May 2020 Poems

Of the poems which I posted this May, my favorites are “Death and the Safe Man” and–quite strangely, I feel–the poem “English & Cyrillic.” The latter is a poem that’s very different from what I usually write. I’m not quite sure where it came from, nor am I sure whether I could write another like it again.

The most popular poems, judging by likes, were “Coming Home,” “The Grandmaster,” and “Sea Haikus”.

I’ve put the limericks, as usual, into the limericks section of the site. I’ve given the long poem, “The Monster, Malgremir,” its own page since it’s so big.

May
Paul Limberg – May, a part of The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry 

Contents

Between the Wines and War
Bouquet
Coming Home
Death and the Safe Man
English & Cyrillic
The Grandmaster
The Luthier Alone in His Workshop
Old Green Bottle
Passion
The Riddler in the Labyrinth
Sea Haikus
The Stone Man, the Fire Woman, the Flower Man, and the Bird-Hearted Woman

Between the Wines and War

What have we here—here between the fine wines and war?
Love. Passion. The sensual and the visceral,
The red drip of the pomegranate, the sweet taste of gold honey.
You touch your slim hand to your angular face once more,
Touching where your red lips are closed and commissural.
We have health, youth, life, tobacco, and wine, but no money.
We have enough. The breeze blows the transparent white curtain
Bringing in the scent of the sea, the jungle’s animals’ cries,
And the faint beams of moonlight, which band the wooden floor.
The outcome of the fight, the approaching war, remains uncertain.
The soldier fights for his country, then his friends, then dies,
As the wine reeks, and our lips meet, and the ocean breaks ashore.

 

Bouquet

There’re engines roaring in the street
loud and angry as a fire;
I am drunk, and I am thirsty,
and I’m feeling tight as wire
cause one spirit’s got me woozy,
and the other makes me pray,
but neither makes me holy
in any elemental way,
but they leave me lacking, thirsty,
with the dawn of each new day.
I have already begun to wonder
what price I have to pay
for an experience so vital
that I’ll never lose my way,
for I’m lost and I am hopeless,
and I always feel astray,
so I shut my ears to street sounds
and I let the liquor say,
Is this a comedy or a tragedy,
this inscrutable human play?
What of life does really matter:
Wealth… or appreciation of a day?
And which will make me stronger:
Affection… or a nuclear array?
I ain’t askin anybody particular
cause I don’t want to be betrayed,
but with every drink I swallow
I feel a little more afraid,
and with every hour that passes by
I feel my understanding further stray
as I draw closer to a cold truth
that – no matter how much I pay,
and despite which side I take –
there will always be this fray
between the open-hearted folk
and citizens who recite clichés.
So I guess I must do something
cause I don’t think we’re all okay,
and it don’t seem to help much
to keep drinkin or to pray:
one spirit’s in the bottle
the other’s too far away…
It’s like knowing you can’t catch
but still hoping for the bouquet.

 

Coming Home

She is a woman, auburn haired,
With eyes of green and careful mind.
She looks through windows onto snow,
To mountain ranges, crisp and clear.
She’s as tough as stone, as rough as cordage,
Supple as a rope or birch.
And in that cold Wyoming evening
Where the mountains meet the sky,
The clouds are forming, an airy meadow,
Like fields of mushrooms or beds of scallops
That grow up and white in course of time.

And coming down from that mountain,
With broken shoulder and riding slow,
Is a tall man of her age
One she’s bound herself to love.
And like Penelope she’s been watching
That rocky chine for hopeful sign,
And now at last her man’s come riding
Down the slope, back into life
To make again the old ranch whole.

So the woman, standing slowly,
Slips out through the cabin door
Into the air that’s crisp with autumn,
Chill and fair, suggesting snow.
She saddles up and rides to meet him;
She finds him ’neath a lodgepole pine,
And there the two dismount and embrace
Relieved to learn their hearts will mend.
For above the firs the birds are flying
Vultures, condors: the carrion pair,
And how they’d love a crippled cowpoke
Lost amidst the mountains there.
Now she and he are hugging fiercely
As the sun sinks behind the stone
And though Death is hungry
And impatient it must find another time
For tonight these two are coming home.

