These are some new uncollected poems written over the past few years.
(for James Wright)
Families gathered round their hearths
commemorate your Promised Land:
Westward, red cloudstreets silhouette
at dusk in Hopi reservations
the earth is the raw terracotta
of Poussin bacchantes,
long sunstrokes brush colours across
the Painted Desert;
rivers of turquoise barrel down
the Grand Canyon,
ring stone chimes in the entranced
While in the heartland, in New World ghettoes,
lost in American dreams,
black junkies crack ampoules of poison
down concrete holes.
Kitty Wu sobs on in the dark,
nursing her wound,
while M.S. Fogg stumbles through his moonwalk
in the Confusion Range.
Nimble as Cherokee steeplejacks
spiders spin cities in the dust
of ancient brick cellars.
Wetback Hispanics crouched in pueblos
in Death Valley
quell hunger with the songs of Paz
The pioneers of holocaust
hunt herds of Indian
through thickets berried with the hearts
of butchered children.
Offshore, where Ahab’s whale breaches,
Atlantic barracuda rend
Or Europe, where Man roamed the Alps
in holy terror,
asperged by the bronze angelus
his head lost in Jehovah’s clouds,
pulling graven tablets down from Heaven
Horn calls at Mass on St Hubert’s Day;
the glowing cross
on the stag’s crown, glimpsed through the trees
in the black forest;
confessional landscapes, valleys where,
brown friars crack innocents’ skulls
with iron bars.
Blood and offal choke the blocks
in cobbled shambles;
Evil’s chaste paladins ride by
in polished steel.
Under Caesar’s or pontiff’s thumbs,
on golden sand,
lions’ maws tear wet morsels
from martyrs’ living flesh.
Coasting purple capes of night,
a lost corsair,
the new moon’s crescent blade flashes
against cloud shoals.
The Ohio bears its freight of grief
towards the sea;
your memory, a stormy petrel,
broods on the waters.
Clouds break over the curtained bed
of a sick pope. The sky sheds its load,
flooding the Via Veneto
with umbrella peddlers; iron shields,
‘S.P.Q.R.’ on the drain covers,
dully repel rain’s javelins.
Basilicas’ red-ribbed carcasses
lie gutted over the Seven Hills.
Paparazzi pursue senators
through Piranesian catacombs
under Quirinale frescoes; while,
more raucous than Capitoline geese,
rapt pilgrims gaggle to catch the buzz
of Vespas swarming in the Corso
and Eckberg in the Trevi, when
Fellini’s Steiner butchered his kids
with Stoic virtue, to catch a bus
or the Metro line’s turd-lined tunnels, out
to galleries of painted Judiths
â€“ the Latins’ castration anxiety â€“
shepherded through the Vatican,
its scaffolded stanze to rubberneck
the restored Sistine’s manga colours (here
by courtesy of NHK).
Edifices of concrete tuff
and brick in industrial quantities,
their marble fascia stripped away,
flank Mussolini’s triumphal drag
bulldozed beside the Sacred Way,
and there at the hub where all roads meet,
a colossal theatre of cruelty
for consumers of blood, globally sourced,
and fornication under the arches;
in mown grass below the Palatine,
a feral tabby stalks a lizard
the shed tail writhes agonizingly.
The capital city of the West
plumbs brainsapping channels across the waves,
bread and circuses for the plebs
baying the colours of their teams,
misled by populist demagogues
or Bertelli’s omniscient Duce, lies
propounded over the radio
by certified madmen, fronting for
dark conclaves under lock and key,
fasces strapped together in red,
pillars of a Roman order, bands
steeped in the Moor’s illustrious blood.
Gold in the book-baffled Keats Museum
secluded above the Spanish Steps
bedlam, a lock of Milton’s hair
in a locket reliquary, raped
from his debated Paradise,
reposes in unvisited calm.
Words: costliest of arcane divine boons;
Odin hung on the trunk of Yggdrasill
nine nights self-sacrificed to win the runes,
howling, full stretch, impaled by his own will.
Speech: breath of life’s inflexion that attunes
culture to nature; Amphion’s lyre; the skill
by which the live community communes
with its dead; imperative though it kill.
