whole week. Somebody’s gonna die, she said and made me hug Uncle Robert’s neck as if I couldn’t know he’d be gone in two hours, as if I hadn’t learned anything about people and their vanishing. The last time I saw her she wouldn’t look at me, jerked her sweatshirt’s hood across her face and stepped into the ditch, as though there are some things even she won’t tell, as though I’ve never known it’s dirt and dust after all-- the earth’s sink and the worms’ castings. -------- With the wet leaves thick on my steps, the evening sky bruised dull gray to black, when I’ve spilt salt and as the saying goes the sorrow and tears, and the stove is cold so salt won’t burn, tell me my pocket of charms can counter any spell. Tell me again the reason for my grandfather’s fingers afloat in the Mason jar on the fireplace mantel between the snuff tin and the bowl of circus peanuts. What about the teeth in the dresser bureau, the sliver of back bone I wear around my neck? Again the washed-out photo in the family album, Pacific wind lifting the small waves onto Coral Beach, clicking the palm trees’ fronds. Again my father’s rakish grin, his bayonet catching a scratch of sun, his left foot propped on the stripped and bloodied body. Behind him, a stack of Japanese. -------- Let me believe in anything. Doesn’t the grizzled chicken dig up hoodoo hands? Won’t the blue door frame, the basket of acorns protect me; what about the knife in a pail of water? When giving me the dead’s slippered feet room to room, why not also synchronicity’s proof, a wish and the tilted ears of angels? I want to believe in the power of rosemary knuckled along the fence even as the stars order themselves to an unalterable and essential law. I want the wind-whipped leaves to settle and the flattened scrub to right itself, want the loose tin in the neighbor’s shed to finish its message. When this season in its scoured exactitude shifts closer, give me Devil’s Blue Boletus through the piled leaves, the slender green of Earth Tongue, phosphorescent Honey Tuft dispatched by the dead. Their voices coming nearer, almost deciphered. Whatever lies you have there in that nail-clipping of time, give them to me.
Not trees trace so just kids we hung
slim buckets of chokecherries from our wrists
in neighboring galaxies Giant Star Factories take control
composed of cold hydrogen gas and dust
7,000 light years from earth
slender-toed geckos step onto the moon
On the road between 2 baptisms and a shower they rang
to say shallow water the mouths drop open
not where you stand but how long you can
stand standing there
in constant hypothesis
the trees are passersby
flat orange moon
velvet navy-blue sky
from here we see the beautifully attired drive tough Ford pickups
the dancers take turns leaping over the bonfire into
Qué pasa USA?
haircuts in London are really pretty backward
London—you are definitely not going to have a manicure there!
in LA toes must match the hands or else just don’t leave the house
in NY it’s more brunette
Outside a refrigerator floats in the blackness shiny amid sharp stars
& the turtle who holds up the world holds up