Christmas Day, flocks of mergansers, a man with a black-
and-white shepherd on the snowy beach
at dusk. Remember last Succoth--the barefoot
Hasidic wedding pair with wineglasses,
with Four Quartets on their breath,
with rockweed music between their toes?
Today the sky is not addressed
to Coleridge, not to Paul Muldoon,
but irrupts the earth without volcanic ash,
a gathering of tide pool phrasings
for the state of Man, his graces, his gratifications.
I've scribbled more than half an hour
without so much as glancing up once
at how the blue suffuses into orange,
at how the moon supplants a languished sun.
Men walk dogs, they've finished
their shoppings and delivery, a baby is born
into wedlock where fields of cholla bloom,
out of the clouds above Socorro and here
the inventions of my mind clasp for its culture,
for the coming of the boy's first song.
On the lee shore of the wide world I stand,
crowded by faery terns feeding on menhaden
where an isthmus mouth makes baby gurgles
and empties ions into a river choked by sea.
For as far as the window of the soul can see
are crows, sliding down snow dunes,
sidling back up like warm tobogganers.
The marshland is as flat as the moors
of Helgoland, where my words first
come from, Saxony in the streets
of this city–East Frisian geese honking
me back to a pier's parking lot, where a Datsun
coughs, signals a U and scores the road,
where a red fox pees and wades into waves.
A destroyer pays out line to sink its anchor,
a house on fire from ashes in a kitchen cannister
is sputtered out by firemen in blue hip boots.
Breakers curl into red rockweed where a President
stood last week to talk about the purity of water.
Now he's gone and lost his heart to private sorrows,
now three kings are gathering on a snowy road in Palestine.
A stream of refugees from Christmas, our bodies hunched
like wolves in winter coats, we take to the generous shore
where snow is white above high tide water line,
where the sun is making a mirror of the sea.
Seals crook their ears to hear me say at least
three times that my pilgrimage is not quite done.
Time shapes each wave that pulls against the hold
of a moon already sunk below the South China Sea.
It's full noon–whatever faith there is can be seen
in the twos and threes that walk dogs in shadow
of a Gothic church spire, tolling breakfast, makeshift,
improvise, they walk to find an opening to go in to God
without ushers or incense. Up the hill at St. George's,
a congregation lips Brahmslied; at Second Beach
we walk to where a right whale jawbone was,
a second coming, seen in the moon jellies, crabs,
cuttlebones and curlicues of towering granite.
Crows in murders perch at Purgatory Chasm,
spasms of words come from a toddler who kicks
sea foam and champs down blossomings of ice:
he cries let sand, spray, surf and soak today suffice.
We've driven down the inlet to Watch Hill, our Galilee,
where fishermen lob skeins of flounder onto
pinewood decks in the grip of a cold only
the Maid of Orleans could've predicted. The skies,
red sailor's delight, portend only the gloom
of a gale backed by lashings from the moons
which oval Jupiter. Our own revolutions
are caught in the beak of a black-backed gull
who teeters on the edge of a continent, on an old jetty
cracked and buoyed up by the years of whale oil
fishery, rum running, slave trade to a land
of sugar cane, palmetto bugs and cocodrillos.
Three oil freighters have just succumbed
to the horizon, to the fury winds offshore
which bend into lifting clouds, to the height
of the Colossus of Rhodes. My own legs
are aching after making love, the hand I hold
is the warmth I feel in an undiscovered country
which gives me quick glimpses of an irreal world,
where flickers vanish into tree trunks and the slippages
of time whorl out on scrolls of Hebrew dogsong.
I try to hear the gaitá from across the Atlantic and the Azores.
Bagpipe, sherry and octopus, a fireplace fire despite the gale outside,
I'm back in Finisterre, Spain, where the coast of death keeps
taking the childless to the bottom of the sea.
We walk past cinderblock houses, fields
of caldo gallego, the little black dog who surely
knows I am his mother. In a cowpaddy house,
the cretin, stump-chinned aunt of Saturn's ten best men
keeps to her bed and presses flowers between her breasts.
Fishermen John and James sit on a bench rock
smoking, to gaze out at lessening infinity as it shuts
upon a fizzled rainbow which can't break
for all the storm clouds gathering at O' Centolo.
