poems and poems-in-progress

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bodies of Water


                                 for Scott T. Somerville

You were never a water wimp.
Even at Orchard Beach, you were good
to go. A natural swimmer, graceful
and strong. All of us were.
Natural swimmers, that is.
In water, that is.
But I was afraid to be
out over my head, afraid to swim
at dawn with you and Brutus out on 95th Street
when the lifeguard chairs were still
overturned in the sand on the shanty
“Irish Riviera” where we learned to tread water.
You always went way out.
You were never afraid
to get your ass kicked by a wave.

There was no fear
of losing control, cramping up, no fear of water
rushing to displace the spirit
of your lungs. No fear of the Earth’s
humors, the protean green of its scary
unknown, no fear of the curvaceous
machine of the tides.
And how you love baths! “Tropical Rain Forest”:
smoke a joint, fill the tub with aromatic
bubbles, darken the room, put music on,
pull the curtain, turn the shower on and float
away down the Nile in your vessel. You’ll go
in the water anywhere. When you come out,
it’s always with your head bowed down.
You shake the water off your blond head
like a dog, wearing a Miraculous
Medal, Virgin on a chain. I
never went to the beach with you
where you didn’t swim.
If there was water, you went in.
At the run-down riparian patch of the Yonkers
Hudson by Ludlow Street Station,
where the hookers, junkies and “faggots” congregated
you learned to fish—How I lament my sexual naiveté
(my imaginative deficit—maybe there’s still time, Snow 
                                                   Whitey —
a few moist years—before the onset of desiccation.)
In Rockaway, we learned to swim, across
from Playland, apprentices in anarchy-cumjuvenile
delinquency on lavender boardwalk nights.
We snuck on rides, harassed arcade suckers.
It was ‘69, the summer my breasts arrived.
I liked that 13-year-old Tommy from Kingsbridge.
I guess maybe you did too.

In junior year at Riverdale, they made us read
The Awakening in English class. I don’t remember
much about it. I read it so fast on the 20 bus.
A bored sensitive housewife takes a lover,
but it’s not just a romp;it’s liberty.

There was a seminal passage 

about swimming and sex.
We had to dissect it on the final. 
In The Swimmer, Burt Lancaster
searches for the true meaning of Life.
He hops over a fence and dives into
the pool that belonged to Armina,
Grandmother to Lola and Eve.
He was looking for something
he would never find. All he found
was exhaustion and emptiness
in the shallow end of the Pool of Life.
And who can forget “Daddy” in Come Back
Little Sheba, a chilling flick you’ve seen
a hundred times. Don’t swim
after eating a ham. Don’t dive
into a waterless pool. Don’t let
a drowning victim pull you in.
Use a rope or pole.
It never mattered how cold the water was,
you’d always go in. Wappingers Falls in May,
unremarkable spots on the Sound
where I snapped that shot of you
carrying my man like a bride,
the two of you lean and fashionable
in the parking lot heat.
It was the year of the pale
pink bikini. You look terrific in your suit,
no matter how many cheeseburgers,
no matter what body
of water you swim in.

And those bedroom eyes of yours,
sleepy blue, and the curls, romantic,
emblazoned with sun like tendrils on the pate
of that lush god Bacchus, a wild spray charged
with coppery light. I first read Euripides
at age 15. At 19, I met him
in a dream. The poet was avuncular,
charming, sage, lean, more bald than grey.
Wearing a loose white robe and sandals,
he sat elevated on a great rock
overlooking the Aegean, where he entertained
a simple question I’d been puzzling over.
It concerned the huntress.
I learned Adonis does get it in the end,
a disappointing conclusion indeed:
armed huntress clobbers beauteous male love god.

Later I learned the Aegean truly is
“wine-dark,” the color of dolphins, eggplants and plums,
not olive like the sand-salted Atlantic, nor Mexican turquoise,
nor your own warm favorite, your ice
blue water with its penetrable
salt, water clear enough to read through —
Jamaica — where it is your pleasure to swim and bake
beneath the dangerous sun, your nearly naked flesh
well-anointed with luxurious emollients
and fragrant French tanning products.
That day at Coney Island, I had joyous news
to break, but it was the day you became a Mermaid.
You were so wrapped up—so rapt
in the thrall of drag—your emerald
costume—your jade tail and Kelly eyeliner,
green lips and bra-straps of teal
dropping, drooping down upon your nice pair
of bare hairy shoulders, your conch shell choker
and a ratty Godiva wig.
I wanted more.

I wanted to throw you over
when the time came to sink or swim.
I wanted to jump in after you.
I wanted more of a role in your management.
I wanted to throw you
a line, but when I did, you hung up on me.
My boat capsized. It wasn’t the worst
of your nefarious multifarious infractions,
transgressions, crimes, violations, no, but
there was piracy, mutiny, pandemonium on the High Seas.
Storm weathered, I shoveled out your little house on
“the Island,” your little place
on the water.

