a 21st Century Gathering
SAG HARBOR, WHITMAN, AS IF AN ODE
And so again, to want to speak—as though floating on this world—
thoughts of Sagaponak, of Paumanok, "its shore gray and rustling,"
To remember late sun burnishing with a pale gold film
the feathery ghosts of blue heron and tern, of that same light
furrowed in the glyphed tracks to bay water. And at night,
to scrape one's own marks in sand, a bio-luminescence underfoot
by which we playfully signaled, as the heat of bodies also
was a signal to turn to each other in the guest house buried
in deep sunk must and trellised scents. As though, again, to be
as with mossed graves which, even as they lie under new buds,
are worn and lichened, chiselled over with letter and number,
entrapped, as in the scripts of museum words, trypots and scrims.
And so, like whalers, whose diaries record a lostness to the world
in the sea's waves, to find ourselves in talk's labyrinth where
the new is almost jargon, and we speak of lintels of a house
restored or of gods who stage their return at new leaf or where
pollen floats on water in iridescent sheens.
But also now, to sense mind harrowed in defeats of language,
Bosnia, Rwanda, wherever human speech goes under a knife.
And to be unable to look to the sea, as to some watery possibility
which would break down the hellish rock of history that rides
above wave height as above time. Strange then, these littorals
teeming with sea life, with crab and ocean swallow. Strange then,
to walk and to name— glad of that momentary affluence.
And so to find again the vibratory spring that beats against
old voicings, old silences, this waking to those fables where
new bees fly up, birthed spontaneously from the log's hollow,
to hear again the latinate of returning birds keeping alive
curiosity and memory, as if the ear were to carry us across hope's
boundary, remembering the words: Now, I will do nothing but listen!
P L A N E T A R Y M A T T E R S
Earth! Earth! Super revelation of the continent more than itself,
a king crowning himself by his own power,
so that through him his vassalages that come and go are self-actuating diadems
carrying the ransom of their knowledge.
Those who hurl themselves, their feet thrust in sandals, clawing at demons.
They who tread across the earth as though free:
following long serpentine waters, born of straight forward jets from these mountains.
Grand rivers searching for equilibrium
through gorges and unnerving projections, rolling, flaunting, slobbering.
They conduct themselves to the embouchures,
to the final basins dissolving in deceptive sprays, finally running
to the sea, dropsical, blurred.
The sea mountainless, the sea decapitated as though cured of its leaden grey ennui.
And we who dance like she-bears before its waves, we . . .
Wonder! From here to there#8212;to those feet, climbing#8212;hailed.
The sea, alien in its self-possession!
It carries itself enroute, in its own studied slavery,
towards you, vehement in your solidity.
both poems are from This Constellation is a Name: Collected Poems — Nightboat Book, (2012)
Walt Whitman's Melancholy Tide
Out into rain stretched roadways
cobblestones flickered by the skimming
hooves of a multitude of horses
burned by the vicissitudes of war;
Down refuse strewn alleys, drunk and bedraggled
sinners, homeless angels wounded by
peripheral wars in honky tonk ale houses,
brain fevered and dazzled by unfettered years
of carnal dissipations, pores leaking effluvial
blood and pus and beer;
Staggered by impossible situations: whole armies laid down
in ruinous combat, ravaged by disease, dysentery,
incessant scourgings of the flesh, delirium tremens
like dreaming a St. Vitus Dance of death;
Cruising the shadowy, ruined places, mass burial grounds,
the Civil War dead revisit after hospital hours carrying
tapers along Washington DC avenues, caissons for the killers
and the killed, muffled drums beating for the assassins
and the assassinated deformed and deformants clutching
missing limbs to torn, open breasts hearth fires
extinguished inside and out, taps signaling the dousing
of campfires all along ravished battlefields, listen close
and you can hear them, the tramp of the embalmed
armies marching into twilight Time.
Walt Whitman's Sickness of the Well
"The doctors say my sickness is from having too
deeply imbibed poison into my system from hospital."
— Walt Whitman, 1864
Places of asylum are not
the safest places to be
in times of war such as
these when diseases are
flourishing as disinfectants,
medical supplies against
communicable diseases are
rare, non-existent or unknown.
