(Preferatory Note: Coming to terms with, and trying not to simply despise, a prior aesthetic self.... I guess I'd call this a metaphysical--or even visionary-poem [in the best possible sense of the word], but I don't mean it as a brag. I could also see it as in the "Ashberrian mode," what he calls "ingenious mode,"or others would dismiss as "mannerist" ("excellent scribbling in a period style"). And, yes, it's got some of those ticks. It's equally "discursive" and "lyric," makes room for lyric. It could be an exasperating embarrassment of riches--especially if read in one sitting, but it could be more effective to some if considered a suite of shorter lyrics (with a lot of white space that wastes trees). Still, more than a decade after writing it, it can reach me and generate something new, or at least now (and Stevens, for instance, often found inspiration in doing 'turns' on his earlier published work). It feels kind of a culmination: I took that mode as far as I needed. I don't see the point in trying to "top" it by those kind (its) standards. It can still be new, and is not just what it is. And I don't say this to brag, but to be humble before a muse....)
There’s no need to beat yourself up (or down)
It’s silly to towel yourself off (or on)
While standing in a waterfall.
It’s only when you’re shivering it matters.
Not that feelings ever arrive on schedule.
It amazes me the subway even has a schedule.
For all I know the trains do follow them
As Fundamentalists even
But even though it didn’t stop
The shivering it refused to prolong,
They come soon enough for those
No longer so addicted to squeezing
The nougat out of every moment
When ignorance of their manners
Has its way with nourishing us
Our faces are poised
To fall off with the slightest gust
So we slip back
Into the wallet of social roles
As if we’re now a metrocard and 5 ones
When once we were a 20.
It might as well be
A miracle of fish in love
To move on reflected wings
Till nothing’s in the past
& I start feeling like the imaginary circle
That surrounds my actions again
Until a patch of thin ice strikes
Like a mine beneath a blanket of grass
A place you know in advance will not be
More true than getting there is,
A truth that will not be more pleasing than now.
Then I’m standing at the spot
Where everything passes through me
And one step in any direction
To get more gets me less and less.
Two of these could be taken to prevent
Future pain in disappointment
As continued striving undoes strife.
You’ll know when you get there
By the tiredness most likely
Unless a second wind of coffee
Pulls off the tablecloth of sleep
To rouse the glass without breaking it
Even as the beverage with which we identify
Spills over the side, into freedom at last
And growing cold.
There’s certainly worse things to say to it
Than you weren’t ready.
I was ready for you an hour ago
But now I demand your patience
With the distractions I indulge
In the jagged room of your absence
Which could spring another leak
That old time feeling
Falling through the ice, the field,
Even the cement at every moment
Losing its notebook grip on me
For wordless remains so much
Of what this won’t seem to skirt around
Till human voices wake me and I sip…
Yes, the Christmas lights make me doubt
The wisdom of the voice that cries
“What need for black paint on your glasses
when there’s longer nights in winter?”
But really there’s really nothing to turn off
But the turning off itself, and the way to score
The urge for a place that’s dark and warm
Without borrowed civilized heat
Is paved with hibernation
Where we’re each other’s hide
Unless an overbearing personality is something to be
& the love that leads me to you
was only something society lead me to.
It says, “if you speak loudly, you cannot,
By decree, carry a big stick.”
But what kind of power can only operate
Through holding our own tongues?
What other limit to the horizon can there be
But that which the lack of place
They do not wrest from you denotes in you?
Surely your need to don what may be
But the borrowed robes of individuality
In a sanctuary itching to become
The surveillance camera’s dressing room
Only keeps you outside the game
Insofar as you remain unable
To trash unquestioning love
Along with the superficiality
Termed respect for the customs of the world.
But maybe you haven’t gone
Far enough into the wilderness,
Leaning on a lover for power.
Nor could your shunning be deemed a sacrifice.
You still want the fruits, the kindness,
And are thus as shy of contempt
As hatred born of fear.
Not that you need bother about
Our failures and frailties.
Admit this fear as you admit your flesh
Admit them and their countervalent
Contempt tapered there, fine as fashion
To let your heart be cold as winter
Under cover of the slow healing
(but healing nonetheless) injury.
Drop in as a cop, as if each moment
Has a manner in a colonized Sabbath
Like Switzerland where all sides can meet
To fight over the holes in the cheese.”
