It Occurs To Me That

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Years ago you might have thought, as I
did once, faring among the farthest crowds
of islands, unbearably green, in Polynesia,
ringed with stone gods,
                                             that I had dodged
ancestral prophesies, and finally
was shut of ghosts, momentous gossip and
the family doom. I mean, I absolutely
thought I cleared my mind. For years I slept
beside the blue-eyed ocean, courting every
hour pouring over in the surf
among the agile muses on their boards
by day, and on the beach by night, by fires
beneath a wash of stars handsome in
the high air.
                         So yeah, once you might
imagine I had lunged safely off
from my accomplishments and ends. My latest
lovely failure at the time had thrown
me out, amicably,
                                 and I eloped
exactly over burned bridges to
escape the facts and sad truths passing
for a way of life I thought was mine.
I’m grateful for my enemies. I made
my way to California, with its brimming
coasts, its pools of disenchantment and
regret,
               and those extravagant beliefs
in earthly reinvention, promises
of safe sex, not to mention transmigrating
joys, as witnessed on the glistening beaches
blanketed by actresses and beauties
browning in the sun of their ambition.
Pelicans offshore would swoop for food
on bent, pirate wings, while in the baselessIMG_3065
air, gulls dropped like raucous angels
tossed from grace. It takes me back, as if
I never lived in sight of tricks, or missing
persons rolled inside of plastic sacks.
I was roused, and rough in my instruction,
dazzled in the blue winds always
in the way, rendering the far-
away schooners blue at sea. They moved
me like an errand in an unknown land,
like promises, like rules I’d better try.
So far, so good. Near at hand, drag
queens were holding court in force against
the less-gorgeous mortals put on earth
obscurely, whose broken spirits dried their bones.
White men slept on graphic towels, and burned.
Meanwhile, movie extras practiced unexpected
love, and off around those fucking palm
trees, quarterbacks kept making plays
all day, and scored. Everyone auditioned as
adults. On mats, amid the pandemonium,
were golden body builders lifting their
eternal weights, and taking steroids sold
by lab assistants winging frisbees onto
precessed lyric vectors.
                                            And well, yes,
since you asked, I was carried off
by whole cloth, and left not a rack
behind of Baptist trash, but worked on boats
holding melons, and manned the harbor tender
when I could, escorting visitors
to shore for tips. One time, late,
with weather coming in, I ferried to
a ship the size of dreams a shimmery, drunken
star bestrewn with jewels and ropes of pearls,
but minus shoes
                                  —of whom was born, of course,
a famous trail of love, not unusual,
and who would later drown unfairly, I
should add, in another season, near
a Channel Island—
                                    years, however, after
I politely heaved her lithesome body
into bed inside her reeling cabin,
feeling generous and grandiose,
as if I had new teeth. Whereupon
I lurched precipitously, pitched backwards,
and was thrown away entirely as
the schooner slued round, hugely, as
I heard it, in the mounting wind. I hurtled
like a lost comet, crashing on
a davit, while a deckhand madly slipped
the anchor, and we plunged away like horses
into foam and swell, with me in tow.

What may not be wonderful about
abstraction? what is this world? to be plucked
from one dimension, and deposited
with bruises innocently in some midget
cosmos run by half-deities,
half of whom were sickened by the yaw
and ocean roll engendered by Pacific
squalls—which usually are marvelous
when seen from land,
                                          but in their ardent midst,
I’m here to say, the morning blew its smokes
on board, and thunder followed close on thought-
executing fire, the sum of which
de-magnetized the common sense of Hollywood.
Someone brought an ocelot they called
Naomi, who escaped her cage, and once
the winds decayed a bit, the weather settled,
she would climb the masts, and slink along
the yard arms stalking sea birds as they roosted.
Lavishly, she pissed backwards in
the rigging, which appalled the yardmen when
they reefed sails that simply reeked of pheromones
designed to carry miles inside a jungle,
and arouse erotic promise, for
a price. A tactic old as war, if truth
be told about it. If truth pertains at all.
Honestly, you wouldn’t either want
to risk inflaming the illiterate ocean
gods, a volatile lot by history,
nor rub the nether spirits up to rock
your bones with animal abandon, in
your wooden shelter, bobbing on the insubstantial
elements.