This is how we, the well,
acquire the sicknesses of
dying and infirmity, how we
come to emulate what
cannot be cured. As we
look into the faces of those
who are no longer human,
their lives stolen by pain,
grief, illnesses beyond our
knowing, we become as
they are; something that
cannot be saved. If we
survive it will be worse
than what they were made
to endure a living hell.
No mirror made by man
will hold our reflections.
Walt Whitman's Sacrificial Years
The poet's scribbled caption beneath
a period, studio photograph says,
"Civil War Soldier," though this odd
looking man wore a civilian's suit;
seated on a chair by a dwarfing column,
one that makes him appears somehow
malformed: a protuberant forehead
intense as Edgar Allan Poe eyes staring
straight ahead, the kind of gaze that sees
what no other man would and be glad
of it, an intensity, one suspects, not
applied to playing the guitar prop he is
holding. Unlike the other keepsake
portraits of men Whitman helped nurse
back to health or eased from this world
to another, this casualty wears no regimental
colors, no stripes of rank but it is compelling
for the long-after-the-decisive-battle wound,
the incongruity of man and objects, but
mostly for what is missing, the greater
part of his left leg represented by a trouser
rolled into a circle, a dark hole, a fatal gap
bridging the points of what came after;
an unassuageable pain and the near maddening
insistence of the phantom limb.
Walt Whitman, Phrenologist
is justly famous for a time,
his long, thin fingers described
by those who felt them as:
penetrating as pincers heated
over a blacksmith's forge, his
breath on the scalp, bare neck,
as fierce as a bellows or hard,
adamantine as sculpted stone
fingers scraping the humps on
the subject's head, wrenching out
hidden spirits from tonsure tufts,
cranial mounds black birds of death
are hidden in awaiting just this sort
of release or soft, supple fingers,
tracing elliptical shapes of what
rests beneath bone, drawing hemi-
spheres to the surface as maps to
unknowable worlds, as transcribed
scores of symphonic scale reduced
to one instrument only the phrenologist
may play; some who had their fortune
charted swear by the future foretold,
all the blown glass embryos that lay
scattered at his feet after, tiny
monsters growing within the bulbs,
each small world self-contained,
better than no worlds at all, what was
before. Others, though, felt an all-
inclusive dark curtain slowly being
drawn over their faces, then their bodies,
their kin, suggesting a long string
of breech births, one longer than MacDuff's
interrupted, his knotted line, severed at
the wrist, a whole lifetime of pain
the only light the phrenologist allows in.
Fishing with Whitman
With a cork handled rod he casts his line across the water
like a giant eraser forgetting everything about his life.
With a cork handled rod, water that fell as snow
passes around his legs, and rocks turn over
beneath his felt soled steps.
His long white hair curls in the morning light
tumbling from beneath his hat.
Trout flee from his shadow and so he crouches down
placing the fly on a side current
watching it slowly carry beneath blades of overhanging grass.
It isn't necessary to call sparrows
by kneeling in silent prayer
for they spin in currents of air
above the hatching mayflies.
But still he calls on them from a house
of pine boughs, pressing his hand into the earth.
And the day spreads across the fresh sheets of the wind.
And he has searched a thousand rivers and will search a thousand more.
The past is a wide open interpretation, this old man that smells of fish and sage
crushed and swept into the pocket of his flannel shirt.
I celebrate rivers,
And what they are I have become.
Every drop of water carries me onward.
Often on the horizon I have smelled water
Or heard, in the quiet evening, the rush of water over stone,
And have drawn near upon my knees, parting the tall river grass
Next to a heron, or parted the spring willows and been whisker to whisker
With a beaver chewing on a soft green shoot.
Beneath the ceiling of the dusky evening
Stars appear in the quiet water, rings spread
From rising trout, rippling a universe
Where I have felt all things emerging, all things falling away.
And though snow falls for the thousandth time,
Henceforth I shall ask nothing more of the winter than for it to end.
Give me the mud, give me the soft moist earth,
until the underlying ice, ten inches deep, thaws into spring.
Henceforth the snow shall come at night while I am asleep
and steal away at dawn like the ghosts of all my lovers.
From this river I love most that which does not come from heaven
Though all things come from the river, and the river is where all things end.
