N. poeticus


It started with your voice, your shimmering breath
spiraling downward through the water's depth -

calling - so strange! - my name. I rose, undreamed,
and came to you. Across that space it seemed

the world unfolded of itself, a findern
flower, pheasant's eye, the unfilled cistern

of your heart. Then I came upon you, lost,
pitiful - until you saw me there, ghost

of your ghost, shade of your shade, reflection
of your longing. You bent to me, passion

finding mirrored passion, the gloaming coal
of mouth, of lips, of whispered betrothal.

Tethered, as a fevered dowry, to this
our conjugated sin, we pledged our kiss.


The Passage


Only the sea keeps
crossing the chasm

Inside the tornado,
gravity,
the conjuror’s bird
glimpses
the possible past:

the hundred secret senses,
the gates of exquisite view


And You As Well Beloved


Moonlight cast its perfumed spell, beloved,
Down on me – and you as well, beloved.

Unworthy, I beheld you, veiled; but O
The heavens parted, and I fell, beloved.

I would sweep across the desert rampart
To your side, this thirst to quell, beloved.

I would bind myself to sanctuary
In your arms, embrace this cell, beloved.

God sever this cursed tongue and stitch these lips,
Should I ever say farewell, beloved.

But if that God should turn his back on you –
I would be your infidel, beloved.

For all my soul desires is to be yours,
Your supplicant, your Samuel, beloved.


Cento from the Diary of Anne Frank

1

Here in the secret annex

Look – how a single candle can define
and yet defy the darkness

2

The reason I’m starting a diary is that I
have no real friend


Neither I nor anyone else,
for that matter, may be interested
in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl

It doesn’t matter. I feel like writing.

The young are not afraid of telling the truth.

But more than that, I want to draw out what lies
buried in my heart

shake off everything, vanish
my sorrows, rebirth
courage

3

A new prescription for gunfire nerves:

As the shooting gets louder, make your way
to the nearest wooden staircase.

Run up and down a few times, being sure
to stumble at least once.

With all the scratches, the din of running
and falling, you won't even hear the shooting,
much less worry about it.

Yours truly has put this magic formula to use,
with tremendous success

4

Why is mankind so insane?

Why make enormous planes, bombs,
and pre-fabricate houses for reconstruction?

Why spend millions on the war each day,
and nothing for artists, for the poor?

Why do people starve, with mountains
of food spoiling in other parts of the world?

There is in humanity simply an urge to
destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and

Rage. Until all the world, without
exception, undergoes a transformation,

Wars will be waged, everything that has been
built up, cultivated, and grown will be

Destroyed, disfigured, after which
the world will have to begin over again

5

The world will keep on turning without me

I've reached the point where I hardly care whether I
live or die.

6

Love, what is love? I don’t think you can
put it into words


I love you, with a love so great that it couldn't
keep inside my heart, but had to leap out
and reveal itself in all its magnitude

7

Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?


Crying may bring relief, as long as you don't
cry alone

I want to go on living even after my death
I don’t want to have lived in vain

8

I realize that this period of my life
has irrevocably come to a close


gone forever

Let’s not talk about it anymore, but if you still
want anything please write

write because I can say what I mean
much better on paper

Paper has more patience than people

Don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty
that still

remains

9

I see 
the world gradually being turned into a wilderness.

I hear
the ever-approaching thunder, which will
destroy us.

I feel
the sufferings of millions and yet,
if I look up into the heavens,

I believe
- not everyone has the gift
of believing in heavenly things -

I believe
in spite of everything

I still believe
that mankind is really, at its heart,
good

10

A single candle

Here, in the secret annex

See
how a single candle
can defy the darkness


Tritina for an Avocado


You bear to me your avocado love
That I may taste of tenderness and sweet.
Your bliss of flesh, your fragrant heart,

A warmth that spreads through this my fervent heart.
Oh, to let me ravish you as spring’s love
Ravishes the branches with its verdant, sweet

Embrace. Oh, to let me press these lips, sweet,
Against your cheek, rain’s punctuative art
In kisses on the skin. Bear me thus your love –

My love, my sweet – your avocado heart.


Letter to Neruda


You have been my woman’s lover now for
seven years, ever since your two souls met
at La Isla Negra. Yes, I have known
about your assignations for some time,
your breakfast tête-à-têtes, your late-night trysts,

midday intermezzos punctuated
by wine and passionate exclamation.
I have unearthed your letters, your amorous
affirmations secreted in her books,
your verses excerpted in diaries.