                       And since, to some minds,
by closely defined reasoning, I was
a stowaway, and hoping to have all
charges dropped, I peaceably agreed
to clamber to the topsails, trailing strings
of bloody sausages, and lumps of steak,
with which to tempt Naomi to her cage.
On balance, little could be easier.
Conceding how I cut my teeth on the family
wolves, and those invisible snakes coiling
through my nightmares—well, I wasn’t
discommoded by an ocelot.
Aloft together, we were clearly without
secrets when Naomi leapt symmetrically
to the crosstrees, with her jungle eyes
lighting up the red meat I
extended. I made her reach across me, and
adeptly show her teeth to draw the ligament
of raw beef away. And so it was
I fed her appetites. She slipped into
my lap, her demon body purring like
a tractor, and licked the wisps of blood between
my fingers. I took her collar off, which let
her swallow,
                            and from the main top watched the chief
navigational stars we followed spark
around me in the changeling darkness, vast
and starlit. Once I started getting cold,
I led Naomi down below for water—
where I peed into her litter box
to dominate her thoughts, should cats have thoughts,
such as they are. At heart, we both were built
from parts of blocks of sapience and feeling,
so it was alright. Naomi played like Rilke’s
phantom in her cell, where I fed
her by hand, by the way, daily—
                                                             and to
the point, we neither one were disinvited
from the schooner once we sighted islands
off the blessed coast of Mexico:
Islas Marietas, each about
the size of any whale that breached around
us. Pods of dolphin following, we ghosted
to the gateway port. A motor launch
collected our celebrities, and sped
away to parties, and exotic matters
prearranged by fame—which left the rest
of us to shave, and draw our wages. The bosun
promised he was going straight, and disappeared.
I was given to the cook, who took
me off to market to replenish stores
of ostrich meat, more beef, vanilla
pods and chocolate, tons of onions,
abalone in the shell—and who
relentlessly was preaching. There were rules
against stealing chickens, I remember.
He was strung out on a man, and left me with
the avocados, and my awful Spanish,
while he looked him up, returning with
a brilliant dancer, whom he introduced
with loud, resounding empathy, as usual
with him. They wandered way beyond their destiny,
while I foresaw our market purchases
on board, and stowed within our many-benched
vessel–IMG_3354
                though it was another year,
another boat, and in another port
before I understood the rules regarding
chickens. By then I’d beached in Polynesia:
let’s see, Cook Islands after pearls,
and Samoa twice, where I sacrificed
at shrines to the sea-goblins. I weathered
older furies in New Zealand in
the winter rains, representing to
my mind a truly vengeful beauty. White
sharks struck at table scraps and butcher’s
offal I tossed over for the spectacle.
Big-winged birds suspended in
the wind in my line of sight for miles.
Otherwise the latitudes were lonely–
bright, for sure, as every source of light
would scatter oceanic glitter, but we were on
our own. Below us rolled a rogue wave
now and then, exposing unexpected,
wrecks, and drowned roots of islands. From
her golden throne, the moon-faced goddess watched
for small mistakes.
                                     Those who know about
my seamanship have said I’m upward man,
and downward fish, but I was unresigned.
Most cooks aren’t lost at sea, maybe
one in ten some years, out in haunted
waters. Nonetheless, in Mexico
again, on land, knowing what I know,
I wandered inland after ocelots,
and soon was hunting caves, with bats like tiny
demons squealing from the core of solids
all about illegible truths and prophecies,
reminding me of home.