His 3-Tined Life
in the dark a migraineur works an alphabet of curtailment
pelican in the Mojave : pinion pinned : prowless scull
He will not give up. He cannot give up. Brother to Whitman
and his feuding trees, he can't help himself. He works the sounds
he shapes he plumbs
The cicatrix on left temple a distinct point from which to depart, he takes
hold the characters the interstices
morphs, knits, alchemizes he spools
it all back
it takes wing taking wing it glimmers
emboldened (ensorcled?) by his soaring syllabary
the migraineur squints outward now he unfurls
lifts off in a breviary of ascending
consonant syllable vowel he pings!
he and newborn tongue
beat at pages they whip up a whole new world
together driving outward to perfection thoroughly
he comes down bled comes down on his back spent. He's shielded
now folded up into a little turtle song. The anfractuous efforts not a lark
—no, no a mercy!
with Walt, he's unlocked a blest a glorious paradox oh stumbled upon
a wordy savior so bless him bless him bless his scratched and scriven soul
Sunday from light,
Quaker Meeting for Worship
Light burns within the tree outside,
brightness entirely vision flaming
from the roughly blown rain-wetted leaves,
dazzling fire disquieting eyes;
and thus one may have no certainty
what kind of tree that is cut round
into a standardised profile
some time back, like a point of sale
stand up. It's grown since with energy
and now is origami, loose
yet almost multiple in time
something that makes things visible
and affords an illumination.
Here, some, in minds already blazing,
would join their light to over-shine.
Colour depends from light to which
the organs of seeing react: wave
corpuscular or else quantum
There are similar shapes we can't see.
I feel it is a sensation
produced by organ arousal
rather than a radiance from source.
This is a most candescent room
whose state of equilibrium
is being disturbed in the eyesight.
I brighten even as rain hits
at revelatory windows.
I sense myself kindled and change state,
quick, illustrious; when switched on,
I see myself in some good light.
Lichter. Wasser. Sonntagsgruß
Lines 14 and 15 owe something to Henry VI Part 3 Scene 2 Act 1
'Tis wondrous strange, the like yet never heard of.
I think it cites us, brother, to the field,
That we, the sons of brave Plantagenet,
Each one already blazing by our meeds,
Should notwithstanding join our lights together
And over-shine the earth as this the world.
The last line of the poem [Lights - Waters - Sunday Greeting] is the title
of the first scene of Stockhausen's opera Sonntag aus licht from which I take my title.
Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
To Ask and Be Answered
I am thinking of Walt Whitman
because the lilac bush in the backyard is blooming,
because its canes are swaying and rocking,
swaying and rocking in the stiff spring breeze,
because its uncomfortably sweet scent coming
through my bedroom door smells like death,
because I wish I could say kaddish for the April deaths
of my grandfather and father and brother,
because an unkindness of ravens has taken up residence among the
flowering dead nettles and in their voices
the chant of another whose visions invade my dreams.
I am thinking of Walt Whitman
because I have found myself lonely despite my desires,
because yesterday I wandered in the supermarket
with the ghosts of two venerable bards and envied their eloquence,
because among my intimates I count four poets,
four musicians, and an artist, all thirsty and true,
because I want to embrace my lover but find myself
driving him away with rage and venom,
because I stood a long time last night gazing up at the moon and her
beloved Venus dancing through the moist night-air gathering stars as souvenirs.
I am thinking of Walt Whitman
because there is a certain slant of sorrow in my heart
that has transformed everything;
because I am aching to be expansive,
to embrace the world as it is,
because I believe that loving the world
in its wholeness might save me from melancholy,
because I am convinced that in the refuge of
his wisdom i will find equanimity
because I am desperate for a reaching 'round of his lyrical arms,
desiring to imagine myself sacred in his eyes,
longing to ask and to be answered in affirmation,
are you thinking of me, Walt Whitman?
from Work is Love Made Visible — U. of New Mexico Press (2009)
SPONTANEOUS AS ANY
"Behaviour lawless as snow-flakes, words simple as grass"
We are cloud flesh and athletic snow,
we run hot and cold—yes—snowflakes
turning into white lilacs, we drink pale
blonde beer on sultry summer evenings,
kiss like Eskimos nestling into moist
fur patches—I touch you over & over,
we become drunk on the green eyes of trees,
delirious, happy—sustaining truth for hours
til it is subsumed by BIGGER TRUTH—
the beauty we find swallowing great bubbles
of fresh air—oh—out in the open
we turn, we frolic, we are little beasts
in mud ponds, we sing and shine like
purple finches, we annihilate egos,
becoming our Self in this delicious void,
we lick each other's citrus skin, paint
the rolling hills with the pinkened bones
of sunset, ride the electric rush down
canyon walls. We go deep and far
exploring, dip toes in the turquoise
roil of the Santiam, skinnydipping
beneath moss-dripping waterfalls,
go high at altitude tripping on wee
alpine flowers. Dizzy from both
the tiny and the huge, we collapse
into the miraculous overwhelm of being,
this invisible yet palpable presence of pure bliss.