I beg of you: Release her captive heart.
You have no need of her, your mistresses
surround you, innumerable are your
conquests. And I – I have only her. She
fills my soul, without her I am empty.

I love her, and sometimes in her absent
eyes I see the flash of remembrance – and
I think sometimes she might still love me too.
But I have not your art, nor scope. Passion
flows like torrents from your pen, where

they are quenched from my own. You are a force
of nature, an earthquake, a hurricane.
And I am left to woo her with nothing
but my shopworn metaphors, my contrived
rhymes, my incompetent pentameter.

So I have gathered for you this ransom,
one hundred and forty poems, all I have.
I have packed them in my well-worn suitcase,
in verses of small denominations.
Take them. Only tell her you will see her

no more, that your art is for another,
that you will always cherish your moments
together. Then unbind her hands, loose her
blindfold, let her run back to me – back to
my waiting heart, inadequate but true.


Time Zones


Tonight I am looking at the moon
that was the moon
in your sky last night.

I stir and walk, and you
walk with me,
you in the Friday morning haze
and I underneath this Thursday sky
that was your sky last night.

Far off, the world begins to turn
in its unfinished current,
rain falls, the month changes color,
the windrift wavers
between stillness and monsoon.

But I,
I feel no need to question why.
Seven hours, seven thousand
miles apart, tonight
you are only
a whisper away
from my outstretched hand.

And tomorrow the morning
that is your morning
will be my morning too.


The Way the World Ends


The world will come to an end tonight.
Not with comets slanting through the rafters,

Or tidal waves surging across the coast,
Or the braze of volcanoes, unsubmerged.

Not with the earth’s decimated orbit
Spiralling it into a strangled sun,

Not with the rush of spurious armies
Turning fallow the scope of mankind’s dreams.

But with the last of your kiss, fading
From the sepulchre of these lips: it ends.

And the night sky may as well be shattered,
And the sun never rise again, or set,

And the stars may as well burn to cinders,
For all the worth they are, when you are gone.


How More Beautiful You Are

after Kotaro Takamura

How more beautiful you are, with every veil,
Every adornment, shed.

Your body, by the wash of years refined;
Boundless, like a meteor.

Your soul, insubstantial to vanity or scandal,
Moving swiftly, as desire.

How long, centuries? Before this consummation
Into woman?

There, wrapped in your silence, it is as if you were
Creation’s first triumph.

Ah, sometimes my heart leaps in me amazed:
How more beautiful you are.


Butterfly Effect


Because your father stopped in Strandja park
to point out that whirligig of wings – blue
argus
, he said, Ultraaricia
Anteros
– you were dazzled forever.

Those wings wafted you here, ten thousand six
hundred kilometres away, to the
University of California,
Davis. Encyclopedia of Insects

in arm, you haul yourself up the stairwell
of Briggs Hall. Your frail sandal spindles on
the threshold – and you trip, a beautiful,
crippled Lycaenidaen specimen,

into the butterfly net of my arms.
Somewhere in Texas, a hurricane stirs.



Down on the Labrador: Towing the Nickerson


I have towed my father’s schooner further
than any vessel has ever been pulled:

two thousand, one hundred and twenty-nine
kilometres, to where my spirit lies

exhausted, pining like an orphaned child
for a half-remembered home, far away.

And I have towed icebergs, shoals of them, from
where my grandfather sailed, in waters deep

as the waters of creation; and whales
more ponderous than any edifice

of man’s design or art. Towed here by my
inconsequential heart, encircling solace

like a familiar harbour, flinging deep
in wave-tossed life these anchors for my soul.


The First Deadly Sin


Here is how it works: The foreskin retracts,
protuberant incisors declinate
a subtle ivory, viperine fangs.

Pressed to your incandescent curve of skin,
I pierce your flesh. You gasp, feel it quicken
in you, repulsion and desire. But no,

Not yet the sweet inhalation of your
frail innocence, not yet the blood rush. First
into you my venom I ejaculate:

A luciferian delirium sings in
your veins, a paralytic lullaby
of musk, of peace, of lust, of sleep, of trust:

Until all struggles cease, until you yield
into my hands your soul. And then I drink.


Guernica


That night, in Paris, when the news came that
they had bombed the village, you kept waking
from sleep. In one dream I heard you call out
‘Maya, Maya,’ your mistress’ daughter.
Across from you I lay barren, afraid to breathe.