I knew I was lucky
you were alive.
I knew my digging
was the sort one normally does for one’s dead.
That Hollywood still, your poster of Bette and Joan,
I left it behind like a landmark,
I left it hanging like a flag on a sinking ship.
There are plenty of fish
in the sea; why shouldn’t you
have all of them, Sister Girlfriend?
And I hope you know, Stella Maris,
I hope you know—you must know—
that come Hell or high water—
I love you madly, my wild Irish twin.

An earlier version of this poem appeared in Waterworks Pagan Place before appearing in the collection Black Irish. 



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Black Cloud, White Ash

in progress 


Minoru Yamasaki            made windows
narrow, he                         was afraid
of heights. He                   used spandrel
beams to create                a dense 
structural                           wall along
the exterior's                     framed tubes
employing                         slurry walls
for the found-                   ation,
 Vierendeel 
trusses                              incorporating
sky lobbies                        hollow canti-
lever                                  perpendicular
to the ground                     to resist 
lateral                                loads in the 
"Urban                               Renewal”
project                               Rockefeller
spear-                                headed.  
The Twin                           Towers
expressed                          the artist’s desire
to reflect                           Gothic
Modernism                       and Le Corbusier’s
Giantism                           through silver 
spires                                 skyline “jewels.”
We didn’t know
                what to make
of them when                    first they went up
aspiring                             tungsten luminosity
blue sky-                                 scrapers
to the heavens                   clean
against the                         clear and 
variable                                  moving
light                                  blade-sharp
of a dreamy                       cosmopolitan
vista grew on                     us
 which flame
now undoes                       consumes
converts                             to rubble
in light as ash                    rains  
                               down                           ascends

at Ground Zero                  muscle is in bold evidence
                  bloody show 
                                           bone oxidizes 
                                                                             converts 
into carbon
          and articulation reverts      to dust                                           
        light                                   that fills with
              alarming                                  blackness on 
the rise in                    Indian Summer                light as concrete 
begins                                to buckle          folds         inward, collapses            
into itself 
                         and slides off
This as the so                             called “lucky” 
escape                              down
        lightless
            halls and
   shrieking
    stairwells
                  
                  slick with blood 

as God stands by
with secret reasons
dreams of oil 

as God's spawn elect


to jump preferring
hopeless hope
in the face of 
death 
by warfare 
                                                  and so they pray




all over the world people whisper prayers every day 
not to die 
by the fire 
of war yet each day some die
of murder 
praise 

for the Creator
detonates

They never doubt God 
is on their side

my God
their side


All over the world 
people die of war 
but not here but  
not here 
in America the very 
beautiful 
not here 
as elsewhere
not here
not under this sky
pillar of smoke

materializes as it blossoms

I watch from my corner, Union Street 
a procession of women and men 
clad in professional professional attire
dusted with white ash beneath black cloud

over the Brooklyn Bridge and along the main drag they come white 

as salt, declining 
to look back 
having outrun the first of the fires, funneling smoke 

and failing debris of war


familiar 

deadly 

mushroom doom blossom 




A parade files along like vanquished hoplites crossing water
But not here, not my city, not my country-
women, countrymen. Not there 
on the island of my birth 

might 
ever 
          monuments degrade 

Not on my home-field.
not in my turf, 
not on my soil, 
not on my asphalt and tar
toxin rain of black cloud
white ash ascending

as I write this

Not here. No body bags, here.
no lines forming on the riverbank, here
no empty emergency rooms
no undug accidental graves, not here
no makeshift morgues
nor rows of DOA’s 
no tagged toes
no John Does 
no flung extremities
no faceless noses
no osteo fragments
nor viscera scattered
no mashed hearts stopped
no hope covered over
in pulverized cement
no petrified anima
no frozen eyes
no shattered ground
no flying shards, no acrid mud
no choking 
air, no office 


memoranda, no final 

farewells, no stairwell 

expirations, no death masks
no death masks
no snapshots aloft
no cannonball jump deaths 
no fenestral diving
no molten steel like
no splattering 
no bowel-born screams
no wedding bands on severed hands 
gleaming in soot.

Not war, not here in my back yard.
No behemoth serpent at my Apple
no Leviathan pyre 
no dark daylight here
no urgent alerts, no maelstrom of debris
no “personal effects” flown off of cubicle desks
fluttering in an alarming whorl--
No black cloud, here, no white ash–

alarms, sirens



We have come 
to expect
sound

but gurneys are light
and priests, not doctors 
attend--they bless
buckets of body parts. 