O thicker and faster— (So long!)
O crowding too close upon me..
It's been so
long since I've
seen you or
so long before we
meet again or the suggestion
of unspecified duration so
Sal was spreading mayonnaise
on the mortadella
while a young Puerto Rican
stared at the knife
Make it nice
Make it nice
Put a little more
meat on that bread
and we laughed
because an April sun was turning
everything in the Deli
liquid gold and
we were warm
after a cold winter
buttered me a roll
poured a coffee to go
and put them in a bag
as the light struck me
like the slap of
a Zen Roshi
and I realized
it would be easier
than I had thought
to enter my 40's
with a little
so I told Sal
So long, Sal,
from Taxidancing — Ikon (2007)
Ode to the Past & Present Wilt of the Daisy, Bellis perennis,
Pressed in The Illustrated Leaves of Grass,
a June 1973 Graduation Gift from L.
Thirty-eight years between verso and recto and only today I found your white-
day's ease, dazey,
flattened above a skinny-bent stem.
Native of meadow, field, dump, I remember walking home after studying at L.'s
and that patch, white like a constellation fallen across the rubble
that plugged the abandoned Babylon Mine.
L. whose father died when we were ten and her mother slow-dying of cancer so
L. worked after school in the Frye Boot factory across the river
to help pay the radiation bills.
Chaucer christened you "eye of the day"—half-crazy
for the love of you, daisy, the way your head closes at night
and rainy days but forever returns, open, reassurance at dawn.
Your every petal's a flower and in your center flowers, too.
You wilt all the others in the vase like Sophia Loren striding into the Oscars.
Daisy, I still see you now: multitudes!
We were flower children in training too young to hitch to Woodstock
so we buried our bras in that corner of Appalachia,
tromped our own Yasgur's Farm midnights up the power lines
for more gathering—mad, naked summer night—
pot parties beside what would be "Chelsea Morning" fields of you,
daisy, essence of innocence—
Oh, we were far past that.
L. had already balled (as we called it then) Joey Cunningham,
seven years her senior, an ex-con-cum-drug-dealer.
While I had Bob, too-many-to-tick-mark afternoons parking in the shadow
of the slag heap up Vine Street—amazing the ways you can
bodies, warm honey compost in the front seat of a Willys Jeep.
Speed the decades since we daisy-chained that necklace stem
to stem to stem and donned, instead, our serious shoes.
Like you, my circadian marguerite, I've endured—
the parade of nights, one more dreaming girl who forgot
we live the Riddle of the Sphinx.
Snatched by the roots, every bunch of hopeful's withering soon.
Once plucked, you had to be sacrificed, too.
He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me—
knots to tie off any prayer of blossoming
look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening
"From the eyesight proceeds another eyesight..."
Say we Google Earth then zoom and zoom until pixels blur and I confuse
outsized flecks for the infiniteÕs distillate, with which our every cellÕs suffused.
Say I long to leave my brain to pseudoscience, yearn to marry the very air
as I hoped but failed to in his last residence on the unkempt block, car in flames
outside on asphalt, plywood board over door next door, men still sleeping
on stoops when I left, walking fast past the county jail. Dear Ineffable,
What brazen declarative about the world in general at last says it,
that on which the mind alights, momentarily placid and well-lit?
from Insofar as Heretofore — Backwater Press (2014)
I lost track of how many children were starving. It was a big country,
a long century, there was so much and so many.
At first I read the headlines, then only opinion pages.
I wasn't interested in suffering itself,
I wanted to know what important strangers said about it.
I wanted to eat ice cream
without worrying why vanilla tastes of sexual harassment
or why my fingers felt so sticky
even before I licked.
Then it was ten years later, twenty, time
gathered like iron filings around a magnet,
sometimes in the shape of roses, sometimes horsemen of apocalypse.
