Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sonnet XXIV: Bafflement

I am angry with you,
never approving what you say or do.
That's unfair to you.
I do not understand why you do not love what I love doing,
do not want what I want,
wooing with tepid songs and tarnished rings,
and being satisfied with things I abhor.
Yet this existence I chose,
and now that I despise my life,
I hate you for the lies I invented.
a distance alights on me:
I know how great is this injustice--
still I hate.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sonnet Sequence: Honest

You all keep telling me how honest I
am, and I guess it's cute when I unlock
my mouth and truth comes bluntly out. You mock
me, for I am not honest; I would try,
if I were honest, not to cheat or lie,
to say, "Don't bother racing with the clock,
'cause I'm indifferent" and (to his shock?)
"I'd rather read than kiss you, dear; goodbye"

because to be that close to him would be
a lie, and I--so honest!--would be sick
if I were forced to try it. You must see
that I am done. The lovely smile I pick
to wear today--ironic--walks with me
along the aisles of pantomime and brick,

and we are glad to be alone. My place
inside the world--the world itself--conspires
to make me ill. Though part of me desires
to fool you, for I want, in any case,
for you to like me (and I know that's base),
there's part of me revolted by the wires
I pull. I cannot understand how choirs
of people praise me. On my brazen face

was not there written something? In my eyes
could nothing be divined? I have no gift
for lying, as you know, but somehow lies
come through me. Is it acting? If I sift
a wish ("I love you") out and (too unwise?)
repeat it over, might my feelings shift?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Haiku on the Bathroom Floor at 5:30 am

Haiku are poems
with prescribed syllabic form
and themes of nature.

These follow the rules,
but they don’t deal with nature—
they’re not real haiku.

(Why does “ha-i-ku”
take three beats in Japanese,
but in English, two?)

Yesterday it rained.
The sky was strange and lovely.
I stood out in it.

I might have been drunk,
but it’s not a hangover—
I think I’m just sick.

This is the worst pain
my stomach has ever felt.
I wish I would die.

Maybe I’m poisoned.
The salsa Patty brought us
was way too potent.

I’ve not slept enough—
it’s early in the morning;
I sway on my feet.

I lie on my back
in Corpse Pose and breathe deeply.
The floor is so cold!

I try to use it,
to acknowledge, diffuse it,
but I’m distracted.

I have to crunch up
in a seiza or Child’s Pose
for the ache to ease.

I make myself small,
my forehead on the cold floor,
my knees under me.

Too sleepy to think—
at least in cogent phrases—
focus with haiku...

“The gray kitten leapt
on the nearest piece of flesh
and bit ‘til it bled.”

My guts fucking hurt,
and the floor is fucking cold.
What the hell—kittens?!

I will spend today
getting last night’s lost sleep back,
if this pain will stop.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

You'd Think You'd Think Something About It

About that--what do you think?
You'd think you'd think something about it.
It's a word drowning in ink;
it's a stare, and it's a blink:
the dictionary is without it.
About that--what do you think?
So forgiveness on the brink
makes everyone seeing it doubt it.
It's a word drowning in ink.
You can eat, and you can drink,
but only there if you can shout it.
About that--what do you think?
And the child--light blue or pink--
not bleeding, not breathing, so flout it;
it's a word drowning in ink,
and the lies lying in stink
have grown in your lungs. If you scout it,
about that--what do you think?
It's a word drowning in ink.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sonnet Sequence: Alberic the Blond and the Snake Lady (from Vernon Lee)

Luna's princelet opened sleepy eyes on
a rocky island where no man had been.
He was all alone, his sacred prize on
his sunken ship along with all his men.
Lifting up his face from the forgiving
sand, he brushed it from his eyes, from living
and lively yellow curls, and looked around.
A cold, transparent river split the ground
into two and fed the sea. He, bending,
from the unsampled stream took heart and drank.
He followed it along its mossy bank,
wandering for hours through woods and mending
his spirit in the fields through which he passed,
but found no sign of human life. At last,
in the pleasant afternoon, he stumbled
upon a berry patch that scratched the backs
of his gentle hands each time he fumbled
inside it, gathering the reds and blacks
that shone bright as jewels. He persisted:
total victory, to him, consisted
in ignorance of pain. Besides, the prince
did not know what was safe to eat here, since
he had never been allowed to wander
at home among the gardens or been taught
to feed himself on roots. His sword was not
useful for the hunt. He stopped to ponder
his fate and make his plans beneath a tree;
on soft, green grass he slumbered soundlessly.