Booms thunder.

Exemplar bomberos 
appear, hold out 
hope, fan the blue 
flame of courage

The slate sky-
scrapers fold in living 
color, slow motion, 
live, in "real time," 
on the air--

Veil and pall, 
cameras roll
the towers slide
into kingdom 
finally
come home 
to roost---


Not here, no war here 
in the great metro-
polis I love 
               Not here
                           on the                               island
                                        of                my
                                                birth

not here                     where
      my                   rivers
         and               ocean
             meet      in a
                      V
not war here 
broken 
at the confluence
of my waters --
not in the mouth 
where I was born
where I gave 
birth--

Masked, the living cross
bridges to the relative 
safety the counties of 
Kings and Queens promise.  

White ash and black cloud 
cling cutaneous, leveling, bestowing
dove-grey spectral oneness

War’s ash coats windpipes
blocks airways in stairways
in stairwells slick with blood
        where the the “lucky”
                               pour forth
                                   into the din
                                       dropping
                                           shoes, bags and water
                                                bottles as all hell 
breaks
 hope       
                                    open                               loose
       caving in
            on itself                                 Concrete    
                                                       rains 
souls of murdered 
                    men and women 
                    
                                     rise up 
(I hope I trust) 
                                               as Minoru Yamasaki’s
                                                         wonder is converted by force

                                  abattoir of angels

Blood reverts 
altitude loads up 
with shadow 

God stands by 
in God's corner 
in the capacity 
of corner man
                              on our home-field 
                                                           sacrifice fly
stand at home
Union and 7th 
1.5 miles from where

winged murderers 
or martyrs who began 
the day praying
their instruments

might hold 
fire might hold the blessed fire
of purification

In God’s name
took command of our small patch
                        of Empyrean
slammed air-
craft into the framed 
tubes of Yamaski’s 
work, importing a hell 
which is commonplace 
elsewhwere

but not here 
iAmerica the  
beautiful


Not here                                                             on the island 
       of my birth,                                                not 
                     here                                           where 
                             my rivers                and ocean 
                                        meet         in a 
                                                    V
not here at 
the mouth
where I was born
(natus) where I gave
birth
not here
                                    in the nation
            where --
            not my 
                                waters

                                      (NATO)


Not here where I live 
where just 20 minutes 
before the first air-
craft hit, my-first 
born waited 
underground 
for a connecting train

I stood watching 
the sky 
from Union---

I prayed aloud
on my corner 
in frozen time
as people pray every day
in all corners 
of the globe
to that same God
the pilots invoked
as they slammed
streamlined weaponry
into the clean-Yamasaki 
design
  
God in their corner
God in ours 
God in every corner of the globe 
God in the pilot's seat
God the great Oil-Guzzler

in my corner 

on my corner 
where Union meets 7th
where I stood thinking, not 
here, not here 
on holy ground where I 
prayed (to the same God 
that ordered the hit) 
that I might soon 
hear the voice of my son  
and his father 

I invoked the so-called "Father"
who takes neither prisoners nor sides
who takes life and grants it, the God
the morning’s assassins aimed 
to please, God of Sacrifice Fly  

Not here where I must imagine 
God reclaimed a favored team
of fire-eating exemplars,
claw-back Arc-angels 
recalled to God’s realm 
fashioned out of dirt  
into whom God breathed 
the white cloud of Holy 
Spirit 

Many of these died breathing into 

nostrils
like God into dust

carried bodies
like Mary

like God 
toward light
expiring in valor
as in prayer
suspended in ramped-up states 
of Grace, God’s name 
the last word
on reedy breath
God’s name swirling sweet 


in the stench of smoke
God’s power-jacked arms

God’s trumpeting emissaries triumphant
descending 
                               bringing life out

                                     of dust
made possible by an un-

holy alliance forged 
by the miracle of aviation 
a fatal combination of 
poverty, ignorance and ire 

executed in the name of the God 


in hell fire in the name of God 


Watch and weep
in God's name

God who is said 

to have made 

men that he might soothe
his own loneliness




                                    And what of these children of mine?
    
These children I made
                                    for my own joy and pleasure?
What world have I given them?
                                                                                               
            In the school office at 10 a.m.

            bleary education personnel pull blue 
            record cards for children whose
            parents work downtown. 


            With a toddler on my hip, I pull
            my Maria out of first grade 
            after the second aircraft strikes. 
            I break (as gently as I can)
            the news to the girl teacher:

            “There's been some kind of an attack --”

            
        
            My daughter has a loose tooth;

            I want to be with her
            when it bleeds.         
            O, that smile 
            will never be the 
                 same again, 
            its boldest gleam                 now a gape 
            a row of stars               her broad mouth 
            boasts. No god will bring it back.
 But something 
            else, something stronger may sprout
 in its place and time
            will carry on its slow back what some call
 wisdom, which
            suffering is said to yield. 