Sometimes I knew we would be okay.
Sometimes I knew I didn't want to know
who I mean by "we."
I only sometimes felt my whiteness, my money, but I was always grateful
when strangers didn't look at me with hatred.
I dumped carbon freely into the atmosphere,
I had to go and wanted to go and go and go I did.
A few lives depended on mine. Billions and billions didn't.
I rubbed conditioner into my tragic flaws,
loved and lost and tried to deserve
the little heavens that descended
now and then on sunny days
as I threaded my way
between strollers, sandwich boards, and homeless strangers' legs.
They say those who begin under moonlight give the richest milk.
A cow lies down in the field when it's her time.
You're summoned out of warm bed
into the damp, the clover underfoot.
The shepherds were drawn by a star,
but here in these rolling fields,
all silvered and shadowed,
you've come because of a phone call.
There are no choirs singing.
All you hear is the lowing of one in need of relief.
You will be her annunciation, her benediction
as you reach up inside her and pull as hard as you can.
But the writer worries.
Who cares that they have to be yanked out?
And it hurts, goddamn it,
that she's full of a rage
she knows no one wants to hear about.
It' s messier than she ever could have imagined.
Don' t look away in embarrassment, though
She delivers, she does eventually.
As she cleans it up, you'll see,
the thing will develop a presence.
This tender scaffolding of words
still too wobbly to stand,
curls on the moonlit page
fresh from its difficult birth,
For the sake of argument
why not say it is also effortless:
akin to Jell-O setting if Jell-O suddenly set and came alive.
One minute there is moonlight.
Well, we call it light, but really it is nothing
even remotely resembling true light:
the white of sunlight with its hidden waves of color.
This is light reflected from a body curving toward another body.
An ethereal whiteness
slowly solidifies in a field,
comes alive as a newborn calf
bleating for its mother
and we feel the milk of its yearning,
the nuzzle of one who is grateful to be found.
When The Mirror Turns Back Into Water
Called by the scent of rain in the air,
I never expected to see it lying
like a strange pearl in the grass
next to the Koi pond.
At first I thought it was dead
but when I leaned down
the tiny gills were moving slow and patient:
its will to leap translated into waiting.
I winced as I picked it up,
its body firm and narrow,
slippery but too weak to squirm
Like a sudden breath, it slid
from my open hands
back to the blessing of cool fluidity,
tilting and wobbling at first,
but soon soothed by the water,
lulled back into its silent bliss.
And now I can put my hands into that water
and the fish swim around unafraid.
One time I dreamed my parents had been reborn
as two red fish swimming around a dim pool inside my ribcage.
This is the place where the tears well up and never spill over,
the map, I pulled out of the dark of my lower back, spoken in two voices:
Work hard. Be kind. Follow the road without flinching.
See what we can't see. Be the one who bears witness.
In Canton, they say it was the Yellow Emperor
who repulsed the invading people of the mirror,
sending them back into their own world, sealing them in
and forcing them to repeat, as if in a dream,
all of our actions, no matter how trivial or perverse.
And don't many of us still see a silver fish,
every now and then, shifting and swimming
deep in the mirrored world that bathes us in light?
And might that fish leap out at us some day
when we least expect it, when the mirror turns back into water?
They say on that day we'll be given the chance
to try to hold on to our slippery souls.
Is this what Narcissus was trying to do?
Was he waiting for his true self to leap out
so he could finally come to know it?
Or was he confused, as a woman might be,
seeing a wrinkled face in the mirror,
when she feels like a girl who's about to
crawl into the hollow of a honeysuckle bush,
to try to get the bees to say her name?
Did he catch a glimpse every once in a while of his soul
muscling through clear velvet and dappled sunlight?
Or did he pine away because the mirror was empty?
The air is pregnant with rain and holding back its birth,
while I swim searching for rescue
from the din of a world that never stops to listen.
I have always been a fish out of water,
soothed and lulled by small acts like these:
the quickening of an animal like a flower unfolding,
words leaping through the mind's murk,
an woman unclenching her fists
so the bees can light on her palm.
". . . in China regarded as the source of the ambrosia of life
which gave gods their immortality."