Next morning, the soul that just yesterday
wept was quiet, charcoal in hand, as you
tried to corral in the vast cold room the last
nuance of the night’s dream into a
silhouette of form, reshaping your nightmare:

Underneath the condor’s swirling legion,
the bull’s retreat, the stallion’s agony,
the screaming of the sixteen hundred men
and women and children, a market day
turned into fire, a holocaust of innocents.

Once you stopped, watching me. You strode over,
cut a swatch of my hair, fixed it onto
a sketch, as a collage; then fell to work again.
Three hundred drawings, and every drawing
a dream, and every dream another death.

Finally, on the fifteenth day, you stretched
your mural’s canvas, twelve feet by twenty-six,
slant-braced to fit under the studio ceiling.
There, on that expanse, you found a way
to give voice to those unspoken horrors:

The woman with a dead child in her arms;
the man engulfed in flames; the subjugated
bull; stigmata on a soldier’s open palm;
a javelin in a writhing horse; daggers and fire;
and the lightbulb’s bale, unblinking stare.

From across the room I aimed my camera
at you, my sniper’s rifle, counting each shot
with your every stroke – color against white,
politics against art, anger against tears, as you
waged across the canvas your uncivil war.


Eleventh


The streets
weft breeze-swept sheets, texts,
letters, sentences never ended:

Beth,
Next bet, Everest! Ever been
there? They tell me extreme,
WTC-sheer. Yes! Wherever
there’s extreme, there’s me! Tell

Jeff:
See Excel sheets 20-23, rev 7.
The VP feels the new Eng’g Dept
spend needs exec check. Prep
NYSE. Then pre-Dec 3, delete

Bennett:
These extensions skew the
expected rent levels. Next term,
they’ll exceed the free expenses
precendent. Nevertheless

Helen,
When we met, speech deserted
me... Never expected the sweetness,
the perfect tenderness... Melt me,
tell me the deepest secrets... Let me

September 11.
The breeze sweeps the letters.
The letters never sent.


Hallelujah


You may have heard this song before,
A carol to a mournful score,
But you don’t really care for Christmas, do you?
When all you hear is reveille,
The treble of the cavalry,
An old, unspoken psalm, this Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Your soldiers round on Bethlehem;
The angels, they all say they see right through you.
How swift your brothers disappear,
Your sisters' eyes avert in fear,
And in their hearts they stifle Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

The columns burn, the fourth, the fifth;
The major falls, the armor lifts,
And finally the foe who near outdrew you.
Your ammunition's shown its worth,
Now maybe there’ll be peace on earth,
Not just this cold and broken Hallelujah.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Maybe there’s a God above,
And maybe all you've known of love
Was when a painted Death knelt down and blew you.
But Cohen sang and Lennon fell;
If there’s a heaven, there’s a hell,
Where all the damned compose their Hallelujahs.

     Hallelujah, Hallelujah.


Radar


Against the violet sky my Piper Saratoga
banks and shifts, a paltry sparrow
lost in the expanding gloom.
Dimmed in a room below me,
the radar on the Island Airport
circumnavigates the darkness.
Its luminescent arm swings a clockwise
arc across its screen, and pings
the rumor of my existence, up above.

Last month, I stood beneath the wash
of the rainshower, the buzzing of your
Philips razor mixing with the water’s hiss –
love’s wondrous morning ritual,
familiar as coffee, comfortable,
soapy, serene – when I found it.
Two fingers retracing open circles from the
areola, ranging in spirals across soft
tissue, outward like a radar’s sweep.

Like a malign backscatter off my
startled fingertips, a sudden thickening,
unaccustomed, beneath the surface. There.
Two weeks later, at my call-back diagnostic
screening, the radiologist scanned the bright
Nazca lines of my mammograms.
Aerial maps, pinpointing my pain, this
purgatory between parallel plates,
compressing my world, again, again.

Last week, a stereotactic biopsy,
a geologic intrusion into the core,
an aftertremor shattering my broken world.
140 knots, 5000 feet. Rain falls,
the wind shifts, and my aircraft’s wings
drop suddenly on a power-on stall.
If I chose silence, I could ease up,
let the winds wash over these
pallid wings as I fall.

I could close my eyes, let gravity’s distant
wavelength uncoil, and draw this shell
into its tethered, unrelenting pull.
But here, in the momentary silence
of this spin, my heart’s radar reaches out,
probing hope’s dim cavern –
pings the summer of our daughter’s graduation;
pings a showering of rice at her wedding;
pings our grandson’s wavering first steps;

pings him scoring in his first home game;
pings us on the shore at Orchid Beach;
pings you holding me crying in the shower,
that first day, love, as if you’d never let me go;
pings this life, this fragile, precious life –
And I must draw my strength into my hands, haul
resolution’s ailerons back, back – until the curve
is righted, and the wind is stilled, and the
airfield markers part the darkness into stars.