            “Don't allow emotion
 to run wild,"
             says the mayor. "New York is still here.”

New York is still 
here, but black 
cloud governs,
acrid breeze calls 
the dirge and flame rains
supreme as citizens choke 
on toxic motes
of lustrous meat
distilled to ash
the white ash 
of sacrificial meat 
the burnt bone

human remains

of the day

Souls rise
spirits fall
bodies dive, 
tumble from
toppling wall
of fire
turned temple 

Babel


Calls for blood, for calm, for prayer                      go out 
               as eyes and ears adhere
to waves
of light and sound 

at "Ground Zero" 


                 nothing 
           we hope 
for 
is left 



Cameras roll 
cadaver dogs nose 
charred corpses 
in a makeshift morgue
a triage team idles 

as happens in official war 
every day 
in many corners 
of the world

A glazed over 

Commander-in-Chief 
comes to us from 
his clandestine shifting airborne 
location in the natural 
clouds assures us for those 

who leapt
Yamaski panes
choosing death by plummeting
through American airspace
over immolation, 
who made death 
their own, 

that for all who lay slain
in the rubble there will be 
justice


And of peace? 
What about peace here
in the world’s mightiest nation?

There will be justice
for those who robbed 
the skyline of its “jewels” 
for those who turned 
American citizens 
to soot and sifting shadow

But what about peace? 



I refuse
to drown
on the island.

Let peace bubble up
where my rivers meet.

Blessed be Gotham 
buouyant
 island
of our birth...

I say the rosary in an empty church,
prayer to the Mother -- (Mare)
It begins with the Glory
 Be

            As it was in the beginning

            and is and ever shall be,
 
                 world without end--

                        Some say God made man to ease "his" loneliness.

                        These children of mine                      These children I made
                        for my own joy and pleasure
                                                              we float
we swim                                    forth
        I was                              born
            sur-                 rounded
                                             by
                        God
                                                on all sides

surrounded on all sides by water                                    I am
                                                                        not alone
                                                             
borne by these waters
born on                                              an island, I


                                    say God 
                          gave                    birth 
to
me                                                                              on 
                                                                    this great
                                    island of our birth.               this world governed
              by men, and this thing, 
                                    war, fashioned by men
                                                 and strapped 
              to all of
                                    "man-
                                    kind"
                                    which men elect
                                    to detonate
                                    an unleash --

                                                What world have I given my terrific loves?
            World of Taliban?

World of Afghanistan, impoverished by vultures?

                                                                                    World of Iraq which “the States” attacks?
                                    World of Pakistan’s arsenal?
                  

                                                           World of United States erstwhile patron to Bin Laden?

                World of U.S. that countenances enslavement of females?
World of both sides of our mouths?
                                            
America, land of greed
 home of the knave?     
    America, oil whore,
                                Manahatta where the banks are beautiful
 
                                                     and schools look like jails?
      World of God Television?

                                           What world of shame is it that courses          
                                                through my female flesh! --
                                   
                                                War
 enemy
                                                                               of life
                                                to which pro-
                                                creation,
holy crap
shoot 
                                       heat of  fire
                 of love
                                                invited me,
                                                subjected me,
                            prompted 
me                       to usher through                 woman's 
                                                                    flesh for  my joy
into this place
                                                where I was
                                                born  

                                                on this great island
                                                where the rivers
                                                join the sea -- 
 
What poisoned apple do I offer them?
What home?
                       
What world will I leave my
                                                            terrific loves
                                               
                                     of fire born
                        surrounded
                                                            by water
                                                                              on Manhattan Island,
                                                            in America the exquisitely beautiful
                                                            where, today, American's homing vultures have come
                                                  to roost ?
 What can I give you
                                                            seeing
                                                                                   as how I
                                                             brought you here?

Hope.                                  For this whom shall I blame?                           

I blame Hope,            
that stubborn wax-winged thug.
                                                                        Hope, thick-headed, slow on the uptake.

                        Hope in the form of local heros --             
Hope, who flies into glass.

            Hope, who makes a meal of the burnt bones of love.



Hope who gives love a shot when all else fails.

      
                                                                

Hope, reckless aviator, who rises above.

                       

What I can give you,
                                    my trinity born
                                    on this island
                                                            of our birth?

                                    Hope, I can give you my faith,
                                                                                                faith in Hope,
rogue hotdog flyer 
                                                  who rises above.



                                  Hope, the fire-eater.





9/11/01 written on 9/11/01, Brooklyn, NY;
revised  9/10/14