After crating a day's pay of crabs, we walk back
past the listless sea to claim mail, drums of heating oil
and a paradise of weeping cattails. A child wails out
that art is a flower that blossoms in solitude, but I
can't hear for the noise of the neighborhood Manx cats
who skulk by an abandoned flywheel derrick at the inlet,
to reach the garbage dump, where they've nosed out that
several hake and swordfish heads have come for dinner.
gaitá--Celtic bagpipes of Northern Spain
caldo gallego--Galican cabbage
With a tin of oysters and Saltines, we hike the high hill
to circumvent the town and land at Koutloumousiou, which in
Greek to us means salutation, a pulling of thoughts
into a braille or pallindrome of moss. Expunge
whatever sensual detail crops in: every spiracle
and red corpuscle turned towards the face
of a God who's fragrant only with thistle.
From the high hill, my daughter whistles when she
spies a red-tailed hawk, coming down directly
on her lithe green snake, a slithery cad called Izzy
who spurns the wild in the name of tubeworms,
black light heat, and Lotti's elegant piano fingers.
The snake bolts safely into a 1990's brickface crack
in a Puritan stone wall. We break for snack
and talk of poltergeists and bean bag animals,
watching whole crusades of missiles on Qatar TV.
Whatever fervor there was in walking to the rock
as an errant in the wilderness is gone, gone to
to the joy of sharing a picnic with a child whose eyes
are as blue as the cliff at Hanging Rock is high,
as any monastery is for the lift of the soul to poetry.
The two girls rouse me out of bed to walk the creek
in search of auburn otters. With kite string and stomach
of crushed mussel, they plumb the estuary's undergut,
down a deep-bottomed squid pit we call Pantokratoros.
Above us veers a saw-whet owl, circling the carcass
of a dead racoon which, at closer look,
is carpet shag from the clam club hall.
The beach grass yellows in the grey mist
and drizzle of a Tuesday winter afternoon.
Whatever there was that was lacking
has long since been forgotten because of
a breeze that silences all thoughts of freezing
at the next month's blood. The thin ice can hold
perhaps a jingle shell, no more. The creek,
which is shaped like a Christmas angel bending
backwards for a flute, empties into the Sakonnet.
In sixty years, it will have lifted wing a little,
the space between underarm and tiny chest
will turn, just enough for these girls made ancient
widowers to recognize the shift, on a late day
walk, for the last light that soaks up Pantokratoros.
I've let gravity go, I'm lifting over the moonstone beach
like a noddy before the approaching snow squall.
I'm squinting away the sand which whips
at my feathered face, I'm feeding on
breadcrumbs tossed outside a Hyundai by
a dark-browed man with a light smile: he sees
me hang in the air above him like a ghost.
I'm soaring over the Himalayas, I'm cornering a cliff
in Timbuktu, I'm greeting you, poet, where you sit
and write, surrounded by your city as I rock above
a beach a million miles from our measured kisses.
Waves gather and crush the sediment of centuries,
I've not been able to imagine I'm any other man
--or bird--let sweat and anguish of work fall away
for an afternoon. Time is caught in the sluice gates
of the pond; wind rocks my car and shifts the earth.
I can see out as far as the Canaries, or Ivory Coast,
to spy a herd of hippos grazing in grassland steppes.
In sand, the half-scrawled letter X the size of a tire,
washes out the mean tide surf, the last mark
of the century, the last cry of the willing swimmer.
At Weekapaug, out in the shoals of dogfish lay
the heartbeats of the earth's last yearning for the day--
soon the sky will be as dark as artichoke
and every child will have puerpal chills.
Sleet comes down sideways at the creek mouth,
the shadow of my hand is as long as this stretch
of dunes and it covers a history of religious lies.
Fishheads mulch at the beach club exit ramp:
at Zographou, the ruddy turnstones are blinded
by the sands, across which scramble will-'o-the-wisps
in the awakening of snow storm. The air feels like
all of Denmark, today the red-cheeked children
after crab bellies are happiest asleep. I fear
sunsets on days like this: the dark is dispirited,
where a sacrificial lamb is quartered for the drunks
on Broadway who lift their noses to the breeze.
With letters to post, wood to burn, and a treasure hunt
to plot for five fifth graders too pent up inside
to care for pets anymore, I want only a lobster sunset,
mired in the prism colors of a haze, for you to stay and look
and listen to Twelfth Night, to be attentive to my gaze.