After days, he came upon a forest,
untouched and denser, darker, tangled more
than the prince had yet seen. Screeching chorused
with croaks of dreadful night-birds when he bore
down on limbs with iron-gloved fists like boulders
and they broke apart. With knees and shoulders
he forced a path; he trampled underbrush;
then roaring as from stripe-skinned tiger plush
or of lions came. He grasped with pity
his two-edged sword and hewed the interlaced
and twisted branches; the resulting waste
filled with sobs as from a vanquished city.
The Knight of Luna asked the wood to stop
its anguish, begged forgiveness with each chop.
"But," the boy insisted, "I continue,
for I must get to Reynold, set him free
from the force that binds him, bone and sinew,
with wild embraces clasp him close to me,
go with him to Sparkling Water Castle,
and her, to whom I am but a vassal,
await with him beside the mossy well.
I will go on, for in this tangled hell
I can sense a fearsome, wondrous power
that surely rules; I'll conquer all his might
as I am surely sworn to do--for I'm a knight--
make him take me home." Our flower,
undaunted, cut his way into the wood.

Behold! Before the prince, a castle stood,
lordly, as if some great Duke might rule it,
upon a plain between two running streams.
Silent rose the portcullis; lights, too, lit
as though by unseen hands. As in his dreams,
the enchanted drawbridge lowered, splintered;
fifes and bugles sounded as he entered,
but nowhere could he see a single wight
to do these things as living humans might.
Alberic went in and found a stable,
storerooms full of arms, and chambers spread
with heavy, velvet covers on each bed.
In the banquet hall, an oaken table
was steaming, savory. A giant chair
stood at the table's head. A cup was there,
full of wine that flushed his pale complexion
the moment that he sipped. A calming voice
called his name with welcoming inflection.
An unseen chorus begged to sing his choice
of motet, and viols played. He quickly
sat, and as he did, the unseen, tickly,
invisible hands filled his plate with sweets,
caressing him. He laughed and swung his feet
from his perch and drank more than was clever.
When he was full, he faced the nearest ghost
and drank the health and fortune of his host.
"I will be your faithful slave forever!"
he swore in fervid gratefulness and laid
his hand upon his sword. He stood and swayed
on his feet, then blushed at his condition
and sought to lie upon the marble floor
in the many carpets. In this mission
he failed; the shining armor that he wore
was unbuckled; pieces of his clothing
were removed. He blushed with guilty loathing
for his unfinished body. Silken robes
were given him. Uncomfortable with probes
from unseen attendants, he turned shyly
and dressed himself. They led him to a couch
of velvet, strewn with roses. With a slouch
almost unbecoming him, he dryly
yawned thankful words again for all the help.
Musicians played; a furry, cold-nosed whelp
snuggled underneath his elbow. Sleeping
was all the prince could think of, so he slept.

When he woke, the setting sun was creeping
behind the trees. In panic, up he leapt.
It had been at least two evenings, surely,
since he'd gone to sleep, for he was purely
and fully energized. He checked his face:
the mirror said he hadn't aged. The pace
of his heartbeat slowed, and he hovered
at it and saw his pupils and therein
the glorious Baronage he hoped to win.
Buckling on his armor, he discovered
he needed help from all those gentle hands
that haunted him and pressed him for demands
to obey. and after he was fully
attired, they hung upon his shapely thigh
such a sword as he was loathe to sully
with blood, for it was perfect. With a sigh
of unhidden longing, he refused it,
asking for his old sword. "You abused it,"
replied the voices, "cutting through the wood.
Refusing gifts like this one when our Good
Lady offers them is disallowing
her hospitality." Then Alberic
the Blond turned paler, wounded to the quick
by his rudeness. Penitent and bowing,
he took the sword the voices bid him take.
My name is Brillamorte. I serve the Snake
could be read upon its steel, imprinted
by hands of worthy craftsmen long ago.
Alberic was nervous, for it hinted
at deviltry--for it is surely so
that the snake has been Our Lord's opponent
since the Fall of Eden, and atonement
can come from turning from the serpent's maw--
but Alberic had sworn. He set his jaw,
thanked the hands, and said, "My Benefactress--
I'd like to see her." No one answered him,
so he explored the castle at his whim.

