Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Haunted House

A skull’s an awful place to find yourself
alone: it’s dark, and damp, and cramped, a-crawl
with thoughts, like insects, busy all the time.

The only time light gets inside is when
the bone is cracked: say, by an accident,
or surgery, or violent attack.

There is this strange impression created by
the eyes—a world outside the cranium.
But this is background noise, the buzz of flies:

a cloud of doubts rubbing hairy hands
together, looking forward to a meal
more substantial than your mind. More real.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ferryman's Complaint

Let’s look at today’s takings:
one hundred and fifty-five
thousand across, out of a potential
six billion customers. Plus one
roundtrip. That’s you. A poet. Nothing, 
proportionally speaking. No,
business isn’t what it used to be.
Nothing compared to what I used to earn:
smallpox, plague, diphtheria,
tetanus, septicemia—when
spears and swords were all the rage.
Homer was quite kind to me.
His doctors never washed their hands
or bloody instruments. They moved
from gut wound to gut wound like the Fates,
up to their elbows in intestines,
endlessly stitching things
shut. A hush surrounded death
back then. Customs were respected.
A coin deposited beneath
the tongue, two coins covering the eyes,
pennies meant something. That’s
how Alexander came to me, Caesar,
countless others I could name.
I never forget a friendly face.
These were the decencies the family
attempted to observe even if
no money could be found. For me,
the thought always counts. I’m not greedy.
I’m not unsympathetic. But
I do have a staff to support. Liability
insurance. Lawyers. Cripples
and children under twelve pay half.
Pregnant women and infants
ride free. They always will. But
at least Homer and friends made 
an effort. You expect charity. Look.
Don’t take my hand. Just look
at these hideous blisters. Look.
I worked my fingers to the bone:
The Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele,
Influenza, Amritsar,
The Invasion of Manchuria,
Guernica, Nanking, The Blitz,
Buchenwald, Dresden, D-Day,
Hiroshima, Korea, the killing fields
of Cambodia, Rwanda. AIDS. The list
goes on. I don’t do charity work.
I’m not in business for my health,
you know. I slipped a disk
ferrying those mystified millions
across this damned river. For free.
I did my bit at Dunkirk, too.
You look surprised. Don’t be.
I keep very careful accounts.
A miracle is what you owe me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wild Strawberries

On either side of the path leading up the hill to our cabins at camp, tuffets of moss relax beside nervous strawberries that tremble and glisten like jelly. I am not normally a berry fancier myself, but I will make an exception in this case and stop.
O how they melt in the mouth! No sugar snowflake, no pearl in acid, no metaphor on earth could do the sensation justice.
You have to try one of these things.
What is the matter with you?
Only to cashews, you say. And needles.
Oh. I see what the problem is. Only an idiot lost on his way to a party and scanning the horizon in a pirate eye-patch would suggest some connection between the succulence of strawbrerries and the proximity of a privy. Honestly. You seem to have lost your sense of depth along with your virginity today. Put down the plastic spyglass. I will take care of your cutlass. See if my eyes—this pair of binoculars—will help.
The outhouse is really on the other side of the hill—somewhere over 40—light years away, you see, past the sunset. This is camp—the eternal present—here and now.
There aren’t very many private epiphanies I am willing to part with. But, since it is you, and our roles are reversed—and you have so conveniently consented to kneel—and I am holding the cutlass to your throat—I am happy to share.
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Swallow, scum.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Friday Nights At The Met

Having had my fill of abstractions for the evening—I did not enjoy the special exhibit of turquoise dinosaur turds—I decided to take the escalator downstairs and spend my last few minutes among the clichés housed in the recently renovated collection of classical bric-a-Braque, to see what I could see.

In those days, I carried a black Moleskine everywhere I went and recorded everything I saw. I clutched my pen with the white-knuckled determination of a thief gripping the steering wheel of a Porsche: I would not leave the world empty-handed.

In truth, I really had no earthly idea what I was up to besides scribbling: joyriding from place to place, face to face, world to word, wasting time; hoping, in the course of my travels, I would unearth a reason to exist—something, if not exactly noteworthy, or new, at least something more diverting than doing endless donuts around Death in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket.
And so it transpired that I discovered myself on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. In that vast glass-vaulted gallery, I found a garden of broken images that—taken together and carefully weighed—amounted to less than a worm in terms of its collective artistry, but nevertheless remained resolutely human, even beautiful.

