Long thoughts linger in the shallows,
lollygag along the beach
where the tidal waters whisper
lisp and slur their primal speech
where the ebbing wavelets licking
cling a moment to the land
spit their spume, leave little riddles
and blanched shells that suck the sand
edges shift in fickle fractals,
zig damp earth with zags of brine…
though on strolls here in the shallows
bare feet seem to toe a line
as if taunting trekker troopers
swooping seagulls squawk and yell
why is every footstep schlepping
its old burden… parallel?
One quick glance over a shoulder,
the horizon’s still out there…
oh, to lightly walk on water
or to gull-glide through the air
perpendicular to margins
on imaginary paths
of green beckoning blue sparkles
above dreadful depths of wrath…
still I turn now, stop in stillness
water clear, ground safe below,
standing easy in the shallows
staring where I dare not go…
there’s a staying thing that anchors
to the habits, terror strong,
stronger than the heart’s desiring
though desire lives deep and long.
IN THE SHALLOWS
Under the dog star, weary, wilted,
watching dark’s descent compress
all things to a lonesome distant barking
and a jittery sleeplessness—
I try TV for company
knowing I won’t find it there
but needing noise and light
against the stupifying humid air—
ah, perfect! Verdi’s Requiem
enters the room: air-stabbing bows
of violins, the maestro’s frantic waves
and all the choral mouths agape with O’s—
it is the final movement, the Libera Me:
“Deliver me from everlasting death…”
it screams, wails, rushes to a supreme hush
of sorrow’s softening under the breath—
and in the silence afterward, deliverance
from dark, and grief. Hair of the dog, what
power this sad music has, to liberate
when other helps are absent and the need is great.
UNDER THE DOG STAR
The earnest monastery scribe begins
to scrape: he must expunge, obliterate
a text of Archimedes. Tonsured pate
bowed over parched and pumiced skins,
stone bench stone-cold, to his chagrin
hemorrhoids, indigestion complicate
his task. But laborare et orare, so he meditates;
offers up his troubles in atonement for his sins.
Beyond clerestory walls descendant sheep
are growing new skins in a lilac breeze.
Fra Pennafolio envies how they graze
oblivious, while lately he’s been losing sleep
fighting dark avengers of Hippocrates.
For help, he rubs his cabuchon of chrysoprase.
He must not let it faze him.
After all, in frugal fact, parchment is dear
and perfect skins are rare. He must persevere,
erase and rewrite without fear.
It is a holy labor, surely in the angels’ care,
to cleanse away the pagans for a book of prayer.
I wish I were deft as young chums
who know how to twiddle their thumbs
typing texts of their own
over cellular phone
as swift and correct as they come.
But I’m not only old, I am dumb
and forced to the pure tedium
of one finger indexy
(it’s not very sexy)
O fee, and fie-fo, and fo-fum.
My “guest poet” this time is Langston Hughes, American,1902-1967.
He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”. It’s a little poem I memorized long ago and sometimes recite to myself.
Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:
I see an island
Still ahead somehow.
I see an island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.
Where did everybody go, do you suppose?
I thought I had them counted, every nose
going about its business everyday—
dog in the grass, cats in their litter tray;
now eat, now sleep—precise punctilios.
It started when one of the ones who wear the clothes
left us, went wherever someone goes
who never comes again. That’s when I began to say
where did they go?
Later on, my brother cat lay down and froze
in a forever sleep. There was such weeping; flows
of tears like rivers. Then, oh, no! The dog fell prey
to that inscrutable. I feel as if I’m yesterday,
trying to know, waiting for my eyes to close—
where did everybody go?
LAST CAT CONUNDRUM
dumbfounded is a place
cut like a chasm in the gut
a sharp and instant color of
the space between two moments
dark and seeming without cause
one goes there not by choice
but as the pawn of psychopomps
whose garbled voices suddenly
make clear demands from under
customary drapes of gauze
then nothing is the same
not the piano or a slice of bread…
to breathe is stunning…one cannot
remember the cat’s name…one moves
slowly like a walking bruise
who said time heals all wounds?
who said time wounds all heels?
it matters not…with time the place
dumbfounded turns to so much sand
easily shaken from the shoes