There were rooms of jewels, masks an actress
or actor might have worn in ancient Greece,
uncounted piles of silver, bolts of fleece,
silk brocade, and velvet, fragrant spices,
undated golden vases, rarities
from the Orient and Persia, ices
of lemon taste and hue, and Charity's
greatest gift to all youths under heaven:
puppies wriggling, happy. There were seven
full stables he could find, a rookery,
of course a kitchen to learn cookery,
falcons, fountains, marble statues, honey.
Inside a tower, on its highest floor,
he found a room like none he'd seen before.
Treasures that could not be bought with money
were there: the instruments that show the road
at sea, a telescope, a magnet-lode,
scrolls, and codices that held the knowledge
of generations. Alberic, who could
read but poorly, thought of boys at college
and envied, sighing softly as he stood
by the window, looking at the teeming
land that stretched beneath him, seeming
enchanted by the boy who watched above.
If Alberic were not obliged by love
to release his most adored companion,
to once again behold his Lady's face,
he'd choose to stay forever in this place.

Looking down, he saw across a canyon
an orchard, and to access it, a bridge
was stretched across the canyon, ridge to ridge.
All this was inside the castle's garden.
The Knight of Luna hurried; he arrived
just as dawn appeared. "I beg your pardon,
O Lovely Orchard"--and the prince contrived
to look innocent as dawn--"for truly,
I should have come here first." And this was true;
the light of fair Aurora flickered through
apples, peaches, pears and plums, and even
through oranges, the flowers and the fruits
appearing both together. Bamboo shoots
grew among narcissus. Surely Steven,
within his glimpse of heaven, saw no sight
as lovely as the orchard in the light
of the morning. Holly leaves and roses
grew up around the borders. In the trees,
birds, more than the prince could count, in poses
fair Venus taught them sang their songs to please
every ear. Their hanging golden cages
brought to mind the masterwork of ages
long past. Not even Hercules, who killed
the horrifying dragon and was skilled
in the arts of war, found his gold apples
in any garden half so sweetly laid.
The most intriguing fountain ever made
stood inside the very middle. Dapples
of sunlight kissed it. It was in the form
of naked maidens--twins--with eyes of storm,
hair of dew and cobweb. Scented waters
they poured from golden pitchers, and the girls
were of silver, glistening like the daughters
of river gods. The water came in whirls
from the channels in the grass; the glancing
of the light--and magic--set them dancing.

And after Alberic had looked his fill
upon this sight, he noticed in the still,
silent grass a tree with almond flowers.
Beneath it lay a sepulcher of white
and creamy marble, carved and gilded, quite
as a queen might lie in, if her powers
could not save her from death. On it he read:
Here is imprisoned on her holy bed
Oriana, Fairy of the Golden Towers,
the most unhappy of all fairy-kind,
for she was condemned by jealous powers
for doing nothing wrong.
The prince's mind
was confused, he thought, for as he'd spoken,
the inscription changed like it had woken.
O Knight of Luna, read the Sepulcher,
O Alberic the valorous, the pure,
if thou wouldst give thanks unto the hapless
and faultless mistress of this castle, call
for they undoubted courage; thou must fall
on thy knees and swear that any sapless
or fearsome monster, whatsoever it
may be, that issues from my marble pit,
thou wilt kiss on its mouth with passion
three times, that Oriana may go free.

And Alberic drew Brillamorte, and he
on its hilt--for such was then the fashion,
since the hilt was like a cross--swore boldly.
Sounds of thunder shook the deep, and coldly
the clouds blocked out the sun. The castle walls
were shaking. Alberic could feel her calls
to his heart, so he pressed on. "I swear it!"
he said again. The sepulcher's great lid
upheaved, and from its damp-dank cavern slid
such a great, green snake he could scare bear it.
It wore upon its head a golden crown.
The beast raised up its chin and stared him down,
sliding, coiling quickly toward the frightened
and screaming boy. He'd rather fight alone
all the pagan host of unenlightened
and heathen lands that Bohemund would own
than to touch the serpent that was hissing
there--and with his mouth! He'd pictured kissing
a griffin or a mermaid, not a snake.
He bit his rosy lips and tensed to take
flight, for it was creepy and unholy,
and reeked of Satan to his untaught nose,
though it was lovelier than any rose,
orange, or narcissus blossom: solely
its beauty scared the boy, for he was brave
enough to take whatever Nature gave.
This was never Nature; it was magic,
and Alberic recoiled as if it stung.
It would be so dirty and so tragic
to feel that thing upon his little tongue,
in his little mouth, between his fingers,
ponder in his flesh the way it lingers.