To a Woman Now Gone


after Kotaro Takamura

Sparrows tap at the window glass, and I stir.
Beside me your gloxinia blossoms, as if you were here.

And all my senses suddenly awaken to a morning breeze
Wafting in at 5 a.m. with your fragrant ease.

White sheets flung off, I stretch my arms in the light,
In this morning sunshine that is your smile.

Your whisper in me asks, how will this day be unfolding?
You stand and watch me, all-seeing, all-knowing.

As if I have become a child;
As if you have become a mother, mine.

Here still, here still.
You have become everything, what moves, what fills.

And though I am the least worthy of your grace,
Here I am – by you surrounded, enfolded, embraced.


The Dream

where a bird
night after starry night
while I'm asleep
unfolds its phantom wings
          - P.K. Page


is perhaps
a dream of you.
And the bird your
last unfinished verse
before you fell to earth.
And the night this world
without you, suddenly
overwhelmed with
loss, a song unheard,
where a bird

finds feathered rest.
And I am stirred
to whisper words
as would fly through
this glass air, as would
recall you, bright
as metal, incandescent
coal, rose-fragrant
words to take flight
night after starry night

when your absence
tests this faltering
hologram of faith.
No, not my words, but yours,
migrant across the pages,
flying across the deep
pleated blue of the ocean,
like arial shadows
in memory steeped.
While I’m asleep

your verses thread
into my dream,
as if they would embroider
with flowers and birds
this heart that only knows
that you are missing
still. Night after starry night
while I’m asleep
your poetry sings,
unfolds its phantom wings.


The River-Merchant's Wife: An Answer


I have revisited my parents’ house in Chokan,
where we played before we were married.
You would still recognize it, the same
long-stemmed vines intertwining the front gate,
budding with flowers. So bashful then!
I tried to make you laugh, striding with stilts
and plucking blue plums to juggle
eight feet in the air. I watched
as your lips struggled with your eyes.

And I have drifted by the look-out rock,
where we pledged a thousand times
that we would grow together old, never look back.
Weathered now, where your sandals have filed
a melancholy pattern on its face.

I have tried to speak to you
in your dreams; but yours are always
the same: A big storm shakes
through the woods of Pa Ling,
tearing branches and leaves,
turning the whole world black.

I call you, but the wind drowns out
my voice. And when you wake up,
shivering, I am invisible, your eyes
look past me at the moon.

On the walkway, outside,
the mosses have taken the steps now.

And so I flow with the wind,
whirling with each western gust,
lifting the hair from your face as you
search the horizon toward Hsiang Tan.

And I flow with the river,
swirling with the current, until I reach you,
press against the soft skin of your feet,
as you wait for me, ankle-deep
in the waters past Cho-fu-Sa.
.....

How to Sharpen a Knife


Your metaphor is your whetstone; choose well.
Perhaps a swallow, a comet, a bell,

an amethyst, the moon. Wet it with tears,
a typhoon, the amber sap wrung from fears.

Lay one side of the blade, dull edge against stone,
and hone it thus, hard, as though against bone.

In one direction only; back and forth,
and the metal splays rough, loses its worth.

Now the other side, slow easy strokes, same
direction, wide edge to the point of pain.

Tendered thus, when you thrust the sharpened
blade between unwary ribs, it should rend

as if through parchment, shearing burnished art
past muscle, sinew, deep into the heart.


Ode to Dawn


Gold anklebone cups,
brazen straps interlacing
from the edge of her calves
down to her heels – just now
gold-sandaled dawn flings
back night’s changing-room
curtain, sweeps out to
take a mirrored self-
appraisal, takes a
half-turn in, and
vogues.

Ensconced in such finery, such
aggrandizement, how fashionable
the doorkeeper’s feet are; seven
armlengths long, and seven
fathoms deep, the
bienséance
lingers.

Clutching close her diaphanous
handbag of sky, merino-wool
scarf of clouds, she hesitates –
but all is to be dared, because
even a person of poverty, a
plebeian, could not resist
the entreaty of
this patrician
season.

If not, winter will come like a spartan,
seasonal critic, sweep away
exuberance, like a flame.