- The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends
If Whitman didn't think peaches salvational, he sensed
passage and ritual when nursing the wounded
from Hooker's battles in 1863:
peaches for Bed 13, Ward J
peaches for Noah Laing, Ward I
Sticky fingers and lips with which to pry open
the gates to sleep or healing
I couldn't keep from fondling the lovely seams
of summer's first bounty, refusing
to bruise or bite through skin; I knew
the juice would run
It was enough, more, to cup the fruit in my hand, to trace the cleft
And Whitman held the hands of dying men, kissed
them on their lips and necks and shoulders, loving the wounded
parts of them, loving the well-formed parts of them, loving
thousands of solitary, suffering men like brothers
and giving them peaches
I ate, of course, until my teeth scraped clean the stone
And Whitman, for Williams, Bed 41, Ward G, who suffered much
I may not be the scholar to make my case, but—I propose (though in ever
shifting proportions) all cultures from all times are fundamentally the
same in this way: Each has its poets/artists/seers who have a distinctive
voice, stand outside the norm, have balls, are censored and perhaps
ignored, hated or even slaughtered by the mainstream—possibly rejected by
their own kind. It's sometimes difficult to remember that Walt Whitman, now
held up as the darling of American poetry, was once cast aside as one of
those dreadful weirdos.
During an age of literary conservatism, Whitman boldly portrayed sex
sensually and scorned the courteous, somewhat constipated formality of his
time when he wrote:
I press with slow rude muscle
I brace myself effectually, I listen to no entreaties,
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me.
It's all relative, isn't it, where any given culture draws its lines. Many
scholars attribute such writings of outsiders to courage. I contend that
courage is little more than lack of fear for pressing ahead upon one's
Artists tell us about history. Whitman, living in a boring and homogenous
culture, was a precursor of the pack, as any great artist must be. He took
risks with downright sexy passages which remain, not oblique to my eye,
but, well, utterly sexy today. Dig this Whitman passage: A visit to the
…Unclench your floodgates, you are too much for me.
He speaks of "touch."
You villain touch! what are you doing? My breath is tight in its throat,
Unclench your floodgates, you are too much for me.
Blind loving wrestling touch, sheath'd hooded sharp-tooth'd touch!
How positively embedded. Blatant. Is it any wonder this fleshy Bohemian was
cast aside by the staid literati of his day?
Right now, all my urges indicate that we are no longer appalled, nor
necessarily turned on or off by, most sexual language (except those on the
extreme religious right—and I often wonder if they are as appalled as they
pretend), so we breeze right past it. In a poem, it simply is the addition
of colorful but formerly forbidden language to advance the "picture."
So we're only faced with the simple question: What else is the poem about?
In seeking the impetus for the use of explicit language in my own work, I
look back to the 40s and the whisper of Mrs. W. behind my back into my
mother's ear to announce that she was uhhh… pregnant. It made no sense to
me as an eight-year old, given that I had just assisted my father in
lambings by more than one hundred ewes in death defying below-zero weather.
I knew where babies came from. And I always felt embarrassed as a kid at my
father's churchy, pink-faced embarrassment when his male friend's used the
word, hell, in my presence.
Fast forward to 1989. The first word I expressed outside the hospital room
after my father's doctor informed me that he, only seconds before, had
perished: Fuck! I shouted: His most despised word. And I'm certain if he
was hovering above, he was not at all surprised at my choice of words. He'd
come to expect it of me in my adult years.
Now—2008. Me: His queer son, a poet. Of late, wondering if my father had
ever read Walt Whitman—I don't know. I was not a poet when he was alive. We
had never talked of poetry. And I wonder if Whitman were alive today, would
he weave explicit language into his poems? Would he say Fuck! upon learning
of the death of his father—or, better yet, the death of a lover? In his
brilliance, I certainly do not find him cowering in the cause of dignity.
He was a rebel. And so, by nature, am I. I lack his genius. But not his
passion, as in his lines:
Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting, and perfect and
clean the womb cohering,
The head well grown and proportioned and plumb,…
In theory, having bounced my premise off several revered colleagues who
know well the work of Whitman, the answer comes up: Yes, he would be likely
to use the explicit words of today, taking care to write aesthetically
pleasing lines. And he might love the first fifteen minutes of the bawdy
atmosphere of a Slam Poetry session, but quickly find himself bored by the
bullshit of it
Before an attentive audience of Pueblo poets, I performed one of my more
ornery poems; ornery because it takes an unpredictable twist in its fourth
stanza (which happens not to be explicit in language). Humor of the twist
aside, its lines are written intentionally and with an ear for aesthetic
movement. I delivered it with characteristic passion, holding Whitman in
mind—genuinely believing he might have applauded it if he were there,
(second and third "explicit" stanzas below, "twist" stanza not included).