He strays out to the bluish rock at Gooseberry Beach
at dusk, to see the image of the moon fly up
across the gathering seas, where in tidepools
limp anemones and brittle stars collide
with the revolution of the planet orbs.
A wind from Newfoundland shunts stuff in:
florescent orange buoys, TV tubes, gaskets
off a sunken oil barge, a sudden squall lifting fog.
It's cold in Afghanistan, the hospital's gone red.
He mends nets for the one green minnow truant
in the shoals, baits a trap for the wood skunk
that Dorothy has never seen, walks down by
pokeberry and bamboo, a true philosopher,
to water's edge, where suddenly, out of a black
gap in the landscape, a fish eye glowers up
and everything shadowed stops: moor hens
cackling, taxi cabs, dump trucks grinding trash,
gardeners weeding the begonias--all's transfixed
in the marsh grass darkening behind his eyes,
which soak up whatever's there in the tranquility
of things we know we shouldn't try to fathom.
I've come to see the Japanese in black on the beach
on New Year's Day. I've been home for what feels like months,
like Odysseus, a pit in my groin grows to know I have
to leave again, the surge of winds and tide
to cast me back across the seas, to some distant Ithaca
I never chose nor wanted. Beyond the tourists, I can see
breakwater as calm as Monet's pond.
Older now by sheer want of work and the pleasure of
reading and writing--a 16th century plenary
to the Queen--my garrulous laugh boils up
amidst the bathhouses and broken sculptures
at Easton Beach. These poems all are madrigals
of fire that straddle Roman cow paths in Oviedo:
troubadors and Samurai are sucking on cuttlefish
and walking across the water. I'm in Rome again,
Trastevere, the black sands at Ostia, true to my girls,
who follow me to the ends of the frozen terra firma.
I catwalk out behind the photographers from Asia,
the sun beginning to sink into a snow-swept sea,
my boots gritty, packed with seaweed, my heart inflated
to the size of the sky over Osaka, halfway around the globe.
The singing rocks are ravished by the currents of the Gulf,
blinding sleet and hurricane winds beat down Bailey's Beach
where the only audible cry is Philotheou. You can see
the Duke of Windsor's pony fields, the Edinborough castle
where Hitchcock trained his falcon gulls, a baroque rose
trellis of Goethe's summer garden house, where Charlotte
and Ottilie, Eduard and the Captain test their hearts
against cold iron ore . As I write, torrents lap up
sea wrack caught by beach rakes, ripping roots
of sumac past towards Almy Pond, a wilderness of
green herons--where quietus is, where I want to sleep.
Every air lull is thrush song, the lashing winds
send bitter chills across the promontory scarp.
High shrills from under sheep's-bridge: and dunes
sift softly out a dream of the Atlas Mountains where
I've found a burrowing hedgehog, where I'll return
a pair of garden shears to a female friend. Later,
I'll peel potatoes by the fire, sit with my daughter
who's still just barely reticent enough to look
into my eyes and see a man who's held her hand
through other storms like this one I come in from now.
Epiphany today. Three quarter moon over Neponset Bay
as I drive off towards the unbidden sun, to twelve hours
with the whiskey-flask children of the city of the dinner pail,
as each wakes out of a parent's bed into the wolf den I offer,
each bloodying another's eye and hugging in the hallways
of a convent which once was cells for illuminationists who'd
given their voices as a chorus to the eleven thousand virgins.
In lengthening shadows, camel and cameleopard breathe by,
and there's a moment when all noise stops--flocks throng
the river, the kids are still, and Chantha –just thirteen–
lips a homemade lullaby, all Khmer pride and envy, then
Kennedy is joining him in Thai, both nodding at the sky,
there is morning
there is death
there is sunset
and when it rains, earth swallows.
The Nigerian boy is on his hands and knees, so softly
do the three of them take the flight of the sun from
an angered earth and rest it in a golden coffin with a key.
Coming home, I pass the beach of the wise men, but no one
waits for me; waves pull back and blink at the gathering black.
Skete of St. John the Baptist
From here I can almost see the Asian inlet-fishermen,
up by the gulch where a threadbare oak-leaf stream
drips straight down into a gash of igneous rock
that's pounded by the winter surf all afternoon.