The serpent saw the way his throat had caught,
for Alberic could never hide his thought:
his emotions flickered in his pupils
for anyone to read. The snake stopped then
and in its golden eyes were hanging, when
Alberic looked closer, tears. His scruples
and pity for the crying, lovely beast
allowed him to relent, and as it ceased
its encroachment, sadly falling prostate,
the prince flew up and knelt with some alarm.
Gathering his courage, the apostate
put out a hand to touch it, fearing harm
had been done to this poor creature, making
it to cry, and it went swiftly snaking
along his arm. He screamed with all his strength
and moaned in terror as the scaly length
twisted 'round his limbs. However, calming,
he found the creature meant no harm to him;
besides, its tears were streaming off the rim
of its golden eyes like clear embalming
or sacred oils. The snake began to moan
with desperate keening noises of its own.

"Oriana," whispered Luna's hero.
He took the snake in both his arms and brought
it near to his face. He thought of Nero,
of Judas, and of Brutus, praying not
to betray his oath in childish loathing
for the snake's appearance--for, like clothing,
the snake could surely shed her scaly skin.
He gathered all the courage held within;
thrice he pressed his lips, so warm and gentle,
against the coldest, driest thing he'd felt,
attempting not to curse the Fates that dealt
such a destiny to him. His mental
abilities were leaving him; his eyes
fell closed like softened baby butterflies.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sonnet Sequence: Something in Me Be Maligned

I have loved a thousand people: for everywhere I see the life running, sacred, through the feeble, transparent veins that beg the knife to untangle them, through glowing skin, I love; but once, unknowing, I fell in love soul-breakingly and deeply, slowly, achingly, with so powerful a passion that thinking of it even now can stop me cold. It was a vow that was more than life would ration to anyone if it were just. It was the kind of love that must make you give away whatever that person asks for: wealth, the ghost, life, the future; things you never would give; the things you value most: all your self-respect, your splendor, and your freedom.

My surrender was total. I gave all I had: my soul, my innocence, for mad ecstasy was all I noticed.

Because of that, my skin is scarred; the gates of Paradise are barred to me, even the remotest, most lonely corner of the sky, because I took his sin on my soul and gave my righteous, blameless uprightness to a guilty man for a pittance.

Every shameless existent person, if he can, lies to hide the darkness in him, even men who have a minim of honor; he obscured my view and lied and laughed until he knew I could never leave. I’ll never for this condemn him; I have done it, too. But he was ever one to create the drama: clever, unfathomable, and sedate. The darkness in his soul was great. All the hatred in his person was overpowering to me, awesome, and I watched it worsen, growing larger than an ocean, stronger in its coarse emotion than tidal waves. But I was bound to him and trapped in his profound sea before I sensed the water, all lost, and ready for my death in all that hatred. Every breath stolen from the sea could slaughter my will to swim.

Yet I am strong, far stronger than I knew, and long after I was swallowed under, I surfaced. I escaped, but I left there everything. His plunder included all myself.

The sky, empty, was above me, winking stars when finally the stinking abomination spat me out. I splashed there for a while, without aim, and then I crawled too slowly from Satan’s sea. It left me cold and naked, loathsome to behold, with the wings of the unholy and putrid vulture, fingers webbed, with common demon eyes that ebbed with the tide. Now I was hollow and soulless, mindless, bloodless, drained, too forlorn to lead or follow, and by the filthy water stained.

Stained and empty, I am standing here in snowfall, still demanding that something in me be maligned. Though years have come and gone, I find I have never felt the stinging of cold since I emerged, nor heat of summer, nor the pain of sweet happiness, nor sorrow bringing enlightenment. I am beloved by many, so they tell me, shoved into my associations. The men and women who are so cursed as to have had relations of any type with me will go from my hands, confused, forsaken. How can I look into warm, unshaken, forgiving eyes that worship me and tell those pupils honestly, “I have nothing; I’m diminished. I offer no support, no screams, no future heart, not even dreams. What is new to you, I’ve finished; I’ve seen the underbelly of the silver-cloudy life you love”?