he plugs me through the night
makes me believe he needs me
moans words of heat i starve to hear
& when he splits
i'm memorably riveted
ass tingling like a twinkling star
moustache fragrant with his second load
sheets drenched with his third
my mattress bursting
with the wildness of his air
There I stood in the old Union Depot in Pueblo's Old Historic District,
during this age where increasingly large chunks of primetime TV are
occupied by mega-funded adsters hawking products from detergents to lawn
fertilizer masterfully geared to appeal to our most base and prurient
psyches. In this age when primetime is rife with women of all ages who all
but bare their nipples in unlikely situations, (churches, school board
meetings, funerals, on Wall Street), where frequent and nearly blatant
sexual vernacular is the norm rather than the exception, where queerness is
often presented without prejudice—suddenly, castigation arose from within
ranks of that audience of local poets about my frequent use of "explicit"
language during my performances; apparently, secretive protests were made
about my distasteful appearance; I was dis-invited from appearing there
Yet I'd envisioned Whitman wearing old Levis and a faded blue denim shirt
like mine—standing at my side, egging me on. Outraged by my dis-invitation?
You bet your sweet ass! Old Walt likely would have said: "Fuck this shit,
dude. Let's get loaded."
But wait…I'd not even used the word fuck in my poem. Well, maybe in my
intro, IF I had used it, it might have been in deference to the day my
father died. You know, like: I dedicate my life and use of language to my
I've been bedding down with Whitman of late—not for sex of course. I am too
old and weary for his taste. But as I lay me down to sleep, for the comfort
I milk nightly from these, his exquisite words:
Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man,
(Is it night? Are we here together alone?)
It is I you hold and who holds you,
I spring from the pages into your arms…
Ohhh, give it to me, Walty, yeahhhh….
M. L. Weber
an excerpt from "Beautiful Thing"
I look out on piles of sheet metal and pvc pipe
chain-link fence, tin sheds, trucks broken in half
and men hulking between machines .
activity on an agar dish, cross-hairs
sighted on a mote of dust the legs of men useful
for toting pollutants. There is a man
who won't go home, stays around after closing
then hangs around the grocery-gas store up the corner
"Beautiful thing" murdered in our lives
without knowing who you were
without hearing of you
empty as skulls
the woman with the broken nose
I have seen her buy life insurance
because her ex-husband has tried to kill her
To hear an incoherent stammer, watch a man
fall off his knees as he leans forward
in the new bus station they play Muzak with saxophones
and fuel the buses with long umbilical cords
men in white turtlenecks point at the underwear
on display in Kitty's Photography Parlor window
in a closed-off street merchants host a wine-tasting fair
a bum with plastic bags tied over his shoes
skips around on the pavement like a clown in a parade
to the music of the open air orchestra
To be thus confined while the roaring occurs and the thunder
rolls down from heaven
illicit love and timing your orgasm
not taking too long for she must be home soon
and the semen is easily detectable
if she is not careful
and the feeling of
repulsion from the sex of one you have loved before
enjoyed for years
the routine of pleasure that was yours
now nothing more than mercy
Being related to all innate matters flown above
the tellurian concerns which have
little to do with wonder await to be awake
without lessening the power
I am cast into the night a barrel
dropped into mid-ocean
or else I ask to be born
but am denied the pleasure-pain
only the form of the mind
can make conversation
and it does it
in terms of the flow inside
if you speak you are born
and in being born the two dimensional
plan revolves, its line of axis
Death, not different from living, thought
broken by the spaces
where I have no thought, by the fragments
that thought is
You never are there, but only collections brought
about by short chains
of memory which by their intersections build up
waves of charge
which flow over the brain throughout the emotive body
and the feeling of feeding
upon yourself sustains the illusion of continuity
as a man who is on the phone to India
yells in Hindi and wakes
me up at 3 in the morning
because the phone is on my floor
he can speak faster than I have
ever heard anyone speak .
in between full minutes of contiguous speech
he interjects a fast "HELLO?"
(note: this gathering is on-going -
for details see SugarMule.com, page 2)