The last of my letters are eaten up by wood worms,
where gulls wade in puddles on the shallow ice,
when an unexpected sun lifts what's left of mist
and cuts through the last storm clouds that emptied
onto our heads all night. Sleepless, catatonic
from work, I suck my thumb and listen for sand
shrimp in the seaweed, hearing the heat built up
from all the tiniest of cravings. Although it's
February, dogwood buds crack open, a jackdaw
laughs at my exhaustion and a postman passes
a second time with utility bills and senate cheques.
Within smell, a man simmers chocolate in a pan.
All of Agrabah is up–it's Saturday morning–and
promenading in shadurs, and all I can muster in
my brain is poppy seedcake from Second Avenue,
the thrum of trafficking where a boy's gone off
with his uncle to buy some cardamom for curry.
Ship's log, star date, brine-soaked books of winter's hours
for fathoming the Inland Sea, flasks of dry Amontillado, memories of doors
to childhood clamping closed across two planks of ice: first time
an ocean opened up to swallow me was at the rubbery mouth
of the Connecticut, where freefall words from clergy
chased me home: Nquittmauntash. Smell.
Weetimóquat. Sweeter smell. Machíppiquat. Really sour.
How many winds sift sand today, a hundred hunched years
since Queequeg's mother counted grains of cow corn, to more
than 90,000–a schooner's barter for the flounder catch
where a river cuts metal gashes in a canyon floor,
where cedar trees, giant sturgeon, baleen whales sleep
like chimney stacks in channels of Uncas Lake. Horsefish,
Loch Ness lamprey eel of Eidolon suck fibers from
my oak canoe. A boat adrift–my mind ripples out past
the tiny raft where a girl of twelve backstrokes nude
at cock-crow. The stab of steam from locomotives
hisses out a tune to guide the pond snipe northwards
from Tennessee through caves, through the forests
of indigo buntings which flicker on my path, as I strut
slowly from King Philip's chair to the center of the island.
My cousin does a wheelie in a muddied Mustang, radish red,
parks askew at Quito's, a clam bar where we drink beer,
pine the days of seminary, LSD, Jimi Hendrix playing
Strasbourg, the hours when all the Howes were stick-style
architects, and every waterfront dry goods was built
on ballast rock from Slave Coast turrets. We see Amistad,
we look at Gilded Age graffiti: a drawing of a white man
with a handlebar moustache from 1835, when the African
town of New Goree was razed to the ground for shoes.
Katrina's come to make a film about the colors of the heart,
so we walk past hoists, barrels, leg irons, every kind
of torture tool from Positano, to see our slave and slaver
ancestors, a cry felt deep, exploded out upon a world
that talks up medicine for corns or mouthwash mints.
On a transistor radio, you can hear BRU, which just
now plays reggae from Montego Bay, and a song
comes up upon the wind off Bristol Harbor, Gregoriou,
gregarious, the cleft palate and stammer suddenly
lift from all manner of talking, and love and sin stand
equally holy in the light that a mother of God streams in,
and each of our ancient maids and ministers is blessing us.
The fog is a counterpane weighing down the carcasses of eel
on Ishmael. Someone's in his bed, New Bedford, 1937,
the channel wake is clogged with half-sewn pigskins of chourico
or chub. The roads south are clotted with frost heaves,
St. Valentine sleeps in a bed of leaves, deep in a trance
of snowflakes, transoming the steppes of Eastern Asia.
An earlier blue moon cannot be seen for the thick chowder
the air is in front of my broken nose, come to the coast
from some giant-beetled bosque of La Paz, tradewind traces
still triangular: Costa-Gavras, Alpha Centauri, Rops,
all wild excesses of Blake, teeth-chattering goathide
mind-bashing bulk of bream in sweet rum, and stout
that flags the floor in huge oak kegs that say Havana,
a flagrant violation of the heart's code. The giant black
chinaberry tree is only the sum of its shade. A pair of ugly
ibises alights atop a limestone crag at sunset, a family of ten
Mexicans loping the whelk-rimed beach where my cold feet
feel trilobites ground into the glass that sand is, as it overtakes
a city parking lot. All around me are the raucous longings
of gulls, who nail their prey by never tiring, and almost
imperceptibly I can shift this silent white of evening into grey.