While some read destinies in blood and earth,
I put down my roots in black and white,
careless of my accident of birth;
talking up my idiolect to write
off the world’s grub stake in me, for what it’s worth,
from scratch, charged with the debt I must requite.
Dark castles on crags. In the cold dew of evening,
evergreens spread boughs of shade over needles.
I drink a chill wind in clear beakers
carved from crystal transparent air.
The sun has gone down. A sullen red
broods in the west. Night gathers.
Orphans’ bones clatter among the rocks.
Do Not Go Into The Woods
The gingerbread house lures us
with walnuts, glace cherries, icing
but it is thatched with innocents’ hair.
There are dark pools,
and bracken arching over lairs
of trapdoor spiders.
The witch slips a finger bone
into her apron pocket
before polishing a red apple.
Children, a god is watching you
from the saucer eyes of owls,
and your small lives are nothing to him.
An island microcosm fills
the miniature icon panel with
a tempera pocket-sized Patmos;
a crumpled brown paper fold mountain where
the Son of Thunder in a cave,
in the spirit on the Lord’s day,
dictates to the acolyte Prochoros
as the simultaneous Jesus,
white-robed and girt about the paps,
raises the kneeling Evangelist:
the seven golden candlesticks
around His feet, and out of His mouth
a great brazen clarion voice
issuing revelation; meanwhile,
the fiery angel gives the book
to John on his rock as he instructs
the seven churches in Asia
fringing the foothills sevenfold
with in the top-corner firmanent
the Saviour holding up a black globe.
The Red Boat
A swatch of rouge on mother-of-pearl
waves, the red boat, rudderless;
a gold eye, orbitless, socketless,
amidships, hovering over the thwart;
stem and stern, cowled forms, eye to eye,
wedged in the scarfed boards, voyagers:
figures adrift on the sea of dreams.
Fantasia on ‘A Fiery Wheel’
Ein feuriges Rad, der runde Tag
Der Erde Qual ohne Ende
â€“Â Georg Trakl,’VorhÃ¶lle’
The golden land of the elders
glows greener westering; sandstone halls
adorned with gleanings of white maidens
culling simples: bittersweet, balm,
mauve heartsease, perennial honesty
hung in ancient armoires, armorial
bearings over the doors;
armour steeled ready, imago of war;
funereal achievements in
lozenge reposed in flint-knapped chapels
down leaf-strewn trails to further valleys
at dusk mellow with ruddy breath
of browsing cows by the brock’s sett;
a limpid simplicity,
a vision of the cosmos glimpsed
from under a chainmail or sackcloth cowl,
predella of an altarpiece
where doubting Thomas probes the wound.
Crapping out starcrossed in this hell,
I shy at the table’s sticking place:
an iron brad
proud of the board, where the bones roll
the hard way in a fading game;
die cast by the numbers in dragon’s teeth
torn from the bitter ends of the earth;
red evening sun sunflowers
leer over harrowed acres of soil;
ashes belch from the burning urns.
The Desert no longer Misses the Rain
(to Dinu Flamand)
Deira at dawn jells blue from pale dust,
a sunburst through cloud after desert rain
striking silver from roofs and mackerel skies;
airbuses’ swan-wing curves spread over
hardstands before pullback on the ramps.
Rare puddles bloom black as the chadors
that swallow all eyes on the parched cement;
the darkness’s white mushroom crop
of satellite dishes and water tanks
across rooftops open towards the sky.
Insomnia has its creative gains
but better to rise in the knowledge of
giving eternity back one thing:
this, mirror that never will change its face.
Waves approach infinity,
fluctuations in the void;
dragon shrines on cement jetties
watch over the realm of Tethys.
Workers home at twilight feast,
resting from their golden game;
glowing skeps on terraced highlands
face black silhouetted islands.
Cyclopean ruins stare
blindly down from beetling crags;
anglers, herons on the skerries
pick the wakes of passing ferries.
Argosies freight gods’ toy forts
of ziggurat container stacks:
sailors haul the anchor cable;
harpies foul the seer’s table.
Spiders pull their tripwires taut,
spinnerets extruding silk
from pathside tombs and porphyry schist urns;
frogs creak out of sunken cisterns.
Rugose tentacles extend
banana palms’ dark purple hearts;
hill graves gout hell money ash,
ancestral ghosts eat wads of cash.