|From Telling The Difference||Recently in Journals||Haiku, Senryu, Tanka||Translations|
Temple of Kali 1. Natural World If you’re easily bored or need a parable, I recommend driver ants, called siafu in Tanzania, called Africa’s foremost predators on TV, where they can be seen pouring twenty-million strong upward from the ground complete with sound effects, the chattering clicks of a stream in spate, a freshet of wood fragments and nails, hurrying themselves along channels formed by their own scent, hurrying to the meat market with a short list: FLESH of the beetle, the poison-spined caterpillar, mixed worms, assorted reptiles, chickens when available, seasonal rodents and large mammals, choice human babies, the fortuitous drunk passed out in the wrong place, granny when she falls and can’t get up. A wet- weather phenomenon, they strip the field of pests, and only occasionally of the Masai gardener, too. The siafu, industrious, self-effacing, taketh away, taketh away ugly-style, swarming into our lungs, clicking chips, nails, a river of hard water carrying us off, down, back home below. Their Teachings: hang babies out of harm’s way; don’t save your heavy boozing for Tanzania; when grandma falls, keep an eye on her. 2. Laundry Session, Sunday, 63rd Birthday, VT College Writers Conference Small load. I’m estimating like a dumbass, The end’s not so close. But a buddy in his 50’s, last week: two strokes—cerebellum, parietal lobe. Nobody can tell him why they came out of nowhere. People here shared out just enough quarters for my machines. I sit in this dorm room, hopeful I didn’t over-lavish cadged dish soap on my only jeans. Centuries back, by a river, Issa, the haiku guy, tuned in to bugs floating past on a branch. Still singing, he remarked of them. Good man, that. Died young. 3. Bon Voyage Party My friend, you’re dead, late fifties. The big C. Showed up three years ago—cervical, advanced, and from cutting to new age wholistic whatever, nothing did the trick. You licketysplit self- created as dragon, star, (mediocre) poet, exponent of love, transitioned into coma without the slightest hint you were vanishing headfirst down the gullet of a giant crocodile. This is your memorial service bedizened with harping, evangelical harranguing. Despite Rumi, Hafiz in English platitudes, I will stay for the inept drumming, officious mourners, stay though only women who liked you better fat will speak. Stay to be assured the body alone expires, that ectoplasmic now you travel cheaper, lucky lucky you. I will stay until the end when, all grief- struck, everyone’s urged to choose a polished stone of yours—one apiece—and at the exit required to drop it in a ritual pot of water—adios goodbye—for repossession by your executors. I wind up left alone on the patio with nada tangible, nada keeping me company except ice tea, lemonade, and an Irish barman grim, resigned. —Next time she dies, says I, I’ll bring a flask. —I’ll pour, says he. We nod.
Irish Landscape with Spouse A good disposition has taken the hotel’s seventeen-year-old spaniel quite some distance, presently out to the bench at the head of a little cement dock, to the woman in her blue sweater, who dislikes canines for their noxious odors, unappetizing hair, servility, barking, snappishness, who has been studying her maps, gazing seaward along the rock-bound cove. His legs work poorly, making the dog bounce and wriggle, though he can move fast enough. A matted brown-and-white coat, and the red growth under his right eye don’t help, nor do creaky moans beseeching love. The morning deliciously quiet, a sailboat slightly turning around its mooring, she so prefers cats but pets him anyhow.