Thus the alchemy of accessorizing
her morning dress, the one with
wisteria screened above her waist,
the one with violets in her lap, a
floral boisterousness, yet no more
than the bird with piercing voice
that calls chirping from the rosewood,
that sweetbitter unmanageable
creature who steals in when
our hearts are threadbare,
and unexpectant.

Sudden dawn, you burn me
with last season’s fading color,
this vanity’s gaudy fair;
but I to you, of a white goat-
skin shoulder-slung
silver-buckled
carryall,
sing.
.....

Flying to Nantucket


I have set out a course to Nantucket,
Seeking wind, with my wings out to tack it;
But my heart, it lies shattered
Off the hurricane-battered
South shore of the island Nantucket.

This July, I am following his flight,
With his wife and her sister, that night;
Past Point Judith, over water,
Along the path that was shorter,
And away from the coastline’s faint light.

Did he know what was going to come,
When the fog rose, embalming their sun?
Did she try to stay calm,
Put her hand on his arm,
When she knew day was finally done?

I have set out my course past Nantucket,
Forging north, with my compass to track it.
But my heart, it lies torn
Beneath waters forlorn,
As I fly, as I fly past Nantucket.
.....

The Seven Last Words


Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt.

They hadn’t seen the wire, threading the grim
eyelet of the dead soldier’s left boot, so
when he shouted, it was too late, the pin
had pulled, and the incendiary blew.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

But not before he was able to throw
himself onto the I.E.D., sparing
his troop the shrapnel flash, the inferno
that tore his chest like a lover’s raging.

Mulier, ecce filius tuus.

And in the middle of his agony,
he heard his mother’s voice: and there he was,
five again, tumbled tricycle, skinned knee
being wrapped up in tenderness and gauze.

Sitio.

Pulled back, he felt the drought in his mouth salved
by the salt of his own blood, where his jaw
had ruptured, ripped. He felt himself hauled, shoved
across pavement, into the transport’s maw.

Hodie mecum eris in Paradiso.

His brother, lost to another army,
to another war, sat across the way,
squeezed his hand. Real enough, it seemed; quietly
saying, It’s okay. I’m here. It’s okay.

Consummatum est.

And it was. Around him he saw them – crushed,
pounding his chest, weeping, wiping his face –
but all there, saved by his instinctive rush
into the abyss, taking their place.

In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.

And his breathing slowed into an even
skate, his eyes closed, and his spirit rose high,
wings like a dreamed Chagall, through the open
window, past rooftops, into violet sky.


The Treachery of Dreams


Ceci n'est pas une - This is not a poem.
Still green, the apple contemplates the man.
Le fils de l'homme, il contemple la pomme.
Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.

Still green, the apple contemplates the man.
The artist paints a portrait of an egg.
Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.
Across a grove of leaves, a rider's fled.

The artist paints a portrait of an egg.
A verdant apple rises in the east.
Across a grove of leaves, a rider's fled.
The seraph turns his back upon the beast.

A verdant apple rises in the east.
A horse and rider shutter through the woods.
The seraph turns his back upon the beast.
Two lovers kiss, their faces wrapped in shrouds.

A horse and rider shutter through the woods.
A doorway opens in a twilit tree.
Two lovers kiss, their faces wrapped in shrouds.
A train emerges from the fireplace deep.

A doorway opens in a twilit tree.
Un parasol, des fleurs, a woman's loves.
A train emerges from the fireplace deep.
Le thérapeute encages two white doves.

Un parasol, des fleurs, a woman's loves.
Dusk falls to home from empires of the day.
Le thérapeute encages two white doves.
Un château levitates above a bay.

Dusk falls to home from empires of the day.
Three men precess a waning crescent moon.
Un château levitates above a bay.
The fragile rose has grown to fill the room.

Three men precess a waning crescent moon.
Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.
The fragile rose has grown to fill the room.
Still green, the apple contemplates the man.

Les hommes en chapeaux fall like summer rain.
Le fils de l'homme, il contemple la pomme.
Still green, the apple contemplates the man.
Ceci n'est pas une - This is not a poem.
.....

The Time Traveller's Sonnet

And there you are, at last: your eyes, your face.
Just as swiftly, only a memory,

a star irresolute, the lightning’s trace,
a half-remembered verse of poetry.

Still, you are what keeps my atoms in place
against life's centrifuge of anarchy:

your smile, in its sadness a hint of grace,
my hope, my manifold geometry.

To be with you again, I would cross space,
and time, to where began this circled journey:

And there you are, at last: your eyes, your face.
Just as swiftly, only a memory,

a star irresolute, the lightning’s trace,
a half-remembered verse of poetry.
.....