 

Death and the Safe Man

A man took no chances, and he kept his life quite dear.
He guarded himself more closely with every passing year.
Till one day while he was waiting,
He found Death grinning from ear to ear,
And Death said, “I hope you won’t my mind stating,
But it’s cost you your life to live in fear.”

 

English & Cyrillic

A… B… C… begins the lonely alphabet
and progresses, like digits in a limited set,
to a close decidedly sure and finite,
like the extent of clouds in weather systems.
Phonics and pronunciation mark lucidly
how we’ve arrived at our political geology:
by burning so many lightbulbs nobody can see the sky,
calling it poetry and lionizing warts—
There’s how we’ve arrived…
but what are we here for?
It doesn’t take a mathematician
to know two plus two makes four.

II. Gepetto & Pinocchio

Liquids, solids, gases /=/ steel machinery
amongst the Eastern European wheat fields,
the Ukrainian granary, the formaldehyde,
the slow, slow, Latvian lathe. People, terrified,
build boats to escape across the cold sea
from tall television sets, satellites, & the Rhine,
from the iron hand that broke in 1989.
A lone man wishes vainly on the stars.
коммунистические звезды

Wheat fields in the dusk, east of the Baltic sea bed.
There.
For once, we spoke plainly enough, she said.
Acknowledging alchemy can’t create gold from lead,
acknowledging there’s little blood left
that hasn’t been bled.
A naked Estonian boy takes a cold bath.
His mother shapes clay upon a lathe.
Across the grain fields, past the swather,
from the west, speeds a new gasoline car—
a lone man’s wish cracks on a communist star.

 

The Grandmaster

The old man was paralyzed from the waist down,
But from there up, he was perfectly spry.
His words flowed like water;
his thoughts were as pure as bees’ honey.
And what kind of a man was he?
He was insubordinate, obstinate,
Clever, and polite. They said he was a kind man,
A kind and gentle man, even if
He didn’t follow orders.
He was dominant at chess,
Where he sat at the table in his wheelchair,
While a longcase clock ticked behind him,
And he studied the pawns, the knights, and bishops,
As if he were looking out over a playing field of life.
His old friend, the doctor, would call on him
And bring him suits of charcoal grey,
Shirts of ivory white with soft collars,
And red roses for the boutonnieres.
These the old man would wear,
Dressing up every day, as if for his own wedding,
With a fresh flower pinned in the button hole
And a golden ring upon his finger.
In such dress, he would paint with oils.
He made great canvases of genre scenes:
Men and women at weddings, in funerals,
Sitting by lakes, and along beaches
With a range of magnificent mountains behind.
“I expect more from art than I do from life,”
He would say. “And I am apt to be more
Critical of a fine painting than of a life poorly lived.
For there is but one thing that the artist should focus on,
And in his pursuit of perfection, he must neglect all else.
While in life, a man must focus on many things,
And neglect nothing. Such is the paradox of the grandmasters,
That they must neglect life to reproduce faithfully
Its finest imitations.”

 

The Luthier Alone in His Workshop

Amid vacuousness,
vagueness, silence

ear to horsehair strings
(pluck, pluck, twing)

The luthier: polar, hoary hair
rivuleted, waxen face

planes, calipers, chisels
ebony bench

Sigggggghhhhhhh…..
stands, nestles, adjusts, lifts

bow strikes strings
(saw, pling, pling)

tattoo of sound
exequy of hush

a roaring, a splendor!
a workshop suffused.

(pling, saw saw, rush, whine orble, fade, seern, seeOyurn)
(pluck, pluck) hearken (saw) hearken (pluck, pluck) tune
(saw, neeor, seeor, zhhhh)

inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale

J.S. Bach
Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: VII.
Gigue.

Resonance, reverberation decamp
ultimate echo.

 

Old Green Bottle

An old olive green bottle with its label faded and worn
Is shaken by its neck. Its contents churn and whisk.
Its settlings rise up and whirl in the heaving swirl.
There’s a sharp pop as its cork is unstoppered,
Then an eddying flow as the amber liquid is poured.
From out its mouth comes a dear beverage
That fills the glasses which are toasted
To fireworks in the night sky and which set to riot
The lakeside revelers who dance beneath
Moonsilvered racks of billowing clouds.
Up above them, a good spirit is fishing.
He’s dropped his line from the sky to earth.
His beard is of curled cloud, and his eyes are twinkling stars.
His body is made of mist.
From time to time he catches, from the people below,
What he’s fishing for:
A kind word, a bit of hope,
Something to lead another
Through dark days.
He reels up such a catch, this kind spirit, and he
Observes what he’s got, there on the end of the line.
It glimmers, gleams, and shines.
When he laughs, he laughs with joy,
And all go running to get out the coming rain,
For they can hear the thunder rumbling
High above.