After the Norweigan maelstrom, a crowd of sanderlings,
cough-red tide of venom weed, isinglas vials of vaccinations
from the 1920s, and the recurring dream of dreadnought
and auger-hole, the piercing glance across the bowsprit
midnight sheen of Venus over the Pacific, millions of stars
cocked down off Greenland's shores, where oars in oarlocks
clock small reckonings of storm-time twice.
Home again, to while away the mange of seven-to-seven,
we sleepwalk one dim morning into the glare of afternoon
when three of us stare prostrate at an eye in the fire,
trying to presage the face of God, while a dog attends
with a rigid, philosophical gaze, into the face of a cupcake,
to ask the question of why not. Later when sleet
drives us out of our slumbers to the road, I drive
with two girls who smell like mustard and lace,
up to the watershed of Buzzards Bay, not one
spectre Sasquatch in the rear-view mirror till it clears
at five or six and the moon whirls up full over
the Moby-Dick Motel, and, trembling, we count blessings,
sing songs from Third Eye Blind and hold our breath
straight up, into the heaven of the tattooed harpooneer.
On a ferry choughing smoke off Chapaquiddick
the pilgrims sitting next to me are peering at a deer tick,
the sun's come out and disappeared, Joseph
of Arimathaea swallows the butt of a corn dog
as we dream of the parable of loaves and fishes
spread wide and far as sand dunes at Gay Head.
Fall River and homeless are two phrases I hear
as I bend to try and shut out all the sound.
But, being on the sound, on the crossing
back to Woods Hole, I am everything around,
even the surf that breaks the mitre of the waves.
I am the scarp, I am the scallop shell, the lone
cormorant scudding to a stop beyond a nun buoy
which clangs at blues and toadfish from the deep.
The ship is a fortess for my thoughts that purse
earth's innards, why I ever keep wandering deserts.
Far from Cat Island, from the keys that harbor
anarchists, this Saturday stands apart from others,
when the ghost of a man still lopes across the waters,
past dying and death and after, but not yet risen,
hurtling through wake and wave towards home.
Come April winds, war, pale crocuses, afterbirth
and finally Good Friday, day of rest, a piece of mind
to rapture laughter. Tonight there's shelling in Illyria,
bad Milwaukee beer and scrod--twelve nights ago
under a Wampanoag moon we finished our Shakespeare
as a Stealth went down where Viola met Olivia.
Here three young Germans play Mikado, just
as we did ten years ago when I went turtle searching
with my newborn daughter. Now my brother
John cradles his own--Mariah Grace--fine, five-
day-old fingers translucent in the light. Across
the bay, the shadow of Dad darts in the shoals
of minnows, my journey home foreshortened
by the creasing of osprey wings into flaccid sky,
while southerly winds sunsoak what ice is left
of Ice Age, of the cay where we lay naked one night
in August among millions of mating horseshoe crabs.
Oma Charlotte--still on Serbian/Berlin time--snorks
louder than the dog does, as I reach to my spleen
to hem up and gather the words to spill as early seed:
Come April winds and stamp the day upon this page.
Easter morning, six am. It may be the last year that we are wrapping presents
from the Easter bunny, or forgoing church in the name of art.
The basin of earth swings into daylight savings time, sommerzeit,
with rain cascading onto a tin roof, meters from where an osprey comes
to his nest with a giant trout. Buds drizzle the delicate juice of God.
We are warned against trespass, infamy, world without grace,
but even in this pine bower where we seek a rest from arduous jobs
the lisp and burn of work follows us, follows us to the shore
where spider crabs convene and do the delicate dance of death.
On a hill shaped like flame, by Otis Air Force Base, a hand
reaches from a cloud to place a golden bull by our side, by
blessing water that scrolls up out of a crabbing hole that lulls us
out of all memory, to say this is the history of the future.
We are not pregnant, the oysterboats are in, the Gulf of Kassandra
holds our thoughts of peace to stave off World War Three, a last
Eastertide of a century of malice, fraud, and joy. Miles from
Byzantium, with emeralds and ostrich feathers from the emperor,
we gather at a morning fireplace to open the tiny packages of love
that stand for sacrifice, black habit, shroud, two thousand books
from the library of love, and the forty martyrs who braved
a storm of thunder to place an egg inside the womb of Man.