For me, this was Heaven. I dipped my fingers in a purling fountain and flicked water at Poseidon. I flipped the bird at Julius Caesar. I peeped around the shattered ass of a faceless Nike. And I whistled at what I saw. For—basking under a beam of light bespangled with billions of starry motes that suggested this section of the Cosmos was still, secretly, under construction—I spied the alabaster corpse of a laughing Cupid impaled on an iron spike.

I saw a legless young man in a wheelchair sketching that sculpture with excruciating care.

That vision of Love changed my life.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Consumers, Hi!
We are your mouths
We eat you out
Of home and house!

We like your kids,
We love your wives,
But most of all,
We want your lives!

Send bits and pieces,
Pixels, pics,
Whatever you like,
We’re mouths not dicks!

We’re flexible,
Textible, and it’s true,
We all have teeth,
All smiling at you!

So, feed us faces,
Fingers, shit,
We don’t care,
We asked for it!

For we are Just:
The huge abyss
That yawns beneath
The things you kiss!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Pixies of Possibility

Irreverent things, small and free,
they normally dwell in dells, or woods,
where Now is a tree and Later might be
a house in a river, in one of its moods.

Above us they flutter, wings buttering
the oleo air like Wonder Bread;
they fling cinders from fires, uttering
the magic words: Maybe, Perhaps, Instead.

They turn Comedies into Tragedies,
the kind of Despair that dances with Joy:
for hit by a bus, or a passing breeze,
a frustrated toddler flinging a toy—

it’s all the same. A Possibility,
when photographed, will always appear
as a luminous smudge—like poetry.
Nothing threatening, nothing to fear,

I’m sure that you have seen their lights,
I’m sure you’ve also heard their song,
looking up from a book on one of those nights
you heard a siren hurtling along.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Indiana Jones and the Abyss: A Fragment

The Cast:

Harrison Ford: Professor Henry (Indiana) Jones, 38, archaeologist, adventurer, lover, our hero.
Karen Allen:    Miss Marion Ravenwood, 30, Indy’s love interest, us.
Paul Freeman: Dr. René Emile Belloq, 45, Indy’s nemesis, a villainous Frenchie, Time.
Musclemen and Mummies: The arms of clocks everywhere.

Marion! Marion. Listen to me.
Start anywhere. Pick anything. Random
paragraphs. Find one. Just read it. “He
reached the inner chamber of the tomb.
‘Osiris curses he—’ He? Whom? The key
cartouche was missing. A granite wound
grinned grotesquely at him. Hacked away.
Deliberately. And recently. René.

The stale aroma of a cigarette—
Gauloises—suggested the Frenchman.
His rival. Vandal. Yet. Amentophet
still lay in his sarcophagus—still band-
aged tightly; the mask the six bald priests had set
on Pharaoh’s face almost four thousand
years ago rested on the young king’s brow—
still glittering, still golden. Nothing stolen. Now,

Why? Stubble growing through a scar
irritated Indiana’s chin.
He scratched it with his flashlight. On the far
wall there appeared a royal procession:
Four horses led a chariot. War.
Conquest. Famine. Death. He was certain
this predated the Apocalypse
of St. John. A whistle passed his lips...”

No! Try again. Wrong episode.
If we weren’t busy over an abyss
I would explain it all. It’s hard to hold
a lecture swinging on a whip like this.
Trust me. Just trust me. Somewhere—down the road—
we will get back to Pharaoh and Osiris.
Look, Honey, if you wanted to know more,
you really should have read the script before

you took the part. So, try to focus. Try.
We’re clinging to existence by a thread.
Everybody knows we’re going to die
before we are finished. So, skip ahead,
past where René will ask me, “Why?
Why do you waste your life among the dead,
Professor, excavating legends—stones—
to sit in some Museum? Doctor Jones,

exactly what do you get out of it?
An evening in Byzantium? A tan?
Americans. Tourists. Buffoons. You love it:
how love runs through your lives just like this sand
runs through my fingers. Shall I prove it?
How useful love is to a dying man?
Look. Two identical canteens. One full
of water. This one—empty—love. All

you have to do—untie his mouth—is choose.
Choose one canteen and then we seal you in.
If you select the water, you will lose.
If you pick love, then, I will see you win.
I guarantee a postcard marked ‘Toulouse’
conveying your—affection—for Marion
will be arriving in Nepal next week.
Choose wisely, Indiana. Let him speak…”