 

Passion

Passion, amid that fair skulduggery that is Time,
Teach me no more hard lessons;
I need no more legions of tormenting lesions.
Leave me only love—soft as a pheasant,
Enduring as space—until my passing.

 

The Riddler in the Labyrinth

There once was a man with the head of a crow
He had the feet of an ostrich and a lion’s torso
He had snakes for his arms that ended in fangs
He wore a torturous yoke like the Medieval cangues
In which a chain ran from an eyebolt to a brick wall
And kept the man from moving too far at all.
He was chained like a dragon or a king to his throne
In the heart of a labyrinth made of wood and of stone.
The labyrinth was a spiral; it was weathered, antique—
It began at the foot of a mountain and wound to its peak.
And there at the top, amidst the ice and the snow
Was this man with the snake arms and the head of a crow.
And to the weary traveler who reaches this labyrinthine lair
This man gives a riddle, at once puzzling yet fair:

What is fairly yellow but can be fairly black—
It shows its face with artful grace and then it turns its back?

The wily traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one soon,
The answer that you seek, strange friend, is the orbiting moon.
So the man with the crow’s head puts another question forth
To test the mettle of the one who is establishing her worth.

What is hard to swallow but impossible to choke—
It makes us, dear, each lend an ear with the feelings it evokes?
It can feel as captivating as the heaviest chain may be,
Yet it is at once so liberating that it can set us free!

The clever traveler laughs and says, I can answer this one too!
The thing you see, that we all seek, is everything that’s true.
The Truth! It is the answer, nods the strange and riddling man,
Now listen again to what I say and answer if you can.

What seems fairly simple, yet is always so complex
That no one’s yet succeeded in predicting its effects?
It’s not glowing like a rainbow, nor shining like the stars,
And yet it lights our lives and makes humanity be ours?

There’s just one peerless answer to this mystery thereof,
Says the savvy traveler, What you’re talking of is Love!

And at that very moment, the strange and patchwork man,
Turned into a handsome prince at the top of that mountain.
And the weary traveler, she cried out with delight,
At the quick reshaping, at the splendid sight.
For this, at last, was her prince, whom she long had sought to see
And traveled over many land leagues, and across stormy seas.
For a witch had cast her spell upon this handsome prince
And chained him in the labyrinth where he’s been waiting ever since.
And it took his true love who had journeyed all this time,
To free him with her courage, and her answers to each rhyme.

 

Sea Haikus

Pearl Morning of Mist
Pearl morning of mist
Clipper ships in the harbor:
Undressing lover.

The Harbor Air
Rough, coarse, salty air,
A fragrance smelled from far-off.
Hot stew in kitchens.

Under the Sea
Undersea lie ships,
Sunken and decomposing:
A bottle’s settlings.

 

The Stone Man, the Fire Woman, the Flower Man, and the Bird-Hearted Woman

I see this man he’s made of stone
His mind’s a steel trap, his heart’s of bone,
His eyes are granite, grey and deep,
He works without end, he does not sleep.

I’ve seen this woman, she’s made of fire,
With a mind as brilliant as a pyre,
Her memory is perfect, like licking flames,
She forgets nothing, no one’s names.

I’ve seen them both: the stone, the blaze;
They both impress me, they both amaze.
We celebrate them and set them high
On plinths to be watched by every eye.

I see this man he’s all alone
His heart’s of flowers, his mind’s of brome,
His eyes are blue, his hands are weak,
There’s a voice in his heart that cannot speak.

I see this woman, she’s huddled there,
Her clothes are tatters, her feet are bare
In her heart are larks that sing
While outside her is a cold that stings.

I’ve seen them both: the bloom, the bird;
They hide their minds, conceal the word,
Their eyes they seem to have lost their gleam,
But in their hearts beats the human dream.