 

It Occurred To Me That…

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I should call attention to the project that the potter Ehren Tool has been engaged in for some time now. He has a compelling, wonderful installation at the Renwick Museum in Washington D.C., entitled  198 of Thousands, which is a collection of his ‘War Cups’ (This is my phrase, and not what he has chosen to call them). Each is made of stoneware, various glazes and decals. He is himself a veteran of the Gulf War, and his cups initially reflected his personal experience, but have grown to encompass the struggles of other soldiers, and their families. Here are links to his website, and to a recent interview with him:

http://www.dirtycanteen.com/ehren-tool.html

http://inthemake.com/ehren-tool/

The cup in these photographs reflects the traumas of Cortes’ invasion of Mexico, and the conquest of the Aztec civilization—as imagined in the last two chapters of my book Genealogies, some lines of which appear below.

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Crow-headed women picked through
the battlefields in a final rally within
the heat beneath the blue mountain clouds,
the mesas emptied. Sarah didn’t wait
for the awful flocks before she gathered
Elam from reconnaissance, and
together took positions like a mist
might insinuate onto a morning
beach—by which I mean, and by occult
degrees, they faded from perception as
they neared the city common. If they were phantoms,
they’d like to be assassin phantoms as
they hefted their munitions invisibly
into abandoned rooms upstairs in view
of the proceedings in the courtyard on
the well-made work of masons, where Cortes
negotiated with ambassadors from mercenary
nations, traded promises of plunder
with his higher math, using zeros,
and with no one looking stashed the novel
treaties in the toilet of his disrespect.


Thank you, I’ll take that. Elam reached
to Sarah for the firing pin, and springs,
and reassembled the dark machine of destiny,
is how Sarah thought of it: the rifle
oiled in Elam’s hands, and ready. Get
used to it. He levered in a cartridge
for the modest shot from there, and read
the white winds. The sacred sky was blazing
with a clarifying light, allowing
him to see an end, at last, of action as
he fired. The hammer detonated the
percussion cap exactly at the moment
when the mountains shook like green robes,
closing distant roads with rocks, scattering
scarlet flocks of parrots screeching up
through rising plumes of dust. Adobe buildings
swayed, or crumbled. The tremblor shocked the audience,
rocked Cortes off the dais. Several
celebrants heard a leaden insect
missing them. In the melee, Elam
levered in another round—no
man of mercy in this mood—braced
against a rolling seismic wave, and once
he sighted grimly on Cortes. He shot
for the umbilicus exposed below
the armored chest plate. That would stop
his exclamation, and by the way, disband
the rash, inconsiderate, fiery
voluntaries left from the invading
expedition.


                          Except, to begin with,
nothing happened as expected. It looked
as if the god of plagues had come
again because, before the slug could strike,
the body lice and European biome
bloomed on Cortes into a mythical
immune response protecting him from any
outside missile. The bullet simple shorted
out, with loud and visible effects.
Clouds of living powder flew in colorful
eruptions, lightning clapped about him with
its smoke and bounce, igniting little fires,
spores and alien bacteria
basically ate everything around him,
and left a circle of ancient visitation.
Whereas the implications wouldn’t register
with Elam, prodigious in testosterone,
rigid, lame in reason, slanderous
to the time, Sarah with the graceful
ankles took the hint. Get the fuck out,
she shouted in the thunder of the third
attempt as Elam made it with his non-
stop, devouring, lethal bullet clanging
off the armor-plated heart of Cortes,
glancing at an angle toward a metal
bell appearing out of nowhere from
another era in a lovely tower
full of swallows, where it never rains,
to ricochet again, and catch Sarah
fully in the chest. It took her breath
away, her lung collapsed, she staggered over
Elam on the floor, and fell.
                                                    Meanwhile,
two moons were seen outside in different
phases—full, and waning gibbous—horrid
winds ruled the superflux, but calmed
as Elam set the rifle down.
He reeled
in panic as he checked the hemorrhage
in Sarah’s chest, stuffing spider webs
into the wounds. That worked, and helped
to re-inflate her lung, which eased her breathing.
She was burning like a fallen star,
Lord Death was singing to her, and
offended decency by making private
offers that wouldn’t keep. You are my food,
He said, I love your bones, and other like
promises, while Elam bathed her, and
examined her for bites. He changed her bandages,
steeped a willow tea against fever
in the tasteless days, and soon when she
was less confused, was spooning in a rabbit
broth he stewed from rabbits left for them
in secret by the worshipful, who made
such sacrifices to defeated gods
and local deities like them—who could
be seen by now, a little. She’d lost a tooth,
and whistled as she breathed, sleeping.