Next thing you know, I’m unable
To sustain the mesh, the cuties
In which bitterness tried to batter itself
Into a bridge that beckons and returns
Not from a point of origin
But from past acquaintances
Who claimed the privilege of family
Sufficiently enough to rub off on me
As they wiped their preventative “filth”
From the tablecloth
To bathe me in cleanliness of self
As their representative in the next generation’s court.
Then I caught my mouth saying
“Oh, were my mores society’s
all children would be glued to their afterbirth
as a consistent reminder of what cannot be known
but by our rude, biased, implements
which I praise more than your tearless objectivity.”
That was one way of taking the long way home.
But there are others, and to rid oneself
Of all thoughts of them may help
All but the infinite (and you know who you are)
Who scurry like crossing guards
That appear as insects or distorting dust
Unavoidable on even the cleanest mirror.
Swerve to miss a tree, then.
I will not block your view
(even though you secretly want me to)
And the view is too exemplary to insist
Though I can’t help but parody it by pointing
(it’s still easier,
as Napoleon and Pygmalion knew,
to shoot off the Sphinx’s nose
than its sense of self)
& it still feels kinda chilly in here…
Well, love felt it was important
To notice it was more similar
To those chronicled in it centuries ago
Than it was to your most megaphoned,
The musty mirage of breathing space
Opened its doors to alienation
To open its doors to love.
I fell for that one a few times
Then bequeathed it to the will
When desire took the form of funeral orations
To the possible possum of the sun’s fiery orb…
Second best bed! How dare love rank things!
But sure as it doesn’t take
As long to say goodbye
As it does to say hello,
Words and their meanings
Only match up
As the reductive fallacy comes
In handy in baroque times.
For water casts shadows and we make do
With the inevitable whoopy of discrepancies
Not as if a torch is being passed
From the front of a line at the health clinic
To the back, but as a native smile sticky as sex
In the long look of suspended laughter
(the kind that can break those afraid to enter)
That rubs against love like its reflection
In an interrupting kitten or the stillness
Of weariness as sleep sees it in peels.
No inverting richness need
Chocolate the fog at the soy store
For it’s clear in times like these
That she alone of all women
Has given me not only herself
But also shown me the strength
By which I may keep her close
In the distract stadium of abiding calm
Within which the most severe struggles
Glimmer like glucose in a lemon-leaf
I’m on vacation from taking seriously
Though the beeper could off any second
Vacations may be overrated
For the sole purpose
Of separating work from play
And this vacation from play,
Itself a kind of play,
May only be here because
There has to be a stadium
In which the events take place
Where the difference
Between thoughts and actions
Is no more profound
Than that between thing and word
Even if there isn’t,
In the final (lapse of) analysis,
Anything to prove any need called the mind,
Any winter to necessitate the storing of nuts
In that hollow that wasn’t there
Until we gnawed away at the bark in summer.
It may call to mind a slo-mo Sisyphus
Of the ineffable that passes for materialism
Beyond alienation, and just shy of love,
Until the scenery changes and the intimacy problems
Are revealed for all to see
As you give in to the fangs
That have not yet emerged (to the naked eye)
From the precautions you take against them—
About as pragmatic as one can be
Amidst the passions too busy being the stadium
To be the concert, game, or playlet
Performed within its confines, its roof of air
To prove we have no structure
Without rebuking the skeleton
For death is structure enough for such a task as yours
As love’s and I can go long (in the lobbyists’ halls)
As if I myself was space unable to remember
The firefly that howled its hunger
From me to you and you to me
But as the chasm, the divider
Space stumbles upon
When it doesn’t want to treat itself like an object
But doesn’t want to treat you like one either
And so consigns that task to me
When I come back so into you
I never get around to saying
“You’ll never guess where I’ve been,
There were lions and tigers, Detroits and Chicagos.
Junkyard dogs that looked like jigsaw puzzles
With a couple of pieces lost, all walking
In the ways of a beautiful sun, or trampled
For a closer glimpse of the Pope, The Who
Waving a giant Union Jack when Santana plays
Yet throwing boos & things at The Clash”
But I have returned, and almost with a vengeance
As if “Higher Love” got nuthin’ on “Gimme Some Lovin’”
As if you could tell as well as time.