Thruway Blizzards, 1968-9 1. NY City/Buffalo This used shitbrown Mercury Meteor contains girlfriend, yours truly, and our pet parrot. 150 miles north of Manhattan, a cold, clear day, most of the aftermath snow scraped into shoulder berms, we’re worried. The bird’s apathetic, irritable when awake, feathers dull, ditto eyes. Dealer’d assured us it’s a youthful yellowhead, well worth our C note, only moulting. How could he, mere Kommandant of a Lower East Side reptile and avian concentration camp, perceive that sweet, simpleminded, charitable Typhoon had sacrificed himself by swapping livers with a cirrhotic merchant-mariner? The car, which I believed also possesed a bombproof provenance, in sympathy with Typhoon was sputtering. My father insisted, thanks to a busybody’s stale tip, we must snap it up from a bedraggled gas station in Queens, and he didn’t realize an ex-con several life-terms yet from going straight was the new proprietor. Like my bird that Merc had a rolled-back odometer, moved reluctantly, and coughed. On his deathbed—macadam covered with sheets of crisp, compacted icy snow— Meteor san, kamikazeing out his miserable destiny, blows a cylinder, oil spattering the windshield. The heap chatters, heaves, its cabin fills with gasses, the sort my owner’s handbook advocates for parrot euthanasia: Ventilate, stupid! Roll down window. Apply antidote—oops, frigid air. See tropical sailor wafted straight to cryonic shock. I’m 24, and want to die. 2. Buffalo/Rochester RT Dusk subsides in snow. Sporting a motor too powerful for its frame and engine mounts, my poop-hued sucessor Chevy Nova, palmed off cheap by the dermatologist dad of a dubious childhood friend, vibrates alarmingly over fifty-five. In the diffused, reflected, gustblown shine of headlights it’s hard to see, let alone pass, semis, with their eccentric winds attacking larger winds, savage eddies, sloughing us off to leeward. Everybody parties: shotgun rides our revered teach; his claque of students stuff the back. We wallow like a piled-high garbage scow. I’m losing my buzz, whimpers the mentor, through his grizzled mustache, through his dishevelled, mumbled, ill-attended book signing, then from car to bar to bar until the 2 AM close, and again a maelstrom. We race upstate, massaged by the lilt of Gaelic pipes—I’ve lost my buzz—as if a sober transit were utter calamity. 3. NY City/Buffalo Next winter, same girlfriend, same overjuiced monster, balder tires, low on gas, beautifulest nightstorm, windless but exceptionally cold, a quiet stretch of oceanic spaces between towns, sparse traffic, less and less. Crystalline waves accumulate and suggest love, rapture of the snowy deep, our rare, relaxed intimacy a disarming gift from shaggy-maned boreal gods smiling down into our cushioned potently heatered obscurity. When the fuel gauge redlines we spot a service island rising on our left, churn up to it, park among heavily-mounded comradely vehicles, then knee-high in glitter break trail toward a crowded cafeteria, where angry cops demand we justify why the devil we were out there, the Thruway shut for hours, with more than one bogged- down tank-dry lost soul already stiff as ice.
Who Knows if a dead man cares whether he gets paid in women or dried grapes, whether he can tell the difference when he makes it to Paradise, whole again from his holy explosion, heart aflame for his compensatory virgins, his houris, and trips over a dagger in the Koran, beside hur, directing him to the small print, the footnoted Aramaic fundamentals: an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply “white.” If he bothers to read further will he find peace upon learning Paradise referred to a garden of flowing waters, abundant fruits and... hur, a prized delicacy in the ancient Near East— “white raisins” of crystal clarity. Here, on earth, this haven of belief, there’s always something worth fighting for, something to sink your teeth into.
The Girl with the Leash doesn’t appear to worry much about its other end. Fun-loving, power- mad, a thoughtlessly vindictive woman of action, the perfect Abu Ghraib patsy. Already an irresistible wave of retribution gathers behind her back, curling above her bobbed head. Her leash, poor child, connects to the nearly-wriggled- out pin of a fragmentation grenade. The brass will use her body as a hand towel, shred it like paper wiping themselves clean on her fatigues. If she were paper I would write upon her atrocity photo my implausible disavowals, my poems of innocence. Here under her left nipple, and again across her smooth-shaven mons Veneris, I would inscribe anti-war protests, my solidarity with the oppressed. Poet, not a shooter of rifles, I do what I can with the time at my disposal. But we are attached, possessing and possessed, my mistress, my bitch.
Rural Diptych 1. A Son of Adam, Only Nominally Cold morning, the absolute damp stillness of air. Sun designates the north side of the drainage, the tall bare creek alder, the young oak’s top, the bishop pines, unkempt laurels, while shade categorizes the apples, rhododendrons and grass: all this nameable, but so? Labels ignorantly bestowed, indifferently carried. When I ponder the neighbor’s roof blanched like my comatose lawn, who cares whether I’m absorbed by dew or frost? 2. Noticeable from the Lawn The long-gone tenant, slight, romantic, subtly beautiful, had seemed depressed between boyfriends. One of whom, a housepainter, superimposed a red heart on the white arch curving over the porch steps. They broke up. Years ago she moved. His love- cartoon survives, even in this time of thieves and fanatics. Has she a boyfriend now? Has he a heart?