                                                                        He watched
her re-compose, washed her with his tender
joy and vigilance, with no illusions,
and when she fell in moods, imperious,
subtle, full of unpleasing blots, he got
her up and walking, so when the kingdom finally
was taken in the name of Spain, she hobbled
on beside him, sometimes rode on their
improbable alpaca down the mountain
passes in a puny counter-clockwise
last push against the cosmic turning.
The jungles were abandoned, half-burned.
Press on their hearts, and they would say
they never did believe in travel. They
came down into the empty earthen world
at sea level, one of many, where they
had prospered once. Elam was afraid
to use the rifle, so they waded through
the blue-maned surf, and cast their lines,
or foraged in the tidal pools for crab
and abalone everywhere.
                                                  Whole
villages were gone. When the whale
ascended monstrous in the southern stars,
which marked their place, they started hunting for
their gig, sunk and hidden months ago,
but instead they stumbled on a lovely
cutter that Cortes had stashed for his
escape, just in case. What a weasel.
Still, they chased the boomslang and monkeys from
the hold—the latter soused on Spanish wine—,
plucked orchids, unhooked a mossy tree
sloth that dangled from the rigging near
the nesting quetzals, which they also cleared
away, wary always of goliath
spiders lying in wait. Look at you all,
Sarah thought, totally grateful. We must
be learning. With her charmed sigh, she stood
with Elam while the spring tide lurched
against the hull and keel, lifting them
from spills of silt until they floated under
light sail to slide through estuaries
into open water once again,
which Elam sometimes thought of—especially
after nights of excess in a foreign
port—as rapture. Looking back, he saw
a mauled corpse caught in the tidal swell,
rolling in the crash and drag of breakers,
until the sharks hit. Fog was ghosting
in. They needed room and blue water,
hence he hauled his wind, and bore north
by east into the pea soup obscuring
each particular beauty, all the big-
bellied sails—you wouldn’t think so—, moons
and other points of bearing on the unfixed
liquid elements transporting them

 

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It Occurs To Me That

a particular friend of mine, who has just lost her father, might appreciate this statement of grief and celebration from a fellow traveler, who is mourning his own father’s death. We might all appreciate such resilient, joyous gratitude. Here is a poem by the poet Ross Gay: Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

as we try to appease the trickster spirits this Halloween weekend, when our demons and grave beings haunt us again

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we might all appreciate the kindly voice of Experience. Relax, the poet Ellen Bass tells us: Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

as we enter the summer season of blockbuster movies and special effects, we might appreciate the violent history of a little known skirmish in early American history

image Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

in this season of unlikely miracles, we might enjoy the occasion to add to our concepts of spirituality:

FAT SPEAKS

Unlike the mirroring eyes, the pom pom heart,
I’m opaque, an oaf with no taste for driven individuation.
I’m blamed a lot these days,

I dumb down your cheekbones,
I assuage your nerves, calmed with my myelin sheathes,
your cells are founded upon my lipids. Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”

It Occurs To Me That

this might be the perfect season to display Emily Dickinson’s talents as a nature poet—for which she is not often overtly credited. She seems at times to have required of herself a very particular scrutiny of the natural world outside her bedroom window—which allowed her to identify what she was watching, without ever naming it. And since, of course, none of her poems have titles, there are no clues to be found there either.

So the three poems I am offering are, therefore, riddles. Because we can see what she herself saw, you will have to attend to the evidence as she presents it, and arrive by inductive steps at your own recognition. The first one is easy (or should be): Continue reading “It Occurs To Me That”